Showing posts from April, 2017

"Dial 'M' for Murder": IRT makes good connection to classic suspense drama

I try not to be a hoarder of printed matter, but theater and concert programs will tend to mount up over a full schedule of attended performances. Among the programs I find hardest to recycle are Indiana Repertory Theatre' s. Glossy, informative, and well laid-out, they get my attention from cover to cover (OK, I only glance at the list of donors, vital as they are). Police detective (second from left) shares his thinking about the murder with Max Halliday and the Weddices . Particularly worth saving and occasionally revisiting are the brief statements by IRT production teams, as well as the behind-the-scenes interviews. Oh, and the director's essays, and the dramaturg's, and of course executive artistic director Janet Allen's. For Frederick Knott's "Dial 'M' for Murder," I was especially fascinated by what scenic designer Kate Sutton-Johnson had to say. She focuses on one crucial visual element: "the upper surround (which we've

"Mozart and Salieri": An old legend of fatal musical competitiveness gets resuscitated in ISO commissioned work

Composer-pianist Dejan Lazic One of the puzzling aspects of Dejan Lazic's "Mozart and Salieri" is the scheduling of the work's premiere by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra as a one-off. Friday night's concert at Hilbert Circle Theatre offered the public the only chance to hear the guest pianist's symphonic poem. The entire program was thematically tight, giving historical context to the  rivalry between Wolfgang Mozart and Antonio Salieri in imperial Vienna of the late 18th century. Contemporary accounts of Mozart's final days in 1791 differ widely. The murkiness was given a taint of mischief by the mortally ill composer's suspicion that he had been poisoned. No one on his deathbed can be held responsible for fearful thoughts. But the aged Salieri, many years later, sank into senility and expressed guilt at having caused Mozart's death. On this thin thread Alexander Pushkin hung a brief play that inspired Lazic to cover the possible cr

Ancient pillar of strength resists psychological erosion and finds love in "Mad Mad Hercules"

On the national stage (with one local iteration) we had "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson." Now we have a world premiere, from NoExit Performance in association with Zach Rosing Productions , called "Mad Mad Hercules." If titles with a repeated modifier applied to a deeply flawed hero become a thing, we may eventually have something like "Grabbing Grabbing Donald Trump." Hercules has attributes of both those American presidents in Bennett Ayres' play, which I saw Thursday night at IndyFringe Cerberus, the dog of Hades, is eager to spoil Hercules' final labor. Theatre.  The strongman of ancient Greek mythology has the additional burdens of a drinking problem and a conflicted sexual identity on top of the traditional baggage of impulsiveness, anger-management issues, and moral indebtedness. Played with headstrong verve and widely scattered disdain for social norms by Ryan Ruckman, the muscular hero is shown chiefly undertaking his famous Twelve

Almost too late to be topical, this song examines the Arkansas April assembly line of executions

1998 IVCI Laureate Svetlin Roussev returns for a recital capped by music from his native Bulgaria

The patrician manner that Svetlin Roussev displayed in Schubert's Sonatina in D major, D. 384, stood him in good stead for the Svetlin Roussev and Chih-Yi Chen evinced a well-honed musical partnership. much different second work on his recital program Tuesday with pianist Chih-Yi Chen at the Indiana History Center. The late romantic flowering evident in Eugene Ysaye's Sonata No. 2 for Solo Violin ("Obsession") requires some reining in to help clarify its debts to both J.S. Bach and the "Dies irae" chant melody beloved of several composers. There's more than a glance backward in the "obsession" the four-movement piece has with those two sources. So for all its outsize virtuosity, scrupulously clean playing helps enormously. This is very rooted music, and that quality alone makes it seem obsessive. Tidy yet amply expressive playing is what Roussev, a laureate in the 1998 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis , demonstrated con

Handling the moral balance of payments: Complications of the attempt are probed in Phoenix Theatre's "The Open Hand"

