How the performing arts are turning to multimedia

I’ve been noticing that more performing arts organizations seem to be turning to multimedia to augment their presentation. Opening this weekend, the Cincinnati May Festival has hired as its creative partner Gerard McBurney, who will “curate” and “design” two evenings dubbed “Dream Project” at the festival this year. It means adding visuals, projections, actors, atmospheric lighting — whatever — to enhance what otherwise would just be a performance by chorus and orchestra.

A May Festival performance last season in Music Hall, where the visual “spectacle” had no multimedia.

It’s being done around the country — such as in Chicago (where McBurney designed “Beyond the Score” events for the Chicago Symphony), and in San Francisco, where designer/director James Darrah has collaborated on a number of productions. I saw his vision for Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting, which included screens, actors wandering over platforms, projections of the text jumbled up, lighting… To me, it all detracted from the masterpiece at hand and was just too much to absorb.

And yes, the Cincinnati Symphony is also experimenting in a three-year “Pelleas Project” with extra-musical elements, also designed by Darrah. Continue reading


Sandra Rivers steps in for André Watts at Phoenix festival

André Watts

Pianist and CCM professor Sandra Rivers is stepping in for André Watts to perform two extra programs for the Phoenix Chamber Music Society this week. Piano legend Watts is unable to perform for the Winter Festival due to ongoing cancer treatments, according to the festival’s website.

Rivers, who has collaborated with stars such as Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and Kathleen Battle, was already slated to perform Brahms sonatas with the wonderful violist/violinist Nokuthula Ngwenyama last Sunday. But after arriving, she was invited to add a heaping plate of repertoire at the last minute for performances on Monday and Wednesday, as well.

“It’s very exciting,” Rivers said by phone on Sunday. “I’ve been in nonstop rehearsals since I arrived.”

Last night she played the four Brahms Op. 119 piano pieces (Klavierstücke), as well as the lovely Brahms Sonata Op. 120, No. 1 for piano and clarinet with David Shifrin, who also directs the festival.

And tomorrow night, she will join four other artists to anchor Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds, K. 452. This one will be in the Music Pavilion at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. It’s sold out. Rivers only concern: What to wear so as not to clash with the very red room!

Meanwhile, we send good vibes and our best wishes to Mr. Watts for a quick recovery! I hear that he hopes to be back on the concert stage by this summer.


Chasing an orchestra around the world

img005I had to laugh when I stumbled upon Cincinnati Enquirer critic Henry Humphreys’ description of trying to catch up with the Cincinnati Symphony on its 1966 World Tour. The ’round-the-world tour was famously funded by the U.S. State Department, but apparently, they didn’t fund Henry’s trip… Because of journalistic standards, his — and my — employer has always paid the critic’s way. One of the most common assumptions I hear from readers is that the orchestra pays for and provides accommodations, etc., for the accompanying critic on tours.

Not so. Until about 10 years ago, I was not even allowed on the bus with musicians to get to concert halls in far-away foreign cities, and I always book my own flights and hotels. Once, I nearly missed a show in Vienna’s Musikverein when my connecting flight was canceled from Amsterdam. A flight attendant tracked down my luggage sitting on the tarmac, or it might still be there, and literally threw it on a plane they had found to take me to Wien… I have so many stories. But here’s Henry’s:

“Enquirer music critic Henry S. Humphreys barely made the delayed opening concert of the CSO world tour at Salonika. There was no space available on CSO flights from Athens to Salonika. No bus space. He was sold a train ticket, then thrown off the train because it was over-crowded. He returned to Athens airport, wrangled a seat near crew of plane which took off after a 55-minute argument about whether takeoff should be made. No hotel room in Salonika for Humphreys, so he located attic boarding house space. He could have used a fan — even a palm leaf one, he says.”


My last list … for now … of the best of 2016

636184558582936207-052816-May-Fest-08-1-.jpgIt seems that the end of a year always results in lists — looking back and looking ahead. And invariably, my list is different from your list. There were so many other great performances that I could have added here — the Polish Festival at CCM, the Ariel Quartet, the great jazz heard every week in our community, and the high-energy shows by John Morris Russell and the Cincinnati Pops… not to mention the entire opening season this fall at the CSO, with Emanuel Ax, Hilary Hahn, Lang Lang, Gil Shaham and Branford Marsalis!

I loved it all. But here’s my column, in case you missed it, for better or worse. At the list’s end, I look back at two of the big stories in the arts that I covered, and look forward to the opening of Music Hall next October.

Continue reading

Fanfare for the Common Man: Stories behind the story


img_7770I will never hear this piece quite the same way again. Writing about Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” was a fascinating journey that had several unexpected turns. First, I must thank my editor Amy Wilson, who asked a few months ago, “What about that Fanfare?” Thinking that everyone already knew all about it, I soon discovered that, no, that wasn’t the case. First of all, the CSO “commission” was honorary. Who knew that Copland wasn’t paid a dime to write it? The clincher was the date on the manuscript: Nov. 6, 1942. It might be a nice piece to run around election day, so I got to work. Continue reading

A jazzy, joyful premiere

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich/photo by Bill Keefrey
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich/photo by Bill Keefrey

“I don’t like the ivory tower,” said Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. “When I’m writing for musicians, I can hear them in my head.”

Indeed, there was no “ivory tower” here. On Sunday, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer was in the house — First Unitarian Church, home of the Linton Music Series — to hear the world premiere of her delightful “Pas de Trois,” honoring the 40th anniversary of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, to whom the piece is dedicated. It was her sixth piece for the ensemble: Pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinst Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson.

Her Piano Trio marked their 10th anniversary, and she has also written a Double Concerto (violin and cello), a Triple Concerto, a Septet and a Quintet for the musicians:

Creator and performers discuss their longtime collaboration.
Creator and performers discuss their longtime collaboration.

Admitting that she had “butterflies,” Zwilich said “When there’s a commission, I feel like people are betting on me, and that inspires me…. This is not my piece. This is their piece. Performance breathes life into music.” Continue reading