Monday, December 11, 2023

ModernMedieval at the National Gallery of Art


This is the time of the year when the Dresser craves an old church concert of medieval music where the acoustics can be felt as well as heard. The next best thing occurred on December 10, 2023, at Washington, DC’s National Gallery of Art West in one of their garden atriums when ModernMedieval presented a cappello music celebrating Advent, Christmas, and winter solstice. Singing was mezzo soprano Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek (artistic director), soprano Martha Cluver, and soprano Chloe Holgate.


Among the baker’s dozen of musical selections were several chants by the mystic nun Hildegard von Bingen; numerous anonymous pieces ranging from 13th to 15th Century, including the deliciously odd “Ivy Is Good”; one traditional English carol (“O Little Town of Bethlehem”) notably arranged by Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek (this arrangement allows for pauses that made the well-known carol seem new); the modern carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” composed by Gustav Holst and Harold Darke based on the poem by Christina Rossetti and arranged by Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek; and one recently composed piece based on the oldest known English poem about winter (2019: “Winter Wakeneth” by Andrew Lovett).


Here is the poem in Middle English in which it was originally written. Some scholars date this poem to 1310.

Wynter wakeneth al my care,
Nou this leves waxeth bare;
Ofte I sike ant mourne sare
When hit cometh in my thoht
Of this worldes joie, hou hit goth al to noht.

Nou hit is, and nou hit nys,
Al so hit ner nere, ywys;
That moni mon seith, soth hit ys:
Al goth bote Godes wille:
Alle we shule deye, thah us like ylle.

Al that gren me graueth grene,
Nou hit faleweth albydene:
Jesu, help that hit be sene
Ant shild us from helle!
For y not whider y shal, ne hou longe her duelle.

The poem deals with how short life is. Oddly for its time, it mentions hell but not heaven.

What the Dresser loved about this concert was the languorous pacing that allowed for breathing and reflection. ModernMedieval’s next concert is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 15, 2023, hosted by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. They are worth going out of your way to hear them. Check their website  for other upcoming concerts.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Opera X: A Space Exploration


The Dresser loves seeing opera as a simulcast broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera. This is how on November 18, 2023, she saw X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, the opera by composer Anthony Davis, his cousin—poet and librettist—Thulani Davis, and his brother Christopher Davis who wrote the story/book for this work. Why the Dresser loves the simulcast experience is because during the intermission (and there were two twenty-minute intermissions in this three-act, over three-hour opera) the audience is treated to interviews that provide a wealth of information that you do not hear if you attend the live performance. Another benefit is that the cost of admission is a fraction of the ticket price for a good seat live at the Met. Also, the camera close-ups are much better than what a viewer with binoculars can hope to see.


Overall, the Dresser was glad she saw X. The first act which tells the story of the young Malcolm Little (X) with its rhymical layered jazz,  big chorus, dancing, beautiful costumes, and spaceship was as exciting as the Dresser expected, given the preview she had seen. During the first intermission, host Angela Bassett (who played Malcolm’s wife in the film Malcolm X) revealed that the space ship had a connection to Marcus Garvey, a Black separatist who organized an American Black nationalist movement that included a shipping line named the Black Star Line that was supposed to ship Blacks to Africa. Somehow, Garvey’s beliefs about the future for Black people plays into Director Robert O’Hara’s abstract Afrofuturistic production. Does it work? Well, while the Dresser was willing to suspend disbelief in Act I, not so much in Acts II and III.


Act II deals with Malcolm’s imprisonment for various crimes like stealing and the friendship with Elijah Mohammed that leads Malcolm to become a Muslim activist. Act III deals with Elijah Mohammed’s disapproval of X’s outspokenness. Act III ends with X’s assassination. While Act I swirls with action, variety, and color, Acts II and III are more black and white with reality and therefore do not integrate plot-wise with that hovering space ship.


Director O’Hara’s choice of cast also required some suspension of disbelief. In this production, Malcolm X is cast as baritone Will Liverman who is a short, compact man whereas the historic Malcolm X was tall and thin. Malcolm’s wife Betty (who also plays Malcolm’s mother) is soprano Leah Hawkins, a Rubenesque woman who seems bigger in body and voice than Liverman. Their performances are perfectly professional but there is no spark between them since they do not look like they belong together. The Dresser, however, loved the casting of high tenor Victor Ryan Robertson in the roles of Street and Elijah Mohammed. In the role Street, Robertson is reminiscent of Sportin’ Life in Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess. As Elijah, Robertson projects an exceptional otherness as a holy leader that feels right for the role.


