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The Tarpon

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Recuerdo: Frank Llaneza
March 9, 1920 – March 18, 2010

of green waters

High jumping
ordinary man

Boca Grande the kingdom
Big mouth sin llanto
Big quiet eye

Slippery in salt froth
Silver in fresh agua

Clear quiet eye
Takes time to grow
Times time to see

Big fish do this
Breathe free
to leap horizons

Slap the castanets of rod and wave
Slip the line

Beneath the seabed
coral quiver:
Eulalia’s mandolin

Long stay:
Our Silver King!

Frank Llaneza, one of the pioneers of the premium cigar business, died two weeks after his 90th birthday. He was my uncle.
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Written by Lesley Valdes

March 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Terell Stafford Jazzes up Temple Premieres

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fourth stream La banda Bill Cunliffe (World Premiere)
Ansel Adams: America, Dave & Chris Brubeck
Temple University Symphony Orchestra & Combined Choirs,
Luis Biava, Alan Harler, conducting
Terell Stafford, trumpet,
Verizon Hall, March 21, 2010
Alice Tully Hall, April 9, 2010

We’s so used to cheering the Curtis prodigies, we forget how good the Temple music students are. Until we hear them play full out, burnished, something like Barber’s Essay No. 2, Op. 17, rousing, burnished, and eureka, after all these kids, who are their teachers? Members of the Philadelphia Orchestra! Sunday Temple Symphony and Combined Choirs impressed a crowd at Verizon under maestros Luis Biava and Alan Harler. When jazz trumpeter Terell Stafford got up to play, the house was over the moon.

Grammy artist Stafford was the soloist in fourth stream…La Banda, Bill Cunliffe’s world premiere. He’s also a Grammy artist. Stafford’s horn can make anything sound over the moon but La Banda (which has a jazz quartet fronting the orchestra) is strong. It swings. Having Luis Biava to conduct doesn’t hurt. To its influences of Django, John Lewis, and Dizzy, La Banda adds claves, Latin percussion. Cunliffe smartly keeps different strains of music separate, nothing messy – at first. Great solo riffs for trumpet, but not until the themes have been announced. There’s a beautiful theme for cellos, which played it well. Stafford’s tone is long and pure and gold. Then, a blizzard of tones. But never shrill. He was Sunday’s mentor-hero.

The fizzle was Ansel Adams: America the commission a handful of orchestras (Stockton to Baltimore ) have paid $12 grand apiece to premiere (Additionally, a $15,000 grant. Temple alum, concert pianist and philanthropist Susan Carson who lives in Northern California brokered the deal which is written up in Symphony Magazine. The Stockton Symphony realized many benefits from the commission, according to the Symphony article. ) Jazz legend Dave Brubeck wrote the tunes, his son Chris arranged them. The score is a pastiche for 100 photographs by the late master. Snatches of waltz time, a little syncopation; the Brubecks said Bach and Chopin are influences since Adams wanted to become a concert pianist. These composers aren’t much in evidence in the soupy score. There is little to suggest musical depth or visual: the artist who caught Yosemite’s grandeur. The video projections (two screens above the stage) lack sophistication. No dissolves or fades. The slideshows on my Apple are dazzle. A friend pointed out: There might have been restrictions from the estate on how the photographs are. Still:

Stafford’s solos in La Banda better expressed Ansel Adams’ aesthetic eloquence.
Andrea Clearfield’s The Golem Psalms is a Passover tale for baritone, chorus and orchestra. Golem Tales shimmers with color, and the chorus enunciated Ellen Frankel’s text perfectly But I was weary by the 5th of its 7 parts. Baritone Sanford Sylvan was masterful and so was Alan Harler who is retiring after 30 years. Harler will be missed.

