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Sixth Annual Boston Arts Festival Evaluated

By Caldwell Titcomb

For the last two weeks the Boston Common was the site of the sixth annual Boston Arts Festival. Its success is attested by the three-quarters of a million people who flocked to its exhibits and ancillary cultural events. Included this year were competitive exhibits in architecture, painting, sculpture, drawing and graphic arts, plus several special invitational shows--a retrospective survey of the past hundred years of New England architecture, a national show of American painting and sculpture, and displays of Mexican and New England craftsmen in such fields as ceramics, jewelry, wood-turning and weaving (with periodic live demonstrations).

The Festival committee adopted a better system of selecting the many entries than has obtained in the past: each of the ten jurors was allowed up to 10 unchallenged individual choices, and the rest were then picked by majority vote. The prizes were awarded by a separate jury consisting of Harris K. Prior, Director of the American Federation of Arts, New York; Perry T. Rathbone '33, Director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; and Edgar P. Richarson, Director of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The national invitational exhibition contained 53 paintings and 15 pieces of sculpture. Of the paintings only a handful--such as Corrado Marca-Relli's "The Seeker" and Adja Yunkers' "Composition II"--were unworthy choices. Jack Levine's "The Judge" (see cut at right) won the Grand Prize It is indeed a masterly work, executed in splotches of restrained browns and dull white that take shape only at a distance. Other exceptional works were George Grosz's "Night-mare," Mitchell Siporin's "The Gallery," and Max Weber's "Flute Player." William Kienbush received honorable mention for his competent "Coast of Baker Island." The sculpture choices, however, were poor on the whole; Isamu Noguchi's "The Ring" was by far the best item.

New England Competition

The New England competition comprised 172 paintings and drawings, and 34 examples of sculpture. The quality of the first category was high, with only four or five pieces of utter trash. The first prize in painting went for some reason to Fannie Hillsmith's "Pink Sofa," with other awards to Justin Curry, Glen Krause, Beverly Hallam, Henrik Mayer, John McClusky and Teal McKibben.

I most liked Lawrence Kupferman's "Force That Drives the Water Through the Rocks," Boris Margo's "Evening" (see cut at lower left), Shan-Ching Toong's economical "Lobsters," and Paul Zimmerman's "November Moon." Alsc good were the works by Ruth Cobb, Esther Geller, Walter Meigs, Conger Metcalf, Arthur Polonsky and Sol Wilson.

First prize in graphic arts rightly went to Leonard Baskin for his superb "Shofar Prayer." Other awards went to William Georgenes, Jane Stouffer and Donald Kelley, the last outstanding for his "Priscilla." In sculpture, first prize went to Harold Tovish's good "Head of a Girl," with honorable mention to William Martin's striking "Stalking Bird." I liked George Aaron's "Jeremiah" and Peter Abate's "Youth and His Dreams" most of all.

Donald Stoltenberg received the overall Grand Prize for his painting "Times Square No. 2." This is a large work in which the patches of light jump out at the beholder with almost blinding force. Strangely, the painting improves if looked at from an oblique angle.

In the architecture competition, 14 New England structures were chosen from a field of sixty. The judges hit the nail on the head by making the Award to Anderson, Beckwith & Haible (Boston) for the magnificent Office Building for Boston Manufacturers Mutual Insurance Company in Waltham, Mass.; and by singing out for commendation the Brandeis University Interfaith Center in Waltham, and the Tokeneke Elementary School in Darien, Conn.

"A Century of New England Architecture" was a special exhibition presented in cooperation with the American Institute of Architects on the occasion of their 100th anniversary. Arranged by Norman Fletcher, it included 32 large panels of photographs and descriptive commentaries of representative milestones (some no longer extant) in New England architecture, including Harvard's Sever Hall (by H.H. Richardson), Lowell House (by Coolidge, Shepley, Bulfinch & Abbott), and a proposed new city plan for Spring-field, Mass. by students in the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Much of the excellent photography in the exhibit was done by the renowned Samuel Chamberlain (which reminds me that it might be a good idea to include a photography competition in next year's Arts Festival).

'The Consul'

First of the series of evening stage presentations was Gian-Carlo Menotti's opera "The Consul," given four times. Menotti's best work, though musically uneven, it ranks with Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" and Copland's "The Tender Land" as one of the three finest operas to come out of this country. "The Consul" demonstrates an unerring sense of theatre in its almost unrelievedly anguished tale of Magda Sorel's attempt to get out of a bureaucratic country crawling with secret police, and its tragic results--a timely story in view of recent events in Hungary.

