Showing posts from April, 2016

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's INfusion Music Fest raises environmental consciousness while putting forward unusual repertoire

To launch a weekend like no other in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's history, the INfusion Music Fest  came up with a cabaret setting in the Hilbert Circle Theatre's lobby for a concert featuring Time for Three. Th original Time for Three, together for the last time this weekend. It was a nod to the future of a new kind of ISO outreach. For Time for Three, it was also a fond look at the string trio's history. The group is ending an era here this weekend, as ISO concertmaster Zach De Pue leaves the trio he helped found in order to concentrate on his ISO duties. Taking his place will be another violinist, Nikki Choi, also an alumnus of the Curtis Institute of Music, where Time for Three was formed 15 years ago. With its original membership of De Pue, violinist Nick Kendall and double bassist Ranaan Meyer, it has been a good run locally. In its history as resident ensemble here with the ISO, Tf3 has premiered new works by William Bolcom, Jennifer Higdon, and

"Werewolves of Cleveland": My prophetic vision of the horror show that the GOP national convention in July is likely to be

Jeremy Denk at the Palladium: A syncopation survey, followed by Schubert to the max

Encountering massive change to the printed program was hardly surprising at Jeremy Denk' s solo recital Sunday afternoon at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. The protean pianist, a cunning interpreter of mainstream masterpieces as well as a deep delver into more obscure repertoire, did some shuffling with the order in the first half and, after intermission, replaced his original Haydn-Beethoven-Schubert design with the monumental Schubert Sonata in B-flat, D. 960. Jeremy Denk: a master of Schubertian rhetoric, among other things. A provocative commentator on music both on- and offstage (his blog, think denk, is a must-read, but does not seem to be current), Denk was a lively guide to the bulk of the recital's first half. The curtain-raiser is well worth mentioning right away, however: He captivated the Palladium audience with his performance of J.S. Bach's English Suite No. 3 in G minor. Highlights included the Courante, with every voice immaculately

All-French program by Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra features a rare Wurlitzer display on the classical series

Paul Jacobs stuck to the French theme in his encore, too: the popular Widor Toccata. Local organists swelled the concert audience at Hilbert Circle Theatre Friday night as the I ndianapolis Symphony Orchestra welcomed Paul Jacobs as featured soloist in Alexandre Guilmant's Symphony No. 1 for Organ and Orchestra. Jacobs is prominent for his Grammy Award (the first for an organist) and chairmanship of the organ department at the Juilliard School. The vehicle for his ISO debut this weekend (the program will be repeated at 7 tonight) is a towering example of the French romantic organ tradition. That's the most substantial school of organ composition since J.S. Bach, who was a school unto himself. Laid out in the conventional three movements, with grandeur the keynote to the first and third and a meditative respite in the middle, the work made a powerful effect Friday. Jacobs' command of the Wurlitzer's resources was immaculate. The clarity of articulation in the o

Relying on folk memory for material, 'Leyenda' extends Phoenix Theatre's connections to the local Hispanic community

Well-known for connecting with the cutting edge of mainstream American culture, the Phoenix Theatre in "Leyenda" turns to a significant minority culture as both a resource and a target. Written by producing artistic director Bryan Fonseca and playwright-in-residence Tom Horan, the show, which opened April 14, draws upon Hispanic folklore of the Western Hemisphere. Much of it is apparently familiar to the growing Indianapolis population that shares that heritage. In Thursday night's performance, this material came alive in a manner that ought to draw in everyone. The stories that people tell everywhere literary self-consciousness is absent have a first-hand acquaintance with magic. But, as "Leyenda" shows in several places, the supernatural doesn't enter everyday life for entertainment, but for instruction. The show is structured in a continuous 90-minute span, with a framework tale of the type many traditions have generated: A storyteller preserving h

Milicent Wright as today's newly arrived urban American: A timely reminder of immigration and identity in IRT's "Bridge & Tunnel"

Milicent Wright as Pakistani-American host of a poetry cafe. When emcee Mohammed Ali tells the gathering at a poetry cafe in the New York borough of Queens about the success of the "I Am a Poet Too" project, he notes with pride in Pakistani-accented English "how much we had grown from the word of mouth." He is talking about the Bridge & Tunnel's open-mike evenings, but he could also be describing the American narrative. How we tell our individual stories is essential to telling the nation's story. "The word of mouth" is key to our growth, though we have often resisted it. I usually keep this blog free of politics but I can't avoid remarking on the coincidence of seeing "Bridge & Tunnel," in the middle of its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre, on the same day the presidential candidate notorious for anti-immigrant views visited the city and the day before his closest rival stopped by. How far from the skepticism and h

