Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Serafin Quartet 'Reunites' Two Celebrated Composers

By Christine Facciolo

Born one year and 300 miles apart, Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann met for the first time in Leipzig on August 31, 1835. The Serafin String Quartet reunited them at Wilmington’s Trinity Episcopal Church with a program of two of their most Beethoven-inspired works: the A minor quartet, Op. 13 (Mendelssohn) and the A major quartet, Op. 41, No. 3 (Schumann). The date was also — coincidentally — the 210th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth.  

Mendelssohn, often referred to as the “classical romantic,” was a most celebrated composer during his lifetime. His stature slipped somewhat during the 20th Century, but this most underrated of the Romantics is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as many top-flight recordings and performances of his works indicate.

The Serafin Quartet. Photo courtesy of the artists.
Mendelssohn was just 18 years old when he wrote his A minor String Quartet in 1827, which was also the year Beethoven died. The Beethovian influence is evident, as are influences from Mozart and Haydn. The quartet also displays the young composer’s facility with the cyclical technique and exhibits a degree of passion and drama not characteristic of Mendelssohn.

Kate Ransom’s first violin was reliably lyrical and dramatic in the highly expressive opening movement, while the ensemble played as if it were one. The musicians lovingly conveyed the aching sorry of the second movement, a complex and dramatic affair marked adagio non lento (“slow not slow”). Beautifully judged phrasing and dynamics characterized the fiendishly difficult third movement with its contrasting moods.

The finale returned to the emotional world of the first movement. Beethoven’s influence again evident with its stormy recitative over tremolo accompaniment. The Serafin delivered a glowing and energetic performance of this most complex movement yet managed a conclusion that was gentle and calming.

Schumann’s A major quartet was again delivered with tonal precision and blend. In the first movement, the playing was flexible and fluid, capturing the halting nature of the music with its unsettling syncopations. The musicians delivered the fugato and tempo risoluto sections of the second movement with a muscular certainty, while the finale was exuberant and full of toe-tapping dance.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Playhouse Takes a Family on Magical Trip to 'Neverland'

By Guest Bloggers Erin, Ellie & Maggie Lacey
Erin is a mom of 4 kids and works as a Business Processor for Point to Point Wealth Management in Wilmington. When not at work or home, she can usually be found costuming her kids' shows at the Delaware Children's Theater. Ellie is an 8th Grade Vocal Major and Maggie is a 7th Grade Piano major at Cab Calloway School of the Arts.

As a working mom of 4 kids, my evenings generally consist of the usual rush of carpools, dinners and mountains of homework, so I was thrilled to have a rare weeknight date with my girls, Ellie (age 14) and Maggie (age 12) to see Finding Neverland at The Playhouse on Rodney Square. In the Lacey house, music is a sport, and seeing musicals are like going to see your favorite team play. 

I had never seen Finding Neverland, but Ellie had when she was nine, having attended a Broadway Dreams Workshop with The Imagination Players. During that trip, they spent the afternoon with a cast member who taught them to sing and dance to Believe, one of the big ensemble numbers. 

After her trip, she was thrilled to have seen a real Broadway production, but was a little fuzzy on details, as nine-year-olds often are. I was interested to see the show for myself, and to hear how Ellie's perception of the show would change now that she was five years older.

Finding Neverland tells the story of J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, as he struggles to write a new play after a flop. He goes to Kensington Gardens to try to find inspiration outside and meets a group of young boys and their mother, Sylvia. Their joy in their imaginary game is contagious and Barrie finds himself leading the boys in a game of pirates and realizes that his imagination is being reawakened by play. 

His closeness with the boys and their mother creates friction in his marriage, and his wild imaginings inspired by the boys are ridiculed by his producer and his actors. It is when all is darkest that he must decide if he will fall in line with societal expectations, or will he follow his heart to Neverland.

"Little boys should never be sent to bed. They always wake up a day older." 

This line from Peter Pan, said by J.M. Barrie in Act 1, was the first time I welled up during the show, but it definitely wasn't the last. There were multiple times when I was reminded of when the kids were younger and we could play make-believe games for hours. The interaction between the four young actors was believable as brothers, and I wanted to scoop the youngest up and bring him home with me. 

I was totally ready to enlist in Captain Hook's crew by the end of Stronger and the Gaelic-inspired Play was a joy to watch. There were some lovely quiet moments between the two leads, Barrie and Sylvia, even in times when the rest of stage was full of dancing. They would be focused on each other in the way that two people in love usually are. 

