Thursday, February 25, 2016

Isn't it grand? Isn't it great? "Chicago" at The Playhouse certainly is!

Full disclosure: This is one of my favorite musicals*, largely for its incredible music and choreography.
*After initially learning about legendary choreographer Bob Fosse via Paula Abdul’s 1989 music video homage, I had to seek out all things Fosse-related. Later, I found Chicago and was completely taken by it. 

The cast of Chicago. Photo by Jeremy Daniel
The longest-running American musical in Broadway history, the production features music and lyrics from iconic partners Kander & Ebb, book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, and a storyline that delivers all the salaciousness we adore (maybe "nowadays" more than ever): scandal, sex, murder, media frenzy, a perverse craving for celebrity.

To me, this show is quintessential Broadway – the way I envision shows might have been during the “old days” – no monstrous sets, flashy light shows or rock star-penned scores, but rather about the raw energy generated from dynamic music and choreography, and compelling characters. It delivers in every aspect.

The production set is stark, the costumes black and scanty yet sleek, the cast steamy and sexy. Hoots and cheers come from the crowd throughout the evening, but especially for the sizzling signature opening, All That Jazz, that sets the tone for the entire show. 

Tonight, the capacity crowd is noticeably heavy with women – I’m imagining groups of GNOs giggling madly at the “justified” murderesses of the Cell Block Tango in a warped female-empowerment moment.

Terra C. MacLeod plays a slick Velma Kelly – the former Vaudeville star serving time for the double-murder of her hubby and sister – with a perfect balance of sass and snark. You can almost feel yourself agreeing with her and Mama as they lament, “Whatever happened to class?”

Dylis Croman as Roxie Hart.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
Dylis Croman expertly plays up the unrefined Roxie's conniving and relentless nature, a woman who’ll not be stopped in her quest for fame – by a jilting lover, dull (if still-loving) husband or jealous inmate. The only thing that could stop her is the worst fate of all – waning public interest.

Jailhouse matron “Mama” Morton, played with command and style by Roz Ryan, lights up the crowd with her rendition of When You’re Good to Mama. (Incidentally, Morton now holds the record for most performances in a musical by a leading actress.) 

Other standout characters, of course, are the orchestra, who kept the audience animated, even dancing out the doors at the end; the compassionate Mary Sunshine (with a hilarious surprise), played by D. Ratell; and Billy Flynn, played by Tom Hewitt, who held an impressively looooooooong note in his number, All I Care About, to renewed cheers and hoots.

From the first notes of All That Jazz to the final sparkly curtain, Velma, Roxie and company kept us revved, rapt and ready to “paint the town” with them in their twisted pursuit of fortune and fame. This beloved musical is a night on the town you simply can't miss. 

Chicago runs at The Playhouse on Rodney Square through February 28.

Hannah Sturgis to Represent Delaware in National Poetry Out Loud Competition

Content of this post was taken from a Delaware Division of the Arts press release...

Delaware's Poetry Out Loud Champion, Hannah Sturgis.
Photo by Kathleen Buckalew.
Hannah Sturgis, a junior from Polytech High School, earned the title of 2016 Poetry Out Loud Delaware State Champion at the state finals held in Smyrna, Delaware, on February 23. The first runner-up was Brandon Dawson from Middletown High School, and the second runner-up was Jordan McMillan from Sanford School. More than 18 students competed in the Delaware finals.

Hannah Sturgis’s final recitation, Infelix by Adah Isaacs Menken, earned her high marks with the judges. The full poem can be found on the Poetry Foundation’s website.

For her winning presentation, Hannah Sturgis will receive $200 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, DC, with a chaperone to compete at the national championship May 2-4, 2016. Polytech High School will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. Brandon Dawson, the first runner-up will receive $100, and Middletown High School will receive $200 toward the purchase of poetry books.
Photo Credit: Kathleen Buckalew
The Poetry Out Loud state competition, sponsored by the Delaware Division of the Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, is part of a national program that encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance, and competition.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Welcome to Lully's World via Brandywine Baroque

By Christine Facciolo
Jean Baptiste de Lully’s death is legendary among musicians: While beating time on a staff during a performance of his Te Deum in 1687, he suffered a fatal injury. The wound he suffered to his foot developed gangrene. Three months later on March 22, Lully died.

