Tuesday, November 21, 2017

DSO's Land & Seascapes

By Christine Facciolo
Musical impressions of land and seascapes filled Copeland Hall Friday night as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra performed the second concert in its Classics Series at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington.

The concert was also the occasion for the presentation of the A.I. du Pont Composer’s Award to David Ludwig in recognition for his contribution to contemporary classical music. The 43-year-old Bucks County, Pa. native who teaches at Curtis, is the scion of a distinguished musical family that includes pianists Rudolf and Peter Serkin and violinist Adolph Busch. His teachers have included composers Jennifer Higdon, Ned Rorem, John Corigliano and Richard Danielpour, among others.

The concert opened with a performance of La Mer, Debussy’s rich and masterful depiction of the ocean. The work unfolds in three movement or “sketches” — one calm, one wavy, one stormy — with a kaleidoscope of colors that challenges every corner of the orchestra.

The DSO came well-prepared for the challenge. Music Director David Amado and the musicians effectively balanced the sunnier effects with the more ominous elements in Debussy’s sprawling canvass. Special effects provided by two harps and an array of percussion complemented excellent work from the winds, brass, robust strings, cellos and fine solo work from associate concertmaster Luigi Mazzocchi.

Pictures from the Floating World pays homage to Debussy with titles taken from his water pieces — The Sunken Cathedral, In a Boat, Reflections on the Water — but the music is entirely original. Ludwig stated that it was not his intention to transcribe Debussy but rather to use his “clay.” The older composer’s influences are evident in the harmonies and splashes of orchestral color that permeate the work.

Ludwig’s writing for the bassoon is both exquisite and technically demanding. The piece was composed for principal bassoon Daniel Matsukawa of the Philadelphia Orchestra which commissioned and premiered it in 2013. Matsukawa wanted a piece that would showcase the lyrical side of the instrument that’s become the buffoon of the orchestra.

Soloist for this performance was William Short, co-principal bassoon of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Tonight was a homecoming of sorts for Short who served as DSO principal bassoon from 2012-2014. Short also studied with both Matsukawa and Ludwig while at Curtis and has previously performed the concerto as well.

Short turned in a totally virtuosic performance, exhibiting superb breath control in the long phrases and note perfect accuracy in the staccato passages. Particularly effective was the intimate interweaving with cellists Philo Lee and Naomi Gray in the chamber-like interludes that separate the work’s three main movements.

Rounding out the program was Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. One wonders how many audience members have heard this work performed live, as it has — undeservedly — fallen out of fashion on the concert circuit.

This was a marvelous performance, full of character yet never overblown or vulgar. The first movement, Sunrise opened with exquisitely played French horn, oboe, flute and English horn solos. Chimes sparkled and hammered timpani strokes gave the climax depth and power. Wonderful oboe octave leaps with woodblock accompaniment rendered a delightfully nostalgic On the Trail as did the celesta solo that preceded the lively coda. The entire performance sparkled in color, ensemble and continuity.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Family Trip Down the Playhouse's Yellow Brick Road

By Guest Bloggers Hannah, Emily and Alyssa Tagle and their future stepmom, Gabrielle Reichert. Hannah is 10 years old and likes math, Legos, Minecraft and reading; Emily is 13 and loves to draw and write; Alyssa is also 13, and she loves science and cheerleading. They and Gabrielle live with their father, Dan, in the 40 Acres neighborhood of Wilmington. 

The Tagle sisters pose in the lobby of
The Playhouse on Rodney Square before seeing
The Wizard of Oz
Hannah's Review
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy runs away because she is about to lose her dog Toto. She wanted to be far from home but instead gets caught up in a twister. She wakes up in Oz with Glinda the Good Witch. The only way Dorothy can get home is to follow the yellow brick road. 

Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion. They all help her find her way to see the Wizard of Oz. Once they meet the Wizard, he agrees to grant their wishes but first they must bring back the broomstick from the Witch of the West. Unfortunately, they are captured by the Witch's evil monkeys so the Witch can figure out how to take the ruby slippers off of Dorothy’s feet. 

Dorothy is saved by her friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, but the Witch finds them and sets fire to the Scarecrow. Dorothy throws a bucket of water at her, not realizing that the Witch will melt. Everyone cheers! Dorothy and her friends take the broomstick back to Emerald City, and the Wizard grants all of their wishes, including sending Dorothy back home to Kansas. But unfortunately, the hot air balloon he has to take Dorothy home floats away without her. Glinda returns to tell her she can still return home by using the ruby slippers. Dorothy wakes up back in Kansas with her family and Toto. 

I think the most beautiful costume was the Good Witch – it was so sparkly! My favorite actor was Toto. And I really liked the song Off to See the Wizard. But, I didn’t like the high-pitched screaming of the Witch and the monkeys. I would recommend it to other kids my age. The singing and dancing was amazing. And the ruby slippers were bright, red and sparkly. The Wizard of Oz is my second play I’ve seen and it might be my favorite!

Emily's Review
On Tuesday, November 14, 2017 I went to The Playhouse on Rodney Square to see The Wizard of Oz. I liked the dancing because everybody was included in the choreography. I did not like how the actor, Emily Perzan, was so loud as the Wicked Witch of the West, but it was cool that she could play the role so well. 

