Monday, December 29, 2014
Emmy-award winning composer, Artistic Director of GPRrecords Email My Brooklyn Bridge: The Party's Not Over Posted: 12/29/2014 1:42 pm EST Updated: 1 hour ago Share 8 Tweet 9 0 Comment 0 Share on Google+ The one thing the blogosphere does not need is another article about trendy, hip, ironic, facially-haired Brooklyn. In fact some recent articles now toll the death knell of the borough, saying that Brooklyn is passé; it seems that Queens is the new Brooklyn. That fact notwithstanding, I've always been rather late to the party, and although I'd had my share of evenings at BAM and the wonderful concerts at Bargemusic, it wasn't until recently that I discovered the depth of serious music, opera and theater happening throughout the borough. I never felt comfortable embracing Brooklyn. Flatbush, decidedly un-hip (at least in the '70's) was my ancestral homeland, the place I had to escape, although the escape wasn't all that physically dangerous as I simply took the D-train to the bright lights of Manhattan. So every time this prodigal son returns, I always feel certain trepidation: will memories I've successfully repressed all these years rear their ugly heads as I walk down Atlantic Avenue? Recently, I was invited to a recording of Yotam Haber's new work; Haber is a composer who's work I deeply admire, so I enlisted a friend with a car and we made the trek across the bridge to Roulette. Despite the world-class contemporary classical musicians who regularly perform there, I was completely unaware of this venue. I learned that the original Roulette, a bastion of avant-garde music, was in Jim Stanely's TriBeCa loft. (Stanley, a renowned trombonist, was a force in the hip, downtown loft music scene in the 1980's, another party I'd have been happy to come late to, had I known it existed!) Roulette has moved often over the decades, but in 2011 it settled into what now seems a permanent home: Memorial Hall in Boerum Hill. Entering through a completely non-descript set of iron doors, you are welcomed into a small but friendly lobby, artfully renovated. The real treat of Roulette is the performance space itself: an intimate gem of an old ballroom/theater, a tiny balcony spanning the perimeter, anchored to the ceiling by skinny, frail looking pipes. Despite extensive on-line research I couldn't find the original purpose of the hall/theater, although it was obviously built as a performance space so I imagine it could have been an Elks Lodge or a Kiwanis Meeting Hall. It rather reminded me of Wilton's Music Hall, the oldest Music Hall in London, also now meticulously renovated. On stage, an entire orchestra fit very comfortably, which is unusual for a venue that only holds about 250 seats on the orchestra level. Furthermore, this wasn't just any orchestra. It was Contemporaneous, the premier orchestra dedicated to promoting and performing new music. As I arrived they were finishing rehearsing a piece by Thomas Adès and Haber's piece was ready to be recorded. Haber, in addition to numerous awards and commissions, was for some years the Artistic Director of MATA, the organization founded by Philip Glass and others to commission and present new works. His music, based loosely on a minimalist style, is hauntingly beautiful and seductively hypnotic. The piece I heard, "We Were All," had all the Haber trademarks I love: the melodic loops of phrases, the sensual tonalities and the completely original harmonic language. Based on "Cherries," a poem by Andrea Cohen, the piece started with three singers singing separate, staccato syllables in a quasi-baroque style; these syllabic organisms then cautiously migrated into the orchestra, instrument by instrument, until a great crescendo heralded the climax, the entire orchestra elaborating on the tiny phrases, timpani's banging, trumpets blaring, followed by a gradual decrescendo as the syllabic phrases dissipated to their original state. It was a gorgeous, explosive piece: the creation of the universe, if you will, in less than fifteen minutes. One incredibly important feature of Haber's music, to me anyway, is his sensitivity to the audience. His music always sounds fresh and cutting edge, but the audience is inevitably seduced as opposed to being bewildered or worse, indifferent. After the recording at Roulette, my next point of call was LoftOpera's production of The Barber of Seville. Happily, LoftOpera is only two years old, so I was only 700 days late to this particular party. Their Barber was performed in another incredible environment, The Green Building, a gorgeous multi-use space in Carroll Gardens, complete with exposed brick walls and soaring wooden