Showing posts from May, 2013

It's game on! at the symphony this weekend

Wearing the old-maestro mantle is not composer William Bolcom's style.  In his newest piece, at least, there is no autumnal quality, no mellow summing-up or assumption of an elder-statesman pose. It's just as well his muse is cheeky, given the difficult position classical music occupies in the larger culture. Newly turned 75, Bolcom never seems to have cared for categorical thinking in musical theory or practice. Why should he start now? Games and Challenges: 'Something Wonderful Right Away received its world premiere Friday night from Time for Three and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by music director Krzysztof Urbanski. The work looks backward only insofar as its inspiration is Bolcom's involvement a half-century ago with the improvisational-theater ideas that led to Second City and many less famous applications of games and spontaneous scenes. It's not about nostalgia, but rather the fresh application of some durable performance ideas. Applie

Phoenix Theatre: Cross-country on two wheels for a meeting of two hearts

Portrayals of old people are hazardous in the theater. Will the signs of decrepitude be so obvious that the performance seems hedged about with a few tricks? Is there a person underneath those handy  gimmicks and mannerisms that readily tempt the actor? When the playwright is guilty of putting forth a narrow view of aging, actors may have little choice but to accept the constraints, even if the result is caricature. When vibrant individuality is built into the script, however, there's a heavy responsibility to find it, display it and keep the conventional markers of old age from taking over. That responsibility is fully assumed and triumphantly carried out by Martha Jacobs as Vera, an aging Greenwich Village widow living with feisty independence who abruptly has to respond to the unannounced visit of her footloose bicyclist grandson Leo. Jacobs' success is set up well by the playwright, Amy Herzog,  in 4000 Miles , which entered its penultimate weekend Thursday evening at th

Three stalwarts on the storied Chatterbox stage, and a tribute to 'Grew

I took in a good portion of the second set Zach Lapidus' trio played Thursday night at the Chatterbox Jazz Club. The passing street scene outside the decorated front window gradually acquired density and variety, realizing the fabled Massachusetts Avenue vibe. With Nick Tucker on bass and Greg Artry on drums, pianist Lapidus was in good company — the kind he deservedly attracts on the bandstand with regularity. The first number, familiar-sounding but not anything I could put a name to, showed the spacious command this trio exercises over whatever it sets its mind and heart to. Artry's roiling solo introduction to the second tune gave no particular hints that the group was about to sail into Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are." A favorite of jazzmen since the beboppers, the standard is typically taken at a frisky pace. This performance was no exception, but Lapidus and his mates unpacked the song as though it came with instructions reading "Some assemb

Top Ten Reasons Arts Administrators Leave Their Jobs

The Indianapolis arts community has been stunned by resignations at the top of three local arts organizations announced within the past few days. Two of these have been on the administrative side, one on the artistic. What follows is a purely hypothetical list, not to be connected with the departures of Kirk Trevor from the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Steven Stolen from Indiana Repertory Theatre, or John Pickett from Indianapolis Opera. (Although the list focuses on the woes of running an arts organization [I use "Administrator" as a generic job title], some items on this Letterman-style list potentially have lots to do with resignations on the artistic side as well.) 10.  To save money, the board eliminates one or more staff positions and expects Administrator to carry out those duties, too. 9. Board blames Administrator for failure to secure major grants. 8. Some of the blame in #9 is generated by annoyance at Administrator for seeming to expect board members t

Kirk Trevor will retire as Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra music director after 25 years

After a quarter-century leading Indianapolis' other professional orchestra, Kirk Trevor will step down as music director and principal conductor of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra at the end of the 2014-15 season. Executive director Elaine Eckhart made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, adding that Trevor will take the title of conductor emeritus after the next two seasons are completed. Among his accomplishments in the time remaining will be to conduct the premiere of a new piece to be commissioned within the next year "to reflect on the ICO's growth as an ensemble and to celebrate the artistic future of the ICO as it begins a season in the new Schrott Center for the Arts" at Butler University. The announcement launches the search for Trevor's successor, beginning in July.  Up to two years to find a new music director will be needed; the process  will include final candidates conducting concerts during the 2014-15 season. Only three seasons in the orche

ISO closes its classical, pops seasons with a good deal

A major local supporter of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has made tickets at a reduced price available for the final three weekends of the 2012-13 season. A gift from Printing Partners, a donor to the ISO's annual fund since 1999 and, since 2006, title sponsor of the orchestra's Pop Series, has allowed the ISO to offer all remaining tickets to May 31-June 1 and Jun 7-8 classical concerts and the June 14-15 pops concerts at $20 each. The offer is available from noon Thursday, May 30, until midnight June  9. It applies to newly purchased tickets for concerts only on the three weekends mentioned above. How to get a ticket in exchange for a government-issued portrait of Old Hickory? Visit the ISO's website or call the Hilbert Circle Theatre box office, (317) 639-4300. Outside Indianapolis, call (800) 366-8457.

