Classical 90.5 Presents: Lara Downes at Decca

lara downes

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of Billie Holiday, acclaimed pianist Lara Downes will play a show highlighting her new album A Billie Holiday Songbook, on April 15th, 9pm at Decca Restaurant.

Downes grew up listening to Holiday’s recordings with her father, who was born and raised in Harlem only blocks from the iconic jazz clubs where Lady Day was a star presence in the 1930s and ’40s. Downes acknowledges that Holiday’s singing has been a lifelong influence. “As a musician, I learned from Billie Holiday to make something completely personal when you make music,” she says. “To make something that is completely your own – maybe something unexpected, something indefinable, perhaps complicated, but beautiful. To take a chance. To quote this album’s final song: “But beautiful to take a chance, and if you fall, you fall. And I’m thinking I wouldn’t mind at all.”

Check out this preview of the concert. And also join her for Lunchtime Classics on April 15th at noon.

Louisville Ballet Closes Season With “A New World”

Robert Curran candid Kateryna Sellers creditRenata Pavam

(Robert Curran with Kateryna Sellers. Photo credit Renata Pavam)

The Louisville Ballet presents the closing production of its 2014-15 season, a mixed program entitled “A New World,” Friday and Saturday evening at the Brown Theatre.

It’s the first time that Louisville audiences will see work selected by artistic director Robert Curran, who took over from longtime artistic director Bruce Simpson last summer.

The program is comprised of three separate works, each noteworthy in their own way. The first, Serge Lifar’s “Suite en Blanc,” with music by French composer Edouard Lalo, will be performed for only the third time in the U.S. since its creation in 1943.

George Balanchine’s “Square Dance,” with music by Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli, will be performed with new scenic design by Louisville artist Letitia Quesenberry and new costumes from New York-based designers Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung. Louisville Ballet received special permission from the Balanchine Trust, which oversees all performances of Balanchine’s work, to update the visual aspects of the piece.

The third piece is a world premiere by Australian choreographer Lucas Jervies, “What Light is to Our Eyes,” with music by American composer Sebastian Chang. Curran is a former dancer with Australian Ballet and has previously collaborated with Jervies.

Text by Tara Anderson

Here’s a preview of Quesenberry’s new art for “Square Dance”

Review: Louisville Orchestra Highlights Russian Masterworks

robert thies

Review: Louisville Orchestra Highlights Russian Masterworks

Thursday morning, on the eve of his 80th birthday, Jorge Mester conducted his penultimate concert of the 2014-2015 Louisville Orchestra season with two major Russian works.

To open the concert, the orchestra played Berlioz’s Roman Carnival with vigor and excitement, with some beautiful moments from the violas, and a tender English horn solo from Trevor Johnson. Ultimately, against the Prokofiev concerto and the Tchaikovsky symphony, the overture felt more like a necessary formality in the orchestra-concert formula than a genuine statement.

The third piano concerto of Sergei Prokofiev balances witty humor and profound rhetoric, and Prokofiev establishes this M.O. in the initial five minutes of the concerto. Pianist Robert Thies and the orchestra play equal roles, moving gracefully through sometimes quirky, sometimes elegant tunes. There is always something interesting to hear because Prokofiev is always saying something interesting. Even in the transitions — when the music is leading us to an important moment — we find curiosities and gems.

Thies brought an unassuming stage presence to Whitney Hall; lacking all the glitz, body and facial contortions common in soloists. Instead, he allowed Prokofiev’s music to exude personality and affectation. His enthusiasm for this third concerto was belied only by the tiniest grin during his first bow.

Soloist and orchestra were effortless and fluid, with a sparkling urgency throughout. But it was the middle movement, a set of theme and variations, that felt surreal. Here is a composer who is improvising, inviting the orchestra to interject and punctuate, and Thies’ ability to be unobtrusive allowed Prokofiev to be present, as though he had opened a portal to the moment of creation.

Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s final Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” premiered just nine days before his death, is the masterpiece we hope to hear again and again. Mester and orchestra, returning to a work they’ve performed many times, didn’t let their comfort with the notes impair a clear understanding and delivery of the music. Even at its most brooding, Mester didn’t hesitate to move the music forward. The strings were rich and resonant, and woodwind principals Marilyn Nije and Matthew Karr each gave poetic solos in the first movement.

