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Big birthdays for venerable institutions


This April in Des Moines, two venerable art institutions reached significant milestones with style.

Civic Music Association (CMA) dropped the baton last week on its 90th anniversary season with a solid mix of memory and desire. Mrs. Elsa Neumann, Mrs. Sam Shloss and Mrs. Arthur Cowles were commemorated for deciding in 1925 to create a mission-driven organization focused on bringing world-class music to Des Moines. Oh, how they succeeded, showing Sergei Rachmaninoff, Artur Rubinstein, Beverly Sills, Isaac Stern, Joshua Bell, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble and several major orchestras their way to Des Moines. Many of those performers were personally accommodated by Des Moines civic leaders in the early days. In 1990, CMA added jazz to its job description and Wynton Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval and the Mingus Big Band followed.  

Ken Smith, reverie 14, Pigment ink on paper, 27x20 inches at Olson-Larsen.

Ken Smith, reverie 14, Pigment ink on paper, 27×20 inches at Olson-Larsen.

CMA began its 90th season with a concert by Philip Glass, a renaissance man who studied Mozart and Bach in Paris with the legendary Nadia Boulanger, who also taught Aaron Copland and Aston Piazzolla. Glass later became one of the founding fathers of minimalist music, with the ironically named New York Hypnotic Society. Today he disavows connections to minimalism.                  

Any label on this composer is too limiting, with the possible exception of epic. Glass takes on giants, composing operas, ballets and movie soundtracks on subjects such as Einstein, Buddha, the American Civil War, Hamlet, Gandhi, Columbus and the Bible. He writes choral arrangements to be sung in Biblical Hebrew, ancient Egyptian and Akkadian. He is no elitist, though. His movie soundtracks include the much praised “The Truman Show,” “Koyaanisqatsi,” “Kundun” and “The Thin Blue Line.” He composed the music for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic games and has collaborated with pop stars Paul Simon, David Byrne and Leonard Cohen.


In Des Moines, he gave a marvelous sample of his versatility with: six etudes from a recently written, composition of 20; a ballet he wrote for Lucinda Childs; three compositions from his “Metamorphosis” (which was written for “The Thin Blue Line” as well as for a staging of “The Kafka Trilogy”) and a collaboration with Beat poet Alan Ginsberg, for the latter’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra.”  

Also last week, Olson-Larsen Gallery debuted its 35th anniversary exhibition with works by all 56 gallery artists. If CMA has brought greatness to Des Moines, this gallery has kept it here. Marlene Olson and Ann Larsen bought a gallery in 1979 and pioneered the promotion of local and regional artists. The current show features a mix of the living and the dead, landscape artists and abstractionists, minimalists and their opposite. It plays through May 17.               

Touts: Baseball (“The Seam” at Principal Park) artist, among many things, James Ellwanger opened Nest Gallery on Walnut Street on baseball‘s opening day. Ellwanger works were purchased recently for display at Malo, a café in the Des Moines Social Club… Student art will be featured at two major galleries this month: Steven Vail Fine Arts will exhibit University of Iowa printmakers Jaime Knight, Amanda Maciuba, Rachel Livedalen, Jenny Harp, Corinne Teed, Allison Rosh, Kyle Peets, Sarika Sugla, Gonzalo Pinilla, Ross Mazzupappa, Brendan Baylor and Sarita Zaleha. Drake students Lauren Oliver, Laura Hansen, Evelyn Tomer, Megan Lawrence and Nicole Dyer will be featured in an Anderson Gallery exhibition through April 25. Beginning May 2, Drake art students Sandi Tomer, Lizabeth Buck, Emily Hartley, Emily Hohn and Jake Mullenbach will have works shown at Anderson through May 2-16. CV

Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987. 

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