Changes come to Indianapolis Opera

Still adjusting to a lingering recovery from the 2008 recession, Indianapolis Opera today announced some top administrative changes, chiefly the resignation of executive director John C. Pickett to take on a new role as consultant. Carol Baker, active in arts adminstration for many years with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Center for the Performing Arts, has been on the opera company staff since last August.  She becomes interim general manager, overseeing a budget of about $2 million for the 2013-14 season. The company's 35-member board will complete a strategic plan before setting up a search committee to find Pickett's successor, she said. Baker sounded optimistic notes repeatedly in an interview with me Wednesday afternoon."We have a really strong board now," she said, "and we've undertaken new strategic planning to propel us into a stronger position. We've been through some difficult times, but I think we're in an upswing."

The ISO and its star resident trio open themselves up to "something wonderful right away"

In recent years, Jennifer Higdon and Chris Brubeck have written wonderful pieces for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Time for Three. But the latest one,  William Bolcom's  "Games and Challenges: 'Something Wonderful Right Away,'" perhaps best meets the genre-busting string trio on the group's  own turf. Comfortable interaction with audiences and collaborators, freedom from rootedness in the classical tradition, at its best when the synapses between spontaneity and preparation are firing:  Tf3 seems made for such a work. William Bolcom plays games with ISO. The new concerto, to be given its premiere May 31 and June 1 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre, allows the prize-winning composer to reach back to his nourishing roots in musical theater and cabaret. It also draws sustenance from one of Bolcom's fellow students of the prolific French master Darius Milhaud, Andre Hajdu, author of several volumes "exploring the creative tension between limi

Thirteen Ways of Looking at "The Rite of Spring" (on the eve of its 100th birthday)

(With apologies to Wallace Stevens, Igor Stravinsky, and readers who may wonder what's the point of apologizing to dead people)   1. The original ballet version of "The Rite of Spring" takes place in a tropical jungle . My initial impression of the ballet's scenario was hard to shake, because the first recording of it I knew as a teenager had a reproduction of Henri Rousseau's "The Snake Charmer" on the cover, with a dark-skinned flute player beguiling serpents in a chlorophyll-intensive setting. Remember how we used to listen to LPs staring at the cover art? No wonder that's how I pictured the "Rite" milieu as I listened to the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, conducted by Pierre Monteux, on RCA Victor. 2. Maestro accepts the benefits of fame, but never the vehicle.  Monteux, who conducted the premiere, suggested to the composer that he arrange a concert version. Stravinsky readily agreed, according to the conductor, thus putti

Indiana Wind Symphony season finale: "Trumpetissimo!"

The title's Italian suffix and exclamation point gave fair warning that a display of "extreme trumpet" would be a major feature of Saturday night's Indiana Wind Symphony concert at the Palladium in Carmel. And that's what guest soloist Allen Vizzutti provided in both halves of the program. The Seattle-based musician's most expansive showcase brought the opening set up to intermission. It was "The Rising Sun," an evocative concerto for trumpet and concert band inspired by Vizzutti's visits to Japan. In the second half, Del Staigers' arrangement of the virtuoso chestnut "The Carnival of Venice" put the soloist's agility and accuracy to the test in variations on the familiar theme. An encore of the final variation included the deft showman's trick of rotating the horn slowly until he was briefly playing the horn upside down, pushing the valves up. This seemed wholly appropriate to Vizzuti's brisk tour of a piece that

Going down to St. James Infirmary: Mourning as self-assertion

Spent a lovely evening at the Jazz Kitchen as the Tuesday night shrimp boil resumed its place on the schedule. A neo-trad band dubbed the Red Hot Whiskey Sippers provided the music, and I enjoyed sinking into the environment of "St. James Infirmary Blues" in particular. For bands that feel comfortable accessing this music, the song invites adherence to Lester Young's advice to soloists: "Tell me a story." That's what trombonist Rich Dole and guitarist Bill Lancton did especially well in their solos. The melody seems to imply a narrative, though the story the words tell (some singers still do the piece, but not on this occasion) is oblique and somewhat mysterious. Another odd thing is that while the tune is blues-saturated, it's not really a blues at all. It's in four-line stanzas in the shape of a ballad, so it seems to call up its own world, through which runs a narrative thread. The version that brought the song its popularity was recorded

Money Honey: What happened to Daisy Buchanan on the way from Fitzgerald to Luhrmann?

