You-review-it Monday

November 21, 2011
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The weekend for me, well, was kind of an artistic void. So help me out here. What did you see, hear or otherwise do this weekend?

Did you get to the 10th annual Tonic Ball? Catch "J. Edgar" at the multiplex? See Jon McLaughlin, John Hiatt, or John Mellencamp in concert?

Your thoughts?

  • Pike
    I saw a nice little rendition of Cindarella at Pike High School on Friday night.
  • John Hiatt & Big Head Todd
    This WTTS "Rock to Read" show was fantastic at the Old National(Murat) Egyptian Room. Hiatt's band, especially lead guitar was pitch perfect. Great Hoosier acts!
  • a book and a show
    I read a new YA novel called Bunheads, by Sophie Flack (Little, Brown 2011), and saw "Six Degrees of Separation," by John Guare, at the Carmel Community Playhouse.

    When I first saw "Bunheads" listed in a book review journal I laughed and assumed it was about librarians, even though a more accurate stereotype these days would be "bobhead" not "bunhead." In any case, alas, it is not about librarians.

    However, it is an engaging read about a corps dancer in the Manhattan Ballet Company, a fictional company based on the real-life New York City Ballet Company, where the author was herself a corps dancer for several years. In the novel, Hannah has been living and dancing with the company since she was a young teen. She is determined to become a soloist, even though it means competing fiercely with her friends and giving up things like proms and even reading. However, she also has two guys interested in her. One is a college student and a complete "pedestrian" - i.e., a non-dancer. He finds it hard to understand why she has so little free time for him. The other is an very wealthy young "balletomane" - i.e., someone that attends the ballet every night.

    The plot is rather flat - there is very little sense of urgency to it, and very few surprises - but the feeling that you are getting a nicely detailed look into the challenging yet exhilerating daily life of a true insider in the world of professional ballet, and the feeling that the insider is a real girl that you would enjoy being friends with in real life, makes the book hard to put down. This is a much sweeter, happier, and more realistic version of the movie "Black Swan." I enjoyed it very much.

    There were several theatre pieces that I wanted to see last weekend and I almost didn't have time to see any of them! (gulp) I confess that I went to see "Six Degrees of Separation" because it was the most convenient.

    However, I am glad I went. Beyond the fact that it gave me my weekly live theatre fix, I greatly admired Nick Crisafulli's direction and lighting. I also enjoyed comparing this production of "Six Degrees" to another one I had seen a few years ago. And even though the script is set in 1990, I think, it gave me a lot to think about related to contemporary "connectedness" via social media and the basic human yearning for community and intimacy and meaning.

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit
  • Two great concerts
    I saw two great concerts this week. Saturday night at the Palladium was a terrific performance by the Eroica Trio. This ensemble of three young women is probably the most popular piano trio performing today. They opened with a ca. 1920 trio by Spanish cellist Gaspar Cassado, and it was quite a display of impressionistic techniques reminiscent of Ravel. The musical electricity of the three was apparent from the first measures, and visually the communication between the violin and cello was very clear. Cellist Sara Saint’Ambrogio had a lot of visual flair, often removing her left hand from the fingerboard while bowing open notes and moving around quite a bit. They followed with three George Gershwin Preludes originally composed for solo piano and arranged by Brazilian composer Ramundo Penaforte. It is probably slighting his contribution to refer to him as the arranger, as there was quite a bit of original material added as well as a complete reworking of the registers and the melody to harmony relationships from the original works. They were played brilliantly and the arrangements worked wonderfully well while still having the unmistakable feel of Gershwin. The first half closed with two tunes from West Side Story arranged by Penaforte. Somewhere and America were also imaginatively and skillfully molded into fine concert works for the trio. After intermission was one majestic work, the Brahms Trio in C Major written in 1883. It is a masterpiece of melodic invention and skillful scoring, with the violin and cello often playing in octaves to emphasize the melody while the piano takes the harmony and rhythmic drive. This was one of the finest string chamber performances I have heard, and the audience was very appreciative of the outstanding musicianship that they witnessed. Violinist Susie Park is a laureate of the Indianapolis Violin Competition.
    Tuesday night was a performance by superstar pianist Lang Lang with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at the Circle Theatre. Lang Lang’s playing was otherworldly, but I will start with a rant. There was a photographer who was accompanied by an ISO or Circle Theatre administrator, and he snapped dozens of photos, often during the softest parts of the solo. He did not even use a digital camera, so it was definitely loud enough to be utterly disrespectful of the audience and soloist, and was completely annoying! Rant over. I have never heard Lang Lang in a live situation, and I was quite excited to get this opportunity. After hearing this stunning performance, I am ready to put him on my Mount Rushmore of pianists that I have heard – up there with Andre Watts, Jorge Bolet, Arnaldo Cohen and Emmanuel Ax, and perhaps at the top of the list. His virtuosity is staggering, but so is the depth of his musical integrity and interpretation. The Beethoven First Piano Concerto was breathtaking – his command of the piece absolute. I have never heard such a spectrum of dynamics, especially soft ones. I do not mean just that he played really soft and really loud – he could play soft, very soft, extremely soft and incredibly soft – and you could hear the varying levels with complete clarity! He does not move around as much as many pianists, in fact he seems to be the epitome of economy of motion – one with the keyboard; but he is a joy to watch, often playing with his right hand while conducting himself with his left. His ingenuity with different touches and accents in repeated melodies gave a sense of anticipation and wonder on each melodic return in the finale rondo. The ISO and guest conductor Christoph Campestrini did a wonderful job with the accompaniment. Lang Lang played my favorite Liszt piano piece as an encore – the Campanelli, which uses the extreme high register as a tinkling of small bells – this is, after all, Liszt’s bicentennial. It was just fantastic, and the loud ovation from the audience showed their appreciation for his artistry. He had to have concertmaster Zach De Pue stand and leave the stage with him to get the audience to go to intermission!
    Campestrini does something that really bothers me in a conductor – he is a mouther; that is, he sings along silently with the pulse of the music and his mouth is nearly always open, often wide agape. Imagine saying Pum pah pah pah with the musical accents in Beethoven and you get the idea. I just could not watch him – often rapture can be mistaken as constipation when conductors do this. I also wish he had not jumped up and down so much and inhaled so loudly on big attacks – it was audible often. I will say that he and the ISO created a fine sonic palate that clearly showed the early Beethoven of the first half (the Piano Concerto and the Overture The Creatures of Prometheus) to be a bit lighter and more classical than the later Seventh Symphony of the second half. Particularly lovely were the many woodwind passages in the symphony. Bravo to the ISO for scheduling a Tuesday night performance and bringing the chance to hear an unforgettable artist.
  • Acoustic Cafe
    The Indy Acoustic Cafe Series at the Wheeler Center for the Arts hosted James House, a Nashville (by way of Medford, OR) singer songwriter who had a couple of number one hits back in the 90's (one was "This Is Me Missing You"), but has continued since then to write hits for a number of other artists (Martina McBride, Dwight Yoakum, Diamond Rio) in the ensuing often is the case, the songwriter is every bit as talented as the people who had the hit records, and Mr. House is no exception...a great voice, wry hilarious observations and banter...armed with just an acoustic guitar his voice, and the great songs he has written, it was a wonderful evening of music. The Acoustic Cafe hosts great artists every year...your DA & E newsletter just recently noted Tom Chapin's appearance, who performed the series two weeks ago. That also was a wonderful show. The series has several more shows this season, spotlighting performes like Ellis Paul, Vance Gilbert, Craig Fuller (Little Feat and Pure Prarie League), Catie Curtis, Griffin House, and Jonathan Edwards(yes the one who sang "Sunshine" back in the early 70's). Highly recommended if you like great songwirters and acoustic music. Small intimate venue, attentive audiences, great sound, and the bar take is donated to local charities.
  • Encore Vocal Arts ("Elijah")

