Saturday, July 31, 2010

Music review: Chamber festival's closer features effective Dahl and premiere

Ingolf Dahl (1912-1970).

By Greg Stepanich

In the years just before and after World War II,‭ ‬Southern California became an oasis of sun,‭ ‬refuge and economic opportunity for several of the era’s most important European composers,‭ ‬Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schonberg chief among them.

Ingolf Dahl was another one of those composers,‭ ‬and in the fourth and final program of the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival,‭ ‬his lively and clever‭ ‬Concerto a Tre‭ ‬was the intellectual and musical high point.‭ ‬Written in‭ ‬1946,‭ ‬this piece for clarinet,‭ ‬violin and cello has a lot of the flavor of Stravinsky,‭ ‬with whom Dahl closely worked,‭ ‬but it comes across as less calculated,‭ ‬more naturally musical.

Friday night at Palm Beach Atlantic’s Persson Hall,‭ ‬violinist Dina Kostic,‭ ‬clarinetist Michael Forte and cellist Susan Bergeron gave a deft and engaging performance of this work,‭ ‬which has neoclassicism in its veins but also takes in some of the popular musical language of its time.‭ ‬Although each of the players has very difficult,‭ ‬challenging music to play,‭ ‬it’s the sound of the clarinet that drives the piece more than any other,‭ ‬and Forte gave the enterprise fluid fingers and a large,‭ ‬pleasing tone.‭

He ran into trouble in the highest reaches of the florid cadenza that ends the second movement,‭ ‬a piece with a slow-stepping kind of archaic grace‭ (‬it’s marked‭ ‬esitando‭) ‬in which the violin carefully sets out steadily rising single notes as it climbs,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬into the instrumental stratosphere.‭ ‬But most of the piece has a slangy,‭ ‬vivid swing in which odd rhythms and bright colors dominate,‭ ‬and in the conclusion,‭ ‬where the rhythmic complexity reaches its apex,‭ ‬the three musicians dispatched it handily.

Another trio on Friday’s program had its world premiere:‭ ‬Odyssey,‭ ‬for flute,‭ ‬clarinet and bassoon by composer Clark McAlister,‭ ‬who has been the festival’s producer for each of its six recordings.‭ ‬McAlister,‭ ‬whose‭ ‬Lou’s Mountain Bread remains my personal favorite of the works he’s written for this company of musicians,‭ ‬has crafted here a modest,‭ ‬sober‭ ‬6-minute work for the three musicians‭ – ‬Forte,‭ ‬flutist Karen Dixon and bassoonist Michael Ellert‭ – ‬who founded the festival in‭ ‬1992.

Beginning with a moody solo motif down around the chalumeau register of the clarinet,‭ ‬Odyssey opens up into a tapestry of long-lined,‭ ‬slowly moving themes,‭ ‬with a recurring waltz-like motif and an overall aspect of almost Bachian gravity.‭ ‬McAlister knows his way around the tonal possibilities of the three instruments,‭ ‬which gave this interesting,‭ ‬worthwhile piece added breadth despite the inherent limits of flute,‭ ‬clarinet and bassoon.‭

Modesty also was the watchword for two other works on the program,‭ ‬beginning with a curious Duo for bassoon and double bass by the French composer Albert Roussel.‭ ‬This‭ ‬1925‭ ‬duet already is on one of the festival’s discs,‭ ‬and was one of the works chosen for revisitation in the event’s‭ ‬19th season.‭ ‬This is not the Roussel of the Third Symphony or the ballet score‭ ‬Bacchus et Ariane‭; ‬rather,‭ ‬this work is more of a sport,‭ ‬an exploration of how to write for two low-voiced instruments.‭

Roussel leaves the bassoon to do most of the work,‭ ‬and much of that is a march-like chattering for the wind instrument over spooky harmonics in the bass.‭ ‬Ellert and bassist Jason Lindsay played it well,‭ ‬and with the right whimsical touch.

The concert opened with a rarity by Donizetti,‭ ‬a Trio for flute,‭ ‬bassoon and piano featuring Dixon,‭ ‬Ellert and pianist Michael Yannette.‭ ‬Best-known for his operas,‭ ‬Donizetti also wrote a great deal of other music,‭ ‬including‭ ‬19‭ ‬string quartets,‭ ‬and this work probably dates from the early part of his career around‭ ‬1820,‭ ‬when he was concentrating on instrumental music.‭

Again,‭ ‬the three players here did a good job with this light-as-a-feather piece,‭ ‬which was distinguished by attractive melodies and a thoroughly conventional harmonic format.‭ ‬Dixon and Ellert had plenty of straightforward tune to play,‭ ‬and they made a good case for this composer’s fondness for both of these instruments.

The final work on the program was the little-known String Quintet in G,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬77,‭ ‬of Dvořák,‭ ‬which despite the late opus number is a relatively early composition,‭ ‬written about the time of his Fifth Symphony.‭ ‬Composed for string quartet and double bass,‭ ‬it has a ravishing slow movement,‭ ‬a folk-flavored scherzo and finale,‭ ‬and a somewhat fussy,‭ ‬academic opening movement.

Kostic and Lindsay were joined by violinist Mei-Mei Luo,‭ ‬violist Rene Reder and cellist Christopher Glansdorp for the quintet.‭ ‬There were moments of fine playing here,‭ ‬especially in the slow third movement,‭ ‬in which all five musicians maintained a beautiful intensity that served the music well,‭ ‬and in the trio of the Scherzo,‭ ‬which was somewhat more successful than the main section.

But there were frequent intonation problems throughout the piece,‭ ‬and in general,‭ ‬the musicians didn’t sound quite in control of the material,‭ ‬to the point that little of the lilt and joy of Dvořák’s writing came through.‭ ‬As sometimes happens in this festival,‭ ‬this could be an example of opening-night unease,‭ ‬and I would wager that matters will improve by the final performance Monday night.

The‭ ‬Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival‭ ‬repeats this program at‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday at the Crest Theatre,‭ ‬Delray Beach,‭ ‬and at‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Monday at the Eissey Campus Theatre at Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$22.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬800-330-6874‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬

Friday, July 30, 2010

Weekend arts picks: July 30-Aug. 5

Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes.

Dance:‭ ‬Julie Kent,‭ ‬long a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre,‭ ‬takes the title role tonight and through the weekend in‭ ‬Giselle,‭ ‬with the Boca Ballet Theatre at Florida Atlantic University‭’‬s University Theatre.‭ ‬Kent,‭ ‬one of the best-known ballerinas of her generation,‭ ‬partners with another ABT standout,‭ ‬Marcelo Gomes,‭ ‬for these three performances of the beloved‭ ‬1841‭ ‬ballet scored by‭ ‬French composer‭ ‬Adolphe Adam.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a story of selfless love,‭ ‬as a poor village girl who falls in love with an unattainable man,‭ ‬then dies,‭ ‬comes from beyond the grave to save him from a certain death by dancing at the hands of the‭ ‬Willis,‭ ‬spirits of girls who have died before their wedding day.‭ ‬This is one of the staples of the repertoire,‭ ‬with charming,‭ ‬elegant music,‭ ‬a dramatic story,‭ ‬and the kind of dance that epitomizes what classical ballet is all about.‭ ‬The shows‭ (‬with recorded music‭) ‬begin at‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬today,‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Saturday,‭ ‬and‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬995-0709‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬‭ ‬– G.‭ ‬Stepanich

Dave Matthews in concert at the Cruzan in August‭ ‬2009.‭
(‬Photo by Thom Smith/Palm Beach ArtsPaper file‭)

Music:‭ ‬The South African-born singer-songwriter Dave Matthews and his band return to the Cruzan Amphitheatre for two shows,‭ ‬tonight and tomorrow‭ (‬Saturday night‭’‬s show is sold out,‭ ‬according to the band‭)‬.‭ ‬Matthews‭’‬ politically conscious‭ ‬jam-band style‭ ‬has won him a devoted core of followers,‭ ‬and he‭’‬ll be joined at the Cruzan by the festival favorites Gov‭’‬t Mule,‭ ‬the Allman Brothers Band offspring featuring Warren Haynes.‭ ‬The concerts,‭ ‬if you can get in,‭ ‬start at‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$40-$75,‭ ‬and are available through Live Nation.‭

Then on Sunday at the Cruzan,‭ ‬it‭’‬s a visit from two of the rock titans of the‭ ‬1970s:‭ ‬guitarist Carlos Santana and keyboardist Steve Winwood.‭ ‬This is a classic Boomer show,‭ ‬and while there will no doubt be much new music from these busy artists,‭ ‬lots of the crowd will have come to hear‭ ‬Black Magic Woman and‭ ‬Gimme Some Lovin‭’‬,‭ ‬among other favorites from these performers‭’‬ large catalogs.‭ ‬The show starts at‭ ‬7:30‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday‭; ‬tickets are‭ ‬$25.50-$125.50‭ ‬and are available through Live Nation.

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848).

It‭’‬s the final weekend of the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival,‭ ‬and the musicians will end their‭ ‬19th season with a world premiere and several of the rarities for which this concert series has become known.‭ ‬Composer Clark McAlister,‭ ‬who has produced each of the festival‭’‬s six CDs,‭ ‬offers‭ ‬Odyssey,‭ ‬a work for flute,‭ ‬clarinet and bassoon written in honor of the series‭’‬ three founders:‭ ‬Karen Dixon,‭ ‬Michael Forte and Michael Ellert.‭ ‬Also on the program are pieces by Donizetti,‭ ‬known primarily for his operas but also a prolific chamber composer earlier in his career‭ (‬a Trio for flute,‭ ‬bassoon and piano‭)‬,‭ ‬France‭’‬s‭ ‬Albert Roussel‭ (‬a Duo for bassoon and double bass‭)‬,‭ the German-born‬American composer Ingolf Dahl‭ (‬Concerto a tre for clarinet,‭ ‬violin and cello‭)‬,‭ ‬and the beautiful String Quintet in G,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬77,‭ ‬of Antonin Dvořák.‭ ‬The concerts are set for‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬tonight at Palm Beach Atlantic University‭’‬s Persson Hall‭; ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday at the Crest Theatre in Delray Beach,‭ ‬and‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Monday at the Eissey Campus Theatre at Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬800-330-6874‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬‭ ‬– G.‭ ‬Stepanich

Jennifer Lawrence in‭ ‬Winter’s Bone.

Film:‭ ‬For those who appreciate the excitement of a breakout performance,‭ ‬see the new independent film‭ ‬Winter’s Bone and be stunned by the emergence of young Jennifer Lawrence.‭ ‬This impressive young actress plays a teenager trying to hold onto her homestead in backwoods Missouri,‭ ‬threatened with foreclosure by the disappearance of her deadbeat,‭ ‬drug dealer dad.‭ ‬So she heads off on an odyssey in the Ozarks to find him and,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬encounters more than she bargained for.‭ ‬The film,‭ ‬a sensation at Sundance,‭ ‬is directed and co-written by Debra Granik,‭ ‬who made a similarly bleak feature called‭ ‬Down to the Bone a few years ago.‭ ‬The release of‭ ‬Winter’s Bone‭ ‬in the summer is more than a little puzzling,‭ ‬but do not let that stop you from seeking out this small,‭ ‬low-budget gem.‭ ‬At area theaters beginning this weekend.‭ – ‬H.‭ ‬Erstein

Felicia P. Fields and Mississippi Charles Bevel in Low Down Dirty Blues.