What the Dresser liked best about this production of X was the libretto with its short words and repetitions and the music which conductor Kazem Abdullah said was difficult but which he brought across so well. The passages with haunting saxophone solos made the Dresser think of shadowy film noir. A seatmate pointed out that influences ranged from Thelonius Monk (Epistrophy), Leonard Bernstein (e.g., West Side Story’s “When you’re a Jet”), and Stravinsky (Rite of Spring).


X runs through December 2, 2023, at the Metropolitan Opera.



Friday, November 17, 2023

Woman at the Crossing: Heart, Home, Healing


Susan Okie’s Woman at the Crossing, winner of the 2023 Off the Grid Poetry Prize, shows the complexity of everyday living and the choices we make…or don’t. The Dresser sees this in the book’s title poem where a doctor (yes, Susan Okie is a medical doctor) examines a woman in pain, prescribes an x-ray, then departs in her car. Stopped at a traffic light, the doctor notices a woman on the street with a sign professing her pain—hungry, lost my job, three kids:


The light changes and I


drive on behind safety glass.

This woman at the crossing:

desperate soul, racketeer, both?

One day I’ll park, walk back

to speak with her.


In this face-paced 21st century life, we are often haunted by things we do not do as well as decisions we make sometimes too impulsively. In “Willy of Kisumu, Kenya, 1992,” Okie lets Willy, a young street boy into her home to play video games with her similarly aged sons. Willy makes her sons “uneasy” and her boys ask her not to let Willy in again. Before he leaves, he says he will go back to school if only Okie gives him money for books. She knows he sniffs glue and most likely won’t go back to school but gives him money anyhow.


I hand it over and he disappears. Next time,

 perhaps, a new story, but the same questions

and the eyes that freeze me, old as stars.


Other instances that haunt permeate the collection. In “The Life of Secrets,” Okie finds relatives that her family hoped to hide:


This year, I found my tia-abuelas,

two old ladies, Mexican half-sisters

of my grandmother from a marriage


that my gringo family tried to erase.

Their house in Cuernavaca is filled

with sunlight, saints, dark paintings.


In “My Father in Mexico City, 1921,” the poet writes from the perspective of her father as a six-year-old who,  while waiting for his lunch in the beautiful bird-filled courtyard of his home,  witnesses his grandfather sneaking a woman into the house:


Rapping at the door. A shout: grandfather.

The birds dart off. You keep still,

listen to the rapid Spanish, catch a whiff

of perfume. He crosses by the fountain

with someone whose skirts rustle

as her hurries her upstairs.


Occasionally, what haunts also mystifies. The Dresser wonders whether “In Hades” is a nightmare or something that actually happened. Here are excerpts:


I’ve gone under.

My thoughts dart

like small blue fish.

It isn’t safe

to speak. I’ll be

sliced open…



I see a man—vast,

dark. He pins

my arms, wrestles me

to the ground. I watch

myself fall.


My eyes are bandaged.

One is torn inside…


Someone unwraps them—

a detective shows me

photos. Men’s faces

swim past.



“In Hades” is preceded by “interior with Young Woman” which concerns a young woman who is taken to a borrowed house by a man she doesn’t know well. When he comes on to her, she “recoils” and becomes an abstract painting in the style of Picasso. “In Hades” is followed by “A Doctor’s Eye: Thy Bed of Crimson Joy.” While the poem concerns a recalcitrant patient who has been told that alcohol will speed his death and it does in the most horrific way, what catches the Dresser’s attention is the sub-title of this poem. Thy Bed of Crimson Joy comes from this short poem by William Blake:


The Sick Rose


O Rose, thou art sick:

The invisible worm,

That flies in the night

In the howling storm,


Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy;

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.


Of course, the sick rose can stand in for that patient who gets his mother to sneak in beer and then has an incident where blood gushes from this throat and the doctor attending him who must be an inexperienced medic cannot get any other doctor to help because the man has flagrantly brought on his own death and cannot be healed. It could also be a suggestive touchstone for the women in the two poems coming before “A Doctor’s Eye”—these women who may have suffered some degree of molestation.


