Welcome to [art]seen!

Our [art]seen bloggers are University of Michigan students who review arts events on and near campus, sharing their thoughts and experiences on live music, film screenings, dance performances, theatre productions and art exhibitions.
If you’re a U-M student interested in becoming a regular blogger, there may be a position available to get paid for your writing! Read more about Blogging Opportunities here… We review applications and hire twice a year, in September and January.
Email us at arts@umich.edu with any questions.

PREVIEW: CSEAS Film Screening–Thai Movie Night. How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) / ‘พี่ชาย My Hero’

As we come up on our long-yearned for Thanksgiving break, it can be hard to stay focused without occasionally giving our minds some time to rest. People are simply not meant to exist as machines that continuously churn.

Grease your gears with another great selection of film in CSEAS’s Thai Movie Night series. This time it is the intriguingly-titled How To Win At Checkers (Every Time). It tells the story of a recently orphaned young boy as his older brother and new caretaker must submit to the country’s draft lottery. The troubling  uncertainty and personal growth of the brothers raises questions about the justice of the structure of society.

The movie will be presented at 7pm on Thursday, November 21 in 1500 North Quad (the Video Viewing Room in the Language Resource Center). There is no charge for admission.

REVIEW: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons / Max Richter’s Vivaldi Recomposed

Without a doubt, I can honestly say that the Zurich Chamber Orchestra’s performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Max Richter’s Vivaldi Recomposed was one of the top five performances I’ve ever been to in my life. Their musicianship was incredible, but it was also clear to everyone in the audience that the performers were enjoying playing the music as much as the audience was listening to it!

I’ve listened to The Four Seasons, which is a set of four violin concerti, many times, but I had never heard it performed live prior to this concert. That said, I noticed all kinds of details about the music in person that I never would have noticed on the recording. I especially enjoyed watching the lute player, since this is not an instrument usually found in modern orchestras. The concerti comprising The Four Seasons were performed in succession prior to intermission.

After the intermission, the stage lights were dimmed, with blue lights and a pattern projected on the back of the stage behind the performers. This set the mood for Max Richter’s recomposition of the piece that preceded the intermission (you may be familiar with Max Richter through his work composing film scores, including Arrival, Mary Queen of Scots, and Ad Astra). In fact, during the introduction of the piece, I learned that Max Richter composed Recomposed: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons specifically for violin soloist Daniel Hope – music director of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and the very soloist for the concert! According to Mr. Hope, Max Richter’s problem with the original is not with the music, but with our treatment of it. “We are subjected to it in supermarkets, elevators, or when a caller puts you on hold,” he explains in the program notes. Furthermore, “Mr. Richter’s reworking meant listening again to what is constantly new in a piece we think we are hearing when, really we just blank it out.” To me, this reasoning for recomposing The Four Seasons makes a lot of sense to me (if I may, it struck a chord…). In fact, only a few weeks ago I made a phone call where the hold music was … you guessed it, The Four Seasons.  Listening to Max Richter’s adaption, however, forces audiences to hear the centuries-old piece that it is based on with new ears. It expands and contracts recognizable segments of the original work, while simultaneously blending new elements. The composition, which challenges listeners at every turn, is truly a work of art.

To close an evening of exceptional music, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra played four encores! Even after the encores, however, I wasn’t ready for the concert to end. I would have been happy to stay in my seat and listen to them play beautiful music for several more hours. The first encore was from a Vivaldi double concerto for two violins, but the ensemble completely switched gears for the next two, showcasing their versatility with George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm and Kurt Weill’s September Song. Finally, after countless standing ovations, Mr. Hope returned the stage to play an unaccompanied rendition of Brahms’s Lullaby, to laughter from the audience. At the piece’s conclusion, he walked off the stage, still playing while doing so, and then waving. As the audience filtered out of the auditorium, the performers still onstage exchanged hugs with each other, an expression of the joy that their music brought!

REVIEW: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons / Max Richter’s Vivaldi Recomposed

Musically directed by the award-winning British violinist Daniel Hope, the Zurich Symphony Orchestra brought the Hill Auditorium to life in a stunning performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and the UMS premiere of Max Richter’s Recomposed: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons.

Without a conductor, I was stunned to see the synchronization of this ensemble as the passages of the music would swell and subside. I observed the seamless communication of the ensemble members and the dynamics that flew to the auditorium ceiling and rolled like a broken wave to the very farthest row of the top balcony, captivating us with every note.

Upon the opening of Vivaldi: Recomposed, Daniel Hope encouraged the audience to enter in, saying “Mr. Richter’s reworking meant listening again to what is constantly new in a piece we think we are hearing when, really, we just blank it out.” From stage he shared the hopes that Richter had shared with him back in 2012: since Vivaldi’s music can be so oversaturated, he dreadfully wanted to reclaim its majesty through a new and awe-inspiring frame.

