Showing posts from September, 2017

'Amazon' is a new version of an old song pitching woo to the giant online retail monster

Swing fans remember the Benny Goodman Quartet's exciting version of "Avalon," but this new song parody adopts the wistful approach of the Al Jolson original to focus on the Fishers-Indianapolis pitch to Amazon to locate its massive new headquarters somewhere around here.

ISO Classical Series gets under way with sparkling Gershwin, deep-delving Tchaikovsky

Jean-Yves Thibaudet is fully engaged with Gershwin's Concerto in F. The two lengthy works on the first program of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra' s Classical Series are masterpieces about which their composers were doubtful. (No such doubts seem to have clung to the creation of the program's first piece, Mozart's "Magic Flute" Overture, of which the ISO delivered a statuesque, well-thought-out performance.) It's hard to imagine, especially with the ISO's scintillating performances Friday evening of Gershwin's Concerto in F and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E minor, just what vexed their creators. But Tchaikovsky wrote that he felt he had to prove with the work that he wasn't played out as a composer, and he allowed that maybe the resulting symphony had merit. After its premiere, however, and a performance he conducted in Prague, the always self-censorious composer said "there is something repulsive about it." Gers

IRT's "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" moves us to a place where few of us have been

There's a charming clumsiness about the title of Indiana Repertory Theatre' s season-opening show. Quite subtly, it ushers Christopher confronts the London Underground in his search for his mother. audiences into a different way of looking at the world, a clumsiness that speaks to both the maladjustment and insights of autism. "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" sounds like genre fiction, and indeed there is an air of murder mystery about how events unfold at first from the discovery in an English middle-class garden of a dead dog with a pitchfork in its side. By the end of the first act of Simon Stephens' play, however, the "whodunit" aspect has been settled. We are left with a deeper focus on the pathos of autism and its effects on those who have the condition as well as on their loved ones. Mickey Rowe is the first American actor with autism to play the role of Christopher in this deeply affecting drama, charged with surrealis

La Belle Dame Sans Merci: A beloved ballad modernized for the digital age

John Keats (1795-1821) John Keats wrote about a "knight at arms" (alternatively a "wretched wight") in thrall to a mysterious female spirit he called La Belle Dame Sans Merci. After too much time wasted on my iPhone one day, I felt like that lonely fellow, somewhat drugged by fleeting digital attractions and a little depressed, alarmed at the pull of these devices, satisfying but ultimately alarming. Where have I found in my reading such a dangerous pull toward separation into a fantasy environment  whose haunting peril is lent such mastery? There was one source only on which to attempt a modernized reflection on such matters. So I've updated  the English poet's visionary ballad "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" Well, what can mess you up, old guy,      Alone and palely loitering? Your iPhone hosts a flock of tweets      And no birds sing. So what's your trouble, lazy man,      So haggard from long scrolling? Your count of "li

Drew Petersen launches his residency at University of Indianapolis with a recital

Drew Petersen played an all-American recital. It was a kaleidoscope of interpretations that struck the ear most when in April the finalists in the American Pianists Association's season-long contest played Judith Lang Zaimont's "Attars ," the commissioned work of this year's classical piano competition. And that was just one of the ways in which Drew Petersen made his mark on his way to winning the 2017 contest. Despite my reluctance to choose favorites while a competition is in progress, Petersen had won me over last January with his revelatory performance of Robert Schumann's problematic "Humoreske." The announcement of the Christel DeHaan Fellowship win brought news of an additional honor for the APA winner. On Monday night, Petersen launched a two-year residency at the University of Indianapolis with a solo recital in the Lilly Performance Hall of the DeHaan Fine Arts Center. The arrangement will bring him to the Southside campus for on

The Reformation at 500: Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra and the Beecher Singers celebrate a half-millennium of Protestantism

 Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra at work; the photo from its website shows different personnel, in part, from Sunday's concert. A little over a month from now, half a millennium will have passed since Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door in the German city of Wittenberg. Assertions of the true nature of penitence, in Luther's view, and thus the young priest's objection to the Roman Catholic Church's sale of pardons ("indulgences") were only the starting point (Oct. 31, 1517).  His quarrel with Rome lasted several years and involved a few more provocative writings before the breach became final with Luther's excommunication and Christianity's most consequential schism. How appropriate, then, that the concert presented Sunday at Indiana History Center by Indy Baroque and the Beecher Singers (of Second Presbyterian Church) opened with the best-known concerto by J.S. Bach, "Brandenburg" No. 5 in D major!  Why appropriate,