In Woman at the Crossing, finding a comfortable and safe place known as home is a recurring theme in this collection. It manifests largely in section 4 which most often concerns love and care for the environment and our place in the cosmos. The dramatic cover art, “Cathedral Rock” by Walter Weiss (Okie’s husband), confirms the importance of finding home on our planet. On this topic, the poem that resonated the deepest for the Dresser—“Love’s Austere and Lonely Offices”—narrows down to the love the poet had for her father who was plagued by some kind of stomach ailment but who was working on “a musical about Odysseus, the man who loved/ home but couldn’t seem to get there.” Section 4 is the only section of the book prefaced by a quote. Section 4’s quote is “Never say you know the last word about any human heart.” by Henry James. The heart weighs heavily and earnestly in this carefully written and presented first full-length collection by Susan Okie.


Sunday, November 5, 2023

Nobel Laureate Jon Fosse's Strong Wind


On November 3, 2023, Scena Theatre artistic director Robert McNamara presented the United States premier of Strong Wind by 2023 Nobel Laureate in Literature Jon Fosse as translated in English by May-Brit Akerholt. The Dresser found this compelling one-hour, intermissionless drama with word play echoing Jean Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos (No Exit—1944) and Gertrude Stein’s poetry, such as “If I Told Him, a Completed Portrait of Picasso” (1923). Sterk vind (Strong Wind) debuted in 2021 according to Wikipedia which lists 34 of his plays, 33 works of prose, 13 collections of poetry (one of which is titled Stein til stein (2013)), and three collections of essays.


Strong Wind performed in the black box theater of Washington, DC’s Arts Center before an audience just under 50 people has a cast of three unnamed players. The Man, played by Stas Wronka, returns home to discover that his wife—The Woman (Sissel Bakken) is cohabiting with another man—The Young Man (Robert Sheire). At first, he thinks she has moved from the home he expected to return to, and she agrees that she has moved. Throughout the play the nature of reality is questioned as well as small assumptions made about daily living.


Repetition and reversals populate what The Man says as well as an undercurrent of Western philosophy such as his discussion about what he sees out the window of the place he now calls home and maybe always called home. His patter unfolds something like this, “What I see is always the same, but it changes like a wink of the eye. Perhaps it changes when I blink my eyes. I don’t know the difference between winking and blinking.” His discussion suggests the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who put his foot into a stream and realized that the world is in constant flux and hard—no, impossible—to nail down. Stas Wronka excels at thoughtfully conveying how difficult it is to communicate his thoughts and feelings through his spoken words and body language.


He also has an extended monologue about time and the phenomenon of knowing the difference between past, present, and future. His riff about “Never now, not now, never here” clearly sounds like Gertrude Stein who learned from her Harvard University professor William James that now had the smallest window of occurrence and yes, James used the word window which dominates Fosse’s play.


Without embarrassment The Young Man kisses and makes love to The Woman. They pantomime a ballet where she uses the wall for a solo segment of the dance which shows her sexual rapture. The Man collapses to the floor and rolls around. Then gets up and has a moment of clarity that reveals the home is on the fourteenth floor in a building with a lot of glass panes. At this moment, as The Man talks about the strength of the wind, the Dresser started fearing the worst for him. Here the conflict between the three intensifies.


The Young Man removes The Woman’s shoe and stocking and bites on her toes. The scene is shocking not only for The Man but also for the audience. Then The Young Man asks, “Why can’t we both live here?” Here the Dresser heard echoes of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? except Fosse manages to examine the complexities of sexual and mature marital relationships in minutes versus Albee’s hours. Hats off to Sissel Bakken and Robert Sheire as well as director Robert McNamara for such effective acting and direction.


The play has a subdued soundscape created by composers Roger Doyle and Andrew Bellware. While there is some musical variation that includes a style the Dresser calls techno and something else reminiscent of film noir scoring, most of the background sound is recognizable as wind and people on the street.  


If you are in Washington, DC, take this opportunity to get familiar with the work of Jon Fosse who has won many prestigious awards. Strong Wind runs through November 26, 2023.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Grounded: A New Opera


In this time of war in Ukraine and in Israel comes the October 28, 2023, world premiere of Jeanine Tesori and George Brant’s opera Grounded, a co-production of the Metropolitan Opera and the Washington National Opera. Based on George Brant’s single-character play by the same name running just several minutes over one hour, the opera as produced by WNO at the Kennedy Center Opera House expands into a two-and-a-half-hour runtime with a twenty-five-minute intermission. The story concerns Jess, a female fighter pilot during the Iraq war who becomes pregnant and gets grounded. When she returns to duty eight years later, she is placed in what she calls Chair Force of the Drone. Her job is to operate a drone to kill enemy combatants on the other side of the world after her team locates them by satellite. This she does from a chair inside a trailer located in Las Vegas.


