Showing posts from June, 2019

Guitarist John Scofield returns within a year to harvest a Combo 66 crop again

He declares his affection for Indianapolis each time he brings his band onstage, if memory serves. So it's no surprise that, for an A-list jazzman, John Scofield has come here fairly often. And it's our good fortune. The patriarchal pose suits old maestro John Scofield just fine. The latest gig is another two-night stand at t he Jazz Kitchen . He is returning with his Combo 66 quartet, drawing on memories of his first appearance here with the same personnel last fall . His sidemen are Gerald Clayton, keyboards; Vicente Archer, bass, and Bill Stewart, drums. I'm not especially partial to guitarists, but I find Scofield always worth hearing. Unless his personal collection of licks and cliches is so vast I can't remember them, he seems remarkably free of working a groove or a melodic idiosyncrasy to death. Saturday night's first set was no exception, even though the set list overlapped what he had to offer when I heard the band in October 2018. I will avoid

ACRONYM displays upper-case excellence under Early Music Festival auspices

Taking it to the streets: ACRONYM presented "Dreams of a Wounded Musketeer." Opening the second weekend of the Indianapolis Early Music Festival with a program titled "Dreams of the Wounded Musketeer," ACRONYM went from a 17th-century response to foreign musical and martial influences to the rigors of full-fledged battle, which is given the ultimate in picturesqueness in the "Battalia" in D major by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, a major composer of the early German Baroque. Threats to a fictional "wounded musketeer" are used as a programmatic device to link short compositions known to 17th-century Viennese musicians and their audiences. The program notes speak in his well-informed, sometimes anguished voice. Viennese in those days looked with anxiety to the east, whence Ottoman attacks and invasions emerged. "Battalia" is a concise, rich collection of depictions of occasionally undisciplined soldiery, both at war and during lul

Roses and swords: Cincinnati Opera's 'Romeo and Juliet' adds splendor to love/feud polarity

Balcony scene: "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?" Although Charles Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette" is no operatic obscurity, chances are many patrons of its production this weekend by Cincinnati Opera are familiar mostly with Shakespeare's romantic tragedy. This company is up to its 23rd and 24th performances of the work (the first having been in 1922), which speaks to the durability of the French opera on its own. And the current co-production with Minnesota Opera gives many reasons to see "Romeo and Juliet" through the Gounod prism — with its characteristic sweetness, stageworthy majesty and forthright lyricism. As seen Thursday night in the magnificently renovated Music Hall, "Romeo and Juliet" focuses on the symbolism of overwhelming love between "star-crossed lovers" challenged by an implacable feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. As everyone knows, miscommunication involving fatal and faux-fa

Premium Blend is well-suited to its rising jazz profile

Having caught the first of two sets Premium Blend played Saturday night, I feel compelled to mention the ensemble's virtues as well as its "Vices." "Vices" is the name of its new recording, available via streaming only. The physical CD, as bandleader Jared Thompson suggested from the Jazz Kitchen bandstand, is so 20th century. (Naturally, I have thousands of them.) Thompson solicited compliments on his new suit, with the band name fixed inside the jacket. He got them. The music on hand was just as suitable, especially to the musical spiffiness of the quartet: Thompson, saxophone; Ryan Taylor, guitar and repertoire-builder along with the leader; Steven Jones, keyboards, and Brian Yarde, drums. Premium Blend lived up to its name at the Jazz Kitchen. As to those virtues, this is a steadily cohesive band, with an original book loaded with catchy tunes, arranged to showcase the group's unity as an ensemble as well as the solo skills of its members. Esp

'White City Murder' brings past gruesomeness and glitz together under the Phoenix tent.

Amanda Hummer and Ben Asaykwee illustrate the pizazz of a show with a World's Fair setting. The weird pull of human awfulness — serial murder division  — gets a song of its own in "White City Murder," a two-actor,  cabaret-style show that just entered its second weekend at Phoenix Theatre. Mass killings have become part of our weekly news diet, it seems, but slaughtering a bunch of strangers in one place lacks the shimmering aura of knocking off one fellow human being after another, sometimes taking years to do so, favoring different methods and settings. That's fascinated people for decades, and pop culture has been quick to pick up on the attraction. How and why does a person construct an autobiography around killing people indefinitely? Ben Asaykwee, the guru of classic macabre in his popular "Cabaret Poe" presentations, moves into a dramatic spectacle even more concentrated and intense with "White City Murder." Reveling in the hype and

The Chicago Sinfonietta's Project W brings to the fore women's compositions

The historical suppression of female potential in the arts continues to be rolled back. No one can say how much greatness was thwarted by the subjugation of women. It's more to the point to acknowledge that at last their achievements are receiving more exposure, allowing posterity to have the last word. In the meantime, the injustice of unequal treatment can be mitigated by correcting the gender imbalance in musical creation and performance. Mei-Ann Chen, music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta "Works by diverse women composers" is the subtitle of "Project W," a new release on Cedille by the Chicago Sinfonietta under the baton of Mei-Ann Chen. All are first recorded performances, and all new commissions except for William Grant Still's arrangement of Florence Price's charming "Dances in the Canebrakes." Most out of the shadows of the five women represented is Jennifer Higdon, whose "Dance Card" concludes the program. In fiv

