The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

  • Arts

    World premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s ‘Cold Mountain’ sparks excitement at Santa Fe Opera Festival

    Aug. 27, 2015, 3:23 p.m., Posted by Sebastian Spreng

    Stravinsky and Georgia O’Keeffe were right in going crazy over Santa Fe. In fact, they were as sane as the visionary John Crosby, who, fascinated with the New Mexico desert, decided to start an opera company in an environment where silence rivals music.

    Crosby’s adventure in 1957 was highly successful, and today the Santa Fe Opera nears its 60th anniversary while enjoying worldwide prestige and generous support. Every July and August an international crowd converges on the spectacular outdoor theater nestled between mountain ranges for five operas, a season that includes rarities and premieres that delight critics and the public alike.

    The undimmed star of 2015 was “Cold Mountain,” the first opera by Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon, with a libretto by Gene Scheer, who happily summarized the essentials of the novel by Charles Frazier (it was made into a film by Anthony Minghella in 2003).

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    Young civic entrepreneurs showcase their app ideas at Temple University summer program

    Aug. 27, 2015, 2:09 p.m., Posted by Monica Peters


    Mission accomplished. Youth from the 2015 Urban Apps & Maps Studios Summer BITS program proudly showcased the product of their hard work at the program’s annual open house this month.

    Temple University staff and community members attended the Aug. 13 showcase to see the students’ app concepts and the user interfaces they created for them. The three-hour showcase was held at the university’s Alter Hall, home of the Fox School of Business. Knight Foundation supports the six-week, paid summer program for Philadelphia high school students to help prepare the next generation of urban civic entrepreneurs. The program also offers yearlong internships.

    This year, the summer program boasted 144 participants. Students worked in groups creating apps to address community issues. There were nine presentations during the showcase. In the fall, one member from each group will return to the university to continue the backend work on their respective apps. The university will also provide technical and marketing research support for participants seeking to make their app available to the public or to profit from it.

    “My group and I wanted to build an app that would combine something beneficial to the community and neurology. We figured that a mood-tracking app would be a great middle ground,” said 12th-grader Hikma Salhe, who worked on the SANTI social media app with her group. The app allows people to connect and share their thoughts and feelings.

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  • Arts

    Wagner’s Isolde at 150, still dying of love

    Aug. 27, 2015, 11:07 a.m., Posted by Sebastian Spreng

    Sensational Swede Nina Stemme will open the Met 2016-17 as Isolde.

    She died of love but is alive and kicking, all of 150 years old. No, she’s not the delicate Guatemalan maiden of José Martí’s poem (“The girl from Guatemala, The girl that died of love”) but a northern, and generally speaking more robust relative. She is Tristan’s better half and if there’s chemistry and, above all, powerful voices united by the “sweet little word und,” they could go mad and – worse - drive an audience mad. Tristan is no longer Tristan and Isolde is no longer Isolde. They are each other. They melt in an embrace and conjure up a monster of which Wagner himself was afraid (“Only mediocre performances are safe; a perfect one could lead to madness”). For Bruno Walter the score “had stopped being music” it was much more, a transcendental experience. Ultimately, fans and critics alike saw the lovers’ passion as an addiction to a drug more powerful than opium or alcohol: music. That lethal drug, embodied in a love potion that her nurse Brangäne has poured into the glass with which Isolde tries to poison Tristan, her fiancé’s killer and the nephew of the elderly king to whom she is to be married. Both she and Tristan drink out of the goblet, hate becomes love, and the rest is history. A century and a half ago – after six years of unsuccessfully rehearsals of “that unplayable music” – the famous Tristan chord was heard on a stage to revolutionized music forever. That apparently harmless initial chord would cause controversy, scandals, hate, shudders and fainting spells. For Leonard Bernstein, it was “the central work of all music history.” It was a G-spot of sorts in a drama often associated with coitus interruptus, one that resolves itself in a final orgasm, a transfiguration called Liebestod (love death). That world of longed-for eternal night, an ambivalent, vague world, was then and forever after called “Tristanesque,” a world of waters of life and death, of poisons and balms that Susan Sontag described so well in Wagner’s Fluids. Water is the essential fluid that changes everything and here reaches its peak in a one-way journey in which the sea is a vehicle and a tacit protagonist. The ebb and flow of the ocean, so ominously described in the prelude, envelops the musical drama to the very last note.

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