Monday, April 16, 2018

'Provocative Pairings' with a Pair of Poets

By Christine Facciolo
Artistic endeavors which cross boundaries can be highly exciting affairs. This is especially true when composers and poets collaborate, because their art forms naturally flow well together and magic happens.

Mélomanie and The Twin Poets created that sort of magic at the ensemble’s final concert of its 25th season Sunday, April 8, 2018 at The Delaware Contemporary. The audience contained lots of new faces as well as regulars, who said this was the best Mélomanie concert they’d ever attended.

Mélomanie and the Twin Poets collaborate on United Sounds of America.
Photo by Tim Bayard.
The Twin Poets are Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha. Governor Jack Markell bestowed the shared title of Poets Laureate on them in December 2015, praising them for their artistic excellence and extensive experience in outreach to underserved communities as well as their love of poetry and the spoken word would benefit all Delawareans.

The brothers told the audience how they developed a love for writing: when they were growing up, their mother made them work out their disputes by writing to each other.

As adults, their poetry is deeply rooted in their social work. The sons of William “Hicks” Anderson, an activist in the local Civil Rights Movement, an advocate for children and namesake of the community center in West Center City, the twins have carried on their father’s legacy of speaking for the most vulnerable. Selections on this program spoke of street life and the challenges of poverty, absentee parents as well as those who would sooner buy drugs than provide for their children.

Particularly powerful was Mills’ account of a veteran suffering from PTSD while grappling with the guilt of his wartime deeds, actions his commanders termed “patriotic” at the time.

The tone as reflected in the music by Mark Hagerty and Jonathan Whitney addressed the cultural, political and social dissonances in American society. Telemann’s Chaconne in E minor added a wistful afterthought.

There were messages of hope as well. Some poems spoke of the power of education, personal responsibility, self-determination and working toward a dream.

The twins also presented poems that offered lighthearted takes on parenting, kids hating homework and an adolescent’s ill-fated attempts at romance.

The program also featured selections from Aegean Airs composed for Melomanie in 2013 by Robert Maggio, chair of the Department of Music Theory, History and Composition at West Chester University. Like 
Mélomanie’s 'provocative pairings of early and modern music,' Maggio’s work draws on compositions from Ancient Greece as well as the pop-folk music the composer heard while on vacation one summer in Greece.

The program concluded with the world premiere of the twins’ just beautiful United Sounds of America with music by Mark Hagerty adapted from Robert Glasper’s Gone which itself is after Miles Davis.

See www.melomanie.org and arts.delaware.gov/poet-laureate/

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Experience "What's Going On" Through Dance & Music

What's Going On created and performed by Dance Place.
Photo by Jonathan Hsu.
Christina Cultural Arts Center welcomes Dance Place of Washington, DC to celebrate Marvin Gaye's landmark music brought to life through exuberant dance. The one-night-only performance will be held at The Tatnall School's Laird Performing Arts Center in Wilmington, Delaware on Saturday, April 21, at 4:00pm.

Dance Place Artistic Director Vincent E. Thomas looks through the lens of Marvin Gaye's transcendent music and finds a reflection of today’s world. Gaye's insights into life, love and social justice are given fresh perspectives through Modern, Jazz and West African dance choreography by Thomas, Ralph Glenmore and Sylvia Soumah. 

The program is a full-length dance piece set to the groundbreaking music of Marvin Gaye, including classic hits like Heard it Through the Grapevine, Let’s Get It On, Mona Lisa, Inner City Blues, Got to Give It Up and many more. 

What's Going On seeks to evoke thoughtfulness and sparks conversations in each community it touches.

Vincent E. Thomas (Artistic Director) is a dancer, choreographer and teacher. His choreographic work has been presented nationally and internationally. He is Artistic Director of VTDance and Professor of Dance at Towson University. Ralph Glenmore (Choreographer) is a former principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His illustrious Broadway career includes A Chorus Line, Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ and Bubblin’ Brown Sugar. Sylvia Soumah (Choreographer) is Founder/Artistic Director of Coyaba Dance Theater, performing traditional and contemporary West African dance and music. The What’s Going On company is made up of eight new and established dancers, many familiar to the DC dance scene.

Tickets are $22 or $16 for students, all available now at ccacde.org

This project is made possible, in part, with support from Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Delaware Special Presenter Initiative Grant.  

See ccacde.org and danceplace.org

Thursday, April 5, 2018

"Dirty Dancing" Down Memory Lane at The Playhouse


By Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage opened Tuesday, April 3 at The Playhouse on Rodney Square to a very excited audience! Based on their reaction, I assume most (if not all) had seen the movie and knew the story of Frances "Baby" Houseman’s romance with bad-boy dancer Johnny Castle, during her well-to-do family's vacation at a resort in upstate New York. 

"Baby" & "Johnny" have the time of their lives in
Dirty Dancing  – The Classic Story on Stage.
Photo courtesy of
The Playhouse on Rodney Square.
Assuming they knew the movie, that also meant they knew the soundtrack. I think anyone who was 4 or older in 1987 probably knows at least one or two of the songs by heart! (I recall those songs playing constantly on the radio 'back in the day.') 

Dirty Dancing, the film, was a phenomenon. Let’s face it: Most people going to see the stage version are looking to recapture the memories of a blockbuster movie of the 1980s. From what I overheard of people exiting the theater at the close of the show, it did the job! I heard many recounting the first time they saw the movie, comparing the stage actors to the original characters in the film.

