Friday, April 30, 2010

Mastersingers at First and Central Presbyterian Church

On Saturday, May 1, at 7:30, David Schelat and his Mastersingers will present I do wander everywhere: songs from England and France. They let me hear Thursday’s rehearsal.

The delicate appogiaturas played by organist Marvin Mills introduce a stately Festival Te Deum by Benjamin Britten. The imitative entrances build to a piu mosso ed energico, and the rhythms change wildly. Then a delicate soprano voice rises over a very light organ registration.

The Trois Chansons by Maurice Ravel introduce some jaunty wickedness – my favorite being the rondelay warning of the dangers of the Ormond Woods. The Mastersingers are able to communicate the ironies of Ravel’s lyrics with perfect understatement.

The Choral Hymns from the Rig-Veda by Gustav Holst are a rare treat. Holst wrote these between 1907 and 1918 – translating the Sanskrit himself. Anne Sullivan’s pristine harp playing is brilliantly matched to the vocal sound of this set for women’s voices.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Three Shakespeare Songs show off the fine bass voices and his harmonies are so complex – from the bells ringing in resonant chords with major and minor seconds to the harmonic progression sustaining the lyrics ‘sea change’, the Mastersingers prove their mettle.

O quam amabilis es by Pierre Villette begins with traditional polyphony then moves to jazz harmonies and ending on an unresolved major seventh. Two motets by Marcel Duruflé are more staid and contemplative, a quiet moment of delicate sound.

The concert ends with Benjamin Britten Rejoice in the Lamb, Opus 30. This piece reminds me so much of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols because of the nonsensical lyrics, wildly dancing rhythms and exciting accompaniment.

David Schelat has selected a wonderful program of pieces that are rarely heard. Don’t miss this concert.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Seasons: Beautiful and Baroque!

Brandywine Baroque always features some of the world’s top musicians. At their recent Four Seasons concert, the audience was graced with some of the finest fiddling and singing one can hear. A fellow singer friend commented several times how amazing it was to be in a beautifully renovated barn in the countryside enjoying a fabulous sold out concert. Following the concert were guided walks in the fragrant woods surrounding The Barn at Flintwoods.

The afternoon opened with George Frideric Handel’s cantata: Notte placida e cheta, sung by the lovely Laura Heimes. The piece explored the wide palette of love’s emotions through its poetry and sometimes flowery, ornamented phrases. Heimes’ pure easy tone and expressive phrasing brought this little of a piece to life. Her physical and emotional interaction with the instrumentalists was endearing and added an organic wholeness to the effect on stage.

On the 17th Century Spanish harpsichord was the group’s artistic director, Karen Flint. The instrument was discovered in a Salamancan convent, where bored nuns decorated the once plain pine instrument with a faux marble design. Flint has extensive knowledge and expertise in the Baroque repertoire, as she possesses an expansive solo repertoire and accompanies most of the works, which require continuo. Eileen Grycky handled Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for flute, Op. 10, No. 6, well, with its dauntingly challenging passages. She was beautifully supported by the ensemble.

Violinist Martin Davids is a master of the Baroque Style. In Vivaldi’s Concerto for Violin, each phrase was planned out carefully, each note executed precisely, and with perfect intonation. His love for the music poured out his instrument, and he led his ensemble gently and clearly.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is one of the best-loved and well-known classical concertos of all times. This time, I heard it in a way that gave me new insight. Soloist Cynthia Freivogel stunned the audience with her exciting tempos, use of rubato and light-hearted humor. We giggled at her “drunken” playing in the ubriachi dormienti (L’autunno, Adagio) as she kept nodding off. The ensemble’s earthy tone quality is so appropriate for Vivaldi’s love song to nature, for which he wrote both the poetry and music.

Be sure to get your tickets early for Brandywine Baroque’s upcoming Dumont Concerts May 28-30. The programs, a festival celebration of harpsichord music and performance, will feature works by Jacquet de La Giuerre, François Couperin, William Byrd, Frescobali and more. Davitt Moroney, Arthur Haas, Edward Parmentier and Karen Flint will perform.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mélomanie at Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church

By Chuck Holdeman, Guest Blogger

Chuck is a composer, a bassoonist, and a faculty member of the Music School of Delaware. He lives in Wilmington with a studio in Philadelphia. His website is

Sunday afternoon, April 18, witnessed a beautiful concert by Wilmington-based Mélomanie, the ensemble devoted to Baroque period instruments and to new music by regional composers. On this occasion, the group was presented by Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church, across the road from Winterthur, and the Hadley Memorial Fund, which provided free admission.

