Saturday, December 31, 2016

WYNTON MARSALIS IN WORLD PREMIERE OF HIS SYMPHONY NO.4, THE JUNGLE WITH NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC

2016 COMMISSION COMMEMORATES THE ORCHESTRA'S 175TH ANNIVERSARY

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

                                     

NEW YORK--Alan Gilbert ended the 2016 calendar year of his final season as the New York Philharmonic's Music Director with a decided flourish, conducting the World Premiere of Jazz at Lincoln Center Artistic Director and JALC Orchestra Music Director Wynton Marsalis's The Jungle, Symphony No. 4.

Marsalis's enlisted the aid of the core musicians from his formidable Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to meld with the entire New York Philharmonic to present a dazzling mix of jazz, blues and swing with a tinge of modern-day classicism in virtual tone-poem to the bustling energy of America's largest and most diverse city. Pared down by one movement to a manageable 50 minutes, the symphony nonetheless cut a gigantic swath in the pages of the orchestra's history, the strains of which will echo for generations to come.

Marsalis chose not to merely remain on the sidelines and step forward at the end of the performance for some well deserved accolades, instead he sat in with the orchestra to deliver some blistering and revelatory solos.

Beginning with The Big Scream (Black Elk Speaks), the work sets out a musical vocabulary that speaks volumes about the trials and tribulations of urban life, through the city's birth as Native American, to its growing pains as a social laboratory in a tiny petrie dish. The Big Show is a Broadway-like tribute to the musical cultural stew that ensued over the centuries, with ragtime, the turkey trot and European immigrant music forms alternately colliding and blending in a cacophony of sound.  

Lost in Sight (Post Pastoral) contrasted some beautifully pithy and mournful blues passages with lush strains of jazz and reverberating orchestral notes to cast the plight of the invisible poor and homeless in bas relief. Evocative passages that interwove snatches of traditional hymns into a Bach-like classical motif created the most haunting and memorable moments of the evening.

Marsalis' concluding shouts, bellow and screams, utilizing his multi-faceted skills on the horn riveted the piece into an unforgettable experience.

The work was preceded by two other modern works, Aaron Copland's compelling Quiet City, Grace Shryock, English Horn in her New York Philharmonic Solo Debut and the orchestra's Paul Levin Chair Trumpet Christopher Martin as soloists. Copland's piece is among the most sampled of modern classical compositions in films, commercials and music videos. It was nice to hear it in its complete form. The work clearly shows how Copland defined the distinctive "American Sound" in modern serious music and cemented his reputation as the "Dean of American Composers."

The program repeats on Tuesday, January 3 at 7:30pm. Visit nyphil.org for details.



Friday, December 30, 2016

CECILE MCLORIN SALVANT LIVE AT DIZZY'S CLUB COCA COLA-JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere
 Cecile McLorin Salvant in full songbird flight


Cecile McLorin Salvant with the Aaron Diehl Trio and guest saxophonist Melissa Aldano

NEW YORK--If anyone thought the  legacy and Sarah, Ella and other jazz legends was in jeopardy, a simple venture to Dizzy's Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in the Time Warner Center was proof positive of the complete opposite. Grammy winning vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant along with the Aaron Diehl Trio of bassist Paul Silvikie, drummer Lawrence Leathers and guest artists Anat Cohen, on clarinet opening night and saxophonist Melissa Aldano on the subsequent evening, presented an eloquent excursion through modern jazz, spanning the decades from the early jazz of Sidney Bechet's New Orleans, the bawdy blues of Big Bill Broonzy, through the Great American Songbook, and latter day trailblazers and idiosyncratic innovators such as 93 year old bebop vocalist and composer Bob Dorough.

In sold out sets through New Year's Eve, McClorin mined the vocal treasure trove of jazz standards, such as Body and Soul, Isn't It Romantic, Sunday in New York, What A Little Moonlight Can Do,  Let's Face the Music and Dance, among others. and showed that there were still even greater jewels to be discovered.  In her far-reaching sets,  she and her able music-director and arranger, pianist Aaron Diehl, navigated from the tender and atmospheric (Lionel Hampton's Midnight Sun) to the bawdy  and profane (Ida Cox's Wild Women Don't Have The Blues, and the racially charged If You're Black Get Back from Big Bill Broonzy), with ease.

Opening night's guest artist,  New York-based clarinetist Anat Cohen, brought a taste of New Orleans grounding to Jelly Roll Morton's Sweet Substitutes and There'll Be Some Changes Made, that really set the proceedings onto some solid swinging jazz territory. The following night's guest, saxophonist Melissa Aldano, recalled the post-Bop musings of Sonny Stitt, Gene Jug Ammons and Dexter Gordon to an astonishing degree, adding polish to an already lustrous evening of great music. 

Cecile McLorin Salvant and company not only honored the great jazz music of the past, but laid the foundation for even more illuminating creative prospects for the genre in the New Year.

Sets continue through New Year's Eve. For information and showtimes, visit jazz.org.


