Showing posts from October, 2017

Staging interventions: Phoenix Theatre's 'Barbecue' seesaws on race, dependency, and ambition

There's an unusual cast list in Phoenix Theatre's program for "Barbecue," a trenchant comedy by Robert O'Hara that opened this weekend: Character names are omitted, as if we were about to witness a revue, where roles are fleeting, multiple or necessarily First scene: White siblings in a troubled family. unattached to names. We come to find out that the roles refer to people who are playing roles; thus, names are unreliable indicators of the reality behind the play. That's just the start of the potential confusions, which clear up fitfully in the second act. To find the experience of "Barbecue" satisfying, you have to be prepared to hold big questions about race, family, and identity in abeyance. Not to worry: There's a Hollywood ending, and though it's somewhat unsettling, it does what such endings have historically accomplished — provide a definite resolution that is either superficial or profound. The first scene is jarring: a dys

Augustin Hadelich probes to the heart of Britten's Violin Concerto in ISO appearance

Creative artists react to the outside world in ways that eventually wrench the focus away from the situations that moved them Mutual admiration society: Shostakovich and Britten in 1966. toward the art itself. The artistic product then has to be a tub that rests on its own bottom. Two such compositions by composers who late in life became friends across the formidable Cold War divide were Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich, both of whom are represented in this weekend's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra program. The Spanish Civil War tended to draw artists to the Republican side, whose anti-fascist promise was deeply compromised by the Communist shenanigans George Orwell scrupulously describes in "Homage to Catalonia." The British writer's experience of the conflict eventually produced better-known literary warnings in different genres: the satirical fable "Animal Farm" and the coruscating futurist novel "1984." Robert Motherwell

Stuck in the past, sticking to his guns: John Strand's "The Originalist" illuminates challenges to and from Antonin Scalia

Madison and Hamilton have long been silent: Antonin Scalia is their self-appointed mouthpiece. About a dozen years ago, Joseph Polisi, president of the Juilliard School, invited luminaries in several fields to participate in a panel discussion at the school. I first read about this lively exchange in the Juilliard Journal (which still arrives in the mail, thanks to my sons' past studies there), and remembered how provocative one of the participants' contributions were. He was Antonin Scalia, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. His fellow panelists were Renee Fleming, Stephen Sondheim, and David McCullough. The Juilliard Journal of that era not being near at hand, I rely on a quotation from the New York Times account to provide me with a way into consideration of "The Originalist," Indiana Repertory Theatre' s Upperstage production of John Strand's play, which I saw Thursday evening. "The program reads like some kind of weird I.Q. test: &

Tim Armacost advances the pianoless trio on 'Time Being' (but doesn't entirely shun the piano)

As the saxophonist with the New York Standards Quartet , Tim Armacost is used to approaching the tradition from an angle. And when he is not involved with standards, as is the case on "Time Being" (Whirlwind Recordings) , he brings freshness along with compatible colleagues to small-group acoustic jazz, which is nowadays saddled with the label of "straight-ahead" and "post-bop." Nothing could demonstrate the value of thinking "beyond category," in Duke Ellington's phrase, better than what Armacost achieves on "Time Being" along with bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts.  So listeners will readily appreciate that a label which sounds routine ("straight ahead") is inadequate, as is one that suggests the music may be derivative ("post-bop"). Tenorman Armacost and his trio mates, with pianist Dave Kikoski along for the ride on four tracks,  lift up the possibilities of simultaneous impro

Violinist Sam Bardfeld's 'winner image' challenges itself on 'The Great Enthusiasms'

Rhapsodic, freely questing violin playing out of tempo to open a piece called "Winner Image" typifies the trio disc by Sam Bardfeld called "The Great Enthusiasms" on the Brooklyn Jazz Underground label. Sam Bardfeld gazes aloft, awaiting the next descent of whimsical irony. It's revealing insofar as Bardfeld's unaccompanied violin displays the peripatetic pizazz and grit of New York in the 1970s and '80s, an era that the musician recalls in his liner notes for the CD. His mostly original music evokes the challenging environment of that place and time — a world that inspired the rough Rolling Stones song "Shattered" and where the cutting-edge street crime briefly involved fleet bicyclists ripping handbags off the shoulders of female pedestrians by the straps. "Winner Image" presents Bardfeld as rhapsodic but faux-tentative, a player whose elaborations seem to range from mere noodling to a kind of punk coloratura. Drummer Micha

