Showing posts from March, 2018

Celebrating James Still's 20 years as playwright-in-residence, IRT brings back "Looking Over the President's Shoulder"

One hopes Indiana Repertory Theatre , in the 500th production of its history, can attract a young crowd to the 20th-century American history play James Still has put together from the memoir of Alonzo Fields, White House chief butler to four presidents. "Looking Over the President's Shoulder" also had David Alan Anderson in its sole role in 2008. In its opening-night reprise Friday on the Upper Stage, murmurs of recognition from the audience were frequent as Anderson's Fields plumbed his capacious memory for anecdotes of chief executives from Herbert Hoover through Dwight Eisenhower and the times they helped shape and that shaped them. David Alan Anderson as Alonzo Fields In a span of consequential years from 1931 to 1953, Fields also had the opportunity to store up impressions of Great Britain's king and queen and its most famous prime minister of recent history, Winston Churchill. And among celebrities ranging from Hollywood's Errol Flynn to Marie Dr

Pushing back against the Russian pushback against the West's response to its assassination policy

Positively Death Street You’ve got a lot of nerve agent to deploy And you feel free to use it when it suits you To take out enemies abroad you will enjoy Until the world community aims and boots you. You’ve got a lot of nerve saying all of them are louts When over two dozen nations move against you; You seem offended by diplomatic ins and outs With fair retaliation that’s incensed you. You say the poison came direct from Porson Down Whose targets were an ex-spy and his daughter, But you had the means to kill in nearby Salisbury town; Can’t you see your argument won’t hold water? You’re not the only nation to target foes abroad — Israel and the United States have done it; But all your cries of innocence are nothing but a fraud: You launch a war, then you pretend you’ve won it. The UK got a taste of how you carry out revenge When you killed Litvinenko in ought-six; You make up narratives that say as little as Stonehenge, But they’re too clumsy to hide your deadly tricks. Every fo

Flutist Mayu Saeki gently wipes the dust off the politically charged word 'Hope' in new CD

Mayu Saeki got her start in American jazz with Chico Hamilton. Her publicity reflects such admiration for the sound of Mayu Saeki' s flute that it refers to her by the quaint term "flautist." Despite the Brit-inclined choice of term for a person who plays the flute, there is a particular elegance and tender force about how she sounds on "Hope" (BJU Records) that, as far as I'm concerned, entitles her to call herself a flautist if she prefers. The fact remains that she commands the purest and most sustained sound on the jazz flute of anyone since the heyday of Hubert Laws. Besides, the Japanese-born New Yorker is also a skillful composer with credible aplomb in various styles. The disc launches invitingly with "Dilemma," which despite its title seems a carefree blues with no dilemmas in view. Saeki leads a cheery statement of the theme that  sets up the solos, starting with an exciting repeated-note pattern from pianist Aaron Goldberg. K

'Try to Remember' what it was like when you first got onto social media and thought it would all be innocent chat

IRT will launch its 2018-19 season with a mysterious look at the Sherlock Holmes legacy

Indiana Repertory Theatre has announced a new season that will capitalize on the perpetual interest in Arthur Conan Doyle's master detective, Sherlock Holmes. It's Jeffrey Hatcher's look at the character's legendary power well after the sleuth's death, focusing on Watson, his sidekick, investigating the claims of three inmates at a remote island asylum to be Holmes himself. "Holmes and Watson" will run from Sept. 25 to Oct. 21. It's part of a tradition that has attracted audiences to IRT and other theaters in recent years, said executive artistic director Janet Allen at a media lunch last Friday. "Adaptations of fiction have been a big thing with us over time," she said. The play will be  followed by a production that's closer to the gritty side of contemporary urban reality. Dominique Morisseau's "Pipeline" (Oct. 16-Nov. 11) draws its title from the often observed tendency of young black men to fall into an inevitable

'I Dreamed a Dream' about the difference between "rightfully" and "rightly" — that is all

Indianapolis Opera's 'South Pacific': Balancing warily on the border between American musical theater and the operatic heritage

