Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rabbit Hole at the Chapel Street Players

(Photo of Kate Brennan and Jason Fawcett by David Sokolowski)

What incredible risks Anthony Bosco took for the new Chapel Street Players production of Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire! First of all, the cast were almost all new to CSP. Secondly, he was taking on a play which the playwright himself had just adapted for a movie with Nicole Kidman. And thirdly, he is the father of two small children taking on a play about how a couple deals with the death of their child.

But on opening night on February 25, his willingness to take risks paid off. Kate Brennan as Becca and Jessica Rowland-Eppler as her sister Izzie had the audience so involved one lady couldn’t resist mumbling in response to their rants. And when it became clear that the clothing that Becca was folding so carefully had belonged to her four-year-old son who had died months earlier– it was hard to decide whether to laugh or cry.

Howie, Becca’s husband, played by Jason Fawcett, seems to be cool, collected and ready to kiss his wife back to normal. But even he has a limit to his patience. It is easy to empathize with him until Izzie raises suspicions about just how he might be coping.

Performances by Marlene Hummel, who plays Becca’s unrestrained mother, and Neil Redfield, who plays the hapless youth Jason, are catalytic. They force Howie and Becca to break their controlled postures and vent their grief.

The play presents each character against contrasting personalities. Becca’s neurotic quelling of her grief is highlighted by her exchanges with her carefree and shockingly direct sister Izzie -- Howie’s calm control is upset gradually by his warm but outspoken mother-in-law and all four of them react intensely to Jason’s apologetic entry into their lives.

In spite of all the grief and ranting, the play ends with a note of hope. The actors were so good that it is hard to resist the urge to call and see how they are doing. Performances are 8:00 p.m. on February 25, 26, March 4, 5, 11, 12. Matinee 2:00 p.m. March 6 and 12.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Tendrils ascend with Mélomanie

Peter Flint gave center stage to each of the instruments of Mélomanie in his piece, Ascending Tendrils, which premiered on February 19. The piece begins with a call for spring on modern flute (Kimberly Reighley) – haunting and inviting at the same time. The gamba (Donna Fournier) responds calling to mind a bullfrog and when the cello (Douglas McNames) joins in and the violin (Linda Kistler) makes a grasshopper’s entrance with the harpsichord (Tracy Richardson) buzzing like a swarm of insects – the pandemonium of spring and growth continues until…pause…unstructured measures tell the audience not to predict how growth works. The listener waits for the next cue - the flute tweets hesitantly, then more insistently-- the fledgling trying to fly. The piece builds up to a dancing, running pace and ends with a jaunty halt. Flint has inventiveness and can change style completely. The last work he premiered in Delaware (in November 2009) was Double-speaking for guitar and flute, had a gypsy, Vallanato style. And, now that he has covered birds with his Avian Orchestra, he has moved on to insects. Shall we call his new music group the Etymological Orchestra from now on?

Ascending Tendrils was preceded by Kimberly Reighley’s performance of the Bach Suite in A Minor for Solo Flute (BWV 1013). Reighley is so deft at the baroque flute (and what a treat to have that in our area) that she commands the flute through arpeggiated passages with no hesitation – running the gamut of tone color in the baroque flute – with soft but sonorous low notes and whisper-gentle higher notes in fast succession – resounding in the fairly live church acoustics.

The two Telemann quartets were played almost contemplatively – with the gentlest of tempi and extremely graceful ornamentation. The musicians have changed places, putting flute and violin on the audience’s right and cello and gamba on the left. The balance is good both ways.

Mélomanie treated us to an unusually romantic item in the Duo for violin and cello by Bohuslav Martinù. Linda Kistler and Douglas McNames pulled no punches on either tempo or expressiveness and the acoustics made the lush romantic prelude reverberate richly while the rhapsodic rondo seemed like a raucous round of dueling fiddles.



The Emperor’s new photographs

Had you found the photographs currently on exhibit at the Old College Gallery in a shoebox at your house, you may have tossed them out.

But if you noticed the photos were of Farah Diba, Empress Consort of Iran and Marella Agnelli, you might have kept a few after all. And then you would have puzzled about those faces you did not recognize.

Curator Stephen Petersen spent three entire days examining contact sheets to identify some of the people in the Warhol photographs given to the University of Delaware by the Warhol Legacy Program (run by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts). His dedication paid off – he identified 40 out of 50 famous (and not-so) visages after his exhausting hours of staring at contact sheets. (I did, however, recognize Christopher O’Riley – a past a soloist with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra.)