The Dresser attended the opening night and, in the first scenes of the opera before intermission, felt enthusiastically impressed by the varied and accessible music, clever libretto, the talented singers, and the impressive sets. What followed intermission was uncomfortably long, somewhat repetitious, and dramatically flat.


Funded in part by the military contractor General Dynamics, the production features a sizeable orchestra, a chorus of 27, 11 supernumeraries, a cast of eleven singers with five of the eleven either debuting or representing the Cafritz Young Artist Program in minor roles. The set, divided horizontally with a steeply raked stage on the top, initially seemed to the Dresser to be a video when, in fact, live singers were on that upper stage in swirling video imagery representing clouds and what one might see if flying in an aircraft. The stage below eerily projected that underneath experience that news junkies following the situation in Gaza with its miles of Hamas tunnels might have. As the opera unfolds, we learn that often grounding locations situated on the bottom half of the stage—Jess’s home and office headquarters—are claustrophobic places for Jess who wants to be airborne in her jet. As the story progresses and Jess spirals downward mentally, she (mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo) sings counterpoint from her home on the lower stage against her double’s dissonant response (soprano Teresa Perrotta) on the upper stage.


The Dresser highlights the resources in Grounded because many contemporary opera premieres have limited financial resources and therefore small numbers of musicians and performers and less grand staging. While a fuss was made in New York (specifically documented in The New York Times May 2, 2023) about WNO having General Dynamics as a sponsor and WNO made some attempt on its website to tell prospective ticket buyers that none of its sponsors had any creative input, WNO general director Timothy O’Leary in opening night remarks made sure to thank General Dynamics without further qualifying remarks. This background has gravitas because of a problem with how this story is presented. War manifests as a champion’s game and not so much as a life-or-death struggle affecting all humankind.


We are told that the protagonist Jess is an exceptional F-16 pilot in the United States Air Force, both as a warrior and the only female flyer in her squadron. The Dresser has no recollection of Jess’s actual heroism in her F-16 days and once she is assigned to the drone squad, her vulnerability shifts from body to mind. She becomes paranoid in a shopping mall and hyper aware that she and her child are being watched. Her job is boring and colors things gray. So gray that this woman who is now the mother of an eight-year-old daughter crashes the drone that she (Jess) is assigned to use in killing a high-profile enemy. Why? She sees a young female approaching the enemy target and thinks that female is her own daughter. For the sabotage of a $17 million machine, Jess is court marshalled and put in prison. She has failed in her job as a serial killer by killing her weapon.


Memorable are Emily D’Angelo as Jess singing “All for the Blue” about her love of flying and tenor Joseph Dennis (Eric, the rancher Jess falls in love with) singing “I Didn’t See You Coming.” The language in these songs is fresh and fun, providing a lift from the ordinary. Jess extols my ride, my tiger, my blue. Eric soars emotionally by feeling the sky in you. In between these songs we hear about fate foolers, war winners, fate cheaters. Eric also sings about the wind in a song that feels like it is going to knock open the door of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain. After all, Jeanine Tesori earned her chops as a composer for such Broadway musicals as Caroline, or Change (2003) and more recently Kimberly Akimbo (2021).


The WNO production runs through November 13, 2023. The Metropolitan Opera production of Grounded is scheduled for 2025. The Dresser expects changes will be made for the Met production and that the Washington premier directed by Michael Mayer serves a test run.



Friday, October 13, 2023

Diving into the Rapture that is Starfall in the Temple

Starfall in the Temple
from Blue Light Press by Prartho Sereno is a masterful poetry collection offering both gravitas and levity. The Dresser sees this as a work of a generous teacher and wise elder. It could be the poetry that saves your life or sanity. It could be the poetry that makes you happy for being in this chaotic world.