Lully’s music did not die that day, though. His stylistic monopoly remained secure for decades after his death. His influence in the writing of opera led to a century of French opera in his style. The two-part “French Overture” he invented spread across Europe, influencing both Bach and Handel.

Brandywine Baroque paid tribute to that legacy by “Celebrating the World of Lully” on Sunday, February 21, at The Barn at Flintwoods. The ensemble included harpsichordists Karen Flint and Joyce Chen, violinists Mark Davids and Mandy Wolman, flutist Eileen Grycky, gambists John Mark Rozendaal and Donna Fournier and soprano Laura Heimes.

The major work of the program was Francois Couperin’s L’Apotheose de Lully, in which the composer portrays the ascent to Parnassus of his predecessors, Lully and Corelli. Apart from being intended as a compliment to the two composers, one might also view this work as an attempt to settle the debate raging in the musical world over the conflicting merits of the French and Italian styles.

This is indeed music with a history (and some humor) as little Italianate gestures recall that Lully, the quintessential French composer was himself Italian-born. The desired rapprochement occurs when Lully and Corelli meet on Parnassus and are persuaded by Apollo that a union of their respective styles would amount to nothing less than unparalleled musical perfection.

The music is indeed wonderful. The combination of violins, keyboard, flute and viol da gamba gave the impression that no other group of instruments could be more fitting. The performance was easy on the ears, luxurious yet intimate.

While the program did not feature a work by Lully himself, it did include a selection from Deuxieme Suite a 3 violes, Livre 4 by his student virtuoso violist Marin Marais, who also served in the court of Louis XIV. Gambists John Mark Rozendaal and Donna Fournier excelled in this contrapuntal work representing the peak of the established French musical tradition.

The richness and splendor of French Baroque sacred music — at times gravely somber and spectacularly exuberant — was amply demonstrated in Pierre Bouteiller’s motet O felix et dilecte conviva and Rene Drouard de Bousset’s Abraham, a rare example of a cantata spirituelle so popular in the late court of Louis XIV. Laura Heimes’s crystalline and precise soprano blended beautifully with the instrumentalists in both works.

Italian composers and those writing in the Italian style were equally well-represented. Martin Davids’ violin was crisp and decisive in his rendering of the relatively obscure Francois Francoeur’s I Sonata No. V in A minor. Supporting him were Joyce Chen on harpsichord and Donna Fournier on viola da gamba.

Davids, Wolman and Rozendaal reveled in the playfulness of Tarquinio Merula’s vibrant and imaginative version of the Ciaccona, a dance form that migrated to Italy from Mexico in 1615.

No Baroque program would be complete without a selection by the prolific Georg Philipp Telemann and this concert was no exception. The note-filled Quartet in G major is a perfect display of this polyglot composer’s “mixed taste” style of writing, with its French, German, Italian and Polish influences. The ensemble’s playing — with Grycky as flute soloist — was both energetic and vibrant while deftly weaving together the mixed tastes of this composition.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Women Composers Take Over the Evening at The Music School of Delaware

By Christine Facciolo
For centuries, women composers were little more than a footnote in music history. Considered a novelty, their work rarely left the confines of the drawing room or recital parlor, if they got performed at all. Even the celebrated pianist Clara Wieck Schumann felt compelled to fill her programs with the works of her husband or their friend Johannes Brahms rather than her own.

So it was only fitting that a program honoring women composers open with one of Wieck Schumann’s own compositions, the Scherzo No. 2 in C minor (1845). The little sonic gem received an expansive and probing interpretation from Holly Roadfeldt Wednesday, February 17 at The Music School of Delaware in Wilmington.

The concert, which benefitted the Anthony G. Simmons Scholarship Fund and other scholarships, served to encourage young female musicians by emphasizing the works of living women composers. Roadfeldt remembered her disappointment at hearing one of her students say she felt she could not pursue composition because she was a woman.

