Monday, October 19, 2020

Dance Kaleidoscope sends a new set of performances out into the world

It's a been a long wait to see performing artists onstage at full strength in freshly minted performances. That's what Dance Kaleidoscope is offering to patrons through Oct. 31 with an artfully filmed program at its usual home, Indiana Repertory Theatre. 

Puccini People Plus brings together a full-length piece from 1992, Puccini People, supplemented by excerpts from Food for Love, a work created for DK's residency 19 years ago at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and three solos by Jillian Godwin, the company's senior dancer, who is retiring after 17 years.

Using mainly familiar arias from Giacomo Puccini operas, artistic director David Hochoy has built gut-wrenching solos deliberately removed from their operatic context. Puccini had no equal in making memorable art out of needy, emotionally wounded characters, and in this quality Hochoy finds common ground with the originals.

Emily Dyson: A joyous leap of materialistic zest

Even the blithest selection, Quando men vo (informally known as Musetta's Waltz) from La Boheme, shadows its comedy with hints that the coquette's self-involvement makes her clumsy and pathetic. Emily Dyson carries off the portrayal with amusing aplomb, mostly among a clutch of shopping bags. 

In contrast, Paige Robinson makes graceful the costuming handicaps of crutches and a stabilizing boot to transmute the imploring O mio babbino caro (from Gianni Schicchi) into aspirations of healing.

The work opens with the stunning, superbly controlled dancing of Kieran King to Vissi d'arte, the heroine's complaint in Tosca about the trials of the artistic life — never more relevant in general terms than now. The dancer's floor-bound twists and turns are lighted by Laura E. Glover with riveting attention to musculature in extension, evoking the sinewy exuberance of Auguste Rodin's sculpted figures. 

Kieran King embodies the pathos of artistic struggle.
A soaring declaration of determination against formidable odds has made Nessun dorma a media crossover hit, a token from the classical realm boosting the odd fad of YouTube "reaction" videos. The tenor aria from Turandot  has been boldly turned into Puccini People's one duet, a fierce mixture of bonding and antagonism performed vigorously by Cody Miley and Marie Kuhns.


Various other burdens of Puccinian solitude are given new choreographic outfitting in performances by Aaron Steinberg, Aleksa Lukasiewicz, and Manuel Valdes. A kind of stately danced curtain call by all the dancers is accompanied by the magical Humming Chorus from Madama Butterfly. Hochoy drapes an ensemble veil of serenity over an array of personal conflicts, highlighting the pathos of Puccini in his own way.


Aspects of Jillian Godwin's incalculable benefits to the company over the past couple of decades are thrust forward in this show by her appearances in three solos. The Hochoy version of the Janis Joplin song Me and Bobby McGee dates from before Godwin joined DK, but she has made it representative of the funk and spunk she brings to pieces based on pop culture. I remember particularly the pizazz of her contribution to Super Soul nearly nine years ago. She can make angularity look flowing; her sharp rhythmic sense inevitably links to the more rounded parts of the choreography. 

Jillian Godwin reaches for the stars

There's a lot of that quality in a more triumphant vehicle, That's Life, a landmark of late-career Frank Sinatra. But in this case, the bent-forward clutching postures of Me and Bobby McGee get an expanded spectrum; the clutching becomes a credible reach for the heavens and an answer to the low points the song alludes to, set to a massive beat. The third showcase displays her lyrical side: Puccini People Plus opens brightly with Something's Comin' (from West Side Story), in which a Godwin anthem of danced anticipation should set anyone's heart-strings in sympathetic vibration.

The Food for Love excerpts allow the program to end buoyantly (except for a poignant encore, Edith Piaf's Non, je ne regrette rien,  dedicated to the memory of the late philanthropist and DK supporter Christel DeHaan). Masked and gorgeously costumed, the DK dancers create a cheering, multifaceted finale. My good mood was undercut, however, by private, irrepressible bursts of fury at this pandemic, which has ruined so much around the world, especially where leadership has failed to respond adequately. Among other effects, it has kept away what this company has to offer when it's right in front of us in three vibrant dimensions. Reunion with such experiences at IRT is sure to come someday. 

In the meantime, feel free to go to the website to purchase access to Puccini People Plus anytime through the end of the month. Then you can sing your own Vincero, vincero! in empathy with the marvelous Dance Kaleidoscope.

 [Photos by Crowe's Eye Photography]



Sunday, October 18, 2020

As a particularly challenging winter approaches, release of a new "Winterreise" is timely

 In a time when we are drawn into the maelstrom of our individual emotional centers, finding human interaction risky and often ill-advised, Winterreise, Franz Schubert's most inward looking song cycle,

has a unique appeal in the year of the plague.