Aaron Diehl and Cecile McLorin Salvant

 An engaging due with guest artist Anat Cohen
Clarinetist Anat Cohen (below) Cecile McLorin Salvant and the Aaron Diehl Trio with guest artist
Melissa Aldano

                                      

Friday, December 16, 2016

RANDY WESTON'S AFRICAN RHYTHMS QUINTET LIVE AT DIZZY'S CLUB COCA COLA

90 YEAR OLD JAZZ MASTER EXPLORES JAZZ ROOTS IN AFRICA AND AMERICA


Photo: Frank Stewart

by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--To hear Randy Weston play his fluid jazz and blues improvisations on the keyboard, you wouldn't know that he had celebrated his 90th birthday this spring. Wearing his trademark Kafia, West African hat, Weston embarked on a free-wheeling set that traced the roots of jazz from the dawn of the drum beat in Africa to the flowering of bee bop and the Afro-Cuban explosion of Dizzy Gillespie's explorations of the early 1940s with the legendary percussionist Chano Pozo,  Weston proved why he was named Medgar Evers College's first-ever Artist-On-Residence for the 2016-17 academic year and why Harvard University acquired his archives of thousands of recordings and written scores last month. His rollicking set at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, was no tweedy master class, but a vivid  romp through jazz history that revealed the inner workings of a true genius.

Weston has been quoted as saying that "Africa is not the geographic area that people occupy. It is the spirit of our ancestors."

From the opening number, it was full speed ahead into the very hot, molten core of the world of pan-African jazz with Coltrane-inspired tenor saxophonist Billy Harper,  percussionist Neil Clarke on hand drums, cymbals and chimes, alto saxophonist/ flutist T. K. Blue and bassist Alex Blake, this was an exemplary set.

All of the works presented at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola were Randy Weston's original compositions, and each came with a short, and sometimes humorous backstory. Berkshire Blues recalled a triumphant appearance at Tanglewood. African Sunrise referenced a landmark 1955 release that included excerpts from a lengthy Weston tome "Spirits of Our Ancestors," to Chano Pozo, which showcased the lightning-quick hand drums of Neil Clarke and Hi Fly, in which saxophonist T.K. Blue paid homage to the great Dizzy Gillespie with riffs that included snatches of Diz compositions Manteca, Hot House and Night In Tunisia.

In November, Weston was awarded the Legacy Award at the State of the Black World Conference in Newark, along with Hugh Masakela, among others in an event dedicated to the late African American poet and statesman Amiri Baraka,  a Newark native. The honorary chair of the conference was the esteemed actor and activist Danny Glover. The New Year of 2017 will see the release of Weston's definitive CD, "The African Nubian Suite" which promises to further cement his reputation as a cultural historian. In his set at Dizzy's, Weston proved that one can give an object lesson in music history, while maintaining the highest standards of entertainment.



Monday, December 12, 2016

MET OPERA SALOME A CAREER BREAKOUT FOR PATRICIA RACETTE

MET OPERA IN RIVETING REVIVAL OF STRAUSS'S 1905 MASTERPIECE

by Dwight Casimere
Salome: Metropolitan Opera Opening Night, Monday, December 5, 2016-through December 28
Photos: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Patricia Racette as Salome with the head of John The Baptist

NEW YORK--This was clearly soprano Patricia Racette's night. She had stepped in to what was, for her, the unlikely role of Salome, replacing an ailing fellow American soprano Catherine Naglestad.
A few opening curtain jitters aside, hers was a superlative performance, with full throttle vocal power and dramatic substance to spare. Even a lengthy athletic dance scene that ends with the star shockingly bearing her all, is executed with stamina. (Could Dancing with the Stars be next!?) Presented as an Opera in one act, without intermission, it was a two hour and forty minute thrill-ride into the black hole of an unredeemable soul.

Patricia Racette as Salome with Zeljko Lucic as Jochanaan


This Salome is a revival of Jurgen Flimm's 2004 production, which puts a modern spin on the biblical tale of King Herod Antipas's court in Galilee in the early first century AD. The present production places the story in the unspecified present day, with a glitzy modern set and costumes by Santo Loquasto. On one side is a red walled cocktail lounge with a sweeping staircase, representing
Herod's court and his throne. On the other,  a sleek, sandy dessert with undulating geometric waves.
At the center of it all is a giant cistern, submerged at the front of the stage, that is accessed by an elevator. This is where the booming voice of Jochanaan (John The Baptist), sung with powerful conviction by Serbian baritone Zelijko Lucic is heard in the early going, until he is brought up, reluctantly, in chains, to face his oppressor.  Add all of this drama and vocal prowess onstage with the finesse of young German conductor Johannes Debus in the orchestra pit, and you have one powerhouse of a performance.