Roadfeldt’s muscularity and poetic power were on fine display in three of the four pieces from Joan Tower’s No Longer Very Clear collection. Her fingers never stopped from the moment she placed them on the keyboard for Or Like a…an Engine (1994). Think Ondine from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. The second piece, Vast Antique Cubes (2000), gave Roadfeldt the opportunity to play in legato before tackling Throbbing Still (2000), Tower’s recollection of the rhythms she experienced growing up in South America. Think Inca Empire meets Stravinsky.

The Serafin String Quartet offered two works by Julia Adolphe. Just twenty-eight years old, Adolphe, a doctoral student in music composition at the University of Southern California, has already achieved considerable success. In 2014 she became one of three young composers chosen to have their work performed by the New York Philharmonic. She is now working on a commission from the Phil, a viola concerto for its principal violist.

Serafin and Adolphe share a passion for exploring new musical worlds. Veil of Leaves (2014) shows Adolphe’s potential for becoming a premier composer for this most intimate of forms. The work begins with the strings in unison but continuously diverges and converges in a swirl of pitch and texture. This is a piece that demands not only supreme musicianship but deep concentration which was etched on the players’ faces.

Between the Accidental (2010) engaged the quartet in a contrapuntal tour de force, juxtaposing jarring dissonances with modal melodies in a netherworld of tonality.

Roadfeldt took the stage again to perform two works by Philadelphia-based composer Kala Pierson. Spark (2014) and Flare (2016), the latter of which received its World Premiere at the concert with the composer in attendance. As their names suggest, these works are rhythmically fluid and vividly expressive 
 perfectly suited to Roadfeldt’s flair for intensity and meditative focus.

Pianist Jennifer Campbell appeared as both performer and composer, offering Perceptions of Shadows, a work she wrote in 2013. This is an intensely introspective piece, showing that as shadows change with time, so do our perceptions of life’s struggles. This work proves that Campbell is not only an acclaimed pianist but a composer of great insight and sensitivity.

Campbell joined forces with violist Esme Allen-Creighton for a first-rate performance of Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and Piano. This work written in 1919 is packed with big-hearted melodies and delicate colors. It’s hard to fathom how and why it missed winning first place in competition and why it doesn’t get more outings than it does.

Allen-Creighton brought together all the right elements 
— robust sound, free-flowing legato lines, unbridled lyricism as well as a technically assured presentation — to make us want to hear more from an instrument that continues to play, well, second fiddle to the violin. Campbell supplied the virtuosic pianistic accompaniment which was as demanding as any concerto.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mélomanie Delivered Musical Treats for Wilmington Valentines

Mélomanie performed at The Delaware Contemporary on Feb. 14.
By Christine Facciolo
Music lovers who braved Sunday’s frigid temps got treated to a concert of sweet musical morsels from Mélomanie.

The program was an eclectic one, featuring the works of the definitely Baroque Telemann, the stylistically fluid Ibert and neo-Baroque contemporary Kile Smith.

The program featured a reprise performance of Smith’s The Nobility of Women, which was commissioned by 
Mélomanie and premiered in 2012. Mélomanie Co-Artistic Director Tracy Richardson commented that the ensemble gave Smith the choice of an additional instrument to be played by a guest artist. He chose the oboe — an instrument not uncoincidentally played by his daughter, Priscilla Herreid. Herreid reprised her role as guest soloist for this concert.

Smith’s composition proves that musical styles never really disappear, they just go out of fashion until inspiration or musical necessity spark their resurrection. Smith took his cue for this eight-movement work from the name of the 16th Century dance manual Nobilita di Dame by Fabritia Caroso. Each movement bears the name of a Baroque dance form: Allemande, Sarabande, Musette, Ciaccona.

The work is a pretty staid affair until Richardson breaks out with a dazzling harpsichord solo in the third movement. Herreid did herself proud, soloing in the Sarabande, which features a delicate italianate melody of great beauty. The Ciaccona served as a fitting finale, packed with interesting flourishes.