The second movement, a sort of peg-leg waltz, was charming. Only in the final minutes did the waltz unhinge slightly. The stately third movement was peppy and cheerful, slightly reminiscent of The Nutcracker (a score the LO becomes intimately familiar with each holiday season). The fatalistic last movement, more tenebrous than the first, points to the inevitable and leaves us with questions without answers. Regardless of the Pathétique’s actual meaning or message, Tchaikovsky’s final symphony continues to speak profoundly and personally, and fresh performances like Thursday morning’s allow for that introspection.

As evidenced in this concert, and recent performances of Brahms and Elgar, this is a romantic orchestra, with a penchant for emotionally robust works. Ideally, an orchestra can play any period (baroque, classical, contemporary, etc) with equal authority, but the true colors of this band are showing.

The Louisville Orchestra presents this concert again on Friday evening at 8pm in Whitney Hall.

Nancy Zeltsman at SIUE

Nancy with Perc Studio

Nancy Zeltsman with the SIUE Percussion Ensemble

Internationally acclaimed marimbist Nancy Zeltsman was recently a guest artist at my school, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, on March 23rd and 24th. I made the trek back to my university to be a part of the experience.

Nancy in concert 2
Nancy Zeltsman performing “Sotto Voce”

Nancy provided private lessons for students, two public master classes, and performed her program Sotto Voce for solo marimba accompanied by a slide show of photographs that her mother took and recordings of her reciting poetry. Sotto Voce means ‘under voice’ or ‘under the breath.’ She explores a softer dynamic range, and performs some of the music that she holds dearest. This program was featured at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in 2014 and includes works from Daniel Levitan, Aaron J. Kernis, Paul Simon, and more. The master classes allowed students to perform their works for her and the audience, and Nancy openly critiqued their playing and worked with them on concepts such as phrasing, technique, and sound production. The knowledge she shared in the master classes had a deep effect on everyone involved.

You can keep up with the SIUE Percussion Ensemble on Facebook.

Thanks to Emilie Curry at Curry Creations for capturing the events, and to SIUE Percussion Instructor Daniel Smithiger, members of the SIUE Percussion Studio, and SIUE Student Government for making it all possible.

Nancy Masterclass 2
Sean Schuchman with Nancy Zeltsman

Nancy is the artistic director of the Zeltsman Marimba Festival which is happening this June 28th to July 11th, a full two weeks in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In it’s 13th season, this festival brings together marimbists, performers and educators, from all around the world. There are 8 marimba-focused concerts, 9 master classes, 14 open lessons, composer guest talks, and much more. Participants receive two private lessons from faculty of their choice and early registration will assure teacher selection. This festival is all about people coming together to celebrate and share their love of marimba. It is a chance to work with outstanding faculty including Pius Cheung, Emmanuel Sejourne, Julie Spencer, Gordon Stout, Mike Truesdell, Jack Van Geem, and of course Nancy Zeltsman herself. May 1st is the deadline for registrations and deposits. If you cannot join in for the full two weeks, you can register for three days instead. Can’t make it this year? Make plans to attend next year!

Nanae Mimura, one of my favorite marimbists, was a guest artist at last year’s festival. Here is a video of WLUK-TV Fox 11 talking with Nancy while Nanae performs.

Campbellsville University’s Percussion Ensemble Festival

Campbellsville University Percussion

Campbellsville University’s Percussion Ensemble

On Saturday April 18th, Campbellsville University is presenting their 4th annual Percussion Ensemble Festival in the Gosser Fine Arts Center. This is an all-day event open to everyone. It will start off with a clinic on auxiliary FUNdamentals presented by M. Jordan Williams at 10:15 am. Throughout the day there will be various clinics and master classes, several performances from high school percussion ensembles, and host performances from the Campbellsville University Percussion Ensemble and Steel Band. If you have never heard a live steel band before, here is your chance!

The featured clinician is the Assistant Professor and Associate Director of Bands at California University of Pennsylvania Dr. Marty Sharer. He previously taught at Campbellsville University where he was the assistant professor of music, director of percussion studies, director of the jazz ensemble and assistant director of the marching band. He is versatile as a performer, teacher, clinician, and conductor in percussion, jazz, and band. He will present his clinic at 3:45 pm and will be performing with the CU Percussion Ensemble at 8:00 pm.

There will be drawings for door prizes throughout the entire event. Prizes will be anything percussion related, such as sticks, mallets, method books, and practice pads.

Here is the Campbellsville University’s Percussion Ensemble performing To Brandon by Anders Astrand.

Here is the Campbellsville University’s Steel Band performing Samba el Gato by Shelly Irvine.

Admission is $5 and includes all-day access to the activities. The Campbellsville University Percussion Ensemble Festival is supported by the Kentucky Chapter of the Percussive Arts Society.