Notes from Philly

ValdesWordPress.com weblog

Archive for the ‘Piano’ Category

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

with one comment

file0504

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Philadelphia Theater Company and
Baltimore Stage

May 26-June 13, 2010
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
Airs May 28, 2010

A sponsor of the Philadelphia Theater Company’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the first of August Wilson’s 10 plays about the African American experience, welcomed diversity onto the stage of the Suzanne Roberts Theater the other night. Wilson’s great cycle is both black and color blind. Ma Rainey’s blues band in Chicago, 1920 endures racial slings and injustices but it comprises characters found in any in family black or white. Who doesn’t recognize Toledo, the piano player with his nose in a book? The philosopher who knows and can’t help explaining everything. Toledo’s so full of wisdom he amuse us when we’re not tuning him out. Thomas Jefferson Byrd’s. who was nominated for a Tony, when he played this role on Broadway) is perfect. He is funny and a bore; the molasses delivery, the expressive fingers. Toledo exasperates the Levee of Maurice McRae, the cool shark with his sharp shoes and coiled heart. More understanding are the band members: Slow Drag(the amiable Ernest Perry) whose way of life appears pleasure and whose string bass is the perfect metaphor. Cutler (David Fonteno) the leader who reins everyone in as they wait for diva Ma to come to the recording sessions she is going to rule for there is a battle going on between management and talent across the racial divide of the times. Because she gets her way in little else, Ma Rainey rules by terror.
But must Barrymore winner E. Faye Butler be so strident? Yes, the voice is powerful but she doesn’t sound like a blues singer. Too many tones are bitter.
As her nephew Sylvester, 23- year- old Ro Boddee has pivotal part as the stuttering nephew.
The director is Irene Lewis, from Baltimore’s CenterStage.
The music director for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is William McDaniels.
Keeping the upstairs and downstairs on the same flat boards – lacks imagination for
such a powerful work.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Philadelphia Theatre Company
May 26-June 13, 2010
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
Airs May 28, 2010

A sponsor of the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the first of August Wilson’s 10 plays about the African -American experience, welcomed diversity onto the stage of the Suzanne Roberts Theater the other night. Wilson’s great cycle is both black and color blind. Ma Rainey’s blues band in Chicago, 1920, endures racial slings and injustice but it comprises characters found in any in family black or white. Who doesn’t recognize Toledo, the piano player with his nose in a book? The philosopher who knows and can’t help explaining everything? Toledo’s so full of wisdom he amuse us when we’re not tuning him out. Thomas Jefferson Byrd, who was nominated for a Tony, when he played this role on Broadway) is perfect. He is funny and a bore; the molasses delivery, the expressive fingers, the ivory tower stance (And the voice is beautiful.)
Toledo exasperates the Levee of Maurice McRae, the adolescent shark with sharp shoes and the tender, coiled heart. It’s a performance McRae nails with a 100 gestures, silly struts and pent-up rage. And he can play that trumpet too. More understanding of Toledo are band members Slow Drag (Ernest Perry) whose way of life appears pleasure and whose string bass is the perfect metaphor. Cutler (David Fonteno) the leader who reins everyone in as they wait for diva Ma to come wat way late to the recording session she will dominate. For there’s a war going on between management and talent across the racial divide of the times. Because she gets her way in little else, Ma Rainey rules by terror.
But must Barrymore winner E. Faye Butler be so strident? Yes, the voice is powerful but she doesn’t sound a blues singer. Too much bitterness and she screeches.
Twenty-three year old Ro Boddee has pivotal part Ma’s nephew, Sylvester.
The director is Irene Lewis, from Baltimore’s CenterStage.
The music director for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is William McDaniels.
Keeping the upstairs and downstairs on the same flat boards – lacks imagination for
such a powerful work. Ma Rainey runs through June 13 at the Suzanne Roberts.