Patricia Racette as Salome, dances for Herod, Gerhard Siegel

There are superlative vocal performances throughout, each one surpassing the previous as the more than a dozen featured cast members appear; German tenor Gerhard Siegel is both dramatically and vocally, the perfect Herod. He is as angered by Jochanaan's lack of fear and deference as he is fearful of his unbridled faith and zealous Fire and Brimstone pronouncement's against Herod's temporal life of sin and debauchery. Spanish mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Herodias, Salome's mother, is particularly outstanding, as is Chinese tenor Kang Wang as the young captain Narraboth.
Reginald Braithwaite is especially menacing as the Executioner. Although his part is wordless, it casts a deadly pal over everything in his appearances throughout the opera. In the final scene,  he stands as a foreboding specter, advancing to deliver the final blow to Salome just as the curtain descends. Overall, this was a heart-stopping performance.


FRENCH FILM "ELLE" CASTS THE HARSH LIGHT OF REALITY ON A BRUTAL SUBJECT: RAPE

"Elle" A Darkly Comic, Shocking Portrait of Rape and its Aftermath
From Sony Pictures Classics
2 hrs 10 mins



Presented at the New York Film Festival
Special Presentation 52nd Chicago International Film Festival 




Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

 Isabelle Huppert with Director Paul Verhoeven at the New York Film Festival news conference


The French film "Elle'" starring the brilliant actress Isabelle Huppert, often deemed the best film acrress in the world, is currently making its way around the country in limited release and is France's entry to the Academy for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.  After viewing this film at both the New York and Chicago International Film Festival's, the former, with both the actress and director present for a press screening and news conference, and Red Carpet  appearances at the New York Festival's final weekend screenings, there's every reason to believe that this film will get the nod. 

 Director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Basic Instinct) begins his rape revenge fantasy Elle by literally keeping his audience in the dark. We hear the sounds of dishware and furnishings crashing to the floor and the grunts and groans of struggle and rough sex. The action itself is first revealed through the placid gaze of the family housecoat before we see the main character, Michele, played with laser-like brilliance by France's greatest actress Isabelle Huppert, writhing on the floor, attacked by a masked stranger clad in black ninja garb. Her reaction at the conclusion of this brutal act is startling, as she calmly sweeps up the broken dishes, draws her curtains and goes on calmly and purposefully about her life as the CEO of a video gaming company that, coincidentally, specializes in producing especially brutal and graphic games. (One of the subplots involves the production of a particularly violent new game that sends the audience on a wild goose chase as to the identity of her possible assailant, but that is only a temporary diversion). David Birke's script, based on the novel of the same name by Philippe Djian, and photographed with understated elegance by cinematographer Stephane Fontaine, is a carefully paced study in the aftermath of rape. 

Its interesting to note that, according to the actress,  the original script for Elle had been written in English. The director, in fact,  had every intention of making this film in English at the outset, but no American actress would attach herself to this edgy project, so it went to the French. Huppert jumped at the role and posited that she had already had it on her radar for some time. Perhaps, the resulting superb film in French is Kismet.



Anne Dudley's sparse score is the underpinning for the taut unfolding of this shaded farce. In a complex change of will, reflected in Michele's steely gaze and a complex turn of events, the victim of this heinous act turns the tables, first, by refusing to play the victim, then later becoming her attacker's collaborator and finally, his nemesis. The film is an intricate Rubric's cube of sub-plots, with Michele having an affair with her best friend and colleagues' husband, who is also her business partner. Oh! Did I mention that Michele is also the daughter of an infamous mass murderer, reviled by all of France? Her father is dying yet she refuses to visit him at his bedside at the prison where he is serving a life sentence. I thought not. Those are just some of the twists and turns in this curious mix of violence, humor and human pathos that makes this one of Huppert and Verhoeven's best films ever.
In French with English subtitles.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

JAAP VAN ZWEDEN IS INTRODUCED AS NEW MUSIC DIRECTOR DESIGNATE OF THE NY PHIL

Distinguished conductor from Amsterdam has a long history with the Royal Concertgebouw and Dallas Symphony

Jaap van Zweden, Music Director Designate of the NY Philharmonic in perfrmance
Photo: Chris Lee



by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--There's a new musical sheriff in town and he's Jaap Van Zweden (pronounced Yap-van-ZWAY-den) who has been named Music Director Designate of the New York Philharmonic, effective in the 2017-2018 season. He officially takes over as the new Music Director, replacing Alan Gilbert , in the 2018-2019 season.

Audiences got a sneak peak preview of maestro Van Zweden in advance of his new position at an Open Rehearsal on the morning of that evening's  subscription series concert, Thursday, Nov 17.  van Zweden conducted Wagner's Prelude to Act 1 of Lohengrin, and presented the New York premiere, and world premiere of the revision, of Unearth and Release, a viola concerto by American composer Julia Adolphe, which featured the orchestra's principal violist, Cynthia Phelps, in a stellar performance.

NY Phil principal violist Cynthia Phelps as soloist in Julia Adolphe's Unearth, Release

van Zweden is a meticulous conductor, who approaches the score with astonishing precision. He holds closely to the melodic line in his interpretations and keeps a tight rein on tempos. His verbal direction to the orchestra was quite clear and audible and his no-nonsense approach brought about immediate results. His inclusion of the new Adolphe work is a positive sign that he will continue Alan Gilbert's efforts to introduce more contemporary works with living composers into the orchestra's repertoire.

The Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 was the concluding work of the program. The orchestra played it with exceptional vigor and enthusiasm, as if delighting in and rejuvenated by the presence of a new leader with a refreshing view of what orchestral music is all about. For further information on the NY Philharmonic and its Music Director Designate, visit www.nyphil.org.


LANG LANG PLAYS BEETHOVEN AS NY PHIL 175TH ANNIVERSARY SEASON CONTINUES

ALAN GILBERT CONDUCTS BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTO NO. 4, BARTOK MUSIC FOR STRINGS IN COMMANDING FASHION

by Dwight Casimere

Photo: Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

NEW YORK-The New York Philharmonic is celebrating its 175th Anniversary Season in high fashion with big stars, newly commissioned works and innovative programming. The orchestra's bold music director, Alan Gilbert, is also marking his farewell season as leader of one of the world's premiere orchestras. He will also celebrating his 50th Birthday February 23 with an All Star roster of performances from Emanuel Ax, Lisa Batiashvili, Joshua Bell, Yefim Bronfman, Renee' Fleming, Pamela Frank , Concertmaster Frank Huang and Alan Gilbert at the podium. For tickets and information, visit nyphil.org.


                                         
Alan Gilbert at the podium with the New York Philharmonic


Lang Lang is known for his flashy showmanship at the keyboard. His performances are almost Herculean in terms of his rapid-fire precision and pinpoint accuracy.   His reading of Beethoven's pensive Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major was both insightful and elegant. His opening passages rang with clarity and he dispatched the most difficult runs and glissandos with ease, allowing each note to have its own distinctive resonance. There are few pianists with this unique capability. A particular revelation was Lang Lang's handling of the quieter passages. Here is where his mastery of the keyboard and his profound understanding of the music came into play. Normally known for his facial contortions and flamboyant hand gestures, Lang Lang instead showed great restraint, pouring all of his emotion into the music. The result was deeply moving and gratifying.

There was no letup in the final movement, Rondo (Vivace). It was truly lively as the notation specified. Lang Lang and Gilbert seemed to work in complete sympatico, keeping the pace at a rapid clip, yet adding a measure of restraint to allow it to build to a crescendo that was explosive. These were musical fireworks worthy of a Fourth of July celebration and especially timely in lieu of the orchestra's 175th Anniversary Season.


MET LIVE HD: L'AMOUR DE LOIN A BREAKTHROUGH PRODUCTION BY ROBERT LEPAGE

STARTLING NEW MET OPERA PRODUCTION ONLY THE SECOND COMPOSED BY A WOMAN
Metropolitan Opera Debut Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016-through Dec. 29
MET LIVE HD: Saturday Dec. 10, 2016
MET ENCORE: Weds. Dec. 21, 2016-6:30pm local time
Photos: Courtesy Metropolitan Opera

Eric Owens in the title role of Jaufre Rudel
by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--The Metropolitan Opera's new production of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour De Loin (Love From Afar)  is significant on many levels. Not only does it star the superlative African American bass-baritone Eric Owens, the opera is only the second written by a woman to be presented by the company, it is also only the fourth time that a woman has conducted from the pit, in this case, Susanna Malkki, who is also from Finland.


Eric Owens as Jaufre Rudel with Susanna Phillips as Clemence
It seemed that the entire fashion and design world turned out the opening night premiere performance at the Metropolitan Opera House. Isaac Mizrahi, for example, was holding court in the Grand Tier lounge area with a group of fellow designers, some of whom wore outfits that rivaled the costume designs onstage. The curtain calls at the opera's dramatic conclusion saw as many luminaries standing and applauding in the front rows, as there were onstage, taking their well-deserved bows.

The Opera's composer Kaija Saariaho
Coming on the heels of a bruising Presidential election, the underlying theme of L'Amour De Loin seemed to resonate with unusual clarity. The opera tells the story of  a famous troubadour,  Jaufre' Rudel, Prince of Blaye, weary of a life of pleasure, who embarks on a search for an idealized, distant love. In his heart, he is resigned to the fact that he will never find it, but a Pilgrim (Le Pelerin in French), sung luminously by mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, tells him that she knows  of just such a woman,  Clemence, the Countess of Tripoli, sung brilliantly by Ryan Opera Center of Lyric Opera Chicago alum, and rising Met opera star Susanna Phillips. Her appearance in the final scene is one of the most commanding for a female lead since The Ring.

Tamara Mumford as The Pilgrim with Eric Owens
Jaufre's friends mock him for his longing and his seemingly foolhardy quest, but he embarks upon it any way, forging the tumultuous seas, here represented ingeniously by Production Designer Robert Lepage as strands of thousands of LED lights spanning the stage and protruding out over the orchestra pit. Lepage is best remembered for his Ex Machina rotating planks in the Met's Ring series. Some took exception to his gargantuan movable set in that production. Here, rather than drawing attention to itself, the mechanics are the servants of the art.


