Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mood Music

There’s nothing like music to get you into the spirit of the holidays. Two seasonal concerts held this week—and right after Thanksgiving to start the next round of celebrations—are sure to do just that. Consider this your invitation to each.

What: Middleton Holiday Pops Concert
Who: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Middleton High School Concert Choir
When: Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.
Where: Madison Marriott West
How much: Saturday: $25 adults, $22 seniors, $15 students, $8 children; Sunday: $19 adults, $16 seniors, $10 students, $5 children
Why: When the WCO joins forces with eighty student singers from Middleton High School, the result is rich, festive music. Highlights this year include Bridge’s A Christmas Dance ‘Sir Roger de Coverly’, Richman’s Hanukkah Festival Overture and Blake’s The Snowman.

What: Christmas Lights
Who: Oakwood Chamber Players 
When: Friday at 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Where: Oakwood Village West Auditorium
How much: $20, $15 seniors, $8 students
Why: If you liked the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2002 Christmas Lights CD, you’ll probably love hearing them in the intimate performances they’re best known for. Traditional and non-traditional music will feature excerpts from Bohmler’s Visions of the Child, Stevens’ Christmas Medley No. 1 and Jolivet’s Trio for Flute, Bassoon and Harp.

Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

December Artist: Coming into Focus

William Wolberg is a doctor and professor emeritus with the departments of surgery and human oncology at UW–Madison. But he’s also an accomplished photographer dedicated to showing the beauty of the southern Wisconsin landscape through its details, shapes and ever-changing light.

A series of Wolberg’s nature photographs is on display through December 30 at the UW Arboretum Steinhauer Trust Gallery in a show called Prairie Portraits.

Wolberg offers some reflections on the challenges and triumphs of his work.

On his interest in nature …

My childhood home in Nakoma had endless woods and pasture as a backyard. As I roamed through the Arboretum, I had the good fortune to observe some of the icons of nature ecology at work. This, together with an interest in hunting and fishing, formed a foundation for my appreciation of the out-of-doors.

On his start in photography …

Because of my scientific interest, I became an academic surgeon and led a very structured and demanding life. The scientific world of academic surgery is objective and discoveries are analyzed statistically. When I ventured into the photographic world and using my scientific background, I naively tried to understand what constituted a perfect photograph. To my disappointment, I found that photographic evaluation defied scientific methodology. The perfect photograph does not exist because photography is subjective and each photograph is seen differently by each person. So I lowered my goals and set to learn not what constituted a perfect photo but rather what made one acceptable.  

On the landscape …

I found that my favorite, landscape-nature, photography ranked way down on the contemporary critics’ hierarchal scale. In contrast, the eleventh century Chinese artists ranked landscapes on top of their hierarchal scale. Why the decreased popularity?

I believe that part of the explanation lies with the observer since photography is communication between the photographer and the observer. Regardless of how the photographer feels, the bottom line is that the perfect photograph exists only in the eye of the beholder. The observers’ feelings are determined to a great extent by the observers’ past experience. I’m attracted to landscape-nature photography because of the intellectual renewal that I experienced during my wilderness treks.

On the success of a photograph …

To quote Ansel Adams, “Either the photograph speaks to a viewer or it does not. I cannot demand that anyone receive from the image just what was in my visualization at the time of exposure. I believe that if I am able to express what I saw and felt, the image will contain qualities that may provide a basis for imaginative response by the viewer.”

My sense of photographic accomplishment comes from the elation that I experience when I discover a new scene, feel its presence, snap the shutter and print the photograph. After this, I can only hope that picture will evoke similar feelings in the viewer.

Photographs are by William Wolberg and courtesy of the UW Arboretum Steinhauer Trust Gallery.

IN THE MAGAZINE: The December issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• In our special pet section, learn about Marcia Sparks, a local painter who renders dogs and cats in a vibrant Pop style.
• A profile on Leotha Stanley, who leads the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir each year in the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas Spectacular.
• A poem by Cathy Conger (listen to her poetry podcast).
• Our monthly Overtones section with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts, exhibitions and festivals taking place in December.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Comfort Theater

When Danielle Dresden and Donna Peckett thought about Madison’s historic Greenbush neighborhood, a multitude of interwoven elements came to mind. They thought of the tight-knit community, the struggles its residents faced, the families’ stories, the culture, the food.

It was with all of these ideas that Peckett and Dresden, artistic directors of TAPIT/new works Ensemble Theater, created the new play Mangia, Mangia—Family, Food and Life in the Greenbush.

“It’s about food and culture, and how food connects us to culture,” Dresden says.

In the play four actors—women of different generations including Dresden and Peckett—take on a variety of roles. The characters’ stories are interspersed over two acts, without being held to chronology, to offer a slice of life in the Greenbush.

Peckett and Dresden interviewed former residents to get their personal stories of the neighborhood, then sifted, winnowed and sometimes combined elements to create material for the play. They also took inspiration from Catherine Tripalin Murray, who has collected recipes and photos and written cookbooks based on the Greenbush.