But it was a look between a Sylvia and her mother during Neverland Reprise in the second act that went all the way into my heart. Because of course, to parents, our children never do grow up. Instead, when you look at them, you see them at every age, as if you have your own personal Neverland.

It's a fairly low-tech show, as far as effects, but I found the simplicity sweet and engaging. My daughters loved it as well. Ellie did indeed have a much different impression of the show at age 14 than at 9. She particularly enjoyed the message of Stronger and said that she liked how Barrie faced his "haters" and did what he knew to be right. Maggie loved We're All Made of Stars, and really loved the interactions of the boys. She said that their make-believe games made her wish it was summer so they could get back to playing all day.

There were a number of opening-night glitches with set pieces and sound, but it didn't take away from the overall 'glowy' feeling of warmth that this show conveys. By the end, you will know that your imagination is powerful and love is the best magic of all.

Finding Neverland continues at The Playhouse at Rodney Square through Sunday, February 10. Tickets range from $40-95 at TheGrandWilmington.org.

Monday, January 28, 2019

UD's Master Players to Perform at Carnegie Hall

The content of this post originates from a press release from The University of Delaware...

University of Delaware Master Players Concert Series and Artistic Director Xiang Gao will perform “6-WIRE & Friends at Carnegie Hall” on Saturday, February 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Zankel Hall of Carnegie Hall in New York City.  Master Players celebrates its 15th year of bringing the world’s top musicians and ensembles to the University of Delaware.

The performance will be led by 6-WIRE (Xiang Gao, violin/director; Cathy Yang, erhu & Matthew Brower, piano), the Master Players Ensemble-in-Residence. 6-WIRE is inspired by the historical connection between the erhu, the Chinese 2-stringed violin, and the 4-stringed violin — both essential instruments in the East and West.  The ensemble mixes traditional romanticism and virtuosity with new chamber music.

6-WIRE ensemble. Photo courtesy of the artist. 
Founded and directed by Chinese-American violinist Xiang Gao, an award-winning concert presenter, composer and producer, 6-WIRE’s performances redefine traditional chamber music, delighting cross-generational audiences with forward-looking compositions and cutting-edge audio and video technology.  

The New York premiere of Clearwater Rhapsody for 6-WIRE and cello by MacArthur Genius Grant awardee Bright Sheng features the world-renowned composer at the piano. The concert will also feature the New York debut of compositions and arrangements by Xiang Gao. A composition titled 6th Sense for 6-WIRE and cello will feature UD faculty cellist Lawrence Stomberg in memory of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.

Members of the UD Symphony Orchestra, under the leadership of UD Director of Orchestral Activities James Allen Anderson, open the program with the World Premiere of the 6-WIRE arrangement of Bach’s concerto for violin and oboe. 

In this performance, which includes guest harpsichordist Tracy Richardson, the erhu replaces the oboe part to bring a new sound to the masterpiece. Renowned Chinese violin-maker Yunkai Jiang created a violin-erhu hybrid cello called Gupinghu, and Master Players guest cellist Gabriel Cabezas will perform on the Gupinghu for the instrument’s New York debut.

Two World Premiere works on the program include Ealasaid, for 6-WIRE and UD Chorale, led by Paul D. Head, composed by Jennifer Margaret Barker and Meridian Flux by composer Mark Hagerty.

Piffaro's Christmas Renaissance

By Christine Facciolo

Piffaro not only delights audiences by presenting the beauty and glory of Renaissance music, it also engages with historically informed performances that inspire, entertain and educates a loyal following throughout the United States and beyond.

And so it was in December when the ensemble offered a glimpse of how Christmas Eve might have been celebrated in early 16th Century France. The townspeople would have gathered in their modest church with a small choir and a band of instrumentalists to commemorate the most important event on the liturgical calendar. The Mass would feature music composed in the lush, polyphonic style of the late 15th and 16th Century Flemish composers. (In this case, Thomas Crecquillon’s chanson Pis ne me peult venire.s)
This liturgy, though, would not be the straightforward affair it is today. Rather, its movements would rub shoulders with noels and motets. The text would be brought to life with dramatic vignettes 
 a true “multimedia” event.

A most interesting aspect of the program — at least to amateur and professional musicologists — was the revelation of a treasure trove of rare manuscripts housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia. One of these collections is a beautifully illustrated group of French noels known by the uninspiring moniker Lewis E 211. Dating back to 1520, its pages contain beautiful and accurate
 renderings of instruments, including numerous bagpipes, shawms, recorders, pipe and tabor and hurdy-gurdy. They are played by ordinary people and some anthropomorphic animals.