Enough U.S. opera companies have incorporated outstanding representatives of American musical theater in recent years to make the Indianapolis Opera' s productions ending the last two seasons no anomaly. Still, a company with such a small annual number of shows risks the appearance of diluting its brand. Her fellow nurses help Nellie Forbush proclaim her resolve to "wash that man right out of my hair." The emphasis on name recognition in part must explain the 2016-17 schedule's concluding with "Man of La Mancha," and the current one with "South Pacific," which opened Friday night at Butler University's Schrott Center for the Arts. To end the just announced 2018-19 lineup we'll have "Camelot"; preceding shows will be a presentation of Indiana University Opera Theater' s "Hansel and Gretel" and, as the only locally generated production from the opera repertoire, "La Boheme." In hiring a professional

Grace notes of grief and healing: "Appoggiatura" completes IRT's mounting of a James Still trilogy

Travel is broadening, runs the cliche, but it can also be narrowing — sometimes in a positive way. For the unconventional family group in "Appoggiatura," upon its disheveled arrival one recent June in Venice, a sentimental journey is roughed up against the nap of the fabled Bride of the Sea only to find a magical payoff at the end. Marco and Aunt Chuck have a heart-to-heart at a Viennese fountain. In James Still's poignant comedy, the tug of memory — with two older adults focused on the deceased love of both their lives — competes with the slightly shabby charisma of the Italian port city, whose water-laced geography is perpetually both an attraction and a challenge. At first, flooding and a power outage combine with the modern traveler's curse of lost luggage to pose threats to the trip. The optimistic Helen's happiness is challenged, and deepened is the dour mood of the man for whom her late husband Gordon left her. The ex-rival is known to her and the par

Jemal Ramirez and his band romp through 'African Skies'

The cover of San Francisco-based drummer's new CD. With a basis of public-school responsibilities for his day job, drummer-bandleader Jemal Ramirez makes musical points in the public sphere in addition to his vital work in music education. His latest CD, "African Skies" (Joyful Beat Records), finds him anchoring his usual quintet, notable for the inclusion of the perpetually relevant vibraphonist Warren Wolf. But it's also important to emphasize, on the evidence of this disc and its predecessor, "Pomponio" (2015), that the Ramirez band is a real team. Star power is not what keeps both discs worth hearing. It's the collective energy and program choices that bring out the cohesiveness of the ensemble as well as the solo chops within. Variety in unity and vice versa: In "Latina," for example Howard Wiley's alto solo heats things up feverishly before Wolf's canny vibraphone notions cool things down. Yet Ramirez's drums keep thi

Why do stars fail in Indiana (and so many other places)? Nighttime competition from light pollution

All-orchestral program focuses on guest conductor's affinity with three eras

No concerto soloists required guest conductor Matthew Halls to share the limelight in this weekend's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concerts. Halls: British conductor makes his mark here. The British conductor proved worth the focus as he led Saturday evening's program of J.S.Bach, James MacMillan, and Jan Sibelius at Hilbert Circle Theatre. MacMillan is a prolific Scotsman who seems to have increased presence on American concert programs recently. In February I heard the American premiere of his Trombone Concerto in a Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert . I found the work so exciting that I'll admit paying insufficient attention to the Tchaikovsky "Pathetique" Symphony that followed intermission. I like that piece well enough, but MacMillan's arresting musical rhetoric still had command of my mind. (The conductor, Gustavo Gimeno, will make his ISO debut here in April.) MacMillan's Veni, veni, Emmanuel, a percussion concerto, has been performed

Herald of spring: Well-seasoned quintet jazz from tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel

Out of a project inspired by a Tchaikovsky suite for solo piano, saxophonist Ben Wendel was inspired Aaron Parks (left), for whom Ben Wendel's "November" was written. to write a piece for each month of the year, dedicating each to a musician he admires. As a jazz specialist, the writing was a launching pad for duo performances incorporating improvisational  freedom, in which each honoree participated as a performing partner with Wendel. Expanded to a quintet format, the compositions became the basis for Wendel's "Seasons" band, which played two sets Friday night at the Jazz Kitchen . Filling out the group were some illustrious young players, with a locally boosted star, Aaron Parks , at the piano. Parks was 2001 Cole Porter Fellow of the Indianapolis-based American Pianists Association . Other "Seasons" personnel: Gilad Hekselman , guitar; Matt Brewer, bass, and Kendrick Scott, drums. Textures of Wendel compositions are dense, but the gro

Time is on somebody's side, but french fries are right on the side of a burger order

Networking magic helps save joint Ensemble Music Society/IVCI concert at Landmarks Center

Last weekend's wintry weather on the East Coast took an unexpected toll when pianist Joseph Kalichstein fell on ice in New York and suffered a broken arm. Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson, Soovin Kim, Gloria Chien This forced some quick action on the part of the two venerable musical organizations behind the highly anticipated Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio Tuesday night at the Indiana Landmarks Center. Fortunately, a married couple with International Violin Competition of Indianapolis connections was available to fill the date along with the married couple that constitutes two-thirds of the scheduled trio. 2002 IVCI bronze medalist Soovin Kim and pianist Gloria Chien were brought into play with violinist/violist Jaime Laredo, president of the IVCI jury, and cellist Sharon Robinson as collaborators on a new program in the IVCI's Laureate Series. The concert, dedicated to the late IVCI patron Andrew Paine, was co-presented with Ensemble Music Society , Music involving

Venus of Willendorf: The escape from Facebook purgatory of a 30,000-year-old femme fatale

Venus of Willendorf, the Venus of Willendorf! The sculpture that Facebook found naughty: Her head is covered, her face is a blank, And her flank is not the slightest bit lank. Venus of Willendorf, that ancient unthrillin’ dwarf, A maid who today would cool lust: Her Stone Age suitors have crumbled to dust, And not a la mode is her large, sagging bust But to censor all nudity is a policy must. Says Facebook of Venus of Willendorf! We might all speculate why this is her fate After being herself for so many years Few people can see why her anatomy Should encourage a bunch, if any, fears. Venus of Willendorf, the Venus of Willendorf, That Paleolithic playmate When a man of today sees her mottled complexion It’s not likely he will get an erection! Venus of Willendorf, how could such a figure morph Into a new source of desire? She speaks of fertility from head to toe But you’d have to be Paleolithic to know What she stands for means she is ready to grow The population of Willendorf!

Honoring the ruling aesthetic of today's symphonic repertoire: ISO plays Beethoven and Dvorak

This weekend's program in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra 's Classical Series sits squarely upon the mainstream repertoire. Despite many exceptions, that means the 19th century. Concerts comprising Antonin Dvorak and Ludwig van Beethoven hold up the values and procedures we have come to identify with Romanticism. I may be in the minority in thinking that the greatest period in classical music was the 20th century. Nonetheless, I still hold the music of its predecessor dear, and a program consisting of Beethoven's "Coriolan" Overture and Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor and Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 in D minor is not a ho-hum occasion for me. I'm no cookie-cutter modernist nerd. Nonetheless, Friday's concert under the baton of ISO music director Krzysztof Urbanski reminded me of the comfortable world within which so many music-lovers (symphony patrons in particular, not so much solo recital and chamber-music devotees) prefer to dwell. And it worked

In the last production in its church home, Phoenix Theatre mounts a racially charged comedy

You can make a stage play rich in silliness, but if its humor is focused on America's continuing racial divide, the silliness will evaporate like alcohol in a recipe. The matter of race is what imparts the full flavor; the fun adds a desperately desired zest. "Fairfield," by Eric Coble, is such a play. Seen at a preview performance Thursday night on the Phoenix Theatre' s Basile Stage, the two-act comedy delved deep into the contemporary American dilemma. But it rose to a climax of pure farce, and — for both good and ill —  never quite transcended a certain sit-com superficiality. The title denotes an elementary school in a "liberal suburb," the program tells us, during Black History Month. By the end, the annual dedicated focus on African-Americans seems to be occupying the longest month rather than the shortest. Over the intercom, Principal Wadley tries to exert control. Careerism in public education today works to assert itself against a confusi

