Showing posts from June, 2013

Michael Feinstein's pantheon of American popular singers expands festively

We tend to think the best context for understanding cultural values is provided by the past. No doubt that lies behind Michael Feinstein 's efforts to memorialize extraordinary contributions to the American popular song with the Center for the Performing Arts' Songbook Hall of Fame. Nick Ziobro performs at Hall of Fame Induction With Feinstein as affable host, the Palladium on Saturday night celebrated the second annual induction of luminaries into his burgeoning pantheon of tuneful titans. Rita Moreno, Jimmy Webb and Liza Minnelli were on hand to accept their laurels, and Frank Sinatra was honored posthumously. At least one fan of my acquaintance yearned for a surprise appearance by Ol' Blue Eyes, but the event remained well on this side of the supernatural. Though the past sets up a reminder that good popular songs were built to last, substantial hope for the future is required to invest such a celebration with significance. That's where some of the entertain

Indianapolis native James Aikman is the new composer-in-residence of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra

James Aikman, whose Indiana roots run deep and include a bachelor's degree from Butler University and a master's from Indiana University, has been appointed composer-in-residence of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, it was announced today. A prolific composer whose commissions include works for the Eiteljorg Museum and the former Cathedral Arts (now International Violin Competition of Indianapolis), Aikman serves on the faculty of the University of Michigan. Born here in 1959, Aikman is also a performing musician (keyboards and conducting), and has directed the chamber-music program at the San Miguel International Chamber Music Festival. According to the announcement,  he will "create musical 'snapshots' for the orchestra" as it prepares to celebrate its 40th season in 2014-15. The ICO is in residence at Aikman's alma mater, calling Butler's new Schrott Center for the Arts home.

ISO fills the principal trumpet chair in time for two big Symphony on the Prairie weekends

For a musician who considered "winning a job all I cared about," the 11-month wait Ryan Beach had between his audition and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra 's announcement that he would be its new principal trumpet could be taken in stride. True, to the best of his knowledge, "that may have been longer than anyone has ever had to wait," but there was no choice but to be patient when scheduling difficulties — including music director Krzysztof Urbanski's limited availability, and last fall's lockout when contract negotiations stalled — delayed the decision until this April. A second finalist had to be tested in concert performance as well, and when that hurdle was cleared this spring, the nod went to the 24-year-old Nebraskan. Ryan Beach, new principal trumpet of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra "It's a big step, it's a great orchestra, and I'm very fortunate to have gotten this job," said Beach after a recent ISO rehea

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis gets into the ring with jazzman's first opera

A brutal sport that reflects a brutal world lies at the center of a new opera by Terence Blanchard , a well-known jazz trumpeter and film composer who makes his debut as an opera composer with "Champion," an Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production. The 23rd world premiere in the 38 seasons of OTSL, "Champion" is the story, based on real life but told in a dreamlike fashion, of boxer Emile Griffith, whose success as welterweight champion in the 1960s was forever marked by his fatal victory over Benny "Kid" Paret. "Champion" takes Griffith's guilt over his flurry of punches that sent Paret into a coma resulting in death and sets it against the champion's own mental deterioration, a hazard of his profession. Manager Howie (Robert Orth) encourages Emile (Aubrey Allicock) before fight. Blanchard and his librettist, Michael Cristofer, have posed challenges for themselves and their audiences. The voice of the hero is

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis expertly opens two cans of verismo worms

Once again the world is convulsed by the discovery of secrets, and the saga of Edward Snowden , his whereabouts and his revelations, illustrates that the demand to know the truth can be as relentless as the insistence that the truth be kept hidden. People on both sides of that divide get awfully nasty. Opera loves the push-pull of this struggle, no more so than in affairs of the heart. No surprise, then, that one of most gripping productions of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis this season is the double bill of Puccini's "Il Tabarro" (The Cloak) and Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci" (The Players). Presented here in Amanda Holden's supple English translation, the operas are prime examples of the swerve Italian opera took toward  gritty realism ( verismo ) at the turn of the 20th century. "Pagliacci," the more complex of the two works, lacks the clear musical focus of "Il Tabarro." But it adds a harbinger of  postmodernist iro

