Monday, March 31, 2014

Local Writers Works' Featured in "Wicked" New Anthology

Avaricious, cruel, depraved, envious, mean-spirited, vengeful—the wicked have been with us since the beginnings of humankind. You might recognize them and you might not. But make no mistake. When someone wicked crosses your path, your life will never be the same. Do you know someone wicked? You will.

This is the introduction to the Written Remains Writers Guild's new book, entitled Someone Wicked: A Written Remains Anthology.  The 21 stories in this work, released by Smart Rhino Publications, were written by members of the Guild and their friends and were edited by JM Reinbold and Weldon Burge. 

Initial reviews have been quite positive:
[From Barnes & Noble...]
"In one word: AWESOME! Smart Rhino Publications has done it again with a wonderful collection of stories, all on the theme of wickedness. Suspense, mystery, thrills ... all here!” 

“There is a lot to love about this book. First off, the cover really grabbed my attention and that is saying something. So many books are being released these days with book covers that make you laugh or wince, but this one is great. Luckily the best part of it isn't just the cover. The stories in here are rich and diverse. There really is something for almost anyone..."   

[From Goodreads...]
“I've just finished this delightfully twisted anthology. This is my first exposure to the Written Remains Writers Guild, but certainly will not be my last. The stories in this collection all revolve around the theme of characters that commit wicked acts of some sort..."
The Written Remains Writers Guild was founded in 2009 by a group of Delaware writers who believe that greater literary excellence and career success can be best achieved by working together, sharing knowledge, skills, and resources. The Guild supports groups and events such as the Writers' Breakfast, Delaware Writer's Network, Open Mic Night at Newark Arts Alliance, and several workshops and classes for authors at all skill levels.

The paperback and Kindle versions are currently available on Amazon.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The British Arrived for a World Premiere with WCO

By Guest Blogger, Chuck Holdeman
Chuck is a regional composer of lyrical, contemporary classical music, including opera, orchestral music, songs, chamber music, music for film, and music for educational purposes.

On Sunday afternoon, March 23, the Wilmington Community Orchestra presented its The British Are Coming program at The Music School of Delaware in Wilmington. Its big splash was a World Premiere — a fairly rare experience for an amateur orchestra, the kind that plays for the love of it.  But indeed the composer is a professional: Dr. David Osbon, who had come from London to conduct his new work, a violin concerto written for local virtuoso Timothy Schwarz, also the orchestra's regular conductor.  Schwarz conducted the program's second half, which comprised most of the great British composer Sir Edward Elgar's masterpiece, The Enigma Variations.  Three variations were removed because of the enormous demands on rehearsal time to prepare the difficult violin concerto.

While the purpose of this blog is primarily to boost awareness of the rich artistic life of our community through reporting, there is also a side function — that of arts critic. This function is a traditional part of writing about the arts: Readers generally expect writers to offer an answer to, 'Well, how good was it?'  And that puts me in a tight spot because, in a word (six actually), I didn't like the new concerto.  At the same time, I am glad to report that many people did — many in the audience rose to their feet in appreciation, and there were many boisterous bravos!

Composer Osbon gave an extended, often humorous speech, along with conducting numerous excerpted examples of the music, to introduce his ambitious new work. He frequently used the descriptive word 'aggressive,' and indeed there was a lot of loud, high energy music. Even when calmer moments appeared, the composer seemed eager to return to the aggressive as soon as possible.  And the work was not a violin concerto in the usual sense, but rather an orchestral piece with many notes for the solo violin to play (some people say this about Stravinsky's violin concerto).  An exception was the virtuosic cadenza (violin alone) which featured swooping glissandi on one violin string while others sounded a gossamer background — an arresting novel effect. Still, the large quantity of fairly relentless rhythmic and tonal aggression in what is primarily a gestural compositional style was just not my cup of tea. (Perhaps I should also admit that I am not a fan of action movies.)  And I was reminded that I had a very similar reaction to a Philadelphia premiere, that of John Adams' City Noir with conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic.  So, at least Osbon and the WCO are in good company, in terms of music I did not like!

I must credit Schwarz's skill and determination in the demanding solo part, and also credit the young percussion section, imported from the University of Delaware. The extensive and vigorous percussion writing had a unifying effect on the entire proceeding.