Theater:‭ ‬Sometimes a show’s cast is powerful enough to overcome the material’s shortcomings.‭ ‬The new musical revue‭ ‬Low Down Dirty Blues at Florida Stage’s new digs at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach is a dramatically lazy songfest,‭ ‬but its four-member company of performers is so entertaining,‭ ‬you will be willing to overlook the evening’s shapelessness.‭ ‬Instead,‭ ‬go and enjoy Sandra Reaves-Phillips,‭ ‬Mississippi Charles Bevel,‭ ‬Felicia P.‭ ‬Fields and Gregory Porter,‭ ‬four Chicago area fixtures who know their way around the blues and each get time in the spotlight to prove it.‭ ‬The show is not ideally suited for the Rinker Playhouse’s new thrust stage configuration,‭ ‬but with the expert sound design by Victoria DeIorio,‭ ‬the vocalists and band are a fine aural blend.‭ ‬Continuing through Sept.‭ ‬5.‭ ‬Call‭ (‬561‭) ‬585-3433‭ ‬for tickets.‭ – ‬H.‭ ‬Erstein‭

From left:‭ ‬Hanna Thaw,‭ ‬Kendall Clark,‭ ‬Carolina Chavez,‭
‬Julia Harvey and Maria Olea.
‭ (‬Photo by Kelli Marin‭)

Art:‭ ‬Next week,‭ ‬the Norton Museum of Art offers an exhibit of works by American artists such as Winslow Homer and Rockwell Kent from‭ ‬the‭ ‬West Palm Beach museum‭’‬s collections.‭ ‬The show,‭ ‬called‭ ‬American Masters:‭ ‬Prints and Drawings From the Norton Museum of Art‭ ‬Collection,‭ ‬runs from‭ ‬Thursday,‭ ‬Aug.‭ ‬5,‭ ‬to Oct.‭ ‬1o,‭ ‬and was curated by the museum‭’‬s five‭ ‬summer interns.‭ ‬Those of us‭ ‬who‭’‬ve worked in companies that employ interns on a regular basis‭ ‬always‭ ‬look forward to the‭ ‬summer‭ ‬and‭ ‬collaborating with enthusiastic young people who‭ ‬so willingly and eagerly shoulder some of the burdens of‭ ‬the‭ ‬permanent staff.‭ ‬No doubt the Norton feels the same way about its quintet of helping hands,‭ ‬all‭ ‬of them young women from Palm Beach County,‭ ‬two of whom are still in high school‭ ‬and‭ ‬the‭ ‬others‭ ‬students at Florida State,‭ ‬the University of Florida and Dartmouth.‭ ‬Go see the show,‭ ‬which features‭ ‬13‭ ‬works on paper from the‭ ‬19th and‭ ‬20th centuries,‭ ‬as a way of honoring the interns in your own office,‭ ‬or as a tribute to the days when you yourself were a member of this honorable company of summer laborers.‭ ‬– G.‭ ‬Stepanich

In the Swamp (1917), by Charles Burchfield,
from the upcoming Norton exhibit.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Theater review: Dramaworks' 'Gin Game' like two hands of solitaire

Barbara Bradshaw and Peter Haig in The Gin Game.

By Hap Erstein

Without the safety net of their subscriber bases,‭ ‬South Florida theaters often ease up on their missions in the summer with lighter fare.‭ ‬A case in point is Palm Beach Dramaworks,‭ ‬which just came off its‭ ‬most challenging season in its‭ ‬10‭ ‬years of existence,‭ ‬lowering its sights with the playing card-thin serio-comedy,‭ ‬The Gin Game.

The play brought instant recognition to its playwright,‭ ‬D.L.‭ ‬Coburn,‭ ‬who won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in‭ ‬1978‭ ‬for this tale of two elderly residents of the Bentley Home for seniors who meet and do battle over a series of gin rummy games.‭ ‬Some find this odd couple match to be profound,‭ ‬but Coburn’s real achievement was creating a couple of acting roles that two wily veteran performers could sink their teeth‭ ‬– or dentures‭ ‬– into.

There’s nothing wrong with that,‭ ‬and J.‭ ‬Barry Lewis,‭ ‬the company’s chief director,‭ ‬seemed to have cast the play well with Peter Haig and Barbara Bradshaw as the compulsive gamesman with a paramount need to win and the complete novice who stumbles into beating him,‭ ‬time after time.‭ ‬Individually,‭ ‬they are fine,‭ ‬but the play is a fragile duet and even after a week’s delay of the press opening,‭ ‬they seemed to be occupying completely different plays.

As curmudgeonly Weller Martin,‭ ‬Haig takes a broad approach,‭ ‬pumping his foot like a sewing machine pedal to the rhythm of his dealing,‭ ‬barking out the cards by number,‭ ‬erupting with foul-mouthed anger with each defeat.‭ ‬Bradshaw underplays straitlaced Fonsia Dorsey,‭ ‬subtly suggesting her thoughts through facial expressions as she goes from innocent glee to embarrassment to a new-found competitiveness as she plays.

Both performances are right for the characters,‭ ‬who are vastly different,‭ ‬but for the rhythms of the dialogue to work,‭ ‬the actors need to mesh better.‭ ‬Chances are that intangible quality known as chemistry will develop over time,‭ ‬but at the performance I saw,‭ ‬the added spark that the play so needs from its cast was not yet evident.

The Gin Game’s strength is in the clash of characters,‭ ‬though Coburn also tosses in some social commentary‭ ‬about the way we warehouse our elderly.‭ ‬Both Weller and Fonsia are guarded and secretive,‭ ‬so it is anything but surprising when their mutual protective armors get punctured in the second act and they are revealed to be different from their initial claims.

The entire play is set on the old age home’s porch,‭ ‬nicely realized by scenic designer Michael Amico.‭ ‬But with so much time devoted to the card games,‭ ‬the stage action is necessarily quite static.‭ ‬Lewis does what he can to counteract that problem,‭ ‬but the fact that the notion comes to mind suggests that the performances do not sufficiently draw attention away from the play’s limitations.

THE GIN GAME,‭ ‬Palm Beach Dramaworks,‭ ‬322‭ ‬Banyan Blvd.,‭ ‬West Palm Beach.‭ ‬Through Aug.‭ ‬15.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$42-$44.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬514-4042.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The View From Home 11: New releases on DVD

By John Thomason

Greenberg‭ (‬Universal‭)
Release date:‭ ‬July‭ ‬13
Standard list price:‭ ‬$18.49

If I were Roger Greenberg‭ – ‬the literate,‭ ‬perpetually disgruntled protagonist in Noah Baumbach’s‭ ‬Greenberg‭ – ‬I would definitely be hand-writing a letter to Universal right about now that would go something like this:

Dear Universal Home Entertainment,‭ Eager to discover more about the motion picture featuring myself,‭ ‬I recently purchased your newly released digital video disc of‭ ‬Greenberg.‭ ‬But upon accessing the supplemental materials on the disc,‭ ‬I soon learned that the so-called‭ “‬special‭” ‬features were not special at all.‭ ‬Your DVD misleadingly advertises three featurettes on the back of its snap-case,‭ ‬withholding the vital information that the featurettes in question barely total two minutes each‭ – ‬and most of those miniscule durations are taken up by recycled clips from the film.‭ ‬Shame on you,‭ ‬Universal,‭ ‬for squandering an opportunity to provide in-depth analysis of this Criterion-worthy film in favor of lazily repackaging promotional fluff in the guise of three bonus features.‭ ‬Barring a dramatic change in your DVD production line,‭ ‬this will be the last Universal title I add to my collection‭!


Roger Greenberg

But I’m not Roger Greenberg.‭ ‬Suffice it to say that the bonus features on Universal’s‭ ‬Greenberg disc are indeed pithy,‭ ‬generic and worthless,‭ ‬but the movie is worth owning no matter how bare-bones the DVD.

As the film’s irascible anti-hero,‭ ‬Greenberg‭ (‬Ben Stiller‭) ‬always has something worth complaining about,‭ ‬from the proliferation of horn honks in Manhattan to the leg‭ ‬room of his airplane seat,‭ ‬to the bland music piped through Starbucks‭’ ‬speakers.‭ ‬Rather than let life’s little annoyances go,‭ ‬as most of us would,‭ ‬Greenberg writes letters to every person or company that has wronged him.‭

Like many characters portrayed by Larry David and Woody Allen before him,‭ ‬Greenberg is a privileged New York nebbish who may often be doing the right thing in principle,‭ ‬but his form and presentation are way off-base.‭ ‬As with Jeff Daniels‭’ ‬pompous professor in Baumbach’s previous success‭ ‬The Squid and the Whale,‭ ‬I found myself agreeing with most of Greenberg’s observations while disparaging his woeful,‭ ‬elitist negativism.‭ ‬Walking a thin tightrope between enviably intelligent and disturbingly tactless,‭ ‬he’s a three-dimensional character more complex than those who dismiss him as simply an unlikable misanthrope,‭ ‬and Baumbach and Stiller deserve enormous credit for crafting this fascinating dichotomy.

When we’re introduced to Greenberg,‭ ‬he’s in a state of deliberate stasis.‭ ‬A former musician from a band he personally dissolved at the apex of its commercial breakthrough,‭ ‬Greeberg has just been released from a mental institution‭ (‬his condition is never revealed,‭ ‬but depression,‭ ‬bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are top candidates,‭ ‬not to mention crippling anhedonia‭)‬,‭ ‬and he’s about to turn‭ ‬41.‭ ‬Rather‭ ‬than‭ ‬confront aging with existentialist soul-searching‭ (‬as Allen has done‭)‬,‭ ‬Greenberg is postponing adulthood,‭ ‬maturity and the normalcy of midlife by‭ “‬trying to do nothing for a while.‭” ‬The opportunity to housesit in Los Angeles during his wealthy brother’s vacation in Vietnam provides Greenberg the chance to do just that.

Between meeting old friends from the band,‭ ‬building a doghouse for his brother’s pooch and,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬mailing complaint letters,‭ ‬Greenberg begins to stumble through a relationship with his brother’s personal assistant Florence‭ (‬mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig in a star-making turn‭)‬,‭ ‬a beacon of life-changing joy next to Greenberg’s inherent dourness.

Equal turns authentically dramatic and wryly comic‭ (‬To a guest at a party,‭ ‬Greenberg describes his life as‭ “‬Middling‭ – ‬Leonard Maltin would give me two-and-a-half stars‭”)‬,‭ ‬Greenberg is both an untraditional romantic comedy and an intimate homage to character-driven‭ ’‬70s cinema whose depth and insights are large as its potential audience is small.‭ ‬Here’s hoping it has a strong cult afterlife.