The settings of 14 songs by Wilhelm Müller, composed in the next-to-last year of Schubert's life (1827), still have a chilling valedictory effect, thanks to their inspired fusing of words and music. Winterreise  is especially welcome in a Music@Menlo release performed by Nikolay Borchev and Wu Han.

The Russian baritone has taken the measure of the footsore progress of a trudging wayfarer who's trying to actualize a death-wish that has burgeoned from the failed love affair referred to in the opening songs. Winterreise is the embodiment of all failures of the sort that seem to sum up personal existence whenever the heart's deepest desires are thwarted. 

Often known as Die Winterreise, the song cycle has by common consent dropped its title's traditional article (Die = the)  to emphasize the composer's intent to universalize its emotional heft. Its particulars (solitary wandering in a snowy pre-industrial landscape under the burden of despair) have an uncanny connection to feelings of isolation that may overtake anyone from time to time. We may all find ourselves on a "winter journey" shortly, with a great variety of diminished resources for dealing with it.

The pianist Wu Han, co-founder with her husband, cellist David Finckel, of the Music at Menlo festival  in the Bay Area, is an extraordinary partner for  Borchev. Together, they make especially vivid the more restless songs, such as Die Wetterfahne (Weather Vane) and Auf dem Flusse (On the Stream). Both songs are notable for the protagonist's identification with the phenomena he encounters on his lonely trek. Representations of peace like Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree) tend to be imagined sources of release from life's troubles. Making more explicit all the interior drama is an outstanding feature of this performance.

I once attended a lecture by the much-admired Kurt Vonnegut in which he plotted on a white board the movement characteristic of some literary predecessors' work. Variously up and down went each line on a simple graph from the meeting of the x and y axes, each representing a writer's typical story trajectory. After drawing his suggested lines for a couple of other fiction writers, Vonnegut said: "And here's Franz Kafka." The line began at the x-y intersection, then plunged downward off the chart. 

That's Winterreise. The verse, and thus the meaning of the songs as performed, sticks closely to the journeyer's despair as reflected in what he sees along the way. These songs have hardly a hint of escape or relief, except for the kind of delusion that overcomes the man near the end (Die Nebensonnen [Mock Suns]). There is no metaphysical aspect to these songs; German spiritual romanticism is deliberately hemmed in by text and music alike.

The performers have to settle into the bleakness of the cycle and find variety within the music's shades of gray. Borchev and Wu Han do that superbly. For comparison, the benchmark performance of this music on record is  the collaboration of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore. The pianist is deferential to the singer there, perhaps to a fault; Wu Han is more expressive, without overshadowing the singer. Fischer-Dieskau dares a wider dynamic range, and if I were to fault Borchev in that area, he is less observant of the very soft singing sometimes called for. I will give him high marks for his projection of the cycle's raw emotion; there is in Fischer-Dieskau undeniable commitment to the songs' expressive meaning, but he is slightly patrician in manner. 

This new recording can be recommended without hesitation for its strength of artistic vision and  the unshakable rapport of the artists. And coincidentally, since the Menlo festival like so any others is in pandemic-forced suspension, this 2019 performance is a beacon for our troubled times and the need to resist through art the narrowing of sensibility that threatens all of us now.




Monday, October 12, 2020

International Violin Competition of Indianapolis mounts a revised season, pandemic-delayed, live and live-streamed

Making an adjustment rare for a local music series, the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis

has mounted a six-concert series that will kick off with the popular trio Time for Three on Jan. 26, 2021.

A new concert site for the 2020-21 series is the Madame Walker Theatre, 617 Indiana Ave. Audiences in attendance will be limited to 140 for each concert, each beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Time for Three, which for a decade was the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's official ensemble in residence, will bring its diverse repertoire of music for string trio to the series. It was founded by three students at the Curtis Institute of Music about two decades ago by violinists Zachary DePue and Nick Kendall and double bassist Ranaan Meyer. DePue, former ISO concertmaster, has had two successors in Time for Three, currently Charles Yang. 

Tessa Lark is also an accomplished fiddler.  

On Feb. 23, "Homage to Kreisler" will bring back 2014 silver medalist Tessa Lark, with Amy Yang at the piano, in a tribute to the early 20th-century concert violinist-composer Fritz Kreisler.  The duo will play Schubert's Fantasy in C major, Bartok's Roumanian Folk Dances, and Eugene Ysaye's Sonata No. 4, an unaccompanied violin piece dedicated to Kreisler.

An 80th birthday gathering for Jaime Laredo on March 23 will salute the IVCI artistic director with guests including laureates Jinjoo Cho (2014 gold medalist), Shannon Lee (2018 laureate), Malcolm Lowe  (retired concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), violists Yu Jin (ISO principal) and Steven Tenenbom (Orion String Quartet), and cellists Sharon Robinson (Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio) and Keith Robinson (Miami String Quartet). 

