Saturday, May 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Brilliant' debut of two Shakespearean operas in Delaware

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Amos Lee Brings Soulful Sound to Sold-Out Queen Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSO Closes Season on a High Note

By Christine Facciolo
Emotions ran high last week as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra closed its 2015-2016 season — The Season of the Bells — at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington.

Maestro David Amado conducted a program that offered just two works. But when one of those works features the gut wrenching emotionality of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, anything more would have felt like overload.

The concert opened with David Ludwig’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, with Bella Hristova as soloist. The semi-programmatic piece which was commissioned by an eight-orchestra consortium — including the DSO — celebrates Ludwig’s marriage to Hristova. Its three movements recount the wedding ritual (preparation, ceremony, celebration) within the broader themes of partnership, empathy and communion.

Ludwig invested the work with captivating moments and effects: asymmetrical rhythms, loping harmonies, ascending glissandi as well as unusual timbral combinations.

The work opens with a violin exclamation and everything a symphony orchestra can throw at it to signify transformative power of love and commitment before progressing to various Eastern-European style dances. The music builds to a brilliant raucousness, blending virtuosic cadenzas with warm lyricism.

The second movement opens with a tender melody in the solo violin that blossoms and grows joyful. This section serves as a touching tribute to the father Hristova never knew, Soviet-era composer Yuri Chichkov. Ludwig tracked down a rare copy of the violin concerto Chchkov wrote decades ago and incorporated an excerpt into this movement as a tribute to family.

Finally, the third movement “Festival” is as about as bacchanalian as a wedding reception can get. Bulgarian dances with their fluctuating rhythms run rampant, including Ludwig’s own version of the “Crooked Dance,” which mimics how the less-than-sure-footed revelers attempt to make their way home.

Hristova is one of today’s most celebrated artists with a superb technique and a sumptuous sound. Not surprisingly, she invested this performance with a sense of the whole, while balancing fiery virtuoso and deep passion with a sensitivity and softness.

Political passion consumed the second half of the program which featured Shostakovich’s massive Symphony No. 11, which premiered in 1957. The symphony is subtitled The Year 1905, a reference to the failed Russian revolution of that year. Critics initially dismissed the work as little more than glorified film music. Many now consider it to be more reflective in attitude, one that looks back on Russian history from the standpoint of 1957. Another interpretation views the symphony as a response to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the composer’s widow has stated that he did in fact “have it in mind” during its composition.

Lasting more than an hour, the symphony consists of four movements played without pause. Each movement bears a descriptive title relating to the revolution. The brooding first movement “The Palace Square” readily conveys the tension of the gathering workers, whose massacre is the subject of the feverish second movement “The 9th of January.” The third movement “In Memoriam” is deeply meditative while the finale, “The Tocsin,” sizzles with excitement.

Amado and the DSO performed this difficult piece with heart-wrenching emotion and cinematic sweep. The strings invested just the right amount of melancholy in the slow movements while the brass, winds and percussion brought drama and tension to the fast movements, especially the finale with its floor-shaking bass drum, crashing cymbals and tam-tam and cataclysmic tolling of the Bells of Remembrance.

It was a masterful rendition that kept the audience on the edges of their seats during the performance and brought them to their feet at its conclusion.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Jersey Boys – Oh What a Night!

Mary Ellen Hassett has lived and worked in Delaware since 1996 as a paralegal and attorney.  She and her husband Keith enjoy Wilmington arts and culture and devote a lot of volunteer time to Delaware Humane Association. 

The Playhouse on Rodney Square is closing out their Broadway season with Jersey Boys, a Tony Awardwinning musical about four blue-collar kids from Newark, NJ.  This story is told thru the eyes of each of one of the four Jersey Boys from their perspectives at different times in their 40-year relationship. The talented group of musicians that starred in this rendition of Jersey Boys were amazing. This musical has it all – Jersey accents, mafia undertones, fantastic sets, a great storyline and lots of laughter. Whether old or young, this musical contains songs that everyone can enjoy. 

Jersey Boys is the story about Frankie Valli (that’s Valley with an “I” because everyone knows Italian names must end in a vowel). Frankie (Aaron De Jesus) with his unique voice is discovered at age 16 by Tommy DeVito (Matthew Dailey). As everyone knows, show business is not an easy road, especially in Jersey. Along the way  in addition to playing gigs on street corners, various bars, night clubs and bowling alleys the group is involved in some rather nefarious activities and Tommy ends up in the slammer.    