Trial by disdain, judgment by dishonor: EclecticPond's 'Much Ado About Nothing'

The granddaddy of all battle-of-the-sexes comedies ends the season of EclecticPond Theatre Company at the Irvington Lodge. "Much Ado About Nothing," whose very title is part of the vast trove of imperishable phrases William Shakespeare bequeathed to the English language, weaves the feisty courtship of Beatrice and Benedick, two young well-born Italians, together with the initially smoother, but seriously interrupted, romance of a couple of their peers, Claudio and Hero. It's a wise comedy that received an occasionally wise interpretation in the production's final performance Saturday night. In a program note, director Polly L. Heinkel supports well her placing of the action after World War I, so you just have to ignore references to the latest fashion in doublets or the threat to draw swords: In time travel, there are lots more metaphors. At any rate, the post-war atmosphere applies; love is in the air once again, as it was in the 1920s in song and story. And the

47th annual Early Music Festival launches with Chatham Baroque

Establishing a great reputation as a teacher used to require a wealth of creative energy as well as pedagogical skill. In the early Baroque period, when music lacked much institutional support outside the Church, a career as varied as Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger (c.1580-1651) was potentially thrust upon any musician who wanted to succeed, especially a transplant from the other side of the Alps seeking to make a name for himself in Rome. Kapsperger (Grove's Dictionary spells it "Kapsberger," but we'll go with the program book here) was the main focus of the opening concert of the 47th Early Music Festival. Titled "Roman Holiday: The Music of Kapsperger and Friends," Friday's concert at the Glick Indiana History Center featured Chatham Baroque, a Pittsburgh ensemble with a core of plucked and bowed string instruments, and three guests (violinist Alison Edberg, violist Martie Perry and guitarist-archlutenist David Walker. Besides the entrepreneurial K

Shout-out to the shooters postcript: The pride of photographers

With the news that the chickens quickly came home to roost (Chicago Sun-Times photography division), I feel impelled to revisit my salute to newspaper photographers. If you haven't heard, the Sun-Times, after discharging its entire photography staff, soon laid an egg by failing to get a photo of long lines at a new Chick-fil-A in the Loop to accompany its reporter's story, in comparison to rival Chicago Tribune, which still employs photographers, oddly enough. Instead, the story was illustrated by a stock shot of the fast-food outlet's product. I guess it will take a while for the S-T to keep its iPhone-toting word people from looking like dumb clucks when it comes to photo coverage in the print edition. Anyway, I may have idealized  photographers in my earlier post.  I will do so here in a different way, by recalling a couple of unforgettable examples of photographer pride and sometimes injured self-esteem. It happens a lot, and recent technological developments in ne

Trace elements: My journalistic past covering visual arts, too, has left its mark

As I was interviewed last week about my career in arts journalism  for "The Arts Exchange" (WICR-FM), questions put to me by Tom Akins and Bobbie Donahue touched on the visual arts as one of the arrows in my critical quiver long ago at The Flint Journal.  Apart from a feature or two and a one-off review, at The Indianapolis Star that weaponry remained idle during my 26-plus years there. I have many fond memories of writing about art and artists at the Michigan paper, though I was never as comfortable in that area as in the performing arts. I had taken a couple of art history courses in college, one while studying in Germany. The one on my home campus got me tagged with the second-lowest grade of my college career, a "C."  The professor's procedure was slide lectures in a darkened classroom. The class took place right after lunch, and my mental focus was usually blurry. I had two other disadvantages writing about the visual arts:  I've got a bit of colo

Chivalry is not dead yet, just incapacitated by laughter, in 'Monty Python's Spamalot'