Members of the audience got an introduction to this collection in the pages of the beautiful and informative program compiled by Joan Kimball, Piffaro’s artistic director.

This is music meant to be performed, and who more qualified to do the honors but the knowledgeable virtuosic musicians of Philadelphia’s resident Renaissance Band. Piffaro was joined in its effort by the elegant vocalisms and highly animated performance of the six-voice ensemble Les Canards Chantants. Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell created dream-like vignettes with nothing fussier than their expressions, some costume changes and a few props.

No doubt little of the music on this program sounded like Christmas music to most in attendance, but for those with a sense of musical adventure, it made for a very fine musical experience.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Delaware Division of the Arts Announces 2019 Individual Artist Fellowships

This post content originated from a press release by the Delaware Division of the Arts...

Twenty Delaware artists are being recognized by the Delaware Division of the Arts (DDOA) for the high quality of their work. Samples from 136 Delaware choreographers, composers, musicians, writers, folk and visual artists were reviewed by out-of-state arts professionals, considering demonstrated creativity and skill in the art forms. The 20 selected fellows reside throughout Delaware including Bear, Bridgeville, Claymont, Dover, Frankford, Lewes, Middletown, Newark and Wilmington.

Awards are given in three categories: $10,000 for the Masters Award; $6,000 for the Established Professional Award; and $3,000 for the Emerging Professional Award. Fellows are required to offer at least one exhibit or performance during the upcoming year, providing an opportunity for the public to experience their work.

"Individual Artist Fellowship grants provide the recognition and exposure that artists need to successfully promote their work," said Paul Weagraff, DDOA Director. "The financial award allows them to pursue advanced training, purchase equipment and materials, or fulfill other needs to advance their careers." 


The work of the Fellows will be featured in a group exhibition, Award Winners XIX, at the Biggs Museum in Dover from June 7 to July 21, 2019. Selections from Award Winners will travel to CAMP Rehoboth in August and early September and then Cab Calloway School of the Arts during September and October. 

A photo from last year’s Award Winners' exhibition
at the Biggs. 
The painting is from Thomas del Porte,
2018 Established Professional, Visual Arts: Painting.
"It’s a very diverse cohort this year," notes Leeann Wallett, DDOA's Program Officer of Communications and Marketing. "I'm excited to see what they bring to the annual Award Winners' exhibition at the Biggs."

The Masters Fellowship is open to differing artistic disciplines each year. In Fiscal Year 2019, Masters Fellowship applications were accepted in Literary and Media Arts from artists who had previously received an Established Professional Fellowship. In addition to exemplifying high artistic quality, Masters Fellowship applicants must demonstrate their involvement and commitment to the arts in Delaware and beyond. Listed below are the Delaware Division of the Arts 2019 Individual Artist Fellows as well as three Honorable Mentions.

Billie Travalini has been awarded this year's Masters Fellowship in Literature: Fiction. Travalini, an internationally award-winning writer and educator, teaches English and creative writing at Wilmington University. She has taught creative writing to encourage critical thinking at youth detention centers statewide, which led to Teaching Troubled Youth: A Practical Pedagogical Guide, an award-winning book with an important message on the human condition. In addition, she has taught poetry and playwriting at various Boys and Girls Clubs. 


In 2014, Travalini received the Governor's Award for the Arts for her extensive career and work in education. Travalini, co-founder and coordinator of the Lewes Creative Writers' Conference, is currently working with Fort DuPont to have the children of Governor Bacon remembered by serving the children of today. Her passion for creative writing has led her to "promote the need to include everyone in the conversation."