America's diva lends elegance and sparkle to ISO's Opening Night Gala concert

It's not often that a serious new work is the main feature of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra 's annual Opening Night Gala Renee Fleming, known the world over, made her local debut Sunday. concert, but so it was Sunday evening when Renee Fleming sang a three-year-old song cycle by Kevin Puts, "Letters from Georgia." The 45-year-old composer was in attendance for the local premiere of his setting of letters by the 20th-century master painter Georgia O'Keeffe. Beforehand, he was brought onstage for a brief conversation about his composition with conductor Krzysztof Urbanski, who must be credited with having achieved a heightened comfort level speaking to audiences from the stage as he begins his seventh season as ISO music director. It was remarkable from the Hilbert Circle Theatre concert's first notes that the orchestra was in a mood to bring an extra glow to songlike music. The aura of the guest star must have been working to account for the lyr

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra adds to its distinguished record with the premiere of 'The Gennett Suite'

Over its 23 years of existence, the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra has accumulated an impressive record as a repertory band with a difference — an ensemble with as much in the way of creative as re-creative credentials. The latest in its too infrequent schedule of concert appearances came Friday night at Indiana Landmarks Center on the penultimate day of the 2017 Indy Jazz Fest. Brent Wallarab, the co-founder and chief arranger, conducted the first performance of "The Gennett Suite," a celebration of a historically significant record label based in Richmond, Indiana. The outgrowth of the Starr Piano Factory, Gennett in its heyday also had a New York studio (Duke Ellington was among the future stars to have recorded there). Yet the discography of its home studio in the eastern Indiana town is quite distinguished on its own. It was that activity in the early to mid-1920s that is highlighted in Wallarab's stunning three-movement suite, which puts some Mark Buselli di

Not quite for kids, Phoenix's 'Fun Home' is still a family show for all kinds of families

The saddest stage of memory loss is probably when family memories disappear. It's a sure bet you'll be able to test your hold on your Alison at work on words and drawings from life. own — the good ones and bad ones alike —  if you go to "Fun Home," the award-winning musical now making its local debut in a Phoenix Theatre production. The unique appeal of this show is that its evocation of family life is specific, even peculiar, and at the same time contains so many circumstances of family life in general to speak to. Based on the graphic novel of the same title by Alison Bechdel, "Fun Home" is set in a small Pennsylvania town. Provincialism provides ballast for the risky cosmopolitanism of Bruce and Helen's marriage, but also exposes its fault lines. Bruce is a pillar of the community — a whiz at home restoration, a high-school teacher, and the proprietor of a funeral home. He's also subject to fits of temper and more damaging difficulties with

'Loyal Cuban guy' proud of his American success as 'straight-ahead jazz drummer' makes Indy Jazz Fest visit

Ignacio Berroa spent ten years as Dizzy Gillespie's drummer — a hiring milestone for the superstar musician who had long the Jazz Kitchen,  Gillespie didn't engage him to play Latin percussion, but to be the sole man behind the trap set driving his band no matter what the musical idiom. Ignacio Berroa focuses fruitfully at the Jazz Kitchen. cultivated the fusion of Cuban music and bebop. As Berroa put it plainly Wednesday night when he brought his Cubop Quintet to In its short first set as part of the 2017 Indy Jazz Fest, the quintet sailed through a half-dozen tunes associated with Gillespie, who came into his own with the birth of bebop in the 1940s and remained active until shortly before his death in 1993. Near the end, as was clear in a Clowes Hall appearance I reviewed for the Indianapolis Star, he had next to no breath support for the instrument on which he remains one of the handful of major innovators. The 19-year-old Indianapolis festival has taken note of th

The President Addresses the UN General Assembly, the world gasps

I've used this tune before, but it really fits well in responding to Donald Trump's blustering address to the United Nations the other day. To be sure, there's a bad moon rising.

Randy Brecker: Indy Jazz Fest welcomes back to Naptown a durable trumpeter-bandleader-composer

Randy Brecker and I are contemporaries, so it was a coincidental boost to my mental hold on youth to appreciate how robust a Portrait time at the Jazz Kitchen: Kenny Phelps (from left), Rob Dixon, Randy Brecker, Nick Tucker, and Steve Allee. trumpeter he remains after decades before the public. The trumpeter turns 72 at the end of November; I dialed up that number on Sunday at the Jazz Kitchen , where Brecker was the Indy Jazz Fest' s guest star with a band of local all-stars known as the Indianapolis Jazz Collective. A clever composer with a puckish sense of humor, Brecker opened his first set leading the quintet through his "There's a Mingus Amonk Us," the punning title reflecting inspiration from 20th-century jazz titans Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk. Both the bassist and the pianist were highly influential to jazzmen during the formative years of Randy and his brother Michael, a powerful tenor saxophonist who died 10 years ago. The tune starts out

