We can be thankful for Broadway, cellists, art postcards, Meg Clark and forgetting the mute button
Welcome (back) to the second volume of “The Quarantine Chronicles,” a compendium of items related to our infernally long shelter-in-place existence. In this edition, we will catch up with some of the wonderful artists in our midst, remind you of some worthwhile causes, give a few news updates and provide entertainment tips for those who need some new digital diversions.
First off, though, I have to ask: How are you? Are you sick of talking about it? All of it? You know what I mean: COVID, death rates, vaccines, Zoom, no graduation, masks, why there are no freakin’ Clorox wipes on this side of the planet? (Seriously, if anyone has an extra stash of 409 disinfectant, I am down to my last, few, precious ounces. I promise I’ll take you to a play when the world starts again.)
Jump to more ‘Chronicles’ below
I’ll tell you what I’m most tired of, however. The prognostication. Everyone — everyone! — has a take on what’s going to happen. The country will crumble. The country will thrive. We’ll run out of food. In a new and improved world, all our groceries will be delivered. We’ll need an immunity visa just to get into Don Pepe’s. Every potential scenario, it seems, has been outlined and catalogued for me, and most of them are heavily peppered with doom and gloom, two spices that are not hard to find at Save Mart.
From my reluctant research, a sample of what our future holds:
• The virus will eventually infect 100% of us, and those of us who survive will hold great, orgiastic-like gatherings in which we will shake hands and embrace and laugh in each other’s faces. Licking will be the new black. Instead of red X’s on the sidewalk in front of Whole Foods, we will all stand together on one big group-hug heart. Not only will salad bars make a comeback, we will use our hands instead of tongs.
• The virus will disappear. It’ll just vanish one day, like Macaroni Grill or Kevin Bacon’s sex appeal. Merriment and rejoicing will ensue.
• The virus will linger. Moms in Red states will hold cupcake birthday parties with COVID frosting. Moms in Blue states will require hazmat suits for an outing at Chuck E. Cheese.
The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.
• A vaccine will be discovered. It will work beautifully. In July we all will agree that the past three months were a bad dream.
• A vaccine will be discovered. Unfortunately, 25% of the American public, convinced that the lizard people have devised a way to turn the shots into a mind-control device, will refuse to take it. The virus rages. Repeat cycle ad infinitum.
• A vaccine will never be discovered. Fresno State will eventually hold all classes in the football stadium, with students spread out every twelve seats. Faculty will be issued megaphones. President Castro and Timeout will entertain at halftime.
• Our economy will collapse. Those of us with the foresight to stockpile large quantities of tuna and 409 will become the new overlords.
• Our economy will explode! There will be so much pent-up demand for fountain pens and going to Disneyland that all job losses will be erased.
Take your pick.
Before we move on to the rest of the “Chronicles,” a few quick recommendations from yours truly:
Book I’m reading: “The Last Emperox,” by John Scalzi. A breezy sci-fi escape by the former Fresno Bee movie critic (from a long, long time ago; we aren’t that far from “Old Man’s War”- status, John.)
Link I love: In “Open States, Lots of Guns. America Is Paying a Heavy Price for Freedom,” New York Times opinion writer Charlie Warzel worries that we as a country will become resigned to the number of people we lose to COVID-19, much like we are numb to the 36,000 people killed each year by guns. A sense of scale has never been a strong point of humanity. We can collectively grieve over one celebrity death but can feel anesthetized to 2,000 Americans dying each day of a virus.
TV I’m loving, Part 1: “Veep” on Amazon Prime. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, you’d be vice president and queen, if it were up to me.
TV I’m loving, Part 2: “The Expanse,” also on Amazon Prime. More sci-fi escapism. If you think people will dress better in the future … ha. In the slums of the solar system’s asteroid belt, the cinematography is grim and the in color is grime.
Food I discovered that makes quarantine almost worth it: Grillo’s fresh dill pickles. Packed in a cold water-marinade of garlic, vinegar, dill, salt and grape leaves, these crisp, flavorful spears make other store-bought varieties seem flaccid and mediocre in comparison. Yum. Best pickles ever. Available at Whole Foods.
