Showing posts from September, 2018

Kenny Banks Jr. launches Premiere Series of American Pianists Awards

Kenny Banks Jr. works the room from the bench. The jazz phase of the American Pianists Awards has got into a judgment phase after its recent Jazz Pizzazz introduction. A three-man jury (Phil DeGreg, Matthew Fries, and Scott Routenberg) began its work Saturday night. Their critiques will feed into overall evaluation of the competitors as the contest reaches its April culmination. Kenny Banks Jr. was the first of five finalists who will be heard in monthly outings through February at the Jazz Kitchen , accompanied by bassist Nick Tucker and drummer Kenny Phelps. Constantly relating to the capacity crowd and getting positive feedback from it, the 30-year-old Atlanta resident displayed his command of the full piano keyboard, focusing on a penchant for instrumental color. He also showed an affinity for medleys and original pieces that took the shape of tone poems for piano trio. He brought his assisting musicians — local stars in their own right — with him so faithfully throughout

Hey Joe, Where You Goin' With That 'No' Vote in Your Hand?

Meta-elementary: IRT's 'Holmes and Watson' presents Conan Doyle's pseudo-posthumous sleuth

Uneasy visitor: Watson is apprehensive when served by the Matron as Dr. Evans watches. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was forced by public demand to keep Sherlock Holmes in the game, and that interest has not waned considerably in the almost nine decades since the author's death. It's left to literary discipleship of the sort Jeffrey Hatcher exercises in "Holmes and Watson" to keep the legacy fresh in the 21st century. Perhaps we're nostalgic for the extraordinary ability to figure things out by deduction and observation, assisted by such primitive technology as the telegram. Nowadays, it's still hard to figure out what's what, but that's not for lack of information. It's the technological overload that may have diminished our rudimentary ability to use the skills that were Sherlock Holmes' stock in trade. Hatcher's one-act thriller, which opened Indiana Repertory Theatre 's 47th season Friday night,  suggests at first that Holmes'

At stake in Indy Bard Fest's 'Merchant of Venice': A pound of flesh, boatloads of treasure, fungible spirit

"The Merchant of Venice" is a problematic play primarily because of the anti-Semitism so prominent in it. But its difficulties go beyond that important quality. Indy Bard Fest opened a production of Shakespeare's play Thursday night at Indy Fringe Theatre under the direction of Doug Powers. Shylock readies the knife to exact his revenge. In director's notes, Powers addresses the complicated nature of what is ostensibly a comedy – which means not only funny lines, of course, but also that the love relationships overcome hurdles and are solid by the end. Powers has added a complication that undercuts the comedy — which is already undercut by the figure of Shylock the moneylender and the bigotry he occasions and responds to. That complication, supported somewhat by the text, is the same-sex attraction of Antonio, the merchant of the title, and his financially embarrassed friend Bassanio. In the first scene for Antonio and Bassanio alone, the actors Ryan Ruckman

Unaccustomed as I am to defending Gary Varvel, I'm moved to do so again

Some of the people foaming at the mouth this week over Gary Varvel' s cartoon depicting Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee have spiced their indignation by harking back to a Varvel cartoon in the Indianapolis Star that showed an apparently Mexican family invading a WASP home during Thanksgiving dinner. Back then I made an extensive defense of Varvel and his art here , while indicating my long-running disagreement with his politics. Since this is an arts blog, I think an arts-based defense is germane; I do not address the column-writing he has since added to his arsenal. I will quote the conclusion of that Nov. 27, 2014, post for those not inclined to click on the link above: The Varvel cartoon controversy seems to indicate a sad, narrowing trend of permissible discourse in America. Cries of "offensive" and "inappropriate" — and particularly the loose application of the "racist" label — tend to rule out of bounds creat

Wishful thinking takes over, perhaps, in this song asserting that Brett Kavanaugh is unconfirmable

'Building the Wall': Fonseca Theatre debut production outlines the moral end game of current immigration policy

To paraphrase an old anti-war question: What if they built a wall and nobody came? Confrontation across the table: Clay Mabbitt and Milicent Wright play antagonists in "Building the Wall." That's the question that hangs in the air at the conclusion of  "Building the Wall," a one-act play by Robert Schenkkan now being presented as the Fonseca Theatre Company' s inaugural show. The production, seen Saturday night, continues weekends through Oct. 7 at the new company's temporary home, Indy Convergence. 2611 W. Michigan St. Fresh as yesterday's headlines, "Building the Wall" takes a plausible look behind the facade of the Trump administration's messy approach to dealing with illegal immigration, including separation of families and their indefinite detention. It's fair to say that a prejudice against legal immigration as well has taken hold. Could this enforced attitude result, by accident or design, in our country's be