Though I riskily admitted to being a dilettante in yesterday's post, I'm not going to go all-out and comment on areas I'm not well-versed in. I have too much respect for the accumulated knowledge and insight of (to mention only local examples) Chris Lloyd, Ed Johnson-Ott and Matthew Socey to set up as a movie critic. This post about "The Great Gatsby" is justified mainly as a follow-up to May 7's "Cashing in on a 'voice full of money': The promise of Luhrmann's 'Gatsby.'" Having seen the film just last night, I came away disappointed that the line in the novel that intrigued me — Gatsby's description of Daisy Buchanan, "Her voice is full of money" — is not among the many of Fitzgerald's words quoted in the movie. The angle from which I came at the May 7 post was my interest in how adaptations of novels work with the raw material on stage or screen. Particularly when one major character says something about an

And worth every penny, too: The mixed pleasure of being an unpaid writer

As a newcomer to the blogosphere, I'm grateful for the warm welcome I got on May 20 from Hope Baugh, a veteran in that arena (Indy Theatre Habit). One sentence in particular gave me a fresh perspective that will be useful as I continue: "Even if he doesn't have to worry about earning a living, Jay may get tired of writing for free once the rush of writing whatever he wants to write wears off." That's certainly a realistic prospect, especially daunting when set against a personal history of nearly 42 years of writing for pay. Deep in my memory lies the thundering judgment of the inimitable Samuel Johnson (1709-1784): "No man except a blockhead ever wrote except for money." The literary-minded do not brush off lightly the stamp of authority that clings to just about everything Dr. Johnson said, even when he seems to have been wrong (viz., his famous dismissal of female preachers ). But a context needs to be put on this particular remark that may be h

The Icarus Ensemble: Their romance

By the time the men of the Icarus Ensemble got to their amiably churning arrangement of the Rodgers-Hart chestnut "My Romance"  in the second set Monday night at the Jazz Kitchen, it was clear their blended musical backgrounds have by now coalesced so well around a fresh band identity that they don't "need a castle rising in Spain" or any of the other desiderata the song lists. Their romance is with the music they make together — three of them colleagues in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the other two on the music faculty of Butler University. In its six-year existence, Icarus has put together a distinctive book of originals and arrangements. The songs are well-crafted, but not staid: full of surprises of phrasing and shifts of momentum and texture. The group has to schedule carefully around the prior obligations of ISO members Peter Hansen (bass), Dean Franke (violin) and Mark Ortwein (reeds) and Butler teachers (with other performing demands, too) Ga

Tentative guidelines for visitors to this blog

As you probably noticed if you frequently visit this blog (thanks so much!), I devoted two posts to Dance Kaleidoscope's  "Barefoot Renegades" program. This kind of occasional "slice-and-dice" approach to performances fulfills  one of my aims: to make "Jay Harvey Upstage"   different from my Star reviews, interviews and features. There, for instance, I typically covered all of a program in one published story, unless its very diversity forced omission of one element or another. Part of the personal stamp I hope to put on this blog will involve delaying remarks on one or more parts of the same performance, or coming back to a performance for the sake of a topical post.  Also, I may not always observe the loose requirements that govern making a proper first paragraph, or "lede," as newspaper custom has termed it. That's a hard habit to break, but I'll work at it. In the  Dance Kaleidoscope program I wrote about Saturday, my post fo

Revisiting "Barefoot Renegades": "Afternoon of a Faun"

Zach Young in "Afternoon of a Faun" Crafting an erotic work of art without coarseness cannot be easy in today's vulgarized cultural environment. And to do so in a piece strongly implying autoeroticism is even more daring. David Hochoy has achieved this in "Afternoon of a Faun," a 2008 work revived for this weekend's "Barefoot Renegades" program at Indiana Repertory Theatre. Using Debussy's music originally composed for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1912, Hochoy removes the mythological context of Vaslav Nijinsky's original and also seems to skirt the focus on narcissism of Jerome Robbins' 1953 setting for the New York City Ballet. A glowing white Pilates ball serves as a totem for the magic of growing self-awareness in the sexual realm that grabs all but the unluckiest human beings.  Hochoy concentrates on one male dancer's relationship to that ball, which is so intimately engaged with by Zach Young that the audience rig

Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra concludes season in its new home