The Most Dangerous Man in America:‭ ‬Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
‭ (‬First Run Features‭)
Release date:‭ ‬July‭ ‬20
SLP:‭ ‬$20.99

You know Daniel Ellsberg as the policy wonk who worked under Robert McNamara in the lead-up to the Vietnam War and later released the Pentagon Papers,‭ ‬a‭ ‬7,000-page secret history of the war,‭ ‬to the media and the‭ ‬U.S.‭ ‬Congress,‭ ‬risking imprisonment to discredit a dishonest war machine.‭ ‬This documentary by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith profiles Ellsberg before,‭ ‬during and after his pivotal security breach,‭ ‬focusing especially on his transformations from hawkish employee of the Defense Department to outspoken leftist gallivanting with anti-war radicals such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn.‭ ‬It’s obvious where Ehrlich and Goldsmith stand in this interesting but hagiographic portrait‭ – ‬Ellsberg himself narrates about half the movie,‭ ‬and an advertisement for his website and blog are included in the bonus features.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬the history contained in the film is especially relevant to our extreme political climate,‭ ‬when those who don’t subscribe to one party’s dogma are ostracized as traitors by the other side and when the media are more content to cover fluffy non-stories than speak truth to power.‭ ‬The Most Dangerous Man in America is a reminder that dissent is patriotic‭ – ‬and that the media’s job is to question government,‭ ‬not echo its talking points.

Barking Dogs Never Bite‭ (‬Magnolia‭)
Release date:‭ ‬July‭ ‬20
SLP:‭ ‬$24.49

The first feature by popular South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho contains none of the delightfully schlocky self-consciousness of his B-movie throwback‭ ‬The Host,‭ ‬nor any of the psychological complexity of his recent‭ ‬The Mother.‭ ‬Instead,‭ ‬this overambitious genre mash-up meanders into thematic and aesthetic oblivion,‭ ‬and it takes a trying‭ ‬110‭ ‬minutes to do so.‭ ‬Barking Dogs Never Bite is essentially about an unlikable,‭ ‬part-time college lecturer whose murder of a yapping dog in his apartment complex leads to a series of canine-related calamities and threatens his plans to become a fully paid professor.‭ ‬There’s also some overwrought nonsense about a dog-eating basement dweller,‭ ‬a haunted boiler room and a pet-loving bookkeeper who longs to thwart a high-profile criminal and thus make it on public television.‭ ‬The film is every bit as disjointed as it sounds.‭ ‬Barking Dogs Never Bite is also available in Magnolia’s three-disc Bong Joon-ho Collection‭ (‬SLP‭ ‬$46.49‭)‬,‭ ‬packaged alongside‭ ‬The Host and‭ ‬The Mother.

Mystery Science Theater‭ ‬3000:‭ ‬Vol.‭ ‬XVIII‭ (‬Shout‭! ‬Factory‭)
Release date:‭ ‬July‭ ‬13‭
SLP:‭ ‬$39.49

‬The latest installment in the never-ending quartets of‭ ‬Mystery Science Theater episodes features four new ones to DVD.‭ ‬The box set includes the Season Two entry‭ ‬Lost Continent,‭ ‬a schlocky adventure picture about a group of scientists who land on a continent populated by dinosaurs‭; ‬Season Four’s‭ ‬Crash of the Moons,‭ ‬a hilariously nonsensical sci-fi yarn‭; ‬Season Six’s‭ ‬The Beast of Yucca Flats,‭ ‬a silly scientist-turned-beast monster movie whose episode is perhaps more notable for the preceding short‭ ‬Money Talks,‭ ‬about a kid who gains financial advice from a poorly bewigged Benjamin Franklin‭; ‬and‭ ‬Jack Frost,‭ ‬an antique Russian Cinderella story whose title character doesn’t even appear until the end of the film.‭ ‬Special features include new introductions by MST3K cast members Frank Conniff and Kevin Murphy and a‭ “‬Look Back at‭ ‬The Beast of Yucca Flats.‭” ‬Sounds like hours of varied,‭ ‬sardonic fun from the world’s best riffers.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited after posting to correct a factual error and incorrect image.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Theater feature: New Miami theater troupe draws impressive talent

By Hap Erstein

Vocabulary fans,‭ ‬the word for today is‭ “‬zoetic.‭”

It’s an adjective,‭ ‬meaning‭ “‬pertaining to life,‭” ‬so it is not a bad name for a new live stage company,‭ ‬unless you happen to worry that theatergoers in South Florida will not buy tickets for a troupe it cannot pronounce or spell,‭ ‬let alone know what it means.

Still,‭ ‬welcome Zoetic Stage,‭ ‬the brainchild of producing artistic director Stuart Meltzer and his partner,‭ ‬playwright-designer-actor Michael McKeever (at right).‭ ‬They have gathered a group of prominent local theater artists and established themselves with a lofty mission statement,‭ ‬promising to become‭ “‬Miami’s theater company.‭”

Meltzer,‭ ‬former artistic head of City Theatre,‭ ‬has certainly been able to lure some terrific talent to the venture.‭ ‬The roster includes Irene Adjan,‭ ‬Stephen G.‭ ‬Anthony,‭ ‬Jeffrey Bruce,‭ ‬Nick Duckart,‭ ‬Lela Elam,‭ ‬John Felix,‭ ‬Elena Maria Garcia,‭ ‬Maribeth Graham,‭ ‬Amy London,‭ ‬Margery Lowe,‭ ‬Amy McKenna,‭ ‬David Perez Ribada,‭ ‬Jerry Seeger,‭ ‬Kim St.‭ ‬Leon,‭ ‬Barry Tarallo,‭ ‬Laura Turnbull and Tom Wahl.‭ ‬Very impressive group.

Still,‭ ‬this is hardly an opportune economic time to start such an ambitious venture.‭ ‬But Zoetic already has a board of directors in place,‭ ‬headed by Stephanie Demos-Brown,‭ ‬wife of Christopher Demos-Brown (at left),‭ ‬whose‭ ‬When the Sun Shone Brighter premiered at Florida Stage at the end of last season and who will be one of the company’s resident playwrights,‭ ‬along with McKeever.

Each will have a world premiere in Zoetic’s debut season,‭ ‬which is certainly one of the most promising in the region.‭ ‬Specific dates and venues are still being worked out,‭ ‬but the season will kick off with McKeever’s‭ ‬South Beach Babylon,‭ ‬a‭ “‬wickedly funny and sexy‭” ‬look at the lives of five fictional Miami artists in the weeks leading up to the Art Basel exhibition.‭

Second on the season slate is the Florida premiere of‭ ‬Stunning,‭ ‬by David Adjmi,‭ ‬the story of a well-to-do Syrian Jewish couple living in Brooklyn and their clash of cultures with their African-American maid.

Next up is Demos-Brown’s‭ ‬Wrongful Death,‭ ‬a satirical take on the way the American civil justice system values human life as seen through efforts of a jaded personal injury lawyer to land the case of her career.‭ ‬The group’s first season concludes early next summer with Carlos Murillo’s‭ ‬Diagram of a Paper Airplane,‭ ‬a Southeastern‭ ‬premiere about four former best friends and their aftermath of the tragic death of one of them.

Besides all the logistical chores of starting a new company,‭ ‬a key priority is fund-raising.‭ ‬To fill its coffers and introduce itself to the public,‭ ‬Zoetic will be presenting a staged reading this Monday night‭ (‬July‭ ‬26‭)‬ of seven of the prolific McKeever’s short plays under the puckish title of‭ ‬McKeever’s Briefs.‭ ‬Audiences at City Theatre’s‭ ‬Summer Shorts have seen a few of these plays,‭ ‬and three have been finalists in the‭ ‬10-minute play contest at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.

McKeever’s Briefs‭will play Monday night at the Caldwell Theatre,‭ ‬7901‭ ‬N.‭ ‬Federal Highway,‭ ‬Boca Raton,‭ ‬beginning at‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬A‭ ‬$15‭ ‬donation is requested.‭ ‬For more information on the fundraiser or Zoetic,‭ ‬call Meltzer at‭ (‬954‭) ‬235-6208.‭

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Music review: French-accented chamber program brings vigor to Ibert trio

Jacques Ibert‭ (‬1890-1962‭)‬.

By Greg Stepanich

At its most important,‭ ‬the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival‭ ‬is about discovery,‭ ‬in hearing something worthwhile that its musicians have brought out of the libraries or fresh off the stocks for its loyal audience of nearly two decades.

In the first‭ ‬installment Friday of its third week of concerts,‭ ‬the musicians returned in a largely French program to the work of Jacques Ibert,‭ ‬whose‭ ‬Deux Mouvements of‭ ‬1922‭ ‬the group performed and recorded‭ ‬10‭ ‬years ago.‭ ‬That work,‭ ‬for two flutes,‭ ‬clarinet and bassoon,‭ ‬got an encore performance Friday night at‭ ‬Palm Beach Atlantic University‭’‬s‭ ‬Persson Hall,‭ ‬but it was another composition‭ ‬by Ibert that really raised the temperature in the room.

The Trio for violin,‭ ‬cello and harp,‭ ‬written by Ibert in the dark year of‭ ‬1944‭ ‬for his harpist daughter,‭ ‬is an exemplary piece in whose second movement the ghost of Gabriel Fauré looms large,‭ ‬but which overall is a quintessentially French,‭ ‬marvelously colorful exploration of the timbres and‭ ‬capabilities of its three instruments.‭ ‬Harpist Kay Kemper was joined by violinist Mei-Mei Luo and cellist Christopher Glansdorp for this three-movement piece,‭ ‬which differs from the‭ ‬earlier Ibert work and much other of its ilk in its red-bloodedness,‭ ‬fire and drive.

The opening movement,‭ ‬marked‭ ‬Allegro tranquillo,‭ ‬was‭ ‬anything but laid-back in this performance‭; ‬the first chordal snap in the harp was followed by a fierce athleticism from Luo and Glansdorp‭ ‬for the sinuous opening‭ ‬theme,‭ ‬giving the movement a headlong feel that the three players were happy to feed with‭ ‬plenty of fuel.‭ ‬Kemper‭ ‬provided strong rhythmic backing for her string partners,‭ ‬and offered impressive power in the fountains of glissandi that burst out in the middle of the movement.

Glansdorp demonstrated beautiful tone quality in the lovely second movement,‭ ‬a Fauré-style chanson from its harp ostinato to its melancholy harmonies and‭ ‬long-limbed‭ ‬melody,‭ ‬and Luo answered him in the same open-hearted fashion.‭ ‬The brusque energy‭ ‬of the opening was evident again in the closing‭ ‬Scherzando con moto,‭ ‬in which a chattering five-note motif was prominent and was effectively contrasted with a gentler secondary theme in the harp.‭ ‬The three musicians worked admirably well together,‭ ‬and their high-octane reading of this fine Trio made it stand out.