The cymbal crash at the end: A meditation on last lines in poetry (in memoriam Richard Wilbur)

There is no good ending admits fade-out.          —Geoffrey Hill, "Improvisations for Jimi Hendrix"  Richard Wilbur: The image of his poems' cymbal-crash endings stayed with me. Richard Wilbur died over the weekend , shortly before my greatly anticipated 50th-anniversary class reunion at Kalamazoo College next weekend. The coincidence has significant force for me because of a striking image suggested to me by a classmate more than a half-century ago. When I first encountered Wilbur's work, I was a sophomore English major at K College. Something that she said about Wilbur's poetry — the best of which was fresh and modern in 1964 — has stayed with me. "I like the way his poems end with sort of a cymbal crash," she said. I don't remember which Wilbur poems she cited, but I'm sure we had some of the same ones in mind.  "Advice to a Prophet," for example, with its formal stanzas warning a generic prophet against an exclusively

Hooray for Hollywood: A well-deserved kick in the tailored pants of Harvey Weinstein, with a swipe at Hollywood's code of silence

Hooray for HOllywood! That screwy, ballsy, gooey Hollywood! Where when you venture behind the scene You see Harvey Weinstein (more than you care to): Whether starlet or barmaid, you may feel a star made And report it only if you dare to. Hooray for Hollywood! You'll be soaring if you make him feel good: Your talent's terrific (even if it's sub-par); Say yes, you'll go far; say no, he'll rant. It's just about sex, so suppress that gag reflex And keep your distance from that potted plant! Hooray for Hollywood! That phony, pure baloney Hollywood! Now you may come from Gotham or Australia, He'll try to nail ya before you say "Scram!" or "Ouch!" Don't doubt his moxie, it's orthodoxy: The way to stardom's still the casting couch. Hooray for Hollywood! Don't look for allies in the neighborhood: The culture there is all about protection For his erection, so try to make that monkey look good! Mum's been the word for years

All-American program by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra will move to Carmel Sunday

The two American works that make up this weekend's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra program are freighted with meaning. Michael Francis has strong convictions about the Copland Third. Some of it may fairly be described as the interpreter's choice, however. Whether Copland's Symphony No. 3 (1946) benefits from the comprehensive, yet concise explanation that guest conductor Michael Francis gave it Friday in remarks from the podium to the Hilbert Circle Theatre audience is open to question. The program's other piece, Leonard Bernstein's 1949 Symphony No. 2 ("Age of Anxiety") has explicit reference to the anxiety of individuals in a time of general conflict and peril. The composer explained at length the meaning of his two-part composition, with an extensive role for solo piano representing the protagonist. Though he excused listeners from needing familiarity with the W.H. Auden poem of the same title that inspired him, Bernstein was characteristically

Beethoven at the summit: Danish String Quartet sketches in a master's development in Ensemble Music Society concert

Writing out of profound deafness with all his sense of sound internalized, it's no wonder that Ludwig van Beethoven set even greater emphasis upon what new vistas were open to his imagination as he composed his late string quartets. The Danish String Quartet made its  Indiana debut to start Ensemble Music's season.  "Art demands of us all that we shall not stand still," he said to a friend in explanation of the new ground he explored in his B-flat quartet, op. 130. "You will find a new manner of part-writing, and thank God! there is less lack of imagination than before." Ensemble Music Society' s program annotator, the estimable Nicholas Johnson of Butler University, links this self-assessment to the Quartet in C-sharp minor, op. 131, with which the Danish String Quartet ended its concert Thursday evening at the Indiana History Center. Whichever of the two masterpieces Beethoven's statement applies to — he said at different times that each wa

'Pence Is From Heaven': A potent reminder that when the Vice President makes an idol of the flag, he thinks he's doing God's work