The role of Magda was played by Patricia Neway, who won awards for it six years ago in New York. She is a superb actress as well as a consummate singer, and I found her performance here even more exalted than on Broadway. All the other singers were fine, notably Norman Adkins, Ruth Kobart, Lydia Summers and Leon Lishner. Chandler Cowles' staging was first-rate; and Evan Whallon's handling of the orchestra was expert, except for letting the piano play too loudly.

I hope the Festival Committee will not heed the critic of the Globe, who complained that a light and gay opera ought to have been picked for warm weather. I am sick of the idiotic policy of calling a moratorium on serious plays and operas of high quality during the summer months. The audiences certainly appreciate the chance of seeing this fine work, heat or no.

New England Composers

June 16 witnessed a concert of choral and instrumental music by New England composers. Lorna Cooke deVaron led her carefully trained New England Conservatory Chorus in pieces dating from 1612 to the present. The unpredictable Charles Ives was represented by his strangely polytonal "Sixty - seventh Psalm;" Randall Thompson '20, Rosen Profesor of Music, by "Alleluia," his best piece; Irving Fine '37, by "Have You Seen the White Lily Grow?"; Carl McKinley '17, by a portion of his dramatic legend The Kid, which incorporated American cowboy song material and is scored for piano and percussion; and Mabel Daniels by her rousing "Psalm of Praise" with piano, three trumpets and timpani, composed last year for the 75th anniversary of Radcliffe. Several of the composers were present to comment on their music.

After a brilliantly witty commentary, Walter Piston '24, Namburg Professor of Music, conducted his own immaculate "Divertimento for Nine Instruments." Robert Brink was the fine soloist in the first local performance of the revised version of Alan Hovhaness' Concerto No.2 for Violin and String Orchestra, a rather bland neo-modal work. Carl Ruggles' extremely dissonant Angels was written for either string or brass ensemble; the performance here by strings could not equal the extraordinary effect that three trumpets and five trombones can achieve. The concert ended with Daniel Pinkham '44 conducting the combined chorus and orchestra in his new Wedding Cantata. In five movements, this is a wholly ingratiating and captivating work, full of imaginative and nuanced timbres--his finest composing to date.

Ballet Company

Two performances of a program by Jose Limon and the 13 other members of his dance company were offered. With choreography by Doris Humphrey, "Variations and Conclusion From New Dance" proved visually striking with contrasting blue and orange costumes. Wallingford Riegger's music was neurotic and neomodal, and a bit static harmonically. "Ritmo Jondo," based on songs and dances of Spanish gypsies, suffered only from ragged strings in the orchestra.

Lucas Hoving and Lavina Nielsen danced their own "Satyros," a hilarious spoof devised for a frothy Poulenc trio for piano, bassoon and oboe (the latter exquisitely played by Robert Freeman '57). The piece de resistance was Limon's own "Emperor Jones," a 20-minute ballet based on the O'Neill play. The choreography is inspired and Pauline Lawrence's costumes superb. The prolific Heitor Villa-Lobos composed the magnificently frenetic score. This ballet concert marked a tremendous improvement over the one presented last year.

"Devil's Disciple"

The choice of a play this year fell on Bernard Shaw's "The Devil's Disciple," which had four performances. It is not the best Shaw, but it is the only full-length play he wrote about America and the first of his works to be staged in this country. The play begins as a romantic melodrama, but suddenly turns into a witty farce of lese-majeste in the last act.

David Pressman's direction was adequate, though he let some of the cast pace their lines too slowly; and there were other signs of insufficient rehearsal time. E. G. Marshall, as the Rev. Anderson, gave us another example of his skill in a character-type role. Felicia Montealegre, as his wife, did her captivating best with an absurdly implausible role. Kevin McCarthy was exuberantly athletic and flery in the leading role of the brash and blasphemous wayward son Dick Dudgeon. Martyn Green relished his brief appearance in act three as the sly General Burgoyne; and Muriel Berkson, Edward Finnegan and John Heldabrand provided excellent support. The outdoor theatre had one great advantage: when Dick was about to be hanged (see cut above), the Reverend was able to come charging to the rescue on horseback!

