Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Serafin Quartet 'Reunites' Two Celebrated Composers

By Christine Facciolo

Born one year and 300 miles apart, Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann met for the first time in Leipzig on August 31, 1835. The Serafin String Quartet reunited them at Wilmington’s Trinity Episcopal Church with a program of two of their most Beethoven-inspired works: the A minor quartet, Op. 13 (Mendelssohn) and the A major quartet, Op. 41, No. 3 (Schumann). The date was also — coincidentally — the 210th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth.  

Mendelssohn, often referred to as the “classical romantic,” was a most celebrated composer during his lifetime. His stature slipped somewhat during the 20th Century, but this most underrated of the Romantics is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as many top-flight recordings and performances of his works indicate.

The Serafin Quartet. Photo courtesy of the artists.
Mendelssohn was just 18 years old when he wrote his A minor String Quartet in 1827, which was also the year Beethoven died. The Beethovian influence is evident, as are influences from Mozart and Haydn. The quartet also displays the young composer’s facility with the cyclical technique and exhibits a degree of passion and drama not characteristic of Mendelssohn.

Kate Ransom’s first violin was reliably lyrical and dramatic in the highly expressive opening movement, while the ensemble played as if it were one. The musicians lovingly conveyed the aching sorry of the second movement, a complex and dramatic affair marked adagio non lento (“slow not slow”). Beautifully judged phrasing and dynamics characterized the fiendishly difficult third movement with its contrasting moods.

The finale returned to the emotional world of the first movement. Beethoven’s influence again evident with its stormy recitative over tremolo accompaniment. The Serafin delivered a glowing and energetic performance of this most complex movement yet managed a conclusion that was gentle and calming.

Schumann’s A major quartet was again delivered with tonal precision and blend. In the first movement, the playing was flexible and fluid, capturing the halting nature of the music with its unsettling syncopations. The musicians delivered the fugato and tempo risoluto sections of the second movement with a muscular certainty, while the finale was exuberant and full of toe-tapping dance.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Playhouse Takes a Family on Magical Trip to 'Neverland'

By Guest Bloggers Erin, Ellie & Maggie Lacey
Erin is a mom of 4 kids and works as a Business Processor for Point to Point Wealth Management in Wilmington. When not at work or home, she can usually be found costuming her kids' shows at the Delaware Children's Theater. Ellie is an 8th Grade Vocal Major and Maggie is a 7th Grade Piano major at Cab Calloway School of the Arts.

As a working mom of 4 kids, my evenings generally consist of the usual rush of carpools, dinners and mountains of homework, so I was thrilled to have a rare weeknight date with my girls, Ellie (age 14) and Maggie (age 12) to see Finding Neverland at The Playhouse on Rodney Square. In the Lacey house, music is a sport, and seeing musicals are like going to see your favorite team play. 

I had never seen Finding Neverland, but Ellie had when she was nine, having attended a Broadway Dreams Workshop with The Imagination Players. During that trip, they spent the afternoon with a cast member who taught them to sing and dance to Believe, one of the big ensemble numbers. 

After her trip, she was thrilled to have seen a real Broadway production, but was a little fuzzy on details, as nine-year-olds often are. I was interested to see the show for myself, and to hear how Ellie's perception of the show would change now that she was five years older.

Finding Neverland tells the story of J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, as he struggles to write a new play after a flop. He goes to Kensington Gardens to try to find inspiration outside and meets a group of young boys and their mother, Sylvia. Their joy in their imaginary game is contagious and Barrie finds himself leading the boys in a game of pirates and realizes that his imagination is being reawakened by play. 

His closeness with the boys and their mother creates friction in his marriage, and his wild imaginings inspired by the boys are ridiculed by his producer and his actors. It is when all is darkest that he must decide if he will fall in line with societal expectations, or will he follow his heart to Neverland.

"Little boys should never be sent to bed. They always wake up a day older." 

