This week: Central Park, the draftsman’s mark & more.
Saving Central Park: A History and a Memoir, by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers (Knopf): Elizabeth Barlow Rogers dedicates Saving Central Park, her vital new book, to the “men and women who built and rebuilt” our most famous urban garden. Yet arguably no one has dedicated more to the salvation of Central Park than Rogers herself. By founding the Central Park Conservancy in 1980, Rogers created the model of public–private partnership that has led to the revitalization of urban parkland across the country. Saving Central Park recounts the shocking degradation of the park she discovered upon moving to New York from Texas in 1964. The memoir also conveys the reverence she came to feel for the park’s nineteenth-century designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, “barely remembered back then,” whose presence she still felt beneath the graffiti and grime. By interweaving the stories of New York and the many characters who came to perform across its garden stage, Saving Central Park tells the story of the transformation of our greatest park and, by extension, the city that surrounds it. —JP
“The Poets’ Prize” award ceremony, at the Nicholas Roerich Museum (May 18): Founded by Robert McDowell, Frederick Morgan, and Louis Simpson, the annual “Poets’ Prize” has, since 1988, celebrated the “best book of verse published by an American during the preceding year”—as determined by a “jury of one’s peers,” with the $3000 prize funded by a committee of poets. This Friday, at 7 PM, the 2018 prize will be conferred on Dana Gioia, who will read from his 99 Poems: New & Selected (Graywolf Press), the year’s winning book. The event, at the must-see Nicholas Roerich Museum, at 319 West 107th Street, will also honor finalists Ishion Hutchinson, Eric McHenry, James Davis May, and John Foy, whose book, Night Vision, was the recipient of the 2016 New Criterion Poetry Prize. —JP
Three drawing exhibitions at the Morgan Library & Museum: The Morgan has long been a reliable repository of small, focused exhibitions on enlightening, if not crowd-inducing, subjects. In matters of the visual arts, the Morgan’s collection has been permanently strengthened by its large Thaw collection of drawing sheets and oil sketches. This spring and summer, three exhibitions of works on paper give rare insight into the creative and working processes of artists across the centuries. “Rivers and Torrents: Oil Sketches from the Thaw Collection,” on through December 9, includes a good number of quick sketches that nineteenth-century landscape artists made of rivers and streams en plein air as studies for larger and more developed paintings. “Thomas Gainsborough: Experiments in Drawing,” on through August 19, examines the experimental and idiosyncratic techniques and media that the eighteenth-century British painter used for both portrait and landscape sketches. Finally, “Wayne Thiebaud, Draftsman,” which opens May 18 and continues through September 23, allows us a peek into the California master’s eclectic oeuvre through the lens of his works on paper, which may be taken as finished independent pieces rather than preparatory studies. All shows promise to be as edifying as they are welcome, especially for those visitors inclined toward the lighter, more delicate touch of drawing and sketch. For more on Gainsborough, refer to Henrik Bering’s latest piece for The New Criterion, “Glorious Gainsborough,” and for more on Wayne Thiebaud, see James Panero’s April “Gallery chronicle.” —AS
Mélanie Clapiès performs Philip Lasser’s Sonapartita at Suite Française (May 15): It’s hard to think of another set of works that so towers over their instrument’s repertoire as do Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. These six suites stand as the greatest exploration of the violin’s solo voice in the Baroque period, expanding as never before the virtuosic possibilities of polyphony on the instrument. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, composers have looked back to Bach’s example in crafting new works for unaccompanied violin. Eugène Ysaÿe’s six sonatas from 1923 are the most celebrated of the modern descendants, and Bach’s six continue to inspire responses today; I recall from 2014 Krzysztof Pendercki’s remarkable La Follia, which he wrote under the working title “Chaconne,” until he felt intimidated by the comparison to the monumental Chaconne from Bach’s D-minor Partita. On Tuesday, the violinist Mélanie Clapiès will perform a new work by Philip Lasser, Sonapartita, a blending-together of Bach’s G-minor Sonata and D-minor Partita. Lasser’s music is steeped heavily in the French Romantic-Impressionistic tradition, focusing on melody and color as the driving elements of his compositional voice. I look forward to hearing how he responds to these two jewels of the Baroque literature. —ECS
“Landmark Lecture: Reflections on 35 Years of Façade Inspections,” at the General Society Library (May 15): New York City’s Local Law 11, now known as the Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), can safely be said to be the scourge of building supers, apartment residents, and lovers of New York City–architecture in general. The law, which mandates that every six-story building’s façade be inspected every five years, with the review to be facilitated by the erection of hideous, irksome scaffolding, ensures that blocks of our city are constantly blighted by obscuring metal rods. Is such frequent inspection necessary? And what exactly are the inspectors doing once the scaffolding goes up? Find out this Wednesday at the General Society Library, where Howard Zimmerman Architects’ Senior Preservationist, Joan Berkowitz, and Director of Façade Compliance, Carolyn Caste, will explain how the FISP affects historic buildings. —BR
From the archive:
“Let’s tickle the ivories,” by David Dubal (February 2012). On the joys of playing the piano.
From the current issue: “Notes toward an introduction,” by William Logan. On poetic criticism.