Showing posts from December, 2016

Defying us delightfully to make sense of it, 'Shear Madness' opens the 2017 season at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

Mikey (in barber chair) and Nick (standing next to it) interrogate suspects Tony (from left), Barbara, Eleanor, and Eddie. My perverse response to "Shear Madness," the popular whodunit that opened Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre' s 2017 season Friday night, is that I was left with more questions about the murder victim than about the four suspects' talk and behavior. Isabel Czerny, a concert pianist who apparently was seeking to revive her career,  lived upstairs from a hairstyling salon on Massachusetts Avenue. (The setting and dialogue of Paul Portner's long-running show are conventionally altered to localize each production.) Typical of the genre, one character is more blatantly put forward as a suspect than the others, but is usually not the perpetrator. I can't tell you if this convention was followed or violated on opening night, because the gimmick of "Shear Madness" is that the audience is brought into the investigation and votes at

The baton will be in new hands: Carmel Symphony Orchestra is well advanced in artistic-direction change

 The new year will bring a change at the top of a premier Hamilton County arts organization. Alan Davis continues to head the CSO until a new conductor is in place. The Carmel Symphony Orchestra is preparing to enter its next phase in choosing a successor to David Bowden, its artistic director for 17 seasons.  Bowden continues to hold positions with the Columbus Philharmonic, which he founded 30 years ago, and the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra. The longtime relationship ended so suddenly over the summer that publicity materials about the current season were mailed out with Bowden's name prominent on all the CSO's major concerts. His final appearance on the schedule was a Nov. 12 performance of the Verdi Requiem. But a long process of consideration of Bowden's tenure, much of it involving personnel confidentiality, led the orchestra's board to decide on a process to find his successor. Alan Davis, executive director of the orchestra over the entire Bowden

Steve Allee and four fit friends get the Christmas weekend off to a fine start at the Jazz Kitchen

Plenty of revelers presumably caught up with other Christmas activities filled the Jazz Kitchen Friday night to hear a first-class local quintet led by pianist-composer-arranger stalwart Steve Allee. Steve Allee gathered some compatible company. Allee, whose son David established the Northside club 22 years ago and runs it with a keen business sense, was at the keyboard presiding and acting as master of ceremonies. Joining the pianist were tenor saxophonist Rob Dixon, drummer Kenny Phelps, and brothers Nick (bass) and Joel (guitar) Tucker. With their careers at different points of longevity, all are well-known here, with a history of taking care of business on the bandstand. Allee is a past master of this kind of professionalism, and continues to wag a warning finger at Father Time. I learned from Joel Tucker that the smoothly working quintet had no rehearsal, depending instead on the rapport they've shown with one another in various combinations over the years. This meant

'Have Yourself a Wary Little Christmas' addresses the anxiety of many this holiday season in light of what's in store for us next month

What Man Is This?: A plaintive revision of that beloved Christmas carol that uses the 'Greensleeves' tune

Pianist Eugenio Urrutia-Borlando and friends play Mozart, Schubert, and Poulenc

Eugenio Urrutia-Borlando opened a three-concert series. Artistic vision in a musician can be evident in more ways than through performance itself. It is also signaled by the boldness of scheduling a series of concerts without institutional or organizational support. Both are qualities that Eugenio Urrutia-Borlando , a Chilean-American pianist and former student at Butler University, displayed in the opening concert of a collaborative series at Indiana Landmarks Center. It was the first of three concerts scheduled for the center this season. The Grand Hall had a small but appreciative audience Monday night to hear Urrutia-Borlando in performances of Mozart and Poulenc with professional wind players, and of Schubert with pianist Royce Thrush. He showed himself to be a pianist of impeccable taste and authority, and, as might be expected from the choice of repertoire, thoroughly collegial. The concert opened with Schubert's Fantasy in F minor for Piano Four Hands in a soli

'Tragical-comical-historical-pastoral': Donald Trump, a cut-rate Hamlet, tries to figure out in which direction his destiny calls him

Almost a year ago on this blog I put forward the theory that Donald Trump's campaign was based on a variation of dialectical Beneath the confident exterior, what gnawing Hamlet-like difficulties for Trump? materialism, the philosophical underpinning of Communism, insofar as he was proposing a synthesis out of liberal thesis and conservative antithesis. I called it dialectical Trumpism. Its rather feisty utopian message generated the populism that the President-elect now seems to have abandoned. He is embracing elites he once scorned, even though he continues to reject others. It's increasingly evident to me that his words and behavior are focused not on any ideology, but on his narcissism. He's betraying desperation about how to ascertain what will keep his greatness intact. Approaching the rigors of the presidency, he unconsciously invites charges of inconsistency and incoherence with his rallies, Trump Tower meetings and, above all, his Twitter battles. It's a