Mr. Petersen was ebullient in his gallery talk at Old College on February 17. His knowledge of Warhol and the collection imbued his note-free speech with zest, and his background in photography made him perfect for the job. He has an MFA in photography, but his attention for detail meant that he had researched every aspect of each camera – down to details like the use of the “magic cube” flash bulb, the mention of which had some members of the audience nodding as they remembered using them. His excitement was contagious and made the visit to the gallery a much deeper experience.

Mr. Petersen displayed cameras exactly like the ones Warhol had used for his photographs and he talked to the crowd about how the cameras were innovative at the time -- intended to be the perfect family portrait machine. He spoke about the irony of using a twenty-dollar Polaroid Bigshot to prepare portraits of the glitterati and nobility willing to pay him a $25,000 commission for his work. He also spoke of Warhol’s life and work: Warhol reveled in the underground of the New York art world until he was shot and seriously wounded. He then tried to slow down and live life a bit (but not too much) more staidly.

Petersen arranged the photographs in chronological order so that you can see the polaroids and move on to the black and white gelatin silver prints which have more experimentation and spark to them. You also see models of the ‘point and shoot’ cameras which Warhol used: a Minox with synchronized flash, a Chinon autofocus and an Olympus QuickFlash.

Thanks to Stephen Petersen, the Old College Gallery exhibit will give you an insight into the private Andy Warhol – so different from the one we conjure up when contemplating Brillo boxes, Campbell’s soup cans and blocky silkscreen images of Marilyn Monroe.

Friday, February 18, 2011

See "God of Love" at Theatre N Saturday!

Did you miss the Oscar-nominated "God of Love" by Delaware-bred Luke Matheny at the Film Brothers' Festival of Shorts last October? Here's your last chance before the Academy Awards to see it on the big screen! Theatre N will show all of the Short Film (Live Action) 2011 Oscar nominees tonight (Friday, February 18) at 8:00 PM, tomorrow (Saturday, February 19) at 5:00 PM and Sunday (February 20) at noon.

In addition to "God of Love," you'll see the other nominated films: "The Confession" by Tanel Toom (UK), "The Crush" by Michael Creaugh (Ireland), "Na Wewe" by Ivan Goldschmidt (Belgium) and "Wish 143" by Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite (UK).

Tickets are $7, or $5 for the Sunday Matinee.

For information on purchasing "God of Love" on DVD, click here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Serafin String Quartet: Grace and Passion

Dissonance has become a relative concept in classical music-with the works of composers such as Schönberg and Schnittke changing the landscape and pushing the audience’s ear to accept challenging, sometimes harsh “chords” or clusters. The opening notes of W.A. Mozart’s String Quartet in C Major, K. 465 create a dissonance that might have been challenging in that same way to listeners in the eighteenth century. But to our modern ears, the quartet is elegant, at times passionate, yet well within our aural “vocabulary”. The Serafin String Quartet opened their concert-part of the Calvary Community Series-with this lovely piece. The quartet members are Kate Ransom and Timothy Schwarz, violins, Ana Tsinadze, viola and Lawrence Stomberg, ‘cello. (During her maternity leave, Ms. Tsinadze is replaced by Luke Fleming of the Attacca Quartet.)

Grant Youngblood sang Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach (written for voice and string quartet). His warm, even tone and excellent diction beautifully conveyed the music and the text. The poem, by Matthew Arnold, was brought to life by the quartet, whose music ebbs, flows and crashes like waves on the beach. Though the poem is English, we mustn’t forget Barber grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania and was one of the first graduates of the Curtis Institute of Music. How fortunate were we to be able to hear Mr. Youngblood in one of his rare local performances!

The Quartet played Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13. with gusto. Mendelssohn wastes no time, diving immediately into the brooding angst of the piece. The second movement is reflective and calmer than the first. It almost seems an explanation of the raw emotions that have been exposed. In the third movement, the gypsy-like motive lends some lightness to the quartet, but by the fourth movement, the original theme returns. After several deceptive cadences, Mendelssohn builds the tension until the very end. I was astounded to learn Mendelssohn had only been seventeen when he composed this quartet. He was in good, youthful company with the other composers featured in this wonderful concert: Barber was thirty-one when he composed Dover Beach and Mozart was twenty-nine when he completed his quartet in C major, K 465. Be sure to hear the Serafin String Quartet’s next performance on March 10 at 12:30 pm at First & Central Presbyterian Church in Wilmington!

For more information about the Calvary Community Series:

For more information about the Serafin String Quartet:

Monday, February 14, 2011

David Kim and Marian Lee play Brahms

Artistic director Xiang Gao has not only put Delaware on the map with his own violin performances, but he has brought great musicians to the UD campus. The Master Players Concert Series and the Delaware Korean American Association sponsored the February 13 piano and violin recital by David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Marian Lee, faculty pianist at the University of Delaware and former Julliard classmate of Mr. Kim.