beam ceilings lit by elegant chandeliers. It was set up rather like the Parish House next to St John the Divine's where I recently saw Britten's Curlew River. How can you not have an enormous smile on your face when you walk into a venue like this offering Barber, and find positioned near the entrance an actual barber chair complete with hairdresser offering free trims to anyone who signs up on the chalkboard? Those who didn't didn't need a haircut, could go outside to the enormous beer-garden and get a bit sloshed for Rossini. Of course, an opera has to be judged on its musical merits, not its beauticians, and this production was sensational. I had already seen the Met's production with superstars Laurence Brownlee, Christopher Maltmen and the enchanting Isabel Leonard who is the greatest Rosina alive today. There is probably no better cast available in the world, so I was surprised and delighted to hear the youthful OperaLoft cast completely hold their own in spite of a forbidding comparison. Although I wasn't familiar with José Adán Pérez, his Figaro was a delight. Even without checking his bio, it was clear he had performed this role many times; he knew it inside and out. His singing was robust and athletic, easily navigating the treacheries of the famous "Largo al factotum," (that's the Bugs Bunny "Figaro, Figaro, Figaro," that every non-opera aficianado sings when asked if he knows opera.) The true star of the evening was a super-nova on the classical scene, Jonathan Blalock as Almaviva. Anyone who reads music reviews is aware of Blalock's ascent, as he can't seem to help but get raves from everyone from Alex Ross to the Anthony Tommasini. This is the first time I'd seen him in a role and this guy can sing! And act! And is strikingly handsome as well, a singer who has it all. He negotiated the extremely challenging bel canto sections with great dexterity and a technique that belies his young age; the audience burst into well-deserved applause halfway through his first aria. The production itself was sublime, a real treat. The audience sat in two sections facing each other across stage platform that looked like a large dining table and ran the length of the hall. That's where most of the opera was performed, except when the action shifted to the upper reaches of the hall's fire escapes, where Rosina was held captive by Bartolo or when the ensemble ran through the audience. The second most important thing about any Barber after the singing is that the opera be funny. Although the cast at the Met was wonderful, the heavy handed-production, complete with unfunny cartoon anvils falling on people and outsized pumpkins (oranges?) being tossed about, was anything but. This production (despite the staged Overture with some sort of chamber maid chasing a butterfly -- will directors please stop staging the Overture!) was hysterical. Every joke that Rossini wrote landed, and the director Laine Rettmer directed the comedy with the lightest of touches despite the inherent slapstick of the libretto. Of course, it's infinitely easier to make a joke work in a tiny venue than in the vast enormity of the Met, but still, this is a company to be reckoned with; I can't wait to see what they have in store for next year. The last leg of my Brooklyn odyssey was a return trip to the Theater for a New Audience. I was again completely late to the original party of this company having never seen them in Manhattan. Happily I saw a magnificent Lear there last season, vastly superior to the ponderous and self-indulgent Frank Langella production at BAM, and this season I recently saw Tambourlaine, Parts I and II, staring the magnificent John Douglas Thompson. One of the most wonderful things about a night with this company is simply walking into the spanking new Polonsky Shakespeare Center. The program notes say that the theater was inspired by the Cottleslow Theatre of Britain's National Theater, but having been to the Cottleslow hundreds of times, I can say that this open, airy, audience friendly environment is 100% more inviting than any of the brutal-esque monstrosities that comprise the National Theater, Cotteslow included. It's a wonderful feeling knowing that prior to seeing a performance you are going into a clean, well-lit, elegantly designed environment with a formidable canteen and comfortable seats. Despite 30 years of theater going, I'd never seen Tambourlain, and I honestly can't recall any opportunities to do so. Knowing it was such a seminal play in its own right, not to mention a huge influence on the young Shakespeare, I eagerly bought a ticket. I was disappointed to see the audience not nearly full, despite the raves. (Will Manhattan-ites still not make the trek? Or are they already in Queens?) The performance was directed by the great Shakespearean Michael Boyd, who achieved an amazing task: directing a troupe of American actors in an Elizabethan drama and creating a completely naturalistic style that had its own "American" rhythm without pandering to the text or history of the play. Tambourlain was gory, poetic, riveting, exhilarating, all the things their Lear had been a year ago. Ah, Brooklyn. What else have I been missing? No matter, I'm back now and am on the mailing lists of Roulette, LoftOpera and Theater for the New City. You can go home again.