The Ibert‭ ‬Deux Mouvements‭ ‬that followed featured the same musicians that assembled for it a decade ago:‭ ‬flutists Karen Dixon and Beth Larsen,‭ ‬clarinetist Michael Forte and bassoonist Michael Ellert.‭ ‬This is a slighter piece than the Trio,‭ ‬and gains its attractiveness in its sly humor,‭ ‬exemplified by the two smirking-bassoon codas.‭ ‬This was an expert performance,‭ ‬distinguished by the fat,‭ ‬rich‭ ‬flute tone of Dixon and Larsen and its ensemble control,‭ ‬such as the skillful group diminuendo in the first of the movements.

Larsen and Dixon opened the second half with an old-fashioned Romantic-era display piece,‭ ‬a fantasy on themes from Verdi‭’‬s opera‭ ‬Rigoletto by the flutist-composer team of brothers Karl and Franz Doppler.‭ ‬It was designed to show off flute virtuosos,‭ ‬and in Larsen and Dixon it had two excellent players who gave us a good idea of why this kind of piece was so popular in its day.‭

Although this piece featured,‭ ‬briefly,‭ ‬La donna è mobile and‭ ‬Bella figlia dell‭’‬amore,‭ ‬much of it was built on the Act I aria for Gilda,‭ ‬Caro nome.‭ ‬The Dopplers surrounded these tunes with plenty of rapid chromatic scales in duet,‭ ‬or let one flute play difficult accompaniment figures while the other‭ ‬sang sweetly above it.‭ ‬There was no hint of any squeaks,‭ ‬honks or flubs in any of this,‭ ‬just two veteran players spinning out yards of silky smooth scales and dazzling filigree.‭ ‬Pianist Michael Yannette accompanied skillfully,‭ ‬and stayed well in the background.

Yannette,‭ ‬Forte and Ellert opened the concert with the other German work on the program,‭ ‬Mendelssohn‭’‬s early‭ ‬Concertpiece No.‭ ‬2‭ ‬for clarinet,‭ ‬bassoon and piano,‭ ‬written in‭ ‬1832‭ ‬but with the misleadingly high posthumous opus number of‭ ‬114.‭ ‬The bassoon part of this work was originally composed for‭ ‬the now obsolete‭ ‬basset horn,‭ ‬and Forte hinted in remarks before the piece that real basset horns might show up on the festival‭’‬s concerts in its upcoming‭ ‬20th anniversary season.

This is a modest but very attractive work,‭ ‬a chamber concerto for the two wind instruments‭ ‬that‭’‬s light on its feet.‭ ‬Both Ellert‭ ‬and Forte played with charm and suavity,‭ ‬with Ellert tackling a slightly more difficult part in that the second of the three movements required him to play the wide-ranging arpeggios supporting the clarinet tune,‭ ‬an Italian opera aria in everything but name.‭ ‬Both musicians were nicely in synch for the bubbling third movement,‭ ‬and they had good support from Yannette.

Like the second concert in the festival,‭ ‬the third ended with a major work from the string quartet repertoire,‭ ‬this time‭ ‬the String Quartet in‭ ‬F of Maurice Ravel.‭ ‬This sublime masterpiece contains not just wonderful music but also an object lesson in Ravel‭’‬s genius at orchestration‭; ‬few composers before or since have been able to draw so much color and sound from only four instruments.

Violinists Dina Kostic and Rebecca Didderich‭ (‬more familiar as a violist‭)‬,‭ ‬violist Rene Reder and cellist Susan Bergeron joined forces for the Ravel,‭ ‬and did a more than respectable job.‭ ‬They were at their best in the most straightforward parts of the quartet,‭ ‬such‭ ‬as the tricky five-beat fourth movement,‭ ‬which sounded carefully and thoroughly rehearsed,‭ ‬and in the second movement,‭ ‬with its frequent time shifts and pizzicato punctuation.‭

And while this was a good presentation of the quartet in that it allowed listeners to appreciate the warmth of Ravel‭’‬s melodic writing and the richness of his sonic fabric,‭ ‬something subtle about the music seemed to elude this foursome.‭ ‬The closing bars of the third movement,‭ ‬for example,‭ ‬were deliberate where they might have been mysterious and dramatic,‭ ‬and the delicate,‭ ‬frequent harmonic changes in the first movement could have been played with a greater sense of surprise and mood.

What‭’‬s needed here is a little more of what makes Ravel,‭ ‬well,‭ ‬Ravel:‭ ‬An illusion of spontaneity and‭ ‬naked emotion carried out by means of an almost fearful precision.‭

The‭ ‬Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival‭ repeats this program at‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday at the Crest Theatre,‭ ‬Delray Beach,‭ ‬and at‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Monday at the Eissey Campus Theatre at Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$22.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬800-330-6874‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬

Friday, July 23, 2010

Weekend arts picks: July 24-28

Hey Monday.

Music:‭ ‬Things might be a little soggy out there thanks to Tropical Storm Bonnie,‭ ‬but as of this writing,‭ ‬the Vans Warped Tour,‭ ‬2010‭ ‬edition,‭ ‬is set to hit the Cruzan Amphitheatre‭ ‬on Saturday‭ ‬for a day of bands and extreme sports.‭ ‬The skateboard company Vans,‭ ‬which launched this festival in‭ ‬1995,‭ ‬welcomes‭ ‬72‭ ‬bands to this year‭’‬s tour,‭ ‬one of them being West Palm‭’‬s own Hey Monday.‭ ‬Lead singer Cassadee Pope,‭ ‬who‭’‬s just‭ ‬20,‭ ‬has one of those big,‭ ‬powerful,‭ ‬keening female pop voices that seem so prevalent nowadays,‭ ‬and the band has built a steady fan base since forming out of Wellington High two years ago.‭ ‬The music starts at‭ ‬12‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$31.93‭ ‬and are available through Live Nation.‭

Weird Al Yankovic.

Or if your taste runs more to‭ ‬musical‭ ‬parody,‭ ‬you can catch Weird Al Yankovic on Saturday night at the Mizner Park Amphitheatre in Boca Raton.‭ ‬Yankovic‭ ‬has a had a successful career in a niche that‭’‬s very hard to sustain past initial novelty,‭ ‬and much of the credit‭ ‬for his longevity‭ ‬has to go to Yankovic‭’‬s basic musicianship and‭ ‬respect for the sources of his work.‭ ‬The concert starts at‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tickets range from‭ ‬$26.50-$46.50,‭ ‬and are available‭ ‬through‭ ‬Ticketmaster.

Earthquake‭ ‬01.12.10,‭ ‬by Philippe Dodard.

Art:‭ ‬ Haitian artist Philippe Dodard will be appearing Wednesday night as part of a new summer lecture series down at the Frost Art Museum on the campus of Florida International University in Miami.‭ ‬Dodard,‭ ‬born in‭ ‬1954,‭ ‬studied in his native country and in France,‭ ‬and produces colorful,‭ ‬intense work‭ ‬– paintings,‭ ‬drawings and sculpture‭ ‬--‭ ‬that he sees as spiritual reflections on the Caribbean and the African diaspora.‭ ‬Dodard will speak about his work during the lecture,‭ ‬which begins at‭ ‬6‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬The event is free and open to the public.‭ ‬For more information,‭ ‬call‭ ‬305-348-2890‭ ‬or visit

A scene from The Kids Are All Right.

Film:‭ ‬Car chase‭ ‬and secret agent fans can wallow in the silliness of‭ ‬Salt‭ ‬--‭ ‬the movie,‭ ‬not the condiment‭ ‬--‭ ‬but if you want something smart about real people,‭ ‬try‭ ‬The Kids Are All Right,‭ ‬a family comedy that is genuinely funny without being jokey.‭ ‬It concerns a lesbian couple‭ (‬Annette Bening and Julianne Moore‭) ‬and their two well-adjusted teenage offspring,‭ ‬who have grown curious about the guy who donated the sperm that helped them come into the world.‭ ‬They probably should have left well enough alone,‭ ‬but meeting their biological dad,‭ ‬a footloose L.A.‭ ‬restaurateur‭ (‬Mark Ruffalo‭) ‬tests the family in unexpected ways.

Director/co-writer Lisa Choledenko‭ (‬High Art,‭ ‬Laurel Canyon‭) ‬gets some terrific performances from her cast,‭ ‬particularly Bening as the mom who is wound up too tight.‭ ‬In area theaters today.‭ – ‬H.‭ ‬Erstein‭

Barbara Bradshaw and Peter Haig in The Gin Game.

Theater:‭ ‬The official opening was postponed a week because of technical difficulties‭ ‬--‭ ‬A playing card malfunction‭ ‬--‭ ‬so Palm Beach Dramaworks unveils its summer production,‭ ‬D.L.‭ ‬Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning dark comedy,‭ ‬The Gin Game,‭ ‬this weekend.‭ ‬This tale of two seniors who meet,‭ ‬spar and come to an understanding over a gin rummy grudge match at a seedy old age home never really deserved the Pulitzer,‭ ‬but it does have two terrific,‭ ‬juicy acting roles.‭ ‬There is every reason to believe area veterans Peter Haig and Barbara Bradshaw will devour them handily,‭ ‬under J.‭ ‬Barry Lewis’s direction.‭ ‬As long as the technical difficulties do not get in the way.‭ ‬Continuing through Aug.‭ ‬15.‭ ‬Call‭ (‬561‭) ‬514-4042‭ ‬for tickets.‭ ‬– H.‭ ‬Erstein

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Music feature: FAU's Zager brings golden touch to commercial music program

Michael Zager.

By Bill Meredith

When Michael Zager founded the commercial music program at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton in‭ ‬2002,‭ ‬it's unlikely that some students knew about the level of commercial success he'd achieved in the music industry.

Perhaps they know now.‭ ‬The‭ ‬67-year-old professor and eminent scholar has had a‭ ‬50-year career as a keyboardist,‭ ‬composer,‭ ‬producer,‭ ‬arranger and educator that includes‭ ‬13‭ ‬gold or platinum records and three instructional books.

The Passaic,‭ ‬N.J.,‭ ‬native has also worked with jazz artists Herb Alpert,‭ ‬Joe‭ ‬Williams and Arturo Sandoval as well as R&B acts The Spinners,‭ ‬Luther Vandross and Peabo Bryson,‭ ‬written chart-topping hits,‭ ‬and discovered future six-time Grammy Award-winning singer Whitney Houston when she was only‭ ‬14‭ ‬years old.