A song looking toward midcentury and the environmental disaster that climate change may hand us

With ISO in the pit, 'The Nutcracker' gets full-scale treatment as drama and dance in Indianapolis School of Ballet production

Balletomanes and newcomers alike throng to "The Nutcracker" this time of year all around the country. But it's a safe bet that, unlike most ballets, some of the music is already familiar even to first-timers.  So it's more than academic that for its 10th-anniversary presentation of the work, the Indianapolis School of Ballet dancers are being accompanied by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra , under the baton of associate conductor Vince Lee, to give Tchaikovsky's score a freshness that the most accomplished recorded version can't match. Victoria Lyras, ISB founder and director, directs the production, which includes George Balanchine choreography for the grand pas de deux in the second act. Her vision of the show is large-hearted —generous with dramatic gesture as well as balletic finesse and detail. This is the type of nutcracker, traditional in Germany, that figures in the ballet. The first of three performances Friday night at Old National Cen

"Strong in new Arms, lo! Great Handel stands": Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra presents 'Messiah' under new maestro

Alexander Pope's praise of Handel, quoted in the above headline, refers to the composer's shift from opera to oratorio. The Matthew Kraemer led a forthright peformance of Handel's "Messiah." Italian opera in which Handel made his reputation in London was derided as an unintelligible exoticism, and its vogue soon declined. Turning to oratorios — narrative-based but unstaged and using English texts and more choral singing — was a shrewd career decision for Handel, an antidote to the "dullness" Pope saw taking over England. Down to the present day, that move has ensured the German-born composer's immortality with English-speaking audiences, though it's become focused on just one of the oratorios: "Messiah." In recent decades, Handel's Italian operas have been successfully revived here and there. But they are unlikely ever to challenge the pre-eminence of "Messiah" among all his other compositions that use words to co

The Bad Plus at the Jazz Kitchen: Painting to the edges

When you pop some other piano trio into the CD player on the way to hear the Bad Plus , you get a new perspective on the uniqueness of this one. Meeting of the board: Anderson, Iverson, and King make up the Bad Plus. I won't name the contemporary pianist, bassist and drummer I was listening to in the car, because my purpose is not to toss everyone else into the tub of the conventional. I will say it was a first-rate ensemble, whom I would bet the big-eared Bad Plussers admire. It's just that, unsurprisingly, no other jazz piano trio sounds remotely like the Bad Plus, as far as I know. It's one of those groups the jazz fan can identify from merely — what? 15 seconds, 10 seconds? Five seconds of listening? The original compositions are on the solid side of weird and its adaptations of modern pop that have brought the trio so much attention manage to be both respectful and iconoclastic. "And here we test our powers of observation," as a song title on "G

When you're a thin-skinned businessman-turned-politician about to ascend to the presidency, you still Gotta Flame Somebody

A Bob Dylan gospel-rock classic adapted in an attempt to detail the endless stream of Donald Trump tweets and other counterattacks whenever he senses he's not getting all the respect that's due him.

Six monuments of 18th-century ensemble music are performed with elan at the Palladium

It's the best-known failed job application in musical history. In 1721, J.S. Bach gathered six of the best concertos written out of his secular duties at the court of Anhalt-Cothen and sent them to the Margrave of Brandenburg, a Prussian province near Berlin. The result? No reply and, scholars think, probably no performance of them there. Almost ever since, because at least the margrave kept his copy, the Brandenburg Concertos have represented the height of Bach's ensemble music outside his sacred works. They were performed Friday night at the Palladium by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, a modern-instrument ensemble. If the musicians are stylistically sensitive, this music is perfectly satisfying in modern dress. As rewarding as I've found original-instrument renditions in recordings directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt, I prefer in particular the use of the type of flute everyone knows today in Concerto No. 4 in G major, which concluded

Freed from little Clara's spell: Drosselmeyer tries to rule the fantasy roost in NoExit Performance production

I was present as the second  weekend of NoExit Performance 's current production got under way, but feared I had come into something with so long a foreground that I might never catch up. Eventually I felt as cozy as an orange in the toe of a Christmas stocking. The company's oblique take on "The Nutcracker" goes back several years, but was unknown to me before Thursday night at Big Car Tube Factory's performing space in the facility's chilly basement. So oblique is the continuation of the offbeat tradition Individuality challenged: Production number with Drosselmeyer at the center. this year that the printed program has that title crossed out and replaced by the words "Drosselmeyer Presents: Another Twisted Classic." The twisted classic brought out for NoExit Performance dissection turns out to be "A Christmas Carol." To say so is hardly a spoiler, I feel, since the production sends up the very idea of spoilers, suspense, expectat