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Rob Kapilow: Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express; Dr. Seuss’s Gertrude McFuzz. Sung by Nathan Gunn, with the Polar Express Children’s Choir (Polar); sung by Isabel Leonard, with Olivia Lombardi as Gertrude (Gertrude); Metamorphosis Chamber Orchestra. GPR. $19.99. The dreams are for the youngest listeners rather than the oldest on a new GPR recording of two works by Rob Kapilow, one based on Chris Van Allsburg’s moving Christmas dream/fable, The Polar Express, and the other taking off from a much lighter fantasy by Dr. Seuss, Gertrude McFuzz – a work that does, however, have a moral as clear as Van Allsburg’s. This is a CD for families already familiar with the two works that Kapilow sets, because the text is almost identical to that in the books but, of course, does not have the pictures that render these two very different works so intriguing and enthralling in printed form. Kapilow is especially sensitive to Van Allsburg’s pacing: listeners can easily hear the places where the composer moves from one page of the book to the next. The music is supportive of the narration but also has a delightful character all its own. In The Polar Express, for instance, snatches of Christmas carols are woven into the musical tale, while in Gertrude McFuzz, little bits of well-known tunes are included in a score that nicely characterizes the participants – Gertrude’s Uncle Dake, for example, gets a jazzy beat, while Gertrude herself is accompanied by rather whiny notes that neatly complement her temper tantrums. The performers are all first-rate, not over-intellectualizing any of the words but not talking down to the intended audience, either. Nathan Gunn narrates with seriousness befitting that of an older man looking back on childhood while retaining a sense of wonder and communicating it to children, while Isabel Leonard offers bounce and brightness and just enough snottiness to show a narrative disapproval of the demands of Olivia Lombardi, who gets her comeuppance in typically gratifying and amusing Seussian fashion. This CD is not inexpensive, considering the fact that it runs just 34 minutes and that CDs of books’ readings are sometimes included at no extra charge within the books themselves. But the fine music and wholehearted involvement of all the performers make the disc a very worthwhile seasonal gift, especially for families that see it as a complement to The Polar Express and Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (in which Gertrude’s tale, and tail, appear).
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
One of the more eagerly heralded recordings of this holiday season is Rob Kapilow’s Polar Express and Gertrude McFuzz, concert adaptations of the beloved books written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg and Dr. Seuss (respectively, of course). Aiming to engage young audiences with music that’s fun but not dumb, Kapilow has composed lively scores with plenty of appeal for grownups, too, and he mixes child singers (a chorus in Polar Express, a preternaturally red-hot jazz-baby soloist named Olivia Lombardi in Gertrude) with Opera World grown-ups Nathan Gunn (in Polar Express) and Isabel Leonard (in Gertrude). Especially when seen in excerpts on video, Leonard’s performance really makes you wish you could just bring her home and let her do her stuff for you. She’s a busy woman, of course, so in all likelihood you’ll have to settle for buying the album. But it’s spectacular work in any case. Even having seen her as Rossini’s Cinderella with Fort Worth Opera in 2009, and as Mozart’s Cherubino at the Met this fall (among other roles), I was only barely prepared for the wit and charm — and vivid acting — she brings to bear as Gertrude’s Narrator. “Rob created a very fun, funky, musically narrative score for the book,” Leonard told me in a phone interview several weeks ago. “It’s perfect for kids, and that’s what this whole CD is about, not only bringing