November's cornucopia of arts

Hedy Weiss introduces new food, films, music, and more this November.

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A still from Cinema Rex, an animated short is ideal for ages 8 to 11. Image courtesy of Facets.

The arts are manifested in a great multitude of ways. And if you consider the full spectrum of disciplines and materials involved in their creation, as well as the wide range of platforms on which they can be experienced, what you really have is a grand festival of the five senses--sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

So, this month, as turkeys take their bows on many Thanksgiving tables, and as side dishes vie for their place in the spotlight, let's celebrate the many and varied forms of artistry that continue to thrive in this age of a pandemic--a plague that, at least temporarily, has altered the way work is both created and experienced. But first, let's eat.

Food for thought
The many lavishly designed cookbooks of Yotam Ottolenghi--the Israeli-bred chef and restaurateur of Italian-Jewish and German-Jewish descent, who was born in Jerusalem but is based in England--are exquisite works of art, design, and sensory delight as well as compendiums of inventive, often exotic recipes.

In his newest cookbook, Ottolenghi Flavor (Ten Speed Press), co-authored with Ixta Belfrage, and with a cover photo of multi-colored onions that truly lives up to the term "the art of cuisine"--the focus is on what he describes as the three key elements of cooking--"process, pairing, and produce." The book includes more than a hundred vegetarian and vegan recipes, from main dishes such as Stuffed Eggplant in Curry, Spicy Mushroom Lasagna, and Vegetable Schnitzel to lush desserts like Apricots with Pistachio and Amaretti Mascarpone.

Before heading to the kitchen be sure to stock up on a vast array of herbs and spices. And note: Even if you are not a cook, the sheer beauty of this book is worth devouring.

The Wagnerian conundrum

As Shakespeare wrote: "If music be the food of love play on/Give me excess of it, that surfeiting/The appetite may sicken and so die." 
The artistic and political excesses of composer Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) are well known. And in his new, 784-page tome,  Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music  (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Alex Ross, the eloquent music critic of The New Yorker magazine, examines them from every angle. The result is a dense, complex, almost obsessive mix of history and argument that explores both Wagner's musical genius and his virulent antisemitism-the latter indelibly stamped on his life and work when, during the Nazi era, Hitler referred to him as one of his favorite composers. That said, Ross asserts that for better or worse Wagner was a galvanizing force behind "the cultural and political unconscious of modernity." 

In Israel, live performances of Wagner's music have long been largely taboo, and have generated considerable controversy on the rare occasions when they occur. In Chicago, the composer's epic "Ring Cycle"-four mythical dramas with a cumulative running time of 17 hours-was to be produced this past spring by Lyric Opera, but the outbreak of COVID-19 caused a last-minute cancellation.

Music to her ears
Simone Dinnerstein, the Brooklyn-bred, internationally recognized pianist, is noted for her 2007 recording of Bach's "Goldberg Variations," and her 2015 album, "Broadway-Lafayette," which celebrates the link between such French and American composers as Ravel and Gershwin.

Recently she released a new album, "A Character of Quiet" (on the Orange Mountain Music label), on which she performs Philip Glass' "Etudes No. 16, No. 6, and No. 2," and Franz Schubert's "Piano Sonata in B-Flat Major." It was recorded in her Brooklyn home over the course of two evenings in June of this year, during what she has described as "the quiet of the New York City lockdown."

As Dinnerstein has explained: "My experience of the pandemic was hardly unique in that it dramatically restricted my world. My son came back from London. My husband started working from home. All of my travel and concerts were cancelled. Time seemed to stop. The lockdown made me anxious and enervated. Indeed, for two months I think I barely touched the piano."

Mostly she read poetry, including Wordsworth's "The Prelude," from which she drew the album's title. But then she returned to the piano, noting "the qualities I found most essential to music were the most quiet, the most nuanced, the most private."

To hear an interview with Dinnerstein that ran on NPR, visit here . For a recording, visit here .

Israeli cinema for the kids

Not surprisingly, the 37th annual Chicago International Children's Film Festival (presented by Facets, the unique non-profit media arts organization) will be operating differently than usual this year. Rather than drawing family audiences to its brick-and-mortar cinematheque in Lincoln Park, from Nov. 13-22, it will screen the festival's films virtually. Among the lineup are two films from Israel. 
Sky Raiders
, recommended for ages 11 and up, is a 2019 live action feature (100 minutes) in Hebrew, with English subtitles. Set in 1988, it is about fellow classmates Yotam and Noa who find a rare vintage plane they hope to bring back to life in time for an annual Air Show. Complicating matters is their competitive natures, as well as their interaction with Morris, a brusque old ex-pilot and mechanic. 
The other film, Cinema Rex, is an animated short in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, ideal for ages 8 to 10. Set in 1938 in the divided city of Jerusalem, it is about a Jewish boy and Arab girl who form a barrier-crossing friendship based on their mutual newfound fascination with the language of cinema. For details, visit here .

Hedy Weiss, a longtime Chicago arts critic, was the Theater and Dance Critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1984 to 2018, and currently writes for WTTW-TV's website and contributes to the Chicago Tonight program.

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