Monday, June 18, 2012

Delaware Chamber Music Festival-Satisfying Cravings

Living in Delaware, I find myself craving classical music. The Delaware Chamber Music Festival (DCMF) has been satisfying the community's cravings for 27 years and is a staple of the local classical musical diet. Even on a beautiful Father's Day afternoon, the concert hall at The Music School of Delaware was nearly full. The quartet: Barbara Govatos, violin, Hirono Oka, violin, Burchard Tang, viola and Clancy Newman, cello.

Sylvia Glickman's Carved in Courage, arranged for string quartet by Tony Finno, is part of a trilogy Glickman dedicated to the holocaust.  Barbara Govatos, DCMF musical director, explained the significance of the work and its references to the Danish resistance movement during WWII.  The movements---Premonitions, Preparations-Frøde Jacobsen-Resistence Leader, Krystalgade Synagogue and Dr. Køster of Bispebjerg Hospital, Rescue by the Sea-Jens Møller, fisherman/rescuer and The Afterward---each conveyed an important emotional and musical message, with the Danish National Anthem triumphantly finding its way in at the very end.   Lyrical and full of passion, Glickman's work was beautifully played.  My grandfather, who had been part of the Danish resistance movement, was captured, imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis.  I know he would have been deeply moved by this tribute.

As guest artist, pianist Julie Nishimura performed in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Trio in B flat major, K. 502.  Nishimura's beautiful playing was balanced perfectly with the lovely sounds produced by violinist Barbara Govatos and cellist Clancy Newman.  Mozart always delights with his usually light, joyous themes and brief departures to more pensive territory. 

Ending the program was Claude Debussy's String Quartet in G minor.  Though Debussy was born 150 years ago, his quartet seems to structurally, harmonically and melodically belong to a later era.  The players exploited every dynamic and nuance of Debussy's often brooding music.

Be sure to catch The Delaware Chamber Music Festival's last concerts of the season on June 22, 2012 at 7:30 pm and June 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm, also at The Music School of Delaware.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The future of the Delaware Symphony

The one benefit of the Delaware Symphony’s declaration of a suspended season for 2012-2013 has been the excellent and prolific coverage of their plight in the News Journal.  Never before has the DSO had so much press!

Perhaps this will get some people talking about solutions for the 2012-2013 season.  In such a crisis situation, the best thing to start with is to count assets and liabilities.  Executive Director Lee Williamson was quite right to declare a state of emergency, but the latest suggestions of a cure might kill the patient, so could we please go back to some sensible solutions?

Listing the assets of the DSO would take much more space than this blog usually devotes to a single article, but a few essentials must be listed.  The excellent musicians who are currently in the Delaware Symphony (and many from the past who stuck it out when the DSO was but a fledgling of its current musical achievement) have migrated to Wilmington and the surrounding area because of the symphony.  Yes, they had to take other jobs to support themselves and to be able to play in a symphony.  (Note here that even to play in a regional symphony and even to qualify to play in the DSO when it was NOT as good as it is now, the musicians had to be of a very high quality.)

The musicians themselves have fanned out and many have started some ‘side jobs’ that have produced excellent public school music programs.  Just to cite a few:  Martin Beech, Associate Principal Second Violin, conducts the orchestra at the Kennett High School  and Kennett Middle School in nearby Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.  .Mr. Beech started teaching 38 years ago, taking over when there were only 12 string students district-wide.  Today, the district has a full-time music teacher for the elementary schools and Mr. Beech has string lessons, full orchestra class, string ensemble and string chamber groups at both the high and middle school.  The orchestras grew from 45 students in each school to about 75 students today.   Rosaria Macera, violin, is director of the orchestra at Newark High School.  Since Newark High is a choice school, kids bus from all over the district because they want a chance to play in an orchestra. Ms. Macera’s orchestra has become an exacting, award-winning program which has attracted the attention of Maestro Simeone Tartaglione of the Newark Symphony Orchestra.  He has invited many of Ms. Macera’s students to participate in coordinated activities with his symphony.  These two examples of ‘side jobs’ of Delaware Symphony members shows how deeply the DSO musicians affect our community far beyond their roles as symphony musicians.

Maestro David Amado is also a tremendous asset of the Delaware Symphony.  He is talented, has local roots, and he has taken the DSO to greater heights than they have known in their entire 100-year history.  Credit must be given not only to Maestro Amado’s predecessors for providing him with a very good orchestra to begin with, but also to the musicians who patiently played and improved and stayed with an orchestra that, quite frankly, wasn’t all that hot forty years ago.  It took a great deal of faith for many people to persevere to create the orchestra we have today.  Maestro Amado is still here with us and is under contract, so he is a current asset.  He is also devoted to the DSO and their progress and his reputation will be strongly influenced by what happens in the coming season.   Rest assured that he will be energetically fighting for the DSO’s survival.

