the traveler's resource guide to festivals & films
a site
part of Insider Media llc.

Connect with us:

Film and the Arts

A Double Concerto With the NY Philharmonic

David Robertson conducts New York Philharmonic, photo by Brandon Patoc

At Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall on the evening of Saturday, October 21st, I had the pleasure of attending a terrific concert—which was notable for showcasing rarely encountered repertory—presented by the excellent New York Philharmonic under the superb direction of the irrepressible guest conductor, David Robertson.

The program began wonderfully with a masterly account of György Ligeti’s enchanting Mifiso la sodo (Cheerful Music) from 1948—a creation not without its eccentricities, nor lacking in ironic or satirical inflections—played in these concerts in its long overdue U.S. premiere and celebrating the centenary of the composer’s birth. Also remarkable was the brilliant realization of another work—too seldom heard—by the same author, the extraordinary Romanian Concerto of 1951. Neither piece strongly suggested the radical avant-gardism that would later become the famous hallmark of Ligeti’s mature style. About his discovery of the unusual instrument, the alphorn, that he employed to striking effect in this composition, he said:

The alpenhorn (called a bucium in Romanian) sounded completely different from “normal” music. Today I know that this stems from the fact that the alpenhorn produces only the notes of its natural harmonic series and that the fifth and seventh harmonies (i.e., the major third and minor seventh) seem “out of tune” because they sound lower than on the piano, for example. But it is this sense of “wrongness” that is in fact what is “right” about the instrument, as it represents the specific “charm” of the horn timbre.

On the Concerto itself, he commented:

In 1949, when I was 26, I learned how to transcribe folk songs from wax cylinders at the Folklore Institute in Bucharest. Many of these melodies stuck in my memory and led in 1951 to the composition of my Romanian Concerto [Concert Românesc].However, not everything in it is genuinely Romanian as I also invented elements in the spirit of the village bands. I was later able to hear the piece at an orchestral rehearsal in Budapest — a public performance had been forbidden. Under Stalin’s dictatorship,even folk music was allowed only in a “politically correct” form, in other words, if forced into a straitjacket of the norms of socialist realism. Major-minor harmonizations à la Dunayevsky were welcome and even modal orientalisms in the style of Khachaturian were still permitted, but Stravinsky was excommunicated. The peculiar way in which village bands harmonized their music, often full of dissonances and “against the grain,” was regarded as incorrect. In the fourth movement of my Romanian Concerto there is a passage in which an F-sharp is heard in the context of F major. This was reason enough for the apparatchiks responsible for the arts to ban the entire piece.

The opening Andante movement creates an impression of pensiveness while the ensuing Allegro vivace, which introduces a strong folk element,is—not unexpectedly—more exuberant. Contrastingly, the Adagio ma non troppo movement that follows is meditative and uncanny, recalling the music of Béla Bartók, and the finale, marked Molto vivace, is propulsive and dance-like with the folk melodies even more pronounced.

The renowned soloist, Yefim Bronfman, then entered the stage to confidently perform—these programs represent its New York premiere—the powerful Piano Concerto—of which he is the dedicatee—of contemporary Russian composer, Elena Firsova—which is notable particularly for its impressive orchestration. While oddly compelling, this advanced music is beyond my current ability to truly evaluate and resists description; the author of the work, who was present and afterwards joined the artists to receive the audience’s acclaim, has provided an interesting note on it:

The music of my Double Concerto for violin and cello, from 2017, was very personal and reflected my meditations about the mystery and meaning of Death. You possibly know a relevant quote from Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak: “Art is constantly preoccupied with two things: It always meditates about Death and in this way inevitably creates Life.” The introduction and both movements of the Double Concerto were based on the motif of Beethoven’s final movement of his String Quartet, Op. 135, “Muss es sein?” Only in the beginning I use the motif in its retrograde form and later, of course, in inverted form.

