Archive for March, 2013

PostHeaderIcon Tasty Musical Treats Times Two

At the beginning of this month, I urged you to put the upcoming European Film Festival on your calendar. Today, I’m alerting you to two April music festivals. They should but may not get much mainstream coverage. If you like alternative, creative music programming, these two festivals are definitely worth your attention–and attendance. And don’t overlook Fulcrum Point’s newest offering.

Todd Rudington with Ethel

Todd Rundgren with Ethel

Two words–Collaboration and Convergence–define the themes for two upcoming, highly promising music festivals. The 9th annual Spring Festival presented by Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music will run from Tuesday, April 2 through Saturday, April 13. Its 7-concert schedule, titled “Side by Side“, kicks off with a collaboration between the ebullient string Quartet, Ethel, appearing with rock musician Todd Rundgren.

The next evening features award-winning jazz vocalist, Kurt Elling, teaming with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra to celebrate the songbook of Cole Porter. Then, classical guitarist Jason Vieaux matched with accordion and bandoneon virtuoso, Julien Labro. The closing weekend features the Asphalt Orchestra, a unique, cutting-edge, 12-piece marching band of top musicians on Friday, April 12 and guitar virtuosos,  Sergio and Odair Assar, along with jazz reed giant, Paquito D’Rivera, on Saturday. For the full schedule and additional artist information, go to www.pickstaiger.org.

Asphalt Orchestra

Asphalt Orchestra

The man responsible for all this musical alchemy is Richard Van Kleeck, director of concert activities at the Bienen School. He is responsible for programming 250 concerts a year on campus which includes 100 student recitals and performances by 20 performing ensembles. The Spring Festival follows on the heels of a John Cage festival last fall. For the festival’s kickoff in 2005, Van Kleeck had 10 Steinway Grand Pianos on stage with a bevy of  distinguished pianists, including Leon Fleisher and Marcus Roberts, performing.

Van Kleeck’s view of collaboration is that 1+1 is greater than 2. He says pairing artists in collaboration is “just like a chemical experiment where something special goes on.” To be part of hearing something special, go to www.pickstaiger.org to download a full festival schedule.

CIMMfest 2013 stands for the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival. If you haven’t heard of it until now, neither have many other Chicagoans. Though it’s celebrating its 5th anniversary, it’s still under the radar though not amongst local indie musicians. It’s a festival with a relatively miniscule budget but with large ambitions matched by the lollapalooza determination of its two founders. It literally gets the job done with a lot of help from its friends, a coalition of 50 trade, media and college partners. That high level of convergence could make 2013 CIMMfest’s breakout moment.

CIMMfest rolls out over four days, April 18-21, with an incredible 99 events spread over 15 different venues. Now that SXSW has ended, the action moves to Chicago. I spoke with co-founder, Josh Chicoine, last week. Chicoine, a talented musician whose band once opened for Wilco and The New Pornographers, joined forces with documentary filmmaker and visionary, Ilko Davidov, in 2009.

The fest’s overriding mission is to spotlight music-centric films. This year, Chicoine says they are “dialing it way up” in terms of activity. They will screen 70 films from 25 countries and showcase more than 50 musical acts around town. Eleven music films will be world premieres! There’s no way you can avoid CIMMfest this year.

Funky Meters

Funky Meters

Opening night features music, film and conversation with composer, producer and performer Van Dyke Parks. The next night is a must-see, a monster mash at the Congress Theater with headliners, the Funky Meters from Louisiana, local band, J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound plus the funk, jazz and boogaloo sounds of The Greyboy Allstars. The live show also includes a “Music in Movies” panel discussion. Its scheduled to run from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. or later. Another highlight of the long weekend are 10 films documenting 50 Years of the Rolling Stones.

Melvin Van Peebles

Melvin Van Peebles

On Saturday evening, CIMMfest will present its inaugural lifetime achievement award to filmmaker, actor, director and Chicago native, Melvin Van Peebles, most noted for his 1960s film, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” The 80-year old artist will then perform with his band, Laxative. That has the makings of a truly wild event.

I’ve not made it to prior festivals but I plan to get onboard this year. Listen to what one of CIMMfest’s many musical fans, Louis Black, co-founder of the South by Southwest Festival, has to say. “CIMMfest has been really wonderful. It reminds me of what SXSW was when we were starting it. It has the same intensity and intention and it cares about music and movies.”

CIMMfest

CIMMfest

Tickets are only $10 for the films and an incredible $25 for the live shows. The April 19th show is a special limited sale online so buy your tickets in advance.  Besides individual sales, CIMMfest offers a 4-day Fest Pass for $79, less than the cost of a one-day pass to Lollapalooza. Check out the full schedule lineup at www.cimmfest.org.