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 22, 2010 at 5:01 am

Age cannot wither (Curtis Opera’s Antony & Cleo)

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file0452Samuel Barber’s
Antony & Cleopatra
The Curtis Opera Theatre (in association with Opera Company of Philadelphia & the Kimmel Center)
Perelman Theatre
March 17, 19, 21

Samuel Barber’s alma mater has done him proud. Curtis Opera Theatre’s sold out Antony & Cleopatra at the Perelman is arresting: Fine singing, yes. A design that takes the breath. Light simplifies us, Derek Woolcott says. Opera’s funny that way. The clearer you see, better you hear. The simplicity of Lenore Doxee’s light summons the Nile without a barge or pyramid. Chas Rader Shieber’ and David Zinn’s staging reflects sea and sun onto walls that look like stainless steel. The Opera Company of Philadelphia, who co-produces should borrow this team, pronto.
The Kimmel Center is also a sponsor.

Allison Sanders opens her mouth and a geyser pours up and out. The high notes have ping. Cleopatra’s high-wire challenges were ravishing. The soprano’s Mark Antony was bass baritone Brendon Cedel, big voice, lots of emotion. Both young singers are still awkward actors, give them time. Not so, baritone Evan Boyer’s whose grasp of Enobarbus – the loyalties, the conflicts – is near ideal. The voice is splendid. The mixed choir alert, on pitch, sing this tricky English very well. The supernumeraries look terrific in Jacob Climer’s costumes: grey suits that fit, witty sock caps. The Senators wear silver ear laurels.

Samuel Barber was hard on himself. After the world premiere when Franco Zeferelli’s design pretty much toppled the thing he cut and fret. Curtis puts the shorter, 1974 version at the Perelman. Some of us still crave the edginess, the longer version with the time to delve the back story. These days, who knows their Rome and Egypt? New York maestro George Manahan also likes the long version restored. The New York City Opera music director was brilliant leading the Curtis singers and band, coaxing a subtle flute or cello, focusing the intensity. The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage paid for Antony & Cleopatra.

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 22, 2010 at 12:10 am

Posted in 1, Drama, Music, Opera

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Maestro in Waiting? Jurowski & Philadelphia?

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Vladimir Jurowski conducts
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Benedetto Lupo, piano
Verizon Hall
March 18-20

Sounds like Vladimir Jurowski’s convinced the Philadelphia Orchestra he’s the one- the new music director. The guest conductor’s program Thursday night was captivating. The Russian maestro who doesn’t smile on stage was given a speech before the music started. Jumping from the back row, violinist Jonathan Beiler thanked Jurowski, who’s guested for three previous seasons (this is his fourth). He called the Muscovite a favorite. He mentioned some 1,000 details their music making has involved. This is so special, Bieler said. The appreciation read quietly was emotion, almost embarrassing. But the praise held up once everyone delved into Brahms’ Tragic Overture all that intensity laced with flow.
The key to Jurowski’s magic was the Eroica Symphony. So many maestros sweep an audience off its feet with those Romantics. Beethoven shows what you’re made of. How clean are your thoughts. Jurowski made us sit up and sit still. Everything was noticeable: The first movement’s levels of loudness, keenly felt, keenly varied. The Funeral March that wasn’t pounced upon us but allowed to flow — so that when the flute slips in you really feel the solo. When music flows, is not unduly stretched or beaten, there is no end of difference in how wde feel about it. We aren’t manipulated.
Too many conductors rush us this way and that making their points. Juroswki makes his by expansion and discretion. Thursday’s Eroica did not pull the heartstrings. Beethoven kept us focused line by line and note by note.

At the concert’s heart, a beautiful surprise: Benedetto Lupo made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut playing Robert Schuman’s tender Piano Concerto in A Minor which requires delicacy, power and soul. If you been there you are doubtless in love with Benedetto Lupo too. href=”″>file0446

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 19, 2010 at 5:51 am

Yussef El Guindi’s “Language Rooms”

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Sevan Greene and Nasser Faris (Photo: Jim Roese)


Language Rooms (Yussef El Guindi)
The Wilma (world premiere)
March 9 – April 4, 2010

