Scene4 Magazine-inSight

March 2011

Scene4 Magazine: "Feast for the Senses" reviewed by Renate Stendhal March 2011

by Renate Stendhal

Beholding a book like Lin Arison's Feast for the Senses: A Musical Odyssey in Umbria (Chronicle Books) brings to mind the Renaissance: A Medici prince, let's say, with a vision and a train of musicians moves from castle to castle, feast to feast, meeting and inviting along artists and artisans, recording the journey in paintings, with scribes standing by to take note and serve the prince to assemble his proud Book of Hours.

In the modern version, author and philantropist Lin Arison of Miami journeys to Umbria (between Tuscany and Rome) with San Francisco's famous conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, his partner Joshua Robinson, and several of the young musical talents of the New World Symphony — the orchestral academy which Lin Arison and her late husband Ted Arison co-founded with Tilson Thomas in 1986. The journey, accompanied by co-author Diana C. Stoll, photographer Neil Folberg and a slew of technicians, culminated in what I would call a "bouquet"-book, bundling together branches of fine culture and fine living, a bit of tourism, sumptuous photography, anecdotes of friendship, vignettes about art and architecture of the region, great meals with great wines and chamber music, celebrities mingling with the young musicians, all celebrating each other… A book radiating joie de vivre like a trumpet-blowing cherub on the pastel-blue sky of an Italian fresco.


Where do they grow spirits like Lin Arison in our computer-technology driven world? In Tilson Thomas's words, the philanthropist author "greets the world with curiosity and wonder. She sees the best in people and is always on the lookout for talent, taste, vision, quality of life, and spirit wherever and however they may appear." The remarkable capacity for wonder that can be found on every page of the book may come out of an unfulfilled longing for culture and artistic self-expression which she shared with her husband. While Lin Arison wanted to study literature and write, Ted Arison had a passion for music. Under the pressure of practical-minded parents, however, he became a cruise-line magnate and she his executive secretary. As a couple, they set out to realize their dreams in a slightly different fashion than they had imagined when they were young. They started giving millions of dollars so that other young people could realize their own artistic dreams without parental or financial impediments.


Based in Miami, the Arisons first launched the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts, in 1981. Its centerpiece, YoungArts, has been offering training and scholarships to high school students gifted in music, writing, multimedia and dance. Every year, high school students nationwide are invited to train and compete for scholarships at YoungArts. Also, in the course of their collaboration with MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas) and the New World Symphony, the Arisons provided the largest subsidies any American orchestra had ever received. The youth orchestra earned many laurels in the course of the last 20 years and launched many great careers.


A crowning achievement, however, is the most recent philantropic "teamwork" involving Arison, MTT and renowned architect Frank Gehry, to build a musical arts center and campus in Miami with a performance hall that is designed to create a new experience of classical music. It opened at the end of January: a geometrical construction with a simple "shoebox" exterior and an intricate, sculptural inner life, mixing squares with soaring, curved shapes and using every appropriate surface for potential projections, even the intimate 736-seat concert hall. The most striking feature is a gigantic white wall outside, as high as the building and half its length, where concerts (and even rehearsals) will be projected live as they are happening inside. Audiences are invited to sit in a lovely park or wander by, getting an eye- and earful of music through a high-tech broadcasting system. The hope is that wanderlust evolves into wonder-lust, getting younger, uneducated audiences curious about classical music.


On January 28, 2011, the Miami Herald reported:

"Friday night, the symphony reintroduced itself to South Beach in high definition by 'Wallcast.' Using four industrial projectors, technicians projected images of a live concert onto the 7,000-square-foot projection wall, while dozens of surround-sound speakers simulcast the audio of the performance for the hundreds who gathered in the adjacent Miami Beach SoundScape Park. The biweekly wallcasts are a key part of the New World's intention to appeal to the masses and go beyond the confines of the concert hall."


Everybody nowadays is inspired by opera simulcasts like the Met's live projections on huge screens at Times Square, for example, or San Francisco's nights at the Ball Park, hoping  to expand the audience for classical music and promote a sense of community. Gehry and MTT advance this concept by another step in a decidedly democratic direction. One of the DVDs accompanying the book Feast for the Senses follows the creative development of this new $160 million New World Center in a dialogue between MTT and 83-year-old Gehry, showing models and construction phases. They discuss the idea of making the usually high-brow, forbiddingly demanding music "transparent" by inviting people to a place of multiple happenings: in addition to the "wallcasts," performances, rehearsals, auditions can be freely looked into through huge glass windows from the surrounding park. Like a musical leitmotive, the idea of hearing music outside, in the open air where everyone can listen in, also plays throughout the Italian journey in Feast for the Senses, as many of the concerts were given outdoors, in nature, with Umbrian skies and landscapes as their backdrop.

In the book Lin Arison remembers how this democratic mission, for her, began: "I had the sense that classical music existed in a separate, elite world that I would never be part of and never comprehend. In a moment of candor, after I'd come to know MTT a bit better, I remember saying to him that I was afraid I was going to embarrass myself and him with my lack of knowledge. 'How can I help create this orchestra,' I asked him, 'when I don't know anything about music?' 'MTT looked at me a little quizzically. 'You are alive,' he said simply. 'Being alive gives you all you need to know. Just love it.' What a relief! Just love it—I thought I could manage that."


Her sense of "curiosity and wonder" is what she wants to share, and in her new book she feels "it all comes together." The $40.00 book includes three DVDs: a sensuous glimpse at the journey to Umbria; a Tchaikovsky section of MTT's educational concert series for public television, "Keeping Score",  and the conversation between MTT and Frank Gehry about the new campus and performance space, "A Dream Constructed." To some, the elaborate photos that fill the book may seem at times a bit kitschy as they try to restage famous classical paintings with the young musicians; to others it will seem playfully fashionable and fun, a dive into a magical kid's candy store of culture.

Is the candy store of Feast for the Senses open to everyone? To the masses? Perhaps the question has to be reframed: if the book inspires more philantropists to step into the adventurous and unpretentious shoes of Lin Arison and "just love it", a lot would be gained for everyone.


View other readers' comments in the Readers Blog

©2011 Renate Stendhal
©2011 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Scene4 Magazine: Renate Stendhal
Renate Stendhal, Ph.D., is a writer and writing coach
based in San Francisco and Pt. Reyes and a Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives
Read her Blog


Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

March 2011

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