Eroica Trio, with the ISO's Cathryn Gross, performs a kind of centerpiece for Butler ArtsFest

Eroica Trio: Sara Parkins, Erika Nickrenz, Sara Sant'Ambrogio It's fatuous to claim that all religions are one, skipping blithely over vast gulfs of theology and doctrine, but it's at least worth considering that the mysticisms of the major religions occupy a common realm. And one of the common goals of mystical search is union, or just dialogue, with the eternal, with whatever lies supreme over our time-bound world. As a devout Catholic, Olivier Messiaen knew where to find such an apprehension of the universal passage into timelessness: the Book of Revelation, interpreted through the mysteries of his faith and his exploration of modes and new ways of organizing rhythm. The ecstasy, the violence, the universal peace, and the sensuous richness of that biblical vision he put into music of glaring, heart-piercing originality while confined in Stalag 8-A during World War II. One of the most famous premieres in modern music took place in that concentration camp. He calle

ArtsFest's 'Time and Timeless' theme reaches its full romantic extent in 'Song of the Earth'

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) The long view of life and death in Gustav Mahler's symphonic song-cycle "Das Lied von der Erde" (Song of the Earth) can remain intact even when the dappled, endlessly evocative orchestration is reduced to one piano, as it was Monday night in a Butler ArtsFest concert in the cozy Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall. That's the case when the demanding, often entirely exposed, accompaniment to the cycle's two singers is played as well as it was  by Anna Briscoe. She accompanied tenor Thomas Studebaker, assistant professor of voice at Butler, and Jane Dutton, associate professor of voice at Indiana University, in a performance that often captured the score's full poignancy. Love of life, in both its sensuous and transcendent aspects, is undercut by certainty of its transitory nature. The prevailing outlook of Hans Bethge's German versions of Chinese poetry runs throughout the six songs. Despite changes of mood and imagery, the poe

"Now You See Us" from Butler Ballet: Dance from three choreographers that immerses itself in and out of time

Movement expresses everything we do and much of what we say and think. When formalized and filtered with skill for dance purposes, the result is often illuminating. The pushes and pulls of identity in "Anamnesis" Contemporary dance works focusing on journeys of identity and mood shed such a light in a Butler ArtsFest program presented Sunday afternoon by Butler Ballet in the Schrott Center for the Arts. As is true with concerts in the new hall, dance seems right at home there as well. Student Savannah Dunn, who gets a BFA degree from Butler this year, was responsible for the first piece, "Women," which creatively uses dialogue from four Hollywood movies to shape the choreography. As dramatized in the movies, the image of women —  their desires and frustrations, the worlds they order and the worlds where they are ordered — is the subject. Six dancers (four women, two men) carried out Dunn's vision memorably. The artificiality of traditional Hollywood co

Butler ArtsFest: Organist Cameron Carpenter paints with a full palette at Clowes Hall

Cameron Carpenter: Tireless evangelist for the organ What confronts you at a Cameron Carpenter recital is immediately irresistible. The whole set-up of the International Touring Organ made for him by Marshall & Ogletree: the monster console and the distribution of eerily illuminated speakers connote spectacle. His brisk entrance, before he even sits down on the bench, and the look: Stylized mohawk hairstyle, looking more aesthetic than alpha-male, the richly worked texture of his purple suit, the shoes with disco-ball glitter on the heels. As I said: irresistible — at Clowes Hall Saturday night in a Butler ArtsFest presentation. Then, of course, there's the music itself and the flair of his performance, the boundless digital dexterity, and the richness with which he registers everything at the command of his hands and feet. All of that is extra-available visually from other angles as projected on a large screen overhead. In witty, erudite remarks from the stage, Carpe

Blowing in from the Windy City: Pharez Whitted and Kurt Elling collaborate with Butler University jazz groups

Jazz has gone to school for decades, and while there is debate about how much institutionalization is good for the music, there's no doubt that more well-schooled musicians have been brought into its purview than since the Swing Era. And there is much to teach and a lot of pleasure to give beyond the seminar-like jam sessions of yesteryear — a perspective germane to this year's Butler ArtsFest's theme, "Time and Timeless." Kurt Elling shone a light upon Butler ArtsFest's jazz offering. Butler University jazz displayed its current level of accomplishment Friday night as the 2016 Butler ArtsFest presented trumpeter Pharez Whitted and singer Kurt Elling fronting student musicians at the Athenaeum. Opening the concert before a large, boisterously enthusiastic crowd, Indianapolis-born Whitted paid tribute to three homegrown giants of 20th-century jazz in a set featuring two student combos: Wes Montgomery, J.J. Johnson, and Freddie Hubbard. The first group