I make my first meme!
One of the great local arts experiences of the quarantine so far was the reunion of The Fools Collaborative production of “S’will” on Zoom, featuring the original 2018 Rogue Festival cast in a major comic rewrite of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The gimmick: One hour prior to the performance, one actor in the cast was chosen as the evening’s drunken fool, thus required to ‘swill’ alcohol until showtime, then perform while intoxicated.
Camille Gaston, playing Olivia, was chosen by readers as the designated boozer. You think sober people have problems on Zoom remembering to unmute themselves? Try pounding down a few drinks.
My goal is for this meme to sweep the world and be remembered for centuries to come as an icon of our crazy times. Please share accordingly.
The entire performance, complete with loads of Fresno-area references, is a hoot from beginning to end, by the way. And it lives forever on the Fools’ Facebook page.
Dealt a tough quarantine hand, Robert Weibel puts his art in the cards
In which we check in with various Fresno-area arts folks (and former ones, too) and ask how they’re sheltering-and-placing. If you have a nominee for this feature, let me know!
The shelterer: Robert Weibel.
Where he’s sheltering: At home with his wife, Rene, in Fresno.
Why he’s a big deal: The artist is a figurative artist and printmaker who is particularly well known over the years for his “gunpowder drawings.” He’s had solo shows at such venues as 1821 Gallery & Studios, Vernissage, the California Contemporary Art Collective and more. I wrote about Weibel for The Munro Review in 2018.
How he’s spending quarantine: Now this is a cool story. I found out about it when fellow “Fresno Famoso” producer Teresa Flores asked Weibel to be a guest on the show. Confined to home, Weibel started making postcards for anyone who makes a request on social media and sends him an address. On the picture side he does an original painting/artwork, and on the message side he includes a hand-lettered inspirational greeting along with the address. He spends about an hour on a card and individually numbers each one.
The art: There’s definitely a nautical theme. My postcard (No. 184) is of a seagull with a face mask. I love the eyes, which appear to be saying, “You think it’s hard for you to go shopping with a mask on? Try diving for fish.” I also am drawn to the smudged sun in the upper right hand corner, which stands out against a gray, moody sky. Most of Weibel’s postcard images depict variations of a craft on open water which ties to the message. Years ago during a difficult time in his life, an acquaintance whom he thought he barely knew gave him a bag of coffee beans with the message “Stay buoyant on the sea of change.” Surprised by the support, it touched him deeply. That sentiment seemed to fit our times and in some way, he says, he wants to pass some of that along.
How many cards he’s mailed: He began on March 20. Every day he mails at least one, and usually three or four. The most he’s done in a day is 16. As of this interview, he was taking Nos. 190-194 to the post office. “When I began I didn’t imagine I would create this many individual multimedia images and messages and mail them out. I vaguely thought about making postcards until I ran out of ideas or grew tired of it. Today I think I have more ideas.”
VIDEO: A CHAT WITH ROBERT WEIBEL
How much he charges: Nothing. Nada. Yes, he sends them for free. “I’ve been asked many times about price, and about buying a number of postcards,” he says. “It keeps it so much more simple when they arrive free. Soon they will be in the most prestigious museums and private collections. There will be a huge market for these little postcards. They will each sell for four or five figures and it will restart the world economy hugely. Everyone will prosper.”
Why he loves letters: When Weibel was in the service, he became addicted to letters from hope. The very best, he says, were letters from his wife written on pale blue stationery. He wouldn’t rip them open right away, but first he would hold it against his cheek and close his eyes. Chanel No. 5.
His daily routine during quarantine: 6 or 7 a.m., he’s up with coffee, brief meditation, finish and finalize details of postcards, maybe breakfast, maybe not. Takes his little dog for a walk to the post office, back home. Maybe news, little house chores, internet, studio for a couple of hours. Lunch,sSiesta, afternoon read, studio, sit outside and imagine, or just sit. Dinner, Zoom meeting three times a week. TV, read and through the day touch base with his wife, Rene.