I mention this because my Piano Concerto in a certain sense is a kind of a twin composition with my Double Concerto. The music material of all three movements is based on the same motif. I did it absolutely unconsciously in the beginning, realised it only when I finished the first movement and was astonished how different the music is from the Double Concerto!

I would say only that in the Piano Concerto I concentrated more on the problems and questions of Life, but at the end everything is inevitably coming to the clock which reminds us that everything has its end. As in the Double Concerto, the last movement of the Piano Concerto is the main and longest part of the music.

The initial Andante seems haunted and agonized, preceding anAllegrothat has a similarethosbut is more energetic and intensely dramatic, with afinalethat is quieter and more serene for much of its length, but with very fraught, intensely dramatic passages, although concluding softly and mysteriously.

The second half of the event was at least equally memorable, consisting of a superlative—indeed seemingly perfect—rendition of the too infrequently presented, astonishing, unexpectedly ambitious early masterpiece of Johannes Brahms, the Serenade No. 1 in D major for Large Orchestra, one of the composer’s most Mozartean accomplishments and crucial to understanding his development as a major symphonist. The unusually joyous—for the composer—initial Allegro molto movement has a strongly pastoral quality that evokes the Symphony No. 6 of Ludwig van Beethoven while nonetheless remaining thoroughly Brahmsian in character. The transition to the leisurely, cheerful succeeding Scherzo—marked Allegro non troppo—is barely perceptible while theAdagio non troppothat follows is more inward and highly lyrical, but not tragic. The fourth, Menuetto movement possesses an unusual levity for the composer and theAllegrothat appears after it recapitulates the spirit of the first two movements. Also ebullient is theRondo,with the same tempo marking, that serves as a most dynamicfinale.

Actor Siobhan Fallon Hogan Releases “Shelter in Solitude” Her Latest Feature As Producer and Writer


With an illustrious acting career that includes roles in Men in Black, Seinfeld, and Fever Pitch, Siobhan Fallon Hogan has taken a turn towards independent filmmaking. Having made its rounds in the film festival circuit, Shelter in Solitude, her sophomore effort, is a more leisurely-paced character piece than Rushed, her producing/writing debut, which came out in 2021.

The film centers on a down-on-her luck bar owner, Val (Fallon Hogan), bonding with a death row inmate (Peter Macon, The Orville) in his last week of life. Fallon Hogan has written for herself a juicy role to dig her teeth into. Few films have opted to be set during the pandemic even though the event had such a cataclysmic societal effect. In Shelter in Solitude, the pandemic is sewn into the plot’s infrastructure. The characters exist in a vague sector of the Rust Belt whose decline is highlighted and exacerbated by the shutdown. Val is hit with debts and loneliness as a bar owner who has to close her business due to Covid-19. She’s also haunted by her failed career as a country singer. Though set in the South, the film was shot in Fallon-Hogan’s hometown of Syracuse. A testament to her location scouting, Fallon shot the film in Syracuse’s defunct Main Street Prison, a setting that seems authentically depressing. The film is, in fact, inspired by the prison in Fallon-Hogan’s hometown of Cazenovia (a Syracuse suburb). Her father was an attorney who would often talk about his cases during dinner and the young actor’s fascination was sparked when her father discussed a prison guard. She also had cousins who lived in a prison nearby — the Jamesville Correctional Facility — which was used for exterior shots.

Just as the real Fallon Hogan has a family connection to the lives of prisoners, Val’s brother Dwayne (Robert Patrick) is a stoic prison warden. The two exhibit a comfortable relationship despite having clashing personalities which spices up some of the film’s slower-moving moments. When the prison guard catches Covid, Val takes over the management of death row and its sole prisoner, Jackson (Macon). This is where the film displays its most awkward moments. Val loses her jaded edge and suddenly morphs into a pollyanna chatterbox as if she’s being neutralized by a high school crush. Fallon Hogan is doing strong enough character work here, that the scenes are strong enough to drive through any inconsistencies. Over the last week of Jackson’s life, the two develop a rapport that drives the second half of the film.