The price of a better life is higher than we think. That’s one lesson of Language Rooms at The Wilma. Yussef El Guindi’s ferocious 15th comedy which tackles issues of immigration close to the bone. Here, Arab- American tensions in an unidentified government workplace, also becomes a stirring father-son drama. The focus of the world premiere early on is the bureaucrat who tries the soul as he undermines a young Arab-American played by Sehvan Greene. Peter Jay Fernandez is the snark with the perfect smile. Who can you trust? Fernandez is superb as Kevin the egregious employer who plays his Arab employees against each other. Ahmed’s best bud is played by J. Paul Nicholas. The boss spouts psycho- babble and religion. Takes out the ironing board to press the creases out of his shirt. He’s on the way up: no wrinkles for Kevin. Ahmed’s full of wrinkles and worries.
Ahmed’s one of only two Arab translators working offshore for a U.S. agency. The time is now, the work is spurious; loyalties are questioned. Paranoia in Ola Maslick’s dental- bright space. Ahmed’s in denial about the trouble he’s having fitting in. The self hate beneath the surface.
Language Rooms, keeps the audience laughing in the first act act but it lumbers. Things shift in the second act, which is still pretty funny – torture by milk for those lactose intolerant Muslims – but the drama intensifies. L.A. actor Nasser Faris as Ahmed’s father gives a terrific performance. After unconvincing work in the first act, Greene as Ahmed begins to shine, anger is a powerful tool. The laughs stop; there is pathos. The plot, which has been predictable, delivers a surprise; then Faris lingers over lines, spinning nostalgia.
El Guindi, who has been a citizen almost as many years as his 15 plays, aims for the view of the 2nd generation. (Though he himself was born in Egypt, educated at the University of Cairo, as well as in the Stages.) Language Rooms at The Wilma disturbs and it is funny. The play feels structurally uneven but brings a welcome voice to Philadelphia. Blanka Zizka directs.

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 12, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Philadelphia Dance Project: “What We’re Made Of”

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Philadelphia Dance Projects: Series I
Performance Garage
1501 Brandywine
Feb. 26, 27, 2010

Look back to see where you’re going. Terry Fox’s idea to take thirty years of dance in this town and reconstruct on younger performers while some of the original makers are still around, is a good way to see which works do and don’t hold up. For the next three weeks, until March 20, we’ll have a chance to assess with live performances, films and talks in venues across town. The first program featured three works that might be called EIghties Redux. Otto Winshap Ranstand also performed the choreography for his 2009 solo; it reflected some of the anxious spirit of the 1980s zeitgeist: the body as quivering, questing machine of often unrelated parts. A good solo, well performed, but it felt longer than need be; Tim Glenn’s fascinating sound design mimicked radiators releasing steam and the occasional rumble of thunder. I would have liked this dance better had it been shorter, the pauses briefer, the episode with the pink T-shirt deleted.
Ishamel Houston-Jones’s Dead, from 1981 is a catalog aria performance piece. A series of rises and falls accompanys every man, woman, child and pet, the dancer has known who died. (A voiceover speaks the names.) It works. It is clever with wit and pathos. WIlliam Robinson performed Saturday. He used his own list.
It’s pretty hard to escape the Eighties – the Me Decade. Michael Biello’s He and He and What We’re Made Of both suffer from self-absorption and sentiment.
He and He celebrates gay marriage. A couple saying vows would have held my interest longer if their costumes hadn’t been so silly (children’s pjs with the flaps and feet); if their relationship had held some surprises, some swerve instead of becoming sticky- sweet. The props: blow-up Dalmations were not provocative; the AIDS epidemic was handled hysterically rather than tragically. The dance is a cuddle rather than a serious look at a relationship. The sorrow: John Luna and Scott McPheeters are fine, expressive dancers. Dan Martin at the piano also sang, which was more of a distraction than an enhancement: Martin’s projection was so emphatic. Anthony Pirollo played cello, nicely.
Biello’s “What We are Made of” promises more but it too takes a wrong turn into sentimentality. A quartet of men (in the buff) move slowly, the feeling is always stasis. They turn, they look at each other, they hold lighted boxes, which we ultimately learn are memorabilia from their childhood. Again, there is movement but insufficient dancing. Art is destroyed by cliche. If some of these works can be reconstructed, more power to them. This dance needs better. At least three more dance programs coming up from the Philadelphia Dance Project.

(To whom:I find the printed programs wordy and confusing…) Next up: Temple’s Conwell Dance Theater, but also events at SCUBA and International House. Check your listings.

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 1, 2010 at 3:15 am

Posted in 1, Dance