‭“‬I was producing a record for her mother,‭ ‬Cissy Houston,‭”‬ says Zager,‭ ‬who lives in Delray Beach with his wife‭ (‬and has sons as old as some of his hit songs at ages‭ ‬40,‭ ‬37‭ ‬and‭ ‬33‭)‬.‭ “‬One of her background singers couldn't make the recording session.‭ ‬When I asked Cissy who she wanted to sub,‭ ‬she said her‭ ‬14-year-old daughter,‭ ‬and I thought she was crazy.‭ ‬But Whitney came into the studio and seemed like she'd already been in the business for‭ ‬40‭ ‬years.‭ ‬I'd never heard anything like her,‭ ‬and had her sing on some‭ ‬of my own albums afterward.‭”

Some of Zager's original scores and recordings‭ (‬with Houston,‭ ‬The Spinners,‭ ‬and his own self-titled band‭) ‬are on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.‭ ‬The professor's life experiences,‭ ‬as well as his multi-faceted musical education,‭ ‬helped to form the curriculum of his commercial music program.

‭“‬The goal is to produce graduates who are prepared for virtually every facet of the music industry as professionals,‭” ‬Zager says.‭ “‬We not only train them in the classroom,‭ ‬but we also have a professional record label,‭ ‬Hoot/Wisdom Recordings,‭ ‬so whatever they learn in class must be applied to a digital,‭ ‬globally‭ ‬distributed label.‭ ‬We have a creative track for students who want to be composers,‭ ‬arrangers and producers‭; ‬a technology track for those who want to be engineers,‭ ‬and a business track for those who want to be executives.‭ ‬We also have two masters programs,‭ ‬one with a concentration on commercial music and the other focusing on music business administration.‭"

“I got my master’s in commercial music at FAU in‭ ‬2006,‭”‬ says‭ ‬46-year-old Israel Charles,‭ ‬a Fort Lauderdale-based composer,‭ ‬producer,‭ ‬drummer and educator.‭ “‬Now I teach music technology and production at the performing arts wing of Dillard High School.‭ ‬It was great learning music production from Prof,‭ ‬and being able to make it my career.‭ ‬He talked to me at an educational conference in‭ ‬2003,‭ ‬attracted me to his program,‭ ‬and was a great professor.‭ ‬I'd bring in mixes of songs that I thought were hot and ready to go,‭ ‬and he'd tell me what was missing and send me right back to the drawing board.‭ ‬He'd always find one or two elements that were needed,‭ ‬and he was always correct‭! ‬Now I get the chance to show kids that knowledge in return,‭ ‬which is an awesome job.‭”

Zager was surprised to be hired full-time by FAU in the first place.‭ ‬A‭ ‬1964‭ ‬University of Miami graduate,‭ ‬he'd gone on to study at New York City institutions like Juilliard,‭ ‬the Manhattan School of Music and Mannes College of Music,‭ ‬a division of New School University.‭ ‬When he applied for a part-time position at FAU,‭ ‬administrators clearly knew about his history.

‭“‬I wasn't even a music major at Miami,‭” ‬Zager says.‭ “‬I loved warm weather‭; ‬my grandparents were here then,‭ ‬and I studied to work in television,‭ ‬something that my oldest son ended up doing.‭ ‬He's a producer at Paramount.‭ ‬But I never wanted to go back to the cold weather.‭”

“I'd started teaching two courses in‭ ‬1997‭ ‬as an adjunct professor‭ ‬at the Mannes College of Music,‭” ‬he continues,‭ “‬back when I was a full-time composer and producer.‭ ‬But I wanted to move back down here and teach,‭ ‬and it was an accident that I got this full-time position.‭ ‬I really just came down here for an interview to teach a course as an adjunct professor.

‭“‬The vice president asked if I wanted to apply for my current position and it worked out,‭ ‬even though I'd never been a full-time academic.‭ ‬It was like‭ ‘‬The Godfather‭’ ‬in that they made me an offer I couldn't refuse.‭ ‬And it was the best decision I ever made to this point in my career.‭”

He'd certainly made some other good ones.‭ ‬Zager may not have planned to be in the music industry,‭ ‬but his career started rolling in‭ ‬1968‭ ‬as a member of the band Ten Wheel Drive‭ ‬--‭ ‬horn-heavy contemporaries of Blood,‭ ‬Sweat‭ & ‬Tears and precursors to Chicago and Tower of Power.‭ ‬The keyboardist co-founded the group with guitarist Aram Schefrin,‭ ‬who now resides in Wellington.‭ ‬After a‭ ‬1969‭ ‬appearance at the Atlanta Pop Festival,‭ ‬the band was signed to Polydor Records,‭ ‬and released four albums by‭ ‬1974‭ ‬on either the Polydor or Capitol label.

‭“‬I was a jazz nut,‭ ‬and we were one of‭ ‬the early jazz-rock horn bands,‭” ‬Zager says.‭ “‬We got a record deal and became quite successful.‭ ‬But our management turned down Woodstock,‭ ‬or we might have been more successful.‭ ‬Although who knew then that Woodstock would be Woodstock‭? ‬Once we saw what it turned into,‭ ‬that was our lowest point.‭”

Zager started composing for TV,‭ ‬radio,‭ ‬and films afterward,‭ ‬and built an impressive résumé that includes everything from IBM,‭ ‬Budweiser and Buick to‭ ‬Ally McBeal‭ ‬and the films‭ ‬The Eyes of Laura Mars‭ ‬and‭ ‬Summer of Sam.‭ ‬But the mid-1970s also produced a new musical trend called disco,‭ ‬something that Zager embraced wholeheartedly.

‭“‬I didn't know anything about disco,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬My musical partner,‭ ‬Jerry Love,‭ ‬was the head of A&R at A&M Records in New York City at the time.‭ ‬When he left,‭ ‬we formed our production and publishing company in‭ ‬1975,‭ ‬Love-Zager Productions,‭ ‬where he handles the business end and I handle the creative side.‭ ‬He started hanging‭ ‬out at Studio‭ ‬54,‭ ‬and he said,‭ ‘‬This disco thing is going to blow up,‭ ‬so let's make some dance records.‭’‬ I started listening to it and really liked it,‭ ‬right as it exploded.‭ ‬We ended up having hit after hit.‭”

The biggest was‭ ‬Let's All Chant by the Michael Zager Band,‭ ‬which reached‭ ‬No.‭ ‬1‭ ‬on the‭ ‬Billboard disco chart in‭ ‬1978.

‭“‬I get more checks now for that song,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬I sold more than five million copies of that record,‭ ‬and it's bigger than ever,‭ ‬especially outside of the United States.‭ ‬That's the case with most of my records.‭ ‬But I had a hit here with The Spinners called‭ ‘‬Working My Way Back to You,‭’‬ and‭ ‬one with Peabo Bryson called‭ ‘‬Do It With Feeling,‭’‬ which went to the top of the R‭&‬B charts.‭”

Disco may be a four-letter word to some music fans,‭ ‬but Zager is unabashedly unapologetic about the genre.

“Disco is bigger than ever now,‭ ‬but they just call it dance music or electronica,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬What do you think Lady Gaga is‭? ‬There's no difference,‭ ‬other than they're using synthesizers instead of orchestras.‭ ‬They use more tricks in the studios now.‭ ‬Look at the talent from that era.‭ ‬There were some of the greatest singers and musicians in the world recording disco.‭”

Most figures as‭ ‬successful as Zager don‭’‬t go back to school after topping the charts,‭ ‬but he checked his ego at the door of Mannes College between‭ ‬1984‭ ‬and‭ ‬1988.‭

“I wanted to start film scoring and do big orchestrations,‭ ‬but I got scared that I didn't know enough,‭”‬ he says.‭ “‬So I went back to school and majored in composition.‭ ‬And this was after I'd been at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music,‭ ‬plus studied with Stephen Sondheim for several years.‭”

Zager‭’‬s students praise the professor for showing them the intricacies of the music biz.

‭“‬When you walk into Prof's office,‭ ‬you see gold and platinum records on the wall,‭” ‬says Charles,‭ “‬so the hardware speaks for itself.‭ ‬As a songwriter and producer,‭ ‬that's the same impact that you want to make on the music industry.‭ ‬He has so much practical experience to go with his knowledge that you just keep quiet,‭ ‬listen,‭ ‬and try to soak it all in.‭ ‬He let me produce my own‭ ‬10-song CD as my thesis,‭ ‬since I wanted to do something hands-on rather than written.

‭“‬I got an area singer I was working with,‭ ‬Rachel Brown,‭ ‬to contribute vocals.‭ ‬After I graduated,‭ ‬I formed my own label.‭ ‬And one of those songs,‭ ‘‬Let's Fall in‭ ‬Love Again,‭’ ‬ended up going to No.‭ ‬1‭ ‬on the‭ ‘‬Billboard‭’ ‬hot R&B single sales chart.‭”

Zager is at work on a fourth educational book,‭ ‬plus producing a singer named Karina Skye.‭ ‬He even released his own independent smooth jazz CD called‭ ‬South Beach Wind a few years back.‭ ‬While some in the industry avoid South Florida because of its tourist-driven music scene,‭ ‬Zager shakes his head at his good fortune.

‭“‬I wasn't even familiar with FAU before Jerry Love told me about it,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬It was one of those things that happens once in a lifetime.‭ ‬I love being here.‭ ‬My job as an eminent scholar is to stay very active professionally,‭ ‬so it's very fulfilling,‭ ‬especially when I see my students get out into the world and do well.‭ ‬It's a dream job.‭”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Theater reviews: 'Low Down Dirty Blues,' 'Macbeth' provide eclectic summer fare

Sandra Reaves-Phillips,‭ ‬Mississippi Charles Bevel,‭
‬Felicia P.‭ ‬Fields and Gregory Porter in Low Down Dirty Blues.

By Hap Erstein‭

Over the weekend,‭ ‬Florida Stage unveiled its new roomy,‭ ‬yet still cozy home at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse,‭ ‬inaugurated with a shapeless musical revue imported from Chicago,‭ ‬Low Down Dirty Blues.

The show is enormously entertaining,‭ ‬thanks largely to its powerhouse four-member cast,‭ ‬but as with last summer’s erroneously named‭ ‬Some Kind of Wonderful,‭ ‬the nation’s largest company devoted exclusively to new and developing work demonstrates that it is far less rigorous when it comes to showcasing musical material.

Low Down Dirty Blues plunks us down in a South Side Chicago blues club,‭ ’‬round midnight,‭ ‬after the tourist trade that keeps requesting the same old,‭ ‬predictable songs has gone back to its hotels.‭ ‬That is when the local blues singers and musicians arrive to sing and play for each other,‭ ‬reaching for some of the bluer‭ ‬--‭ ‬as in off-color‭ ‬--‭ ‬blues numbers,‭ ‬revealing their affection for songs based in double -entendres and innuendo.

Typical is‭ ‬My Handyman,‭ ‬growled and winked to perfection by Sandra Reaves-Phillips as Big Momma,‭ ‬proprietress of the club.‭ ‬As she sings the praises of a guy who can‭ “‬churn my butter‭ … ‬cream my wheat,‭” ‬we quickly understand that his real talents are not culinary.‭ ‬Reaves-Phillips gets the party started,‭ ‬lifting her voice in songs that are blue,‭ ‬but definitely not downbeat,‭ ‬as she keeps time with slaps on her beefy thighs.