College roommates Freya and Allison, now upwardly mobile urbanites, bond over lunch. "The Open Hand" starts out like a high-strung comedy, but with a disquieting pact between two women, friends since college, that proscribes birthday celebrations and the exchange of gifts. This meeting over an expensive lunch, with the pact fraying,  soon spirals into a complication mysteriously twisted by coincidence: One of the friends has to leave suddenly to keep an important appointment; then a stranger pays the check when the woman left behind discovers she's without resources and can't reach her husband by phone. A downpour threatens to leave her both sodden and saddened, when the man hands her his umbrella. Contemporary urban life in Robert Caisley's play is predicated upon self-interest and the expectation that all generosity must be reciprocated. Allison (Leah Brenner), the beneficiary of the stranger's paying it forward, is obsessed by that need. Disguising hi

With visceral impact and artistic imagination, SF Jazz Collective blows through town on the first of two nights here

Rising out of the San Francisco Jazz Festival more than a decade ago, the SF Jazz Collective has made its mark by gathering SF Jazz Collective: Eubanks, Calvaire, Wolf, Jones and Sanchez (standing, from left); Penman, Simon, Zenon (seated, from left) top-drawer musicians into ensemble work periodically, focusing year after year on the work of the music's major figures and touring with it. This weekend the current tour is playing a couple of nights at the Jazz Kitchen. I heard the first set of the first night Saturday; the program was centered on the legacy of Miles Davis. Typical of the group's creativity, the program also included original compositions, as well as members' arrangements of the trumpeter's works. To present its calling card, the octet opened with "All Blues," a perennial favorite that has been taken up by many artists. This arrangement, by pianist Edward Simon , wound its way into the theme obliquely. It featured the grandiloquent vi

Urbanski puts an aptly severe stamp on the consolations of the Brahms Requiem

Collaborations between the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra — two organizations with Expert choral preparation: Eric Stark conducting in rehearsal a long history together but structurally independent — are always eagerly anticipated. Not too many years ago, we heard John Nelson, who considered sacred music for chorus and orchestra a specialty, lead the same forces in Brahms' "German Requiem," which ISO music director Krzysztof Urbanski conducted Friday night. The warmth the former music director imparted to the music on one of his rare returns was expected, and welcome. But I also found attractive Urbanski's more chaste concept of the oratorio, with warmth being a standard quality of the ISC under the guidance of Eric Stark. Thus, there was nothing lacking in the consoling atmosphere essential to the work. Yet there was also no overemphasis on its color or drama; spectacle is best left to the liturgical requiem settings by

HART emerges into a new phase as Indianapolis Shakespeare Company

In its ten-year history, Heartland Actors Repertory Theatre has secured for itself a firm niche in the Indianapolis theatrical Vision-bearer for Indy Shakes: Diane Timmerman firmament. What a concept!  With three principal pillars of financial support, the organization has been able to offer one Shakespeare production every summer — fully professional, and free of charge to audiences at White River State Park. Now, in search of a more forthright identity and eager to avoid further confusion in the public mind with the Heartland Film Festival, the company, headed by Diane Timmerman , has recast itself as the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company and given itself a nickname, Indy Shakes. It has a new website and this year will continue the tradition that gained many fans under its previous name on July 27, 28, and 29 with "As You Like It," directed by company member Ryan Artzberger. I will not wax rhapsodic about that supernal comedy here, as Artzberger did so far mor

Charles Lloyd and his simpatico colleagues, aptly dubbed the Marvels, deepen his legacy in Palladium concert

