About this time of every year, I get a number of phone calls and e-mails from readers seeking suggestions for arts-related gifts for the holidays. I'm glad to make every effort to assist, although it always seems that someone who knows the recipient probably has a better sense of what makes a good gift. But, we can all use new and different points of view, so let's explore some of the possibilities.
Before we begin, I have an arts-related suggestion for you to give yourself. Tomorrow at 2 p.m., the Struthers Library Theatre of Warren will present a holiday concert by the Erie Philharmonic, under the baton of Daniel Meyer. Tickets are $15, $20 and $25.
Folks in Warren asked to be the subject of this column, with an interview with Meyer, etc., but I had already promised a Jamestown organization to write about them this week, so I had to decline their request. Just this week, the Jamestown organization told me they weren't able to produce the information they had promised me, and now it's too late to write about the Warren concert.
Stumped for a gift? How about a book revolving around the arts, such as “Shakespeare After All” by Marjorie Garber or “This Rough Magic,” the memoirs of Richard Monette, recently deceased artistic director of the Stratford Festival.
It'll be a great concert. In fact, let's make that the first recommendation of the column: Give tickets to the holiday concert in Warren by the Erie Philharmonic. That would be a great gift.
People give a wide variety of gifts for a wide variety of reasons. Presuming that the main reason for your gift is to make the recipient happy, begin by thinking a bit about the person who will receive this gift. What makes that person happy?
It's probably safe to assume that if you're seeking my advice, you're looking at giving something to a lover of the arts. Do you know how this person relates to the arts?
Does he go to performances, or does he prefer to stay home and listen to recordings or read about things? What kinds of things does he choose to experience - Broadway shows, symphonies, statues and paintings? Does this person drive or get around easily? I'll try to make suggestions which will work for people on all sides of these issues. Would he like to receive an object, or would he prefer an experience, such as tickets to the Warren concert?
Most people arrive eventually at a situation in which they have all the things they are able to comfortably house and display in their homes. If they love and recognize the importance of Little Theatre, the Shaw Festival or the Metropolitan Opera, a donation made in their honor may thrill them more than anything you might purchase.
The second area, almost as important, is that you know yourself. How much are you willing and/or able to spend? Do you drive or get around easily? Do you want to spend time with the recipient, or would you prefer not do do so? Giving them a ticket to see with you a performance which you hate and about which you exude negative attitude is more of a curse than a gift. Your enthusiasm may be thrilling, by comparison.
Once we've figured out these basic facts, let's try to be more specific.
Truly educated music lovers can enjoy virtually all kinds and genres of music. Sadly, many people who love one style ardently dislike other styles.
I always begin with suggestions which support our local arts organizations. Will the recipient enjoy tickets to one or more concerts from the concert series of the Jamestown Concert Association? What about performances by the Chautauqua Chamber Singers, Western New York Chamber Orchestra or Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra? Obviously, there are many other such fine organizations.
If the recipient has a spouse or companion who enjoys similar experiences, it would be kind to give two tickets if you can afford it. If the recipient has trouble getting around, or if you especially enjoy his companionship, you could get one ticket for him and one for yourself, and pick him up and accompany him to the performance.
Obviously, it's wise to make sure he or she is available to attend before plunking down the money. A concert ticket on the day of his colonoscopy or annual vacation in North Carolina is a waste of time, effort and money.
If you don't have a lot to spend, your recipient isn't able to attend live events, or the recipient doesn't enjoy doing so, consider giving a recording. It's important to first learn how your recipient listens to music. Some have never given up on long-playing records. Some stick with cassette tapes. Most have acquired a way of playing compact discs. If not, it's now possible to purchase small CD players with speakers or earphones which might be a great gift in themselves. If he downloads music via the Internet, there are sites where you could get him a gift certificate to download whatever he wants.
If your recipient is a lover of contemporary music, you have many options of merchants in our area. I always encourage supporting each other in that way, if possible. Since you're asking me, you're probably shopping for classical music, and that is more difficult.
I get a great many recordings from the vast Naxos catalog. Not long ago, every record label considered it a measurement of their contribution to the culture to offer recordings of intellectual as well as entertainment value. Today, there are few companies that record music any more, and those which do tend to be more focused on profit, regardless of cultural status. Naxos is, by far, the largest company that still records, and it maintains a catalog which ranges from music composed last week to the classics of centuries past. Some listeners would be thrilled to get a recording of George Gershwin playing his own compositions, for example, while other listeners prefer the better sound quality of a modern recording.
Just for your information, the ability to record high-quality sound has been around for decades, while the technology to get the sound from the recording to the listener's ear has lagged. Now that better quality reproduction is available, many recordings from decades past will sound brilliantly alive.
You can download nearly anything Naxos has for sale, both CDs and music-related DVDs. I've reviewed a number of those over the years, most recently the interview and performances of pianist Martha Argerich, which are excellent.
If you want to support relatively local organizations, the Buffalo Philharmonic has two recordings made within the past year nominated for February's Grammy Awards.