"It's a real concert hall," Elaine Eckhart said with almost a sigh of relief about  the place the durable Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra will now get to call home: Butler University's Schrott Center for the Arts. As the post-concert reception crowd milled about  in the lobby of the new facility, she spoke of the just-announced 2013-14 season with a sense of satisfaction about the bright, enveloping sound the ICO can count on enjoying, even though the orchestra will be heard in five other places as well. The Schrott's warm sound, which (granted) contends with a brightness that can verge on hard-edged, was much in evidence in a program of Villa-Lobos, Mozart and Copland conducted by music director Kirk Trevor Saturday night. To start with, the hall probably flattered the Brazilian composer's "Bachianas Brasileiras" No. 9, making it seem more cunningly constructed than it is. No reason why a work of this type shouldn't introduce a pair of mast

Dance Kaleidoscope: "Barefoot Renegades"

The  program title hints that turning one's back on social and artistic conventions is liberating, and the consequences are likely to be better than expected. "Barefoot Renegades" — people who go unshod after turning away from something that once commanded their loyalty. David Hochoy's new "Les Noces" delivered on that positive promise in its preview performance Thursday night at Indiana Repertory Theatre. It was supported by the three older pieces that preceded it.  Nothing dark in mood or crabbed in gesture intruded on the scene, but the works before intermission nonetheless declared that, contrary to what Tolstoy said about families, all happy dances are not alike. Hochoy's setting of the rough, exuberant score  Igor Stravinsky subtitled "Russian Choreographic Scenes" swerves into contemporary relationship freedom and makes it clear that personal fulfillment is the outcome. Two male couples and three female couples progress from ambiguo

Newspaper Days at -30-: Anecdotes with Questions

The stories about photographers in the last post were longer than I had announced, so maybe I have less of Montaigne's declared advantage of a short memory than I thought. I can tell long stories, just like all too many people.  So  here's an end to that as well as an end to the blog's "Newspaper Days" series. The title can go back on the shelf on H.L. Mencken's memoir, from which I filched it. And who can feel bad in this business about being left with questions, in honor of which I offer these stories in which the questions are as impertinent as they are sometimes pertinent? ======= Before computers, storage of information was bulky and time-consuming. Newspaper libraries had books on shelves around the walls, but much of their space was taken up with large metal cabinets containing file after file of newspaper clippings, scrupulously organized by topical, organizational and personal titles. In those often bulging envelopes with the tops open for easy

Newspaper Days: Shout-out to the shooters

So into our home mailbox a few days ago drops the current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, to which I've subscribed for over 20 years. And there's a poignant feature on the thankless job of being a photojournalist in Iraq during our war there, with a long quote from the introduction to Michael Kamber's new book, Photojournalists on War: The Untold Stories . After a sentence lamenting the lack of interest among Americans in that horrendous conflict comes this one: "There was plenty of good reporting out there, and good photojournalism." Now, I'm not about to play "gotcha" with a man braver than I (he "covered the war from beginning to end," says CJR), but that's an unfortunate sentence, and it leaped out at me as I thought about my gratitude to the newspaper photographers I have worked with and admired.  Yes, it's true that "reporting" is commonly linked to the job of a reporter, someone who delivers the news thro

Newspaper Days: Gratitude

The French essayist Montaigne indicates somewhere that one benefit of a poor memory is that one cannot tell long stories. You're in luck, dear reader. The stories in this and the next post will be short, more in the nature of thumbnail sketches. In this post, I want the names standing out and the verbiage  trimmed back, garden sculpture in an understated garden.  Tomorrow, when I salute the newspaper photographers I have known and allow myself room to meander, there will be more stories, but each will be digestible and arguably worth telling as my newspaper career comes to a close. This is about The Indianapolis Star: I'm grateful to Bo Connor for hiring me in 1986, recognizing that I could contribute  something The Star found useful, chiefly about classical music. This was expressed through a few early raises that moved me up the reporter's scale comfortably. I honor too the memory of Corky Richmond, who had the difficult task of running a department that was nominally h

Newspaper Days: The Groaning Board

I'm stealing the title of this post (before the colon) from H.L. Mencken , whose nostalgia rested on firmer ground and whose abilities dwarf my own. (That statement is so easy to check I can scarcely lay claim to a disarming modesty.) The newspaper's ambiance in Mencken's day was close to that in most of my career, oddly enough. But my nostalgia has a more ironic cast,  perhaps, because the days when newspaper companies put out mere newspapers for public consumption are forever gone. In Mencken's case, though  he had become a national figure in magazine journalism and popular scholarship ( The American Language ) years before, reminiscing about newspapers didn't require nearly the suspension of disbelief for readers just before World War II that it might today. His lively accounts of a vanished world in "Newspaper Days" (one of three volumes of high-spirited memoirs) resonated in the lives of people in and out of the profession back then. Clatteri