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: Verdi's 'Rigoletto' presents a flawed figure more boldly heroic than usual

There are so many ways to be an outsider that all of us have The grievously insulted Monterone delivers his curse to the mocker Rigoletto. felt it at one time or another. In opera, Rigoletto, the unlikable titular hero of Verdi's greatest early masterpiece, stands at the summit of tragic apartness from his milieu. He's an extreme case of his social participation being  wholly a matter of grudging tolerance. His status is fragile. As the court jester required to amuse an imperious aristocrat, there isn't a trace of professional pride in him. He encourages the Duke’s dissolute habits, makes fun of his boss's victims, and hates himself for it. He projects that self-hatred onto the Duke and his court, feeling free of their scorn only when he's away from the toxic limelight and with his only family, the nubile daughter he keeps in seclusion. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis ' current produc

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: 'Fire Shut Up in My Bones' brings further acquaintance with Terence Blanchard as opera composer

For their debut as an opera team, Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons draw upon a recent history of  collaboration in films, with a fifth joint project in the works destined for the public screen on the slavery abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Uncle Paul instructs Char'es-Baby and Charles in the rootedness of manhood In his second composition for the  company (following 2013's "Champion"),  Blanchard thus had a natural libretto partner. It's little surprise that the result — an adaptation of Charles M. Blow's "Fire Shut Up in My Bones" — looks and feels cinematic. The scenes, joined to the thickly scored music, flow into one another with something like movie "dissolves" making  the connections. The opera (of the same title) received its world  premiere June 15 in an Opera Theatre of Saint  Louis  production. Another reinforcement of the cinematic approach is that "Fire Shut Up in My Bones&quo

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: In "The Coronation of Poppea," a searing examination of amorality in high places

The Emperor nuzzles his main squeeze, Poppea. The set's severe look in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production of the earliest opera to stay in the repertory focuses on the timeless nature of its alarming themes: sex and power. "The Coronation of Poppea" is being presented in the performing version that stage director Tim Albery put together with Laurence Cummings. Since Albery's explicit English translation is also used, that amounts to a very strong individual  filter through which contemporary audiences here will be taking in Claudio Monteverdi's 1643 opera. The remaining performances are June 22, 26, and 28. Hannah Clark's costumes, modern dress and business-appropriate, never seem jarring. Everything about the social milieu of first-century Rome is so remote from us that staying visually true to the period is irrelevant. What remains of core interest is the persistence of misdirected love, betrayal, intrigue, and willfulness

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: Teamwork at an exalted comic level in 'The Marriage of Figaro'

My earliest  memory of opera is seeing a bit of "The Marriage of Figaro" on a neighbor's black-and- Aubrey Allicock projected cleverness and determination as Figaro. white TV as a grade-schooler. It was broadcast on a Philadelphia station in an era when mass communications didn't shy away from art. I saw the moment when Susanna, Figaro's fiancee, summons the page Cherubino to submit to being outfitted in her own clothes in order to help thwart Count Almaviva's amorous designs upon her. "Come, kneel down before me," Susanna sings, proceeding to relay instructions that will allow her to recostume the smitten teenager. My impression has remained with me over some 65 years as a useful revelation: Opera can convey ordinary actions — the details of getting someone else dressed — as magically as high-flown matters, I realized. I didn't learn until much later that Cherubino's disguise was an essential building block in a fantastic

Harriet Tubman: Yanked from currency prominence as Andrew Jackson is sustained on every 20-dollar bill

ISO Classical Series: End of a season, with the end of a music director's tenure in sight

Krzysztof Urbanski has been ISO music director since 2011. A distinguishing aspect of this Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra season with Krzysztof Urbanski at the helm is that the end of an era has appeared on the horizon. With the Polish conductor due to leave in two years, there will be a new artistic path forged for the orchestra has it heads toward its centenary in 2030. Urbanski has proved himself firmly at home in the conventional repertoire, with his reaches slightly far afield (leaving aside commissioned works) representing modern music of his homeland. This weekend's concerts seem to suggest that if 19th-century Vienna was the place to be for music-lovers, apparently so too is 21st-century Indianapolis — and with the same music. That fact may cheer you or depress you, but what the Classical Series farewell for 2018-19 illustrates is the flourishing of high romanticism (in both its  conservative and advanced wings) still feels like home for the ISO's Hilbert Circ

Shall it be released? The complete, unredacted Mueller Report, that is — a protest song for our moment, and moments to come

A weekend of Rachmaninoff concertos from the ISO and guest pianist Garrick Ohlsson

The one-composer concert is a niche concept in programming live music that less than a handful of composers are thought to deserve. Just about everyone will agree it works with Beethoven, of course. But then people will come up with short lists that will soon be at odds with others'. (Mine for symphony orchestra would have a place for Arnold Schoenberg — I hear crickets.) And then there are two sometimes opposed considerations: marketing or artistic merit? Is this the Netflix "binging" menace spread to classical music, or is there a special excitement to such concentration that brings pizazz to any season? Might the one-composer concert also be an entertaining vehicle for (gasp!) educating the public? Garrick Ohlsson: A formidable American concert pianist since 1970. When it comes to Sergei Rachmaninoff, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra 's 2018-19 classical series has filled its next-to-last weekend with the Russian's piano concertos: the four numbered