The illness of violinist Fran Berge necessitated a program change with the welcome addition of substitute fiddler, Christof Richter of Philadelphia. The ensemble drew from its repertoire, saving ‘til next season Mark Rimple’s Partita 622, which will also be included in the group’s recording project of five new works, all commissioned by Mélomanie.

J. P. Rameau’s first Pièce de Clavecin en Concert opened the program, with music written for the court of the King Louis, the one right before the French revolution. The music is mannered, precious, and charming, also with daring juxtapositions of texture and mood, quite unlike Rameau’s contemporaries. Featuring harpsichordist Tracy Richardson, the grouping was completed by flute, violin, and Donna Fournier’s viola da gamba.

Two solo pieces followed: Mark Hagerty’s Sea Level for solo flute, played by Kim Reighley on the luscious-sounding alto flute, and Bach’s G-major suite for ‘cello, performed with infectious musicality and individuality by Doug McNames. Hagerty’s work displays arresting harmony despite being for an instrument that can only play one note at a time, also referring indirectly to the evocative poetry of its historical antecedent, Syrinx by Debussy.

As Hagerty had, composer Ingrid Arauco introduced her piece, Florescence (blooming) for flute and harpsichord. She expressed gratitude for the multiple performances given by these players, such that each time the sounds merge, clarify, and increasingly express Arauco’s intentions. In three short movements, Florescence shows how an essentially atonal language can be gentle, colorful, and intimate.

The program concluded with Telemann’s Paris Quartet in e minor, played by all five musicians, more mannered music in the French style, though composed by one of the principal masters of the German Baroque. One movement was called “Distrait” (inattentive) in which the witty Telemann created disorienting syncopations. Despite the work’s lightness, he ends with a weighty and sophisticated chaconne.

It was gratifying to see a large and appreciative crowd, and a slightly different one from Mélomanie’s downtown series. May the sounds of this excellent ensemble find even more satisfied ears, in Delaware and beyond!

Coming up: harpsichordist Tracy Richardson and gambist Donna Fournier will present a program for the First & Central Noontime Concert series, Thursday, April 22, at 12:30 PM, 11th and Market Streets in Wilmington. I am especially pleased that their program will include the premiere of my composition, Six Preludes for solo harpsichord.


Songs from Afar go Straight to the Heart

The evening began with a beautifully sung prayer led by Cantor Mark Stanton, director of music at Beth Emeth. Last year, a large portion of the building was renovated, and we were seated in the new sanctuary, surrounded by mosaic and stained-glass windows.

Born in Casablanca, Morocco, Gerard Edery found himself in Great Neck, New York, by way of Paris. After singing over thirty leading operatic roles, Edery revisited the songs that resonated so deeply with him. He told me he had left his guitar untouched for many years. His guitar playing is fluid, with a stunning, versatile technique and clear tone. His ability to play a complicated passage while singing is notable.

His band, while staying within the structures of the songs, improvised skillfully. Performing with him were two fabulous musicians, Meg Okura (violin and erhu) and Sean Kupisz on a six-stringed bass. Edery promised to give the audience a trip around the world -- and he delivered -- with songs from Morocco, Ireland, France, Turkey, Spain, and other far-away places.

The Sephardic tradition is one that traveled to countries now known as Turkey, Morocco, Greece, and the Balkans as the Jews were cast out of Spain and Portugal in the 15th Century. Passed down over the years, these songs have taken on some of the qualities of their “final” destinations, but have held firmly to their origins.

