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Saratoga Chamber Music Festival

In one of the more intriguing programs of its season, the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival presents pianist Martha Argerich (pictured), the Wister Quartet and violist Chantal Juillet in Impromptu, a program of works by the late Russian composer Alfred Schnittke and Wister Quartet-Philadelphia Orchestra cellist Lloyd Smith. Schnittke’s Homage to Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich takes motifs from each of the composer’s works and transforms them into both a celebration and meditation; as the piece is for piano 6-hands, the result promises to be challenging. Smith, who has been a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1967, and was a founding member (in 1987) of the Wister Quartet, has written works for both solo cello and chamber ensembles. His String Quartet will be performed.

There will also be an art exhibit by violist Judy Geist in the Spa Little Theater foyer, and “other surprises” are promised.

The Saratoga Chamber Music Festival presents the Impromptu concert today (Thursday, Aug. 21) at 5 PM in the Spa Little Theater (Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs). Tickets are $32.50 and $27.50. For reservations and information, call 584-6018.

Woodstock Poetry Festival

We need poetry now. That was what the organizers of the Woodstock Poetry Festival have decided. They were considering going to a biannual schedule, like the revered Geraldine R. Dodge poetry festival, but in the end the organizers felt that they didn’t want to take a year off during “this frightening time in our world history.”

Despite this mandate, the festival’s politics are understated. Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who writes extensively about the West Bank, Jerusalem, and being Arab-American, will read on Sunday afternoon. Three Jamaican poets—Edward Baugh, Lorna Goodison, and Kwame Dawes—give a reading and also preside over a “Rasta” luncheon.

More notable is the roster of big names. Three Pulitzer Prize winners—Paul Muldoon (pictured), Philip Levine, and John Ashberry—will be present. Muldoon is a particularly good catch. He won this year’s Pulitzer for Moy Sand & Gravel days after accepting the invitation to read in Woodstock. Muldoon, an Irish poet who is now a professor at Princeton, has been described by The Times Literary Supplement as “the most significant English-language poet born since the second World War.”

Perhaps in a bid to draw in poetry skeptics, Allen Ginsburg’s photographs will be on display, and Natalie Goldberg—poet and novelist best known for her books on the craft of writing—will be displaying her paintings.

The Woodstock Poetry Festival runs from today (Thursday, Aug. 21) at 8 PM through Sunday (Aug. 24). A full weekend ticket is $165, but all readings and events can be attended à la carte. Prices for individual readings range from $5 to $15. The readings will be held at various venues. For more information, visit

Tommy Stinson and the Figgs

For people in the know, the appearance of Tommy Stinson and the Figgs at Valentine’s on Sunday will seem a stroke of unbelievable good luck—which is an interestingly ironic twist, seeing as it’s due primarily to hard luck that the component members of this coalition aren’t already superstars in the limos-and-soft-drink-endorsement kind of way. By rights—and if the stars hadn’t conspired against ’em—both Tommy Stinson and the Figgs should be playing enormo-domes the country over, but arena rock’s loss is our gain.

Tommy Stinson got his start as bass player for the famously self-destructive Minneapolis postpunkers the Replacements, whose reckless disdain for the protocol of building a marketable image left them out of the limelight they so richly deserved; one-time Saratoga Springs residents the Figgs, too, garnered great press and loyal fans early on, only to suffer a harsh blow when their first significant record deal collapsed (along with the label that offered the deal).

In neither case did these inauspicious signs deter them from their chosen vocations, happy to say: Post-Replacements, Stinson put out two respectable albums of his own, surprising many who thought that the ’Mats frontman, Paul Westerberg, was the one with the skills and that Stinson was the one with the hair; and the Figgs weathered the demise of Imago to put out album after album of tight, powerful, mod-influenced rock. (It should be noted that the enduring commitment of both Stinson and the Figgs has not gone entirely without industry recognition. Stinson has been recruited as bassist and musical director for the reconstituted Guns N’ Roses, and the Figgs have toured twice as backing band for Graham Parker.)

So, it’d be cool to hear that Stinson was coming through town while killing time waiting for the GN’R machine to kick into high gear, and cooler still to hear that the Figgs were opening. As it happens, both are true. But cooler still is the fact that Stinson has enlisted the Figgs to play as his backing band for his set after their opening set. Someone up there must like us.

Tommy Stinson and the Figgs will play Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany) on Sunday (Aug. 24). Also on the bill, Jake Brennan. Tickets for the 8 PM show are $10. For more information, call 432-6572.

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