wet earth

Expecting the Unexpected

A cursory glance at the following titles—“The Banks of Green Willow,” “The Watermill,” “The Black Lake”—might lead one to guess that the titles refer to paintings or poems about water.  The guess would almost be accurate: the creators of these three works, George Butterworth, Ronald Binge, and Patrick Doyle, respectively, did aim to tell a story or suggest an image involving water, but instead of words or pigment their creations evoke the idea of water through the use of musical notes, instruments, and performers.

If you haven’t heard of composers Butterworth, Binge and Doyle, don’t worry, because Joe Truskot has, and every week on 20/21, his Tuesday evening radio show of mostly modern and contemporary music on KUSP, Truskot offers to the radio-listening public an astonishing array of just such musical juxtapositions and connections.  In addition to the titles above, his program on “Freshwater Music,” which aired last June, also included works by the 20th-century greats Benjamin Britten, Aaron Copland, and Samuel Barber, as well as more contemporary selections by living composers like Joan Tower and Jennifer Higdon.

“ ‘Modern music’ is not just one thing,” says Truskot, who began hosting 20/21 regularly last February.  “There are many different spokes to that wheel.”  Some classical music stations broadcast only mainstream, unchallenging repertoire—nothing that calls undue attention to itself—in order to create an unruffled background soundtrack for shopping or driving.  Truskot is after something else.

“20/21 is a show with a point of view.  It’s not an educational lecture but a real program, something you listen to.  And it’s not all squeaks and pips.”

Truskot (photo at right) studied guitar in grade school, but admits he did not have the temperament to be a musician.  It was later, in high school and then college, that he discovered classical music and what would become his lifelong passion.  As a young Peace Corps volunteer in the 1970s, he traveled to Iran with a cassette player and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky tapes.  While working for CARE in Belize, he would go to Chetumal, a Mexican border town several hours away that had the only record store in the region.

Now, the ease with which he is able to locate and listen to a vast array of music, from the standard to the obscure, would have been unimaginable back then.  Each playlist that Truskot curates for a 20/21 show may draw from his own collection of over 2000 CDs, the significant KUSP library, and Internet programs like mp3 Rocket, which allow him to sample new music without committing to buying it.

He also receives recordings sent by the business managers of such composers as David Del Tredici and Charles Wuorinen, connections he forged while working nine years at the League of American Orchestras and twenty years for the Monterey Symphony.  Interacting with living composers has kept his musical imagination fresh.  One of Truskot’s favorite living composers is Kevin Puts, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize, whose Arc of Life commission by Chamber Music Monterey Bay will be premiered this October.  “His music is accessible and warm-hearted,” Truskot says.  “There’s such brilliance in the music, it draws you in.”

Amy Anderson, CMMB’s Board President, describes Truskot’s 20/21 shows as “creative and fabulous.”

“Joe’s programs are just brilliant,” she says.  “His music choices for each program are eclectic, connected to each other, and just delightful.”

Past programs have included a diversity of themes, including insomnia, women composers, 20th-century violin concertos, and France.  He is currently working on a show about birds.

Although Truskot is a fierce advocate for the music of today, his favorite composer is Haydn. 

“Haydn worked under extraordinary circumstances,” he says, “creating a vast amount of music under really constrained circumstances.  The music budget was under the kitchen department, which meant that in fact his boss was a chef.  His music is so full of surprises, it never does quite what you expect.”

Thanks to Joe Truskot and KUSP, the tradition of the musical surprise, of expecting the unexpected, is alive and well on the Central Coast.

Visit http://blogs.kusp.org/aeolianimpromptu/ for links to Joe Truskot’s archived blogposts, playlists and podcasts of 20/21, which airs every Tuesday evening 7:00-9:00 on KUSP.

The Mystery of Her Mother

Ellen Snortland’s name alone is enough to get anyone’s attention (“with a name like that she’d better be good,” the writer, performer and human rights activist likes to say), but growing up with a silent, stone-faced Norwegian-American mother from North Dakota, Snortland faced the ultimate challenge: getting her mother to laugh.  Snortland, who lives in Altadena, California, and who will perform her 2009 Pulitzer Prize-nominated one-woman show “Now That She’s Gone” this weekend in Carmel, says that she turned herself inside-out in a lifelong attempt to draw her mother out of her shell.  Her show, which she has performed to acclaim throughout the world, including the Edinburgh and New York Fringe Festivals, is a funny and poignant exploration of that relationship, inspired, as she says, by “the universal hunger to be understood by a parent.”