IVCI, Ronen Chamber Ensemble join forces again to launch 2017-18 Laureate Series

The upper size limit of chamber-music ensemble is nine, and on that conventional pinnacle the opening Laureate Series concert Chin Kim has had a full career since competing with distinction here in 1986. of the 2017-18 season concluded Tuesday night at the Indiana History Center. Bohuslav Martinu's Nonet for Wind Quintet, Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass was the vehicle for maximum display of the Ronen Chamber Ensemble, with 1986 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis laureate Chin Kim representing the IVCI series, which continues independently from here, as will the Ronen season. A 60-year-old Korean-American whose eminent teachers have included Josef Gingold, founder of the IVCI, Kim was among the six finalists in the second competition, all designated laureates. On this return visit, he was joined in a scintillating performance of the Martinu by Ronen co-founders David Bellman, clarinet, and Ingrid Fischer-Bellman cello, plus Mike Chen, viola; Alistair Ho

New theater company debuts with the bristling dark comedy "Glengarry Glen Ross"

Shelly Levene pleads for his professional life with John Williamson, his wary boss. Even in a cutthroat world, trust is common coin, but much of it is counterfeit. It's the default medium of exchange, its value ever fluctuating —  sometimes inflated,  sometimes approaching the vanishing point. It's the world of the seminal drama "Glengarry Glen Ross," a much-admired play by David Mamet rooted in the workaday 1980s: you relied on phones you didn't carry with you, you were dependent on pieces of paper and chalkboard assessments of your standing in the corporate zero-sum game. In today's milieu of ethical slippery slopes, that slightly remote setting hasn't dated at all. In fact, the counterfeiters sometimes seem to be in charge. The Chicago real-estate culture of "Glengarry Glen Ross" is hardscrabble in a manner built on illusions of success and upward mobility. It is realized on Indy Fringe Theatre's Basile Stage with startling energy

A favorite conductor, a favorite violinist — everything was in the cards for the ISO this weekend

Ever have the feeling when listening to music that you'd like to ask the composer in mid-flight, "OK, now what are you driving at, exactly?"? Joshua Bell plays three times with the ISO this weekend, the last one at 5:30 today. Pop music has to be catchy to catch on. Classical music properly asks your indulgence and patience. Yet I often find, occasionally even with a piece I know pretty well, the question arising: What are you driving at here, Gustav? (Or whoever; the name's not randomly chosen, but I don't mean the Englishman.) I like it when a composition doesn't force this question upon me. When you hear Schumann's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat ("Rhenish"), you know right away what it's driving at. Since music is intelligible but not translatable (an insight of Claude Levi-Strauss' admired by Igor Stravinsky), in this concert review I can't articulate just what it's driving at. But "Bam!" — there it was Friday ni

Mike Stern and Bill Evans bring their powerhouse quartet to the Jazz Kitchen

Having been a sideman of Miles Davis' at any stage of his storied career is not enough to make a career, but it helps. Mike Stern and Bill Evans took no prisoners in their Jazz Kitchen visit. For guitarist Mike Stern and saxophonist Bill Evans, whatever the trumpet icon saw in them as young men has carried them into middle age and allowed them to form a sturdy partnership as leaders — in addition to the solo careers each man has built since those glory days of late-stage Davis in the 1980s. They brought their quartet to the Jazz Kitchen Tuesday night for two sets.  Backing them up were Teymur Phell, bass guitar, and Richie Morales, drums. Presenting a first set designed to set the ears back and bulge the walls a little, the quartet was met with waves of appreciation from the near-capacity audience. There is some nuance in even the stormiest Stern-Evans inspirations, as was evident right off the bat after "Out of the Blue" was launched, and Stern's solos got

With one change of personnel and a distinguished guest, the Indianapolis Quartet opens its second season in residence at UIndy

The Indianapolis Quartet, with clarinetist Todd Palmer, performed at UIndy. Any accomplished clarinetist today has ample reason to be grateful to a couple of distant, distinguished predecessors on the instrument. They can rightly feel they know Richard Mühlfeld and Anton Stadler through the masterpieces by Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Mozart, respectively, that each clarinetist inspired. For the centerpiece of a season-opening concert in the Faculty Artist Series at the University of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Quartet welcomed the protean master clarinetist Todd Palmer for a performance of Mozart's Quintet in A major for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581. Stadler was a close friend and Masonic lodge brother during Mozart's productive Vienna decade. He was also somewhat of a nag seeking loans from the composer, who until the end was a little shaky on money matters. What are friends for? Putting that aside, Stadler was a master musician whose gifts drew from Mozart not on