Indy Jazz Fest sets up its festival-ending block party with a spiffy Cabaret concert

Guest artist Sean Jones takes care of business as  bandleader Steve Allee looks on. Finding the "big beat" theme attractive as the Indy Jazz Fest draws to a close, the Steve Allee Big Band welcomed a mid-career star trumpeter, Sean Jones , to the bandstand at the Cabaret Friday night. The concert was focused on a celebration of Freddie Hubbard, born here 80 years ago and commonly boosted into the pantheon of Indianapolis jazz musicians. Of the three names occupying the top niches in the Indianapolis wing of those who made their first splash in the middle decades of the last century, Hubbard in my view doesn't have the same luster as men who advanced their instrument in jazz as much as trombonist J.J. Johnson and guitarist Wes Montgomery. His greatness has a lot to do with timing and the way he fitted smoothly into one of the the music's most fruitful eras, especially as represented on the Blue Note label. And two of the monuments of the avant-garde, John Col

Phoenix Theatre sets sail on the mainstream with "Bright Star"

Small-town young folks Alice and Jimmy Ray bond over an icebox To open the 2018-19 season, the first in its four decades as an alternative theatrical mainstay without Bryan Fonseca at the helm, Phoenix Theatre has made the canny choice of mounting a show with name recognition and an explicitly old-fashioned approach to storytelling. It's also a musical — a genre that has yielded big hits in the Phoenix's recent history. Thursday's preview performance of "Bright Star" on the Russell Stage at the company's expensive new home, 705 N. Illinois St., played to a full house, and tonight's show is a sellout. Suzanne Fleenor, a Phoenix founding member, directs the show. She draws from the large cast a full measure of commitment and  likability to this "very sincere, non-cynical, non-ironic show," in the words of co-creator Steve Martin, who collaborated with Edie Brickell. The working partners fashioned a story out of a bizarre incident at the t

Indy Jazz Fest: Brazilian trio joins with adept clarinetist, after Indianapolis saxophonist's quintet opens

Something of a novelty still, a double bill at the Indy Jazz Fest featured two female wind Anat Cohen has played in a wide variety of musical contexts, but is especially fond of choro . instrumentalist bandleaders. Jazzwomen with marquee names have historically been singers or pianists. The headliner Sunday evening at the Cabaret was Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen, who would be the first to admit that the Trio Brasileiro is not her band, but one she is always eager to collaborate with in pursuit of the Brazilian genre known as choro . Introducing the evening of stimulating music was local saxophonist Amanda Gardier, who definitely is the head of her band, a quintet specializing in her compositions, many of which are on her first CD, "Empathy." Amanda Gardier, in a Mark Sheldon portrait. Gardier's style on the alto sax is smoothly produced, with a fluid, well-centered tone. Her phrasing is flexible and carefully placed over her rangy themes. She played five s

International Violin Competition of Indianapolis: Final concerto performances and announcement of the finalists' award positions

2018 Laureates: Anna Lee, Shannon Lee, Ioana Cristina Goicea, Luke Hsu, Risa Hokamura, Richard Lin. It was no sure thing to guess ahead of time how the jury would rank the six finalists in the 10th Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis . Personal impressions gathered of the young finalists at each stage are incomplete, as my attendance this year amounted to less than half of the performances, though I heard just over half of the 38 participants from Sept. 2 through last night. I will focus here only on the three finalists who performed concertos at Hilbert Circle Theatre Sept. 15 with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Leonard Slatkin, who is probably the hands-down elder statesman of American maestros. Slatkin's firm, unflashy control had much to do with what made bronze medalist Luke Hsu 's performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major acceptable. This is a great work by a favorite composer of many, but one to wh

High distinction at a late hour: Three finalists inaugurate IVCI romantic/modern concerto phase

My responses to the first night of finals Friday at Hilbert Circle Theatre followed a pattern established by how the same three International Violin Competition of Indianapolis participants struck me at the first night of Schrott Center for the Performing Arts presentations Wednesday. I'm wary of being quick to confirm first impressions, and I've always been reluctant to pick favorites to win the quadrennial contest. For one thing, I heard less than half of the performances this year, so it would have been useless to have set up a bracket. Ioana Cristina Goicea: Mastery in Shostakovich. Wednesday's program offered an unavoidable basis for comparison: Richard Lin, Risa Hokamura, and Ioana Cristina Goicea all played Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219.  At that concert, Goicea overcame my tendency to be a little weary hearing the same piece a third time on the same evening. As I noted in my previous post, she found more personal meaning in the piece