Maestro Amado and others have also created assets in their connections to other institutions in Delaware.  There have been many coordinated programs between the University of Delaware Music Department and the DSO – some fine performances with Dr. Paul Head’s University Chorale which brought in large audiences.  There was a coordinated New Year’s Eve Gala at the Delaware Art Museum; there have been many education programs from visits to schools, to family concerts, to hosting 90-plus girl scouts to earn their music badges. 

Last and not least are the audience members.  As Harry Themal correctly pointed out in his June 11 editorial in the News Journal, they are ‘aging and dwindling’, but they are not dead!  And I might add that the audiences who filled the Grand for the pops and youth concerts are not really all that aging and dwindling.  Must the DSO tell them to look for other entertainment in the 2012-2013 season?  In doing so, the DSO would be telling local area restaurants, hotels, cafes and parking facilities to expect hundreds fewer customers on symphony nights.

For the liabilities, we should list not just the actual money owed, but the loss of goodwill created by forcing the DSO to cancel the scheduled artists for the 2012-2013.  Wise though the decision may have seemed at the time,  the cost of cancellation in most cases is a hefty fee which would have been better spent in asking that artist to retool and use a piece from their repertoire that would have fit a smaller chamber orchestra or group.  This would have not only been a better cost outcome, but it would have sent the message that artists can count on the DSO as a potential employer, even if they could not finance the original schedule with full orchestra.

Another liability is the loss of faith and trust of the musicians.  The potential earnings lost by the sudden suspension vary from musician to musician, but the loss of trust in the DSO is the same.  This is a tremendous hurdle for David Amado. He has built up the musicians’ trust over a number of years and he and the orchestra members have developed a rapport which has resulted in some excellent performances.  The board and executive director have done him a great disservice by being too quick with the knife.

The absence of a development director is a liability.  To say you have no season and no planned concerts and still want donations is a nonstarter.  To say you want donations and have no one to coordinate them is another nonstarter.  Cutting this off is cutting off the water and roots of your tree.  If the board does not correct this, they might as well chop it down.

If the community wants to retain the magnificent quality of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and the associated effects of parallel events created by the DSO and its members, they must stop the bleeding and start tending this incredible oak which has been growing for the past one hundred years.  Insist that the symphony regroup, have smaller concerts and spend a year not suspended but reduced.  Give Maestro Amado enough budget to get as many of his musicians performing as possible.  Get a development director to send those musicians EVERYWHERE.  Have that person tap into grants from everything from special education to reading promotion to musical paper dances. Connect to untapped groups rather than sending profuse and expensive mailings to people who just attended a concert.  Send out complimentary tickets to every major company and hotel in the county to grab those potential audiences who are not already there.  Do whatever you have to do.    

But don’t stop the music.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Star Wars: A New Musical Hope for Bootless

Star Wars: A New Musical Hope, Bootless Stagework's much-anticipated summer show, was timed perfectly. Opening just a week after the Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con, with its light sabre training classes and the famous 501st Legion of Imperial Storm Trooper costume players, area fans are still mentally in a galaxy far far away -- and Star Wars the Musical is a nice way to top it off.

Don't expect 501st-level costuming (although some of the costumes, most notably Chewbacca and a motorized R2D2, are amazing) -- that's not what this show is about. Adapted by Jeremy Gable, it's a campy parody of Episode IV (known simply as Star Wars to anyone over the age of 30) set to music. Sort of a cross between "Family Guy's" Blue Harvest and a Broadway musical. Funny one-liners are woven into faithful stage incarnations of movie scenes, with original songs by Timothy Edward Smith and Hunter Nolan. Whether you find the gags funny depends a lot on your relationship with the film -- fans will follow the humor easily, while I imagine anyone who isn't well familiar with the series is likely to be lost.

Some of the gags, especially involving John Rachlin's Darth Vader and Christopher Todd-Waters as C3PO, are very successful; others, like Han Solo (Ryan Mulholland) declaring that he has a "case of the Mondays" are a bit too corny, even for goofy comedy. The show actually works best when it's not trying to be funny -- an original "filler" scene featuring Princess Leia (Maria Leonetti) in her cell after her planet has been destroyed, the confrontation between Obi-Wan (Shaun Yates) and Darth Vader, and the Rebel Squadron's climactic mission, are definite highlights. The laughs are there, though -- my 12-year old son laughed throughout. The show features some stellar vocal talent, but at the end of the day, this is a show geared toward Star Wars fans before lovers of musical theater.

Star Wars: A New Musical Hope runs through June 17 at OperaDelaware's Black Box theater. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets.