The Westerly Library is back!

After two years of being essentially a one-room library, capped by three weeks of being totally closed, the Westerly Library is almost fully open. I say “almost” only because the 960s and up (that includes much Western Hemisphere history) and the biographies aren’t out yet. They’re going to go into what used to be the darkest, murkiest room in the entire place, where fiction from the first half of the alphabet used to live. The workers just couldn’t manage to get all the books out of storage and into their new homes during those last three weeks. (The place has between 70,000 and 80,000 books, which is a lot of books.)

The Old Main Reading Room, with Ninigret
This picture is of what they call the Old Main Reading Room. Since at least 1995 or so, this room had history books and a couple of tables. My wife, who has lived around here longer than I have, remembers when it was the reading room. That little alcove with the stained-glass rendition of Ninigret pushes into what used to be the room with the biographies; that’s office space now. (Ninigret used to be out by the main entrance.) Children and teens have moved downstairs, where 000 through about 910 used to be. Reference is on the second floor, where the kids were. Videos are kind of in the same place, but they have the whole room, as the new books have moved out to where the reference used to be…. I’ll figure it all out eventually. I’m just so happy it’s back!

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John La Farge’s Second Paradise

The Yale University Art Gallery is showing some works by John La Farge. La Farge was at least partially based in Rhode Island; he was a native New Yorker who owned a home in Newport, and some of his early paintings were landscapes from the area north of Newport called Paradise Valley.

In 1890, La Farge and his friend Henry Adams (the historian and descendant of presidents) took a long voyage to the Pacific, and La Farge painted. Their paths took them to Tahiti, but La Farge’s art isn’t much at all like Gauguin’s. Most of it is in watercolor, and much of it is in understated, slightly pasteled, colors. (It said in the catalog that La Farge and Gauguin missed each other by five days.) Much of it seems quite realistic, too; many of the pictures have people in them, and while some capture ceremonial dances and other such formal occasions, many are of people fishing or just going about their lives. There is motion in just about everything; this guy was great at capturing energy.

Apparently, La Farge and Adams were among the first Americans who visited some of these places just as, uh, tourists: not as investors, missionaries, or conquerors. The notes alluded to La Farge’s attempts to find “pure” Pacific cultures–ones that hadn’t been sullied by too much Westernization. I don’t know if he succeeded in that; probably not. But there is something almost matter-of-fact about many of these paintings. They are not “exotica”.

I’d seen some other of La Farge’s art without knowing it, or, rather, without knowing who he was. He did a lot of stained glass, including four windows for Trinity Church, which I saw during some Back Bay architectural sightseeing a few years ago.

Definitely worth seeing, but hurry; it closes on January 2. Admission is always free, and they’re open until 8:00 on Thursdays. One of the two buildings is closed for remodeling.

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Concert review (or, November at the symphony, continued)

As promised, here’s my gloss on Saturday’s Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra concert.

Alfred Schnittke, Ritual. A dirge that came out of nowhere with a low rumble of bass, tuba, trombones, and a whole bunch of percussion, and ended with tubular bells (remember those things?). It sounded vaguely like waking up from a nightmare in which you were trapped in a root cellar with one small window, and later on I read that Schnittke in fact meant it as a tribute to those who died in World War II. Schnittke was Russian, and apparently he was in and out of trouble with the Communist authorities because of music like this. It got what the most tepid applause I’ve heard at an ECSO concert since…wow, Paul Phillips was music director then. I loved every second of this work.

Nancy Van de Vate, Gema Jawa (Echoes of Java). Maestro Shimada mentioned before this piece that he is friends with the composer. I liked Gema Jawa, and it was certainly more restful than Schnittke’s Ritual; also, it was a new approach (or at least new to me) to incorporating gamelan music into Western music. Ultimately, though, the ideas slowed down a bit before the music stopped. I love that the ECSO is liberally incorporating modern music by living composers into the programs, and I’m glad I heard this one.
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Four reasons not to go to a symphony concert

“I can’t afford it.” OK, it’s not exactly a cheap night out. The cheapest seats in the Garde are $30, and that’s either way in the upper deck (I’m tempted to call them “nosebleeds”, but the Garde isn’t that big) or way in the front, where you’re extremely close but can’t see too well. Most of the seats on the main floor are $47; a few in the back are $37, and they’re great. In fact, I have yet to find an acoustically bad seat anywhere in the place; the orchestra isn’t as gloriously loud in the nosebleeds as it is in the $47s, but it’s just as clear.

“Orchestra concertgoers are snotheads.” Last night, some guy in a suit cut me off at the concession stand. He may have been making a statement about my denimy sartorial presence, but I think he would have been rude and pushy at the grocery store or anywhere else. The experience said nothing about music. The point is well taken, though. My general experience is that classical music fans don’t go to concerts to make friends, and concerts aren’t the greatest social experiences I’ve ever had. (The most talking I ever did at one of these things was was at the Waterbury Symphony when I ended up sitting next to an affable Chamber of Commerce guy. The orchestra played the living daylights out of Shostakovich, as it happened, so I was able to say some real nice things about Waterbury and the cultural life thereof. Such moments please me on several levels.)

I’m sure there was a time when orchestra concerts reinforced some brutal hierarchy of established wealth and entitlement. But that time is passing. Internet discussion forums about classical music can be miserable affairs (as are many of the specialist journals), but those people either don’t live around here, or they stay home with their CDs, or they behave differently in public. I haven’t run into them anywhere in Connecticut.

“If these guys were any good, wouldn’t they be in New York or something?” In a future post (later tonight if I stay awake long enough, otherwise tomorrow), I’ll write a blow-by-blow description of last night’s events. For now, I’ll just say that the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra has become a jewel. I don’t know what might make one regional orchestra more accomplished than another. That’s an interesting question that’ll require more research, but I’ll offer the opinion that there’s no shortage of classically trained musicians with chops to spare. The Hartt School in Hartford is one of the better ones around, I’ve heard, and even places like UConn and URI have large and interesting music programs that they aren’t famous for. I’ve seen four of the state’s orchestras (Waterbury, as noted; New Haven, though not under its current musical director; and Hartford, whose musical director is retiring and whose new one will be chosen soon), and though each has its own personality, I’d be really hard-pressed to say whether, never mind how, one is “better” than another.
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The Rossario Brothers in Rhode Island

What better way to reinvigorate a blog about Connecticut than by…going to Rhode Island? I went over to Westerly to see “The Rossario Brothers”, a comedy by Eugene J. Celico. Here’s a Westerly Sun writeup from last week; I read it when I got back and I think Nancy Burns-Fusaro covered it well. As for my own impressions: it’s a madcap comedy that reminded me in places of the Marx Brothers and even the Three Stooges (partly because the three brothers who run the funeral home really don’t like each other, and partly because Angelo’s hair is more than a bit Larryish). There was even some dialect (mostly Italian) humor. I have a lousy ear for accents and I don’t always know how to take dialect humor, but I’m always amazed when people can put on different accents. It’s a mysterious art to me. (All this went over well with the audience.) But along with the mayhem, there is some unexpected eloquence–especially a soliloquy by Angelo (Bruce Celico) about how he can’t stand working with his insane older brother Sal any more.

It’s long (2½ hours, with one intermission), quite energetic, and loud. Sal (Greg Bliven) in particular is loud (and it’s a fairly live room), but so are most of these people. Some of the sight gags made me almost fall off the chair (which, by the way, was of the folding variety). Slapstick with some moments of genuine feeling. Ten minutes in, I was thinking that spending an evening at the Rossario Brothers Funeral Parlor might have been a mistake; but I ended up enjoying it immensely.

If you want to go: tomorrow and Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:00. St. Piux X Church is on Elm St. just north of Cross St. There’s a parking lot on the west side of Elm; allow a couple of extra minutes because the street lighting is pretty much nonexistent and if you’re at all like me, you’ll miss the entrance the first time by. $14 to get in, which is a bargain.

(Uh, I guess I’m out of practice at this. I forgot to mention that the company is the Stage Door Theater.)

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Hello! My name is Eddie! What’s yours?

Welcome to this year’s model of Almost Connecticut! A blog by that name existed a few years back, under the same proprietorship; I retired it when I had to cope with some family health issues, but I’m back. I’m reacquainting myself with WordPress and will start writing in a day or two.

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