The comic instincts of Fallon Hogan also serve her well in some of the film’s more light-hearted moments. The film is largely held together by the strong character work that Fallon Hogan (it helps that she’s the screenwriter as well) put in creating Val in all her contradictions. She’s defiant against anyone who tries to restrict her, yet unable to be completely self-reliant. It’s the quintessential tale of the perpetual screw-up but the story gives her a little more leeway to have a chance at redemption.

A graduate of Catholic University, Fallon Hogan has navigated a career based on her Christian values. In both Saturday Night Live and her films, she has turned down movie roles that conflicted with her values. As such, religious themes make her way into her work. Like the actress, her character here is unapologetically Christian even if she’s not a paragon of Christian virtues at all times.

Compared to Fallon Hogan’s debut, this film doesn’t have the tension or as much of an edge when it comes to saying something about society. However, the sense of place and character work make this film worth a watch as well.

New York Philharmonic Strikes Chord with De Profundis

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts New York Philharmonic. Photo by Chris Lee.

At Lincoln Center’s wonderful new David Geffen Hall on the night of Saturday, October 14th, I had the great pleasure to attend an outstanding concert—the second subscription program of the current season—presented by the excellent musicians of the New York Philharmonic under the remarkable direction of the young Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla in her debut with this ensemble.

The event began impressively with a lucid account of the striking, intense and solemn De profundis for string orchestra from 1998 by the contemporary Lithuanian composer, Raminta Šerkšnytė. (The work is strangely reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s magnificent score for the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, Psycho.) I here reproduce Šerkšnytė’s interesting note on the piece:

This dramatic music, full of contrasts, reflects a certain worldview of a young person (this is my first orchestral composition, which was written as the bachelor’s graduation work). At a young age life is perceived in an extreme, “severe” way, where euphoria quickly changes to disappointment. One searches for the extraordinary, transcendental experience both in life as well as in art, believing in the profound power of the art sacredness. Therefore the opus was named “from the depths” (Latin — “de profundis”), though making no reckoning of the historical “De profundis” tradition.

The composer, who was in the audience, entered the stage to receive the audience’s acclaim.

The brilliant soloist, Daniil Trifonov, then joined the artists for a magisterial rendition of Robert Schumann’s admirable, archetypally Romantic Piano Concerto. The opening Allegro affettuoso movement is surprisingly meditative and lyrical but with grand and virtuosic—even turbulent—passages. The more classicizing Intermezzo, marked Andante grazioso,recalls the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven and is somewhat lighter in mood, while the Allegro vivace finale is highly spirited, even effervescent. Ardent applause elicited a fabulous encore: the pianist’s own exquisite transcription—which he has recorded—of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s immensely popularVocalise.

Even more memorable, however, was the second half of the evening: a splendorous realization of three selections from the marvelous Lemminkäinen Suite of Jean Sibelius. The almost inexplicably too seldom performed Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island was captivating and stirring and the haunting and mysterious The Swan of Tuonela is one of the composer’s finest achievements—it featured a superb Ryan Roberts on the English horn. The program concluded dynamically with the more suspenseful and celebratory Lemminkäinen’s Return.

I look forward with considerable excitement to the following week’s subscription concert with early music by György Ligeti and the first Serenade of Johannes Brahms.