The two musicians are both so good that not only were they able to play the second movement of the F.A.E. Sonata Scherzo (Brahms’ contribution to a multi-composer work written as a tribute to the violinist Joseph Joachim), but they were also able to master the dynamic levels so that each phrase blossomed like a firecracker fountain then yielded to the next phrase so that it was truly a performance of two equal partners – just as Brahms would have wanted.

Dr. Lee gave a pristine performance of the Intermezzo Opus 118, No. 2 in A Major. She brought out the intricate balance of the middle voice and delicately wound the upper melody around it without crowding either line. Her clean playing made the effect of the piece dramatic in its purity.

The two violin sonatas which followed each had that magic that is made up of so many little details that master musicians can pull off without schmaltz or excess. In the Sonata in A Major, Opus 100, there were almost imperceptible hesitations before the most dramatic notes which were so smoothly coordinated that this just had to come from feeling the music rather than a learned gesture.

And the performance of the Sonata in D Minor, Opus 108 showed again how easily the balance of sound was achieved so that even with the busiest parts and an open lid on a grand piano, the piano never hid the violin, even when Mr. Kim played in the very lowest range of the violin. His tone is consistently smooth and beautiful and he found a very good collaborator in Marian Lee.



Saturday, February 12, 2011

Can newspaper photography be art?

A resounding yes if Fred Comegys is holding the camera! Although he protests that he has never thought of it as art, Mr. Comegys’ photographs reveal that he is always looking for the different angle, the grittiness, the photographic statement.

And brava to Executive Director Danielle Rice for deciding to keep to her ‘let’s get local’ theme. The crowd at the opening of the exhibit was very large and many of them were young people who had never been to the Delaware Art Museum before. They filed politely through the very small gallery where curator Heather Coyle Campbell had hung what she had feared would be a very small number of photographs – but finally on Monday, February 4, she received the last of 65 pictures from Mr. Comegys.

At the opening Comegys noted that photojournalists go from one appointment to the next – Wilmington in the morning, Middletown at noon and then some. The mission is speed. The mission is to report. And, as he pointed out with some contrition, the mission is often to catch people when they are not at their best.

Mr. Comegys’ work can even catch people at their worst. His photo of The Rolling Stones at a concert gives Jagger a mean and threatening look – and his several photos of Ku Klux Klan meetings put the spotlight on individual Klansmen with disturbing clarity – one of which is labeled Rev. Dorsett preaching at a Ku Klux Klan Rally, Bear, Delaware, 1965. This is a disturbing photograph.

Yet Comegys can also paint people at their best. Ted Kennedy standing among the nuns and teachers of St. Mark’s High School looks like an angel come to earth. Did you mean that, Fred, or did it just happen?


Photos: Top, left to right: 1. U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy at St. Mark's High School, Wilmington, 1972. 2. Spiderman in the net, St. Georges Bridge, St. Georges, DE October 1971.
3. Sister Mary Francis tosses a football during recreation period, The Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, Wilmington, Delaware May 1984. Bottom right: Port Deposit, Maryland Flood, June 26, 1972.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Longwood Organ Dedication

Normally we don’t blog non-Delaware events, but since this was a DuPont event just up the road from the Delaware border, it would seem churlish not to write about one of the most affable and accomplished musicians around: Peter Richard Conte, Grand Court Organist for the Wanamaker organ in Philadelphia who played the re-dedication concert on the restored Aeolian symphonic organ before a sold-out crowd including Maestro David Amado, Nathan Hayward and Governor Pete Dupont. (Tickets sold out the day they went on sale in September 2010.)

Staff at Longwood tell me that in the weeks before the concert, Mr. Conte would come to practice after the restoration team had put away their drills late at night and stay for hours – and then would sneak in at the crack of dawn to play some more before the restorers arrived to work on the project, handing the banished musician coffee as a consolation.

But not only did Peter Richard Conte play an incredibly difficult program on Friday, February 4, having carefully prepared exploited as many of the stops and whistles as possible, but he wrote a brief erudite yet humorous introduction for every piece. He had known Firmin Swinnen, the first concert organist in residence who helped design the Aelion symphonic organ. Mr. Conte played some of his works – and made sure a computerized of an actual performance by Mr. Swinnen was featured.

The highlight of the Friday night concert was Mr. Conte’s performance of an incredibly demanding piece composed by Marcel Dupré, who had actually performed it at Longwood. Mr. Conte’s performance of Variations sur un Noël, opus 20, pour grande orgue and his registration of the piece gave it the texture and variety that it deserved.