Owens, as Jaufre, arrives dramatically at the outset of the opera on an elevated bridge, standing in what resembles a ships prow. The image is commanding and Owens is in superlative voice. He remains so throughout, delivering a performance of emotional gravity and artistic supremacy. Chorus members and dancers, emulating mermaids, pop-up and undulate throughout the performance creating a visually stimulating scene. The opera is a feast for both the eye and the ear.

Set in 12th century France in Aquitaine, which was then an area of  dispute within the Catholic Church in the  Bordeaux region,  with the  the local  French fighting against  the influence of the English monarchy.

Saariaho's score, with its exotic and unorthodox instrumentation, evokes the tumultuous religious and social upheaval of the period through her adept use of tonal coloration. The libretto by Lebanese-born author Amin Maalouf displays the sheer emotional power of poetry.

In many ways, this production is a first of sorts for the Met. There has never been both a female conductor and composer on the same program, and certainly not with a black male lead on the stage. Social significance notwithstanding, this is an artistically superior production on every level. Those who have already seen it would do well to see it again. It is presented live at the Met through Dec. 29 and in Encore Performance on thousands of movie theatre screens worldwide in Met Live HD, Wednesday, December 21 at 6:30pm local time. Visit metopera.org for tickets and information, as well as  fathomevents.com for Live in HD tickets. 











Saturday, December 10, 2016

NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC IN MOMENTOUS 175TH ANNIVERSARY SEASON

NY PHIL SALUTES  MUSIC DIRECTOR ALAN GILBERT'S FAREWELL SEASON

Aaron Diehl piano soloist with Music Director Alan Gilbert at the NY Phil's Opening Night Gala
Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images North America


by Dwight Casimere

Dwight Casimere with the Guest Artist in the Green Room at David Geffen Hall

NEW YORK--The 175th Anniversary Season of the New York Philharmonic not only honors the storied legacy and rich history of one of the world's premier orchestras, it also marks the final season of the organization's bold music director Alan Gilbert.

The New York Philharmonic is the oldest orchestra in the United States, and one of the oldest in the world. With that in mind, the orchestra also celebrated its 175th anniversary in a very 21st century manner; its first-ever live broadcast on Facebook. If you missed the live broadcast, the concert is currently available  On-Demand on the Philharmonic's website at nyphil.org and on You Tube.

The season's Opening Gala Concert kicked things off on a jazzy note, with Grammy Award-winning pianist Aaron Diehl in his New York Philharmonic debut with Gershwin's Concerto in F. Diehl, best known for his collaborations with  Grammy nominated jazz singer C├ęcile McLorin Salvant, also served as Music Director for the Jazz at Lincoln Center New Orleans Songbook concert series and performed in the New York premiere of Philip Glass’ complete Etudes at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The concert began with the New York Premiere of John Corigliano's Stomp for Orchestra,  a rollicking tour de force combining country, bluegrass and jazz, that had the orchestra's players retuning their instruments in order to play the composition's pungent dissonance, and stomping their feet in time to the music in true country music fashion; hence the title. It was a brash and energetic way to start a concert filled with vibrancy.

Aaron Diehl's precise attack was evident from his opening phrases. His erudition and careful restraint at the keyboard allowed Gershwin's percussive melodies to unfold and explode in thunderous fashion. Gilbert kept the orchestra in check with exacting rhythms and perfect balance, allowing Diehl's elegant articulation to ring through. His skill as an improvisational artist came to the fore in the closing cadenzas that allowed him to stretch out and display his considerable keyboard chops. His was a bravura performance in every way. Here's hoping this marquee appearance with the New York Philharmonic cements a place for him at the head of the short list of concert pianists adept at presenting contemporary repertoire, a cause which conductor Gilbert has long championed.

Dvorak's monumental masterpiece New World Symphony concluded the program with a comprehensive reading that gave a new voice to this beloved masterpiece. This performance was part of a season-long, citywide New World initiative to give all New Yorkers an opportunity to discover this landmark work in the city in which it was conceived by the composer. The work will be presented in a series of on and off-site performances before diverse audiences and at outreach events, For more information on the New York Philharmonic's 175h Anniversary Season, visit nyphil.org.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

Royal Concertgebouw proves why it is called "best orchestra in the world" with a brilliantly conceived Mahler Symphony No.5



by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK, NY--The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam is considered by many to be the best symphonic orchestra in the world. Any doubters were certainly silence by a brilliant and pensive reading of Mahler's Symphony No. 5 under the incisive baton of conductor Semyon Bychkov,who has had a long association with the orchestra, dating to 1984. The sympatico between orchestra and conductor was deeply evident throughout the performance.

The program began with Detlev Glanert's Theatrum bestiarum, Songs and Dances for Large Orchestra, which the composer described as a "visit to a zoo of human beings.

