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Showing posts from May, 2016

Violin-piano duo offers a scintillating hour of new music, including a Frank Felice premiere

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Frank Felice composed a sonata out of his faith to an Ascending commission. Musical groups that make their way into the classical-music world gain more than points for boldness if they specialize in new music.  They also form connections with living composers and the people who follow them while honing their performing partnership in ways not available to adherents of traditional repertoire. Ascending is a local violin-piano duo providing a case in point. Formed in 2014, it has collaborated in multimedia events and played in unconventional venues in addition to commissioning new music. An hourlong recital Saturday afternoon at IUPUI introduced me to Ascending in a program of works by five composers, all of them very much alive and creating, with the exception of Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). The rapturously played eighth movement of the French composer's Quartet for the End of Time was well-placed near the concert's end, just after the longest piece,  "A Liturgy of

First Folio Indy presents a hyper-'Hamlet' for our edgy times

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Revenge in mind, Hamlet bends over the anguished Claudius. The belatedly conscience-stricken King Claudius kneels in an attempt to pray for forgiveness. His nephew Hamlet, on the way to meet his mother the Queen in her bedchamber, steps behind the usurping monarch and raises his dagger high in both hands, like an executioner. Blackout. End Act 1. It's probably the most striking coup de theatre in First Folio Productions ' "Hamlet," which opened Friday night in the auditorium of Ben Davis High School, under the aegis of Wayne Township Community Theatre. Much of this production's script-tweaking involves shortening the tragedy, the longest of Shakespeare's plays. But this is something different. Though it's likely that just about everyone who attends the show in its two-weekend run is familiar with "Hamlet," director Glenn Dobbs has designed the break like a cliffhanger, as if to hold the audience in suspense during intermission. What wil

A song filched from "Pinocchio": Kenneth Starr runs afoul of the male sexual predation that first brought him into public view

The wish-fulfillment fantasy of Jiminy Cricket is here adapted to apply to the phenomenon of the unsinkable Kenneth Starr in the aftermath of his demotion from the presidency of Baylor University. And you may remember what anatomical peculiarity Pinocchio was subject to when he couldn't adhere to the truth.

An unnerving development celebrated (?) in song: Absolute identity between America's best-selling beer and America itself

Though owned by a Belgian company since 2008, the all-American beer brand nurtured in St. Louis and known the world over as Budweiser has recently been redubbed "America." Here's "America the Beautiful" repurposed as a drinking song. To evoke another "America" classic: From the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with beer foam, God bless America!

'Gettin' Into Mischief Now': A singing Republican explains how he intends to reconcile past opposition to Trump with his present attitude

Here it comes — not your 19th nervous breakdown, but the Republicans': They are falling into line behind the apparent nominee, Donald Trump, no matter how repugnant they may have found him a few short months ago. Here's one of them explaining his political shape-shifting in song, a number based on Fats Waller's "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now."

In a lively Romantic survey, Matthew Kraemer completes his first season as Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra music director

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Matthew Kraemer is an Indiana native and Butler alumnus. The silly clip art heading Matthew Kraemer's column in the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra program booklet was perhaps chosen as a sign — always useful in our pop-culture milieu — that "we're not taking ourselves too seriously, folks." OK, I get that, but really: A wild-maned clownish figure, his coattails improbably flapping behind him, goggle-eyed, arms raised (baton in the LEFT hand), standing on what looks like the sort of cylindrical box the big cats in the circus used to be trained to wait upon, twitching, between tricks. But there are no tricks beyond good preparation and musical insight as the ICO extends its 31-year  viability as the city's other professional orchestra, newly under Kraemer's leadership. With an acoustically friendly home in Butler University's Schrott Center for the Arts, the chamber orchestra showed itself poised for further growth as the new maestro concluded his f

With Duruflé and Beethoven, ISO probes the sublimity of divine and natural worlds