Dr. Lonnie Smith heats up the Jazz Kitchen to complement the current weather's warming trend

The distinctive Hammond B-3 master out of Buffalo, N.Y., made a return visit to the Indy Jazz Fest two years after his Dr. Lonnie Smith takes care of business with evident joy in IJF appearance. last engagement, distributing fitful elegance and pervasive powerhouse effects during a second set Saturday at t he Jazz Kitchen. Dr. Lonnie Smith, with a title that has become part of his name and an honorific by extension of the high regard in which he is held, brought his touring trio to the Northside club for two sets. He mingled with patrons between sets, and cemented his rapport with the public during a climactic piece in which he walked the aisles playing his growling, rumbling, wailing electronic cane. These were characteristics of his appearance in 2015 as well, when, I must admit, my overall impression was more favorable. Introduced by Tony Monaco, an Ohio organist with quite a local following who shared this weekend's "Organ Summit" festival programming, Sm

A view past identity politics toward an embrace of difference: ATI's 'La Cage aux Folles' conveys the impact with glitz and authenticity

Power couple: ZaZa (Don Farrell) and Georges (Bill Book) The conservative politician concerned to impose his narrow vision on society is a fixture of America today. In "La Cage aux Folles," he gets his comeuppance in a manner consistent with the score-settling gusto typical of French farce. That harks back to the play upon which the Harvey Fierstein/Jerry Herman musical of the same name is based. But the 1983 musical comedy that opened Actors Theatre of Indiana 's season Friday night at the Center for the Performing Arts ' Studio Theatre  has a more satisfying theme than the just deserts visited upon self-righteous bigotry. And that is the enduring vitality of relationships built on mutual acceptance, but ultimately resting on a foundation of willingness to change as a result, to love beyond what you are used to. Set on the French Riviera in the not-too-distant past, "La Cage aux Folles" is at the edge of seeming dated, except for the energy it puts

Themed 'Hip Then, Hip Now,' Indy Jazz Fest looks to past glories while asserting present ones as well

Rob Dixon was bandleader and emcee as Indy Jazz Fest 2017 got under way. Thelonious Monk's enduring companion and patient wife, Nellie, once said memorably of her often cryptic genius husband that he had "a marvelous sense of withdrawal." Apparently, that trait applies posthumously as well, at least as far as the 2017 Indy Jazz Fest is concerned. As the 19th annual festival got under way at the University of Indianapolis, Monk was withdrawn from what had been advertised as a tripartite tribute concert to the birth centennials of three jazz giants. The other two are Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, who were duly celebrated in a 90-minute concert of generally high quality at the University of Indianapolis. 1917 is to jazz what 1685 is to classical music's baroque era, when three geniuses first saw the light of day — J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti. Mark Buselli was occasionally Dizzyesque. Program length may have been a consid

Clarity, insight, and power: Nikita Mndoyants, 2016 winner of the Cleveland International Piano Competition, plays a 'Grand Encounters' recital for APA

Among other accomplishments of his recital Sunday afternoon in the Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall at Butler University, Nikita Mndoyants shared a fresh outlook on the much worked-upon 24th Paganini Caprice. Long a favorite of composers to rhapsodize upon and submit to variation, the last number of the violin virtuoso's Op. 1 had the Mndoyants stamp put upon it a decade ago, according to the American Pianists Association 's "Grand Encounters" program book. Nikita Mndoyants played a brilliant solo recital Sunday afternoon as APA's guest. The winner of the 2016 Cleveland International Piano Competition showed his gifts as a composer, too, when he returned to the stage after intermission to play his Variations on a Theme of Paganini (2007). Launched with isolated notes abstracted from the theme, the work soon lands on the familiar tune, but quickly springs free of literalism. There is obviously no need to mirror what has already been done memorably by Rachmanin

Catalyst Repertory takes us to hilarious and heart-wrenching mistakes by the lake in "The Seagull"

Fascinated like everyone else by sobering reminders that nature is still in charge, I happened to have as the last image on my iPhone before the start Friday of Catalyst Repertory Company' s production of "The Seagull" a short video of the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City. A tall structure of the type represented locally by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, it was swaying metronomically from the effect of the huge earthquake hundreds of miles away. The metronome divides time in adjustable units to aid musicians. We invented time and devices to measure it to order our response to natural cycles and events. Inevitably, they now chop up our workaday lives to the millisecond. The world of "The Seagull" lies in the peculiar suspension of time that Anton Chekhov was so good at populating. Set by a Russian lake at the turn of the last century, "The Seagull" situates a few seismic events in the midst of anxiety about what to expect from the p