Maybe one of the better metaphors for the 2021-22 arts season came about in December, when the water came down and almost washed away Johann Sebastian Bach.
A malfunctioning sprinkler in the Gubelmann Auditorium at The Society of the Four Arts drenched a rehearsal of the complete Brandenburg Concertos by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and threatened to cancel this South Florida version of a New York Christmas tradition.
But organizers regrouped, dried off the instruments and the music, and went ahead with the concert in a different Four Arts venue. The whole thing was caught on film for PBS, which was documenting the Chamber Music Society’s post-COVID return to the stage, and the world got to see all about the Four Arts soaking in early April.
And yet the most important thing about the incident was in the moving forward: A capacity audience was on hand, some of the finest musicians in the country were ready to play, and there was nothing that was going to keep the concert from happening. Not even COVID-19, which just then was again on the rise with a more infectious variant.
Perseverance. That was the word for the arts season just past. Cooped up by the virus for two years in a Netflix-and-chill coma, island residents were ready to get out and enjoy the arts, in public spaces, with friends as well as strangers. There were problems along the way: The rise of the omicron variant in December and January led to canceled concerts and postponed shows, and for a while it looked as though the season might end before reaching its peak.
But omicron’s severity did not equate with that of the delta version of the coronavirus, and cases and hospitalizations began a long slide downward. And when all was said and done, it was an almost-normal season. Cue 2022-23, which promises to be full speed ahead.
Here’s a look back at what the arts season was like in 2021-22:
Art: Kahlo, Rivera at the Norton
In the visual arts, the Norton Museum of Art offered the largest exhibition of works by the Mexican modernists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera that it has ever shown. The show — “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism” — which ran from late October to early February, also featured works by other major artists of the era, including José Clemente Orozco and Miguel Covarrubias.
Retrospectives of the New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg and prominent female painters of the Republican period in China also drew viewers, as did an exhibit of photographs of Africa that explored colonialism and identity issues.
The Society of the Four Arts dove into the realm of textiles in November with “A Beautiful Mess: Weavers and Knotters of the Vanguard,” a show featuring works in fiber by American women artists. Running at the same time was a group of photos by the Italian artist Aurelio Amendola, who crafted moody, arresting expressionist images of works by Michelangelo and Bernini.
An emphasis on American art continued in February with “In a New Light,” a collection of pictures by American Impressionists created from 1870 through 1940. The show, which wrapped April 16, featured 130 works by major names such as Childe Hassam and John Sloan.
The Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in West Palm Beach has emphasized its exhibitions in recent seasons. This year, the sculpture gardens presented work by Florida Atlantic University’s Carol Prusa, a maker of intricate mandala spheres in silverpoint, and sculptor Tarik Currimbhoy, an architect whose sculptures tend to steel and minimalism.
Also on view were the uniquely colorful animals of resident Helmut Koller, an Austrian who worked as the official photographer for the Vienna State Opera in his early career. His red-spotted jaguars and purple lions are a good fit for a celebrity-mad culture, as are the works of Bradley Theodore (on view through June 30), the gardens’ artist-in-residence, who paints famous faces such as Queen Elizabeth II and the late Karl Lagerfeld and sculpts large busts of cartoon-colored skulls wearing 18th-century wigs.
Meanwhile, Palm Beach’s gallery scene reflected the pandemic-driven New York exodus. Big Apple stalwarts such as Pace Gallery and Acquavella Galleries were ready for it, having set up shop in the Royal Poinciana Plaza in late 2020, while over on Worth Avenue at that same time, Paula Cooper Gallery opened a seasonal pop-up.
But Ellen Liman, whose Liman Gallery opened in 2003 in the Paramount Building, closed her doors for good at the end of March after COVID forced a temporary closure of the space and the building was sold. Liman is continuing with her online shop, The Palm Beach Art Collection, an innovation spurred by COVID.
Theater: Curtains rise again
Palm Beach Dramaworks returned to live performance in April 2021, but only for online viewing, with William Luce’s “The Belle of Amherst,” a one-woman show about the poet Emily Dickinson, starring Margery Lowe. The doors reopened to the public in December with a world premiere, South Florida playwright Michael McKeever’s “The People Downstairs,” a take on the Anne Frank story from the point of view of the Amsterdam office workers who hid the Frank family from the Nazis.
John Cariani’s popular romantic comedy “Almost, Maine” followed in January, and then came another world premiere in February, Bruce Graham’s “The Duration,” an intense look at how the 9/11 attack affects a university professor and her daughter.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage’s best-known play, “Intimate Apparel,” the story of a lovelorn African-American seamstress, came to the West Palm Beach company in April, and this month, Dramaworks will bring back Lowe and “The Belle of Amherst,” scheduling it for a May 20 to June 5 run.
At the Kravis Center, the Kravis on Broadway musical series saw a temporary setback in January when COVID cases in the cast led to the postponement of “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” a jukebox show about the Boston-born Queen of Disco. It has been rescheduled for May 20-26.
But the other shows opened as planned, starting in November with the 9/11 drama “Come From Away,” followed in December by the Tony Award-winning “Dear Evan Hansen,” about a lie that changes lives. Although the recent film version was deluged with buckets of critical abuse, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” one of the best-loved musicals in history, scampered and meowed across the Dreyfoos Hall stage in February.
“Anastasia,” a Lynn Ahrens-Steven Flaherty musical drawn from the 1997 Disney animated film about the putative royal survivor of the Russian Revolution, took the stage in March, and April closed with the Lerner and Loewe classic “My Fair Lady.” (Up next is “An Officer and a Gentleman,” May 3-8, based on the Richard Gere-Deborah Winger movie from 1982, followed by “Summer.”)
