August 28, 2007

The Jewel of Monterchi

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:02 am by classicalmusic

Set in a little town in Tuscany, Italy, is one of the greatest masterpieces of
Renaissance art.

Piero’s Pregnant Madonna

In the upper Tiber Valley, not far from the townships of Arezzo and
Sansepulcro, lies the tiny village of Monterchi.  Monterchi is one of those
Tuscan midieval towns with its Centro Historico (historic center) built on a
hill for protection against encroaching enemies.  It looks like an island in the
center of the valley.  There is nothing terribly unusual or mind-boggling about
this charming town.  However, it is home to one of the greatest masterpieces of
Renaissance art:  The Madonna del Parto (the pregnant Madonna) by Piero della
Francesca. 

So, we are not really talking about a museum here.  This fresco by Piero was
originally found in the Monterchi cemetary chapel.  But in 1992-1993 it was
given a thorough restoration and then placed in a small building, formerly a
school building.  The school building has two rooms.  The first, on entering,
contains information about the fresco and about the artist.  The second and
larger room holds the fresco.  It stands in the center, protected by glass and a
low railing.  And upon first seeing it, my reaction was a soft “ahh”.

The Madonna is standing, dressed in a vibrant blue dress.  (I later read that
Piero used lapis lazuli for this blue color.)  She has one delicate hand resting
on her swollen belly.  Her head is slightly tilted to one side, and she has a
very pensive expression on her face.  The painting emanates quiet and calm.  You
just want to stand there, look at it, and breathe in the calm atmosphere.  What
is she thinking, this lovely, pensive Madonna?  The answer is open to the
interpretation of the observer.

If you are traveling in Tuscany, don’t miss the jewel of Monterchi.  It is
worth a detour.

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August 20, 2007

A Soothing Museum to Relax In

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:58 am by classicalmusic

The Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv is located on a very large garden site which surrounds an ancient archeological dig called Tel Qasile.

Fun, Fascinating and Full of Charm

In North Tel Aviv, just across the Yarkon River, can be found one of the more attractive and soothing museums in the world.  It is made up of many pavilions spread out over large and expansive gardens with old shade trees, benches to sit and rest, cool breezes even in the summer heat, a well-appointed museum gift shop and a charming cafe for light meals and drinks.

The museum focuses on the history and the culture of the Land of Israel, from prehistoric times to modern days.  There is a Glass Pavilion with exquisite exhibits of old Roman glass and ancient pottery alongside modern Venetian blown glass sculptures.  There is also a fascinating Coin and Money Pavilion.  In the many times I have visited this museum, I have always skipped this building.  However, I had a guest from abroad who is a coin collector, so the last time I was there, we went through the coin exhibits, and I was amazed at how fascinating the history of money could be.  There is also a charming Postal and Stamps Pavilion showing the development of the postal services and the stamps of Israel since 1948, when the State of Israel was established.  The Folklore Pavilion exhibits show the various ethnic groups that have lived and thrived in the land of Israel since the time of the Canaanites, and the small Planetarium features changing shows on the universe and the world of astronomy, especially attractive to children. There is also an Educational area for workshops, seminars and hands-on interactive displays for school children.

The winding pathways that lead from one pavilion to the other wend their ways through the gardens, the large shade trees and many flowering plants.  One never feels crowded or rushed.  It is quiet and tranquil throughout.  Before leaving the museum site, it is definitely worthwhile visiting the gift shop which offers a large selection of gifts and craft items all made in Israel.

In summary, the Eretz Israel Museum is a lovely place to get away from the crowded city throngs and traffic and still imbibe some history and culture.

August 9, 2007

Gaudi and Barcelona

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:44 pm by classicalmusic

Barcelona, Spain is a wonderful city to visit – in particular for its
celebration of Antoni Gaudi’s wild imagination.

Park Guell

Antoni Gaudi’s Park Guell is a park and an outdoor museum combined.  It was
commissioned by Gaudi’s friend and patron, Eusebi Guell, who wanted a stylish
park for the Barcelona aristocracy.  There were to have been homes, villas a
community within the park, but this never took off.  Instead we find amazing
stone structures, magnificent tiling and fascinating, imaginative buildings.

When I visited Park Guell it was a bright, sunny Sunday.  This meant that the
Park would be full of both tourists and local Barcelonians because it is a
charming place to walk, rest and let children play.  At the entrance to the park
there is a huge dragon fountain who seems to be climbing a flight of steps.  The
whole thing is constructed of brightly colored tiles, mosaic-like and most
unusual.  It is almost impossible to get a picture of the dragon due to the
crowds around it – especially on a Sunday.

An Enchanted Forest

Visitors to Park Guell have the feeling that they are entering an enchanting
forest.  There are mushroom shaped pavilions interspersed along the paths
through the beautiful trees.  There is a multi-colored tiled “rolling bench”,
serpentine like a snake, along a high terrace where one can see a lovely view of
the city of Barcelona.  And underneath this bench is a room of columns (which
actually support the terrace) whose ceiling is adorned with circular medallion
like designs all made of colorful mosaic tiles.  Gaudi’s magical combination of
sculpture and nature produces a curious, hypnotic effect.  Park Guell is
definitely not to be missed when visiting Barcelona!

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August 2, 2007

Visiting Mass MOCA

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:34 am by classicalmusic

Mass MOCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is a terrific example of how to preserve buildings marked for historic preservation.

Rejuvenating North Adams, Mass

North Adams, Mass., a small town in the Massachusetts Berkshire Mountains, was a one-factory town in the 1950’s when I lived in the nearby city of Pittsfield.  The factory which gave North Adams its economic stability was the Sprague Electric Works, a manufacturer of electrical machinery for industry.  In the 50’s my father, who was an electrical engineer, worked for Sprague which is why we were living in Pittsfield.  The factory shut down in the 1980’s and North Adams subsequently suffered from the closing.

Then in 1999, after some refurbishing and and interior designing by a Cambridge firm of architecture, the 19th century former factory was opened as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art = Mass MOCA.  It opened with 19 galleries and approximately 100,000 square feet of exhibition space.  It also hosts musical performances, film screenings and summer festivals.  The founding of this museum in North Adams has helped to upgrade and rejuvenate the quiet Berkshire town of North Adams.

Visiting Mass MOCA

I am not a great lover of contemporary art.  The usually large-sized compositions perplex me.  The abstractness of the art disturbs me.  In short – I don’t much like it.  For me, a visit to Mass Moca is simply a nostalgic visit to the past.  The sight of the beautiful ivy-covered red brick building that used to house the factory, the rough linoleum floors and iron stairways that lead from one gallery to another, bring back the feel of the 1950’s for me.  I visited the museum about 50 years after my father left the firm, and I simply enjoyed walking around the building and remembering.  For me that was far more exciting than looking at the strange exhibits.