Victor Legarreta, who played the Lion and Zeke, stole the show, as always. He did an amazing job. My least favorite part was when the boy munchkins and the jitterbugs came out. I did not like their costumes. But overall, the costumes for the rest of the performance were amazing. You forget they were actors on stage and really came together to tell the story to the audience. 

My favorite song was Over the Rainbow. Dorothy, (played by Kalie Kamann) did an outstanding job with her role in every scene. I would definitely suggest this play to others but maybe not little kids (age 7 and under). The show started at 7:30 but didn’t end until 10:30 (which was past even my bedtime on a school night). In all, it was a fantastic show!

Alyssa's Review
The play The Wizard of Oz is a wonderful play. I saw it opening night and it was fun, happy and joyful. Dorothy (Kalie Kaimann) is a wonderful singer and actress. Her dog Murphy (aka Toto) stole the show with his overload of cuteness! 

In the beginning, Dorothy and Toto are just playing and then Miss Gulch (Emily Perzan) wants to take Toto away. Dorothy tries to run away, but Professor Marvel (Kirk Lawrence) tells Dorothy that Auntie Em (Ashleigh Thompson) is sick (but she isn’t). 

Dorothy runs home just in time to get inside before the twister hits. She falls asleep and before she knows it, she’s meeting Glinda the Good Witch (Ashleigh Thompson) and the munchkins in MunchkinLand! One thing I did not like was how loud it was from the Wicked Witch, the munchkins and the monkeys. I had to cover my ears!

Gabrielle's Review
I can’t remember the last time I watched The Wizard of Oz, so I was excited to see the performance. The set design was incredible, really felt like you were part of the story. The mix of back screen, stage and front screen gave life to each act. 

The munchkin flowers were incredibly detailed and very vibrant. And I loved the winged monkeys – not so scary in this performance! Of course the Lion stole the show, but a close second was Toto...Adorable and so well-behaved! 

The only thing I didn’t like was how long the show ran. Three hours even with teenagers is tough, let alone the little ones. While the first half was strong, I felt like there was ‘filler’ in the second. The dance in Emerald City (without any of the main characters) I felt was long and unnecessary, as was the Jitterbug. But the singing, costumes and actors were fantastic. 

I would recommend this show for your families, but you might want to keep the littler ones at home. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Wild Trip to Neverland with Peter and the Starcatcher

The cast of WDL's production, Peter and the Starcatcher. 
Photo by John McCafferty, MJ Mac Productions.
By Mike Logothetis
“No man is an archipelago.” That’s one pearl of wisdom I learned at the Wilmington Drama League’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher – a wildly theatrical “origin story” of one of literature’s favorite mischievous boys, Peter Pan.

Adapted from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s best-selling 2004 novel, the 2011 play was conceived for the stage by directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers and written by Rick Elice, with music by Wayne Barker. The Tony Award-winning show upends the century-old story of how a miserable orphan came to be “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.”

WDL director Rebecca May Flowers utilizes a competent ensemble cast to fully realize the wackiness of the storyline set in the late 19th Century. Creative props and acute stage timing make sure the action never stops. Though Peter and the Starcatcher often employs 21st Century terms, it’s still set at a time when duty often clouded emotion, plus gender and class were defining/limiting characteristics.

It took about 10 minutes for the show to congeal into a coherent plot after unevenly developing the setting and characters with first- and third-person dialog coupled with breaking of the fourth wall. It’s a little much to grasp to start a play, but the WDL does well with what is provided in terms of script. Once the audience is set on who’s who and what’s what, the cast takes us on an enjoyable romp through all sorts of adventures. You won’t need to know “Norse Code” to appreciate the treasures of this production.

The fantastical story includes a spunky girl, an ocean voyage, a cargo of something called stardust, pirates, a shipwreck, mermaids, islanders, and three orphans – one of whom is without a name. While the tale is linear in its construction, the action gloriously yanks us from side to side with funny situations, physical comedy, and hilarious malapropisms.

Molly Aster (Talia Speak) is at the center of it all. Teenage Molly is dutifully bound to her father, Lord Aster (Tony DelNegro), but has a strong independent streak which leads her to discover Ted (Catherine Enslen), Prentiss (Lauren Unterberger), and an unnamed boy (Gianni Palmarini) detained in the cargo hold of a ship called the Neverland. Scheming Captain Slank, played by an excellent Ruthie Holland, has plans to sell the boys and profit from the secret cargo of stardust he’s deviously acquired.

Meanwhile, Lord Aster is aboard the Wasp protecting a trunk containing what he believes is the stardust. When pirates raid the Wasp in search of the magical cargo, both Lord Aster’s and Molly’s plans fly out the window. Molly is compelled to free the boy captives on the Neverland, protect the precious cargo, and save her imprisoned father on the Wasp. Poor nanny Mrs. Bumbrake (Kathy Harris) cannot keep up with her charge, the energetic Molly, but thankfully finds comfort in the arms of flatulent sailor Alf (Catherine Glen). Their love story is a successful comedic side plot within a comedy.

