Showing posts from January, 2017

"Rock-a-Bye Your Cabinet With a Money Melody": A disturbing lullaby for disturbed times

Lots of attention has been focused on the new administration's slapdash travel restrictions, but we shouldn't lose sight of how his atrocious Cabinet nominations are moving forward. This song addresses in particular the concentration of the superrich that will control the executive branch of the federal govenment for the next four years.

The fourth of five competition finalists in the American Pianists Awards brings a lot to the table

Drew Petersen's level gaze is indicative of his approach to the piano. My initial thought as Drew Petersen launched into J.S. Bach's Toccata in F-sharp minor Sunday afternoon at the Indiana History Center was: "Boy, I can't wait till he plays 'Mazeppa'!" That sounds snarky, even dismissive, but I offer it as a preface to admitting I was  immensely won over by his Bach performance. It was evident one didn't need to yearn to put a stamp of approval on Petersen as a Liszt pianist in Transcendental Etude No. 4 in D minor. His expressive range and insight, including a pronounced sensitivity to rhythm and his ear for tone color, was fully on display in the Bach Toccata. The Bach opened Petersen's Premiere Series recital, the next-to-last of the five combination solo/concerto exhibitions by the American Pianists Association 's classical competition's finalists. All five finalists (Alex Beyer will close out the Premiere Series on Feb. 26) w

Hitching glitches: Actors Theatre of Indiana opens a 21st-century marriage comedy, chockful of songs

One of Shakespeare's golden iambic-pentameter lines that long ago turned into an adage goes like this: "The course of true love never did run smooth." The young couples toast to the future happiness they have their hearts set upon. That sentiment has also become nearly an iron law of comedy, from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," where the line first appeared in context, to "It Shoulda Been You,"  the 2011 musical comedy that opened Friday night in an Actors Theatre of Indiana production. Weddings are of course the crux of that hoary sentiment. They generate a host of anxieties even when true love seems to be running as smoothly as it ever does. In "It Shoulda Been You," the main obstacle to be overcome is not the obvious one. The obvious one is the cultural divide between the two families, the Steinbergs and the Howards. This kind of mixed marriage has a sentimental forebear: the immensely popular and influential play "Abie'

All-Russian ISO program puts concertmaster Zach De Pue in the spotlight as soloist

In life and death alike, Dmitri Shostakovich has been a beacon of resistance and freedom in the eyes of the West. His Time magazine cover during World War II in a fireman's helmet, pitching in to help the Motherland stem the German invasion, is iconic. But his more consistent enemy was his own government, and his heroic stature endures because of what his music seems to represent. Crucially to our insecure high culture, Shostakovich takes an honored place today as a symbol of the arts' declaration of independence from state control and repression. And there's been an added element  in the 21st century: Shostakovich in performance is a viscerally exciting and sometimes haunting argument for the relevance of classical music to our time. The composer's nemesis, Josef Stalin, may be — like Dickens' Jacob Marley — dead as a door nail. But his ghost, again like Marley's, will walk the Earth as long as there are ruthless autocrats eager to wear his mantle. Long a

Joel Smirnoff freshens up his Cleveland and jazz connections with a cabaret performance at Indiana Landmarks Center

Joel Smirnoff, jazz violinist The violin has been featured in jazz going back to the 1920s. Besides pioneering soloists like Joe Venuti, whole string sections have also played a role, particularly in jazz-inflected dance orchestras such as Paul Whiteman's. But the instrument so basic to classical music has not had steady, conventional representation in jazz, making the concert appearance here of a violinist adept in both fields worth special attention. Joel Smirnoff attained eminence as a member of the Juilliard Quartet for many years, and from 2008 until last year, he was president of the Cleveland Institute of Music. Musicians associated with that school joined him Tuesday night for a concert with cabaret-style seating at Indiana Landmarks Center, co-presented with the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. One of the violinist's young colleagues onstage with him in Cook Theater is becoming familiar to Indianapolis audiences: Conrad Jones, named last year a

With new production set, Indianapolis Opera moves closer to resuming current season under new leadership