“Now That She’s Gone” has been described as “Garrison Keillor meets Lily Tomlin,” a memoir piece featuring sex, drugs, Eleanor Roosevelt and lutefisk.  In a recent phone interview, Snortland says that when she began writing the piece, it was a way for her to unravel a relationship that had mystified her her entire life.

“Just consider what this one woman’s life was like,” Snortland says of her mother.  “She only ever kissed one man, and barely.  I was the opposite.  I did all kinds of outrageous things, trying to get her to react.”  Straddling the two sides of a divide marked by the women’s liberation movement, significant social and cultural changes, as well as the mysteries of personality and the generation gap, Snortland and her mother’s lives could not have seemed more different.  Yet they found common ground in their passion for human rights; Eleanor Roosevelt was a particular focus of Snortland’s mother.

In the course of writing the play, Snortland also uncovered information that helped her see her mother in a different, more compassionate light.  “This show is not about holding grudges,” she says.  “It really heals families.  As an example, a man in his 70s came up to me after the show and held my hand as tears streamed down his face.  He’d never been able to forgive his father until he saw my show. I am profoundly moved by the number of e-mails I get from people from all walks of life who have told me that seeing my show has helped them heal old family wounds.”

Snortland is bringing “Now That She’s Gone” to the Cherry Center after a conversation with her friend Riane Eisler, international peace activist and resident of Carmel, who had read the play and loved it but had not been able to see it.  Snortland is always happy for the opportunity to perform her show.

“I just did it thirty days in a row in Scotland,” she says.  “It’s so fun to perform, I really sail with it.  It’s so yummy!  I love the feeling of being completely present with the audience.  I don’t have to worry about me.”

“Now That She’s Gone,” at the Carl Cherry Center, 4th and Guadeloupe, Carmel, August 24 at 7:30 pm, Saturday August 25 at 7:30 pm, and Sunday August 26 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm.  Call (831) 624-7491 or visit the Center’s website for tickets and information.

Paper, Water, Dreams

It’s not uncommon to be familiar with the changes a landscape seems to undergo when we view it from the window of an airplane—what is craggy becomes smooth, what is vast and undefined becomes organized by shape and color, by the unfolding of sharply-defined symmetries where from the ground there appear none.  Less common is the view from above that is not so aerially high: say, the height at which we fly in our dreams.

It is this dreamy, mid-range perspective that is highlighted in exhibit of watercolors by Zoya Scholis, at the Pacific Grove Art Center.  Scholis’s paintings, a selection of works from 2009 to the present, celebrate the imagination with rich colors and an unusual balance of precision and dreamy abstraction.

In “Dog Park,” the scene is one of joyously unruly motion, dogs running on the grass and paths that Scholis has delineated with the use of stencils.  The energetic bird’s eye view is both blurred and precise, a dynamic quality that informs many of the works on display.  I was reminded of the way the vivid setting of a dream can seem both mystifying and yet utterly precise.

Another work is “After Kandinsky,” suggesting the influence of an earlier painter of vibrant geometries, but throughout the exhibit I was reminded more of Diebenkorn and Thiebaud, especially in a painting like “San Francisco Roof Gardens,” with its striking perspective, both looming and collapsed.

“Aquatic Floral” (above) is a gorgeous, sumptuous work, in which the dense rainbow layering of color and form results in a celebration of biological exuberance, the flowing arc of life contained in a single bouquet.

I was less drawn to three other floral still lifes, grouped together on the same wall, in which a starker relationship between foreground and background suggested to my eye something brittle and unsettled.

Many of the works on display are presented without frames, and this offers those of us who are passionate about paper the opportunity to really enjoy the full paper-ness, soft-rough edges and all, of these fine watercolors.  A good watercolor is as much about the paper as the water; a frame and translucent covering can sometimes obscure that.

Most of the works here are abstractions or still lifes, but one delightful narrative piece reveals Scholis’s skill at telling a story.  In “Sailing by the Book,” a girl sits in a boat, wearing a peach-colored bonnet, absorbed in a book whose cover is red.  Under a speckled sky the boat is becalmed, safely fastened to the deck; somewhere in the sky there is a pale imprint of a boat, like a watery shadow from above.  The painting seems to offer a quiet homage to the creative imagination: the boat has no sail, but then none is needed when the transport of words, of art, is at hand.

“Magic Carpet Ride,” a selection of recent watercolors by Zoya Scholis, is on display in the Elmarie Dyke Gallery at the Pacific Grove Art Center, 568 Lighthouse Avenue, through August 30.  Open Wednesday through Saturday, 12:00-5:00, Sunday 1:00-4:00.