After intermission, The Enigma Variations were easier on the ears. The score is complicated, difficult in terms of both ensemble playing and playing in tune. Despite this, the conductor and orchestra communicated the music's tunefulness, harmonic richness, and great range of expression, from jauntiness to the sublime, especially in the ultra-romantic variation entitled Nimrod, which Elgar composed to honor his friend Jaeger. (Nimrod was a biblical hunter, and Jaeger is German for hunter.) Jaeger was the kind of friend (and Elgar's editor) who could convincingly say to the composer, 'keep going, keep writing,' even when Elgar was seriously assailed by doubts and discouragement.

Despite this mixed review, Schwarz, the orchestra, the Music School, and David Osbon are to be applauded for their ambition and dedication in presenting this program, which was plenty provocative. Osbon had visited and met the orchestra a year ago, and so his new concerto was a rigorous effort to feature the Wilmington Community Orchestra and its leader Timothy Schwarz.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Snapshots: Wicked Winter: The Sick of Winter Show

The Young Werewolves
Wicked Winter, The Talleyville Frame Shoppe and Gallery's annual late-winter art event featuring Dark, Weird, Eerie, Scary and Humorous works by area artists has rarely had a winter so deserving of a show dedicated to being sick of winter. Featuring live music from Philly's The Young Werewolves, the showcased artists include Joe Bellofatto, Robert Bickey, Adam Cruz, Ric Frane, Eric Hendrickson, Pat Higgins, Tina Marabito, Kristen Margiotta, Wendy M., Mark Rosenblatt, Ken Schuler and Matt Stankis. Artwork will remain on display through March 31.

Shop Local by Pat Higgins

In Loving Memory of Miss C. Ardinal by Wendy M.

New works by Tina Marabito and Kristen Margiotta

It Gets Cold When the Fire Goes Out by Ken Schuler

New works by Ric Frane

Junior (Nor the Second) by Mark Rosenblatt

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Wrapped Up in 'Fur'

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music. An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer.
While Fifty Shades of Grey reduces sadomasochism to handcuffs and spanking, David Ives’ Venus in Fur — although not above dog collars and riding crops — delves deeper into the complex relationship between dominance and submission in an erotically charged play that revels in ambiguity.

The first scene of Bootless Stageworks’ production of this Tony-nominated play finds Thomas (Sean Gallagher) — the director/playwright of an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s scandalizing 1870 novella Venus in Furs — pacing around a dingy New York studio after a long day of auditions and complaining to his fiancée over the phone about the pathetic parade of ‘starlets.’ He wants nothing more than to go home when in storms the un-fashionably late Vanda (Kelly Warne), furiously shaking her umbrella and swearing about perverts on the subway. Vanda may share a name with Sacho-Masoch’s leading character, and she may have come at-the-ready in spike heels and black leather bustier, but at first glance she doesn’t seem any different from the other 35 ditzoids he’s seen that day.

That quickly changes when she cajoles Thomas into letting her audition for the part. That’s when things get interesting as the reading and role-playing turn into a tense, erotically-charged exchange. Soon, it becomes less and less clear who is directing and who is acting; who is choosing and who is supplicating. 

This is a play that depends heavily on its two actors, and director Rosanne DellAversano has done a superb job of casting. Obviously, Vanda is the meatier role, and Warne is wickedly masterful as she seamlessly transitions between the character’s various (at last count four) personae. In addition to the modern-day Vanda, the airheaded motor-mouth who dismisses Sacher-Masoch’s book as “porn” and the 19th Century Vanda, a haughty aristocrat with a Continental accent, there’s the seemingly intellectual Vanda who cites Greek mythology and offers cogent psychosexual insights. And she’s hilarious to boot. In the play’s comedic highlight, she lounges suggestively as a love goddess on the divan and, cooing an “I’ll be back” in a German accent that out-Schwarzeneggers even Schwarzenegger.

Through it all, her motives remain tantalizingly mysterious. We never find out how she managed to get hold of a full script instead of just the select pages Thomas provided for the audition or how she was able to commit it to memory from what she claims was a “glance-through” while riding the subway. And how does she know so much about Thomas and his fiancée? Is she a desperate — and clever — actress, or some sort of operative? Or could she really be — as the periodic thunderclaps hint — a goddess? 

