Showing posts with label Howard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Howard. Show all posts

Monday, February 19, 2018

A Cultural Capitol in the Winter

This is “high season” in Palm Beach County for countless opportunities to enjoy theatre of all genres, dance, music and art exhibitions.  To try to take them all in would leave little time for anything else.  While I love the theatre in general, I share Stephen Sondheim’s general aversion to the opera, probably because, for me, it’s too much of a hybrid, theatre, music, sometimes dance and high drama all rolled into one, and while I appreciate a fine voice, my sensibilities draw me to the Great American Songbook. 

It’s not as if I’ve never been exposed to opera, although my parents never went to one or listened to them on their “Victrola.”  In college, when I minored in music, I was able to get a ticket once in a while to the nosebleed section of the Metropolitan Opera House where there were students’ desks, and I would endeavor to follow the score.  I was impressed by the pageantry, but the music left me rather indifferent.  So I grew away from opera which I’m sure is my loss.

Ann on the other hand loves the opera so we’ve gone our separate ways, she subscribing to the Palm Beach Opera season (after having enjoyed the Metropolitan Opera in NYC while we lived there or nearby) with a friend.  One of the features of the PB Opera is a “lunch-and-learn” a couple of weeks before each performance and recently one of her friends was unable to go and offered the ticket to me.  Normally I’d decline, but the program focused on Candide by Leonard Bernstein, one of my musical “heroes” who could write for all different musical genres. 

Remarkably, and luckily for us all, Nina Bernstein Simmons, the youngest daughter of the great Leonard Bernstein, was the main speaker, lovingly guiding the audience through the humor and genius of her father’s operetta.  Candide is to be performed at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach February 23-25.  Parts of the program are brief performances, accompanied by piano, by the Benenson Young Artists, all opera students ready to graduate to the main stage.  

Derrek Stark, tenor played Candide,and Chelsea Bonagura, soprano, played Cunegonde, 

Francesca Aguado, mezzo-soprano, played the Old Lady, 

 and Joshua Conyers, baritone, played Dr. Pangloss. 

Their voices soared, and in particular, the best known piece, Glitter and Be Gay, sung by Chelsea Bonagura.  None other than the great Barbara Cook who one normally associates with the Great American Songbook can be heard singing this on You Tube.

David Stern, the conductor for the Palm Beach Opera and the son of Isaac Stern joined Nina Bernstein to reminiscence about his father’s friendship with Bernstein.  It was moving to see their two adult children sharing those memories.

Before that, again I was lucky enough to be the recipient of a subscription ticket from another one of Ann’s friends, this time to the Miami City Ballet.  Ah, the ballet.  From The Chorus Line’s song, At the Ballet: “Everything was beautiful at the ballet, / Raise your arms and someone's always there. /Yes, everything was beautiful at the ballet, /At the ballet, /At the ballet!!!”  With a few exceptions, that’s as close as I’ve been to a ballet as well. 

But a couple of weeks ago I did a grand jeté to the Miami City Ballet centennial celebration of Jerome Robbins.  Like Bernstein, Robbins is a cross over artist, probably best known for his work on West Side Story, which he directed and choreographed, with Leonard Bernstein the composer and Stephen Sondheim the lyricist.  Here are all the musical artists I most admire.

And, the second part of the program was dedicated to the West Side Story Suite, including, a “Prologue,” “Something’s Coming,” “Dance at the Gym,” “Cool, America,” “Rumble,” concluding with the “Somewhere Ballet.”

Ironically, it was a company premiere in the first part of the program which stole the show, The Cage. When it first premiered in NYC in 1986 the New York Times remarked: “Once seen, ''The Cage'' tends not to be forgotten. Jerome Robbins's depiction of life in a covey of female insects is gruesome. These are females who consider males of the species their prey, and two males are killed with brutal dispatch during the ballet, with Stravinsky's String Concerto in D somberly accompanying the murders. “  Indeed, not to be forgotten.  It was spectacularly fascinating.

From opera and ballet early this month on to our annual attendance at The Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show.  Opening night is the “social event of the season” – complimentary hors d oeuvres and champagne while you stroll about and look at the most eclectic and expensive art and jewelry you’ve ever seen for sale.  A couple of years ago I remember seeing Wilber Ross there.  You need his kind of resources to buy the art exhibited.  So why do we go?  It’s a moving feast of people and art.  See and be seen.  Just plain fun and it appeals to my diverse interests, from rare books, to paintings, to sculpture, to pop art.  Ann likes to look over the jewelry as well, but we’re both astonished by the prices, having looked at some gold ear rings, my thinking, maybe $5k, turning out to be $15K.  Look but don’t touch!