"I look at people as animals because sometimes they behave as animals," the composer said of the impetus for the piece, which is at times a bombastic avalanche of sound and rhythms, bringing all of the collective fortitude of the brass and percussion to the fore in some unusual combinations and configurations. The overall effect is an overwhelming avalanche of discordant sounds and aggressive rhythms. The composer was present to walk onstage and receive a thunderous ovation.

Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in C sharp Minor is one of the best examples of the composer's genius at its prime. Its central themes literally dance with vibrant energy. His melodies and use of the horns, woodwinds and percussion echo the sounds of nature and the universe. It contains not only references to the composers own earlier works, but to his musical inpiration, Wagner. There are no angelic voices singing in this work, only the music. As the composer noted in his own words "The human voice would be absolutely out of place here. There is no need for words; everything is expressed in purely musical terms."

Conductor Bychkov found just the right tempos to advance this thunderous work. The Adagietto was almost ethereal as it swept breathlessly into the finale. This was a performance that shone with the bright light of genius, with restraint built in to preserve the element of suspense and sustained energy. The Scherzo brought forth the full color and texture of the orchestra which sparkled like a multi-faceted diamond. This was symphonic music at its finest, with the ability to stir the deepest of emotions and to move one almost to tears with the sweep of a hand or baton. It was truly a jubilant and magical performance.

Broadway In Chicago-The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time-at the Oriental Theatre now through Dec 24

by Dwight Casimere


                                         

Julliard graduate Adam Langdon's inspired performance of the central character Christopher is just one of the components that makes Broadway In Chicago's current production, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, running now through Christmas Eve, December 24 at the Oriental Theatre in the Loop, the most engrossing offering on any Chicago stage.
If you're a bit weary of all the holiday treacle and looking for something a bit more intellectually and emotionally challenging, this will certainly fill the bill. Be cautioned that this play requires your undivided attention, as the dialogue and monologues are fast-paced and laced with metaphor and hyperbole (there's even a brief discourse on the meaning and significance of metaphor from the on-stage narrator). Even a short lapse in attention span could rob the listener of vital information on the complex plot-points that define an often internal exploration within the psyche of the young male protagonist.

A new play by Simon Stephens, adapted from the best-selling novel of Makrk Haddon, and directed by Tony-award winner Marianne Elliot (War Horse), Curious Incident is the winner of five Tony Awards and is the longest running play on Broadway in the last 10 years and continues to play to sold-out houses in London.


The play tells the journey of 15 year old Christopher, an idiot savant of sorts, with an expanded array of emotional problems and personality quirks. He doesn't like to be touched, he can't bear to talk to strangers, and he exists by means of a daily series of set rituals. For him, nothing is easy. His only saving grace is an occasional epiphany that exhibits a rare flash of genius ("Everyone tells you to be quiet, but they never say for how long!")  

The journey begins on a quiet street in the London suburb where Christopher resides. He discovers the corpse of his neighbors dog, who has been brutally killed. Automatically, the neighbor accuses him of the heinous act. Enter Christopher's weary  father, Ed (Gene Gillette-War Horse), who bails him out of police custody, with multiple admonitions for Christopher to behave himself. We later learn that the father may have been complicite in he act. Regadless, Christopher immediately sets out on a quest to find the real killer of the dog, which sets off a whole series of emotional fireworks within, which are brilliantly represented with dazzling special effects in a black box of a set with a geometric grid created by Tony-Award-winner Bunny Christie and imaginative video effects by Tony Award-winning video designer Finn Ross and lighting by Tony Award-winner Paule Constable.

                                                           

Christopher's father makes a stunning revelation, nonetheless, the boy is set on leaving the safety of his claustrophobic world to roam the streets of London in search of the truth. His encounters with strangers as he develops clues to his mystery and his ability to cope with the obstacles he faces, makes for the elements of the internal drama at the core of this psychological Rubiks cube.  

The Curious Incident is an all-engrossing theatrical experience that may take more than one sitting to fully absorb. My only quibble is that the audio on some of the characters, particularly the mother, and even Christopher in certain moves, was a bit muddled in spots. If you miss one verbal nuance, you've lost a lot of the meaning behind Christopher's actions. So bring, your listening ears and be prepared for a real emotional and psychological roller coaster ride that sums up as one of the most satisfying theatrical experiences you will ever have . The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is at the Oriental Theatre through December 24. For more information, visit BroadwayinChicago.com.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

SPIRIT CRUISES, THE PERFECT WAY TO END SUMMER WITH A BANG


Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK---The Big Apple is the nation's number one tourism destination. What better way to end the summer with a bang than with a late summer or Labor Day Weekend tour of the city capped off by a Statue of Liberty cruise on the Hudson River, complete with a sumptuous lunch or dinner buffet, spectacular city-scape views, dancing and an up-close-and-personal view of one of the nation's most iconic landmarks.

