Saturday, May 21, 2016

Mélomanie Closes 2015-16 Season with "Big Band" Concert & Another Premiere

By Christine Facciolo
There’s something about a season finale that whets the appetite for more.

In a season full of not-to-be-forgotten performances, Mélomanie closed its 2015-16 season on Sunday, May 8, with not one — but two — World Premieres, some neo-Baroque jazz, the usual suspects and an obscure delight.

Mélomanie harpsichordist and Co-Founder/Co-Artistic Director Tracy Richardson dubbed the event a “big band concert” for the many special guests participating. Joining the ensemble’s core group were Rainer Beckmann on recorder, flutist Eve Friedman and cellist Naomi Gray. The additions made for a lively program of interesting material and musical combinations.

Ensemble with guest artists (L-R): Donna Fournier, Naomi Gray, Tracy Richardson, 
Christof Richter, Eve Friedman, Kimberly Reighley, Rainer Beckmann.
Photo by Tim Bayard.
The concert opened with a superb interpretation of Johann Christian Schieferdecker’s Musicalisches Concert 1 in A minor. Great fun was had in the galloping rhythms which drove the Overture. The fast dance movements were executed with appropriate gusto while the slower ones were affecting. The suite also contained a fine example of a Chaconne, a Schieferdecker favorite.

The program also contained an appropriate pairing of works by Jean Baptiste Lully, arguably the quintessential French composer and inventor of French opera, and his contemporary Michel-Richard Delalande, who succeeded him at the court of Louis XIV. The former was represented with a spirited performance of the Passacaille from his operatic masterpiece Armide; the latter by the impressive chaconne from the obviously Lullian Les fontains de Versailles.

Mélomanie was also impressive in its rendering of the Piece de Clavecin en Concert 5 in D minor by Jean-Philippe Rameau, one of the most important French composers and theorists of the Baroque. Their playing was agile, warm-blooded and expressive and they listened carefully to what the harpsichord was doing, which is of vital importance.

If ever there was a composition suited for Mélomanie, it would be Matthias Maute’s It’s Summertime: A Trilogy (1998). Maute not only pays tribute to George Gershwin, he demonstrates the recorder’s abilities to play all styles of music. The work is made up of three movements. The first — “Don’t you cry” — is a ballad that quotes Bach’s Sarabande (from Partita in A minor for solo flute). The second — “The livin’ is easy” — is a jazz-oriented ballad that features a type of hidden two-part writing found in Telemann’s fantasies for flute. The third — “It’s Summertime” — is basically an arrangement of Gershwin’s tune of the same name.

The ability to play different types of music demands a mastery of different techniques, and Rainer Beckmann sure has the goods. His intonation was impeccable and his technique, thrilling and infectious. He had the audience fully engaged. He was supported in his playing by Naomi Gray on the modern cello. That combination of the Baroque and the contemporary was absolutely stunning.

The program also included the World Premiere of Liduino Pitombeira’s The Sound of the Sea and a first performance of his Impressoes Quixeres. The latter featured Kimberly Reighley and Eve Friedman dueting on modern flutes. This piece imparts the composer’s view of the city in northern Brazil employing free atonality as well as 12-tone serialism. But in the hands of Reighley and Friedman, you stop thinking about tone rows and respond to the playfulness and ferocity of the music.

The entire ensemble presented the premiere of Pitombeira’s The Sound of the Sea. This three-movement work is inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem of the same name. The titles of the three movements — “First Wave,” “Solitudes of Being” and “Sea-tides” — take their names from moments in the poem. Longfellow’s poem gives the composer much to draw on as it is a poem about sound, about the rhythm of the sea and that rhythm is reflected in the musicality of the lines and the score. Just as the poem, the music was meant to mirror the sound of the sea in all its fury and tranquility, and Mélomanie did the composer’s intentions proud.

'Brilliant' debut of two Shakespearean operas in Delaware

Content of this post comes courtesy of an original review from WHYY Newsworks...

Photo courtesy of OperaDelaware.
Audiences who attended OperaDelaware's inaugural spring festival over the weekend became part of history as they took in the East Coast premiere of Franco Faccio's Hamlet and the Delaware professional premiere of Verdi's Falstaff.

The event marked the company's triumphant return to full-stage productions at Wilmington's Grand Opera House following a three-year absence.

Programming two Shakespearean operas is not only a tribute to the 400th anniversary of the Bard's legacy. It also explores the complex — and sometimes contentious — relationship between two composers, a librettist and their desire to raise Italian opera to a higher art form.

Verdi's last two operas "Otello" (1887) and "Falstaff" (1893) with librettos penned by Arrigo Boito were the closest he came to writing the kind of through-composed opera Wagner pioneered.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Amos Lee Brings Soulful Sound to Sold-Out Queen Show

By Guest Blogger, Jess Eisenbrey
Jess Eisenbrey is a former journalist turned public relations pro who regularly quotes Leslie Knope and has a slight obsession with Joe Biden. In her spare time, she can be found squeezing her way to the front row of general admission concerts at the Queen and sipping on the newest local craft beer or wine.

“Delaware! What’s the word, ya’ll?,” wailed Amos Lee as he opened his sold-out show at World Cafe Live at the Queen on May 16. Known for his folksy sound and soulful voice, Amos started the night with a favorite from his 2011 album Mission Bell called Windows Are Rolled Down, setting the tone for what would be a laid-back, intimate show. For more than two hours, he serenaded those in attendance with a mix of older songs and newer yet-to-be-released tracks.

A native of Philadelphia, Amos paid homage to his hometown and its proximity to Wilmington. The crowd cheered at Amos’ shout out to WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania public radio station headquartered at Philly’s World Café Live location, and went nearly silent during Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight as Amos quietly sang the line, “Sometimes we forget what we got, who we are, and who we are not.” 

Sprinkled in with some of his better known hits like Arms of a Woman and Sweet Pea, were newer songs the audience likely had never heard before (unless they happened to catch him in Atlantic City on May 14). The newer music, which Amos said is set to be released in August, is tinged with a bit more jazz and blues than his early albums featuring swoon-worthy love songs.

As the crowd started to thin out throughout the two-hour show, Amos made note of the fact that he was in fact playing “past everyone’s bedtime,” but he and his six-piece band continued. There were covers and mashups, including Juvenile’s Back That Azz Up mixed with his own Southern Girl, and lots of affection for the crowd as Amos chimed, “I’m in love with you all very much.” 

He made sure that the stars of the show were his bandmates, allowing each of them to have solo performances throughout the night. His saxophonist was incredible, and some of the best parts of the concert were the jam sessions between Amos and his band. It was evident that he had immense respect for the “ridiculous musicians” he said keep him in tune, at one point telling the crowd he was “very grateful for all of them” and jokingly renaming them all “Amos Lee and the Damn Good Band.” Amos also had a lot of love for his longtime friend and opening act Mutlu, a soul singer from Philadelphia who typically opens for Amos when he’s in Wilmington or other nearby cities. Monday just so happened to be Mutlu’s birthday, so Amos led the crowd in singing happy birthday to his friend. 

As the hour got later, it seemed Amos and the band were wrapping up their set with his hit Sweet Pea, but almost immediately after leaving the stage, he and the band came back out for an encore performance that included three additional songs. The grand finale of the concert was an audience singalong to Boyz II Men’s End of the Road, a fitting reminder that Amos Lee is a versatile performer who can pull off pretty much anything – even a classic R&B song from the 90s.