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ISO guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero Quite influential in its day, Friedrich Schiller' s 1795 essay "On Naive and Sentimental Poetry" has been eclipsed by scads of subsequent fashions in literary criticism. But its imaginative, if reductive, division of poetry into the kind that springs from an unsophisticated vision of reality ("naive") and the kind that is generated by nostalgia or self-consciousness ("sentimental") is still powerful. And it applies to the program the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is presenting this weekend. The program's repetition this evening at Hilbert Circle Theatre is worth special attention. The yoking of Maurice Duruflés Requiem (the first in ISO history) and Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 in F major ("Pastoral") is unusual. Both works are under the expert,  impassioned control of Giancarlo Guerrero , music director of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. And each, in its own way, reflects a consistent

"Nevada" repurposes "Granada" to comment upon the debacle at the Nevada state Democratic convention

Though straying occasionally from true pitch and getting out of sync with the accompaniment offends my critical side, such flaws in the performance of this song parody represent my desperate feeling, as one who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Indiana primary, that his campaign has gone off the rails. I predict that last weekend's Nevada convention will come to be seen as the point that the Sanders fantasy effectively collapsed. Everything the senator generates or inspires from now on amounts to presidential Brooklyn-Vermont kabuki theater.

New on CD: Small-group jazz with first-class percussionist sidemen

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Warren Wolf: master of mallets. A couple of jazz releases that have brightened the 2016 scene so far  stand out because, in addition to the excellence of the leaders, the choice of sidemen is heartening — particularly in the percussion section. "Pomponio" by Jemal Ramirez , a San Francisco drummer, features the vibraphone and marimba of Warren Wolf . (True, those are melodic instruments that in jazz often have a front-of-the-band position, but are still in the percussion family.) Wolf is a young master of his  instruments, and properly gets a prominent role in all 11 tracks. Jemal Ramirez heads a peppy, unified septet on "Pomponio." Ramirez leads a first-class septet in a program of one classic pop standard, "But Beautiful," two originals (by Wolf and trumpeter Joel Behrman) and eight pieces by a range of jazz stars, from Donald Brown to Bobby Watson. I like the unfailing inventiveness of Wolf's playing, whether in accompaniment or in solos

Tabloid family values struggle to overcome fear in TOTS' "Bat Boy The Musical"

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"How's that hopey-changey thing working out for you?" the execrable Sarah Palin once taunted President Obama in the 2012 campaign. In Hope Falls, W. Va., the fictional hamlet that's the setting of "Bat Boy: The Musical," none too well is the answer. Change is not anything the townsfolk ever seem to want, and when it is visited upon them in the form of the hybrid creature of the title, the very name of the town signals a general plunge into panic. Change without hope equals despair. And that's easy to stew in when the level of civic intelligence is low. Dr. Parker turns his back on his anxious adopted son, Edgar. The Theatre on the Square production hits hard on hillbilly stereotypes, a tiresome entertainment target that is refreshed with weirdness in the off-Broadway hit created by Laurence O'Keefe (songs) and Keithe Farley and Brian Flemming (book). That some viable combination of winged mammal and human being is possible was a belief fed b

Phoenix Theatre's Basile Stage lends its cozy confines to "The Book of Merman"

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Songwriters as different as Cole Porter and Irving Berlin loved Ethel Merman. It's significant that among the giants of the Great American Songbook, these two contrasting creative figures wrote both words and music. Merman was powerfully faithful to each, leaving nuance to others. Jolene Mentink Moffatt conveys the amplitude of Ethel Merman. She nailed tunes and text alike to the back wall (perhaps even to the theater across the street, as Jo Stafford once observed) in a host of starring roles from "Girl Crazy" to "Gypsy" in the middle decades of the past century. "The Book of Merman" revives the Broadway diva in a set-up borrowed from the recent hit musical, "The Book of Mormon." Is she a fantasized Ethel, an Ethel viewed through a Mormonized version of Alice's looking-glass world, or perhaps just an impenetrable Merman "tribute artist"? Does it matter, particularly as the realistic set of tidy row houses Glen Bucy ha