Yes, this Dirty Dancing stays true to the film. You’ll recognize the dance moves, the music (with a few period songs added), the characters and every famous scene from the movie (you can probably guess them all). Minor changes have been made to this production — including a subplot about the Freedom Riders — but for the most part it, the original tale stays intact.

Although some may long for the film actors, I think most will be pleased with many of the actors in this production, especially Aaron Patrick Craven as Johnny Castle and Anais Blake as Penny Johnson. Both are incredibly strong dancers, and it was hard to keep my eyes off them as they recreated those iconic dance moves on The Playhouse stage. 

Christopher Robert Smith as Dr. Jake Houseman (Baby’s father) brought a youthful feel to his character that was refreshing and that made him a little more relatable. Erica Philpot, who sings many of the famous anthems from the film, has a beautiful voice and brought new depth and feeling to the memorable songs.

I admit, like most others in the theater that night, I became a little nostalgic watching the show. It took me back to being 13 years old and seeing the movie for the first time with my family. It was nice to "relive" my youth and the fun of the 80s…even though the show is set in the 60’s!

Come relive the time of your life while Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage is at The Playhouse on Rodney Square through April 8. For tickets, visit www.thegrandwilmington.org or call 302.888.0200.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wilmington 1968: New Website Empowers Community Reflection

This post content comes from a press release from the Delaware Art Museum...

Twenty area organizations collaborated to launch the Wilmington 1968 website, a tool for community reflection. Via www.wilmington1968.org, Delawareans can access community resources that teach about the local Civil Rights Movement through words and pictures, and address present-day racial and social justice issues. Additionally, the community can share memories of their own to contribute to cross-generational conversations about this historic event. These oral histories will be archived for future generations. The Wilmington 1968 website will also serve as a hub for information about related exhibitions, performances, events, and forums. It will be available to the community through January 2019.

Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Wilmington high school students converged on Rodney Square. Subsequent to these protests, looting and fires prompted a request for the National Guard to restore peace. Although other American cities experienced the same level of uprising after April 4, 1968, Wilmington, Delaware experienced the longest peace-time occupation in modern times. Wilmington remained under martial law for nine and a half months. This extensive patrol of Wilmington by the National Guard drastically changed the city from the inside out. Residents went about their days and nights watched, restricted, angry, and fearful. Numerous businesses along Market Street closed.

If it is true that we are destined to repeat the lessons we haven't learned, today's youth are adamant that we will not get left back. Youth-led movements such as #NeverAgain-nationwide protests stemming from the latest school shootings-are taking center stage in our social consciousness and awaking a new generation of activists. 


In 2017, Simone Austin (2017 Alfred Appel, Jr. Curatorial Fellow with the Delaware Art Museum; current graduate student, University of Delaware, History Department), was instrumental in bringing this shared history to the forefront as the primary contemporary researcher on these events for the Delaware Art Museum's summer exhibition series. 

The community-wide reflection beginning this spring will bring "both answers and questions," says Austin. "People of my generation and those who are not from Wilmington will start to understand what happened, why Wilmington looks the way it does today, and why people have certain perceptions of the City of Wilmington and of Delaware. I also think in terms of questions because the work that I've done is not the end. There are so many stories that just aren't found in traditional sources and I'm hoping that more people will come forward and share their experiences."

The Wilmington 1968 partners see the upcoming events, performances, and forums as ways to constructively process the physical and emotional toll on our city stemming the uprising and its aftermath. Our community needs to know that we, representatives of the arts & culture community, are not oblivious and unaffected by this quest for healing, and support all Wilmingtonians as they contribute to these necessary cross-generational conversations about race and reconciliation.
Drawing inspiration from the protest art of the 1960s, Squatch Creative — the design firm that created the Wilmington 1968 website — blends technology and art to empower activism. Marcus Price, the site designer, shared, "While creating the aesthetic for the Wilmington 1968 remembrance, I wanted to do justice to the people who lived through this experience. It's different than creating a website for a product or a brand. It was an entire movement and people. I wanted to be sure that I honored that and the spirit involved." 

Partner Organizations in Wilmington 1968 project:

Monday, April 2, 2018

Creating 'Provocative Pairings' with a Pair of Poets

This post is from an excerpt of Out & About magazine's April 2018 issue...

Musical quintet Mélomanie prides itself on creating what they coin “provocative pairings” in their music and partnerships. This month is no different (yet very different), as they celebrate a first-time collaboration with phenomenal spoken-word duo Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills, known as the Twin Poets and Delaware’s current Poets Laureate.

Mélomanie. Photo by Tim Bayard.
In a program entitled United Sounds of America, two performances — Saturday, April 7, at 4:00pm and Sunday, April 8, at 2:00pm — will be presented at The Delaware Contemporary, completing this mash-up of artistic genres. Guest artist Jonathan Whitney will join them on percussion.

The Twin Poets are thrilled at the prospect of this new artistic endeavor. “We’re honored to share the stage with Mélomanie,” Chukwuocha and Mills say. “Through music and spoken-word, we’ll depict the challenges, hopes and aspirations of our great nation. Throughout America’s proud history, the most significant moments have always been when we stood united, demonstrating our true strength. In response to the chaotic divisiveness spreading throughout our country and world, this performance will ‘build a wall’ of love and empowerment, highlighting the transformative power of the arts.”