Fondness for the venerated English legends of King Arthur doesn't stand a chance in the BOBDIREX production of Monty Python's Spamalot , which runs through June 29 at the Athenaeum Theater. The show celebrates in the worst way the time (932 for those keeping score at home)  when knighthood was in flower —though this is the squirting kind that clowns wear in their lapels. The energy and panache of the local production is indelibly Pythonesque. The British troupe's Eric Idle contrived the award-winning stage adaptation  of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975) with the blessing of his mates. Collaborating with composer John Du Prez, Idle also sends up the Broadway musical, with its soaring romantic duets ("The Song That Goes Like This") and its anthemic inspirational songs. Here, it's  "Find Your Grail," which manages to put in a stuffy box the likes of "Climb Every Mountain" and "The Impossible Dream." Arthur

A choral phenomenon pays us a visit, 102 years after the first time

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is so much an institution that its thorough preparation of a variety of choral music can be taken for granted.  Nonetheless, it's a treat to hear that sound in the flesh, as a crowded Bankers Life Fieldhouse learned Friday night — the first time an Indianapolis audience has had that privilege since 1911. The local partner facilitating the historic return was the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra , under its formal name, the Indiana  Symphony Society. There is a finish and roundedness to the MTC's  presentation that seems the essence of professionalism, though in fact the choir and the accompanying Orchestra at Temple Square are all dedicated amateurs. No doubt they are schooled in the ensemble's prestige and history as well as in its music. The 360 singers, standing ramrod straight (with a few planned exceptions, notably the Nigerian carol "Betelehemu," when they swayed, raised their hands and shouted), were never less than impressi

Cincinnati Opera's spellbinding 'Don Giovanni'

"The Rake Punished" are the first words in the original title of the opera we know as "Don Giovanni," and Cincinnati Opera 's season-opening production of Mozart's masterpiece restores the moral of the old Don Juan story to its rightful place. As seen Thursday night in the first of two performances at Cincinnati Music Hall, this "Don Giovanni" gives an unpleasant edge to the title character, despite the gusto with which Lucas Meachem portrays him. We are made to feel his eventual punishment is fully justified. Lorenzo da Ponte's witty libretto lends plenty of support for characterizing the dissolute nobleman as absolutely focused on seducing women, not letting anything stand in his way. But some productions minimize the dark side and make the Don's eventual comeuppance — and the surviving characters' final chorus — seem tacked on to the tale of a fast-moving rascal we are disposed to like. Director Tomer Zvulun allows the Don to h

Swiss movement: Jarrett-Peacock-DeJohnette hang loose in Lucerne

Working through second thoughts,  the renowned "standards" trio of Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette has allowed ECM to release "Somewhere," the essence of a concert presented in Lucerne, Switzerland, in July 2009. Jack DeJohnette, Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock Recently the pianist explained the perfectionist tendencies behind this costive scheduling to an NPR interviewer. Fans will be pleased to hear the result, even if the particular misgivings of bassist Peacock seem justified: His instrument's sound is a bit constipated; what he plays has a stopped-up quality  — where's the resonance, the projection? The bass's accompaniment patterns are sometimes buried under even sotto voce piano and drums, especially in the ruminative Jarrett original "Everywhere," which is tacked on to a plaintive account of Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere." That's one of the hourlong set's two pieces from "West Si

Sean Chen also registers with audiences and judges in Fort Worth

Sean Chen Sean Chen, 24, picked up the third prize in the 14th quadrennial International Van Cliburn Competition Sunday night.  Chen, who was selected as the 2013 Classical Fellow of the American Pianists Association, made a good impression in Fort Worth, Texas, on the jury and audience as well,  drawing a host of  rave Tweets from fans who heard the final concerto performance of the competition, the Rachmaninoff Third, with Leonard Slatkin conducting the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. The gold medalist (first prize winner) is Vadym Kholodenko, 26, of Ukraine.  The silver medal went to Beatrice Rana, 20, of Italy. The other finalists, all six of whom will receive three years of concert management, are Fei-Fei Dong, 22, of China; Nikita Mndoyants, 24, of Russia, and Tomoki Sakata, 19, of Japan. As silver medalist, Chen receives $20,000 and a recording of his competition performances.  He is the first American finalist since the 1997 competition. Now studying at the Yale Sc

