Saturday, September 6, 2014

Byways, but Little Baseball

A birthday weekend in northwest Massachusetts was the most enjoyable trip I have taken in a while, even if it included only three scoreless innings of collegiate summer league baseball.

What the trip did have was contemporary classical music, predominantly post-minimalist, contemporary art, often large-scaled installations, tasty food and a short walk in the woods.

The weekend began on the Taconic State Parkway, where I played cat-and-Mustang with New York State troopers to make up for time lost to congestion on the Major Deegan Expressway. Gal-pal Sarah and I arrived at MASS MoCA just in time to hear four string compositions by Michael Gordon performed by fellows in this year's Bang On A Can (BOAC) summer residency.

The recital began with Tinge, for three violins and recorded accompaniment. Tree-oh featured Todd Reynolds, who commissioned the composition. My favorite was Weather Three; the strings were much more distinguishable from the sirens than they are on a recording available on YouTube. The closing composition, Clouded Yellow, was Sarah's favorite piece.

Following the recital, we toured some of the immense galleries that characterize the former textile printing plant. I am a sucker for kunstkabinets and Sarah was delighted as well by Mark Dion: Octogon Room (detail above).

I also enjoyed The Dying of the Light: Film as Medium and Metaphor, which includes Lisa Oppenheim's SmokeChannel 1 and Channel 2. (I recommend listening to Tinge while watching Channel 1).

A reservation would have been wise but we didn't pass out before being seated for dinner at Public eat + drink. We shared a house salad, mac and cheese fancied-up with dried tomatos, pancetta and a breadcrumb topping, and a pulled pork sandwich brightened by pickled onions.

Sarah started with a Negroni Blanco and I had a couple beers. Baby Tree by Pretty Things is very smooth for a quad and Broad Brook Pink Dragon Wit is a delightful summer quaff, although I prefer the Singlecut Kim Hibiscus Sour when it comes to ales made with rose mallow.

We retired to the Howard Johnson's in Williamstown, where the next morning Sarah took child-like delight in mastering the motel waffle maker. Breakfast was followed by a drive to the top of Mt. Greylock, the tallest mountain in the state, and a short hike at the state reservation.

Lunch was had with a sociable crowd at Jack's Hot Dog Stand, which has been serving hotdogs and not much else for 97 years in North Adams. Three BOAC fellows passed us on the sidewalk. It was funny to see them not playing instruments.

We had time to spare between lunch and the next musical performance. We spent it touring more galleries, a pleasure even if nothing knocked our socks off. "Male white privilege" was Sarah's summation of two pieces by Anselm Kiefer, but she's like that.

The BOAC fellows' performance of Terry Riley's In C was at first hard to appreciate since the musicians were dispersed (below) throughout an exhibit.  However, the composition came together audibly as the performers migrated towards one end of the museum's largest space. The musicians were clearly enjoying themselves.

Leaving the three floor's of Sol Lewitt for maybe never, we finished the current exhibits. Darren Waterston's installation Filthy Lucre, the centerpiece of Uncertain Beauty, was our favorite artwork of the weekend. Sarah and I looked forward to seeing it again when it will be at the Freer|Sackler galleries next year, less than a mile from its inspiration.

We again had some extra time and although I knew we wouldn't be able to see the entire game, we stopped by Joe Wolfe Field to see the North Adams Steeplecats host the Laconia (NH) Muskrats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Although my brother lived on Cape Cod for years, I had never seen collegiate summer 'ball before. I will again.

[At the top of the post, that's Braxton Martinez batting at Joe Wolfe Field with late-day light on the Berkshires. Martinez hits for contact and power, .314/.385/.835 in his freshman year with the St. Louis University Billikens. He reportedly has soft hands at both corners but an average arm may make first base his future position.]

Martinez would go 0-for-5 that day but the Muskrats won the game in 11 innings. By the time they broke the 1-1 tie, Sarah and I were seated in the Hunter Center for three compositions by David Lang. The evening performance began with pierced, our last opportunity to enjoy the BOAC fellows. The Bang on a Can All-Stars performed the other two pieces, sunray and Lang's ethereal death speaks, with libretto based on Shubert.
"listen to me
listen to me
this message is for you
where I am now, all sorrow is gone"
Long after supper at The Hub, into the next day and beyond the end of the trip, Shara Worden's performance resonated. "Pain changes every shape; once you are truly lonely, you will never be alone." Filthy Lucre and death speaks brought the weekend to a climax.

On our last morning, Sarah reprised her own virtuosic performance on the waffle iron while I ate leftover mac and cheese. We were joined for breakfast by two pilots who had just flown a six-seater to bring an unnamed L.A. producer to Williamstown to meet with an unnamed actor.

Done with Mass MoCA, we headed 35 miles south to the Norman Rockwell Museum. The subjects for many of his paintings reflect an earlier, simpler time in America and modern viewers can see them as conservatively, even didactically, nostalgic. That simplification does the catalog an injustice.

I drove back to "the" city at a more leisurely pace than our trip north. On our return we had dinner at Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue, the Texas barbecue restaurant in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn. The weekend was a gift; happy birthday to me.

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