“I deeply admire the work of the Twin Poets,” says Mélomanie Artistic Director Tracy Richardson. “Their words and performances articulate the human situations of our time and the human condition of any time, contemporary or ancient.”

The Twin Poets. Photo by Joe del Tufo.
Mélomanie asked the Twin Poets for the opportunity to combine their respective art forms and offer a new experience to audiences. “We’re continuing in the earliest traditions of the union of poetry and music,” says Richardson.

Richardson says audiences can expect new poetry and favorite past works from the Twin Poets as well as new and favorite music from Mélomanie. For the performance, the Twin Poets have created a poem reflective of the event title, United Sounds of America.

The ensemble and duo will perform together and separately during the program, with composer Mark Hagerty creating and arranging music to accompany the Twin Poets. Mélomanie will perform contemporary regional composer Robert Maggio’s Aegean Airs and German Baroque master Georg Philipp Telemanns’ Chaconne

Tickets are $25, $15 for Delaware Contemporary members and students 16 and older. Those up to age 15 are admitted free. Advance purchase is recommended at melomanie.org.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Ayreheart Makes the Lute ‘Cool’ Again in Wilmo

Ayreheart is Ronn McFarlane, lute; Willard Morris, fretless bass, violin & colascione; 

Mattias Rucht, percussion. Photo courtesy of Ayreheart.
This post is from an excerpt of Out & About magazine's April 2018 issue...

Market StreetMusic keeps its vibrant music roster going into spring with the return of Renaissance-and-modern music trio Ayreheart. The ensemble — Ronn McFarlane, lute; Willard Morris, fretless bass, violin and colascione (a kind of bass lute); and Mattias Rucht, percussion — brings the lute and related period instruments into the 21 Century with all the energy of a traditional rock band. The Friday, April 20, 7:30pm concert is the second appearance for the group in Market Street Music’s lineup.

“Ayreheart returns to Market Street Music because they are simply remarkable!” says Market Street Music Director David Schelat. “These musicians, who all have backgrounds in rock and jazz, create a level of energy that jumps off the stage and into the audience. It really is a bit like a rock concert, except the music is from the 14th to 17th Centuries.”

So, let’s back up. What’s a lute, exactly? It’s a stringed instrument (similar to a guitar, although it is plucked rather than strummed) with a long neck of frets, a round body and flat front. Descended from the Arabic oud, the lute was the most popular instrument in the Western world during the Renaissance.

The Ayreheart ensemble was founded in 2010 by Grammy-nominated lutenist McFarlane, who had long been writing and performing music for solo lute and found many of his ideas were more expansive than for just a solo instrument.

“It was a natural evolution to expand into an ensemble that could play all the parts,” says McFarlane. “There’s also an exchange of ideas and energy with an ensemble that becomes more that the sum of its parts.” 

In addition to original music, Ayreheart performs Renaissance music, “…from the time when the lute was considered the ‘Prince of Instruments,’” as McFarlane notes. “There’s a tremendous amount of music that exists from that period…that appeals to us very much.”
The last time Ayreheart played at Market Street Music, they presented an all-Renaissance music show. This time around, McFarlane says they’ll offer up a generous helping of Celtic music as well as his original music in the mix.

“I want audiences to come away happy and uplifted by our music, but also to hear the lute as an expressive instrument for modern as well as Renaissance music,” says McFarlane. “It’s exciting to break new musical ground for the lute, combining Renaissance and modern instruments, and creating a new body of music that blends elements of folk, Celtic, bluegrass and classical,” he says.

Tickets are $20 ($10 students) online at marketstreetmusicde.org and $25 at the door the evening of the show. 

See www.marketstreetmusicde.org

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Another Grand Night with the Delaware Symphony

By Christine Facciolo
It was certainly a grand night at the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. The Grand Opera House in Wilmington was filled, one presumes, to hear Tchaikovsky’s much-loved Piano Concerto No. 1 with the young Cleveland-born pianist Orion Weiss.

The concerto was absolutely spectacular. It is a tribute to Music Director David Amado and the immensely talented musicians of the DSO that the concert came off at all — let alone as well as it did. A hefty snowstorm just two days prior forced the cancellation of several rehearsal dates not to mention delaying the soloist’s arrival in town. Amado and flutist Eileen Grycky joked about the title of the concert, “Destiny,” in light of the week’s weather events.

The concert opened, appropriately enough, with a fine rendering of the melancholy and agitation of the overture to Verdi’s opera La forza del destino.

Pianist Orion Weiss then took his place at the keyboard and showed why critics have called him one of the most sought after soloists in his generation of young American musicians.

To say that Weiss wowed in his debut with the DSO would be an understatement. His was an exceptionally thoughtful performance. There was to be sure plenty of jaw-dropping showmanship but the loud passages were well-modulated to the capabilities of the piano, the venue and the level of the orchestra. The lyrical moments between the pyrotechnics were lovingly shaped and nuanced. The finale was high-voltage and Weiss executed its bursts of virtuosity with lightning speed.

For an encore, Weiss again dazzled with a performance of the final movement of Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin.

After intermission, the DSO returned with one of the lynchpins of the 20th Century orchestra repertoire, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. Written in 1943, a year before the composer died of leukemia, it is an unusually exuberant work given the circumstances under which it was created.