The pirate captain Black Stache (Alfred Lance) is a cyclone of chaos who is “all swash and no buckle.” Lance is outstanding and every time he prowls the stage, your eyes fixate on him. “Now you’re likely wondering, can the fellow before you be entirely evil? Can no compassion uncrease this furrowed brew?” Black Stache says. “Brow,” his pirate lieutenant Smee (Molly Pratzner) corrects. It’s clever wordplay like this that makes this show a must-see. (There’s even a wonderful poetry battle built into the show!)

A special bond grows between Molly and the unnamed boy – who later receives the moniker “Peter Pan” in an interesting and magical way. Molly, Peter and the two other orphans make their way through varied obstacles (e.g., a shipwreck) and antagonists, like the island native Mollusks who menacingly chant Italian food names.

I won’t reveal any spoilers, but I will insist that you are comfortably in your seat at the start of the second act so as not to miss the opening number involving almost everyone in the show. The ensemble cast play multiple roles and is rounded out by Hayley Hughes, Autumn Moore, and Felicia Walker.

Sean Flowers’ scenic design and clever props allow toy ships to become real ones, umbrellas to form a jungle, ropes to define portals, and a blue glove to morph into a bird. It’s all very effective.

Pianist/percussionist Tom Mucchetti provides timely accompaniment to the action on stage while sitting in the middle of all the madness.

From marauding pirates and jungle natives to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, Peter and the Starcatcher playfully explores the bonds of friendship, duty, and love. Don’t miss out on the adventure!

This production of Peter and the Starcatcher at Wilmington Drama League runs through November 19 at the theater on Lea Boulevard in Wilmington. Tickets cost $10-15 for both evening and matinee shows. Performances are at 8:00pm on November 10, 11, 17 and 18 and at 2:00pm on November 12 and 19.

“TTFN!” – in other words, “Ta-ta for now!”

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Mélomanie Premiere Celebrates a Milestone for Local Couple

By Christine Facciolo
Mélomanie celebrated its 25th anniversary at its season-opening concert at The Delaware Contemporary on Sunday, October 29, 2017.

And what better way to mark a Silver Anniversary than with a World Premiere of a composition commissioned to commemorate the Golden Anniversary of a couple known for their devotion to Mélomanie. But more about that later...

Flutist and Mélomanie co-artistic director Kimberly Reighley opened the program with the shimmering notes and flowing contours of Ingrid Arauco’s Silver (Variation diabellique). This was a fitting choice for this particular occasion, as the Delaware-based Arauco composed the piece to mark the 25th anniversary of another ensemble, Philadelphia’s Network for New Music.

Reighley was then joined by Mélomanie harpsichordist and co-artistic director Tracy
Richardson for a talk about the ensemble’s beginnings and accomplishments with Jennifer Margaret Barker, professor of music theory and composition at the University of Delaware.

Reighley and Richardson then came together in a lovely performance of the Sonata in G Minor attributed to J.S. Bach but now believed to be by his son C.P.E. This is a charming work that features a true interplay between flute and harpsichord. The lilting Adagio gives much melodic interest to the harpsichord while the flute plays long notes. The last movement features an extended harpsichord solo which gave listeners the opportunity to hear Richardson’s consummate technique and clear, crisp sound.

Equally charming was Abel’s Quartet in G Minor. This work 
 scored for flute, violin, viola da gamba and cello  is one of a collection of 10 quartets for this instrumentation. Published in 1794, it is the only quartet to have survived with this specific scoring.

This two-movement work typifies the sort of music one might have heard in the intimate setting of the home of a patron. The performance was very smooth. The players exhibited a fine sensitivity to each other, creating a nice set of interactions that brought out the nuances of this delicately wrought music.

The second half of the program was taken up with the World Premiere of Up to the Light by Mark Hagerty. This was Hagerty’s fourth commission for Mélomanie and one of his most interesting and inventive. The 25-minute work was commissioned by Mona Bayard for her husband Tim Bayard in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. Tim is a founding board member of Mélomanie, and both he and Mona are active supporters of and volunteers in the arts and education.

Up to the Light is a work scored for flute, violin, viola da gamba, cello, harpsichord and vibraphone. Hagerty included the vibraphone in a nod to Tim Bayard’s deep appreciation of jazz. Here it was played by guest percussionist, Chris Hanning.

Up to the Light is a musical description of a journey from a troubling experience to one of a positive feeling, all the while retaining the pain of the earlier trauma. In this work, sonorities (i.e., specific harmonies and their arrangements and tone colors), rather than traditional melodies, convey the emotion experienced during the journey.

The work presents three major statements of these sonorities, at the opening, the midpoint and the end. Sandwiched between these statements are passacaglias — sometimes strict, sometimes informal 
 based on a melody introduced by the flute.

Especially effective was the incorporation of a single orchestral bell, which added a somber or joyous tone, depending on the musical context.

Hagerty indulged Tim Bayard’s love of jazz by skillfully folding the timbre of the vibraphone into the texture and by the subtle introduction of jazz-influenced harmonies into the tonal fabric of the work.

See www.melomanie.org