While Tommy is away, Frankie and Nick Massi (Keith Hines) continue to perform. When Tommy returns, the group auditions young hotshot writer Bob Gaudio (Drew Seeley) and the Four Seasons is born! Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons are a smash, starring on the Ed Sullivan show and hitting the pop charts 40 times in the 1960s.  

However, Tommy could not leave his gambling Jersey ways behind and eventually found himself owing over $162,000 to the mafia and $500,000 in back taxes for the group. Tommy is bought out by the other three in the group and moves to Vegas. Nick leaves shortly thereafter and Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio continue as a duo – Bob writing and Frankie singing. Frankie and Bob to this day have never had a contract; they had a gentleman’s agreement – a handshake. The Four Seasons reunite a couple of times and they are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.  

Although you have your traditional hidden orchestra, musical director Taylor Peckham, did a phenomenal job in moving the drummer(s) off and on state to enhance the night club scenes.

The musical arrangements of Walk Like a Man, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Working My Way Back to You were just a few of the highlights. And my favorite of the night – December, 1963 (Oh What a Night) – as that basically sums up this fantastic performance!

I must say, The Playhouse saved the best for last! 

Jersey Boys will be playing at The Playhouse thru May 15. Wednesday and Thursday evening performances are at 7:30pm; Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 8:00pm, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00pm.  Ticket prices range from $50-$135 and discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

May Day Welcomed in Song with Four-Ensemble Concert at The Music School of Delaware

By Christine Facciolo
The Music School of Delaware’s Spring Choral Concert showcased the talents of four ensembles in an eclectic program at the school’s Wilmington Branch on Sunday, May 1, 2016 featuring music from church, folk and pop/rock traditions.

The Delaware Women's Chorus, led by Music Director Joanne Ward
The concert opened with five selections by Bella Voce, a 10-member choir consisting of students from Grades 2 though 8, under the direction of faculty member Marybeth Miller. If these young singers represent the future of music, we’re in good hands. The group showed its versatility with capable renderings of two Dominican folk songs, three nonsense ditties (Two Tongue Twisters and Antonio) as well as the Harry Belafonte-penned folk song Turn the World Around. Their set concluded with the traditional spiritual Twelve Gates into the City, which spotlighted their individual voices.

Next up was the recently formed Adult Jazz Choir which performs under the direction of Martin Lassman. Their segment opened with a sublime rendering of John Lennon’s In My Life  arguably the best pop song ever written. Sopranos Jackie Slavin and Kayla Holden and Bass Sam Parks offered capable solos. The group showed off its mastery of complex harmonies in a haunting delivery of The Meaning of the Blues, the much-recorded 1957 classic by Bobby Troup and Leah Worth. Soprano Slavin was joined in solo outings by Tenor Dennis Connor and Bass Robert Weiner. Individual members then showed off their improvisatory skills — including some respectable scat singing — in their segment closer Joe’s Place.

We then heard a uniquely organized program by The Delaware Women’s Chorus under the direction of Joanne Ward, chair of the school’s voice department. The group presented three sets of paired songs, each with a different take on a single concept. The first pairing — In Love/Not in Love — featured Arise, My Love and No Thank You, John. Motherhood got a turn with the nostalgic Music In My Mother’s House and Heartstrings, a musical rendering of a poignant conversation a mother has with her teen-aged daughter. Choir member Carolyn Becker provided the cello accompaniment.

The final pairing dealt with empowerment. In Lineage, a musical setting of Margaret Walker’s poem, the narrator compares herself unfavorably to the women of previous generations, while From Dusk to Dawn sings of the strength of Liberian protesting the civil war which engulfed their country until 2003. Soprano Ann Warren soloed.

We were then treated to a performance by Philadelphia-based a cappella group Vocal Motive, who appeared at the invitation of Ward. This 14-member mixed-voice ensemble under the direction of Doug Stuart was founded in 2012 by longtime friends seeking a return to the a cappella singing of their college years. The group is quickly gaining a following in the Philadelphia area with good reason: They love to sing and it shows.

The set the tone immediately with a rousing rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s foot-stomping Down on the Corner and kept the rhythm moving with Jason Mraz’s immensely successful I’m Yours. They showed their softer side with Billy Joel’s hymn-like And So It Goes, became contemplative with Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, and evoked feelings of a distant time period with Barton Hollow/Bottom of the River.