Smith’s work paired quite nicely with Telemann’s Quartet in G Major from the “Tafelmusik” collection. “Tafelmusik” — literally meaning table music — is a mid-16th Century term for music played at banquets. 
Mélomanie imbued the piece with a vigor and flourish that would compel anyone to put down their fork and defer to the music.

The program also featured the Two Interludes for flute, violin and harpsichord by 20th Century French composer, Jacques Ibert. The first interlude was slow and stately, in triple meter, reminiscent of a Baroque sarabande. The second was fast with swirls of color and a Spanish flavor thanks to inflections of the Phrygian mode. Both pieces were rich in tone yet balanced a perfection union of lushness of Impressionism and the clarity of Classicism. Flutist Kimberly Reighley, violinist Christof Richter and harpsichordist Richardson strike the perfect balance between lushness and clarity of tone and texture.

Rounding out the program were selections by two all-but-forgotten French composers: Louis-Antoine Dornel, a contemporary of J.S. Bach and Benoit Guilemant, an 18th Century flutist.

Herreid once again showed her mastery of the Baroque oboe — a notoriously difficult beast to tame — in the former’s Sonata n G Major, which featured a lively interplay between soloist and bass.

Cellist Douglas McNames and gambist Donna Fournier — this time on cello collaborated on a lively performance of the latter’s melodic Sonata No. 4 in C Major, Op. 3.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Students Create Mural "In Their Words" and Honor Black History Month

The info in this article comes from a Delaware Art Museum press release...
In honor of Black History Month, the Delaware Art Museum unveiled an Aaron Douglas-inspired mural created by local high school students. The February 4 unveiling ceremony included a short presentation during which the participating students and the project leader -- arts educator/artist Chad Cortez Everett -- spoke about the process.

The mural is part of the Museum's Mural Arts Interpretation Project, a student-art initiative created last fall with the goal of exposing under-served students -- who have not taken part in an art class or had access to art education since middle school -- to meaningful art education while raising public awareness of cultural diversity. The project includes eight high school students from William Penn and Dickinson High Schools.

The students' mural is a large-scale painting inspired by Study for a Mural by Aaron Douglas, an African American illustrator and muralist and important Harlem Renaissance artist.Study for a Mural (c.1963) -- currently on view in the Museum's modern American Art gallery -- was a mural design for the home of Dr. W.W. and Mrs. Grace Goens, a prominent African American family in Wilmington. Douglas painted two murals for the Goens family, and this study presents his design for the second mural for their Hockessin home in 1964.

Over the course of 10 weeks, Everett and the students met to discuss how to preserve the spirit of Douglas' work while transforming it to reflect themselves and today's society. After learning about Douglas and the Harlem Renaissance from Curator of American Art Heather Campbell Coyle, the students discussed the world they live in and how it might differ from Douglas' era. The students incorporated text from their discussions into the design and learned how to transfer an image to large canvas panels.

The words the students discussed and chose were born out of the original themes of the piece: African American history, cultural significance, and societal progress. As the students planned the mural design, they developed images and symbols that serve as important markers of their own personal histories. After a discussion about monochromatic color (as Douglas typically painted) the students chose to use local color and edit as they went, preserving a homage to Douglas' color scheme in the bottom right corner of the piece. The three-panel piece, which will be named during Thursday's presentation, will be on display on the Museum's lower level during the month of February.

The Museum is open late every Thursday evening from 4:00-8:00pm with free general admission. Special events and programs for all ages are offered on select nights throughout the year.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Celebrating Black History Month with Programs & Exhibit at DHS

Information for this post was provided by a press release from The Delaware Historical Society...
The Delaware Historical Society (DHS) celebrates Black History Month with special public programs and an exhibit.

LECTURE: Littleton P. Mitchell Fighting for Equality in the Civil Rights Era

Thursday, February 4, 6:00pm
Delaware History Museum
Dr. Leland Ware, the Louis L. Redding Chair and Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Delaware, will highlight Delaware civil rights leader Littleton P. Mitchell’s contributions to advancing the cause of equality. Mitchell, president of the Delaware NAACP for 30 years, is known locally and nationally for his personal courage during the Civil Rights Movement. He was also was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal.