A partner in the production is Teresa Pullara-Ouabel of Bunky’s Restaurant, who prepares samples of the recipes featured in the play to share with audiences. The food, along with the storefront theater setting of TAPIT/new works, helps create an intimate, family-style atmosphere.

In addition to showing the role food held for Greenbush families, the play highlights how residents honored their families and culture even through financial hardships.

“I think we have so much to learn from those times and those people, how less is more,” Dresden says.

Dresden and Peckett believe the timing of Mangia, Mangia is appropriate for the current economic challenges. The play serves as a reminder to keep optimism and hope alive.

“There are a lot of lessons to take back from the Greenbush,” Peckett says. “God knows we need something.”

Adds Dresden, “My goal is to evoke and share a rich and wonderful past and recreate—if only briefly—a sense of that community, and to do so long enough for us to learn something to take back with us.”

The two collected many stories through their Greenbush research that they weren’t able to fit into the play. But they’re hoping to offer a production of “leftovers” sometime soon.

Mangia, Mangia opened November 7 and runs through the 23 at TAPIT/new works, 1957 Winnebago St. Tickets are $17 and include food samples, and performances take place Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m. For more information, call 244.2938 or visit

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Memories, nostalgia, personal pasts and shared experiences—all of these elements have helped shape Daniel Ostrov’s glass art and kept him connected to his native Madison.

While he now lives and works in Philadelphia, Ostrov got his start in art growing up on Madison’s west side. He credits Geof Herman, a teacher who leads the ceramics program at James Madison Memorial High School, with getting him interested in three-dimensional art. He recalls spending time after school in Herman’s studio throwing pottery.

And although Ostrov had a love of art—not to mention a natural talent for it—he didn’t plan to pursue it when he entered Tulane University in New Orleans. He wasn’t sure exactly what field he wanted to go into, but he began taking glass classes as electives. And he kept taking them. “I was in the art room a lot,” he says.

Once again he found inspiration in a teacher, this time Gene Koss, head of the glass program. “He’s a pretty intense guy,” Ostrov says. “It’s funny because he’s actually from Wisconsin.”

It was at Tulane that Ostrov began creating large-scale works—something Koss and graduates of the program are known for, and that had long intrigued Ostrov. “I’ve always been interested in making things that were of human scale,” he says. “I’m not really into dainty work.”

But in order to make large glass pieces, Ostrov had to master the medium, not an easy task given its physical and mental demands. “It’s a very intense working process, almost like playing a sport,” he says. “You have to be very focused for a set amount of time. You’re totally focused and totally there. I really like that about glass.”

The medium soon led him to Tyler College of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, from which he earned an MFA in sculpting earlier this year. However, it was anything but an easy journey. The program was demanding and the critiques brutal. “Tyler really broke down a lot of the ways I’d been making work,” Ostrov says.

A benefit was a new way of creating glass art. He wanted to make work that viewers could move through, finding different spaces and vantage points along the way. “It was not easy but I was really going for an idea of making art that was not just observed but experienced,” he says. “I wanted there to be an element of discovery,” he says.

Ostrov also gravitated toward ideas of memories and nostalgia, particularly the longing—but impossibility—of returning to the past. “I became really fascinated with the idea of nostalgia,” he says. “I think of it as longing for the past, longing for homeland—a lot of the ways I think of Madison.”

But in his second year at Tyler, he took on a broader view of nostalgia. In his artist’s statement he writes, “One of the essential human dilemmas is the yearning for, but inability to return to, the past. I see this desire manifest in two ways: the nostalgia for a lived past, as in specific memories from childhood, and the universal longing for a lost age of civilization. I am specifically interested in this longing for ‘the lost era’ because it is a memory shared by many that none actually physically experienced.”

In incorporating these ideas into his artwork, Ostrov turned to nautical imagery. Old wooden boats and waterways reminded him of how people used to travel and trade. This led to thinking about shipwreck imagery, a notion he’s still exploring in his work.

This Friday, November 7 through November 29, Ostrov—along with painter Dennis Nechvatal and needlepoint artist Mary Bero—will showcase work at Grace Chosy Gallery (and a percentage of proceeds will be donated to American Children’s Hospital to buy art for the surgical waiting area). Some work comes from his MFA thesis show at Tyler.

And while Ostrov won’t be at the show’s opening on Friday from 6–8 p.m.—he will be in North Carolina for another exhibition of his work at the Craven Arts Council and Gallery—he will unveil a new piece incorporating glass forms and a steel box. “This one I see as a bit more abstract,” he says. “It doesn’t delve into those themes as much as my thesis show.”

Ostrov has a show going up at the end of January in Brooklyn, New York, and another in Philadelphia in June.

But here’s hoping he creates more memories to share with his hometown.

Images are courtesy of Daniel Ostrov.