They attempted to close things out with Queen’s gospel-tinged Somebody to Love. I say 'tried' because the audience came to its feet begging an encore which they supplied with a rendition of James Taylor’s poignant The Lonesome Road.

The Delaware Women's Chorus and the Adult Jazz Choir will hold auditions in the coming months for new members, by appointment, at the Music School's Wilmington Branch, located at 4101 Washington Street in Wilmington. Call 302.762.1132 to schedule. 


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Exploring the Change of Times at Delaware Theatre Company

Photo by Matt Urban/Mobius New Media. 
By Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III
The Delaware Theatre Company closes their 2015-16 season with Nell Benjamin's The Explorers Club, a delightful farce that kept the audience in stitches. Although I'm not a huge fan of this genre, I did appreciate the witty writing, the superb performances of the ensemble cast (expertly directed by Bud Martin) and the stunning costumes and set.

The play takes place in London in 1859 at the prestigious all-male Explorers Club. On this particular day, the members must decide if they will accept their first female candidate (Karen Peakes) who recently discovered a legendary Lost City. Comedy mayhem ensues as members recount their adventures and discoveries, while dealing with their current situation.

Ms. Peakes is wonderful in her dual roles -- Phyllida Spotte-Hume, the explorer who is ready to take on the "good ol' boys club" to become the first female member -- and as Countess Glamorgan, Phyllida's hoity-toity, high society sister coping with the consequences of Phyllida's adventures. 

Daniel Fredrick charms as the Club's diffident president, Lucius Fretway, who is nominating Phyllida (and it might not just because of her work, but that he also has a crush on the beautiful explorer). He and the great Dave Johnson, Luigi the native of the Lost City, share a few exciting scenes involving flying cocktail glasses. Harry Smith is brilliant as the over-the-top adventurer, Harry Percey, who also falls for the gorgeous Phyllida.

Equally impressive to the performances are the period costumes by Wade Laboissonniere that allow the actors to move freely during some very physical scenes, and the magnificent set by Alexis Distler. From the moment I walked into the theater and saw the two-floor wood-paneled set with a bar and exquisite furniture, I was transported to a bygone era.

The Explorers Club isn't exactly my cup of tea, but it IS an impressive production for the whole family to enjoy! The play runs through May 22. 

For tickets visit or call 302.594.1100.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Artist Terrance Vann & City Theater Company's Collaboration Lives On in Wilmo's Creative District

Photo courtesy of Terrance Vann.
City Theater Company (CTC) is proud to partner with Wilmington's Creative District to unveil the permanent "home" of artist Terrance Vann’s Hair mural on Friday, May 6, kicking off the district's monthly INSPIRE Lot Series with the official installation of the original mural. The piece was commissioned by CTC for its April production of Hair and presented as a vibrant backdrop during the show’s run. Its new home will be on West 7th Street in downtown Wilmington. 

The mural project is partially underwritten by the generosity of Wilmington City Councilwoman Dr. Hanifa G. N. Shabazz.
Wilmington artist Terrance Vann.

“It is inspiring to have collaborated with CTC for Hair and to have my piece live on in the City” says Vann, an up-and-coming Delaware artist whose work has been garnering notice all over the East Coast. “It was an awesome opportunity to be able to work with a group as passionate and talented as CTC,” he continues. “I love the creative energy they bring to their process, which makes my job much easier when coming up with ideas visually. And to have this project reach even more people with this permanent installation downtown is humbling and exciting.”

The INSPIRE Lot Series is held monthly as part of First Friday Art Loop through October from 5:30 to 8 P.M. The evening features food trucks, live music courtesy of GableMusic Ventures, and hands-on art activities.

The May 6 event also showcases original musicians Nalani and Sarina, two sisters whose distinctive blend of traditional soul-rock and modern pop was recently called “...some of the best music being made in 2016” by Sirius radio host and critic Dave Marsh.

CTC Board President Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald, who worked with The Creative District to install the artwork, is thrilled to dedicate the mural at this kick-off event. “It’s a wonderful moment for the arts in town,” she says. “We have theater, visual art and music joining forces for the greater good. City Theater Company is lucky to partner so many wonderful people in order to create art. This is something that everyone should celebrate.”

DETAILS: Free admission. The INSPIRE Lot is located at 215-219 W. 7th Street between Orange and Tatnall Streets in Wilmington, Delaware. The May 6, 2016 event is the inaugural kick-off for the series. Terrance Vann and City Theater Company members will introduce the mural at 5:30 P.M. and be on hand to speak with attendees throughout the evening.