As anyone familiar with the work knows, each of the five movements a different section or sections of the orchestra and each conveys a different mood or character. The first is mysterious and “folkish,” while the second is humorous but with a solemn middle section. The third is very dark, but followed by a light intermezzo which parodies the Shostakovich Seventh, which although an enormously popular work at the time, was one Bartok intensely disliked. The finale is epic and triumphant.

All of these qualities came through strongly and convincingly in this well-executed rendering. From piccolo to tuba, the musicians turned in first-rate performances, presenting further evidence that the DSO is one of the finest regional orchestras on the scene.

See www.delawaresymphony.org.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Spotlight: Singer/Songwriter/Actress, Hayley Orrantia

Singer/songwriter/actress Hayley Orrantia will soon be visiting Wilmington in her first headline tour, the "Strong, Sweet & Southern Tour." She'll appear at The Queen on April 26. Delaware Arts Info sat down with Hayley to talk music, touring, what she misses most about Texas and more. Check out our interview below...

*You began as a singer, but y
ou've also had great success starring in ABC's The GoldbergsWhat made you choose singing initially?
Truthfully, music was just something that I did the same way a kid would choose soccer or volleyball. At 9 years old, I didn’t think about it as a full-blown career, but it’s something I enjoyed doing and was good at. So it was very natural to transition to doing it full time when it was all I had ever known. 
Hayley Orrantia. Photo by Diana Ragland.

*Do you feel both aspects of your career complement each other, or that you may have to choose one over the other? 
I truly believe I wouldn’t be anywhere in music if it wasn’t for The Goldbergs. [The show] has opened so many doors for me and allowed me to connect with people I wouldn’t have without it. We're signed up for Season 6, which we will begin filming in August. It takes up a lot of the year, but I don’t feel I have to choose. I find a good way to balance my music and acting careers alongside one another or during hiatuses. 

*Since this is Women's History Month, tell us about some of the women who inspire you. So many women I look up to! My mother is the main one. She is so strong and hard-working and doesn’t take no for an answer. But I also look up to two of my girlfriends from Nashville, Lindsay James and Emily West. When you meet good, talented people, you’re just drawn to their energy. They are the epitome of supporting and encouraging other women and artists, and I love that.

*Is there anyone you've modeled your career after? 
I have always admired Sara Bareilles for her writing ability and how she strives to do so much with her music — whether as an artist, writing for movies or the musical, Waitress. She’s a dreamer and an achiever. 

*Congratulations on your first headlining tour. Is there anything you're particularly excited about experiencing? I have no idea what to expect from this tour! I really look forward to introducing some new music and meeting fans of the show. It’s 
all going to be very new to me. 

*Do you feel it's more impactful to do single releases today or do you plan to eventually release a full-length album?
I used to think that I needed to have an EP or full album to do anything, but that’s just not the case anymore. Artists are so focused on singles now.  I believe it makes more sense as a new, independent artist to do that for financial reasons as well as really exploring my sound. A single can represent itself, but with an album, everything has to be so defined or consumers get confused. I enjoy taking this time to feel out what is right for me.

*How long will this tour be? Do you record while you're on the road? I'm touring for about two months. I will definitely be writing on the road, but not necessarily recording. I have so many new ideas for songs, a lot that won’t even be shown on this tour because they’re so fresh. But that just gives me more to look forward to.

*Strong, Sweet & Southern is a fun, playful song, while your new track Give Me Back Sunday is more poignant, almost wistful. Tell us about writing those. 
I co-wrote both songs with different people, which is probably why they have such different vibes. Strong Sweet and Southern was the fun, upbeat song I was wanting. I wrote it with Mark Bright and Kevin Kaddish, and we really just wanted something catchy and swingy. Give Me Back Sunday, however, I wrote with Jason Saenz and Todd Clark. This song was about my personal experience moving to Los Angeles on my own and really missing the simplicity of my hometown in Texas.

*Going back a bit, your song Hasta Verte you sing entirely in Spanish. Why did you choose to record in Spanish?
I wrote Hasta Verte (originally Until Then in English) with Mark Bright and Emily Shackleton. It was a song we wrote about my friend who had passed away from cancer. I cried through the entire writing process. I decided I wanted to try a song in Spanish as a tribute to my grandfather’s side of the family who are Hispanic. It was a challenge for me since I don't speak Spanish fluently, but I was so proud of the end result.

*You're a proud Texan. What do you miss most about home when you're away? Honestly, the fried chicken! You can’t get food like that in L.A. But I also do miss my friends, family and boyfriend, who are all back home in Dallas.

*Are there any singer/songwriters or bands that you enjoy or follow? I listen to so many things — from country to singer/songwriters to 70s funk to hardcore rock. But if I had to narrow down the bands or artists I listen to most, they would be John Mayer, Sara Barielles, Ingrid Michelson, Kacey Musgraves and Dan+Shay.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Spotlight: Singer-Songwriter, Marie Miller

Singer-songwriter Marie Miller recently visited Wilmington, opening for Five for Fighting at The Grand Opera House on March 10. Delaware Arts Info sat down with Marie to talk music, touring, a charity she loves and more. Check out our interview below...

Singer-Songwriter Marie Miller. Photo by Sarah Barlow.
*Since March is Women's History Month, tell us about some of the women who've inspired or mentored you early on.
Yes! So many wonderful women have influenced and inspired me. My female heroes are Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa, Sheryl Sanberg and my mom.