Butler ArtsFest launches with a concert featuring phenomenal bel canto tenor from Anderson

Butler ArtsFest, now in its fourth year, has been scrupulous about highlighting local arts talent while simultaneously lifting up the resources available at its host, Butler University. Lawrence Brownlee sang arias by Donizetti, Rossini, and Bizet. The launch of the 2016 festival Thursday night took this emphasis to a new level, with a guest star from the international stage who also has a strong Central Indiana background: tenor Lawrence Brownlee, an alumnus of Anderson University. He lent star power to a concert focusing on the Butler Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Richard Auldon Clark, at the Schrott Center for the Arts. From the first notes of Brownlee's first aria — Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" — it was clear we were hearing exceptional singing. His reputation in the bel canto repertoire has been solidly lustrous for about a decade, so anticipation ran high. It was not disappointed. Una furtiva lagrima is perhaps the

Some solo violin brilliance gives way to a nine-blossom bouquet in joint presentation of IVCI and Ronen Chamber Ensemble

From Haoming Xie, violin showpieces plus chamber-music meat and potatoes. A formidable 19th-century violinist who found time to compose prolifically provided a brilliant capstone to Tuesday's concert featuring Haoming Xie, a 2010 Laureate of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, in a co-presentation with the Ronen Chamber Ensemble. Louis Spohr's Nonet in F major, op. 31, had Xie in the principal chair for a four-movement piece offering continual interaction between his violin and the viola of Li Li, the cello of Andre Gaskins, the double bass of Ju-Fang Liu, the oboe of Jennifer Christen, the flute of Tamara Thweatt, the clarinet of David Bellman, the bassoon of Kelly Swensson, and the French horn of Darin Sorley. That's about the largest feasible ensemble falling under the one-to-a-part rubric of chamber music. Spohr manages this combination with no hint of unwieldiness, except perhaps in the finale, where he turns aside from what sounds as if it w

"On, Wisconsin" is given a touch of melancholy in observance of today's GOP battle between Trump and Cruz

A famous fight song, repurposed as a dirge, in honor of the Badger State's GOP primary today. Posted by Jay Harvey on  Tuesday, April 5, 2016

'Scattered' -- a jeremiad on the overconnected world we've immersed ourselves into online. We're all scattered!

Feeling the overload of too much digitized life, my concentration isn't what it used to be. The old mental focus is scattered, scattered. I turn for help to an unusual source (for me). Posted by Jay Harvey on  Monday, April 4, 2016

Indianapolis Symphonic Choir's 'St. John Passion' opens Heaven to us, closes Hell

Strait is the gate toward salvation, the Christian message reminds us, especially in the Protestant tradition, which proclaimed salvation by faith alone. Yet J.S. Bach makes the opening movements of his great cantatas and the Passions so inviting, it's as if the door to paradise had been flung wide. Though difficult of access in actual life, the musical path to the paradise Bach establishes repeatedly welcomes sinners of all stripes. Lilly Performance Hall, with projected cameos of the composer, at the performance's conclusion. There's the brass-and-drums splendor that launches "Gott, der Herr, ist Sonn and Schild" (The Lord God is Sun and Shield), which I particularly enjoy for its accidentally Handelian cast. And there's the intricate double-choir opening of the "St. Matthew Passion"  — an invitation to mourn, with interposed one-word questions, both set against a chorale of boys' voices pleading for mercy. The layout indicates the expa

In Prokofiev, James Ehnes wows an ISO audience as much as 'The Great Gate of Kiev'

One of the few quotations from a musician I've saved comes from James Ehnes , the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra' s guest soloist in an all-Russian program this weekend. James Ehnes soloed in Prokofiev. It's advice for violinists (yet applicable to all musicians), but I like it especially because it's a beautiful piece of rhetoric. Its balanced cadences have their own music, and seem a perfect fit for the kind of poised musicianship the Canadian violinist exhibited Friday night in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 in G  minor. "If you're practicing for clarity, you'll build strength, and strength will build speed," Ehnes said. "But if you're practicing for speed, then you're never going to build the strength that will lead to clarity." The Greeks called such a device chiasmus , but never mind. The wisdom in those words came through in Ehnes' performance, which was capped by an astonishingly poised, almost patrician