She is soon joined by Mississippi Charles Bevel,‭ ‬a slight,‭ ‬dapper,‭ ‬low-key performer,‭ ‬adept at his acoustic guitar and a punch line,‭ ‬as he demonstrates on a number called‭ ‬Jelly Roll Baker.‭ ‬Next up is hulking Gregory Porter,‭ ‬who booms out the ominous‭ ‬Born Under a Bad Sign.‭ ‬All three are terrific,‭ ‬and yet they seem mere preface to the arrival of Felicia P.‭ ‬Fields,‭ ‬a mountainous woman with the sound to match.‭ ‬Fields,‭ ‬prominently in the original cast of‭ ‬The Color Purple,‭ ‬arrives announcing in song‭ ‬I Got My Mojo Workin‭’‬,‭ ‬and the spell she casts over the proceedings is palpable.

Low Down Dirty Blues was created by‭ ‬Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman,‭ ‬who also co-conceived the Tony Award-nominated‭ ‬It Ain’t Nothin‭’ ‬But the Blues in‭ ‬1999.‭ ‬The only dialogue between the‭ ‬22‭ ‬songs is a few biographical lines,‭ ‬taken from interviews with actual blues singers and dealt out here to the cast in an unpersuasive attempt at character development.‭ ‬There is plenty to enjoy in the musical numbers,‭ ‬but they never manage any dramatic synergy.

The first-rate sound bodes well for Florida Stage’s future in the space,‭ ‬though much of it is probably due to the acoustic design of Victoria DeIorio.

The attractive club set by Jack Magaw,‭ ‬decorated in regional beer paraphernalia,‭ ‬is located far from the three-sided audience,‭ ‬with a few club tables and chairs on the floor where subsequent plays will presumably be staged.

The Rinker in this new configuration has great potential for Florida Stage’s future,‭ ‬and‭ ‬Low Down Dirty Blues is likely to make the company plenty of new fans.‭

LOW DOWN DIRTY BLUES,‭Florida Stage at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse,‭ ‬701‭ ‬Okeechobee Blvd.,‭ ‬West Palm Beach.‭ ‬Through Sunday,‭ ‬Sept.‭ ‬5.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$47-$50.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬585-3433‭ ‬or‭ (‬800‭) ‬514-3837.

‭ * * *

Kevin Crawford and Heidi Harris in Macbeth. ‭

Celebrating its‭ ‬20th anniversary,‭ ‬Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival dips into the Bard’s bag and pulls out a bloody good crowd-pleaser,‭ ‬the tragedy of that ambitious,‭ ‬murderous Scot,‭ ‬Macbeth,‭ ‬a play‭ ‬the company debuted with and revisited‭ ‬14‭ ‬years ago.

Directing the production and playing the title role is Kevin Crawford,‭ ‬long the company’s best asset.‭ ‬His performance dominates the evening with his signature skill with the Elizabethan language,‭ ‬rendering the text with clarity and attention to the poetry.

In a reprise of the Festival’s production from‭ ‬1996,‭ ‬Crawford is again partnered by Heidi Harris as his goading wife,‭ ‬who pushes him to take control of the political situation and realize the royal prophecy of the witches.‭ ‬In the intervening years,‭ ‬Crawford has grown burlier and Harris more buxom,‭ ‬but they still make a combustible couple,‭ ‬striking sparks of passion onstage while rendering these two towering roles with greater maturity and nuance.

Fourteen years ago,‭ ‬the festival was more inclined towards gimmick production concepts,‭ ‬and that previous‭ ‬Macbeth borrowed heavily‭ ‬--‭ ‬and pointlessly‭ ‬--‭ ‬from‭ ‬Braveheart,‭ ‬the hot movie of the day.‭ ‬Crawford places the new production in contemporary times,‭ ‬but is relatively restrained with references to the times.

True,‭ ‬Lady Macbeth first hears from her spouse by text message and the final showdown between Macbeth and Macduff is a duel by pistol rather than swordplay‭ ‬--‭ ‬an update that drains the scene of its theatricality‭ ‬--‭ ‬but otherwise the production is straightforward and conventional.‭

Concentrate on Crawford and Harris,‭ ‬because the performance quality drops off substantially when it comes to the supporting players.‭ ‬As Macbeth’s buddy Banquo,‭ ‬Andre Lancaster fights a losing battle with his lines of dialogue.‭ ‬You are unlikely to mind that his death renders him a mute ghost.‭ ‬Better are the three‭ “‬weird sisters‭” ‬--‭ ‬Krys Parker,‭ ‬Trinna Pye and Greta von Unrue‭ ‬--‭ ‬a trio of Goth babes who crawl about Daniel Gordon’s steeply raked stage.‭ ‬Either Crawford had a thematic notion or he was trying to save on salaries,‭ ‬but these witches keep popping up as members of Macbeth’s court and as his homicidal henchmen.

The festival is already crowing that its opening week set a new attendance record for Seabreeze Amphitheatre in Jupiter’s Carlin Park.‭ ‬For the past two decades,‭ ‬the company has become a fixture in the community and probably the main opportunity for many Palm Beach County residents to brush up their Shakespeare.‭ ‬That is commendable,‭ ‬but the troupe could still use a few more classically trained actors.

MACBETH,‭ ‬Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival at Seabreeze Amphitheatre,‭ ‬Carlin Park,‭ ‬A1A and Indiantown Road,‭ ‬Jupiter.‭ ‬Through Sunday,‭ ‬July‭ ‬25.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬Free,‭ ‬donations accepted.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬575-7336.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Music review: Musical piety, vocal purity make for absorbing concert of French Baroque

Louis XIV,‭ ‬king of France‭ ‬and‭ ‬Navarre‭ (‬1638-1715‭)‬.

By Greg‭ ‬Stepanich

In the days when Louis XIV was an actual presence and not‭ ‬merely‭ ‬the name of a favorite rococo interior‭ ‬design fashion,‭ ‬the faithful gathered in churches for‭ ‬communion with the Almighty but also‭ ‬for‭ ‬music,‭ ‬for the sound of a pure,‭ ‬unclouded voice ascending into the severe angles of a sacred space.

That very same experience,‭ ‬without the king,‭ ‬was that of an audience Saturday night at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale,‭ ‬as two sopranos and an organist presented an hour of early‭ ‬18th-century devotional music by two major French composers.‭ ‬This concert‭ (‬called‭ ‬The Court of the Sun King:‭ ‬Music From Versailles‭)‬,‭ ‬one in a series of summer events from Miami‭’‬s Seraphic Fire chorus,‭ ‬offered intensity and beauty in equal measure.

Sopranos Kathryn Mueller and Rebecca Duren,‭ ‬accompanied by Seraphic Fire founder Patrick Dupré Quigley at the‭ ‬petit orgue,‭ ‬performed four motets by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault and the three‭ ‬Leçons de Ténèbre of François Couperin.‭ ‬This is unadorned music despite its ornaments,‭ ‬a kind of Baroque style that has‭ ‬greater affinity with the plain sources of the Catholic liturgy than it does the powdered wigs of Versailles.

Mueller‭ (at right) and‭ ‬Duren,‭ ‬both members of Seraphic Fire,‭ ‬have‭ ‬similar voices that are admirably suited for Baroque music.‭ ‬There is a clear,‭ ‬open‭ ‬quality‭ ‬to both of these singers‭’‬ instruments‭ ‬that is‭ ‬particularly‭ ‬impressive in the upper registers,‭ ‬where nary a vibrato wobble or sign of strain was heard.‭ ‬Mueller‭’‬s voice is slightly larger,‭ ‬rounder and more powerful than Duren‭’‬s,‭ ‬but both women sang‭ ‬beautifully,‭ ‬and‭ ‬demonstrated‭ ‬first-rate diction‭ ‬and‭ ‬high musical intelligence as well.‭

The program was sung without intermission,‭ ‬and began‭ ‬with‭ ‬the four Clérambault motets,‭ ‬the first in honor of the king‭ (‬which by‭ ‬1733,‭ ‬when these motets were published,‭ ‬was Louis XV‭)‬,‭ ‬and the other three for‭ ‬the‭ ‬Virgin,‭ ‬Christmas,‭ ‬and Holy Tuesday.‭ ‬Clérambault‭’‬s style is very much of its time,‭ ‬though he also writes with some attractive variety,‭ ‬and‭ ‬his‭ ‬basic‭ ‬harmonic layout is less relentless than that of Couperin,‭ ‬which‭ ‬might have‭ ‬something to do with his being the‭ ‬younger‭ ‬man.

Duren‭’‬s ability to sing with a smoothness of line was readily apparent in the‭ ‬Motet de la Sainte‭ ‬Vierge‭ (‬one of several Clérambault composed‭)‬,‭ ‬and Mueller‭’‬s ease‭ ‬in‭ ‬the‭ ‬higher reaches of her voice was much in evidence during the‭ ‬Motet pour le jour de Noël.‭ ‬Both sopranos could be heard‭ ‬trading‭ ‬between‭ ‬higher‭ ‬and lower parts when‭ ‬singing together,‭ ‬with scarcely a noticeable difference,‭ ‬and‭ ‬during the‭ ‬Motet pour le Mardy de la Quinquagezime,‭ ‬they blended‭ ‬with exemplary loveliness at‭ ‬the‭ ‬words beginning‭ ‬Domine est salus.

Quigley,‭ ‬as always,‭ ‬made an expert accompanist,‭ ‬supporting‭ ‬and following his singers,‭ ‬and during the Christmas motet showing‭ ‬his usual engagement with the music by bobbing along in rhythm‭ ‬to the joyous text and music.

The three Tenebrae lessons of Couperin,‭ ‬written for Holy Wednesday in‭ ‬1714,‭ ‬are with his books of keyboard‭ ‬Ordres his most celebrated works,‭ ‬and‭ ‬they are‭ ‬good examples of the vividness of Couperin‭’‬s musical language.‭ ‬Each of the initial‭ ‬melismatic‭ ‬settings of the letters‭ ‬of the Hebrew alphabet‭ ‬set a fresh color for the verses to follow,‭ ‬and the singers‭ ‬and‭ ‬Quigley were careful to bring it out.

This is demanding‭ ‬listening,‭ ‬with its spare‭ ‬performing forces and deeply pious focus adding to the‭ ‬challenge of its particular‭ ‬aural‭ ‬archaisms,‭ ‬but it repaid‭ ‬the‭ ‬effort‭ ‬with a‭ ‬shared concentration‭ ‬that‭ ‬was most noticeable during the interior pauses‭ ‬and‭ ‬the‭ ‬breaks‭ ‬between‭ ‬the separate lessons.‭ ‬Again,‭ ‬the crystalline clarity of the women‭’‬s voices was paramount,‭ ‬with Mueller showing this effectively in the long held note on the words‭ ‬ejus gementes in the‭ ‬Daleth section of the first lesson.