e.e. cummings

This year's Festival Poetry Award went to e.e. cummings '15. Mr. cummings gave a reading of a dozen and a half of his poems on June 23, including a new poem on the occasion of the Festival, "i am a little church," more traditional in style than many of his leg-pulling, nonsensical concatenations of letters

He was introduced by last year's Award-winner, Archibald MacLeish, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, who said that we should not worry too much about the meaning of cummings' poems, that "a poem is apprehended in the ear." He termed cummings "one of the few pure lyric voices of our time." It is true that cummings reads very musically and slowly, relishing every syllable whether it means anything or not. The best impression was made by his poem "Thanksgiving: 1956," in which he denounced the official apathy of our government during the Hungarian crisis. Still, cummings is far from being in a class with MacLeish as a poet; and I can think of several more worthy Award recipients.

History of Jazz

Last Thursday a crowd of over 16,000 turned out to hear "A Living History of Jazz," with John McLellan as narrator and the Herb Pomeroy jazz band as illustrator. McLellan's commentary had plenty of meat but was not too technical for the layman. He gave a splendid survey of the origin of jazz, its evolution into a craft and finally an art-form.

Every point was illustrated by one or more of the 16 Negro and white musicians in the Pomeroy band--all of them skilled enough so that they not only play in their own personal style but were able to imitate with uncanny authenticity all the different styles and idiosyncrasies of the other great players of the past and present.

Some of the topics covered by McLellan were: the "blues," that aped the human voice; the rococo-like ragtime; the tension-relaxation principle of "swing," wonderfully illustrated by a piece called "Nobody Will Room With Me"; the small "spasm" or "skifflle" bands of home-made instruments; the staccato phrasing and polish of Bix Beiderbecke; Paul Whiteman, who "tried to make a lady out of jazz and wound up with a eunuch"; the wider tone colors and neo-jungle rhythms of Duke Ellington; the two-beat music of Jimmy Lunsford; Benny Goodman and the importance of his Fletcher Henderson arrangements; the blues-based simplicity of Count Basie; the thin, sparse sax playing of Les Young; the small jam sessions during World War II made necessary by the wholesale draft; the emergence of bebop and the "soul" of Charlie Parker; the wild, Afro-Cubanism of Dizzy Gillespie; the "cool jazz" of Miles Davis; the influence of Woody Herman and Stan Getz; the recent "West Coast jazz," with its use of flutes and oboes, its emphasis on counterpoint and on writing out all the notes instead of on improvisation; the Jerry Mulligan quartet; and today's "big band jazz." I must single out sax-player Jaki Byard, who wrote many of the fine illustrations. This was a most rewarding evening.

All-Stravinsky Concert

The Festival concluded this past weekend with a thrice-performed all-Stravinsky concert on the occasion of the composer's 75th birthday. Stravinsky is this year's recipient of the Arts Festival Medal.

The concert, under the direction of Robert Craft, a young disciple of the composer, began with Greeting Prelude, which Stravinsky wrote in 1955 for Pierre Monteux's 80th birthday. It is merely an elaborated fanfare on the wellknown "Happy Birthday To You" tune.

The opening section of Petrouchka followed, ruined by an absolute hacker of a pianist. The Capriccio, consisting of two dry movements enclosing a Bachian arioso, featured the composer's son Soulima as piano soloist. He did well enough though he has played it better in the past.

The Symphony in Three Movements suffered from ragged string playing and the incompetent pianist. This is no fault of the conductor, who has an unorthodox but very clear beat; he just had a bad orchestra to work with.

The concert was saved from failure by Renard, only now having its New England premier after 41 years. This used a small orchestra of 15 or so, and they were able to play with the requisite precision. The work is a ballet-burlesque, brilliantly choreographed after Balanchine, wonderfully costumed, and impeccably danced by Todd Bolender, Francisco Moncion, Herbert Bliss and John Mandia as a fox, rooster, cat and ram, respectively. Their singing counterparts, also excellent, were tenors John MeCollum and John King, baritone Robert Gay, and bass Herbert Gibson.

Finally a word of appreciation for the unskimping, 64-page program booklet for the Festival. Whoever planned it, besides listing the works of art, the programs and casts and other information, went out of the way to get specialists to write helpful auxiliary essays on the various evening events. This is representative of the tremendous thought, care and effort that have gone into the planning and realization of the whole Boston Arts Festival

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