Gallagher’s turn as Thomas is far less theatrical, but he conveys the sinewy contours of a complex character with admirable subtlety that plays well off Warne.

This is a taut psychological play that forces us to reexamine our notions of power, gender and sex. Yet for all its sexual tension, for all its stated and implied social criticism, Venus in Fur is plain funny. Ives’ humor keeps it from degenerating into the tawdry and provides a welcome levity that balances the play’s darker themes.

Additional performances run March 15 at 8:00pm; March 16 at 3:00pm; March 20 at 7:30pm; March 21 at 8:00pm; and March 22 at 8:00pm at The Black Box at OperaDelaware Studios, 4 S. Poplar Street in Wilmington.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Album Review: Glim Dropper - Heartsick Phenomenon

By Guest Blogger, Don Tyler
Don is an aspiring writer living in Pike Creek with his two cats, Sam and Dave. He enjoys finding good coffee and even better live music.

There's been an incredible crop of talent popping up in the Wilmington region in the last couple of years, and one name that keeps coming up is Glim Dropper. This infectious trio from Philly is making a second home in Delaware after two successful performances at The WIlmo Rock Circus in 2012 & 2013, wowing audiences both years. And in September, they took their rightful place as winners of Delaware’s premier music competition, Musikarmageddon, after their second place showing in 2012. And now this…

Simply put, their new album, Heartsick Phenomenon, is an amazing record. The 10 songs on this album are simultaneously fresh and familiar. Driving and dreamy, melodramatic and melodic, it just hits you with hook after hook. Dan Kauffman’s vocals glide across the landscape in smooth arcs in a way that’s both inviting and introspective. Dan’s bass work on the album is surprisingly complex while complementing the arrangements without being overbearing. Live, he handles both of these roles with ease.

Ben Geise uses the guitar to drive the pieces and helps create their overall sound with a smart balance of effects. At times, overdriving riffs are juxtaposed against a wall of delay and reverb that helps draw you into the narrative. For audiophiles, it just creates another layer to the already engaging album. Ben was named WSTW’s Hometown Heroes Best Guitarist two years in a row, and it’s a deserving recognition.

All of this happens over the solid drumming of Rob Schnell. Rob’s drumming is intelligent and a perfect match for Dan and Ben. Finding the right moments to pop, while recognizing when to hold back and let the song do the work. His choices show that drumming is more than just speed or power, though he offers up plenty of both over the course of the album.

Rob kicks things off with the title track, a short welcome to the record that never relaxes in its enthusiasm. They then dive into Shanghai, which dives right into one of their strongest melodies from beat one. They take a dreamy breath that pulls you in during Night Doctor with one of Dan’s most enticing vocal performances, then take it up a notch with The Velvet Way To The Grave. Then comes the unexpected: A beautifully crafted acoustic piece called Hangman that is both haunting and optimistic. Second Sleep is a great complex tune. It ditches any sense of formula and dances around the beat in a way that keeps your guard up. They follow this up with two straightforward songs: the upbeat First World Problems and the mellow intensity of Better Life. Strangelove is for the rhythm addicts. A 12/8 gallop that uses the triplets to fool your brain into thinking it’s in 4/4, and using the intensity of that pulse during the verses to build the tension before resolving back to the 12/8. Brilliance. The album closes with the moody and reflective Another One, which gently lets you down off of this 41-minute ride.

If you haven’t seen Glim Dropper live, I highly suggest it, and when you do, buy this album and hand it to the person next you. Then buy one for yourself.

HIGHLIGHTS: Heartsick Phenomenon; Shanghai, Second Sleep, Strangelove.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

An Afternoon of Colorful Music with Mélomanie

By Guest Blogger, Chuck Holdeman
Chuck is a regional composer of lyrical, contemporary classical music, including opera, orchestral music, songs, chamber music, music for film, and music for educational purposes.

On Sunday afternoon, March 9 at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, Mélomanie, Delaware's half-and-half chamber group (half baroque, half new music) played its third performance of its third program of the season. Themed "Ultraviolet," the program celebrated beloved longtime Wilmington Friends School music teacher Violet Richmond with the premiere of Ultraviolet, written in her honor by local composer Mark Hagerty. His piece Context also received its premiere, along with music by 18th Century composers G.P. Telemann and Anna Bon and 20th Century American composer, Alec Wilder. The virtuoso guest percussionist was Chris Hanning — a star in the international drumming firmament, and who, like Mélomanie flutist Kim Reighley, is on the faculty of West Chester University. Reighley also had a big day, performing in all five works on the program. 

