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Showing posts from February, 2016

Recorded in central Indiana using a host of Hoosier musicians, "Steal Away" showcases an adept jazz singer, Erin Benedict

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Secure singing from a jazz vocalist has to rely more than pulling tricks out of a bag. There's security of intonation, for one thing. Then a feeling for rhythm that doesn't require adherence to the accompaniment, but always knows its place in relation to it. Singer Erin Benedict and pianist Gary Walters. This is what is available from Erin Benedict on "Steal Away," a disc recorded last year in Alexandria at the Gaither Studios (Straight Tone Music). The accompaniments have a quartet core, led by Gary Walters at the piano. Arrangements take in a string orchestra and a big band, sometimes in combination. There are flavorful sax solos along the way by Michael Stricklin. The singer has a degree from the Manhattan School of Music and, while in New York, found work as a backup singer. Now in Indianapolis with her family, she can frequently be heard in Second@Six presentations at Second Presbyterian Church. That's where I first encountered her two years ago in a

Silk Road Ensemble brings its lively blend of musical influences to the Palladium

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The Silk Road Ensemble was founded by Yo-Yo Ma. With its changing personnel and diverse repertoire, the Silk Road Ensemble is like a world traveler that remains confidently itself in any number of guises. One of them showed up at the Palladium in Carmel Saturday night to share its broad vision of world music with a large audience. The program began with a spatially representative performance of this musical hands-across-the-sea concept: Coming down each side aisle toward the stage where their colleagues were assembled, together Cristina Pato played her gaita (Galician bagpipes) and Kojiro Umezaki his shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) in a piece with the symbolic Esperanto title of "Vojo" (meaning "way" or "road"). The intertwining of these two distinctive voices set a pattern for the concert. The pattern had more to do with honoring various origins of the music. Silk Road Ensemble does not seek to puree all its influences into something indistin

TOTS grips family values by the throat in Tracy Letts' 'Killer Joe'

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The first scene of "Killer Joe" gets right down to work. And there is no let-up. Over the next hour-and-a-half, the blackouts between scenes are both a theatrical convenience and chance for a rapt, sometimes appalled audience to catch its breath. I often had to remind myself to exhale at Theatre on the Square Friday night. Tracy Letts, a playwright whose rising star became a place to watch in the theater heavens with "August: Osage Country," was on to something in his first play. He was prophetic of a situation this political year has brought into the mainstream: People searching for personal advantage tend to suppress the hard work of examining their desired future in detail. Instead, they will press forward by exploiting weaknesses in their opponents. If you stand in the way, prepare to be obliterated. They will work behind your back. They will also get in your face. Neither in a nation nor in a family is the modus operandi likely to come out well. In tha

Dance Kaleidoscope plucks flowers from the folk-rock 'revolution' of the '60s and '70s

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David Hochoy takes a chance in presenting programs of dances set to well-known music. It probably works out well in marketing terms, Dance Kaleidoscope hopes, as it did with "Super Soul" in 2012. Only a choreographer as secure in his vision as Hochoy, however, could hope that his concepts and the work of his troupe won't come across as mere accompaniment to well-remembered and well-loved pop songs In the jingle-jangle morning: Timothy June in "Mr. Tambourine Man." In Thursday's opening performance in the two-weekend run of "Voices of a Generation: The Folk/Rock Revolution" at Indiana Repertory Theatre, the hazard was largely avoided. True, there's the further challenge of looking back four and five decades for musical material while counting on putting younger butts in the seats. I believe dance excellence should be enough to attract all generations, whatever the music, but it may not be. Familiar musical hooks may well be indispensable

Concerto confrontation: Zuill Bailey vs. David Finckel: The Dvorak cello concerto

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One of the hallmarks of a masterpiece is a range of valid interpretation by superior musicians. After considering the companion piece on a new disc, I want to offer some head-to-head comparisons of a couple of recordings of Antonin Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B minor. ArtistLed is a venture of cellist David Finckel and his wife, pianist Wu Han, designed to focus on musician-approved recordings in an era when so many aspects of classical recordings are diffuse or ill-conceived. Marketing, repertoire choice, engineering — the whole package has frequently had what might be called the ungainly camel result: a horse designed by a committee, as the old joke goes. An enhanced reissue of Finckel's recording of the Dvorak Cello Concerto and Augusta Read Thomas' "Ritual Incantations," both with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra , conducted by Felix Chiu-Sen Chen, has just been made available. Recorded in 2003, the performances are astonishingly bright and well-articulated.