Some of the paintings that caught our eyes, and this is just a mere sampling, was the most expensive one, (a half a million dollars):

Louis Marie De Schryver,” Marchand de fleurs, la Rue du Havre, Paris,” 1893

Then a more contemporary artist:

 Marc Chagall, “Le vase bleu aux duex corbeilles de fruits,” circa 1961 - 1964

And one of my favorites:

 Norman Rockwell, “Mars Candy Christmas Card,” 1960

Talk about strange, but captivating, an iconoclastic UV print on birch wood:

 Sarah Bahbah, “Sex and Takeout”

 Finally, one that for a mere $29,500 I would even consider buying, if I had that kind of $ for art.  This one appeals to me because of my love for the sea and the color.  The artist is considered a “hyperrealist:” 

 Marc Esteve, “Breaker”.

In the rare book department, see the signed first edition of The Theatre Guild Presents Porgy and Bess. New York: Gershwin Publishing Corporation, [1935].  Breathtaking, signed by Ira and George Gershwin as well as by Du Bose Heyward who wrote the libretto as well as some of the lyrics along with Ira Gershwin.  This is as close as I’ll get to such a piece of history.

But who needs art like that when, in our own home, we now possess three professionally prepared giclées, by one of our favorite artists, our neighbor and dear friend, Nina Motta.

Her gift to us of “Jessica at the Piano” now hangs above my piano and not a day goes by that I fail to see her and even sometimes greet her.  The full story is the subject of a separate blog entry.

Recently we acquired giclées of two of her other paintings that we have long admired.  These hang in our hallway so we see them many, many times a day as well.

The first is a prize winning painting, one of our favorites,

 "Making Plans"

Nina told us the story about this.  She was sitting at a café around the corner from the Vatican.  A young woman stepped through the doorway of a salon across the street from where Nina was sitting. “It was impossible to miss her, the dress, hair, posture, cell phone. I grabbed my camera and put on the telephoto lens because I knew immediately it was going to be my next painting, taking about 25 shots.”

The other is called "Portobelo, Panama" which she painted from a picture she took in the harbor of that town.

Nina’s art shares that hallway with unique pieces created by one of my dearest friends, who passed away nearly ten years ago now, Howard Goldstein.  My story about Howard and our friendship can be read here

Howard specialized in carving wildlife figures from balsa wood, and painting them to life-like perfection. I was touched when he gave us two of his works, the only ones he said he had ever parted with from his personal collection.

The first is a Koala bear

The other is a Manatee, just like the ones which occasionally go by our dock.

That same hallway has an original work of art which we acquired in Nantucket when we first visited the island by our own boat, an acrylic on board:

John Austin’s “ Forty Four Foot Boat”

Another painting acquired in Nantucket that same year is by a better known artist, Kerry Hallam.  He is a British impressionist who later specialized in nudes and sailboats and the French Rivera coast.  A prolific artist (some 12,000 paintings) but we love this one, unique in many respects as he didn’t do many of the Nantucket mainland.

“Unitarian Church, Nantucket” 1986

Finally, I’ll call this art.  We needed to replace our front door, which was a nice solid wood mahogany but as it opened in rather than out, was not hurricane code compliant.  Therefore, we needed to put up shutters across the front door every hurricane season which took its toll on me as well as the stucco around the door.

As we decided to shop for a replacement door, why not find one that is aesthetically beautiful as well as functional?  After spending hours at a store which specializes in such doors,  we found one made of hurricane impact glass which encapsulates all clear bevels and an antique polished black Caming design, perfect for the Mediterranean feeling of our home.  A Canadian artisan designed and manufactured the glass, a work of art in our opinion.

Now that it’s been installed, we wonder why we didn’t do that long ago.  It’s hard to do it justice in these photographs, particularly from the front.

So, it’s been an “artsy” few weeks for us.  All that is missing from this entry are my theatre write ups but they are easily found from the index. 

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rest in Peace, Howard

My friend Howard died.