*Is there anyone -- female or male -- you've modeled your career after?
I model my career after Sara Barielles. She is so talented, and her lyrics are so raw and real. My goal is to be able to sing her high notes with ease.

*Tell us about your work with the Imprint Hope project. How and why did you get involved?
Imprint Hope is a non-profit that works with children with disabilities and educates their parents on how to care for these special kids. In Uganda, many people see persons with disabilities as 'cursed,' and Imprint Hope is a place where these children are loved and celebrated. I heard about [the organization's] founder Clare Byrne through a mutual friend and had to see her and the work she was doing. I visited Uganda and performed for the children and their families there. I also brought back some beautiful bags and headscarves that the mamas made to sell at my concerts. We donate the proceeds back to Imprint Hope, and we've raised almost $1,000 on this tour alone!

*Congratulations on touring with Five for Fighting. Is there anything you're excited about experiencing during the tour? How did you connect and decide to tour together?
This tour has been amazing! John from Five For Fighting is a killer performer and a wonderful person. It's a blessing for me to watch the show every night and soak up his obvious professionalism and artistry. My awesome manager, Josh Terry, got me this tour though his connection with Five For Fighting's manager.

*How long will you tour? Do you record while you're on the road? This tour is only a couple weeks, but I'll be on and off the road all summer. I haven't! I can't imagine recording while touring, although I know a lot of people do.

*Is there any anxiety associated with touring? How do you manage stress? I don't have very much anxiety on tour. We don't sleep very much, so a ton of coffee is a must! I try to keep up with my workout routine, prayer/meditation time and a healthy diet. I don't always succeed, but I think that makes a big difference. 

*Your label is in Nashville; is that your home base? What do you miss about home when you're touring?
I have a room I rent in Nashville, and I love my life there, but I also spend a bunch of time in Shenandoah Valley Virginia, where my family lives. I love being on the road. Besides my family, I don't miss much! I think I was built for this life.

*Letterbox is your first full-length album. Was the process different for you than producing singles or EPs?
The process of recording the album was uhhhhmazing! I recorded it in L.A. and Nashville with two incredible producers, Eric Rosse and Chad Copplin. Recoding a full-length is really just twice as much fun as an EP.

*What's your favorite song on the new album and why? My favorite song is Glitter Gold. The production is exactly how I wanted it to be, and I felt like it captured the emotion of the song in such a beautiful way. I always seem to like sad songs.

*Where do you get most of your inspiration when you write?My inspiration comes mostly from my own personal relationships either with friends, family, or love interests. My songs are very much like reading my journal. I usually write solo, but I am getting better at co-writing!

*Do you think full-length albums can still be relevant in today's music scene?I think people are always going to want full-length albums — or at Ieast, I know I will.

*What other music do you listen to? Are there any singer/songwriters or bands that you follow now?
I listen to a lot of different kinds of music now, anything from The Lumineers to Thomas Rhett to broadway musicals.

See www.mariemillermusic.com.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Voices & Viols Filled The Barn at Flintwoods

By Christine Facciolo

First appearing in Spain in the 15th Century, the viola da gamba — or viol — was a most popular instrument in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, holding an honored position even in the court of the Sun King. But by the mid-18th Century, the viol fell out of favor as concert halls grew larger and the more penetrating sound of the violin family became more popular.

The viol attracts little attention today, even though the 1991 film Tous les Matins du Monde about two of the greatest composers for the instrument, Marin Marais and Saint-Colombe, and a number of contemporary composers have written for it.

But the rich sounds of this once princely instrument were duly showcased in Brandywine Baroque’s March 16-18 concerts, “Voices and Viols.”

Joining Brandywine Baroque Artistic Director Karen Flint on vintage harpsichord were violists Catharina Meints, John Mark Rosendaal, Donna Fournier, and Rebecca Humphrey Diederich, flutist Eileen Grycky, soprano Laura Heimes and tenor Tony Boutte.

Meints pointed out that she and Flint had been friends for a very long time because of their passion for collecting period instruments. Meints then proudly displayed her treble viol, which dates back to 1700 and is, remarkably, in virtually the same condition it was when it was first made.

England boasts a very rich history of viol composition and performance, more than likely inspired and encouraged by the royal patronage of Henry VIII, and that tradition was well-represented in the first half of the program as the consort accompanied songs by William Byrd, Henry Lawes and Thomas Morley.

Songs from the French Baroque made up the second half of the program with selections by Michel Lambert, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Etienne Moulinie.

Heimes delivered the clear, unadorned vocal quality and needle-sharp intonation that has earned her respect and admiration. Here in consort with the viol she offered heartfelt, vibrant performances that effectively portrayed the texts without losing touch with the songs lovely vocal characteristics. Standouts included Byrd’s My Mistress Had a Little Dog and Lambert’s Ombre de mon amant.

Tony Boutte’s tenor was pure and emotional, breathing much life into songs like Byrd’s Though Amaryllis Dance in Green and Moulinie’s Enfin la beaute.

Heimes and Boutte delivered some delightful — and expressive — duets, including Henry Lawes’ A Dialogue Upon a Kiss and The Mossy Bank.