classical music to kids but bringing classically trained voices who can do a variety of things with their voices, to show kids what’s possible.” Mezzo Isabel Leonard For Leonard, the Gertrude score represented an opportunity “to play with my voice, to sing in a classical style and maybe in a more musical-theater style and jazzy style … a combination of colors and different styles,” she says. “Sometimes when you’re entrenched in the opera world, you forget what it is that you can do, in general. I’ve done jazz and musical theater, and it was great to put it all together.” Renowned as the host of NPR’s What Makes It Great?, Kapilow has adapted Dr. Seuss before — his Green Eggs and Ham is widely considered a contemporary classic — and he has a pretty good idea what makes Seuss great. His music exults in the author’s imaginative use of language, and, much though we love the illustrations in the book, Kapilow rises to the challenge of substituting sound for image. He provides his own ingenious surprises, characters and curlicues and improbable landscapes, until we feel as if we’re listening to the pictures. “[Kapilow’s] vocal writing has a range, so the singer has to have range and good rhythm, good funk in your voice,” Leonard says. “I was able to do that, and play around with accents and being goofy, and really, really telling the story, not just by way of beauty — which is what you hear so much in opera — but even more with the texture of sounds and words.” Both Polar Express and Gertrude McFuzz are a particularly effective kind of composition for young audiences. They’re not didactic, explaining what a woodwind is; instead, they’re exemplary. These pieces demonstrate an original way to tell a story, and they showing that music isn’t just for Wotans and Valkyries and venerable conductors with great profiles, because kids can take part, too. You wind up with gateways to more and more music — which will seem less intimidating, because kids already have a sense of the potential pleasures and rewards. As a parent — and as a former child — Leonard describes music education as “paramount, just like any arts education,” and she’s worked with children and young adults many times. “They’re still at that stage where they’re an open book: they can be inspired, and they’re still willing to be inspired,” she says. As audiences, kids “respond to something that’s true, their response is very genuine. It’s something they don’t forget, so they’re impacted on a level that really lives with them, for the rest of their life, most likely.” Gertrude McFuzz does contain a moral — and wouldn’t we all like to be smart enough to know what’s enough? But Leonard was smart enough to have a good time with Kapilow’s score. “You can’t go far from the microphone” in the recording studio, she says, “but I was definitely rocking it out and having fun. It’s that kind of music. It’ll get little kids and older kids up on their feet, bouncing around and having fun with it.”
Friday, December 12, 2014
December 12, 2014 5:17 pm Richard Fairman Music from the ongoing collaborative project talks not only of sadness, but also comfort and resilience arious Artists An Aids Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope (GPR Records) Do a good deed for Christmas. Like the Aids Memorial Quilt, the Aids Quilt Songbook is an ongoing collaborative project. This new disc features 20 songs, many directly on the subject of Aids, by as many composers and performers, including some illustrious names like Joyce DiDonato, Nicole Cabell and Anthony Dean Griffey. The music talks of sadness, but also comfort and resilience, and the disc serves as an absorbing survey of American song today. In addition, Sharon Stone reads two poems. All profits go to amfAR, the Foundation for Aids Research. © THE FINANCIAL TIMES LTD 2014 FT and ‘Financial Times’ are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd. An Aids Quilt Songbook:... £7.49 Shop now 1
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Entertainment » Music "An AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope" to Benefit amfAR by Winnie McCroy (Source:http://www.singforhope.org) An all-star cast of 40 renowned singers and instrumentalists comes together on one CD to sing for hope and in the cause of supporting AIDS research. The new CD, "An AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope" will be launched on December 1, World AIDS Day, with 100 percent of profits going to amfAR. "It's incredibly powerful and it's healing on both sides of the equation. Art is just an easy way for us to feel connected as humans," said Camille Zamora, co-founder of "Sing for Hope." Among the 40 artists