July 30, 2008

Chinese Gardens Inspire Altadena Composer

Southwest Chamber Music celebrated the opening of the Huntington Library's new Lin Fang Yuan Chinese Garden (the Garden of Flowing Fragrance) with "Impressions of Suzhou" by composer Joan Huang.

The second concert in its Summer Festival series was staged on the loggia of the newly renovated Huntington Gallery last weekend.

A resident of Altadena for the past 17 years, Huang grew up in Shanghai, China, where she was one of only 17 students accepted out of 17,000 applicants to enroll in the Shanghai Conservatory of Music when it reopened following the Cultural Revolution.

After receiving her bachelor's and master's degrees there, she came to the United States in 1986 to continue her studies at UCLA, where she focused on the fusion of Chinese traditional music language with western contemporary compositional techniques.

Huang, who was a special guest at the event, said she took her inspiration from the stunning gardens of Suzhou, where her grandparents are buried.

Known as the Venice of the East, Suzhou, in east China's Jiangsu province, is the home of the craftsmen who helped design the Huntington's new garden. Huang's work, comprised of six movements - each a mini-concerto featuring a different instrument - describes a historic site in the gardens that date back to 770-476 B.C.

Also on the program were works by Robert Schumann and Ludwig van Beethoven, along with two 18th century composers, Carl Friedrich Abel and Johann Christian Bach, both of whom were Thomas Gainsborough subjects.

Abel, whose portrait was painted before he died in 1787 - a death hastened by strong spirits, we're told - hangs in the Huntington Gallery.

If you are casting about for nearby weekend entertainment, the elegant music presented by these stellar musicians in the moonlit Huntington Gardens is at the top of my list.

You can make an evening of it, which we did, with the three- course pre-concert dinner, offered in the Huntington Tea Room. But best of all, there is time to wander through the gallery, which is open to concertgoers. With its sparkling chandeliers, there is something eerie and magical about being in the gallery at night. Whenever I am there, I sense the spirit of Arabella Huntington - the quintessential party girl - in rustling black taffeta, surveying the crowd from the top of the stairs.

FIDM opener

Fashion? Fashion? Who's got the fashion?

From couture to downright cockamamie, it was all over the place at the opening of the "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design," staged by the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising on Saturday night.

With more than 1,000 hey-look-at-me types milling about the lavish cocktail buffet on the FIDM plaza, sporting everything from Elton John to Dita Von Teese looks, this is always one the best people-watching - not to mention listening - events in town. One svelte white-tuxedo-clad fashionista looked perplexed when she was complemented on her "dying kitten-look." Her friend, with a glint in her eye, said, "No, dah-ling, they said 'Diane Keaton."'

For the past three years, the FIDM Museum & Galleries has teamed with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to mount this exhibit, a retrospective of the most memorable costume designs from the past, along with the work of this year's Emmy-nominated designers and supervisors.

Designer Mary Rose, president of the Costume Designers Guild, served as curator of the show, which includes more than 100 costumes and sketches. And for the first time, in recognition of the popularity of reality shows, she has included a new category, which showcases the designs of Rami Kashou, a "Project Runway 4" contestant.

The exhibition features costumes from "Pushing Daisies" by Robert Blackman; " Mad Men" designed by Katharine Jane Bryant of "Deadwood" fame; "Lost" by Roland Sanchez; "Dirty Sexy Money" by Mandi Line; "Dexter: by Abram Waterhouse; and "Scrubs" by Carey Bennett. In addition there are the historical costumes created by Donna Zakowska for the mini-series, "John Adams; "Comanche Moon" by Van Broughton Ramsey; the cable movie, "Bernard and Doris" by Joseph Aulisi; and Joan Bergin's exquisite costumes for "The Tudors," last year's Emmy Costume Award winner.

Several renowned designers were in the crowd: Bob Mackie, Nolan Miller, and Ret Turner - their creations are in the exhibition - plus Catherine Adair and Eduardo Castro, both Emmy nominees again this year; Academy honchos, Dick Askin, Alan Perris and Frank Kohler; FIDM execs, Toni Hohberg, Barbara Bundy; Robert Nelson and Horacio Avila. Among the Pasadenans spotted were Jim Watterson, George Martin, Renee Hanson, Lyn Spector and Diana Palmer.

The FIDM Museum & Galleries is also on my A-list of summer attractions. It is open to the public through Sept. 28. Don't miss it.

Exhibition hours are 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Parking is under the college building at 919 S. Grand Ave., downtown Los Angeles. And - best of all - admission is free.

We will find out the winners when the Creative Arts Emmy Awards are presented on Sept. 13 at the newly opened Nokia Theatre at LA Live. The 60th Prime Time Emmy Awards will be seen on ABC Television on Sept. 21.

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