Freddie Mendoza heads a quartet, with an academic colleague sitting in

The trombonist from Texas who has in recent years made his mark on the local jazz scene, anchored by academic positions — first at the University of Indianapolis, now at Ball State University ,  put together a quartet for a Jazz Kitchen engagement Wednesday night. It's good to have Freddie Mendoza come down from Muncie now and then for such gigs. His Indianapolis-based collaborators on the bandstand this time were top-drawer players: pianist Steven Jones, bassist Brandon Meeks, and drummer Kenny Phelps. Jones in particular is infrequently a Mendoza sideman, but his adaptability was quite apparent. I want to single out "Here's That Rainy Day" to honor the freshness and aptness of his playing, starting from the compact introduction he offered to a ballad showcase for the leader. Mendoza's soloing was consistently well-judged, with florid touches yet always a clear direction to it. Jones' solo followed in the same spirit. Freddie Mendoza (Mark Sheldon ph

Second Presbyterian Church brings back the eminent choral conductor Joseph Flummerfelt

About a year ago, a mainstream Protestant church along the Meridian Street corridor welcomed Joseph Flummerfelt  out of retirement to lead a major composition for chorus, vocal soloists, and orchestra. On Sunday another such event about 15 blocks north similarly featured the native Hoosier as guest conductor. The 2017 event was at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and the vehicle was Joseph Haydn's "Lord Nelson" Mass. Yesterday Ludwig van Beethoven, who acknowledged Haydn as a master, was represented by his Mass in C major, op. 86. Flummerfelt led the Sanctuary Choir of Second Presbyterian Church , with orchestra and guest soloists, in a concert with that work as the sole piece. Joseph Flummerfelt, revered choral conductor An orchestra of contracted local professionals, dubbed the Festival Orchestra for this occasion, accompanied the voices. When the solo quartet is used, it is woven in and out of the choral texture, with an intriguing lack of showcasing. What

Never on Sunday Never More! (celebrating the discarding of an Indiana blue law)

Fringe Festival ballet in the off-season: IB's 'New Works Showcase'

Among the many burgeoning local arts groups given the chance to hone their craft at the annual IndyFringe Festival has been Indianapolis Ballet, now becoming full-fledged on the basis of a thriving school headed by Victoria Lyras. Tango pair: Chris Lingner and Kristin Young Toner Underlining the productive liaison, IB's "New Works Showcase" has taken up residence at IndyFringe's Basile Theatre the next two weekends, exhibiting up close the breadth of the company from apprentice to professional levels. The centerpiece of the program is an expansion of Lyras' excursion into the tango. Working from a suggestion of Fringe director Pauline Moffat, Lyras has developed a suite of ballets based on that celebrated Buenos Aires dance form, whose artistic claims were most notably put forward by Astor Piazzolla . "TangoX6" shows Lyras' tango inspirations in full flower, now a bouquet of six dances ranging from solos and duets to the full company of

Bruch, Mahler, Schumann, Strauss: The heart of Austro-German romanticism in the ISO's short weekend

Hans Graf achieves good results as the ISO's podium guest. Something about the outreach into new realms that the Romantic revolution made possible encouraged composers to look closely at the end of this life and the possible bliss to come hereafter. Beethoven's Ninth encouraged all sorts of visionary thinking, and music is arguably a better vehicle for that kind of thing than its sister arts. It's astonishing that the 19th-century Austro-German tradition, which is at the heart of the repertoire even today, has several examples of musical ruminations on death and the hereafter from the pens of young men. On Friday the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra played one of them: Richard Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration," a product of his symphonic poem phase — an outward-flung tendril away from classicism using words as a shaping force behind the music. Longtime favorite guest conductor Hans Graf led the performance to conclude the Hilbert Circle Theatre conce