October '23 Digital Week II

4K/UHD Releases of the Week
The Wicker Man—50th Anniversary 
This dazzlingly effective 1973 occult thriller by director Robin Hardy and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer authentically and creepily depicts a deeply religious, Druid-like society on a remote Scottish isle whose people lure an unsuspecting detective from the mainland and he becomes fodder for their rituals. What begins as a murder mystery almost imperceptibly morphs into a horror film with an unforgettable finale—and final shot.
Edward Woodward (detective) and Christopher Lee (pagan leader) have never been better; the spectacular supporting cast is led by Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento and Ingrid Pitt. Lionsgate’s 50th anniversary steelbook includes Hardy’s final cut, which looks luminous on both 4K and Blu-ray, accentuating the gorgeous photography by Harry Waxman; extras include several vintage and new featurettes and interviews.
The Mist 
Frank Darabont’s 2007 adaptation of a Stephen King story has its adherents—just like his overrated Shawshank Redemption and stultifying The Green Mile—but it’s just another competently made, occasionally eerie but crude attempt at social commentary wrapped in an apocalyptic thriller.
The main interest in rewatching this ungainly Twilight Zone/Stanley Kramer hybrid is the B&W version, which Darabont prefers—it’s OK but has barely more resonance than the color version. Both cuts are included on 4K and Blu-ray, and they look quite exceptional. Extras are Darabont’s commentary with producer Denise Huth; deleted scenes with Darabont’s commentary; and a conversation between Darabont and King.
Talk to Me 
This sleeper box-office hit is a clever but routine horror flick about a disembodied hand that a group of teenagers conjures spirits with but who soon unleash forces they can’t understand or control. Directors Danny and Michael Philippou play around with horror flick conventions but bow to too many of its tropes, like jump scares, illogical dream sequences and a nagging feeling that extremely stupid people who do dumb things aren’t worth watching.
In the lead, Sophie Wilde carries the film with an impressive maturity, which helps ease the sting of an insipid 90 minutes that promises—or threatens—a sequel. The film looks flawless on 4K; extras include the brothers’ commentary, deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week 
Beautiful City 
(Film Movement Classics)
In Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s sophomore feature, A’la and Firoozeh, the sister of his imprisoned friend Ahmed, now 18 (he killed his girlfriend at 16 and is now of age to be executed), visit the victim’s father to convince him to forgive Ahmed, which may reduce his death sentence.
Grave moral complexities abound in Farhadi’s script, which is less meaningful than ponderous—perhaps he should waited until later in his career to make the film. Still, there are moments of insight and precise observation, and his leads, Babak Ansari (A’la) and Taraneh Alidoosti (Firoozeh), carry the heavy weight.
Cat Person 
(Studio Canal/Rialto) 
Based on Kristen Roupenians’ short story in The New Yorker, Susanna Fogel’s psychological drama follows 20-year-old Margot, who meets the older Robert cutely at the movie theater concession stand where she works—her best friend says she should just text him, but Margot decides to take the plunge: they go on dates, she goes to his home, they have sex, but all the while she’s worried he might be a sadistic serial killer.
Before losing control with a copout ending that strains credulity, Fogel has made an alarming cautionary tale about the contemporary dating scene, anchored by Emilia Jones’ dazzling performance as Margot—and Nicholas Braun as Robert ain’t too shabby either.
Writer, director and producer Eddie Alcazar’s off-kilter and wildly uneven sci-fi adventure touches on immortality but never reaches the desired results, whether visually or narratively.
Part of the problem is that there’s not much in the way of characterization, so Scott Bakula and Stephen Dorff are unable to do much with their characters. Alcazar knows how to film attractive women in B&W, so Karrueche Tran, Bella Thorne and adult-film star Emily Willis are given a loving photographic treatment. 
Plan C 
(Level 33 Entertainment)
Tracy Droz Tragos’ impassioned documentary follows several brave women trying to ensure that others, in the face of ever dwindling resources, have access to the mail-order “abortion pill.” With state legislatures regularly closing avenues for women to have safe, legal abortions, these pills—which are also under fire—are the only way to keep the patriarchal government from having complete control of their bodies.