Music: High notes and more
The Palm Beach Symphony continued to benefit from its association with music director Gerard Schwarz, whose decades of experience at the top of the profession have given him a deep list of contacts.
That meant soloists the caliber of pianists Hélène Grimaud and Yefim Bronfman soloed with the orchestra this past season, as did violinist Midori and clarinetist Jon Manasse. The only no-show was the Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires, who withdrew from a concert in March, to be replaced by the young Italian Rodolfo Leone.
But Pires is back on the schedule for next season, which will see another advance for the orchestra in that it will play six concerts instead of five, and present world premiere works by Joseph Schwantner and Adolphus Hailstork.
The Palm Beach Symphony played all of its concerts at the Kravis Center, which had its own classical season (the Regional Arts Series) that included an appearance just after New Year’s Day by soprano Renée Fleming, whose art-song recital included Italian opera, French chanson and a jazz song cycle by bandleader Maria Schneider.
But the omicron spike did take its toll. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, scheduled to give two concerts under its new conductor, Jader Bignamini, in mid-January, pulled out, citing COVID, as did the Cleveland Orchestra, which had been slated to play Jan. 23. And the Russian National Orchestra, which was scheduled to perform Feb. 6 and 7, canceled its U.S. tour, also pointing to the pandemic.
The Russian orchestra’s cancellation came a little over two weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and since Feb. 24, the playing of the Ukrainian national anthem at the start of concerts has become a regular event. That was true on March 30, when the Warsaw Philharmonic of Poland opened its concert at the Kravis with the anthem. Nearly 3 million Ukrainian refugees have found refuge in Poland.
Although COVID was not cited specifically at the time, the SPA Trio, which consists of soprano Susanna Phillips, violist Paul Neubauer and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, called off its appearance for the Chamber Music Society of Palm Beach. Phillips also did not appear several days later at the Four Arts for a collaboration with the Escher String Quartet.
But aside from one postponement, the rest of the society’s schedule went on as planned, with artists such as cellist Zlatomir Fung and the Montrose Quartet playing venues such as The Breakers and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in West Palm Beach.
The Society of the Four Arts saw a cancellation with the Quebec early music group Les Violons du Roy, which had been scheduled to appear March 9 with the excellent American pianist Jeremy Denk. But the rest of the season went forward, according to Four Arts officials. And that included a three-concert examination in February of the work of Dvořák, headed by the Four Arts’ classical music adviser, pianist Wu Han, who is co-director with her husband, cellist David Finckel of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Also memorable were an all-Chopin recital by pianist Jan Lisiecki, in early January. and the Danish String Quartet, in late March.
Palm Beach Opera, too, had a full season of three mainstage productions beginning in January at the Kravis Center. But the company opened with a special one-night performance in December of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” done outdoors at the Norton Museum of Art’s sculpture garden. The performance of the 1689 English opera was handled by the company’s Young Artists troupe.
Leading off the main productions was Bizet’s “Carmen,” starring J’Nai Bridges as the fiery Roma woman who leads the soldier Don José off the path of rectitude. In February came the delightful Donizetti comedy “The Elixir of Love,” followed in March by Franz Lehár’s operetta “The Merry Widow.” Also in February, the special guest for the fund-raising gala was soprano Nadine Sierra, a graduate of the Dreyfoos School who now has an international career (she’s currently starring in a much-praised production of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Metropolitan Opera).
Dance: Miami City Ballet returns in style
One of the highlights of the 2021-22 artistic season was the Miami City Ballet mounting in February of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” but in a new rendering by the leading choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. He and his wife went through the dance notations from the 1895 production at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and reconstructed the choreography, with surprising but refreshing results.
In addition to its annual “Nutcracker,” MCB also presented “Jewels,” a trilogy of dances by George Balanchine from 1967 that evoke various precious stones: emeralds, rubies and diamonds, set to music by Fauré, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky. The March performances at the Kravis marked the last appearances with the company of principal dancer Rainer Krenstetter, who departed the company after eight years.
The Kravis Center also showcased memorable performances from modern dance companies such as Philadanco of Philadelphia, the Malpaso Dance Company of Cuba, and most recently, New York’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet, which on April 2 presented dances set to music as varied as J.S. Bach and Lenny Kravitz.
Elsewhere, Ballet Palm Beach, which is based in Palm Beach Gardens, had to suspend its annual “Nutcracker” at the Kravis for COVID reasons. It returned to the Rinker Playhouse in mid-April to premiere its new ballet, “Peter Pan and Tinker Bell,” a treatment of stories about the boy who wouldn’t grow up by Scottish writer J.M. Barrie.
New: Kravis gets a CEO
In the 30 years since it opened in September 1992 on Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach, the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts has been a central player in the Palm Beach County arts scene.
In all that time, the center had only two CEOs: Judith Mitchell, who retired in 2021 after 29 years at the helm, and Terrence Dwyer, who served only five months before stepping down to return to his family in New York City.
On Jan. 31, a third CEO took over: Diane Quinn, who had been creative officer for the Canadian circus troupe Cirque de Soleil. Quinn, a native of Toronto, already had a seasonal home with her husband, Keith Freiter, in Delray Beach.
“I love the greater Palm Beach community and Palm Beach County, and I’m really looking forward to living here 12 months of the year,” Quinn told the Daily News.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Daily News: Kravis season, arts groups’, Four Arts was one of perseverance amid COVID