David Craig Starkey, new general director of the Indianapolis Opera,  got into the habit of thinking big about his opera career IO CEO David Craig Starkey makes public debut with "Man of La Mancha" during his student days at Indiana University in the early '90s. "There was no arts administration training there then," he recalled recently in the company's offices at the Basile Opera Center on North Pennsylvania Street. "If you wanted more than being a singer or conductor, there were different levels of experience you needed to get." Starkey took advantage of the eminent musicians who came through what is now the Jacobs School of Music to pick up experience and practical wisdom. For a while he was the personal assistant to the music school's retired dean, Wilfred Bain. After moving to New York, Starkey continued to cultivate mentors, particularly Paul Kellogg, general director of the New York City Opera at the time, and Lesley Koenig,

Three finalists for the position of Carmel Symphony Orchestra music director will be on the podium this season

The next music director of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra will be one of three finalists just announced. Two are women: One of them, Janna Hymes (formerly Hymes-Bianchi), was briefly associate conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. The other, Kelly Corcoran, was a finalist in 2014 for the music directorship of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra , a position won and now held by Matthew Kraemer. Here's t he CSO's official announcement , including dates when Ron Spigelman , Corcoran, and Hymes will make appearances in Carmel over the next few months. I described the process as it stood at an earlier stage in this post.

"Brother, Can You Spare a Mind?" reflects the crying need for knowledge the new President called attention to in his Inaugural Address

The Depression had a popular lament in "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" so I thought with the bleak portrait of America today set out by Donald Trump — particularly his critique of American education — an updating addressing the depletion of "all knowledge" was called for.

Wu Han holds sway with string colleagues in quintets by Dohnanyi and Taneyev

Wu Han, a strong, visionary pianist and producer. The second release in the "Wu Han Live" series of concert recordings extracted from Music at Menlo performances submits wholeheartedly to the highly finished Romantic inspiration of quintets for piano and strings by Erno Dohnanyi and Sergei Taneyev. Wu Han, an eminent pianist-educator-impresario, also co-producer with her husband David Finckel of ArtistLed recordings , is the anchor of well-knit interpretations of Dohnanyi's Piano Quintet No. 1 in C minor and Taneyev's Piano Quintet in G minor. Both ensembles include violist Paul Neubauer and cellist Finckel. For Dohnanyi's precocious piece, his opus 1, the violinists are Alexander Sitkovetsky and Nicolas Dautricourt. In the Taneyev, Arnaud Sussman and Sean Lee are the violinists. In program notes, Wu Han refers to these works as "unknown masterpieces," and the term may apply particularly well because both scores are demanding, and getting five

A defining importance: Ella Fitzgerald centenary is celebrated with the opening of a new exhibit at the Palladium

She's the top, she's Mahatma Gandhi; she's the top, she's Napoleon Brandy. A partial view of the exhibit,  on view through October in the Palladium's gallery, And so on, to paraphrase Cole Porter, the pre-eminent Indiana-born contributor to the Great American Songbook, from his song "You're the Top." Ella Fitzgerald was born 100 years ago, and to give her the proper centennial salute seems a natural honor for the Great American Songbook Foundation, which is based at the Center for the Performing Arts, to undertake. On Thursday and Friday of last week, the Carmel-based foundation opened an exhibition in the Songbook Exhibit Gallery. It's devoted to the singer, with special focus on the "Songbook" series of LPs that helped to establish the songs worth considering classics by the greatest American songwriters. As Will Friedwald, who literally wrote the book on jazz singing, remarked on both days of the celebration: "If Frank

A program of considerable length and a wide range of expression: ISO plays Mahler and Vivaldi//Richter

One of Krzysztof Urbanski's predecessors as music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra had a low opinion of Gustav Mahler's music. I remember the outspoken Raymond Leppard, if he was accurately quoted in the interview I read in the late 1980s, saying that Mahler's bipolar mood swings (not a phrase Leppard used) were a bar to engagement with the Austrian composer's expansive scores. The mood swings in "Das Lied von der Erde" are pretty wide, but Leppard made an exception of this symphonic song cycle. The last time the ISO played the work before this weekend, Leppard was on the podium, the current program book reminds us. Almost 23 years later, Urbanski is using "The Song of the Earth" to close out the ISO's two-week Music of the Earth Festival. Two more ISO performances of the work, along with Max Richter's "The Four Seasons Recomposed," remain — at 7 tonight in Hilbert Circle Theatre and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Palladiu

"How to Use a Knife": The workaday world gets its head messed with by the real world