Charles Lloyd has pursued his own brand of "fusion" for several decades now. It shows no signs of being dated, as demonstrated by the saxophonist-flutist's concert Thursday night at the Palladium . Charles Lloyd has mesmerized audiences for decades. He connected with massive rock audiences in the 1960s, but it was through the lyricism and open-endedness of his music, not through the kind of high-octane outreach that borders on pandering. We won't make jazz that will furrow your brow, he seemed to promise. That seems to be his approach still in 2017, as the 79-year-old musical guru from Memphis tours with the Marvels, an ensemble fully in tune with his spacious, enveloping approach to making jazz that endures. Maybe Lloyd's floating discourses sounded even better with cannabis once upon a time, but who needs artificial stimuli when a master is at work, rooting his unique message in many years of pertinent communication? The personnel of the Marvels amoun

Maria Schneider communicates her vision to Butler students in ArtsFest program

Maria Schneider with one of her Grammy Awards. Sensitive to the environment in more than her declared values, Maria Schneider is an active birder in addition to being a celebrated composer and arranger working with distinction in the jazz orchestra idiom for more than 20 years. The Minnesota native, honed by close associations with Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer in early adulthood, was a guest of Butler University's jazz program this week, capped by a concert appearance Wednesday night at the Schrott Center. She led the Butler Jazz Ensemble, a big band under the direction of Matt Pivec, at a concert that was preceded by a wide-ranging conversation with Rich Dole. a trombonist and teacher who was to provide a vital professional voice on bass trombone at the concert. That's where the interest in bird-watching was addressed with enthusiasm. Dole's musical contribution came during a performance of "Bird Count," an up-tempo blues with which Schneider said she

Cut off at the end as many hope his presidency will be, this song imagines POTUS' wish for luck to avoid impeachment

"Flip Flop and Fly": A fast-paced blues adapted in an attempt to describe the flip-flops of our capricious President

With alarming resonance for today, TOTS has a political drama covering 30 years up to 2009

Calm before storm: Colin Ferris arrives at his mother's Georgetown home with his fiancee, Anna, welcomed by his aunt Jean. What may have caused the collapse of an elite political class — self-appointed guardians of liberal democracy — receives family-drama scrutiny in "The City of Conversation." Theatre on the Square has a production of the Anthony Giardina play on Stage 2 through April 29. The show takes a distinct turn toward melodrama in the unpalatable choice presented to the main character, a Georgetown hostess connected to Kennedy Democrats in their waning days. Nan Macy plays Hester Ferris over three decades of unsettling change. The character will not seem particularly sympathetic, even to avowed liberals of 2017, because she's distinctly a snob with blinders on about the fault lines in American society that were to elevate Ronald Reagan to the White House and now — dare we say it? — Donald Trump. But to mention No. 45 gets us a bit ahead of ourselves.

Ball State jazz professor Scott Routenberg issues a fetching trio CD

Scott Routenberg The "shuffle" button on any CD player I've owned goes untouched. With recordings, I'm pretty much a stickler for the chosen order, just as I am with books of short stories or volumes of poetry. I figured the authors (and people they trust, or editors who are paid to be trusted), have a reason for a particular order and believe that the work of art they are delivering is best appreciated in that order. The same with jazz CDs; with classical CDs, it's out of the question that multi-movement compositions should ever be subjected to "shuffle." So, I must enter a quibble about the track order, and (in the case of one piece) even the inclusion of a particular track, of Scott Routenberg 's excellent CD "Every End Is a Beginning" ( Summit Records ). The Ball State University professor has released here the work of his current trio, including drummer Cassius Goens III and bassist Nick Tucker, and  in every sense  I can recomme

Spoofing the vanity of opera singers, 'Too Many Sopranos" takes the stage at Butler ArtsFest

For the self-obsessed diva of legend, the phrase "too many sopranos" translates to "two sopranos." The outsize egos of women (and men) gifted with extraordinary advantages in the vocal department have long been part of the international opera scene. Fandom has fed them. Just as President Trump likes to speak of "my military," a diva may well talk about "my Carmen," "my Traviata," etc. And she doesn't just mean how she does the leading role. She means the whole production. Eddy and Macdonald: Icons made fun of in "Too Many Sopranos." There is room for just one luminary at a time in the estimation of many stars — and their fans. The castrati of the 17th and 18th centuries attracted maniacal devotion. One aristocratic lady added to acclaim for one of them with the near-blasphemous shout: "One God, one Farinelli!" The stories are legion. Richard Tucker upbraided a newspaper interviewer who claimed to be a big