    Any performance by Encore Vocal Arts is more than a concert—it’s a thought-provoking, multimedia experience. The auditory bases are well covered, with artistic director Chris Ludwa leading a professional-level ensemble of about thirty singers. On Nov. 19, they presented Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah” at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church.

    Ludwa’s introductory comments set the tone, and images projected along with the text during the performance suggest meanings and reflections that deepen and personalize each work. This approach worked powerfully in “Hymnody of Earth,” presented Oct. 2 featuring the composer, hammer dulcimer artist Malcolm Dalglish. “Elijah” proved equally rich material.

    Mendelssohn gave much to the musical world, beginning as a teenager with his sublime Octet and including reviving the work of J.S. Bach, all but forgotten in the 1820s. Drawing on Old Testament themes of fire and punishment, plague, suffering and redemption, Mendelssohn crafted an oratorio in the vein of Bach and Handel. Ludwa rendered it with fourteen strings, tympani and organ, augmented at times by Arsenal Tech High School’s Techoir, ably prepared by Kandy Brown.

    The ensemble sang and played with verve and musicality (including, transparency requires me to note, daughter Abby, who left the alto section occasionally to sing in smaller groups and, briefly, a solo passage). Encore is an auditioned ensemble with members of various ages, backgrounds and professions who share a commitment to professional-level performances of diverse chamber-choir repertoire.

    The soloists were uniformly strong. Soprano Kirsten Paisley’s lovely voice brought the text to life, and tenor Charles Metzger soloed reliably well while keeping up full duties in the tenor section. Damien Geter’s resonant baritone rolled effortlessly and expressively through the many solos his part requires. Geter sang from memory (is “Elijah” a center of his repertoire?), and his delivery showed a deep understanding of the text. I could have listened to him all day.

    The Encore Vocal Arts formula calls for a different venue for each concert. Acoustics vary, of course, and moving around allows use of unique assets such as the fine pipe organ at Tab—played skillfully by Matt Kauffman, apparently from a console ‘way back in the choir loft. The careful synchronization of the organ part into the ensemble reflected mastery of a challenge in coordination.

    Next up for Encore is a reprise of Karl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”, the vigorous, beloved work based on ribald medieval Latin texts. Special guest is fire artist Molly Wyldfyre, “on stage and on fire.” (I guess sometimes two pianists and five percussionists aren’t enough … ) “Carmina Burana” is 8:00 p.m. Sat., Feb. 4, 2012 at Zionsville High School Performing Arts Center.

    I encourage music lovers who haven’t experienced Encore Vocal Arts to check out any of their performances. It’s bound to satisfy you musically and to inspire ongoing thought and reflection.

    - Dan Henkel
    • Indy Folk Series
      Last night (Saturday, November 26th), my husband and I went to the Indy Folk Series Open Mic Night. The Indy Folk Series, started by Beth & Dan Henkel, is a family-friendly venue held at the UU Church on 43rd Street (near Butler U). The music is acoustic and last night's performances were varied and included traditional folk, gospel, bluegrass, Celtic and holiday songs. The proceeds from last night's performances went to support Indiana Youth Group, which is a drop-in and program facility for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. There are other shows during the year - the next one will be January 21, 2012, and will feature a sing-along. Go to for more information about this wonderful venue!
    • Elijah
      The singers were great, especially Damien Geter. I think they should have eliminated the organ though.

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