May 19, 2001

Last night we attended "Stop, Look & Listen," a concert and exhibition presented by the Foundation for Modern Music. It was a perfect example of one of the things that Houston does extraordinarily well, i.e., the intimate art event.

"Stop, Look & Listen" took place at Rebekah Lodge, a former church in the Heights that's been converted into a studio, office & performance space by our friends Bart (who owns the place), Robert Avalon (an internationally known pianist), and Wayne (Robert's partner and a stained-glass artist). The space is more than a hundred years old, large and square, with hardwood floors, high ceilings, antique light fixtures and fans. Somehow they managed to pack more than a hundred people -- about half art patrons, about half friends and friends of friends -- into the space.

The evening started with piano solos. Ann Chadwick, who has been a fixture in Houston musical circles for more than three decades, performed a Chopin nocturne. Then 'Tencia Urteaga, a junior at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts, dramatically changed the mood with Khatchaturian's Toccata, considered one of the most difficult piano pieces. A stunning performance, especially considering that 'Tencia, in addition to being so young, has been blind from birth and has been teaching herself how to read music in braille.

Robert followed up with two of his own compositions, a lullaby and a fantasia, and then gave the floor to Erich Avinger, a guitarist. Erich told us a little story first, about tracing the music from west to east, looking for that one pure note, but never quite entering into it lest he be consumed, like the moth by the flame. What is it about guitar that instantly induces revery -- in me, at least? "Encantada, encantada," I thought to myself, and then I drifted.

The revery was followed by comedy. Robert and Jim Clouser, one of the founders of the Houston Ballet, improvised with dance and music, one informing the other. It was pleasant -- and, although we didn't know it, a collective pause for breath. Surely Jim knew that his deep, cleansing breath at the beginning of his movement was for all of us?

The next improv dropped on us like a ton of bricks. Loud, fast, furious, joyful, playful. Robert shared the piano with Brian Espinoza, another HSPVA student. They were joined by Erich, the guitarist, Jesse Simon, a percussionist, and, in the middle of all of it, the luxuriant tones of the viola, played by Corlyn Chevalier, the third HSPVA student. Exuberant, exhausting -- as I said, we needed that cleansing breath.

The capstone, Robert's Sonata for Violin & Piano, Op. 6, was presented in two segments. First, Robert and Timothy Garland, a Londoner who's just joined the Houston Symphony, performed the first and third movements together. For the second movement, which was performed last, they were joined by three dancers -- our friend Bill Henry, Vincent Jones and Jenni Rotter -- whose movements were choreographed by Jim Clouser. And whose bodies were painted in UV-reflective paint by Jeremy.

It was yet another WOW! experience, one of many that evening. Poor Jeremy had been nervous as a cat all week -- his work has been presented publicly before, notably at Rich's and at the Jungle Party, but I think that he was keenly aware (as a former dance student) that this was his artistic debut. People, including Jim Clouser, who was really skeptical at first, were very impressed.

The denouement featured the unveiling of a fantasy portrait of Wayne, Robert's partner, by Phillip Wade, a dozen of whose paintings served as the backdrop for the performers. It's large and impressive -- and not at all my cup of tea. I was much more taken with "The National Gallery" (a view of three halls with a woman in Victorian attire in the foreground) and "Empty Dress" (exactly what it said, only the dress, another Victorian costume, was placed as if it's wearer had suddenly vanished and the dress retained the shape of the missing woman.) Then again, I've always been a sucker for realism, especially if there are some surreal overtones.

We stayed another hour after the concert was concluded, chatting with friends and well-wishers, explaining (in Jeremy's case) what bodypainting is all about, and sipping chardonnay.

Where else can you get this kind of cultural fix in such an intimate setting for virtually no cost?

It's amazing.

It's Houston at its best.

RPJ


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