Far out: A new voice in political jazz — Thelonious Trump

Thelonious Trump: Not known for pulling punches as he gigs his way to power. The sense that Donald J. Trump occupies a parallel universe as he moves into the center of the power arena suggested to me that, if he were an eccentric jazz musician instead of an eccentric politician, he might be a kind of weird analogue to the sainted genius Thelonious Monk (1917-1982). Thelonious Monk: Sheds light posthumously on president-elect. So I offer this set list from the forthcoming debut in the nation's capital of Thelonious Trump , helpfully annotated for the uninitiated, with the corresponding Thelonious Monk compositions in brackets. "Blue Trump" [Blue Monk] — a celebration of the artist's decisive ability to turn crucial blue-trending states in his favor. "Bright Pennsylvania" [Bright Mississippi] — a jaunty tribute to one of those battleground-state victories, tipping the Electoral College toward him. "Hack 'n' Sack" [Hackensack]

A member of the current APA jury, Lori Sims plays a captivating program of French and French-influenced music at Butler University

Norman Lebrecht, the provocative British blogger and aggregator, recently posted a brief essay asserting that Claude Debussy wrote music without meaning, music that's just about the notes. I found the rant rather opaque, because I had no way to engage with Lebrecht's position besides disagreeing with it. And nearly seven decades ago, in an often useful book titled "The Literature of the Piano," Ernest Hutcheson said something not so dismissive, but still meant to put Claude de France in a box: "Debussy's music delights, fascinates, amuses. I have not heard its most ardent admirers claim that it ennobles." Lori Sims' French program was a special treat. It's safe to say that innovators in the arts are always found to have something missing. What they lack often turns out to be what they have deliberately left behind in order to innovate. So we are dealing with a circular argument that, in the case of Debussy, simply has to be put on a shel

Last APA Premiere Series concert of 2016 brings Texan Sam Hong to the Indiana History Center

Sam Hong is now a student of Leon Fleisher at the Peabody Institute. Variations as a roomy, attractive compositional form blossomed as the piano came into its own in the 19th century. The piano is the ideal instrument for fitting a host of ideas concerning color, texture, expression, and rhythm onto a thematic template and expressing it through one interpreter. Some of that legacy — ranging from the slight to the substantial, from the compact to the expansive — formed  the solo half of Sam Hong's Premiere Series concert Sunday afternoon at the Indiana History Center. The American Pianists Association is bringing to town five finalists, one of whom next April will win the fellowship in its 2017 awards. The 22-year-old Korean-born Texan showed the near-capacity audience in the Center's Basile Theater that he had more than obvious ideas about what makes variations so compelling for the attentive listener. One of the most formidable of such works — Brahms' Variations

"Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles": Look at what Donald Trump has accomplished so far! Yuck!

Gratitude to my wife and occasional accompanist for buoying up this performance of my latest song parody at the piano.

Theatre on the Square has a "naughty" yuletide show to go with its "nice" one

No American growing up with what used to be called the commercialization of Christmas can fail to be familiar with holiday stress. That's the aspect Theatre on the Square focuses upon in "A Christmas Survival Guide," which just opened on the Mass Ave theater's Stage Two. Apart from brief allusions to a few traditional carols, the show doesn't touch on any particular attitude to the holiday's religious meaning. TOTS flags it as "naughty" not because it ever tiptoes up to the edge of sacrilege, but rather for some slight bawdiness and a smattering of four-letter words, none of which is "yule." Levi Burke accompanies Eric Brockett in his  Mrs. Claus persona. As seen Friday night, the blend of song and dance and a notable comic sketch proceeded smoothly, anchored to a busy tapestry of piano accompaniment and comic participation by music director Levi Burke, plus voice-over excerpts from the putative self-help book of the title, full of

Hay that creaks, eyes that lift altars: How contemporary dance helped me to be a better reader of poetry

You must tread carefully when it comes to conclusions about how different arts reinforce each other. Just because you find different art forms stimulating hardly confers the right to smudge the integrity of each simply because you find the mutual influences you may detect fulfilling. With that caveat, I have to declare that a piece Dance Kaleidoscope has put on two of its programs has helped me find a way through a knot that afflicts the interpretation and enjoyment of poetry. The dilemma is how to read a kind of fused image that showcases both stasis and motion.  Choreographer Brock Clawson I didn't see this for a long time, until memories of a DK guest-choreographer premiere came back in a new light. Originally, Brock Clawson's "Lake Effect Snow" struck me in my blog review for its look inside the emotions of a protagonist (danced by Noah Trulock) as both actual events and dream-states influence him. That's one kind of fusion that this piece encompas