PERFORMANCE: The Folk Music of Africans Americans with Devonna B. Rowe
Tuesday, February 9, 12:30pm | Delaware History Museum
Award-winning performing artist and educator, Devonna B. Rowe, will take the audience on an interactive musical journey through the history of the African American people, exploring traditional African songs and influences on modern American culture. A Delaware Historical Society program with funding support from The Black Heritage Educational/Theater Group.

FAMILY PROGRAM: The Underground Railroad in Delaware
Sunday, February 28, 1:00pm | Old Town Hall & the Quaker Hill Historic District
Join DHS and Quaker Hill Historic Preservation Foundation for a family event highlighting the Underground Railroad in Delaware. Walk in the footsteps of freedom seekers who passed through Wilmington on their journey to freedom and participate in activities exploring the difficult decisions made by people at that time. The first half of the program takes place in the Quaker Hill Historic District followed by a visit to Old Town Hall at the Delaware Historical Society. There will be family activities at both locations.

EXHIBIT: Dream Quilts The Dream Quilts are on display through the end of February at the Central YMCA in Wilmington, the Walnut Street YMCA in Wilmington and the Dover Public Library. The project was first launched 2012 to inspire a new generation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s powerful message from his 'I Have a Dream' speech. After learning about Dr. King’s legacy, school children decorated quilt squares that were later stitched into quilts by A Stitch in Time, an African American quilting group in Dover. In 2014, two of the quilts were exhibited in Vice President Biden’s home at the Naval Observatory during Black History Month.

All programs are free and open to the public, but reservations are requested at or 302.655.7161.  The Delaware Historical Society owns and operates the Delaware History Museum; a nationally recognized Research Library; Old Town Hall; Willingtown Square, four 18th Century houses surrounding a picturesque urban courtyard located in Wilmington; as well as the Read House & Gardens located in historic New Castle, recognized as an “American Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service; and the Center for African American Heritage, which will be included as part of the expansion of the Delaware History Museum, expected to reopen in spring of 2016.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

All I Wanna Do Is Have Some...Delaware Fun-A-Day!

Who isn't in the mood for some fun, especially in the midst of a DelMarVa winter? Delaware Fun-A-Day has your winter-blues remedy Friday, February 5, 2016 from 5:00-9:00pm at The Delaware Contemporary (formerly The Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts [DCCA]). It promises to be an evening to fill you with art, music, food, comedy and — of course — plenty of F-U-N!

In the past few years, The Delaware Contemporary has successfully positioned itself as the go-to place for all manner of art "events" and cool happenings. It seems the perfect setting for a project like this.

Delaware Fun-A-Day is a multimedia, all-ages, all-inclusive, non-juried art project, which is actually part of a nationwide project. The fifth annual artistic exhibition was launched by local organizers and entries have grown each year. The event is modeled after Philadelphia's Art Clash Collective, which debuted 11 years ago.

The idea is simple: Make something each day in January (with a self-determined theme) and present it in a show during February's Art Loop. Past projects have run the gamut from sculpture to painting to photography to poetry to knitting to song to beading. The Fun-A-Day crew reports a record number of participants this year — with the youngest participant in First Grade.

Friday will deliver the exhibits of 100+ Delaware artists — drone photography, mythical creatures, dogs of Delaware, mandalas, timed abstract paintings, fairies doing yoga, cross-stitched labyrinths and more — but also music by DJ Skinny White; improv comedy from City Theater Company's Fearless Improv (shows at 6:00pm & 8:00pm); and plenty of nosh from the Contemporary's new caterer/food truck partners Plum Bistro by The Plum Pit. The Contemporary's current gallery exhibitions will also be open: Lynda Schmid's Listening to Horses, Amy Stevens' Letting Go and a joint exhibition by studio artists Dan Jackson and Ken Mabrey. In-house artists' studios will also be open for tours.

See you for the FUN! See