Creative Renewal Grant allowed Becky Archibald to cozy up to jazz at Monteton

Midnight at Monteton , a new recording by pianist Becky Archibald (B&A Records), shows how she was able to spread her wings musically through study and performance in 2008 at the Dordogne International Jazz Summer (DJSS) in Monteton, France. An enabling Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis continues to bear fruit, and a sample of the harvest is offered here. Becky Archibald benefited from fellowship to study jazz There is much to enjoy. Except for three solos at the end of the 80-minute disc, she's broadened her musical reach to take in real jazz played with top-drawer veterans of the scene. The kind of New Age style of pastel inspirations by which she made her mark locally is retained in her evident love for melodies and their uncomplicated elaboration. Her fetching compositions give comfortable space to three top Indianapolis bassists, and they revel in it: Steve Dokken on "Lemonade" and "Deux Chapeaux," Jack Helsley

ISO, guest soloist plumb 'The Mysteries of Light' as Classical Series concludes

The first time I heard any music by James MacMillan was at a concert by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra in 1998, with Evelyn Glennie as percussion soloist in a piece written for her, Veni,Veni, Emmanuel . I came away with the impression I still have today: This is not only a composer who speaks in his own voice, but also knows how to lay out a large work effectively.  Both are rare gifts. The Scottish composer has maintained those gifts, as evidenced by another large work, also steeped in MacMillan's Catholic faith and also written for a major international soloist: Piano Concerto No. 3 ("The Mysteries of Light"), which Jean-Yves Thibaudet played with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Krzysztof Urbanski, Friday night at Hilbert Circle Theatre. Thibaudet premiered the work in 2011 with what one is sadly tempted to call the late, lamented Minnesota Orchestra. It's a pleasant sign of the ISO music director's commitment  to the music of his ti

ISO names FORTE founder director of development

Holly C. Johnson, who was instrumental in setting up FORTE,  the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's organization promoting its music to young professionals, will be the ISO's new vice president of development. Holly C. Johnson (credit: Tyagan Miller) Having started her fundraising career with the ISO in 1999, she continued with the organization until 2008, when she led the corporate and foundations fundraising team. Since then, she has worked for the Indiana University Foundation, finishing her work there as director of development, major gifts, for the past two years. She helped establish FORTE in 2003. Johnson will be responsible for leading ISO fundraising initiatives, including the vital campaign to increase donations to the annual fund. That enlarged fund is the linchpin of the organization's efforts to be solvent enough to keep contractual obligations to the ISO's musicians, who accepted a large wage cut last fall under a five-season contract that took effe

Love rumbles on: 'West Side Story' kicks up a storm at Clowes Hall

More than legal reasons justify Jerome Robbins ' name in a box forever on production title pages  of 'West Side Story." For all the collective star power that gave it birth, West Side Story is his show. The choreographer-director's innovations in Broadway dance for the 1957 story of star-crossed lovers and gang warfare in the formerly rundown West Side of Manhattan are a milestone in theatrical history.  Robbins was the difficult genius at the top of a creative team also including Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (book). Jerome Robbins' choreography made West Side Story historic The Broadway in Indianapolis touring production, seen in its second night Wednesday at Clowes Hall, fully reflects the primacy of dance in the show. The first act is where the menace of rival native-born and Puerto Rican gangs needs to be brought to fever pitch before the pathos of Tony and Maria's love can tumble toward tragedy in Act

Competition silver medalist Prunaru and pianist Chen conclude Laureate Series

Liviu Prunaru played honestly Tuesday night. There was something so decided in Liviu Prunaru's manner when he discussed the kind of music-making he favors in an interview Sunday that I had little doubt he could deliver it on Tuesday night. And so he did, playing with the sincerity and honesty that he finds all too rare today among eminent concert artists, particularly violinists and pianists. Still, I was stunned by the high level of consistency and polish of his demonstration at the Glick Indiana History Center, where he and pianist Chih-Yi Chen concluded the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis' 2012-13 Laureate Series. A few minutes into the program, it was a treat to hear the bravura passages of Bedrich Smetana's From My Homeland given straightforward urgency, without excessive display. The discursive musical tribute to the composer's native Bohemia found the duo partnership of Prunaru and Chen in fine working order, changing tempos precisely