The instrumentalists gave imaginative accounts of William Lawes’ Airs in C, Nos. 113 and 109. Flint and flutist Grycky explored the rich textures and dense tapestry of ornaments in the Prelude, Courante and Gaillard in G minor from Jean Henry D’Anglebert’s Pieces de clavecin (1689). The ensemble concluded the concert with a lively rendering of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Concert pour quatre parties de violes.

See www.brandywinebaroque.org

Monday, March 19, 2018

Candlelight's "Drowsy Chaperone" Will Leave You Anything But

By Carol Van Zoeren
Carol is a 40+ year veteran of community theater and retired from DuPont.

Remarkably, as a musical theater geek, I was unfamiliar with The Drowsy Chaperone. Sure, I’d heard of it and was aware that the protagonist was “Man In Chair." But I didn’t know the songs, the plot or anything.

Well I’m a good student, so I Googled a synopsis of the plot the day before. I figured, as a reviewer, my responsibility was to review the production on stage, not the show itself. If I were trying to figure out the plot, I might be distracted from the production I was tasked to review. 

Connor McAndrews as "Man in Chair" in The Drowsy Chaperone.
Photo by Tisa Della-Volpe.
As it turns out, the plot is both familiar and joyously random, so one has no choice but to focus on the production and just go along with the ride.

And what a ride it is! The Drowsy Chaperone actually refers to a fictional 1928 show within a show (or rather “a musical within a comedy” as the tagline says) which features a cornucopia of stock characters from the heyday of American musical theater. This includes the self-absorbed romantic leads (Kevin Dietzler and Audrey Simmons); the very wealthy, very dim matron (Lindsay Mauck) and her long-suffering butler (Anthony Connell); the heavily accented Latin lover (Topher Layton); a pair of gangsters straight from central casting (Victoria Healy and Max Redman) and many others.

These characters must be played in broad vaudevillian style, vocally and physically. And every member of this cast delivers. There are invigorating showcase numbers, such as  Simmons in Show Off, Layton in I Am Aldolpho as well as Dietzler and Shaun Yates tap dancing through Cold Feet

Tiffany Christopher shines as the Drowsy Chaperone herself with As We Stumble Along, described as a “rousing anthem about alcoholism." But what thrilled me even more was when the entire ensemble displayed exquisitely coordinated comic timing. These moments were liberally sprinkled throughout, but a particular dropped cane bit in Act II deserves special mention. The choreography is stylistically spot on and superbly executed. My highest compliment to a show is that it is “tight." Kudos to Director/Choreographer Peter John Rios.

And so we come to "Man in Chair" (although, as my companion remarked, he spends very little time actually sitting in the chair). On the surface, Man is the quintessential wide-eyed uber-fan of musical theater, and Connor McAndrews enthusiastically invites us to share his joy and passion. But there’s also a great deal below the surface. While he seeks escapism via his favorite musical, he cannot avoid the encroachment of the less ideal reality of his life. With a masterfully nuanced performance, McAndrews more than meets this challenge. He engenders warm affection for his character, which makes the somewhat surreal final scene all the more affecting.

The production values are impressive. Jeff Reim’s clever set seamlessly transforms from a somewhat dingy New York apartment to multiple rooms of a mansion in the Hamptons. Timothy Lamont Cannon’s costumes and Lisa Miller Challenger’s wigs & hair transport us to 1928 society. Light and sound cues are intricate and demand split-second timing, so hats off to the operators in the booth.

In sum, The Drowsy Chaperonemuch like the Marx Brothers comedies on which it is loosely modelled  is a madcap, raucous laugh-riot not to be missed!


See www.candlelighttheatredelaware.com.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Two Harpsichords, Two Guest Artists, One Premiere & "Catch 1"

By Christine Facciolo

Mélomanie’s concerts just keep getting better and better. Not that this innovative ensemble — that looks both to the past and to the future — ever delivers anything short of sheer excellence. But Sunday’s concert at The Delaware Contemporary knocked it out of the park with a World Premiere, the graphic notation of Polish composer Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, two guest artists as well as some delightful selections from the Baroque era.

The ensemble opened the concert with an extremely well-polished and impeccably precise rendering of the Chaconne from Marin Marais’ Suite 1 in C major (from Pieces en trio 1692).


Mélomanie performs with guest artists Matthew Bengtson & Chris Braddock.
Photo by Tim Bayard.
Harpsichordist Tracy Richardson then joined composer Christopher Braddock on the octave mandolin for a performance of Pluck, a piece that Braddock wrote in 2009 — a time when Braddock said he had far less personal responsibilities.

Braddock explained that he chose the instrument because it produces some of the low-end heft of the guitar along with the fiddle-like bounce of the mandolin, making it the perfect vehicle for Pluck with its idiomatic folk-style writing.

It was most interesting and entertaining to hear Richardson and the harpsichord take to the folk medium like second nature.

The highlight of the first half of the program, though, was Haubenstock-Ramati’s Catch 1 (1968) for two harpsichords adapted in Caught (2018) by Mark Hagerty. It’s doubtful that many in the audience ever heard anything by this composer since discs documenting his work are quite rare.

Haubenstock-Ramati’s aim was to move musicians far beyond what he perceived to their comfort zone of conventional notation. Yet the question of how to interpret his pictorial images remains. Hagerty’s realization features notated passages and snippet that can be freely selected and varied by the interpreters — in this case, Richardson and guest artist Matthew Bengtson — in response to the graphic notation.