Indy Jazz Fest opens its "Big Beat" year with Freddie Hubbard tribute

Few careers in jazz have jump-started as dramatically with a move from the Heartland to the Big Pharez Whitted: A voice of his own as he preserves Hubbard legacy. Apple as Freddie Hubbard's. As a young trumpeter, Hubbard was fondly remembered in his hometown by a host of fans — including the much younger Pharez Whitted , scion of the Indianapolis-based Hampton family. Twenty-two years his senior, Hubbard blazed a trail for jazz trumpeters in the first post-bop generation and beyond. In his early 20s, he was a fixture at Blue Note for several productive years in the 1960s, showing up every time with indelible things to contribute to some of that decade's most enduring releases. Whitted, now a fixture in the Chicago jazz scene, stood shoulder to shoulder with Hubbard years ago when an "alternative" jazz festival took the stage in Fountain Square. At the time, Indianapolis' favorite trumpet-playing son was technically hobbled by lip trouble that nearly ended

IVCI finals: Bright prospects emerge immediately in Mozart and Kreisler performances

Why not open the next phase of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis with a little splash, some celebratory sounds independent of the strivings of youthful fiddlers? And so it was. The upbeat first movement of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, dashed off winningly by the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, provided the perfect introduction to the start of the Classical Finals at one of the city's best concert halls, the Schrott Center for the Performing Arts at Butler University. ECCO is the accompanying ensemble for the second time at the Classical Finals, where one of Mozart's violin concertos or the Haydn No. 1 in C major must be chosen. A bonbon added to these performances is the choice of one of several Fritz Kreisler encore pieces, with string-orchestra accompaniments arranged by Jaakko Kuusisto. The conductorless ensemble's playing was consistently lithe and well-coordinated. Ioana Cristina Goicea at the semifinals, with Chih-Yi Chen at the

Semifinals end with bursts of passion and insight from IVCI participants

It took me longer than it should have to understand what the commissioned piece of the 2018 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis was all about.  I kept getting oriented favorably to William Bolcom's Suite No. 3 for Solo Violin without solving its puzzles. Fortunately that difficulty was cleared up Monday night, thanks to IVCI director Glen Kwok's courteous gift to me of a score (which I had neglected to notice was among the items for sale at the merchandise table in the Indiana History Center, where the preliminary and semifinal rounds took place Sept. 2-10). My belated acquaintance threw some retrospective insight over interpretations I encountered earlier, and it certainly made me a better-informed listener when I heard the last two participants give their semifinal recitals Monday night. The work is shot through with improvisatory hurdles and rewards, so that any notions about interpretation go way beyond what a conventionally settled score would mean to eac

Commissioned piece vies with evergreens in IVCI semifinal round

Public interest in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis naturally intensifies when the semifinal round takes the stage. It's a natural result of the narrowing field, when a vicarious spirit of competition begins to vie in audiences' hearts with the artistic merits of what they're hearing. Those merits have a way of coming to the fore in the semis, especially with the added novelty of the chance to compare interpretations of a new piece. For the  2018 IVCI, that piece is William Bolcom 's Suite No. 3 for Solo Violin, a special commission in the tradition of the contest's nine predecessors, each of which was graced by a different world premiere in 16 performances. (To celebrate its 10th running, the IVCI has issued a compact disc of the nine pieces, as performed by 2014 gold medalist Jinjoo Cho .) An unusual feature of the new work is a movement the composer has designated as optional. Of the eight semifinal recitals at the Indiana History Center

A Sling Can Really Hang You Up the Most: A rotator-cuff lament

The charm of the third time: IVCI preliminaries move toward their conclusion

For me, the preliminary round of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis ended Tuesday afternoon, though today there are nine more of the 38 participants to be heard. The jury's selection of 16 semifinalists is expected about 8 p.m. today. Like the rest of the public, I have the option to take advantage of live-streaming for the remaining prelim recitals. I might check out some of them, but of course there's no substitute for being there. That was driven home to me by the last recital of the day Sept. 4. Galiya Zharova: Exemplary bow control The live-streaming experience can provide an excellent perspective on the participants, but I might have missed what stood out most Tuesday afternoon if I'd taken in remotely the prelim recital of Galiya Zharova of Kazakhstan. In the course of her performance, I almost put aside "large-picture" artistic considerations. They seemed to be well-served in any case by her exemplary bow control. And that's