Retaining themes of chivalry and poetic love from the Middle Ages, the music speaks loudly and clearly. Each song is like a precious time capsule. In the Moroccan song, Ojos Asesinos, he sings of lost love, “assassin eyes”, that he yearns to see again though friends tell him his wish is crazy. In Margot Labourez Les Vignes (Jacques Arcadelt, Flemmish, 16th Century), Margot curses men who call her ugly. Tres Hermanicas tells of a young woman, pregnant out of wedlock, who is banished by her father to a stone castle with no windows or doors. Though some selections were not Sephardic, they were rich with history and emotion.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Subs and heros

When you go to the Delaware Symphony, they do not list the extra musicians they hire for a performance. Last Saturday, I was delighted to see pianist Hiroko Yamazaki ready to play for the Kurt Weill Little Threepenny Music (Suite from the Threepenny Opera) – in other words, the jazzy suite which includes songs like Mac the Knife.

Most of the instruments had been cleared from the stage and Ms. Yamazaki ripped off ragtime/honkytonk sounds that blended seamlessly with the trombone, banjo, guitar and accordion. For a moment, it seemed we were in pre-war Berlin with Sally Bowles in a Kneipe enjoying a St. Pauli Girl in dim light.

But in the next piece, the pianist turned into an expert vibrationist, playing single sustained notes and holding the pedal so the plaintive string sounds in the Symphony of sorrowful songs by Henrik Mikolaj Gorecki could seek their reflected harmonics from the soundboard of the piano – a mysteriously rousing effect.

Whernever Ms. Yamazaki is playing – be it accompanying Twinkle twinkle, little star in a beginner’s Suzuki instrumental recital or zipping into a Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, she puts her heart into it.

She is a hero, not just a sub.

Music and gardens

This Thursday, April 22, the Brandywine Baroque ensemble will play in the Copeland Lecture Hall at Winterthur Gardens. The weather should be good for a visit to the gardens and you can finish out the beautiful afternoon by enjoying the amazing sounds of Delaware’s premiere Baroque ensemble. Karen Flint, harpsichord, Doug McNames, cello, Eileen Grycky, flute, Cynthia Freivogel and Martin Davids, violin, and Laura Heimes, soprano can easily take you back to the eighteenth century as you imagine the life at a large estate like this stately gem.

Could this be a revival of the partnership between music and public gardens? How wonderful it is to visit Lewes and hear an outdoor concert by the Delaware Symphony in July – with birds swooping overhead, two-year-olds frolicking and dancing to patriotic marches and marveling at the fireworks that end the evening. Or to enjoy the weekly lunchtime concerts hosted each May through July on the waterfront by the Riverfront Development Corporation of Wilmington.

Longwood has had a long history of musical performances – they have even had the Philadelphia Orchestra twice and they host a Wine and Jazz Fest in the summer and have myriad concerts throughout the year.

Longtime Delaware Symphony Orchestra members recall many chamber concerts in the lecture hall at Winterthur – some followed by formal teas in the cafeteria. Pam Nelson, violist, and Chuck Holdeman, bassoonist told me the symphony used to play at the Arts and Crafts Festivals, at Rockwood, and at the County Pride Festival in Rockford Park. There had been a long-standing date for the DSO to end the summer with a rousing performance of the 1812 Overture complete with cannons shot from the grounds of Winterthur. What fun and what a wonderful opportunity to introduce young people to the joys of classical music!

Long may the union of classical music and gardens last! For details on Brandywine Baroque’s upcoming performance, visit Winterthur’s website or call 800.448.3883.



Passionate Poets

The National Poetry Month Celebration at the Delaware Art Museum was nothing short of passionate. With readings by four 2010 poetry fellows, including Delaware’s Poet Laureate, a recitation by the 2010 Poetry Out Loud Winner and an exciting open mic, the event was a wonderful opportunity for poets and audience alike. Gail O’Donnell, Director of External Affairs and Special Events (and poet!) reminded us of the Pre-Raphaelites love of poetry.

JoAnn Balingit, Poet Laureate of Delaware, led the event, featuring her poem, C.O.L.B.E.R.T., a witty piece inspired by Colbert’s Space Treadmill. Her weekly column in the News Journal touches on many aspects of poetry, from its healing powers to its childlike qualities.

Alex Cummiskey, winner of the 2010 Poetry Out Loud recited works by Sandburg, Swift and Noyes. His use of dynamics, tempo and facial expression brought life to the words. I rarely wish for young people to pursue an acting career, but I found myself hoping this teen will find his way into a Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde play, so blatant is his talent.