Footnote: If you are looking for still more music after CIMMfest, I’d recommend you catch the ever-inventive, top-flight new music ensemble, Fulcrum Point, at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance on Tuesday, April 23rd. Music Director  Stephen Burns has once again devised a special program. He will lead a 100-member orchestra in the complete film score to the accompanying screening of Ken Russell’s 1980 sci-fi classic, “Altered States.” The film was scored by noted composer, John Corigliano, and received a Best Original Score Academy Award nomination that year. Fulcrum Point’s performance is part of the citywide celebration honoring the composer’s 75th birthday.

PostHeaderIcon Lyric Duo Worth Singing About

Each year, around Christmastime, arts critics recollect top performances of the past year. Well,  90 days later (due to other commitments), I’m ready to offer my own compliments to Lyric Opera. My tardiness offered the unexpected bonus of seeing an additional production, “La Boheme” last month. So far, my Lyric viewing has consisted of two stellar productions and Lyric appears set to end its season on a high note with Anna Netrebko in “Boheme” and Renee Fleming in “A Streetcar Named Desire”.

Christine Goerke

Christine Goerke

While I am a great fan of Strauss, opening the season with his challenging “Elektra” took courage. I even confess that I was not sure I wanted to relive the Trojan War and hear Greeks venting full-throated anger. But I am so glad I went. Christine Goerke’s incredible portrayal of Elektra will remain an all-time operatic high point. Her full-out singing and committed portrayal of a woman in the throes of grief and vengeance earned her the lustiest curtain calls I have ever heard at Lyric. Those who missed it now know they missed a milestone.

Thomas Hampson & Feruccio Furlanetto

Thomas Hampson & Feruccio Furlanetto

Following “Elektra,” Lyric paid the first of two tributes to the bicentennial of Giuseppe Verdi’s birth with the rarely-performed “Simon Boccanegra.Proper respect was paid with a strongly-cast production headed by baritone Thomas Hampson as Simon and great Italian bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto, as the wronged father, Jacopo Fiesco. The story is packed with political and romantic intrigue that, at times, is hard to follow, just like Italian politics today. The opera had its premiere 156 years ago this week (March 12, 1857) and is full of Verdi’s passionate commitment to the unification of Italy that resulted 13 years later.

It was a treat to hear the musical interplay between these two great voices. When they took their final bows, their respect and enjoyment of one another’s artistry was visible. While I exited the hall after Elektra feeling emotionally overwhelmed, I left Simon in a mood of pure contentment, having heard two master singers deliver a stirring performance.

My reaction to “La Boheme” must be more muted. I had the misfortune to attend a performance in which the role of Rodolfo was played by an understudy, Jose Luis Duval. This, unfortunately, affected my enjoyment. Duval, reportedly, has sung lead roles in Houston, Dallas, LA Opera and Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, but I’m sure not recently. He is now a singer in his late 50s with a very weak middle register that made it hard to hear his words. He gave a game performance but was unable to make Rodolfo’s youthful ardor for the young seamstress, Mimi, believable.

Anna Netrebko & Joseph Calleja

Anna Netrebko & Joseph Calleja

One could have no qualms about Ana Maria Martinez performance. She was in fine voice and endowed her arias with colorful phrasing. Soprano Elizabeth Futral was a winning and vain Musetta who brightened the proceedings at the Cafe Momus. Catch the remaining performances through March 28 when two new operatic stars take over.  Anna Netrebko, the international diva of the moment, will be Mimi with Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo. I’m willing to give Lyric a mulligan on that ill-starred performance and bet the new duo makes everything right.

Rigoletto at the Met

"Rigoletto" at the Met

Let me close with  a note about “Rigoletto” which also continues this month. Lyric is presenting the classic staging set in 16th Century Italy. Since I haven’t seen it, I must rely on critics who have proclaimed it ‘first-rate.” Instead, I had the pleasure, and that’s the word, of seeing the Metropolitan Opera’s production, set in 1960s Las Vegas with the Duke of Mantua and his retinue evoking the Sinatra “Rat Pack” and Cosa Nostra cronies.

It was perhaps a touch gimmicky but great fun nonetheless. It proved that moving the setting over 400 years forward to our recent memory could be done without trashing the original. Based on the MetLive performance I saw, Lyric director, Anthony Freud, should give Chicagoans a chance to hear Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, an outstanding Duke, while bass Stefan Kocan as Sparafucile looked and sounded like the new Sam Ramey and the perfect Mephistopheles for a future “Damnation of Faust”.

Perhaps Lyric had sound artistic reasons–or financial ones?–for sticking with its version. But if it wants to fill seats with a more youthful audience, it might adopt some of Peter Gelb’s thinking. The news that 7 of Lyric’s 8 operas next season will be new productions augurs well and shows Freud seems ready to set Lyric on a more adventurous course.

Lyric’s season continues through April 7. Performances of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” start in May. For tickets, visit www.LyricOpera.org.

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