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Cultural Calendar

The Forty Part Motet, The Cloisters, through December 8

Choral music, in the religious sense, is often written with a mind to overwhelm the listener, to drown him or her in waves of sensuous sound, until the mind, opened to transcendence, is drawn out. Though choral music has fallen in fashion, as has church and synagogue attendance, this fall, NYC is staging a bit of a revival, first with a visit from the 811(!) year old St. Thomas Church Choir, a choir once led by Bach, himself, and now an exhibit entitled The Forty Part Motet, which is being run at the Cloisters in Ft. Tryon Park through December 8th. For this exhibit, the artist, Janet Cardiff recorded the choral piece Spem in Alium, a famous work for 40 voices by the 16th century composer Thomas Tallis, each voice at a time. The installation involves the placement of 40 hi def speakers, in an oval, in a large chapel space, and each voice to play concurrently. The effect is one of at once being connected to the overall sweep of the piece, and, as you walk by each speaker, of hearing each individual voice that comprises the whole. Sound waxes and wanes, crashes in waves, and retreats quietly across the cavernous space. Many people have spontaneously burst into tears upon hearing it. I imagine that’s because walking through this space and getting lost in the sound is nothing short of life affirming, as well as a reminder of why we thank God for the ability to hear. My advice is to try going at around 3 or 3:30, and emerge into the other glory of a sunset glimpsed in Ft. Tryon. You will be moved.

Then She Fell, The Kingsland Ward at St. Johns, through January 3

The metaphor of falling down a rabbit hole, originally extracted from Alice in Wonderland, now permeates everyday language. We’ve all talked about that fall downwards into adventure. Experience just that at “Then She Fell,” a play based on the writings and life of Lewis Carroll. The mathematician, artist, and writer wove a landscape of growing, shrinking, dreaming, and hallucinating. Take part in it yourself in this 15-audience-member-only interactive play housed in a three story, old hospital ward. The actors dance before your eyes, and you’re given a key to explore the world of Carroll and his characters.

Juliet Margaret Cameron, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, through January 5

The Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic meets photography in this exhibition of thirty-five photographs. These spiritual and haunting photographs that draw on Gothic sensibilities feature famous figures such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, as well as everyday people in Cameron’s life posing as biblical figures. Cameron wrote of her photographing “From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour.” And this dose of living and breathing feeling is visible in Cameron’s images. Cameron’s niece gave birth to Virginia Woolf, and Cameron’s photographs gave birth to a Gothic trend in contemporary American photography with artists like Francesca Woodman. See it for yourself at the Met.

Black Nativity, starring Forest Whitaker, Angela Basset, Jennifer Hudson, and Mary J Blige, opens November 27.

The great Langston Hughes’ play, Black Nativity, gets a 21st century twist in this musical film adaptation. This being a Langston Hughes play, the classic holiday themes of discovery and redemption are played out against the 20th and 21st century black experience, lending them a depth and urgency missing from your average holiday nonsense. That Black Nativity was written by one of our great American writers should be all the reason to go, but the cast, led by Forest Whitaker, Angela Basset, Jennifer Hudson, and Mary J. Blige, should seal the deal.

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, Ari Shavit, Hardcover, Spiegel and Grau

Ari Shavit, a well-known Israeli journalist and intellectual, asks himself what every Zionist must ask themselves with deadly, uncomfortable honesty at least once in their adult life: What does Israel its history mean for me, for the Jewish people, for the world? Shavit tackles these questions and more in this new book, a history of Israel and Zionism as seen through one pair of eyes, his. The Intifadas, the Occupation, the wars, and the struggles and secrets of founding are taken in by his starkly honest and inquisitive mind, and his response is as much shadow as answer. Shavit, like all other Zionists, cares deeply about what is happening, what happened, and what can happen in the future, and writes about it honestly, thoughtfully, beautifully. This is likely the book of the year on the subject, and for all of us, Israel is so much more than a subject.

Christopher Wool, The Guggenheim Museum, through January 22

Painting isn’t dead. The art of creating images, moribund as it may seem, breathes yet. So proves Christopher Wool in his paintings of . . . well, of words. Wool paints large words and phrases, playing with our ideas about what a painting should look like, what an image should be, and what the function of language and words are within our society. His most famous paintings draw on cultural phrases he appropriates from others, like the well known painting where he depicts Raoul Vaneigem’s definition of nihilism: “The show is over. The audience get up to leave their seats. Time to collect their coats and go home. They turn around. No more coats and no more home.” It’s not enough to read these words; you have to see them in person. His photographs focus on topography, his paintings on typography, but there’s overlap between these two mediums that calls into question the nature of genre and the way we define and designate our experiences. Or, as he would put it, TRBL.

 Various concerts, Rough Trade NYC, ongoing.

The London based Rough Trade opened its first record store in America on November 25 in Bushwick. The enormous space that is Rough Trade NYC, located in Williamsburg, takes a gamble by selling CDs and records in a digital age. The space is also home to a performing place for bands. The music label “Rough Trade Records” has supported such bands like Belle & Sebastian and The Smiths, and free shows through Saturday November 30 at the New York venue include Matthew E. White and Phosphorescent. Check their schedule, because shows after their first week are often around $10, a cheap price to pay for good live music surrounded by good records. The store is the first of its kind in New York, and takes after such greats like Amoeba records in San Francisco. Check out the promo video for the new store at