Anna Bon di Venezia traveled with her parents as a prodigy, attended the music school where Vivaldi taught, and became a professional in the court in Bayreuth, Germany. While containing few surprises, her D major flute sonata is an extremely well-crafted example of the gallant style, which sounded beautiful on Reighley's wooden baroque flute, balanced so well with its harpsichord and baroque 'cello accompaniment. Telemann's A minor Paris Quartet, which opened the second half, was full of charming surprises, especially in its Coulant (flowing) middle movement — basically a set of variations interspersed with a beautiful ritornello. The unaccompanied flute and violin duet was striking, as was a solo variation, performed by Christof Richter on baroque violin. Viola de gamba player Donna Fournier also got a feature, and the tasteful continuo was provided by harpsichordist Tracy Richardson and Douglas McNames, baroque 'cello.

It was a rare treat to hear two new works by Mark Hagerty, a composer who has contributed so much to Mélomanie's repertoire, including his gorgeous Trois Rivieres, featured on the group's Florescence CD. I confess I'm a fan of Hagerty's work and have poured over his fascinating recordings. So it was a special pleasure to hear two works in which he seems to have broken new ground, also distinguished by the fact that Context and Ultraviolet have a virtually opposite point of view. Both use modern instruments, the former for alto flute and harpsichord, and the latter for the entire Mélomanie quintet with the addition of percussion. 

While Context is slow, meditative, with a limited though arresting arpeggiated harmonic palette, enhanced by the lovely timbres of the two instrumentalists, Ultraviolet has many highly contrasted episodes, and a completely unbuttoned point of view, including a rock-out drum solo, thrillingly improvised by Chris Hanning. But that is only one end of the spectrum, because the work begins and ends with the most delicate sounds of the ocean drum — John Cage would have enjoyed that these sounds balanced well with the building's ventilation system. In between there were numerous well-graded explorations, including a quiet shimmer of strings, delicately accented by metal interjections from a flute, a harpsichord string, or a bowed crotale. How surprising it was when a poetic harpsichord cadenza suddenly morphs into an uptempo ensemble romp, or when Reighley picked up her alto flute for a sensuous duet with the middle eastern doumbek drum. And since the theme was color — or anyway the imagined nuances of light frequencies normally invisible — Hagerty managed to excel with a succession of colorful instrumental combinations, often quasi static, but then bursting into rhythmic complexity. Bravo Mark! 

The program concluded with Alec Wilder's Flute and Bongos 1 and 2, composed in 1958, and still fresh and vital. Wilder wrote jazz standards as well as lots of classical chamber music, and we could hear his sophistication in both worlds. Reighley was virtuosic and Hanning's elaborate bongo drum accompaniment was apt and arresting. The drum part was so together with the flute, and so complicated, that I assumed it was all written out and then executed to perfection. Just now I read the program notes and found that Hanning was improvising — wow!

Mélomanie's next program at DCCA is Sunday, May 11, at 3:00pm. 


Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Faust for All Tastes and Time

Heinz-Uwe Haus has created a very lively Faust Part I by Johann Wolfgang Goethe and made it both faithful to the original, yet modern in its conception. Man’s asking for more and yielding to temptation is not a time-bound issue. The modern flying and pyrotechnics and magic are only possible in our time, yet how well they are welded to the phantasmagoric effects Goethe had described in his story.
Mic Matarrese as Mephisto

Goethe had developed his Mephisto (Mephistopheles is the name Goethe used which is a badly constructed Greek word intended to mean one who shuns light) as a full-bodied character with emotions and impatience and a deep respect for the Lord whom he considers to be a worthy colleague. And Mic Matarrese (Mephisto) does not disappoint as he wheedles and befriends and convinces and conquers and provides that glorious mix of impatience, charm, and magic which our poor Dr. Faust swallows hook line and sinker.