It’s doubtful that anyone in the audience had ever heard music like this before. The experience would have been complete had there not been a technological glitch that prevented concertgoers from seeing the actual notation. Nevertheless, this was truly “music for the moment,” as Hagerty urged audience member to listen without regard to what came before or what was to follow.

Following intermission, Bengtson offered two selections from Pieces de Clavecin by Armand-Louis Couperin, cousin of the more famous Francois. Armand-Louis’ work is generally not considered as sophisticated as Louis’ but it is attractive and full of personality. Bengtson interpreted “L’Afflige” and “L’Intrepide” with sensitivity and intelligence. He was particularly successful in keeping Couperin’s rhythms flexible without distorting them and without sacrificing spontaneity.

Bengtson then rejoined Richardson for a vivid, imaginative performance of the Duetto I in C major for two harpsichords by Christoph Schaffrath, an important harpsichordist and composer in the court of Frederick the Great. Both were impressive in their execution of these demanding keyboard parts.

The concert concluded with the World Premiere of Braddock’s Hooks & Crooks, which the composer explained was written during a series of family vacations at various locales. Scored for flute, violin, viola da gamba and guitar, the work showed Braddock to be a flexible, eclectic composer with a sense of humor. The ensemble played with customary vitality and color as the music faded like a summer memory.

See www.melomanie.org

"Mary Poppins" at MPHS: A Spoonful of Sugar for the Eyes, Ears & Heart

By The Good Girls
The Good Girls appreciate the rich arts scene in Wilmington. Brenda is passionate about volunteering, food, the outdoors and learning tennis. Brynn, a 4th Grader, enjoys horses, traveling, singing and learning to crochet. Brynn's friend Madison joined us for her first theater experience. She is a 1st Grader who likes dancing, playing outside and solving math problems. 


Drama is serious fun at Mount Pleasant High School, with a year-round program featuring a fall play, student-directed (and many student-written) one-act festival and the spring show.

The cast of Mary Poppins at Mount Pleasant High School.
Photo courtesy of MPHS Drama.
This year’s spring show is the timeless Mary Poppins, based on the stories of R.L. Travers and the 1964 Walt Disney film. The expansive cast, orchestra and crew includes a record 24 seniors involved in the production. Many of the players have roots in prior Mount productions as well as those of other local performing arts staples, like Wilmington Drama League.

Drama is a community endeavor at Mount. While the school funds the staff, many other daunting expenses — such as securing the rights to perform the plays, costume rentals, lights and other tech — are all underwritten by volunteer fundraising efforts (raffles, concessions, program ads, etc.). Many, many volunteer hands join together to present these gems to us.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious showcased the captivating costumery and choreography, and the catchy classic had parents and children in the audience irresistibly singing and bobbing along. 

Brynn’s first experience with this mouthful was a delight to share in! Throughout the play, she bonded with child characters Jane and Michael Banks and quietly encouraged their father that Mary Poppins was in fact teaching them manners...with fun!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Eighth Blackbird Soars in Museum's Performance Series

By Christine Facciolo
Let’s get right to the point: eighth blackbird is the best contemporary classical chamber ensemble on earth. Maybe even in the universe.

Need proof? Since its formation by six Oberlin Conservatory students 20 years ago, it’s captured four Grammy Awards, issued seven acclaimed recordings and successfully commissioned and performed new works by composers such as David Lang, Steven Mackey, Missy Mazzoli and Steve Reich. The blackbirds also received the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions in 2016.

Eighth Blackbird contemporary classical chamber ensemble.
Photo from eighthblackbird.com.
The musicians are products of some of the country’s most prestigious music schools, including Oberlin Conservatory, the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute, Northwestern University and the University of Cincinnati-College of Music. The current roster is made up of Nathalie Joachim,  flutes; Nick Photinos, cello; Michael Maccaferri, clarinets; Matthew Duvall, percussion; Yvonne Lam, violin and Lisa Kaplan, piano.

The blackbirds didn’t need to present any credentials to please the audience at the Delaware Art Museum on Saturday, though, where they offered a program of six pieces complementing the Museum’s collection and current exhibition Eye on Nature: Andrew Wyeth and John Ruskin.

Listening to these selections was a bit like walking through a museum: In fact, many of the pieces were composed by members of the Sleeping Giant musical collective, the works having been inspired by the art featured in the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art. Eighth Blackbird applied the aural landscapes to the works of Wyeth and Ruskin.

Timo Andres’ Checkered Shade (2015) showed how tiny fragments of repeated material resolve into a larger pattern, in this case, an expressive chorale. Similarly, Jacob Cooper’s Cast (2015) built an aural analogue to an artistic process of absence with nostalgic gestures that trail off into a sonic encasement of Messianic-like piano chords, scratchy violin phrases and a repetitive vibraphone riff

John Luther Adams’ The Light Within (2007) offered an alluring sensory experience of the interplay of light and color through luxurious layers of sound and whimsical harmonies.

Furthering the nature connection, Duvall communicated with a tree in Matthew Burtner’s Song for Low Tree (2011). This was by far the most interesting piece on the program as evidenced by the number of concertgoers who gathered around Duvall to ask questions at intermission. Scored for a kit of wood blocks, log drum, low drum and bass drum, the piece uses interactive software to process the voice of the performer and the percussion sounds, merging these signals with tree exhalation ecoacoustics.