participating in the project are Grammy-winning artists Joyce DiDonato, Yo-Yo Ma, Sasha Cooke; international opera stars Noah Stewart, Jamie Barton, Matthew Polenzani, Susanna Phillips, Anthony Dean Griffey, Monica Yunus, Isabel Leonard, Camille Zamora, Daniel Okulitch and many more. Accompanied by outstanding composer/performers Ricky Ian Gordon, Fred Hersch, John Musto and many more, they sing new American Art Songs in a continuation of the historic "AIDS Quilt Songbook" of 1992. "The idea of the album is based on the famous Names Project AIDS quilt, and we are adding new songs and taking them away, so it's really like a quilt," said volunteer Thomas Bagwell. (Source:http://www.singforhope.org) Tuneful ballads, heartfelt laments, wryly humorous showpieces and passionate calls to action combine to create a musical portrait of AIDS in today's world. Many of the songs were specially commissioned for the CD: songs about activism and antiretrovirals, love and loss and overall, the hope for a cure. Actors Sharon Stone ("Casino" and "Basic Instinct") and Ansel Elgort ("The Fault In Our Stars") contribute readings of poetry. "I'm an actor and performer, and I'm so happy to volunteer two poems for this CD," said Elgort. Produced by GPR Records and NYC-based arts volunteerism organization Sing for Hope, and distributed worldwide by Naxos Records, 100 percent of profits from "An AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope" will be donated to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. More than 80 artists - instrumentalists, singers, composers, poets, actors, photographers and filmmakers - donated their time and talents in the making of this album. Singers on the album include Jamie Barton, Nicole Cabell, Sasha Cooke, Adrienne Danrich, Joyce DiDonato, Anthony Dean Griffey, Isabel Leonard, Lester Lynch, Melody Moore, Daniel Okulitch, Sean Panikkar, Keith Phares, Susanna Phillips, Matthew Polenzani, Randall Scarlata, Michael Slattery, Noah Stewart, Monica Yunus and Camille Zamora. Among the instrumentalists are 15-time Grammy-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma and New York Philharmonic principal clarinetist Anthony McGill. Pianists include Thomas Bagwell, Scott Gendel, Ricky Ian Gordon, six-time Grammy-nominee Fred Hersch, Gregg Kallor, Lori Laitman, Kenneth Merrill, John Musto and Cristina Pato. Composers for the CD are Grammy-winner Robert Aldridge, Carol Barnett, Robert Chesley, Grammy-winner Herschel Garfein, Scott Gendel, Ricky Ian Gordon, Drew Hemenger, six-time Grammy-nominee Fred Hersch, Gregg Kallor, Lori Laitman, Tania León, Gilda Lyons, John Musto, Kevin Oldham, Cristina Pato, Paola Prestini, Eric Reda, four-time Emmy-winner Glen Roven, Kamala Sankaram and Mary Carol Warwick. Artists and organizers hope that the album will help bring the struggle for a cure to AIDS to the forefront once again. "I've been HIV-positive for over 30 years but beyond that, the community of artists and general human beings need to keep AIDS at the forefront, keeping the pressure on," said volunteer Fred Hersch. To purchase the album, visit http://www.amazon.com/An-AIDS-Quilt-Songbook-Sing/dp/B00OA9NYOG Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women’s news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes about local restaurants in her food blog, http://brooklyniscookin.blogspot.com/ This article is part of our "World AIDS Day 2014" series. Want to read more? Here's the full list» Related Topics: fundraising | HIV | HIV Service Organization | amfAR | AIDS research | AIDS Memorial Quilt 0
Leading classical musicians unite for 'An AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope' Gramophone Mon 1st December 2014 The album is released on December 1, to mark World AIDS Day The New York-based national non-profit organisation Sing for Hope has enlisted the help of more than 70 classical musicians for a very special album called 'An AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope' to raise money for amFAR, the foundation for AIDS research. The album is released today, December 1, World AIDS Day. The album features contributions from Yo-yo Ma, Noah Stewart, Joyce DiDonato, Lori Laitman and Jamie Barton. William Parker, a baritone who was HIV-positive, conceived of the AIDS Quilt Songbook in the early 1990s. In 1992, a concert was organised at Lincoln Center which featured many leading singers of the time – including William Parker – performing a selection of newly composed songs about AIDS. Paker died the following year. This new album is a salute to that first concert and also features poetry by Siegfried Sassoon and Walt Whitman read by Sharon Stone and Ansel Elgort. Watch the video below to find out more about the project:
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
10 AUGUST 2012 CD Review: Racette’s ‘Diva on Detour’ Over the past few years, Patricia Racette has earned the reputation of one of America’s foremost sopranos. The first time I heard her, as the title character in Tobias Picker’s Emmeline, at New York City Opera, she won my admiration, and I’m always glad to hear more of her. Since then, with her searing theatricality and passionate, clarion singing, she’s gone on racking up triumphs, in repertory ranging from Verdi and Puccini to Janácˇek and Carlisle Floyd, particularly at San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and the Met. At the last company, she’s received notable acclaim for her Madama Butterfly and for a Tosca that helped to redeem Luc Bondy’s infamously ill-conceived staging. Strangely enough, however, this Soprano Assoluta boasts a background in cabaret: in her younger years, she enrolled at the University of North Texas to study jazz, but wound up in opera instead. Hearing her at the Met, I simply couldn’t imagine her on a spotlit barstool by a smoky piano. Surely she was making this up. Now GPR Records has released a CD that exuberantly proclaims Racette’s mastery of an altogether different idiom. While she brings to bear certain assets of concert singing — particularly extended range and breath control that permits her to hold notes far longer than the average chantoozy — she gives herself over freely to the demands of the art form, exploiting a gutsy chest voice, alert attention to rhythm, and expressive devotion to language. She manages Billie Holiday’s trademark, singing on consonants, and she belts as if she was born to do nothing else. Doozy of a chantoozy: Soprano Patricia Racette Looking over the playlist of pop standards, almost all of which are associated with legendary stars of the past, you admire not only Racette’s good taste but also her courage. How the hell does any “diva on detour” open her act with a medley of Judy Garland numbers? Well, it takes her about less than two bars to dispel any doubts you may have, and once she’s got you in her grasp, she’s not letting you go. Even in a set of Piaf numbers, she catches exactly the right style. She doesn’t imitate so much as invoke the Little Sparrow’s gargles and growls, her moans and roar, not to mention her flawless French diction. The only time she isn’t completely convincing is, paradoxically, a rendition of “La Vie en rose” delivered in what we will call her Opera Voice: though you can’t deny her emotional connection, the song becomes altogether too plummy. It’s nowhere near as bad as Renata Scotto’s legendary “Over the Rainbow,” but nevertheless it’s a mistake she won’t make twice in the course of this album. So big deal: Patricia Racette is not Eileen Farrell — a unique artist who could use essentially the same voice in both opera and jazz. Racette needs two different voices, and the great marvel here is that her cabaret voice is so persuasive, uninhibited, and stylish. In a sense, Racette’s affinity for this repertory is only natural, since in opera, too, she sings roles that are closely associated with monstres sacrés like Maria Callas, every bit as titanic in her field as Piaf or Garland was in hers. Racette must make those roles her own, just as she must make these songs hers and not Garland’s or Piaf’s — or, for that matter, Jack Gilford’s, when she sings “I’m Calm.” She’s very funny, as it happens, not Jack’s way but her way. Interpretation has become the abandoned child in pop music, where we put an almost exclusive emphasis on innovation. But in jazz as in opera, interpretation is the order of the day, and it’s Racette’s achievement that she finds herself and communicates with us in any music that she sings. She’s a “diva on detour,” perhaps, but she’s not slumming: she’s got integrity. She knows what to do, and she does it — beautifully. The album was recorded before a live audience (invited, audibly appreciative, and pleasingly responsive), and it’s distinguished by Racette’s engaging between-song banter. Has any soprano in such circumstances ever sounded less like a conservatory recitalist? I doubt it. Craig Terry, her longtime collaborator, provides expert accompaniment on piano, exercising a kind of majestic yet unpretentious command that’s a perfect match for her full-throated delivery. Diva on Detour is a priceless souvenir of one more facet of a great artist’s talent, and I look forward to listening to it and learning more from it for many years to come. For more information and to purchase Diva on Detour, click here.