Wisdom Tooth's "Merry Wives of Windsor": Adding style to the questionable substance of a weak Shakespeare comedy

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Adam Crowe as Falstaff: Spruced up and ready to seduce. In the "Henry IV" history plays (parts one and two), William Shakespeare created a larger-than-life challenge to the progress of a kingly soul in the form of Sir John Falstaff, charismatic companion of the wayward Prince Hal. In "The Merry Wives of Windsor," where the focus is much narrower than the fate of a nation under monarchy in peril, the corpulent Falstaff is much reduced (pun unavoidable), with only a few flights of rascally eloquence to spout, just a little cleverness, and next to no control over his circumstances. Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project's production of the comedy, which opens Friday at IndyFringe Theatre , properly emphasizes the dissolute knight as a victim of comical tricks engineered by the title characters. Though in Adam Crowe's full-bore portrayal he speaks in the vigorous, robust tones of his aristocratic heritage, Falstaff has almost nothing to show for the raffishly inf

"Most Communists Don't Like Marx, They Just Like to Kick Him Around": A song in observance of the apparently permanent decline of an ideology

With Communism, where it is still officially a government ideology, now subject to more and more features of capitalism, the contributions of Karl Marx seem to be increasingly marginalized. I reflect on this situation, as Cuba starts to be opened up to Yankee business and China becomes more entrenched in winner-take-all state capitalism, with an adaptation of Cole Porter's 1938 song, "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love. Thanks to Susan Raccoli for her assistance at the piano.

Bronze medalist in 2014 IVCI returns to Indiana History Center in the Laureate Series

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Ji Young Lim displayed an al fresco quality. The romantic violin is in good hands with a crowd of top violinists active currently, the tradition having been notably sustained and energized by Hoosier native Joshua Bell. Ji Young Lim showed Tuesday night in a Laureate Series recital with pianist Chih-Yi Chen that she is in the top tier of those claiming a part of that revival.  The four works she and Chen played for the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in the Basile Theater of the Indiana History Center provided the opportunity to focus on the seductive appeal of the romantic approach applied to the core repertoire. The main focus illustrated by Lim's approach is a flexible, intuitive manner with dynamics and tempo that enlivens the music. A case in point: A recording I own by a recently deceased violinist of considerable fame convinced me as I prepared for this recital that Franz Schubert's Rondo for Violin and Piano in B minor is a kind of potboiler —

On the third anniversary of jayharveyupstage, I extend the same appeal to readers I made in 2013 — with a sentimental song adapted from "Mary Poppins"

I see myself thriving on this blog, responding to the arts scene around me, making it clear that I'm not in love with my opinions (I hope), but that my perspective after so much practice of cultural journalism in central Indiana might contribute fruitfully to the arts conversation. I like to think I can encourage people to develop their own thoughtful responses to the arts just by modeling that behavior. I'm dreaming that ever more significant numbers of people will join me. -- from 'Leaving the Star," May 10, 2013.

Guest conductor saves an ISO concert marred by a substandard Mozart concerto performance

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I think I have lived long enough to be no respecter of great age, particularly when venerability alone puts forth a claim on the public's attention that is otherwise undeserved. Thus, I stood up with the rest of the audience at the conclusion of Menahem Pressler's performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595, Saturday to get a better view of the stage and attempt to bask in the occasion of his solo appearance with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra . The 92-year-old Distinguished Professor of Music at Indiana University had just given a fitfully entertaining but largely excruciating performance. I will not belittle the physical challenges of old age, which I myself am approaching faster than I would like. What's at issue here is the propriety of an artist's counting on an audience's recognition of past excellence so that his ancient brow can be Menahem Pressler: Thanks for the memories, but not the latest one. crowned with fres

