The Chronicle’s guide to notable arts and entertainment happenings in the Bay Area.
Virtual panel discussion to examine Robert Seldon Duncanson, other Civil War era artists of African and Mulatto descent
When First Lady Dr. Jill Biden highlighted the 1859 oil work, “Landscape With Rainbow” by Robert Seldon Duncanson, at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, it sent many rushing to Google to learn more about the 19th century master.
Duncanson was one of the best-known and most acclaimed African American painters of the Civil War era. The painting, from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is one of the many pastoral landscapes that won him acclaim in the art world at the time.
On Friday, Jan. 29, a new virtual presentation by Savona Bailey-McClain, the executive director and chief curator of the West Harlem Art Fund, will spotlight Duncanson and five other mixed-race artists who lived and studied in the United States, or Europe, during that era. Additional artists to be discussed include Grafton Tyler Brown, Julien Hudson, Joshua Johnson, Mary Edmonia Lewis and Eugene Warburg.
Participating panelists plan to examine what influenced these six individuals to become artists and their impact on world politics. No doubt, this sudden revival of interest in Duncanson will be a hot topic.
Panel Discussion: Artists of African & Mulatto Descent 18th to 19th Century: 8 a.m. Friday, Jan. 29. Free, reservation required. bit.ly/africanmulattoartistsdiscussion
— Tony Bravo
Music in the Vineyards goes online with first winter offering
Even as it forces musical life out of concert halls and onto the internet, the pandemic has allowed presenters to switch up their schedules and activities in unusual and exciting ways.
Music in the Vineyards, the estimable summer chamber festival set amid the wineries of Napa Valley, is offering its first winter event, two days’ worth of free online performances by four leading string quartets.
The winter festival gets under way on Friday, Jan. 29, with the Pacifica Quartet playing music by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel and Jennifer Higdon, and the Escher Quartet playing Beethoven. The next night brings more Beethoven from the Miró Quartet, and the Maxwell Quartet playing Haydn and folk music of the British Isles.
Music in the Vineyards virtual Winter festival: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29; 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30. Free, donations encouraged. www.musicinthevineyards.org
— Joshua Kosman
Ensemble 1828 takes a voyage into the world of French chamber music
Just because a musical ensemble takes its name from the year Schubert died doesn’t mean the group can’t play music by other composers. Ensemble 1828 — a trio made up of violinist Nicole Oswald, cellist Isaac Pastor-Chermak and pianist Alison Lee — demonstrates the point with a program of French chamber music, dating from long after the stated chronological reference point.
Ravel’s A-Minor Piano Trio serves as the anchor for the program, and is flanked by two duo sonatas from roughly the same period: Debussy’s Cello Sonata and Franck’s A-Major Violin Sonata. All three promise a blend of elegance and vigor.
Ensemble 1828: 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29. Donation requested. oldfirstconcerts.org
— Joshua Kosman
Asynchronous love story ‘The Last Five Years’ newly resonant in our time
The central conceit of Jason Robert Brown’s 2001 musical “The Last Five Years” sounds simple: One member of a couple, Jamie, tells the pair’s story of love and loss chronologically, while the other, Cathy, recounts backward. In the whole show, the couple are in the same moment — and sing together — just once, when they get married.
In performance, the concept devastates, reminding us how we are so rarely on the same track as others in our lives, even our loved ones.
That feeling ought to resonate all the more strongly in Palo Alto Players’ digital production, which stars Marah Sotelo and Chris Sotelo (who are married in real life). Now when we’re all missing each other in profound, once unimaginable ways, Jamie and Cathy’s story of what might have been, of not being in sync, might help us understand what we’re all experiencing, isolated in our shelters in place.
Patrick Klein directs.
“The Last Five Years”: Streaming begins Jan. 29. Through Feb. 14. $25-$100. 650-329-0891. www.paplayers.org
— Lily Janiak
‘Divine Madness’ traces the turbulent divorce of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick
Maybe “Cal,” the nickname for poet Robert Lowell, signifies a connection to Caligula or Caliban.
Or maybe, points out his ex-wife Elizabeth Hardwick, called Lizzie in the play “Divine Madness,” Cal is “for callous. Cal for callow. Cal for calculating.”
Lynne Kaufman’s play, presented by the Marsh as part of its free MarshStream series, imagines a meeting between the pair. It’s set years after Lowell left Hardwick, an author and critic, for Caroline Blackwood, the British aristocrat and writer — and after he’d written about the marriage’s crumbling and collapse in “For Lizzie and Harriet” and “The Dolphin,” for which, to add insult to injury for Hardwick, he won his second Pulitzer Prize.
Two of the Bay Area’s most perceptive and penetrating actors, Julia McNeal and Charles Shaw Robinson, star as the sometime lovers as they measure the chasm between them and take stock of whether they might bridge it.
“Divine Madness”: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30; 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31. Free. www.themarsh.org
— Lily Janiak
Never-before-seen quilts by Rosie Lee Tompkins come to Anthony Meier Fine Arts
Renowned East Bay artist Rosie Lee Tompkins was considered one of the greatest quilt makers of all time. “In the still-unfolding field of African-American quilt-making, she has no equal,” critic Roberta Smith wrote of Tompkins. Now, a new show of her work at Anthony Meier Fine Arts reveals never-before-seen pieces from her prolific career.
Rosie Lee Tompkins was the nom d’art used by Effie Mae Howard. Born during the Great Depression into an Arkansas sharecropping family, she learned quilting from her mother. Most of Tompkins’ quilts break traditional rules, experimenting with asymmetry and concepts of deconstruction.
The seven artworks included in the exhibition date from 1974 to 2006, the year of Tompkins’ death. The show coincides with a retrospective of Tompkins’ work at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and includes a newly commissioned essay by Lawrence Rinder, the former director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and a longtime champion of Tompkins.
Rosie Lee Tompkins: On view through Feb. 19. Free, by appointment only. Anthony Meier Fine Arts, 1969 California St., S.F. 415-351-1400. anthonymeierfinearts.com
— Tony Bravo