But I salute Mr. Conte not just for his mastery of music, but for his outstanding affability. He stayed after the concert, was easily approachable and friendly to all – young and old, allowing them to enjoy the experience of knowing a true artist.

He returned in the morning for a more technical demonstration of the organ and answered all questions from young and old with eagerness, humor and respect.

Bravo, Mr. Conte and kudos to Paul Redman for taking the initiative to invest in restoring Longwood to its former elegance.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Post-Show "YO!" for Five Guys Named Moe

OK, so I'm writing this after the show has closed.  I just wanted to give props to the Wilmington Drama League production that lifted my spirits on a dreary February night and kept my Arts weekend rolling.

With a near-capacity, enthusiastic and diverse house, Five Guys Named Moe gave us quite a show.  And though the storyline was a bit thin---essentially, the "Moes" magically appear to give love and life lessons to lead-character Nomax through song---it didn't matter.  The music kept you rapt.  The play featured the greatest hits of "King of the Jukebox", jazz & blues great Louis Jordan.

Tommy Fisher, in his directorial debut, put together a talented ensemble that kept the audience engaged throughout their performance.  My favorite "Moe" was Little Moe, played by Alvin A. Hall, Jr.  He was equally full of energy and voice, jumping around the stage with verve, especially during his numbers, "I Like 'Em Fat Like That" and "Saturday Night Fish Fry".  A close second were No Moe and Big Moe---played by Jerry Mumford and Andre Dion Wills, respectively---whose performances of "Messy Bessy" and "Caldonia" totally resonated with the crowd.  Mumford's and Wills' rich voices and presences were both lively and fun.

The true highlights, however, were when all five "Moe's" came together for numbers like "Safe, Sane & Single" and "Push Ka Pi Shi Pie".  Their harmonies and on-stage interactions were the strength of the show, and they played the crowd well: Act I ended in a rousing conga-line of audience members.

The show ended with a Standing Ovation from the audience, and the energy traveled into the lobby, where actors and audience mingled.  Five Guys Named Moe provided the perfect remedy for the mid-winter blues, and delivered a production that was a wonderful celebration of diversity in the Arts.

The Drama League's next performance is The Elephant Man, running March 18 through April 2.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Warming up at February Art Loop

I’ll admit the last thing I wanted to do after a long week behind the keyboard (both the musical and non-musical kind) was go to out in the cold. But my winter doldrums vanished instantly as I stepped into the Wilmington Art Loop.

The Delaware College of Art and Design’s 14th annual show features the students’ work. Walking around the gallery, one gains a sense of the enormous variety and scope of the students’ assignments. I was instantly drawn to the masks created in Pahl Hluchan’s Four Dimensional Design class (pictured). Among the exhibits were drawings and mock-ups for an Interior Design class, sample covers for the New Yorker magazine for a Media class and fabulous sculptures created from wood and marble for a Three Dimensional Design class. For more information about the school, go to

My next stop was the CD release party for Mélomanie’s florescence and composer Mark Hagerty’s Soliloquy at the Shipley Lofts. It was a treat to have the opportunity to chat with the composers and musicians involved with the CDs. Mélomanie’s CD features local composers Ingrid Arauco, Christopher Braddock, Mark Hagerty, Chuck Holdeman and Mark Rimple. (All are Delaware-based, except Rimple, who is based in West Chester, PA.) For more information about Mélomanie, or to purchase their CD, go to For more information about Mark Hagerty, go to

On my way out, I stopped to admire the work of Kevin Bielicki, whose paintings and sculpture graced the gallery space at Shipley Lofts. His work Mangrove (pictured) is a startling sculpture, created from a long, twisted driftwood-looking root, with a dried, hardened bonsai, woven into the structure. Bielicki’s works-bold and larger than life-are inspired by nature. For more information about Kevin Bielicki, go to

At the New Wilmington Art Association’s opening, I spoke to artist Kenny Delio. His is one of the most whimsical, clever works of art I have seen. When I asked him what this moving creation was called, he answered, “I don’t know. Dipper?” (Click on link to see video.) A large corner of the gallery’s walls was covered in cups of Plasticine. Small clay shapes suspended by wire and tied with lead fishing weights were being dipped repeatedly in these cups. Of course, the audience has a part in the show: one has to step on a pedal to bring the whole thing in action. Delio’s next step is to fire the objects to finish them. His wacky idea grew out of his fascination with the concept of process, and his desire to cut down on some of pottery’s drudge-work. For more information about Kenny Delio, go to