Kyoko Takezawa won IVCI gold medal at 19.


A different kind of crossover string trio will pay a visit April 8. Dreamers' Circus, which specializes in traditional Scandinavian folk music, with added aspects of classical and jazz, will make its local debut. Formed in 2009 in Copenhagen, the ensemble comprises Rune Tonsgaard Sorenson of the Danish String Quartet, pianist Nikolaj Busk and citternist Ale Carr. Its music it prefers to categorize as beyond genre.

The first IVCI I covered was the second such contest, held in 1986. That year the gold medalist was Kyoko Takezawa,  an intense, detail-oriented violinist who has found room in her career for return visits to Indianapolis, several times as 

a member of the IVCI jury. With Chih-Yi Chen at the piano, the program will include Bloch's "Bal Shem" Suite, Saint-Saens' Sonata No. 1, Chopin's Nocturne in D-flat, op. 27, no. 2, and Beethoven's Sonata No. 10 in G, op. 96.

Concluding the 2021 series, which normally would have straddled this year and nearly the first half of next year, will be "French Soundscapes," with 2018 bronze medalist Luke Hsu and another laureate crowned in an Indiana competition, Melanie Laurent (2019 USA International Harp Competition gold medalist) in music by Ravel, Saint-Saens, Ysaye, and others. Also participating will be the venerable Ronen Chamber Ensemble of Indianapolis.

Single tickets for in-person concerts are $30-40 ($25-$40 seniors, $10 for students). Subscription information can be obtained at the IVCI website.  Virtual tickets are $15-$20 for adults, $10 for students.  All tickets may be purchased online at www.violin.org.


 


 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, October 10, 2020

'Cheap Thrills': On the right side of Rick with the South Florida Jazz Orchestra

 


Rick Margitza occupies center stage in "Cheap Thrills," the unprepossessing title of a worthwhile set of his compositions and arrangements on Summit Records. The opportunity, fully taken advantage of, is a release by the South Florida Jazz Orchestra, directed by Chuck Bergeron.

All the saxophone solos on the nine-piece program are taken by Margitza, who got international exposure as Miles Davis' tenorman in the late 1980s and has been largely independent since. He provided the SFJO with all the arrangements, which are witty, expansive, and stylish in the modern big-band tradition. The touches of virtuosity required of the ensemble are handily dispatched. 

Margitza seems to like to lend a swiss-cheese texture to his charts; there's a lot of staccato bounce to such pieces as "The Place to Be" and "Premonition," keeping the sections on their toes. The rhythmic profile is lively but not overbearing, though I felt the languid samba cruise through "Embraceable You" to close the disc was a bit tedious, except to display as a farewell gesture Margitza's graceful facility as a player. The form of his writing is far from predictable; he allows himself one blues, which galumphs happily and seems to salute a canine companion: "45-Pound Hound."

Guitarist John Hart and trumpeter Brian Lynch are guest soloists, providing cameo highlighting to add to the attractiveness of this release. When Margitza solos, he doesn't play second fiddle to anybody. That's not a matter of being dominant and aggressive about what he has to say. It's more a matter of saying something apt and, not surprisingly, appropriate to the settings he has designed for the band. "Brace Yourself" is a good example; Margitza's excellent solo is by no means topped by John Yarling's drumming showcases, and there are two of them.

There's also the ensemble virtue of end-to-end composition. A track's typical wrap-up doesn't depend on an out-chorus largely repeating what we heard at the beginning. There's new stuff: "Walls" opens with hymnlike solo tenor and trombones; then it hits its stride. After a riveting piano solo by Martin Bejerano, the shift into the final ensemble choruses brings into play a fresh imaginative take on the material.

If the cleverness is sometimes stretched out a little too much — I had had quite enough of that big dog before "45-Pound Hound" reached the final double bar — on the whole the set is properly effusive and celebratory of both the band and the honoree: the protean Rick Margitza.







Thursday, October 8, 2020

Accordionist-pianist Ben Rosenblum stays aloft in 'Kites and Strings'

There's no tangle ending up in Charlie Brown's nemesis tree when it comes to the musical deftness displayed in "Kites and Strings" (One Trick Dog) by Ben Rosenblum's Nebula Project.

This is a well-designed set of balanced ensemble jazz, with solos inserted aptly. When Rosenblum reaches far afield for material — as in a folk song picked up from a Bulgarian women's chorus recording and a tune from Brahms' Fourth Symphony — he always makes it suit the players and the sound terrain that his band calls home. Same with his visits to the Leonard Bernstein and Neil Young songbooks.