The Spirit of New York cruise lines, departing Chelsea Pier, offer all of that and more on board their luxury yacht. The cruise travels under the iconic Brooklyn Bridge on beautiful New York Harbor, ending with dramatic, close-up views of the Statue of Liberty. Along the way, dine on a spectacular buffet consisting of delicacies such as Organic Spinach and Kale Salad with Lemon and Oregano Dressing, Creamy Corn and Cheddar Casserole, Whole Roasted Pork Loin, Braised Beef Short Ribs, Oven Baked North Atlantic Sole Filet or Honey and Sesame Chicken. Save room for the groaning dessert table, filled with all of your favorites; cheesecake, chocolate cake, strawberries and vanilla custard, cut seasonal fruit, and that all time local New York favorite, Cannolis.

Work it all off on the dance floor with the Spirit's Celebrity DJ and you have the makings of a spectacular  afternoon or evening. Labor Day Weekend is filled with options, from a romantic dinner cruise to a Eat, Drink and B. Mary Brunch with a Gospel option. There's no end to the fun possibilities on the Spirit of New York!

Spirit Cruises are also available from Navy Pier Chicago on board the Spirit of Chicago. Enjoy special summer Fireworks Cruises off Navy Pier on selected evenings. For lunch or dinner cruise information, visit www.spiritcruises.com.










Monday, June 20, 2016

INDIAN DRAMA "PARCHED" EXPOSES EXPLOITATION OF WOMEN IN EVOCATIVE FILM


PARCHED NOW PLAYING IN NEW YORK'S AMC EMPIRE 25, TIMES SQUARE, LOS ANGELES LAEMMIE MUSIC HALL AND SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA AT CINE GRAND IN FREMONT AND CAMERA 12 SAN JOSE




Writer/director Leena Yadav, one of the leading female directors in India, has  created a highly captivating drama that unmasks the cultural and ritualistic exploitation and subjugation of women. In vivid detail and beautiful cinematography from the Academy Award winning  Russell Carpenter of Titanic fame, the film follows the lives of three rural Indian women as they begin their slow journey toward bonding to fight the ancient traditions that hold them in servitude. As the film portrays, the oppression of women is all-pervasive, from the type of entertainment they are forced to provide at the local carnival, including providing sexual favors for cash,  rules that exploit their value in the local marketplace, spreading even into the home, where spousal abuse, families who ostracize women for desiring education or for expressing an opinion, and the bartering of children as brides is commonplace.

This award-winning film is brutal in its honesty, but presented in such an atmospheric fashion that the contrasting beauty and humanity of the culture is juxtaposed against the outright brutishness against women. The nuanced lighting and vivid cinematography make the horrific acts against the women even more shocking. 

The women live in a remote desert community of North West India. The widowed Rani (Tannishta Chatterjee, her vivacious best friend Lajjo (Radhika Apte) and exotic dancer Bijli (Surveen Chawla) talk openly about their struggles to overcome the oppression of men and society under the rules and customs of traditional village ways. Sex and women are a commodity to be bought and sold, even down to a teenaged bride sold off to be married to a spoiled 15 year old from a well-to-do family like so much chattel.

Part Bollywood, part suspense drama and part cultural panorama the film captures the beautiful desert landscapes, and rich, texture of village life in a way that transforms PARCHED into a heart-stirring portrayal.

"This story is my reaction to a misogynistic society that treats women as objects of sex," says director and writer Leena Yadav. The film gives the women characters a voice in a way that also emphasizes their humanity and their universal struggle.

PARCHED is distributed by Wolfe Releasing and will be released August 9 by Wolf Video on DVD/VOD and all digital platforms including iTunes, Vimeo On Demand and WolfeOnDemand.com as well as DVD vial Wolfe Video at major retailers.















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WORLD PREMIERE OF BROADWAY BOUND THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL IN CHICAGO THRU JULY 10









Spongebob Squarepants was created by marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg  out of an unpublished educational comic book. It premiered on Nickelodeon in 1999. Seventeen years, two movies, two Emmys and 12 Kid's Choice Awards and $18 billion dollars in franchise merchandising revenue later, it is on stage in the Pre-Broadway World Premiere of The Spongebob Musical at Chicago's Oriental Theatre, 24 West Randolph, through Sunday, July 10. 

With a roster of Grammy Award winning songwriters, A Tony Award-winning design team and a visionary director, The Spongebob Musical is a highly imaginative, high energy production that transforms the lovable undersea characters of Spongebob Squarepants (Ethan Slater, in his Chicago debut), Squidward Tentacles (Tony and Olivier Award nominee Gavin Lee), Sheldon Plankton (Broadway and Off-Broadway's  Nick Blaemire, and Sandy Cheeks (Broadway's Lilli Cooper of Spring Awakening and Wicked), and a host of  other lovable animated sea creatures magically realized on stage as flesh and blood characters with a brilliant cast, eye-popping sets and an original score from a galaxy of the hottest composers and artists from the worlds of pop, hip-hop, soul, Heavy Metal and vintage Broadway.

Tina Landau, of Chicago's Steppenwofd Theatre, is director, with highly creative scenic designs from the team behind Fun Home, Hedwig and Spring Awakening that takes up the entire front of the house, creating the world of Spongebob's Bikini Bottom that practically spills into the audience,  Spongebob is a full-immersion experience, taking the audience into Spongebob's undersea world with a story that pits the plucky sponge against the forces of total annihilation with a message that even the most unlikely person can become a hero with enough self-belief and heart.