With a dreamy splash of lighting on the stage, Richter’s creative imagining of Vivaldi’s work cascaded into the audience. I caught myself almost laughing for joy in a state of sheer wonder-struck incredulity. This music lifts one up from themselves and draws them into something deep and grand. While Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was played with only one pause for applause, Richter’s Vivaldi: Composed was swept through without one. In the moments of break in between movements, you could hear thick anticipation hanging in the air.

The evening concluded with multiple standing ovations, so many, in fact, that Daniel Hope led the orchestra through three encore pieces that delighted the audience. We were given the ending of a movement from Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor, George Gershwin’s I’ve Got Rhythm, and a warming piece from Kurt Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday. Each time an encore piece was finished, Hope would walk off stage, only to return with a shrug and a smile. Finally, amidst the grand applause, Daniel Hope played a charming solo rendition of Brahm’s Lullaby, delicately nudging the audience to take a hint and go home. This was a heart-warming moment, however, as each audience member began to gently hum the tune back, filling the auditorium with a wholesome glow.

As I was leaving the auditorium, I overheard an audience member beckon another to exit first as he jokingly remarked, “That’s what Vivaldi does to me.” This nearly imperceivable moment demonstrates exactly how the beauty of music strengthens the benevolence of our souls and encourages the virtues of the heart. My spirit was absolutely lifted by the music of Vivaldi and Richter, reminding me of exactly what a showcase of the arts should be about.


PREVIEW: Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal

On Wednesday November 20th at 7:30, Hill Auditorium will play host to the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, featuring Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and superstar Mezzo-Soprano, Joyce DiDonato.  This is not the first appearance at Hill for either Nézet-Séguin or DiDonato.  They performed a collaborative recital last year with Maestro Nézet-Séguin accompanying Ms. DiDonato on piano.  Maestro Nézet-Séguin is also the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and he conducted them here last fall.  On this concert, Ms. DiDonato will perform arias from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, one of the last operas he ever worked on.  They will follow the Mozart up with Anton Bruckner’s 4th symphony in E flat Major.  Bruckner’s works have become more widely recorded as of late.  Maestro Nézet-Séguin and this orchestra actually released a recording of his 4th symphony in 2011.  This concert promises to be a great night of serious music making with some of the best musicians in the business right now.  Tickets are still available and can be purchased on the UMS website or from the ticket office in the League.

PREVIEW: Stamps Undergraduate Juried Exhibition

This Friday is the opening of the 2019 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition for the Penny Stamps School of Art and Design.  The show will be featuring selected works from Art and Design students, and is sure to be an excellent showcase of the creative and innovative force found in our student body.


The show is on display at the Stamps Gallery on 201 S. Division through December 15th. Its opening reception will be from 6-8pm Friday. Saturday, students who have won awards for their work will be chatting about their work in the gallery from 2-4pm.


Go out and support students making excellent work!


REVIEW: Loch na hEala (Swan Lake)

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Loch na hEala opens with the spectacle of a nearly-nude man roped to a cinder block at the stage’s center. The man bleats like goat as he circles his anchorage. From this moment, the audience finds itself gripped with a foreboding curiosity as we are introduced to a small ensemble who guides us through a layered and winding three-pronged retelling of Swan Lake.

Included in the bulletin is a piece written by Keegan-Dolan himself as he reflects on the nature of change, “No matter how unwelcome, [change] is an inevitable part of life: nature’s forces are constantly moving, seeking balance so that life can continue to endlessly unfold.” The spirit of this excerpt was something I observed to be an underlying current in this narrative of moving parts; ultimately, a commentary on the sickness of depression that brings imbalance to life.

The formlessness of this performance keeps one on the edge of their seat, for the troupe distracts and enchants through technical proficiency and the dissonance of chaos that rings consistently. We are told that the darkness in any story is there to teach us something, and that lesson from Swan Lake is that the inability to will change and a failure to know one’s deeper hungers can ultimately lead to the corruption of your spirit. The dark tone of this show left a poor taste in my mouth, but I still felt uplifted by the music and choreography that could be found amidst a show that ultimately seems to appeal to more depraved inclinations.

The choreographed numbers weaved throughout this piece proved to be crafted and technically stunning. I found myself drawn in by these sweeping movements up against a backdrop of potential demise held at bay. Another great highlight was the musical score provided by Slow Moving Clouds, a Dublin-based folk band that combines Nordic and Irish traditional music with minimalist and experimental influences. Often their music was a prominent influence of a scene yet remained well-hidden, otherwise providing tension or joviality to a dynamic.

The evening ended in a standing ovation, and as I rose to join them mid-clap, I paused and asked myself, exactly what are we celebrating here tonight? While Teaċ Daṁsa pours itself out to express the reality of depression and a life’s potential for tragedy, is praising a work that frames dread as the true reality something that deserves to be called beautiful? While it is true that stories that focus simply on the light often do not fully express what it means to be human, it is not enough to celebrate the darkness without conceding that light does outshine it. A praise-worthy work of art should be something that not only acknowledges darkness and pain, but shows us its true value, to point us to the light.

It was a privilege to attend Teaċ Daṁsa’s crafted work, for few performances have truly invited me to enter into such deep reflection of art and form such as Loch na hEala, an experience that I will not soon forget.