Longest-running stage show ever ends the Indiana Repertory Theatre season

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Critics of movies and theater are usually scrupulous about avoiding spoilers that tell how what they're reviewing turns out. Why give people any more ammunition against critics than they already have? "The Mousetrap," an A-list murder mystery by Agatha Christie, is unusual on two counts: It's well-known as the longest-running stage drama ever; at the same time, there's a convention of warning every audience not to reveal "whodunit." That's what Charles Pasternak does at the curtain call of Indiana Repertory Theatre 's season-ending production, his cast mates adding some admonitory finger-pointing. Chances are the revelation has been made from time to time since the 1952 premiere. But it won't be here. And my assessment of the performances by Courtney Sale's excellent cast will have to skirt explanations that would explain too much. Ryan Artzberger and Cassandra Bissell as the host Ralstons. There's something fishy about all

"(That's Why) the Nominee Will Be Trump": an adaptation of a famous Rodgers & Hart song to explain how the GOP got into its present fix

Actors Theatre Indiana romps through a farce — unusually, without a founder in the cast

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"Don't you love farce?" runs a memorable rhetorical question in Stephen Sondheim's "Send In the Clowns." There's lots to watch on the screen for characters in "Unnecessary Farce." Desiree's bitter song points to the conditions that underlie farce: Misunderstandings, false assumptions, confused or deceptive identities, upsets, personal disasters. None of that is any fun when you're  living it. If relatively minor, the conditions of farce may seem risible shortly after the dust has settled. If more serious, they will be permanently unsettling. As a literary or dramatic genre, however, most people do indeed love farce. But, frankly, the whole bag may seem unnecessary —  and not just as part of the pun in the last line of Paul Slade Smith's "Unnecessary Farce."  Actors Theatre Indiana opened the show Wednesday night in the Studio Theater at the Center for the Performing Arts . The premise is a police sting operatio

With a CD release party scheduled for May 6 at the Jazz Kitchen, guitarist Charlie Ballantine takes broad view on his second CD as a leader

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Guitarist Charlie Ballantine comes from North Webster, IN. "Providence" is titled after what Charlie Ballantine believes to be the providential nature of his growing career based in Central Indiana. The guitarist is well disposed to see the work of providence in his musically cohesive ensemble, a quintet now including Josh Espinoza, organ; Amanda Gardier, alto saxophone; Conner Green, bass, and Josh Roberts, drums. The new album, self-released and available through charlieballantine.com , is a journey touched by several musical styles, Those curious about how the band puts across this material in concert might be interested in the CD release party Friday, May 6, at the Jazz Kitchen . There's a lot derived from blues and country guitar styles in the course of the nine tracks, most of them originals. The band plays well together. As a composer, Ballantine has a gift for working his way into your attention, and holding it, with simple melodies. Gardier is partic

Outside my blog writing: cover story in Early Music America in celebration of the Indianapolis Early Music Festival

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Watch for the issue of the journal Early Music America, coming in the next few weeks, with the cover story I wrote giving a historical overview of the 50-year history of the Indianapolis Early Music Festival. I'm looking forward to seeing this, as well as to the 2016 season (starting June 17) itself, the society's golden anniversary. Thanks to artistic director Mark Cudek for recommending me as the writer to EMAg editor Donald Rosenberg.

Chicago percussion group pays 80th-birthday tribute to Steve Reich

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Steve Reich appeals to percussionists. Though they've been brought more to the fore across music of the past century, percussionists get to dip their toes in the mainstream rewardingly in the music of Steve Reich, who long ago moved from outsider to central figure among living American composers. He's not splashy, but the focus and elaboration he has extended to mallet percussion in particular have made him a venerated figure among the bang gang. The 11-year-old Chicago ensemble called Third Coast Percussion unfolds a full-out tribute on Cedille Record s (CDR 900000 161). The earliest work here, "Music for Pieces of Wood" (1973), shows the Reich process of "phase shifts," rooted in a structure meant to be immediately perceived by the listener, in this case with the expansion of a short figure one note at a time. The effect is to reshape the dominant pattern subtly, bringing a new balance to it each time it recurs. Five pieces of tuned wood are use