At University of Indianapolis, Ronen Chamber Ensemble raises the flag for music as a pathway to knowledge

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Music continues to fight for its life in public education, though few of its enemies use the word "frill" anymore. In higher education, music's stature is more secure. John Berners, composer of "Praeludium" In the annual collaboration between the Ronen Chamber Ensemble and the University of Indianapolis, the opportunity to put music forward as a branch of knowledge is inescapable. It was more pronounced than ever Monday night in a program called "Science, Math & Music." With pop culture having pegged music as entertainment only, the art's ancient links to the nature of reality (including the abstract, internally consistent reality of mathematics) are often obscured. Gregory Martin, artistic director of Ronen along with founders David Bellman and Ingrid Fischer-Bellman, was at pains to restore that link as it has been forged from ancient times to the present day. He wrote a script, chock-full of scholarly references, that was  delivere

Dance Theatre of Harlem brings its warmth and sparkle to Clowes Hall

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Buzzing with anticipation as the show began late to accommodate late arrivals, a packed Clowes Hall Saturday night reflected the special aura Dance Theatre of Harlem carries with it. What the audience was treated to over the next two hours displayed the classically rooted skill and energy that aroused interest from the company's origin in 1969 and first flourishing after the turn of the decade. Lindsey Croop graduated cum laude from Butler. My new girlfriend (now my wife) and I attended a well-attended performance by the emerging company in 1970, when DTH was engaged by the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in western Massachusetts. Since then, the company has had financial problems resulting in a serious hiatus (2004-2012), making its current personnel and repertoire feel new. The whole program on this tour stop, for example, consisted of pieces created for or adopted by DTH  in the past four years. Saturday's performance opened with the newest, "Divertimento,&q

Very recent music is the centerpiece of this weekend's Indianapolis Symphony concert

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Young composers are creating works that show the influence of pop music and electronics — which in turn means exploiting the access everyone has to all music nowadays. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra played this weekend's sole Lilly Classical Series event Friday night with compositions by two young women who represent this openness to a postmodernist aesthetic. Sarah Kirkland Snider The works were paired with pieces by established composers, chosen by the living composers, to make for a satisfying program conducted by Edwin Outwater. It's only regrettable the concert was a rare one-off on the ISO schedule. Three songs from "Unremembered," an expressively expansive song cycle by Sarah Kirkland Snider, featured Shara Worden on the first half. The singer and the composer have collaborated before on "Penelope." Worden made a strong impression nearly two years ago with the ISO soloing in Henryk Gorecki's wildly popular "Symphony of Sorr

America's Trial by Trump: The Sermon on the Stump

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The solid support Donald J. Trump is gathering in the GOP primary campaign is often expressed in terms more appropriate to the anointing of a savior. If there aren't explicit religious connotations in the loyalty he inspires, there seem to be persistent signals from his fans that what he represents is independent of ideology or traditional political allegiances. It's all about him, which is the way he likes it; his savior status carries with it no claim of divine endorsement. That is among the many qualities that set him apart from a certain illustrious predecessor. That charismatic forerunner had his Sermon on the Mount, opening with the Beatitudes. A Trump knockoff of the famous homily would have to be called Sermon on the Stump, opening (naturally) with the Anathematudes. In context, it would be preceded by some cheerleading, led by Sarah Palin, to warm up the crowd, something like this: "One Corinthians, Two Corinthians, Three Corinthian boys! Four Corinthians,

Back in action: Icarus Ensemble, after a hiatus of about two months, returns to the scene

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With his well-stocked stand of reed instruments in a commanding position onstage, it was evident that Reeds at the ready. Mark Ortwein had returned to jazz after a medical hiatus, enabling Icarus Ensemble to rejoin the musical scene. Put into play in the course of a first set Monday night at the Jazz Kitchen , the instrumental armory took on the aura of a Burning Bush of inspiration. But then, all five members of the band proved capable of bringing down stone tablets from the musical Sinai they mount whenever they hit the stage. With co-founders Peter Hansen on bass and Gary Walters on piano, Icarus delivered ten easy-to-follow musical commandments while I was there. The gang of law-givers also includes drummer Jon Crabiel and violinist Dean Franke. The first set rested on the firm foundation of its self-titled 2014 CD. Material for a follow-up is still Icarus Ensemble: Building a charming book and playing as a unit. being gathered, and some of it was on exhibit Monday

'Whatever gate you're granted': Cardinal Stage's vivid, heartrending production of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'

