Showing posts from March, 2019

James Ehnes returns as ISO violin soloist, with Peter Oundjian, a fellow Canadian (by professional adoption), on the podium

James Ehnes ' recordings seem immaculate to me, and his most recent previous appearance as an Indianapolis Canadian violinist James Ehnes also has family roots in Indiana. Symphony Orchestra guest soloist led me to anticipate the best from his performance Friday night of Jean Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D minor. To say I was not disappointed is an understatement. Among his other honors, the 43-year-old Canadian recently snagged a 2019 Grammy for his recording of Aaron Jay Kernis' violin concerto. He hews to a high standard on the concert stage as well. Technically secure at every point, he is also an insightful interpreter. On the former topic, for instance, his bow control is phenomenal, which the virtuosity of this concerto requires. It was particularly evident in the first of two encores he played at Hilbert Circle Theatre Friday — Eugene Ysaye's Sonata No. 3 ("Ballade"). In forceful playing there and in the Sibelius, especially when phrases are s

There's hell to pay in 'The Christians' at Phoenix Theatre

Inevitable shifts in language usually tend toward mitigation or the watering down of old meanings. Many of Pastor Paul ascends his preaching summit as Joshua, Elder Jay, and the Pastor's wife look on. these involve the weakening grip of Christianity, despite its continued hold over broad swaths of the American cultural mainstream. "Silly" is related distantly to a state of blessedness. And "profanity" has been leached of its power over our common speech so it can be misapplied to obscenity: "Go to hell" has given way to "F*** you!" Taking the name of the Lord thy God in vain has acquired a mildness that would have shocked our ancestors. In "The Christians," the impact of religious language remains connected to fundamentalist theology. Lucas Hnath's drama, set in a contemporary megachurch, turns on the importance of hell and its connection to belief in a place of eternal punishment for unsaved sinners. At issue is the univ

Ensemble Music concert: Hagen Quartet focuses this season on music of its countryman Schubert

Quartets produced late in each composer's career made up the program the Hagen Quartet played under Ensemble Music Society auspices Wednesday evening at the Indiana History Center. Rainer Schmidt, Clemens Hagen, Veronika Hagen, and Lukas Hagen. There is always a temptation to see late works, especially from eras when health was easily imperiled and sudden or lingering death was common, as an artistic creator's premonitions of that universal fate. There is some basis to support foreboding intimations in the case of the concert's three pieces: Beethoven's Quartet no. 16 in F major, op. 135; Shostakovich's Quartet No. 13 in B-flat minor, op. 138, and Schubert's Quartet No. 13 in A minor, op. 29, D. 804 ("Rosamunde"). The most insistently gloomy of those pieces is the Shostakovich, a bleak work in one long movement, reflecting the Soviet composer's weariness at running afoul of his government and a mounting succession of health problems. He h

Indianapolis Opera finds a congenial spot in 'Camelot'

King Arthur lifts aloft the symbol of his authority. The material of Arthurian legend is well-worn in the English-speaking world, and among its products that best succeed at keeping the legacy alive is the Lerner and Lowe musical "Camelot." Indianapolis Opera ended its 2018-19 season this weekend with a production of the show that put lively detail into the familiar story of ancient British knighthood in flower, wilted by shortsightedness and adultery. The production looked good, nicely laid out and with the cast outfitted acceptably. With "Camelot" that means you can't be finicky about authenticity when the matter at hand derives from a prehistorical period (in English terms, not elsewhere) that has always floated free of known events. It's a timeless milieu, vastly different from our own but with immortal human difficulties in contention. To make the challenged hero, King Arthur, a naive, well-intentioned innovator in statecraft is most of what&#

Joined by the Indianapolis Quartet, Drew Petersen brings two-year University of Indianapolis residency to an end

Drew Petersen completed his tenure as UIndy artist-in-residence. The American Pianists Awards in 2017 went to Drew Petersen , a pianist who was already distinguished for youthful accomplishment when he vied for the prize. Now, his two-year period under the professional wing of the American Pianists Association is coming to an end. Part of the closure is rounding out his status as artist-in-residence at the University of Indianapolis, which he did Friday night in a concert featuring the UIndy-based Indianapolis Quartet . The near-capacity audience in Ruth Lilly Performance Hall at the Chistel DeHaan Fine Arts Center immediately warmed to the 25-year-old musician, charmed by his performance of Enrique Granados' "Valses poeticos," an enchanting suite of delicately tinged waltzes. Petersen gave each of the seven movements, plus their framing by a prelude and coda, its individual character. I won't say much more about either this performance or that of Schubert

Return to the scene: Medalists in 2018 IVCI come back for a joint recital at Glick Indiana History Center

With the stress of competition removed for performers and audience alike, the top three players in last year's International Violin Competition of Indianapolis came back to the scene of their triumphs for a recital program Tuesday evening. Winners of the bronze, silver, and gold medals in the 2018 IVCI presented mini-recitals, nicely balanced in length and idiom, at the Basile Theater of the Glick Indiana History Center. Chih-Yi Chen provided suitably conscientious partnership at the piano. Captivating encore: Lin, Hokamura, and Hsu play Julian Milone's arrangement  of the 24th Paganini caprice. Performance order differed from how the three violinists finished in September. To open there was an unusual appetizer in weight and distinction: the magisterial Chaconne from J.S. Bach's Partita no. 2 in D minor, played by silver medalist Risa Hokamura. The elaborate set of variations on a short repeated phrase has long been regarded as the summit of the solo violin repert