Robert Honstein explored the merger of the human body with the computational process in Pulse (2015) (from Conduit). Expansive lines in the flute and cello move through a cloud of asynchronous repeated notes, taking the listener right into the unseen world of the computer itself.

Duvall and Photinos gave a nod to acclaimed composer Steve Reich with a rendering of Clapping Music (1972) which sounded as fresh and unpredictable as it did when it was composed almost 50 years ago.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Wonder of "Wonderland" in Wilmington

Wonderland at Delaware Children's Theatre.
Photo by Mike Malaney.
By Guest Bloggers Traci Murphy and Mallory Murphy. Traci Murphy is editor & co-founder of Brandywine Buzz, a free weekly email and blog for parents in the Brandywine Valley. Her daughter Mallory, age 12, is a theatre enthusiast, actor and 6th Grader at Brandywine Springs School.

Fighting siblings. A dog that only listens sometimes. Questionable food and drink. Insane acquaintances. Picking your battles. A leader that has no patience left. If there was ever a theatre metaphor for parenthood, this mom thinks it’s Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure, running at Delaware Children's Theatre February 24 through March 18.

Wonderland reminds us that "children and unicorns are fabulous monsters” — and together they have fabulous fun together onstage. Perfect for the "curiouser and curiouser” kids and tweens you’re corralling, Wonderland has fun music, plenty of dancing and audience participation to engage even the youngest theatre-goers (some parts are a smidge dark), and clever lines will amuse the adults that are tagging along.
After all, we are all the Queen of Hearts sometimes — particularly when she tells Alice to “...best do what I say just because I said” — who can't relate to that? And while Alice and the Queen command your attention, your heart will be stolen by the little Dormouse who naps the scenes away.

Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure raps and rhythms its way into stealing your heart while it rocks your socks off. 

The 'flowers' in the cast of Wonderland at Delaware Children's Theatre.
Photo by Sheena Brooker.
-Traci

I really enjoyed going to see 
Wonderland at the Delaware Children’s Theater! I was an actor in Madagascar at this theater this season, so it was very fun to get to see people that I work with performing in a new show. 

The show was really fun, and the actors were very talented. I think my favorite part of the show was the music  it made the play a lot different than the animated movie. The costumes were beautiful, especially the flowers. Good job, cast and crew! 
- Mallory

Sunday, February 25, 2018

DSO's Third Chamber Concert Celebrates Black History Month

By Christine Facciolo

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra used the occasion of its third chamber series concert of the season to commemorate both Black History Month and the 50th anniversary of the passing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The February 20 program, titled “Triumph over Adversity," featured an eclectic mix of solo piano pieces, chamber music, German Lieder and African-American spirituals performed by symphony members David Southorn (concertmaster), Philo Lee (principal cello), Lura Johnson (principal piano) and guest artist bass-baritone Kevin Deas.

Johnson opened the concert with a performance of Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso in E major. This is a work that contains the meaty technical challenges that showcase Johnson’s virtuosity, something DSO audiences rarely get to hear. She delivered the Andante section with suitable solemnity then launched into the Presto without hesitation.

Johnson was then joined by Southorn and Lee in a performance of the composer’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor. One could not help but be impressed by the unflagging passion and athleticism of the musicians. They gave it their considerable all. From the darkly etched and fiery opening movement, to the emotional slower passages and the skittering scherzo, they generated a palpable energy that culminated in a rousing and brilliant finale.

After intermission, bass-baritone Kevin Deas processed into the Gold Ballroom singing Wayfairing Stranger, an entrée to the segment of the program devoted to the spiritual. If Paul Robeson is considered to be the gold standard of this vocal fach, then Deas is not far behind. Deas’ voice was nothing short of breathtaking, as he applied it to some of the repertoire’s best-loved spirituals, including Wade in the Water and City Called Heaven.

Deas proved to be a most gracious artist as well, taking to the microphone to inform the audience about the function of the Negro spiritual as well as the unlikely collaboration between Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and the African-American classical composer Henry Burleigh, who made the arrangements of the spirituals heard this concert.

Deas also offered some personal insights into his selections, as in how his mother hated to hear him sing Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, until he explained that the song wasn’t a personal commentary on their relationship but rather an expression of despair and hopelessness.

Deas then offered several selections of Schubert Lieder that were in keeping with the concerts overall theme of life’s long journey, including Der Wegweiser (from “Die Winterreise”), Wohin (from “Die Schone Mullerin”), Im Abendrot and Dem Unendlichen. Johnson prefaced this section with an expressive yet unsentimental rendering of the composer’s lyrical Impromptu in G-flat major.

Deas also performed I Heard the Cry of Wild Geese, an expression of longing for home and loved ones, from Four Songs on Chinese Poetry by Pavel Haas, the Czech composer who perished in the Holocaust.

Johnson also performed Liszt’s transcription of Widmung (“Dedication”), a song that Robert Schumann had originally in 1856 for Clara Wieck, whom he married that year. Although her technical mastery would allow her to grandstand the more virtuosic passages, Johnson downplayed this aspect of the piece in favor of the fervor of Schumann’s music. She prefaced her performance with a reading of the German text and its accompanying English translation.

Deas concluded the concert with Deep River, a selection he called probably the best-known and best-loved spiritual.

See www.delawaresymphony.org.