2019 Individual Artist Fellows
Masters Award — $10,000 
  • Billie Travalini (Wilmington), Literature: Fiction 
Established Professional Award — $6,000
  • Susan Benarcik (Wilmington), Visual Arts: Works on Paper 
  • Shawn Faust (Bear), Visual Arts: Painting 
  • Don Foster (Dover), Literature: Fiction 
  • Daniel Jackson (Claymont), Visual Arts: Photography 
  • Shelley Kelley (Newark), Folk Art: Music 
  • Leslie Hsu Oh (Middletown), Literature: Creative Nonfiction 
  • Chet'la Sebree (Middletown), Literature: Poetry 
  • IVA (Wilmington), Music: Solo Recital 
Emerging Professional Award — $3,000
  • Jenifer Adams-Mitchell (Frankford), Literature: Fiction 
  • Kevin J. Cope (Newark), Music: Solo Recital 
  • Kaitlyn Evans (Lewes), Visual Arts: Crafts 
  • Matthew Glick (Claymont), Visual Arts: Works on Paper 
  • Geraldo Gonzalez (Wilmington), Folk Arts: Visual Arts 
  • Karen Hurley-Heyman (Newark), Literature: Poetry 
  • Mary-Margaret Pauer (Bridgeville), Literature: Creative Nonfiction 
  • D.H. Regnier (Newark), Music: Composition 
  • Gregg Silvis (Newark), Visual Arts: Sculpture 
  • G.W. Thompson (Lewes), Visual Arts: Painting 
  • Shannon Woodloe (Wilmington), Visual Arts: Photography 
Honorable Mention
  • Howard Eberle (Lewes), Visual Arts: Works on Paper 
  • Jane Miller (Wilmington), Literature: Poetry 
  • Jim Salt (Newark), Literature: Fiction 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Finding Her Voice: A Visit with Young Author Megan Chen

Fifteen-year-old author,
Megan Chen.
Megan Chen is a 15-year-old author who attends Newark Charter School in Newark, Delaware. Delaware Arts Info connected with her for a quick Q&A on her new book, Finding Tiger, which is currently available on Amazon and Kindle.

How long have been writing and what was your initial inspiration?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I loved to make up my own stories and poems, and it gradually became something that I fell in love with and wanted to take more seriously. 

The inspiration for Finding Tiger stemmed from problems of cultural identity, implicit bias and stereotyping that I have struggled with in my life, and I often see others struggle with in my community.

Can you give us a summary of the Finding Tiger story? Who is your book's intended demographic?
Finding Tiger is a heartwarming yet adventurous story for students in early grades (Kindergarten to 4th Grade). The story centers on a yo
ung tiger who has no sense of self-identity. Through interactions with other animals including Blaire the Bear, Lu the Snake, and Elphie the Elephant, Tiger has to conquer assumptions and biases. Through the unknown jungle, she goes on a journey of self-discovery to find her true colors in the end.
Chen's book, Finding Tiger, is available now on Amazon and Kindle.

What message would you like readers to take away from the story?
I’d like all readers to learn that the journey to self-acceptance is not easy, but it is really rewarding in the end. Many people struggle with problems of fitting in, trying to be someone that they are not. I want to let them know that it is okay to be different. Even though this sounds cliché — it really is our differences that make us unique. Don’t be afraid to be there for someone who is struggling with these problems, and always share a little love, kindness and acceptance every day.

Do you have any book signings or promotional appearances planned to promote the book?

I am working on scheduling several appearances in schools across the area, and I will be at several author events at local libraries in Newark and Bear. I am also planning an event at Barnes & Noble soon that will be a book signing and meet-the-author event.

I would also love to visit area schools to read Finding Tiger live, so if there are teachers who may be interested, please connect with me!

What authors/books are you currently reading or who/what are your favorites?

I have recently been in a phase of reading books that have been turned into shows or movies. I just finished the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series, and I’m currently reading the Crazy Rich Asians book series. I’m also reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini — which is an amazing, heart-wrenching novel — and I’ve just started A Thousand Splendid Suns, which is also an incredible work.

If you could host a 'literary roundtable' of famous authors (living or dead), who would you invite and why?
I really would choose an eclectic group of authors. As I am also very into poetry, I would invite Maya Angelou and Emily Dickinson. They are some of my favorite poets, and I know they would bring an amazing perspective [to the group].

From some of my favorite books growing up, I would have to invite J.K. Rowling and Roald Dahl. I am a huge Harry Potter fan, and I think everyone probably has a favorite book that is written by Roald Dahl. They are some of the most creative authors that I’ve read, and I’m inspired by them every day. Lastly, to finish off the group I would invite Khaled Hosseini and Kristin Hannah. I enjoy just about any realistic or historical fiction novel, and I’d love to learn more about their lives and the inspiration that led them to creating some of my favorite books.

What's next for you? What are you writing now or what are your literary goals for 2019?

I’ve just been inundated with things related to school lately, but I definitely am still working on many new things! I think 2019 is the year that I want to get back into writing poetry, as I have previously taken a break from it.

I’m also hoping to write some short stories, and I've been working on articles for several online news publications. I am absolutely using this year to express myself through my writing, and my goal is to write at least one new thing every month.