Including intimate interviews and guerrilla-style camerawork providing a record of the many ways they (and the opposition) are working, Tragos provides a valuable and necessary window into one of the most urgent political and moral issues of our time.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week 
Beast From Haunted Cave 
(Film Masters)
Two real curios from the stable of shoestring producer Roger Corman comprise this release, the first being a risibly Z-grade 1959 horror flick about a giant spider-like monster terrorizing a group of thieves who’ve just pulled off a heist; directed by later indie darling Monte Hellman, it’s entertaining in a car-crash kind of way.
The second, 1960’s Ski Troop Attack, is an ambitious but naive war movie made by Corman himself with much of the same cast and in the same locales; it’s slightly easier to watch. The films look decent in hi-def; extras are the longer TV version of Beast; commentaries on both films; a featurette, Hollywood Intruders: The Filmgroup Story: Part One; and an easter egg.
Between Two Worlds 
(Cohen Media)
In Emmanuel Carrère’s incisive drama, Juliette Binoche gives her usual intensely committed performance as Marianne Winckler, a writer posing as an unemployed divorcee who takes a menial cleaning job in order to detail an exposé about corrupt practices.
Based on investigative journalist Florence Aubenas’ book—a French bestseller when it was published in 2010—Binoche and Carrère have created a harrowing look at what is mainly a problem for women, which is probably why it hasn’t gotten more coverage or traction in the media or with politicians. The film looks fine on Blu.
The Last Island 
(Cult Epics)
The film Dutch writer-director Marlene Gorris made before her international breakthrough, 1992’s Antonia’s Line, is a quite astonishing progressive tract set in the aftermath of a plane crash where its 7 survivors—5 men and 2 women—handle power games on the deserted island that touch on sexuality, gender and social status. Gorris handles this shopworn material with skillful finesse, making insightful points without hammering them home.
There’s a fantastic central performance by Shelagh McLeod as the only fertile woman left alive. The restored hi-def transfer is good; extras comprise producer Dick Mass’ audio intro, film scholar Peter Verstraten’s audio commentary, behind the scenes footage, and a 1990 interview with political columnist Annemarie Grewel.
I was actually surprised that this wasn’t a bigger hit with audiences: I assumed that having Jamie Foxx and Will Farrell playing foulmouthed talking dogs would be an automatic box-office bonanza. But, on the other hand, there’s only so much you can watch of playful dogs running around chatting about bodily functions and fluids before you tune out.
Maybe a 20-minute short would have worked better, but director Josh Greenbaum and writer Dan Perrault pile on the vulgarity for 90 minutes; at least the real canines are adorable. There’s an excellent hi-def transfer; extras are several featurettes and interviews.
CD Releases of the Week 
John Corigliano/Mark Adamo—The Lord of Cries 
For his latest opera, composer John Corigliano has collaborated with his partner, Mark Adamo, who wrote the libretto for a bizarre and not entirely successful mashup of Euripides’ The Bacchae and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For his part, Corigliano has dressed up the plot in colorful but unsettling music that explores the strange world of dreams and nightmares.
This premiere recording, performed last year in Worcester, Massachusetts, is a riveting listen, with an exciting cast of singers like Anthony Roth Costanzo, Kathryn Henry and Matt Boehler, most of whom appeared in the 2021 world premiere at Santa Fe. Conductor Gil Rose leads a vivid account by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Odyssey Opera Chorus. 
Hans Werner Henze—The Raft of the Medusa 
German composer Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012), always a committed left-wing radical, composed this dramatically scorching oratorio based on the true story of the shipwreck of a French frigate in 1816 that also served as the basis of the famous Théodore Géricault painting. The piece (which Henze dedicated as a Requiem to leftist rebel Che Guevara) comprises spoken narration, beautiful solo vocal lines, alternately aggressive and tender passages, and a heavenly choral finale, all underscored by the driven, often percussive music.
This first-rate 2017 recording is led by conductor Cornelius Meister, who marshals the mighty forces of the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Vienna Boys Choir and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. The estimable vocal soloists are soprano Sarah Wegener, baritone Dietrich Henschel and speaker Sven-Eric Bechtoff.

Newsletter Sign Up

Upcoming Events

No Calendar Events Found or Calendar not set to Public.