L.J. Sysko’s clever, moving words included Sculpture Garden, a poem inspired by the museum’s very own Crying Giant, by Tom Otterness. Her piece, Ode to Boxtox, is riotously funny: she writes, “Grant me medically assisted paralysis.” Memories from a childhood growing up in Ethiopia and Kenya are a poet’s palate for Abby Millager. Her vision of the wild landscape serves as her muse for Rainless Season, I covet.

Liz Dolan, read her colorful prose, including The New Yorker Glamorizes the Subway and the Holy Grail. Holy Grail gives us a glimpse into her daily experience at White Castle, waiting forever for her first coffee of the day. A retired schoolteacher, Dolan only began writing 7 years ago. She noted, “It’s never too late to start all over again.”

Notable during the open mic were Helen Griffith and Jasmine Lopez. Griffith read a wildly funny poem born from a falling feather. She debated its origins, its destination and her potential arrest resulting from stealing it off the ground. Lopez, a 16-year-old Cab Calloway student, brought down the house with her riveting performance. Hers were words of sorrow and survival, an unabashed glimpse into life with an abusive stepfather.

To paraphrase Balingit: Poetry manages to collect and form language that tells us something about ourselves. It is possible to dislike it and like it at the same time. I loved this fun afternoon and hope for many more such events.


Snowfall Affords Us Sweet Notes in the Spring

We were lucky Westminster Presbyterian Church held its “Greatest Hits” concert a second time so that Wilmingtonians trapped indoors by the winter’s crippling snowfall could get another chance to hear some fabulous singing.

The excellent acoustics of the church caressed the lovely tones of these very experienced singers. The program was a mix of favorite Broadway songs, operatic areas and ensembles. On the organ and piano, Music Director Paul Fleckenstein was flawless accompanying the singers in this repertoire, quite different from standard “church music”. The large choir was dynamic and enthusiastic, enjoying every moment on and off the stage. I sat next to a chorister who whispered excitedly to me of the soloists, “We get to sing with them EVERY Sunday!”

Justin Gonzalzez’s Italianate tenor served La Donna è Mobile (Rigoletto) perfectly. The crowd -- many of them congregants and choristers -- loved his showmanship and bravado. With his full, clear baritone, Brian Carter did an excellent job with his rendition of Si può from I Pagliacci. Mezzo-soprano Ruth Bailis handled Tchaikovsky’s Podrugi milyye from Pique Dame beautifully, and was touching in Evening Prayer from Hansel and Gretel. Soprano Barbara Winchester as the Sandman made an adorable, pixie-like appearance in the scene and sang her part sweetly.

As always, I was bowled over by Diana Milburn. Her pianissimos are so elegant, her presentation so moving. Hers is a sound that harkens to a bygone era of true Bel Canto singing. In Donde Lieta Usci from Puccini’s La Bohème, her deep understanding of Mimi’s character was evident, and her command of the style was impeccable.

Wilmington needs more opera! Kudos to the singers, directors and organizations who make it happen. Check out Westminster’s website for more concert information.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Art & Community at the April Loop

I always find adventure on the Art Loop, not only in art, but also in community---this one was no different. To start the night, hubby and I enjoyed drinks at the newest Market Street hotspot, Chelsea Tavern. Both bar and tables were filled, a festive atmosphere echoing the space. We ran into Gary Cardi, Partner at Public House, enjoying mussels with friends at the bar and DSO Directory of Community Engagement, Mark Mobley who chatted about the DSO’s new CD (#14 on the classical charts) and the upcoming “Life, Death & Mack the Knife” performance on April 16 & 17.

Post drinks, we headed to Red Mohawk Gallery, where it seemed the entire Art Loop had congregated. Twenty-somethings alongside retirees, veteran artists and students enlivened the room, fueled by the mixed-media pop art works of Brad Turner (and perhaps red wine and Pabst Blue Ribbon). His three-eyed “Casper” and “Dutch Boy” pieces are jocular and graffiti-like. I admired a rustic-looking acrylic on board that advised you to “Question Everything”. People sightings: Delaware Art Museum Development Director Susan Zellner and a pal, and newlyweds artist Nicole Royer and photographer/musician Christian Kaye. Before we left, we said hello to Red Mohawk himself, Geoff Blake, who is looking forward to participating in the Fringe Wilmington Festival this fall.