If he could develop a skill, start a new hobby, learn something new or improve yourself in some other way during quarantine, what would he accomplish? “I was encouraged and supported by Phillip Levine and Peter Everyone when I wrote poetry many years ago. I’d like to return to writing poetry longer than 17 syllables.”
Fill in the blank: I would be most thrilled if ____________________ rang my doorbell, stood 6 feet away and said, “Happy quarantine, Rob!” His answer: Yuval Noah Harari and Mary Magdalene.
Note: If you’d like a postcard from Weibel, go to his Facebook page and send him a message.
What She’s Listening to: Catching up with Meg Clark
The listener: Meg Clark, local theater singer and Good Company Players employee.
Cast album she’s hooked on right now: the “Hadestown” original cast album. “I’ve loved this album for a while now, but my interest was piqued again after I watched ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ a few weeks ago. It’s a gorgeous film and has some significant references to the same myth Hadestown is based upon. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. (Thanks, Meg — you gave us a bonus pick!)
What’s the show about: “ ‘Hadestown’ tells a version of the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus and Eurydice fall in love, one thing leads to another, and he tries to go rescue her from the underworld. I won’t give any more away … but the myth is thousands of years old, so you probably know how it ends.”
Favorite song: ”Wait for Me (Reprise)”. The music is so intricate to her, and each vocalist conveys urgency and longing so beautifully, that it gives her chills every time.
Have you ever been known to play your favorite song 11 times in a row until it’s so embedded in your brain that it goes through your head the entire day? (Or am I projecting?) “I am right there with you playing my favorite songs a million times in a row! That’s how you know a song is really special — when it still packs a punch even when you have heard it so many times.
How this album makes her feel: lots of heavy feelings, it’s kind of hard to describe. It’s gritty, yet delicate; heartbreaking, yet hopeful. “I guess it’s giving me the catharsis I need during this crazy time.”
For more: Watch my interview with Meg below, recorded live, from “Fresno Famoso.” She sings a song from the musical “Dogfight.”
GoFundMe for local theater
Speaking of Good Company Players, a fundraising campaign is in full swing to help the company, along with Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, survive shelter-in-place limbo. Organizer is Jim Irvine, a longtime GCP fan. As of this writing, more than $15,000 has been raised.
More updates: GCP scored a PPP (Payroll Protection Program) forgivable loan from the federal government in the second round of funding.
I checked with Roger Rocka about the dinner theater. He told me: “After a lot of research, discussion and pondering, we concluded that the Employee Retention Credit was a better fit for the theater than the PPP. We also applied for but have not yet received an Economic Injury Disaster Loan.”
Remembering Lynn Harrell, cellist extraordinaire and Youth Orchestras fan
The world lost one of its great cello players last month. Lynn Harrell, who won the inaugural Avery Fisher Prize and played with most of the great orchestras of the world, died at age 76. (He didn’t die of COVID-19, but his death was obscured in the midst of coverage of the pandemic.) He performed as a soloist with the Fresno Philharmonic, but Harrell had an even deeper connection to Fresno. The moment I heard of his death, I knew it would hit Thomas Loewenheim hard. As an accomplished cellist, conductor of the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Youth Orchestras of Fresno, Loewenheim knew how freely Harrell had shared his musical gifts with local audiences.
I checked in with Loewenheim for some memories:
Q: How long did you know Mr. Harrell?
A: I first heard Lynn Harrell play with the Israel Philharmonic when I was a child back in Israel. Way back then my mom bought me a cassette tape of his Schumann and Saint-Saens concerti, which I still have to this day. I got to meet him for the first time when he was honored at the 28th Eva Janzer Memorial event in Bloomington, Indiana, in 2006. The event, hosted by my former teacher, Prof. Janos Starker, was held at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and honored each year two cellists who have had a significant impact on the cello world. Lynn came and gave a master class, and I was lucky to sit next to him in one of the events and he simply started talking to me.