The underwater tug we call ebb tide

the seaweed knows as longing


The lilac we’ve deemed common

is known to the bee as Rapture of the Deep


These clouds we’ve named cumulus

the sky praises as bread


The ones we’ve come to know as raven

appear to the moon as flickers of grief


What we call wind in the tule grass

is known to the earth as the happiness

too delicate to name


“Table of Correspondences,” the prologue poem, sets the tone for our human needs and feelings in counterbalance with what happens in nature and the cosmos. Things aren’t always as they present. Rapture of the  Deep, which can happen to divers breathing in gases under elevated pressure and may alter their judgment, offers a metaphoric warning that what (e.g., stimulants like drugs, alcohol, the beauty of nature)  may make us happy may also have other consequences.


Starfall is a collection set with 75 pages of poetry divided into three unnamed sections. Section I introduces the reader to the narrator, her spirituality (Buddhism), and the cosmos as interpreted by scientists of our time (e.g., Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawkings) and others, such as her grandson and classic film star Charlie Chaplin. The poem “Negative Capability” occurs in this section instilling the notion that artists can find beauty and deal with imperfection in the face of challenging situations. In this excerpt, Sereno discloses how one painter was coping with the devastating Paradise fire:




It’s fire season in California and I’m on the downtown.

library lawn thinking about 80-mile-an-hour winds.

I’m thinking about the traffic jam out of Paradise

and the artist who lost everything, but learned,

she said, to paint with her eyes.


Could we call this ability to paint with the eyes a Rapture of the Deep? Perhaps.


Section II emphasizes the call to movement. It begins with reference to the Sanskrit mantra Charaiveti which means keep going. Chanting this mantra is reportedly how Gautama Buddha ended his sermons. The reference to this mantra appears in “Seafarers,” the first poem of Section II. The Dresser is immensely impressed by the artfulness of this poem.




We come to love the heron

for his artful tucking-in of tribulations,

the morning cloud for her coolheaded

midwifery of the sun.


We are grateful for the way the sea

goes gray in tune with the sky.

Nothing more asked of us

neither from above nor below.


For the way the ship moves

like a sage through the narrows,

its engines grinding: Charaiveti, charaiveti…

Keep going, its only song.


We see it briefly now—we never were

the passenger. Nor are we the ship.

Only this flux and flow, a conjuring

the oscillation of sunlight on sea.


As a poem set on the sea, it embodies Rapture of the Deep. Also, the heron of this poem whose “artful tucking-in of tribulations” is a stand-in for the artist experiencing Negative Capability.


Section III features what is or was after movement stops—Bardo (the in between  state of existence—death versus rebirth) as well as grief and personal reckoning. The last poem of the collection “The Temple Master Takes His Leave,” puts the narrator in touch with her late spiritual master through a series of koan like stanzas. The last image is of her dropping pebbles into a bottomless well.
























Need the Dresser say this is another instance of Rapture of the Deep and this time it’s bound with a comic touch by ending with the onomatopoeic word plunk.


Prartho Sereno provides so much to love in this volume. She is good at painting pictures as well as singing into the ear:




Tell me it ain’t monumental; tell me it’s just accidental:

          rapture, capture

                   womb and tomb

                             ease and trees, trees and breeze

try, cry, lie, die…

          all the notes on the road to why.


If the Rapture of the Deep of Starfall in the Temple alters one’s perception of the world but also gets that person through to another state of existence and a different way to cope, let’s surrender and fall into this deep current that bodes well being.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Alceste: A Stormy Marriage of Opposites

The InSeries of Washington, DC, opened the 2023-2024 season with their updated version of the Euripides play Alceste as translated by British poet Ted Hughes, with additional texts by Sylvia Plath and Sybil Roberts, and supported by the music of George Frederic Handel. The Dresser saw the October 7, 2023, performance at the Gala Hispanic Theatre.


A tragicomedy, this InSeries embellished play with music emphasizes the voice of a woman (Alceste) who commits suicide to ensure a longer life for her husband Admetos. Admetos was offered a longer life by the god Apollo but only if someone else agrees to die in Admetos’ place. Admetos, who is known as a generous host, is paid an unexpected visit by the god Hercules, a half brother of Apollo. However, the visit by Hercules comes as Admetos is burying Alceste. Hercules, unaware of Alceste’s death, gets drunk and acts out, but soon hears from the angry servants about the queen’s death. Deeply mortified, Hercules wrests Alceste from Death and restores her to Admetos.