Duren‭’‬s purity of tone and trilling skill gave polish and nobility to the second lesson,‭ ‬and in the third,‭ ‬the climbing,‭ ‬sweetly clashing notes of both singers added a‭ ‬yearning‭ ‬quality that was quite attractive.‭ ‬At the end,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬Mueller and Duren (at right) had to leap into‭ ‬the upper reaches for a key‭ ‬passage,‭ ‬and both handled it with plenty of muscle to spare.

This‭ ‬was in some ways music‭ ‬only‭ ‬for the‭ ‬connoisseur,‭ ‬but the large audience at All Saints was deeply attentive throughout and amply appreciative at the close.‭ ‬Seraphic Fire and other area musical‭ ‬organizations have had a good run in the past year or so with explorations of the Baroque repertoire,‭ ‬and‭ ‬this‭ ‬visit to the‭ ‬world of French monarchism at its‭ ‬height‭ ‬marks another fine event in that series.

This program will be repeated this afternoon at Miami Beach Community Church in Miami Beach.‭ ‬The concert begins at‭ ‬4‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$30‭ ‬and are available at‭ ‬the door,‭ ‬through‭ ‬,‭ ‬or by calling‭ (‬888‭) ‬544-FIRE‭ (‬3473‭)‬.

Theater review: Stage Door's 'Chaperone' delivers the daffy goods

The Broward Stage Door cast of The Drowsy Chaperone.

By Hap Erstein

Broward Stage Door Theatre has a tendency to overreach with its musicals,‭ ‬biting off a beloved,‭ ‬not-quite elaborate show and not quite delivering on the pleasures we once enjoyed with it.‭

Now,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬it is presenting a modest little show,‭ ‬the intermission-less‭ ‬The Drowsy Chaperone,‭ ‬a multiple Tony Award winner from‭ ‬2006‭ ‬that is bound to be new to most of its audience,‭ ‬and renders it very capably with just the right touches of affection and whimsy.

Much of the credit goes to the company’s former artistic director,‭ ‬Dan Kelley,‭ ‬who stages the production deftly with a perpetual wink as well as playing the show’s central character,‭ ‬known simply as Man in Chair,‭ ‬with complete commitment to his musical comedy world.‭ ‬Every now and then one sees an ideal match of performer and role like this.‭ ‬If Man in Chair were not written as a wedding gift for Bob Martin,‭ ‬one of the show’s co-authors,‭ ‬you would swear it was tailor-made for Kelley,‭ ‬fluttery hands and sly comic takes and all.

You see,‭ ‬Man in Chair is an avid fan of musicals,‭ ‬preferably from an earlier era,‭ ‬long before they were lazy copies of popular movies or before Elton John began attempting to pen theater songs.‭ ‬And when he feels a little blue,‭ ‬nothing brings him out of his funk like putting on a record‭ ‬--‭ ‬yes,‭ ‬a vinyl record‭ ‬--‭ ‬of a cherished,‭ ‬bygone,‭ ‬fictitious show from the‭ ‬1920s,‭ ‬like Gable and Stine’s‭ ‬The Drowsy Chaperone.‭ ‬And as he narrates and annotates the show,‭ ‬it comes to life in his otherwise drab apartment.

As students of musical theater know,‭ ‬shows from the‭ ’‬20s were one degree removed from vaudeville,‭ ‬a series of specialty numbers for variety performers that were barely connected to a storyline.‭ ‬Dramatic logic was beside the point and that is the world that‭ ‬The Drowsy Chaperone‭ ‬--‭ ‬the show,‭ ‬not the show-within-the-show‭ ‬--‭ ‬celebrates.

The plot,‭ ‬such as it is,‭ ‬concerns the imminent wedding of celebrated stage star Janet Van De Graff,‭ ‬who is about to make the supreme sacrifice of giving up her career for domestic life with her beau,‭ ‬Robert Martin.‭ ‬Trying to prevent the nuptials is her producer,‭ ‬who would hate to lose such a lucrative meal ticket.

For no particular reason other than daffiness,‭ ‬the groom is soon careening about the stage,‭ ‬blindfolded and on roller skates.‭ ‬Perhaps it is a metaphor for marriage.‭ ‬In any rate,‭ ‬the stage is soon filled with pun-slinging gangsters posing as bakers,‭ ‬the title tipsy matron charged with looking after the bride,‭ ‬a dense,‭ ‬but harmless Latin Lothario,‭ ‬a ditsy dowager prone to spit takes and a few other stray comic types.

The Tony-winning score by Broadway newcomers Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison is well attuned to the sound of the period and highly democratic in the way it provides everyone‭ ‬--‭ ‬even a barnstorming aviatrix,‭ ‬so tangential to the show,‭ ‬she should have bought a ticket to get in‭ ‬--‭ ‬with a spotlight number.

Among the standouts are Laura Oldman‭ (‬Janet‭)‬,‭ ‬who opening anti-want song,‭ ‬Show-Off,‭ ‬puts her through a dizzying display of narcissistic talents,‭ ‬from plate-spinning to snake-charming to ventriloquism.‭ ‬Matt Ban’s Adolpho is,‭ ‬by necessity,‭ ‬broad,‭ ‬but he earns his laughs with surprisingly precise comic timing.‭ ‬And Kelley is truly ideal as Man in Chair,‭ ‬holding together the mayhem with an effortless hand while supplying the show’s emotional heart.

The ever-inventive Chrissi Ardito supplies the vintage feel-good choreography,‭ ‬Ardean Landhuis gives solid support with his scenic design and lighting and David Nagy’s music direction is adroit,‭ ‬although the orchestra is pre-recorded.

The Drowsy Chaperone is not a great show for the ages.‭ ‬It seems unlikely that Man in Chair’s great-grandson will be listening to it‭ ‬80‭ ‬years from now.‭ ‬But it is a lot of fun,‭ ‬and Kelley’s production delivers on every wacky bit of schtick it contains.

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE,‭Broward Stage Door Theatre,‭ ‬8036‭ ‬W.‭ ‬Sample Road,‭ ‬Coral Springs.‭ ‬Through July‭ ‬25.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$38-$42.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬954‭)‬ 344-7765.‭

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Music review: Beethoven's 'Harp' stands out in second chamber fest concert

Joaquín Turina‭ (‬1882-1949‭)‬.

By Greg Stepanich

The‭ ‬10th string quartet of Beethoven,‭ ‬depending on which scholarly camp you favor,‭ ‬is‭ ‬either a genial mid-career throwback to the peak of the Haydn classical style or the earliest example of the‭ ‬innovatory,‭ ‬astonishing‭ ‬manner‭ ‬of the‭ ‬late-period‭ ‬quartets.‭

Either way,‭ ‬it‭’‬s a remarkable piece of music from a remarkable year‭ (‬1809‭)‬,‭ ‬and it was the high point Friday night of the second series of concerts in the current Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival.‭

Known familiarly by its‭ ‬Harp sobriquet,‭ ‬the quartet‭ (‬in E-flat,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬74‭)‬,‭ ‬is a brilliantly structured‭ ‬piece that in its outer movements employs a free-fantasy‭ ‬approach‭ ‬that emphasizes drama and sonic effect,‭ ‬and‭ ‬in its inner movements trades a placid slow movement for a searing‭ ‬exercise‭ ‬in sustained,‭ ‬intense emotion,‭ ‬and‭ ‬swaps‭ ‬a minuet for a‭ ‬ferocious minor-major stomp-and-fugue that echoes the Fifth Symphony and presages the Ninth.‭

And it was well-served by its four players:‭ ‬Violinists Mei-Mei Luo and Dina Kostic,‭ ‬violist Rene Reder,‭ ‬and cellist Susan Bergeron.‭ ‬ Throughout the‭ ‬work the four women‭ ‬played with deep commitment and‭ ‬engagement,‭ ‬and displayed‭ ‬fine technique and musicianship.‭ ‬Standout moments came‭ ‬with Bergeron‭’‬s first volley in‭ ‬the‭ ‬battle of the‭ ‬third-movement‭ ‬fugue,‭ ‬which‭ ‬she played with great‭ ‬speed while giving each‭ ‬note its full value,‭ ‬and with the‭ ‬second‭ ‬movement as a whole,‭ ‬which had an unbroken dramatic line‭ ‬that‭ ‬lost none of its focus even during the‭ ‬break in the middle.

The final theme and variations was‭ ‬somewhat‭ ‬shakier,‭ ‬with an underplayed viola variation and some initial fuzziness about each section before recovering in the two-against-three passage toward the end.‭ ‬The opening movement,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬had some moments of not-quite-togetherness,‭ ‬but the game changed for this foursome in the final moments of the opening,‭ ‬as Luo began her‭ ‬diminished-chord fiddling and the rest of the quartet sang out the central motifs with warmth and beauty.‭ ‬That‭’‬s where this performance jelled,‭ ‬and I think‭ ‬by Monday‭ ‬evening,‭ ‬with two more concerts under their belt,‭ ‬these musicians will be able to give this great work an exceptional reading.

The Beethoven was easily the best music on the‭ ‬program at Palm Beach Atlantic‭’‬s Persson Hall,‭ ‬which‭ ‬opened with‭ ‬another‭ ‬string‭ ‬quartet,‭ ‬the‭ ‬Oración del Torero,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬34,‭ ‬of Joaquín Turina.‭ ‬This‭ ‬is probably Turina‭’‬s best-known piece,‭ ‬and‭ ‬the string players‭ ‬– Kostic,‭ ‬Rebecca Didderich,‭ ‬Reder and cellist Christopher Glansdorp‭ ‬– performed‭ ‬it with panache and high style.‭ ‬Intonation,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬was problematic,‭ ‬with most of‭ ‬the‭ ‬unison octave passages not in tune,‭ ‬and‭ ‬that makes a difference in a piece as transparent,‭ ‬aromatic,‭ ‬and melody-oriented as this one.‭ ‬Glansdorp played‭ ‬beautifully,‭ ‬even when just buttressing the music with fat‭ ‬pizzicati,‭ ‬and the four‭ ‬musicians handled the whispered,‭ ‬atmospheric ending‭ ‬very nicely.

The Turina was followed by the‭ ‬sextet‭ ‬for piano and wind quintet‭ ‬of Francis Poulenc,‭ ‬one‭ ‬of the high points of French‭ ‬20th-century chamber music writing.‭ ‬Pianist Lisa Leonard was joined by flutist Karen Dixon,‭ ‬oboist Sherie Aguirre,‭ ‬clarinetist Michael Forte,‭ ‬hornist Ellen Tomasiewicz and bassoonist Michael Ellert for‭ ‬this‭ ‬piece,‭ ‬which the festival is revisiting after‭ ‬scheduling‭ ‬it some‭ ‬16‭ ‬years ago.‭ ‬

This is a piece for expert players,‭ ‬and‭ ‬the six musicians had no real difficulty playing in good French style or understanding Poulenc‭’‬s kitschy aesthetic,‭ ‬nor were the technical challenges‭ ‬beyond‭ ‬their reach.‭ ‬Tomasiewicz missed a couple notes here‭ ‬and‭ ‬there,‭ ‬but this is a murderous horn part,‭ ‬and what sticks in the memory more is her‭ ‬fine‭ ‬playing of the soaring high passages,‭ ‬especially‭ ‬in the finale.