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Unaccustomed as I am to reviewing only half a play, the second act of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" impressed me so much Sunday evening that I'll gladly come to terms with the bleeding chunk that was handed my wife and me — through no fault of either Cardinal Stage or us. McMurphy and Chief Bromden do the old folk rhyme that supplies the title. Allowing for bad weather wasn't able to go so far as to allow for somebody else's accident on the way down to Bloomington. Late entrances place latecomers squarely onstage, I'd been warned, so we stood in the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center's third-floor hallway through most of Act 1. An invitation to sneak in behind the actor playing Randle P. McMurphy about 20 minutes before intermission was momentarily tempting. But though I love theater, coming under the seated audience's gaze like new admissions to the mental-health facility of Ken Kesey's imagination was a deal-breaker on several cou

A slow waltz in unpleasant tribute to the coarsening of political discourse by Donald Trump and his supporters

A slightly scatological song in trumple time inspired by one presidential candidate's epochal coarsening of political discourse Posted by Jay Harvey on  Saturday, February 13, 2016

With the ISO, Jack Everly masterminds a smooth-flowing centennial tribute to Frank Sinatra

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Frank Sinatra in the recording studio. Pops programs that are well put together and flow with savoir faire come dependably from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra 's principal pops conductor, and the meticulousness of Frank Sinatra in the recording studio provides a legacy that deserves nothing less. So the maestro status of Jack Everly is extended this weekend with four "Sinatra Tribute" shows at Hilbert Circle Theatre, two of which remain. As Everly said near the start of Friday night's concert, the Rat Pack image of the most influential American pop singer of the 20th century "is just the surface." In his spoken commentary, the conductor wasted little time in biographical matters. It was gratifying that he mentioned one pertinent fact: Sinatra's milestone departure from employment by Tommy Dorsey to go out on his own was announced in a broadcast from the Circle Theatre in September 1942. Sinatra's career as a solo act thrived

Dick shtick: Phoenix Theatre mounts a world premiere sending up pulp fiction and film noir

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Do you dream in color? The cliche question, a juvenile puzzler, must be answered in the affirmative as we grow up and realize that the peculiarity of our dreams pushes mere color to the margins — though it's assuredly in the picture. In the dreams of film noir, however, black and white and gray inevitably rule the roost. And part of the genius behind "Pulp," a two-act comic thriller by Joseph Zettelmaier that opened Thursday evening at the Phoenix Theatre , is how it looks. This production has you on the edge of your seat as much for its lighting and set design as its plot and characterization. To start with, the montage of scenes from old movies that plays against the backdrop when there's no stage action places you in that black-and-white cinema world. On top of that, though, the light that slices sharp-angled across the sets, turning a kaleidoscope of conflicting brightness and gloom, may induce flashbacks in almost anyone who knows old movies. Cranston-S

ScoLo flight at the Palladium: Top jazz quartet plays two generous sets

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With a history together reaching back over 25 years, Joe Lovano and John Scofield brought their current combination of forces to the Palladium Saturday night, playing two sets for a large crowd. John Scofield, Lewis Nash, Joe Lovano, and Ben Street at the Palladium. Joining the guitarist and saxophonist onstage were bassist Ben Street and drummer Lewis Nash, who replaced the announced percussionist, Bill Stewart. Much of the material was drawn from the leaders' current recorded collaboration, "Past Present," the source of a couple of current Grammy nominations. Often Scofield and Lovano set out the tune in tight unison, but that was only the most obvious indication of their meeting of minds. On their respective instruments, both men displayed the ready-for-anything fluency that is notable in their styles. They handled exchanges and contrapuntal passages expertly; in fact, intense musical telepathy was characteristic of all four musicians. The leaders avoided l

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and its maestro do a final space walk before returning to Earth

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With "The Cosmos in Music" as its midwinter festival, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and its public seem to have come a little closer to knowing its first 21st-century music director. Almost paradoxically, it's taken a three-week musical exploration of outer space for audiences to get down to earth with him. Krzysztof Urbanski: Star-gazimg through music. Of course, Krzysztof Urbanski's predecessor, Mario Venzago, ushered us into the present century, but the current maestro, just 33 years old, is fully a child of the millennium. Thus, it seems particularly fitting that he not only came up with the three-program "Cosmos" exploration, but that it was capped by the performance of music from "2001: A Space Odyssey." In 1968, when Stanley Kubrick's film was new, 2001 seemed a visionary benchmark in human progress. Looking back today, the year is more darkly associated with the events of Sept. 11. Urbanski said last spring when announc