In 2013, Prof. Emilio Colón and I invited him as our first honorary guest artist for the Cello ǀ Fresno International Cello Festival at Fresno State, where we were also able to celebrate Harrell’s 70th birthday. A couple of years later he joined the FOOSA faculty and became an honorary and revered member of our music family here in Fresno.
Q: What do you think made him such a great cellist?
A: Without a doubt – his sound and his personality, which both were larger than life. Lynn came from a family of musicians, and his father was a famous opera singer. From his father, Lynn got this incredible sound concept that truly only he had. Combined with his grand and theatrical personality, he was an incredible storyteller, which he did through his cello and his incredible stage personality.
Q: How many times did he perform with you in Fresno?
A: Lynn came to Fresno five times since I moved to Fresno. He was the honorary guest of the Cello ǀ Fresno International Cello Festival in 2013. A couple of years later he then came to perform a chamber music concert with Fresno State string faculty members and guests, performing the string sextets by Brahms and Tchaikovsky. I remember vividly how a few days after that concert I was sitting on the floor in my son’s room, wondering who should be invited as cello faculty for FOOSA. The phone rang. It was Lynn on the other end. Apparently, he had heard a lot of wonderful things about the FOOSA Summer Orchestra Academy, held here in Fresno as a collaboration between the Youth Orchestras of Fresno and Fresno State, and he himself asked if we might need a cellist to join the festival.
In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined that Lynn would be available to join our festival, and it was truly a dream come true to have him join us. I remember how he started the conversation, saying in his deep authoritative voice: ”You know, Thomas, I was principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell when I was 19 years old. We played Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 with him, and that makes me absolutely qualified to lead the FOOSA Philharmonic next summer.”
We did perform Mahler’s 6th Symphony that summer with Lynn as our principal cellist. It was such a huge honor to have him with us, and I remember as if it was yesterday, how the whole orchestra’s sound changed once he played the first note with us in the rehearsal. It was simply magical. Lynn also came and performed with the Fresno Philharmonic. I was honored to be the principal cellist at that concert, when he played the Schumann Concerto, in which the soloist and the principal cellist have a sensitive duet in the second movement.
Q: What was he like as a teacher?
A: Lynn was a natural storyteller. Each story he told got embellished and was told in the most lavish manner possible. Since he had so many life experiences as a musician, and had met most of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, his lessons were like a time travel through his memory lane.
He loved sharing his experiences and stories with the students and always inspired them, helping them understand the background of the piece they performed for him. He would share interesting anecdotes with them, making the pieces they were playing come to life. I know my students were always inspired after each lesson they had with him.
In addition, he was a student of two American cello icons: Leonard Rose and Orlando Cole, and was happy to share their teaching, as well as his own pedagogical ideas, with students and faculty alike.
Q: Do you have a favorite Harrell memory?
A: Each moment one spent with Lynn was memorable because he made it that way. As I mentioned before, he was filled with stories he loved to share, and listening to them was always so inspiring and fun. One would imagine that my favorite moment with him would be sharing a stage with an idol of mine since childhood, but actually my favorite moment was from the first rehearsal we played the Brahms Sextet together.
I kept referring to him as Mr. Harrell, since he was my idol and such a famous personality. He kept asking me to call him Lynn as we are now colleagues, but out of habit, I continued to refer to him as Mr. Harrell. he last time I did that, he just stopped the rehearsal and yelled at me: “For God’s sake, Thomas, my name is Lynn!!! You are my dear friend so please just call me Lynn…” He did that with the biggest smile, and I never called him Mr. Harrell again.
Never-before-seen footage of Brunch
For the April episode of “The Munro Review on CMAC,” the improv comedy group Brunch dropped in for a very fun interview. We showed one of the games we played — a version of “The Dating Game” in which I rejected a Martian as a mate (sorry, Laurie Pessano) — but we had to cut the second game because of time. Now, because you know you have an extra 40 minutes in your day — what else do you have to do, go to a baseball game? — you can watch the special extended version. Plus, you just have to listen again at the beginning to Emily Pessano’s “Brady Brunch” introduction song.
Thanks again, Brunch, for a good time.