Faust (Stephen Pelinski) creates a smooth transformation from the dried-up and world-weary professor to the hungry and rejuvenated fool whose appetite for carnal and other delights is whetted by Mephisto’s tricks and promises. Pelinski’s Faust is a cynic whose slow yielding to temptation has a beautifully gradual unveiling. His fascination with Margarete is complex, and he shows that complexity as he struggles with his lust and his love. Margarete/Gretchen (Sara J. Griffin) also makes her character more than just a girl who is duped – she goes through the transformation from lonely cherub to fallen angel slowly and painfully – starting with the joy of love and innocence and falling into sin without losing her unblemished spirit.

The tale is most beautifully told in verse created by Dr. Haus from his own translations and selected public domain translations, and translations by two unidentified UD scholars. The musical interludes are so seamlessly inserted by Ryan Touhey’s keyboard and percussion that it seemed the music was coming from the performers on stage. Mic Matarrese’s perfect gestures as he pulled music out of his walking stick or played the guitar are quite convincing. I will protect the secrets of the pyrotechnics by telling you Celebration Fireworks knows what they are doing and I must compliment FOY and the fearlessness of Elizabeth Heflin as the flying witch, Lee Ernst as the Lord hovering in heaven and Matarrese’s Mephisto buzzing in the rafters of the church.

Credit is due for special effects (hats off to Waldo Warshaw) but I can’t spoil your fun by telling you what they are. You will know when you see the bar scene with Mephisto, Faust and some lively drunken singers. The costumes are quite striking and the transitions as characters change, transform and transmogrify deserve a hand as well. The play runs until March 23, 2014.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Congrats to DE Arts Info Blogger Jessica Graae for 5 Homey Awards Noms!

Cheers to Wilmington singer-songwriter and Delaware Arts Info blogger, Jessica Graae, whose debut album, Gypsy Blood, has garnered her five nominations at tonight's Homey Awards!

Gyspy Blood is a stirring acoustic album with tracks that delve deep, lyrically and vocally, with themes that range from the hopeful to the melancholy. The darkly atmospheric opening opening track, "Find Me a Rose," has been nominated for Best Song, though it's tough picking a favorite out of the 13 songs (but not impossible: my personal favorite is "Clear as a Line"). You can check out the album on Jessica's Reverbnation page.

The 8th Annual Homey Awards and Concert is happening tonight at World Cafe Live at the Queen, with a live performance of "Find Me a Rose" from Jessica, as well as performances by John Dutton, Amelia Scalies, and BlackRue, and live sets by The Joe Trainor Trio, Glim Dropper, The Great SOCIO, and June Divided.

Congrats to all of the nominees! Check out our rave reviews of fellow nominees Hot Breakfast and Angela Sheik by clicking the links!

Tickets are just $10. The full list of nominees is after the jump:

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sunshine on Leith Has Its US Debut in Delaware

The Scottish musical Sunshine on Leith, featuring songs by The Proclaimers, has never had a production outside of the United Kingdom -- until now. Under the direction of Allyson Good (the DE Shakespeare Festival's Education Coordinator and Poetry Out Loud State Coordinator), the heartfelt story of love, family, and community made its US debut on the amateur stage of the Wilmington Christian School.

It's a challenging show, not just with the required vocal harmonies and choreography, but because it tackles a modified version of the Leith dialect (the true dialect, Good explains, would be nearly impossible for the audience to understand). It's clear the actors spent a lot of time working on the accents, both in the dialogue and in the song lyrics.

The present-day story centers on Davy (Jeremy Gouveia in the production's standout performance) and Ally (Daniel Jacobson), two friends returning home to the working-class Leith section of Edinburgh after serving in the war in Afghanistan. They land jobs, hang out at the pub, and think about their futures. Davy's sister Liz (standout Katie Barton), who is also Ally's girlfriend, is restless. Through Liz, Davy meets her friend an fellow nurse, Yvonne (Kaylene Mummert), a young English woman, and they fall in love. Meanwhile, Davy and Liz's parents, Rab (Peter Spangler/Isaac Barrick in flasback) and Jean (standout Christina Sanders) hit a rough patch as they celebrate a milestone anniversary.

The youth cast handled the material well, from the stirring opening featuring "Sky Takes My Soul" to the popular "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" in the finale. Though the story is rooted in a community far away, it's one that transcends place and time; Wilmington Christian should be very proud.