Besides the leader, the group consists of Jasper Dutz, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Wayne Tucker, trumpet; Rafael Rosa, guitar; Marty Jaffe, bass, and Ben Zweig, drums. For the two borrowed pieces, Rosenblum brings in Jeremy Corren as pianist for the Brahms and Bulgarian tracks. Cameo guests add rich flavor to "Bright Above Us" — trombonist Sam Chess and vibraphonist Jake Chapman. (Separately, the trombonist and the vibist also guest on one other track each.)

I was struck by Tucker's tart but cheery tone, which gets a good outing initially in Rosenblum's cruising tribute to Cedar Walton, "Cedar Place."  The disc's characteristically deft management of solo and ensemble contributions is illustrated here, and also shows up significantly in the title track. It's neatly put together and conveys a soaring feeling appropriate for "Kites and Strings."

Dutz's bass clarinet lends heft to the arrangement of "Halfway to Wonderland," coursing nimbly along the bottom. The accordion leads significantly throughout the band's take on Brahms, with the soft-spoken piano solo setting up Rosenblum's enchanting solo turn on the accordion.

Bernstein's "Somewhere," another rare borrowing for Nebula Project, enjoys a straightforward treatment of the melody. As the emotion swells, there is some heat applied to the trumpet solo, heaven-storming guitar from Rosa, and a good display of Rosenblum's piano chops. Nothing is overstated.

For any of his originals, the clever Rosenblum seems to be careful not to gild the compositional lily, even given the anthemic veneer of "Bright Above Us." The temptation is most yielded to near the end, but gets checked convincingly by what follows. 

It's the bop-derived "Laughing on the Inside," which goes from direct high spirits into a slow, rocking groove that suggests that crying on the outside is also involved. "Izpoved," the Bulgarian folk song, dispenses with drums entirely to present the band in luminous, pseudo-chorale formation.




Sunday, October 4, 2020

Jorge Federico Osorio gathers his own anthology of French music, centered on Debussy


A native of Mexico who is now successfully based in Chicago (faculty member at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts),  Jorge Federico Osorio recalls encountering French piano music as a child, hearing his mother play it. Later he studied in Paris with Bernard Flavigny and Monique Haas, refining his aptitude for that repertoire at the start of his career. A new recording crowns that durable acquaintance.

"The French Album" (Cedille Records) is set up as a program that rewards hearing it as if in recital. The disc's design is just part of the attraction. There is also a recording acoustic that's just resonant enough to flatter Osorio's glowing touch. Best of all, there is the pianist's mastery of balance and tone, applied to an intuitive understanding of the music's meaning.

The program opens and closes with the two most familiar pieces to bring forward the ancient dance form called the pavane: Gabriel Fauré's piece of that title and Maurice Ravel's "Pavane pour une infante défunte." The bulk of the program consists of Debussy preludes, with two of them separated as a pair to emphasize their thematic connection with other Spanish-inspired music, introduced by Emmanuel Chabrier's deft "Habanera" and followed by Ravel's  exuberant "Alborada del gracioso" and his classically restrained tribute to a deceased Spanish princess (not one in particular, but an evocation of the era in which such a royal child once lived).

Apart from a distinctive reading of the familiar "Clair de lune" (from "Suite Bergamasque"), the Debussy selections come from his two books of preludes. The close-to-definitive recorded versions of this music remain Walter Gieseking's performances, which have an uncanny richness of color despite their decades-old monaural sound. But Osorio is no slouch in this essential department. I was charmed by his rendition of "Voiles" (Veils/Sails) and moved by the rightness of tempo and the weight given to chords in "La Cathédrale engloutie" (The Sunken Cathedral).

Osorio brings forward the hints of modernism in "La terrasses des audiences du clair de lune" (The Terrace of Moonlight Audiences), and he limns the narrative and pictorial progress of "Les collines d'Anacapri" (The Hills of Anacapri) perfectly. Such contrasts are also made more vivid than usual by Osorio in "Alborada del Gracioso" (Morning Song of the Jester), whose rapid repeated notes sparkle and whose contrasting faux-maudlin tune evokes a slightly daft street singer. 

Ravel's essential classicism is well-defined in his pavane, which plays off the sensitivity displayed earlier on the disc with three florid yet well-grounded pieces by Jean-Philippe Rameau. Osorio takes some of the shimmer off his tone to render the Baroque master brightly and idiomatically. Further mastery of Debussy is evinced in a show of flamboyance with the quiet swagger imparted to "La soirée dans Grenade" (Evening in Granada) and the pyrotechnics judiciously applied to "Feux d'artifice" (Fireworks).