Written by Lesley Valdes

May 28, 2010 at 3:14 am

Terell Stafford Jazzes up Temple Premieres

leave a comment »

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

Nezet-Seguin’s Second Date with Philadelphians

with 4 comments

Philadelphia Orchestra, Nezet-Seguin, cond.
Nicholas Angelich, piano
Verizon Hall,
Dec. 3-5, 2009

Yannick Nezet-Seguin (YAH-nick NEH-zay SAY-gahn) is a mouthful. Maybe we should practice saying it. The 34- year- old conductor from Montreal is on the short list for music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. His second date, as Nezet-Seguin, calls his recent performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra proved high-grade music making no matter a program that on paper looked perplexing, even a bit of a bore. Claude Vivier’s Orion is a strange, compelling (wonderfully structured) overture whose sonorities suggest a concert organ: muted trombones, intense and subdued strings, layers of percussion. Seguin steered a gripping performance, including the lone voice howling something over a Balinese gong (vocals came from tympanist Don Luizzi). The piece from 1979 sounds like Vivier admired Bruckner and George Crumb. Vivier, born in Montreal in 1948, was murdered in Paris in 1983.

At the Saturday performance I heard, Nezet-Seguin accommodated a piano soloist whose idea of the Brahms Concerto in D Minor is so ruminative it might still be going on. His name is Nicholas Angelich and the ideas he pursued were searching and particularly Mozartean – a way to spotlight Mozart’s influence on Brahms. The result also gave time to appreciate the woodwind turns, horn solos. By the final movement some of Angelich’s excellent finger work may have been tiring. Phrases began to plod, my attention lost some hold. This had been, for sure, a very oddly put together program, and the Brahms Concerto is long. There was far more to come after the half. Angelich, born in the U.S. in 1970, is worth hearing again.

Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D minor can be a potboiler. Under Nezet- Seguin, it was shaped to a fare- thee- well. The most expressive and gently shaped opening heard in this house. Torrents, layers of cyclic drama poured out. A shaping and execution so distinctive, it exceed its emotion heavy content.

NB If the young man is to come here more often, the hope is he gets a better fitting suit.

Written by Lesley Valdes

December 6, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Bountiful: Philadelphians with van Zweden, Gutierrez

leave a comment »

Philadelphia Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden, cond.
Horacio Gutierrez, piano
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center,
Nov. 27,28, 29, 2009

Pianist Horacio Gutierrez made a welcome appearance with the Philadelphia Orchestra over Thanksgiving Weekend. (Had to cancel a couple of seasons back when battling a serious illness, but things appear in order now.) The Cuban American artist played the Mozart Concerto No. 19 in F Major, turning it into a touchstone of balance and finesse. Nothing out of place. Nothing phony. Pure tones expressing things music and yes opera can express. People forget pianists play with their feet as well as fingers. Gutierrez’s pedaling is so light nothing blurs his thoughtful runs.

Philadelphia’s guest conductor was Jaap van Zweden, music director of symphonies in Dallas and the Netherlands. A fine talent: van Zweden whose first instrument is violin. Didn’t start conducting until 14 years ago. He looks younger than someone born in 1960. Actually he looks a boxer. A marvelous left hand, this muscleman- with- heart. Bruckner’s monumental Ninth was the program’s mainstay. It suited leader -and -band. From the right side of the parque there was a good sense of balance to the strings and horns unlike the ins- and- outs of focus the New York Philharmonic suffered recently. The Philadelphia strings know how to manage acoustical challenge. Downstairs, at least on the right side of Verizon, the sound was warmer than the Verizon’s brilliance-or is it acoustical harshness might suggest. The horns led by Jennifer Montone outdid themselves. It was a Ninth that Sawallisch might have applauded. The pizzicato movement was arresting.

The finale, led by concertmaster David Kim, had so many subtleties. Too bad, a few members of the audience never can hold their applause a few seconds. An hour of symphonic effort deserves this. Too bad, Verizon Hall wasn’t more crowded for a very special performance by the Philadelphians with both these artists. Of course it hasn’t been crowded for a long time. The Orchestra’s new executive director arrives soon in the New Year. It won’t be soon enough.

Written by Lesley Valdes

November 30, 2009 at 3:15 am

Posted in 1, Music, Piano

Tagged with , ,