John Corigliano's "Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan" has been nominated for Best Classical Contemporary Composition, as well as for Best Classical Vocal Performance for soprano Hila Plitmann. Corigliano is one of our most respected living composers and is probably best known for his opera "Ghosts of Versailles" and for the thrilling score of the motion picture "The Red Violin."
The BPO's recording titled "Church Windows, Brazilian Impressions, and Rossiniana," by Ottorino Respighi which we reviewed early in the year, was nominated for Best Engineered Album, Classical.
Shop the Naxos catalog at www.naxos.com. The site is user friendly.
Other possible gifts for music lovers include books. Whether books are about how to appreciate classical music or biographies of composers or performing artists, there are people who would be deeply grateful for such a gift.
Some opera lovers would greatly appreciate a copy of the musical score of an opera scheduled to be performed at Chautauqua next summer, a copy of the libretto, a biography of the composer, or a CD or DVD of a performance so they can prepare to enjoy the live experience.
As for small ceramic pianos to set on the coffee table or scarves knitted to resemble the notes on a musical staff, and that type of gift, success will depend very much on the personal style of your friend or relative. A subscription to a publication dealing with music - Opera News, for example - is another possibility.
It's possible to follow the same patterns for gifting theater lovers as I've followed for music lovers. Essentially, there are live experiences, recordings of performances, books and memorabilia.
Tickets to the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown, to the performances sponsored by the Department of Theatre and Dance at Fredonia State University, or at many of our area's other fine performing groups are always a good idea.
If your friend has always wanted to expand to something more unusual, the many wonderful theater companies of Buffalo are a possibility. Offer to drive a play lover to see an A.R. Gurney play performed at Kavinoky or a James Joyce masterpiece staged by the Irish Classical Theatre Company, and you may be astonished at how grateful he or she will be.
It's possible to attend a weekend matinee in Buffalo, going up on one day and returning the same evening, and perhaps the lack of a ride or of company is the only thing which has been holding a play lover back. The brilliant theater at the Shaw Festival can be seen during their April to November season, in matinees, any days of the week except Mondays, in the same fashion without the expense of overnight lodging.
Let's be honest. The economy is in deep distress, and those without a lot of insight always suggest that education and culture are the first things to cut. The companies are going to try to help you participate in their activities. If they don't have tickets on sale yet, you can make up your own gift certificate to announce what you're giving, and that allows you to work out the details later.
If your recipient enjoys performances on film, there are many ways to buy theatrical films on video tape and DVD, from shopping at local video stores to any number of online sites. Two very good places for classical performances are www.shoppbs.org and www.stratfordfestival.ca. Video stores and video sites often sell lightly used discs at a fraction of the original costs.
Many of the productions at Stratford are professionally recorded and can be purchased in person in its gift shops or by computer at the site listed above.
There are millions of books, including scripts of plays, biographies and autobiographies of actors or playwrights, critical analyses and more. Two suggestions come to mind right away. "This Rough Magic," the memoirs of Richard Monette, the recently deceased artistic director of the Stratford Festival, is wonderful reading for a theater lover, curious about the life of an actor. "Shakespeare After All," by Harvard professor Marjorie Garber, goes play by play through the entire canon of Shakespeare's creations and teaches things you never imagined were there, until the author makes it seem too obvious. Probably the recipient wouldn't want to sit down and read this book from cover to cover, but rather, to go to the chapter on the the particular play he has just seen or is just about to see, and enrich his appreciation of the brilliance which has been folded into its actions. It's a handy, dandy guide.
Lovers of painting, sculpture, dance or any of the other arts can follow this same pattern. If you don't have a lot of money to spend on a gift, consider giving a gift certificate for you to drive them to an art gallery. Just in Jamestown, JCC's Weeks Gallery has fascinating shows of contemporary art.
The Prendergast Library has a gallery of very good quality, 19th-century paintings, and another gallery showing off the creations of artists from nearby areas, including the excellent photography on exhibit there now. There is a nice little gallery in the Rockefeller Arts Complex at Fredonia State University. These are in addition to commercial galleries, of course.
Erie, Pa., has a nice public art gallery and Buffalo has the brand-new Burchfield-Penney Gallery and the wonderful Albright-Knox gallery. If you haven't been there for a while, that gallery changes often and always stunningly. Friday evening, Albright-Knox has what they call "Gusto at the Gallery," in which they offer both free admission and live performances in addition to world-class art.
The gallery at Niagara University always has a fascinating show, and you could combine a visit with one of the school's wonderful plays or a visit to Niagara Falls.
If you can't afford to buy things, offer to help decorate for the holidays, or offer to go to the library and borrow books or films for your friend. Take this person on an outing, however inexpensive and local, especially if he or she is normally confined by age or lack of transportation.
The key to it all is to ask yourself, "What would make this person happy?" and then to see if you can provide it, in some shape or form. That's what makes a good gift.