Just around the corner, Poppycock Tattoo was buzzing---literally. As we walked in, a young guy relaxed in the chair, getting “inked” with an audience watching. The artwork---contorted, mask-like acrylics of Jeff Madonna and quirky, folk art-inspired pen and inks of Joe Breitenbach---jumped from the walls like giant tattoo samples. My hubby particularly liked Maddona’s piece “Gold Mask”; I enjoyed Breitenbach’s PA-Dutch-meets-New-Age-mystic, color-packed work.

Throughout the night, Loopers were treated to members of Delaware Valley Chorale, adorned in apple wreath headdresses and witty signs, roaming in and out of galleries promoting their upcoming concert, Haydn’s The Creation, on May 16. As we walked back to our car, I was thrilled to see the streets still alive with people, most I am sure headed to the re:FRESH afterparty at the DCCA. Hooray for spring activity in downtown Wilmo!


“Treasures of World Song” for a Treasure of an Organ

On Saturday, April 17, at 7:30 pm singer, composer, guitarist and saz player Gerard Edery brings his ensemble to Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington for an evening of Sephardic Music. Originally from Casablanca, Morocco, the New York-based musician is a master and scholar of Judeo-Spanish songs. Rich in musical influence, the songs are born of an oral tradition from the Balkans, North Africa and Greece.

A trained operatic bass baritone, Edery sings with a rich, warm tone. He accompanies himself with the guitar and the saz---a wonderful lute-like Turkish instrument. Edery’s band also includes Meg Okura on violin and erhu and Sean Kupisz on bass. In addition to Judeo-Spanish music, the trio will perform folk and popular songs from France, Ireland and South America. The concert is a benefit for Beth Emeth’s new organ.

For tickets and information: 302-764-2393 or

To hear Edery’s music:

Two Cultures: Many Perspectives

Always during the Wilmington Art Loop something really catches my eye. This time it was Tanya Murphy Dodd’s mixed media artwork entitled Shadows of a Journey and a presentation of photography Socialism of the 21st Century by Gabriel Pilonieta and his son Esteban Martin Pilonieta Vera. Both exhibits used photography to tell the story of a people.

The muted tones of Tanya Murphy Dodd’s scenes added to their warmth and historical flavor. The artist told us she used family photographs, antique photographs as well as her own. The photographs of soldiers, farm sites, churches and other powerful icons in African-American life are worked into her art and help create images that are rich in story. Dodd often paints into, around and over the photographs, which she uses as a starting point. Be sure to visit the Christina Cultural Arts Center to see this fabulous, unique work. (See image, top.)


The Market Street Brew Ha Ha seemed the perfect location for the photography of the father and son team, Gabriel Pilonieta, editor of El Tiempo Hispano, and Esteban Martin Pilonieta Vera (EMPV) senior in the BFA program at the University of Delaware. Though I found myself wishing these photographs had been mounted or framed, the tacks holding them in place on the cramped wall seemed apropos. Immigrants from Venezuela, the men, now both living in Delaware, returned to their homeland and took bold, sorrowful pictures of the people and streets of the villages. Often, the photos included images or posters of socialist propaganda juxtaposed with blatant visions of extreme poverty. The wonderful detail of humanity and the vibrant countryside tell the story of a tough struggling people. (See image.)


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hunter Clarke, Mark V Turner & Michael Kalmbach in the April Loop

Walking up the steps of the Mezzanine Gallery of the city’s Carvel Building, I was greeted by a small girl pushing her head through a gap in the railing and calling, “I can see you, Mommy!” I could not see who greeted her, but it was Hunter Clarke, the artist whose exhibit Aerial was opening in the Mezzanine Gallery. She had created a work especially for the small space with high ceilings: strips of vellum painted with bright acrylic silhouettes of predatory birds and what I thought were wolves, but Clarke, who seems to be an animal buff, said, “Actually, they are African dogs.” The piece is entitled Into the woods, 2010 and I hope it gets a new home after this exhibit ends on April 30. Pictured above top is an enlarged version of one of the many very small paintings Clarke grouped in nines. Clarke used bright colors to feature many animals in this exhibit – some acting on their natural predatory instincts, some enduring their fate, and some facing the viewer with a steely stare.