This line from Peter Pan, said by J.M. Barrie in Act 1, was the first time I welled up during the show, but it definitely wasn't the last. There were multiple times when I was reminded of when the kids were younger and we could play make-believe games for hours. The interaction between the four young actors was believable as brothers, and I wanted to scoop the youngest up and bring him home with me. 

I was totally ready to enlist in Captain Hook's crew by the end of Stronger and the Gaelic-inspired Play was a joy to watch. There were some lovely quiet moments between the two leads, Barrie and Sylvia, even in times when the rest of stage was full of dancing. They would be focused on each other in the way that two people in love usually are. 

But it was a look between a Sylvia and her mother during Neverland Reprise in the second act that went all the way into my heart. Because of course, to parents, our children never do grow up. Instead, when you look at them, you see them at every age, as if you have your own personal Neverland.

It's a fairly low-tech show, as far as effects, but I found the simplicity sweet and engaging. My daughters loved it as well. Ellie did indeed have a much different impression of the show at age 14 than at 9. She particularly enjoyed the message of Stronger and said that she liked how Barrie faced his "haters" and did what he knew to be right. Maggie loved We're All Made of Stars, and really loved the interactions of the boys. She said that their make-believe games made her wish it was summer so they could get back to playing all day.

There were a number of opening-night glitches with set pieces and sound, but it didn't take away from the overall 'glowy' feeling of warmth that this show conveys. By the end, you will know that your imagination is powerful and love is the best magic of all.

Finding Neverland continues at The Playhouse at Rodney Square through Sunday, February 10. Tickets range from $40-95 at TheGrandWilmington.org.

Monday, January 28, 2019

UD's Master Players to Perform at Carnegie Hall

The content of this post originates from a press release from The University of Delaware...

University of Delaware Master Players Concert Series and Artistic Director Xiang Gao will perform “6-WIRE & Friends at Carnegie Hall” on Saturday, February 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Zankel Hall of Carnegie Hall in New York City.  Master Players celebrates its 15th year of bringing the world’s top musicians and ensembles to the University of Delaware.

The performance will be led by 6-WIRE (Xiang Gao, violin/director; Cathy Yang, erhu & Matthew Brower, piano), the Master Players Ensemble-in-Residence. 6-WIRE is inspired by the historical connection between the erhu, the Chinese 2-stringed violin, and the 4-stringed violin — both essential instruments in the East and West.  The ensemble mixes traditional romanticism and virtuosity with new chamber music.

6-WIRE ensemble. Photo courtesy of the artist. 
Founded and directed by Chinese-American violinist Xiang Gao, an award-winning concert presenter, composer and producer, 6-WIRE’s performances redefine traditional chamber music, delighting cross-generational audiences with forward-looking compositions and cutting-edge audio and video technology.  

The New York premiere of Clearwater Rhapsody for 6-WIRE and cello by MacArthur Genius Grant awardee Bright Sheng features the world-renowned composer at the piano. The concert will also feature the New York debut of compositions and arrangements by Xiang Gao. A composition titled 6th Sense for 6-WIRE and cello will feature UD faculty cellist Lawrence Stomberg in memory of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.

Members of the UD Symphony Orchestra, under the leadership of UD Director of Orchestral Activities James Allen Anderson, open the program with the World Premiere of the 6-WIRE arrangement of Bach’s concerto for violin and oboe. 

In this performance, which includes guest harpsichordist Tracy Richardson, the erhu replaces the oboe part to bring a new sound to the masterpiece. Renowned Chinese violin-maker Yunkai Jiang created a violin-erhu hybrid cello called Gupinghu, and Master Players guest cellist Gabriel Cabezas will perform on the Gupinghu for the instrument’s New York debut.

Two World Premiere works on the program include Ealasaid, for 6-WIRE and UD Chorale, led by Paul D. Head, composed by Jennifer Margaret Barker and Meridian Flux by composer Mark Hagerty.