Since I wrote that piece, Howard was transferred to a hospice. I had one last conversation with him while he was there. He said he had little pain and the hospice staff was wonderful. His son had a birthday party for him, his 62nd, and he was very moved by the many friends and relatives who were able to attend. We said our goodbyes and I was so stunned by this dreamlike exchange, I asked to call again. I called at the appointed time but his phone was on do-not-disturb. I called again in a few days but was told to contact his family. And that is when I learned what I was afraid to hear. My good friend had passed.

His son will be establishing a web site and a charitable foundation for his father. His many sculptures will be on display and when on line, I’ll communicate the web address.

Rest in peace, Howard, I’ll miss you so.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I spoke to my good friend Howard last week. At the end of June we had breakfast with him outside Washington on our drive up to Connecticut from Florida. Although we had not seen him for several years, probably since I left my job some eight years ago, we wanted to visit and lend our emotional support to what he was facing: lung cancer.

He had had successful surgery to remove a tumor sometime last year, but in a routine follow-up, they found a spot on his other lung, one that would be best treated with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. When we saw him he was completing radiation and was beginning the chemo. Although he had lost weight, he said if it were not for the diagnosis, he felt completely fine. That he wouldn’t even know he was battling cancer and undergoing radiation. He was hopeful – and so were his physicians – that this would go into remission.

I’ve known Howard since 1976. We were both in our early 30’s, working in publishing, he at a company that bought the company I worked for.

Howard and I learned we were very much alike: compulsive workers, driven to build our businesses. Initially I suppose we viewed each other with some suspicion; unconsciously playing a workplace version of the childhood game, steal the bacon. But over time we became collaborators, particularly as Howard had migrated to the role of corporate development, so we were sort of symbiotically attached. We worked on acquiring and developing product, my making the basic argument and Howard putting the right corporate spin on things in terms of format and presentation, particularly after after a large foreign publishing firm acquired our companies.

Interestingly, Howard did not come from a business background. He was trained as a graphic artist and he was a very good one. He made the creative demands of that endeavor transferable to his corporate role. A perfectionist, he was not satisfied unless the documents he produced were done so with clarity and conviction.

Simply put, he made me look good. I remember in particular a proposal to greatly expand our reference book program. This entailed abrupt shifts in both product and market. I supplied the basic information and projections and he pulled it together into a cogent, persuasive proposal.

We shared similar working habits. He was the only person I could call if I got into the office at 6.30 am and find him at his desk. We got into the routine of checking on each other when we got in, not only a game of one-upsmanship, but a way of connecting personally. It was also a venue for reciprocal corporate insight – we seeing our parent company from two different perspectives and trying to divine logic and motives.

He was married when he was young too and his wife coincidentally was born on the same month, day and year as me. His artistic training was also being put to good use as his avocation, carving wildlife figures from balsa wood, and painting them to life-like perfection. I was touched when he gave us two of his works, the only ones he said he had ever parted with from his personal collection, a Manatee and a Koala bear. They proudly hang on the walls of our home in Florida.

When I retired and began consulting, Howard did as well. We joked about maybe collaborating as consultants calling the company the “Two Steins,” as both of our last names end in “stein.” Given his corporate development skills Howard had to turn away work, and since has had the luxury of picking and choosing the work he wants to do.

There was tragedy in his life though. His beloved wife developed MS and Howard made the decision to care for her at home himself. This was no easy task, emotionally and physically, as her health steadily deteriorated. Several years ago she passed away. My admiration of how he and his son faced this tragedy knows no bounds.

I was shocked when he told me that he was going to undergo a radical operation to remove a portion of his lung which proved to be cancerous. He faced this challenge with his usual fortitude and optimism, putting his trust in some of the best surgeons in the Washington area, convinced that he will beat this and recover.

The operation turned out to be more challenging than he imagined and he confided that he could never go through it again. But the operation was successful and they said he would only need a six month follow-up Cat scan.

But the scan revealed there was a new growth on his other lung, something surgery could not deal with; instead, radiation and chemotherapy was the recommended course of action. This brings me back to our brief visit with him on our way up from Florida.

About a month ago, only a few weeks after seeing him, I was stunned by a call from his son to tell me that he was back in the hospital and they had to discontinue the chemotherapy as it so seriously weakened him. Since then he’s lost the use of his legs and he is still in the hospital. The hope is a rehabilitation program might be feasible or he might have to go to a nursing home.

Howard said on the phone, “We've known each other too long for me to sugar coat this. My life is over as I’ve known it.” I anxiously await some good news.