Was delighted by Mark V Turner’s exhibit of acrylic on paneling at the Wilmington Institute. Turner is a member of Delaware by Hand. (See 1/24/10 blog). Visiting artists tried to figure out how he achieved the tactile feel of layers and three dimensional illusion with acrylics. Turner’s vivid portrayals of doors in New Orleans have purples and other outrageous colors which blend into a realistic imagery.

Spectrum: contemporary color abstraction (open until August 1) left me with more questions than answers. I read that curation of this exhibit was started by Carina Evangelista (who is no longer at DCCA). Some local artists were included and others were selected in another way….open competition? Well worth seeing, in particular, Michael Kalmbach’s work on outdoor carpet wrapped in clear plastic and decorated with an abstract of acrylic and chains of dots. Second picture.


Friday, April 2, 2010

A Lively Talk at The Mohawk

On a recent sunny afternoon, I headed down 9th Street to pay a long-overdue visit to the infamous Geoff Blake, otherwise known around town as the statement-making "Red Mohawk". True, he is that, but so much more. My hour-plus visit to his corner gallery, with sounds of early 90s Depeche Mode setting the mood, found us settling into an informal rap session with several of Wilmo's "Who's Whos" and characters alike. It was a blast. Example: As I arrived, an attractive young woman exited, having just finished a photo shoot of sensuous "pinup" shots. ("Does this happen everyday?" I asked.)

Mohawk's a 2005 UD grad in Photography with strong local ties. With Red Mohawk Gallery, he has created an amazing buzz around town, hosting monthly exhibits and events, providing opportunities for artist hangouts and generally serving as one very cool -- and identifiable -- champion of downtown's revitalization efforts. He worked nearly two years as the right-hand man for rock photographer/personality extraordinaire, Mark Weiss, a position which stemmed from a serendipitous visit to Weiss' studio with his musician friends.

In addition to his own work, his gallery currently features pieces by six Delaware College of Art & Design students. He describes his own work as "low-brow pop surrealism with a gritty tone". I describe it as art that will make you do a double-take; you may laugh wildly, you may cringe, you may be puzzled, but you'll take notice.

Blake welcomes emerging and established artists to drop in and show him what they've got. He wants to cultivate partnerships with local photographers to shoot and print at Red Mohawk, and he has a space below the gallery that he'd like to make available as a workspace for other artists. He wants his gallery to be a " where good stuff comes out of." Blake notes, "That is kind of the feel for the entire street...we want to create a 'diagonal of cool' here."

As we talked, we were joined by Wes Garnett, Jr. and Steve Roettger -- the guys behind the CoIN Loft -- who agreed with Blake's sentiments. "Your city is defined by your culutre," noted Garnett. "We're trying to create a '3rd Place' here, a neutral spot that is home to the entire community." In my opinion, they're all well on their way. Copper, a restaurant and catering business tied to the already launched CoIN Loft, will open in mid-July. To their description, the focus will be "the people, the libations and the menu". They're all about the partnerships and expanding the buzz, too. "Red Mohawk is all about showing the stuff that young people are into and pricing it so that all people can buy," Garnett said.

Joining us shortly into the conversation was, as Blake referred to him, "the Messiah of 9th Street" Chris Winburn of Preservation Initiatives. Winburn envisions 9th Street as the center for designers, fashion and the like. He heralds the foresight and leadership of Red Mohawk and The CoIN Loft, and hopes their efforts will spur the energy forward.

Finally, just to keep it interesting, we were interrupted by an array of salespeople and a "questionable" female artist. Blake laughs and says that he's also visited by Wayne, a homeless sage who advises him to be wary of Socialists carrying venereal diseases.

As I left, I felt so jazzed about the potential for this end of town led by "Red Mohawk" and his counterparts. Come down to 9th and spend some time...maybe buy some art and enjoy some suds or vino while you're there.