More than academic: Butler jazz faculty reach out beyond campus in Jazz Kitchen debut

Controversy about the strength and sustenance that jazz's home in academia give to the music continues to be lively, as a visit or two to Jack Walrath's Jazz Trumpets Forum (on Facebook) will reconfirm. Whatever happened to learning your craft from older working role models on the bandstand, runs the nostalgic sentiment? But there is little doubt that high school and college programs that develop jazz musicians are firmly entrenched, even indispensable. The narrow path presented by the dearth of all-ages performance opportunities is just one reason for not depending on the shrinking number of jazz nightclubs to nurture young musicians. In that context, it's great to see teachers at the college level exhibit their expertise in the public sphere, as happened in one long set Sunday night at the Jazz Kitchen when Butler University faculty took the stage. In the future, it would be great to hear more originals from the group, but in any case there were some spicy arrangem

Doors into the unknown: IRT's 'A Doll's House Part 2' takes up Nora's story 15 years after famous departure

Torvald leans in to make himself clear to Nora. The natural feature of Norway best-known to the world is its fjords — narrow waterways to the sea that typically pass between steep cliffs. A brief online search of fjord images indicates that the definitive "steep cliffs" aren't inevitably a feature, and these more gradual bordering slopes are crucial to Ann Sheffield's scenic design for "A Doll's House Part 2," the Lucas Hnath drama that Indiana Repertory Theatre opened Friday night. That communicates a lot of the meaning of this cheeky sequel to Henrik Ibsen's 1879 realistic tragedy of the collapse of a middle-class Norwegian marriage. The vistas awaiting Nora Helmer as she escapes from a role she finds disrespectful and confining vary ambiguously from the closed-in feeling of her domestic life to the promise of something more open, reaching to the sky. The production's beautiful backdrop, with the deceptively gentle mountains bordering

What a Wonderful World it was until recently for rich kids whose parents helped grease the skids into academia

Site-specific Fonseca Theatre Company production spotlights the legend and luster of Lady Day

When an actor portrays a famous person, mere mimicry isn't everything. But we expect a reasonable facsimile in order to get the uncanny thrill we have whenever a stage or screen depiction sets before us a celebrity we think Monica Cantrell as Billie Holiday we "know" well. Opinions are sure to differ, but to get an outside example out of the way: I admired Sam Rockwell's impersonation of George W. Bush more than Christian Bale's otherwise amazing spittin' image of Dick Cheney in last year's "Vice." Rockwell's very approximateness to "Dubya" won me over. Thus, I liked the obvious sense that I wasn't really seeing Billie Holiday before me Wednesday night when "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" opened in a Fonseca Theatre Company production at the Linebacker Lounge. Monica Cantrell's full-fledged representation of the extravagantly admired singer came through most completely in her singing. When a perf

Greatest Generation blues: District Theatre's 'Yank!' gives voice to hidden passions in the World War II U.S. Army

Nothing quite as transformative as a big war happens in most American lives, but beneath the surface there have Mitch (Tanner Brunson) comforts Stuart (Jonathan Krouse) in "Yank!" long been other transformations pushing to emerge into full, free view. Yet conformity is always the official requirement, especially to the military mind, and that means that a society's reigning values acquire the force of law. There are no atheists in foxholes, says the adage; and that presumption once covered unconventional sexual orientation as well. That is the difficulty at the core of "Yank!," a musical of gay romance getting its first local production now at the District Theatre ,  the old home of Theatre on the Square, 627 Massachusetts Ave. The product of Joseph Zellnik (music) and David Zellnik (book and lyrics), the show was brought here by Tim Spradlin, a local theater veteran who believes passionately in "Yank!" and directs this production. Seen Saturd

Svetlin Roussev returns to the ISO schedule for the first time since his IVCI Laureate status got him there in 1998

Svetlin Roussev, the distinguished Bulgarian violinist who has amassed many distinctions since his placement among six International Violin Competition of Indianapolis laureates nearly 21 years ago, made the most of his concerto appearance Friday night with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra . Jacob Joyce made dashing impression as a stand-in for ISO's originally scheduled guest. The "Sounds of Spain" theme allowed him to occupy the guest soloist spotlight with Edouard Lalo's expansive "Symphonie espagnole," op. 21. Across five movements, the Spanish-influenced work by a French composer lives up to its title: It weaves musical threads between violin and orchestra throughout, even though the solo instrument is never out of prominence for long. The concert was also remarkable for the Classical Series debut of the ISO's associate conductor, Jacob Joyce. The second-in-command staff conductor for music director Krzysztof Urbanski was pressed into se

Phoenix Theatre: 'The Hotel Nepenthe' offers rooms with a view, even to those who never check in

Bellhop (Scott Van Wye) holds the telltale hatbox, flanked by Betsy Norton and Jolene Mentink Moffatt. Have you ever had any truck with bibliomancy? Me neither: who could hope to get insight or guidance by opening a book randomly and finding just what you need there? People who believe in it often use the Bible. If you don't get insight from the first passage you lay eyes on, the process permits a few tries. But not too many, because then it wouldn't be random. Chance has to remain in charge; to Bible believers, the chance that seems to rule the effort is really the guiding hand of the Author. Bibliomancy has seemed worth my trying only once  — last night, after I got home from the preview performance of "The Hotel Nepenthe," a play by John Kuntz that will run at the Phoenix Theatre through March 24. The 95-minute one-act engaged me, but I needed a key to it in retrospect. What book might be equal to this show's concatenation of mystery and fun, its shuffl