This production of Alceste has a cast of two real-life wife and husband actors Michelle Rogers (Alceste) and KenYatta Rogers (Admetos) and five singers: soprano Maribeth Diggle (Hercules) and chorus: soprano Dawna Rae Warren, mezzo soprano Janna Critz, English tenor Oliver Mercer, baritone Rob McGinness. The singing which includes portamento, a languorous sliding between notes, is delivered satisfyingly in keeping with the grief of this story. Rob McGinness’ baritone performance is a standout. The nine-piece orchestra (organ, harpsichord, 2-3 violin and 1 viola, 2 cellos and 2 oboes) is led by Timothy Nelson on organ.


The overall impression of this production is a stormy marriage of opposites. The centerpiece of this struggle is Hercules, who is the fulcrum for all the polarities. He manifests this as a drunken houseguest who contrasts with the grieving King. He is at the epitome of bad behavior as he literally gets under the skin of an angry servant, done as a dance where he twins himself to the male servant by standing behind the man threading his (Hercules’) arms into the other’s tunic. Maribeth Diggle does an exceptionally good job at making this character an over-the-top force. Hercules is also the only character who both speaks and sings his lines. He is the actor who turns the story from tragedy to comedy. The Dresser surmises that Artistic Director Timothy Nelson cast this role with a woman to emphasize the youth of Hercules.


The InSeries production added text to amplify Alceste’s role as a female and to change the perception that Alceste was just a pawn in this story and to elevate her station as Queen to King Admetos. Admittedly, when the Dresser heard the following lines from Sylvia Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus” being spoken by Alceste, she (the Dresser) instantly was jolted out of the Euripides play Alceste into the real-life story of Plath’s suicide and the role her philandering husband Ted Hughes.


Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

 from "Lady Lazarus" by Sylvia Plath

Because the InSeries is known for bringing surprising contemporary perspectives to its productions, the insertion of poetic lines from Sylvia Plath made sense. The production runtime was two hours and that felt overly long by at least 30 minutes. The end had other text insertions by Sybil Roberts that probably could have been shortened. The beginning of the work also seemed slow and the Dresser wonders if something could have been done to jazz or blues-ify the music. Nonetheless, the Dresser was glad to have seen this production with its use of intriguing masks, accomplished singers and musicians, and compelling intertwined stories.

The next InSeries production running November 17 through December 17, 2023, is The Promised End, a theater piece conceived by Timothy Nelson that combines Verdi’s Requiem, Shakespeare’s King Lear, and texts by Marjorie Garber.


Photo credit: Bayou Elom

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Hearing David Froom’s Breath: A Jewish New Year Tribute

 On September 16, 2023, the 21st Century Consort of Washington, DC welcomed the Jewish New Year 5783 with the outstanding program “David Froom: echoes, resonance, and remembrance.” The Dresser suggests it was a subtle connection that nonetheless added a layer of spirituality to how this concert was constructed.


Certainly, Christopher Kendall, Artistic Director of the Consort, and celebrated pianist Eliza Garth, who performed two of the program’s DC premieres and was the wife of the late Froom, focused their attention on the careful selection and performances of their much admired and beloved composer’s compositions. The concert began brilliantly with Froom’s “Quintet in Three Movements” (1999). This composition has an ethereal sonority produced by the surprising showcasing of an oboe interacting with strings and piano. Nicholas Stovall, principal oboe of the National Symphony, elevated the magical qualities of this composition.


Staying with wind instruments, Froom’s Ribbons (2017), a solo flute piece, followed. Flautist Sarah Frisof ably threaded the work with her seductive trills.


Breath again was featured in Froom’s Saxophone Quartet (1999), a composition organized in three movements and played by soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Whereas the first two compositions reached back to classical music influences, Saxophone Quartet opened with a soundscape that presented like a traffic jam with auto horns clamorously honking. The second movement quieted soberly but percolated to excitement in closing this work.


Next Ms. Garth premiered the “in memoriam” piano compositions—the slow minimalist Prayer (2023) by Robert Gibson and the intricate Resonant Echoes (2023) by Jeffrey Mumford.


By concluding the concert with Froom’s Amichai Songs (2006) based on the poetry of the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai and as sung by American baritone Thomas Meglioranza, the audience heard these words:


In a man’s life

the first temple is destroyed and the second temple is destroyed

and he must stay in his life,

not like the people that went into exile far away,

and not like God,

who simply rose to higher regions.

In a man’s life

he resurrects the dead in a dream

and in a second dream he buries them.


