//Ad libs: My top arts events from 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My top arts events from 2009

My top ten list is always a tease. I took in an array of incredible exhibitions, concerts, author talks and so forth in the Palo Alto area in the past 12 months. But now I'm reminded of everything I didn't get to see. Rewind!

Here's my list of the 10 favorites I did see in 2009 -- in no real order, as it would be like comparing apples to gooseberries.

New event: World Music Day
, Palo Alto
The festivities kicked off beautifully, and WMD wasn't hard to find. We wandered through a balm
y downtown from one free outdoor concert to another: klezmer, jazz, hip-hop, Latin and Balkan and Celtic music, and practically every other kind of tune you could think of. Bravos to Claude Ezran and the other organizers. Let's hope this becomes a tradition.

New song: "A Change is Overdue" from
"Tinyard Hill," TheatreWorks
After I sat in on a rehearsal of this Tommy Newman-Mark Allen musical that premiered at TW in July, I kept playing this song on Newman's website. I love the open, hopeful feel of the line "I want to twist it, forge it, bend it into something new."

"From Their Studios," Cantor Arts Center
A remarkable diversity of voices characterized this show of work by Stanford faculty artists. John Edmark's kaleidoscope-like "
Geometron," Robert Dawson's haunting photos, and Enrique Chagoya's satirical prints were highlights. This show is still open, through Jan. 3. (My list continues after this particularly eerie Dawson photo.)

Exhibition #2: "Treasures From the Mexican Museum," Palo Alto Art Center
was hard to look away from a riveting lithograph of artist David Alfaro Siqueiros (those deep-set eyes), but this 150-work show had a wealth of other pieces to see, including spirited Day of the Dead papier-mache works and pre-Conquest vessels.

Metamorphosis: Tom Gough in Dragon Productions'
"Greater Tuna"
Gough didn't actually hit a high C on stage, but I wouldn't have been surprised. The guy utterly transformed himself into the choir-singin', hip-bumpin', bubble-gum-pink-wearin' Bertha Bumiller for this goofy comedy. Amen, sister.

Metamorphosis #2: Kevin Kirby in Palo Alto Players'
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
This mild-mannered Weekly theater critic let the zingers fly as George in the classic marital rumble. Disclaimer: Kevin is a friend, but he doesn't know I'm writing this. Hi, Kevin. (Liza Zassenhaus was another stand-out in this production as Honey, fragile yet quirky. But I've never met her, so I don't know whether this was a true metamorphosis.)

Metaphysical music:
"The Metaphysics of Notation," Mark Applebaum
This brilliantly enigmatic score hangs in the Cantor Arts Center, where every Friday afternoon a different musician interprets it in a
free performance. No standard staff and notes here; the Stanford composer penned a visual work of art with symbols, designs and curves that challenge musicians to climb inside its world. Performances continue through February.

Music talk: John Adams, Cantor Arts Center
His son performed "Metaphysics" in May, but John Adams may have a few musical credits as well. The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer brought a new string quartet to Stanford Lively Arts this year, and also took part in a wonderful free-flowing talk at the Cantor with violinist David Harrington. Adams seemed friendly and candid. He even cracked a musical-theater joke. The museum and Lively Arts periodically bring in musicians for these free talks; a "jazz/tech talk" is set for Jan. 21.

Author talk: Sarah Dunant,
Stanford Continuing Studies
Another delightful speaker this year was the historical-fiction author Sarah Dunant, who talked about writing her trio of books about women in the Renaissance. Her November talk was inspiring to any would-be novelist, providing lively insight into her lengthy research process.

"Motherland," directed by Jennifer Steinman
This documentary about six American women grieving the loss of family members, then taking a life-changing journey to South Africa, was shown on the Peninsula to benefit Palo Alto's
Kara organization. The film was compelling and highly moving without being overwrought; it told the women's stories with grace.

Pictured: Top: Mark Fiebert, front, and Alex Ran of Accidental Klezmer playing at World Music Day. Photo by Veronica Weber.
Above: Robert Dawson's 2005 photo "Outermost house, Arctic Circle, Iceland." This jet print from digitally scanned film is part of the "From Their Studios" exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center.