With original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, The Flaming Lips, Cyndi Lauper, They Might Be Giants, T.T., David Bowie and others, with additional songs by Jonathan Coulton, The Spongebob Musical is a rhythm machine that will keep audience members young and old dancing in their seats.

Spongebob is beloved by both the younger set and a devoted following of adults who find its infectious characters and heart-warming themes universally appealing. That characteristic rings true throughout the two and a half hour show. It might seem a little long for the younger set, but there's enough to hold their attention, including moveable set pieces, special effects and high-stepping dance numbers (Squidward steals the show in the second act) that make it a sure-fired success when it reaches Broadway. The Spongebob Musical plays through Sunday, July 10 at Chicago's Oriental Theatre. For tickets and showtimes, visit BroadwayinChicago.com. 


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

MAMMOTH LAKE FILM FESTIVAL MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND MAY 25-29 FEATURES EMERGING AND SEASONED DIRECTORS


Second edition of Mammoth Lake Film Festival honors film legend Joe Dante of Innerspace and  Gremlins fame

by Dwight Casimere


Scene Mammoth Lake, California scene of the Mammoth Lake Film Festival May 25-29

Director Joe Dante of Gremlins fame, recipient of the festival's Sierra Spirit Award with a furry friend


A unique opportunity to attend a film festival that, according to its executive director Shira Dubrovner ,  has a "rustic and down to earth vibe" that is "true to the filmmaker, is occurring this coming Memorial Day weekend in the majestic and picturesque setting of Mammoth Lake, California. The Mammoth Lake FilmFestival is now in its second year, and will feature 14 films in Narrative and Documentary competition as well as additional events and special screenings. Among the featured events is the Opening Night Screening and Party for Operation Avalanche, from Canadian filmmaker Matt Miller. "He's one of the new filmmakers whose impact will be seen for years to come," director Dubrovner said. "He's an example for why we're so excited about the lineup we have. We consider ourselves a film centric festival that puts the filmmaker first and Hollywood second." 

Mammoth Lake Film Festival Executive Director Shira Dubrovner


Operation Avalanche is a documentary narrative that recreates the speculation that the 1967 moon landing, was really  a staged hoax. In the film, four undercover CIA agents are sent to NASA posing as a documentary film crew only to discover one of the biggest conspiracies in American history. "Filmmaker Matt Miller uses techniques similar to the film Forrest Gump.The film has been bought by Lionsgate and will have a theatrical release.    Were really fortunate to have Paul Sbrissi as our programmer, who finds the golden nuggets for our festival," Dubrovner emphasized.


Below: Scenes from the film Operation Avalanche-courtesy Lionsgate Films

                                        

Operation Avalanche director Matt Miller

                                                            

Saturday evening, May 28, the festival will hold its Centerpiece Gala and film screening, honoring legendary film director Joe Dante of Gremlins fame. The festival was host a screening of Dante's classic 1987 film Innerspace and present him with the festival's inaugural Sierra Spirit Award. "The film will be followed by a discussion with Mr. Dante and will feature an appearance by actor Robert Picardo, who appeared in Innerspace and Gremlins 2," Dubrovner said. "The reason we're giving the tribute to him because he's one of the first directors to really cross over from the cult film world into mainstream success. Mr. Dante worked extensively with Roger Corman and managed to stay true to his style of keeping his 'comedic weird.' Actor Robert Picardoi, who was featured in Innerspace, will present the award to Mr. Dante.

"Also in the documentary feature competition is our Spotlight Gala Screening film Beware the Slenderman from Oscar-nominated director Irene Taylor Brodsky, which tells the story of a Boogeyman lurking on the internet and two 12-year-old girls who would kill for him. Ms. Taylor Brodsky will be present for Q&A.

"Filmmaker spent 18 months researching to create this amazing documentary that will blow your mind," according to Dubrovner. 

The  Closing Night Gala Screening and Awards party features the Iranian film Spnita from director Rokhsareh Ghaemmagham. It tells the inspiring story of an 18 year old Afghan refugee, living in Iran, who thinks of Michael Jackson and Rihanna as her spiritual parents and dreams of becoming a big-name rapper. Her family, however, has a very different future planned for her; as a bartered bride, she's worth $9,000 to them. 

The the Narrative Feature Competition is the hauntingly atmospheric Brazilian film All The Colors of the Night from Director Pedro Severin.

"We're really excited about this year's festival and the film's we've programmed. We've got a fabulous mix that shows films and filmmakers at the beginning of their careers and those that are a little more seasoned. At Mammoth Lake Film Festival, we try to stay true to our roots. We intend to grow organically and stay true to the filmmaker," Dubrovner concluded.

The Mammoth Lake Film Festival runs May 25-29. 

Additional Information about Mammoth Lakes Film Festival is available at
 www.MammothLakesFilmFestival.com

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