Am I sensitive about aging? Only when someone two years younger than I is called "aged" — this is a kind of protest song

An aged, aged man Last night I wasn’t dreaming when I heard a lawyer vow To get due justice from United For his client, Dr. Dao. For his client, Dr. Dao. That battered doctor on the plane Is all of sixty-nine; So when his lawyer called him “aged” Some of his pain was mine, Some of his pain was mine. The word burned in my hairy ears, And through my brain did run: With “aged,” death had found his sting, For I am seventy-one, For I am seventy-one. Next time I fly, please keep an eye On a passenger soon to be “late”; Don’t leave that aged, aged man A-sitting at the gate. A-sitting at the gate. He’ll muse upon the White Knight’s song That’s known as “Haddock’s Eyes” And plead with youngsters everywhere: Don’t scorn, empathize! Don’t scorn, empathize!

Anne Mette Iversen expands quartet to get two horns in the front line for "Round Trip"

Out in the open: Anne Mette Iversen with her quartet. The most striking thing immediately about "Round Trip" ( BJU Records ) is that bandleader-bassist Anne Mette Iversen eschews the usual way of combining trombone and tenor sax in a small group. Typically such a presentation is muscular with the two horns acting as a phalanx, warm and assertive. In "Round Trip" Iversen has Peter Dahlgren on trombone to play lines typically in counterpoint with the sax— freewheeling, sometimes joined at the hip, sometimes not. This provides an unexpected openness to the ensemble, signaled right off the bat by the title tune. Dahlgren is the "+ 1" filling out the ensemble known here as the Anne Mette Iversen Quartet +1, whose other members besides the leader are John Ellis, tenor saxophone; Danny Grissett, piano, and Otis Brown III, drums. Iversen's originals don't allow the ears to settle into any particular combination among the five musicians. Trombone an

Laurence Hobgood and two young colleagues play a fascinating trio set at the Jazz Kitchen

A commanding presence at the keyboard, Laurence Hobgood is not otherwise much given to commandments. Distinguished Besides his activity as a gigging pianist, Laurence Hobgood devotes much time to writing. for collaboration as an arranger and composer, the Chicago-based pianist was long known as the artistic right-hand man to the singer Kurt Elling. One is not concerned with handing down stone tablets when one consistently has "plays well with others" checked off on the report card. Hobgood borrowed Ten Commandments language for last year's trio release, "Honor Thy Fathers," taking it on a Midwestern tour that brought him and two young sidemen to the Jazz Kitchen Wednesday night. The title indicates the series of tributes the CD contains to mentors, often pianists, who have been available to Hobgood either personally or by reputation and recordings. In the long set he offered with colleagues Ben Ralston on bass and Stephen Boegehold on drums, the pianist

Dame Evelyn Glennie, a percussionist with a unique story, is guest artist at Butler ArtsFest

Evelyn Glennie last appeared in Indianapolis in 1998. The nature of musical performance as focusing on keen hearing is self-evident. The career of Dame Evelyn Glennie is a testament to a larger meaning of music as tactile and spiritual. Given the swift, progressive loss of her hearing as a child (total since age 12), she found a way to distinguish herself as a percussionist, expanding the very idea of hearing, and keeping her artistry before a worldwide public. Almost 20 years ago, her performance of "Veni Veni Emamanuel" with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra acquainted me with the special magnetism of a Glennie performance. The piece is by her Scots countryman James MacMillan. For her second visit to Indianapolis, Glennie played the composer's transcription of Jennifer Higdon's 2005 Percussion Concerto with the Butler University Wind Ensemble. (Colin Currie played the original version with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, which co-commissioned it, about