A play that carries a simple instruction in its title has to hint at something much more, or there wouldn't be anything dramatic about it. How-to advice just sits there waiting to be applied to a particular end. Will Snider's "How to Use a Knife" doesn't follow the lesson plan. George withstands the scrutiny of Kim (Chelsea Anderson) and Michael (Rob Johansen) Phoenix Theatre' s National New Play Network show implies an "open sesame" to a skill set with a world of possibilities. The play begins as a coruscating workplace comedy and ends up as devastation, with a tiny hint of hope. The setting is the kitchen of a restaurant in Lower Manhattan, well arranged and equipped in gleaming stainless steel in James Gross' set design, staffed by a rowdy night crew just coming under the supervision of a new chef. Both tool and weapon from the dawn of human society, the knife here represents a deep secret in the life of Steve, the dishwasher. The one

Common and uncommon coin: Hundred-dollar gold piece moves American imagery forward, past (or not) a good poem with an awful title

Striking news came from the U.S. Mint over a news-chocked holiday weekend: The first image of an African-American woman will appear on an American coin —a one-hundred-dollar gold commemorative in honor of the Mint's 225th anniversary. It's a beautiful image, to be prized as much for its rarity as regretted, probably, for the unlikelihood that many Americans will ever see or feel one. And as the acting director of the Mint told NPR this morning (January 17) spending it would be foolish, because the gold used to make it is worth more than the face value of the coin. Hmmmm: Just as the value of African-Americans' contributions to American life exceeds what white America is willing to credit them with, I suppose. Much is owed, more than is ever likely to be repaid. But to reconceive Lady Liberty as a black woman at least symbolizes movement in that direction. It brings to mind the previous image of Lady Liberty on the dime — the kind of dime I would still find in my poc

Poetry at the Trump Inauguration: A Scattershot Anthology

I've looked in vain for the name of any American poet invited to read or recite at Friday's inauguration of the country's 45th For better or verse: Robert Frost struggled with a glaring sun to read a new poem at John F. Kennedy's Inauguration, but that's nothing compared to the struggle of even finding a living poet in 2017 willing to add luster to Trump's ceremony on FRiday. president. Maybe invitations have been sent out, only to be rejected without the kind of attention that musicians and actors who have declined are now receiving. What sort of poetry would suit the start of Donald Trump's term?  In offering the final anthology of excerpts, I'm taking into account the new president's fabled short attention span. These snippets have a certain order to them, though Mr. Trump is unlikely to be aware of it. He also may not discern that the reasons for inclusion are both clear and obscure, and subject to a range of interpretation — just like muc

Finding their hearts in San Francisco: IRT's 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' rests shakily over the deepest American fault line

Dr. Prentice tries to charm the Draytons' skeptical housekeeper-cook. As soon as you take in the magnificence of Robert M. Koharchik's set on Indiana Repertory Theatre's OneAmerica Mainstage, you are tempted to believe nothing bad could ever happen there. It's lofty, well-appointed, light-addled, and as intricate and assertively angular as Piranesi's architectural engravings, yet without their hints of gloom. It's the home of Matt and Chris Drayton, a newspaper publisher and an art-gallery owner, representing fashionable success, with a priceless Bay view. But the show is "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," whose central issue everyone has known for decades because of the movie:  the effect of an impending interracial marriage on two families, one black, one white. So you know better than to be fooled by the setting, especially since the year is 1967, and a half-century on, Americans suspect that the problems the show raises are nowhere near real

Men and Mountains: Indianapolis Symphony begins a two-week Music of the Earth Festival with Strauss and Copland

Borrowing a title (above) from Carl Ruggles, a composer unlikely to be played anytime soon by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the first week of the ISO's Music of the Earth Festival takes audiences to the Alps and the Appalachians. Richard Strauss outside his beloved Bavarian villa. The men-and-mountains alliteration exerts a magnetic pull, but, at least in the case of Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," women are also a strong force in human interaction with geography. In fact, both musically and choreographically, the Bride's Dance in the American composer's ballet music for Martha Graham, seems to me the score's highlight and the focus of its energy. However much women may be crucial to the settlement of mountainous terrain, its exploration has been culturally conceived as a male prerogative. For better or worse, the idea of male self-testing is bound up in mountains, "conquering" them and regarding them as a measure of physic