But overall,‭ ‬this was a much too aggressive performance,‭ ‬as if the‭ ‬volume had been cranked up to‭ ‬11‭ ‬and left there.‭ ‬There was a powerful‭ ‬crispness‭ ‬to the music,‭ ‬particularly on Leonard‭’‬s part,‭ ‬who‭ ‬played‭ ‬with great‭ ‬strength and clarity,‭ ‬but what was missing was a sense of proportion and variety.‭ ‬Poulenc is a composer of‭ ‬many shifting moods,‭ ‬and it would have been better had‭ ‬the impressive bignesses of each‭ ‬movement‭ ‬also offered real contrast,‭ ‬not only in the presentation of the‭ ‬different‭ ‬themes,‭ ‬but in basic dynamics,‭ ‬which‭ ‬would‭ ‬have helped the music regain its subtlety.

The other work on‭ ‬the‭ ‬program was a contemporary piece,‭ ‬the‭ ‬Arioso for trumpet and wind‭ ‬quintet of Jerzy Sapieyevski,‭ ‬a Polish-born American composer who has taught at American University for years,‭ ‬and who‭ ‬wrote the work in‭ ‬1986‭ ‬at the request of the International Trumpet Guild.‭ ‬Trumpeter Marc Reese,‭ ‬whose standup-comedian style‭ ‬pre-performance‭ ‬remarks‭ ‬were‭ ‬quite‭ ‬funny,‭ ‬was the soloist.‭

This is a generally miserable piece of music,‭ ‬I‭’‬m sorry to say,‭ ‬at the level for the‭ ‬most‭ ‬part‭ ‬of a bad movie score.‭ ‬The piece dates from a period of classical composition when composers were‭ ‬beginning‭ ‬to feel unafraid to write tunes again,‭ ‬and Sapieyevski has a good feel for a catchy melody.‭ ‬But‭ ‬these pop-flavored tunes are too obvious,‭ ‬and‭ ‬the‭ ‬composer compounds the sin by leaving the accompanying quintet playing‭ ‬cheesy block‭ ‬chord‭ ‬changes‭ ‬most of the time.

Reese plays quite well,‭ ‬and he tossed off the scale rocket at the end of the watery-disco main section with sparkle each time it occurred.‭ ‬But‭ ‬he really needs to have‭ ‬something‭ ‬much better to play,‭ ‬like the Saint-Saëns Septet he performed with the festival a few years back.‭ ‬That‭’‬s‭ ‬a piece worth reviving,‭ ‬and one hopes the festival musicians won‭’‬t be offering the‭ ‬Arioso the same courtesy in years‭ ‬to come.‭

The‬Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival‭ ‬repeats this program at‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday at the Crest Theatre,‭ ‬Delray Beach,‭ ‬and at‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Monday at the Eissey Campus Theatre at Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$22.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬800-330-6874‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬‭

Friday, July 16, 2010

Weekend arts picks: July 16-20

Blue Boy,‭ ‬by Tammy Marinuzzi.

Art:‭ ‬Work in ceramics by a group of artists who all have connections to the University of Florida opens today at West Palm Beach‭’‬s Armory Art Center and runs through Aug.‭ ‬28.‭ ‬The‭ ‬13‭ ‬artists,‭ ‬assembled under the rubric Motley Moxie,‭ ‬shared the same‭ ‬working‭ ‬environment or instructors at UF,‭ ‬but have widely varied approaches to clay.‭ ‬The artists,‭ ‬in alphabetical order,‭ ‬are Pavel Amromin,‭ ‬Renee Audette,‭ ‬Andrew Cho,‭ ‬Lynn Duryea,‭ ‬Magda Gluszek,‭ ‬Yumiko Goto,‭ ‬Holly Hanassian,‭ ‬Tammy Marinuzzi,‭ ‬Conner McKissack,‭ ‬Beau Raymond,‭ ‬Jeremy Randall,‭ ‬Shawn Rommevaux and Alyssa Welch.

Homeward Bound,‭ ‬by Pavel Amromin.

The‭ ‬opening reception begins at‭ ‬6‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬today and runs through‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Admission is‭ ‬$5,‭ ‬or free for Armory members.‭ ‬The‭ ‬center gallery is open from‭ ‬10‭ ‬a.m.‭ ‬to‭ ‬4‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Mondays‭ ‬through‭ ‬Fridays,‭ ‬and from‭ ‬10‭ ‬a.m.‭ ‬to‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Saturdays.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬832-1776‭ ‬for more information,‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬

Ellen Page and Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception.

Film:‭ ‬Most special-effects action thrillers ask us to leave our brains at the door and be satisfied watching the computer-generated eye candy.‭ ‬Then there is‭ ‬Inception,‭ ‬the marvel of a thinking person’s puzzle movie that takes some work to keep up with,‭ ‬but pays off in very satisfying ways.‭ ‬It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a master extractor,‭ ‬a guy adept at cracking into the dreams of others and stealing their ideas for profit.‭ ‬Now in his last job before he hopes to retire‭ ‬--‭ ‬uh-oh‭ ‬--‭ ‬he is asked to do the opposite,‭ ‬to burrow into a corporate executive’s mind and plant a destructive idea.

The film takes place inside dreams,‭ ‬with a dream’s lack of logic or gravity,‭ ‬and there are levels and layers to these dreams to keep moviegoers further off-balance.‭ ‬Inception is the brain child of director-writer Christopher Nolan‭ (‬The Dark Knight‭)‬,‭ ‬who moves up even higher in the Hollywood pecking order. -- H. Erstein

Felicia Fields in the Chicago-area production of Low Down Dirty Blues.

Theater:‭ ‬The big event this weekend,‭ ‬theatrically speaking,‭ ‬is the debut of Florida Stage’s new home,‭ ‬a drastically reconfigured Rinker Playhouse within West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center.‭ ‬The space has been turned into a thrust stage theater,‭ ‬by placing the action on the floor and surrounding it with seats on three sides.‭ ‬The company may have lost a little of the intimacy it had in Manalapan,‭ ‬but it gains in stage height and depth,‭ ‬which will pay dividends in scenic and lighting possibilities.

The inaugural production is‭ ‬Low Down Dirty Blues,‭ ‬Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman’s revue of the sassy,‭ ‬double entendre-laden blues songs rolled out in an after-hours Chicago club.‭ ‬It premiered recently at Northlight Theatre in Skokie,‭ ‬Ill.,‭ ‬where the local critics raved about the four-member cast. Florida Stage’s box office phone number remains the same,‭ (‬561‭) ‬585-3433.‭ ‬– H.‭ ‬Erstein

Mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts.

Music:‭ ‬The Palm Beach Opera offers a preview Tuesday‭ ‬night‭ ‬of the coming season with an event at the Harriet Himmel Theater in CityPlace featuring‭ ‬soprano‭ ‬Wendy Jones,‭ ‬mezzo Irene Roberts and‭ ‬baritone Graham Fandrei.‭ ‬The singers,‭ ‬accompanied by‭ ‬pianist‭ ‬Bruce Stasyna,‭ ‬will perform selections from‭ ‬the‭ ‬four operas taking the stage for the‭ ‬2010-11‭ ‬season:‭ ‬Verdi‭’‬s‭ ‬Nabucco,‭ ‬Gluck‭’‬s‭ ‬Orfeo ed Euridice,‭ ‬Mozart‭’‬s‭ ‬Così fan Tutte,‭ ‬and Puccini‭’‬s‭ ‬Tosca.‭ ‬The concert is preceded by‭ ‬a mixer at City Cellar and followed by a‭ ‬$125-per-ticket dinner‭ (‬reservations due today‭) ‬with the artists at Pistache,‭ ‬the French brasserie on Clematis Street.‭

Jones was recently seen as‭ ‬a fine Lady Billows in the company‭’‬s workshop production of Britten‭’‬s‭ ‬Albert Herring,‭ ‬and Roberts,‭ ‬who sang Emilia in Verdi‭’‬s‭ ‬Otello and Mercédès in Bizet‭’‬s‭ ‬Carmen last season,‭ ‬won‭ ‬second‭ ‬prize in the recent Palm Beach Opera vocal competition with a performance of the aria‭ ‬Nobles seigneurs,‭ ‬salut‭!‬ from Meyerbeer‭’‬s‭ ‬Les Huguenots.‭ ‬Both‭ ‬are former members of the Young Artists program,‭ ‬and‭ ‬Fandrei,‭ ‬a well-known South Florida baritone,‭ ‬will be singing in Florida Grand Opera‭’‬s upcoming production of‭ ‬Cyrano,‭ ‬a new opera‭ (‬2007‭) ‬by American composer David DiChiera.‭ ‬The concert,‭ ‬which is sponsored by Kretzer Piano‭’‬s Music of the Mind series,‭ ‬begins at‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tuesday at the Harriet.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$10,‭ ‬and proceeds go to benefit the company‭’‬s‭ ‬education programs.‭ ‬For tickets or more information,‭ ‬call‭ ‬833-7888‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬‭ ‬– G.‭ ‬Stepanich

Louis-Nicolas Clérambault‭ (‬1676-1749‭)‬.

King Louis XIV had a lofty sense of style,‭ ‬and he drew some of the finest artists in France to his court during his reign,‭ ‬which at‭ ‬72‭ ‬years was the longest of all European kings and queens.‭ ‬Last night,‭ ‬Seraphic Fire‭’‬s summer concert series continued‭ ‬with‭ ‬the first night of‭ ‬The Court of the Sun King,‭ ‬an‭ ‬evening of music by two of‭ ‬the best-known composers of Louis‭’‬ time.‭ ‬Sopranos Kathryn Mueller‭ (‬a fine soloist in a Bach cantata earlier this year‭) ‬and Rebecca Durren are joined by Seraphic Fire founder Patrick Dupré Quigley at the keyboard for‭ ‬sacred‭ ‬music by François Couperin and Louis-Nicolas Clérambault.‭ ‬Featured‭ ‬are four motets by Clérambault for the king,‭ ‬the Virgin Mary,‭ ‬Christmas Day and Mardi Gras,‭ ‬and three surviving‭ ‬Leçons‭ ‬de Ténèbre‭ ‬of Couperin.‭

This is exquisite,‭ ‬absorbing‭ ‬music,‭ ‬and marks another notable concert in what has been an exceptional season and off-season of Baroque music.‭ ‬Tonight‭’‬s concert begins at‭ ‬7:30‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬at‭ ‬First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables.‭ ‬Saturday,‭ ‬it can be heard at All Saints Episcopal in Fort Lauderdale beginning at‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬and at‭ ‬4‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday the program is presented for the final time at Miami Beach Community Church.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$30‭; ‬call‭ ‬305-285-9060‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬‭ ‬– G.‭ ‬Stepanich