“In a man’s life” by Yehuda Amichai as translated by Leon Wieseltier


The concert ran just over one hour and was a living, breathing tribute to a composer who added immeasurably to the new classical music scene. In the program notes, Christopher Kendall referred to David Froom as a Mensch (a Yiddish word now included in English language dictionaries meaning a person of integrity and honor) and Eliza Garth wrote, “Creating music was his spiritual practice, the concert hall his temple” and his last name “Froom” in Yiddish means “devout.”





Thursday, June 29, 2023

Meet Gary Stein, Poet Raconteur


Gary Stein has a new poetry collection in 2023 from Finishing Line Press entitled Getting to Heaven [And Other Miracles]. This chapbook presents beautifully with cover art by Susan Makov and contains many accomplished poems published in such prestigious journals as Commonweal, The Atlantic Review, and JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association). The Dresser has been following his publishing accomplishments since 2003 when Cabin Fever, The Word Works anthology he co-edited with Jacklyn Potter and Duane Rieves was launched. The Dresser offers the following interview in attempt to expand Gary Stein’s audience.


1.     Your background: Tell us about your literary background and philosophy of writing.


 I was an avid reader as a child and got encouragement for my stories from a sixth-grade teacher.  In college I took elective courses in satire and playwriting.  A one-act play I wrote in the 60’s was performed and positively reviewed in The Washington Post (under the name “Gary Allen”). I was admitted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for fiction writing based on a trio of short stories I submitted.  While there I worked on a novel and lived with poets who became quite successful. We read and heard lots of poetry and hung out with poets including Galway Kinnell and Richard Hugo. Following Iowa, I managed to publish a couple of short stories, failed to publish my novel, but began writing poems. After a couple of years, journals began publishing some of my poems. 


2.      What does writing do for you? What motivates you to write? Why is poetry the genre of choice for you?


I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not aware I have a “philosophy of writing” other than writing to entertain and/or enlighten myself.  Perhaps I’ve chosen poetry as a genre because I enjoy creating condensed images. While practicing law for many years, it was easier to complete a poem than a lengthy work of fiction.


3.     Talk about your book and chapbook achievements and where your latest chapbook Getting to Heaven fits into your overall plan for yourself.


   Thanks to Poets and Writers and “Duotrope”  I’ve been fortunate in learning of and entering competitions permitting me to win first prize for Touring the Shadow Factory, a full-length collection (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2019), and be named a chapbook finalist for Between Worlds (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Earlier this year Finishing Line Press also published my second chapbook, Getting To Heaven (And Other Miracles) which contains some of my older but hopefully more amusing poems.  My “overall plan” is to keep writing poems as long as what I’m capable of producing does not embarrass me.


4.     If you could only pick one poem from Getting to Heaven to read, which would it be?


   Good question.  I might pick the opening poem, “A Bough Falls” because like so many of my poems it tells a story concisely, portrays my Catholic background, and uses imagery I like to think is successful.  If I had a second choice, it would be “Why My Wife Should Let Me Have A Dog” because I think it’s funny.


5.     In Getting to Heaven, who are your influences, and could you talk about your process, possibly in conjunction with the one poem you would favor in the case of being asked to pick only one poem from this collection.


    Although I’ve identified as a Quaker for over 35 years, based on the subject matter and book title, my Catholic childhood and education (from grammar school through college) are strong influences on my subject matter.  Also, having a sense of humor, even about important subjects like religion and spirituality, are reflected in many of these poems. Finally, my life-long love of narrative fiction is reflected in poems that frequently begin with a story. Good examples from the new chapbook include “Crossing El Rio San Pedro, Puebla, Mexico,” “A Bough Falls,” and “Note To My Father As I Near The Age Of His Death.”  My process often begins with a specific event or experience from which I keep writing until I discover its deeper meaning.

To complete the picture of Gary Stein, the Dresser ends with “A Bough Falls.”




Cut loose, betrayed by air it lands

like a lost gift on silent

indifferent earth until found


by a man of faith in an afterlife,

perhaps a priest in his black cassock

who later in a lonely rectory marries


imperfect oak to bundled kindling.

His match, a splinter of grace,

sparks petals of persistent light


into bloom and spreads healing

heat while wood whispers

like an angel in the quiet night.


Isn’t fire just another prayer offered

to cure the darkness in time? 

But every clock winds down


and wood turns to ash, and air

in the chimney chokes

on its smoke. The priest believes


that only when a soul is freed

from its body, like vapor

from the charred log, will it rise.


—Gary Stein

    (first published in Commonweal, May 2022)