Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 10, 2014

Mozart and Dvorak

Hartford Symphony Orchestra
through December 7, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

Though HSO Maestra Carolyn Kuan is a multi-talented musician, guest conductor William Eddins did something in the third program of this season’s Masterworks series that Kuan hasn’t done yet in Hartford (but give her time): performed as featured soloist and conductor in the same concert. He also did something Kuan does regularly and well: spoke to the audience.

He opened by leading ten wind instruments from the piano in the HSO premiere of the nine-minute “Homage to Friendly Papageno” written in 1984 by Jean Francaix as “a hymn of gratitude to Mozart.” Sounding like a sprightly mash up of Mozart and Poulenc, it was played with charm and bite, and it led nicely into Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K. 453, in which Eddins led a larger ensemble of winds and strings again from the piano as soloist.

William Eddins
Not rising from the bench or leaving the stage between these pieces, he engagingly discussed the themes from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” quoted by Francaix and Mozart’s pet starling, which loved quoting the main theme of this concerto’s coda but could never get all the notes quite right. From its lively opening Allegro through a flowing Andante and vigorous romp of a finale, the affectionate performance showed why this was one of Mozart’s own favorites among his concertos. The conductor’s clear and decisive head motions complemented the dexterity of his fingers.

A white-hot reading of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 by the full orchestra followed intermission. The dark color of the opening cello chords made clear that this would be a powerfully dramatic interpretation. A warm, loving Poco Adagio, a stately, Czech-flavored Scherzo, and a passionate, intense finale brought the audience to its feet. Here Eddins was a full-body and high-energy conductor (think Leonard Bernstein), who led without a baton or score all evening but with obvious communication skill.   

Music Director of Canada’s Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, guest conductor of major orchestras throughout the world, and at 18 the youngest graduate ever of the Eastman School of Music, this gifted and charismatic musician can’t be invited back to Hartford soon enough.

"Fabulous!" Is Just That…Fabulous

Times Square Arts Center, NY, NY
extended through January 5, 2015
by Jenn Curran

Ten years ago, composer Michael Rheault had a vision. He saw a pair of star-crossed-dressers standing on the deck of a ship. A little bit “Some Like it Hot,” a little bit “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds” and a lot brand new. It was from this idea that the latest Off-Broadway hit, “Fabulous! The Queen of New Musical Comedies,” was born. With his writing partner, Dan Derby, the two men crafted a musical that is two parts throwback and one very large leap ahead. Michael and Dan both live in Greater Springfield, MA.

Our two heroines are Laura Lee Handle and Jane Mann, also known in the dive bar circuit as Mann Handle. The two ladies have found themselves without options, victims of mistaken identity, and a robbery gone bad. This pair of would-be divas land themselves jobs on the cruise ship Queen Ethel May heading to New York City, where they hope to find themselves real employment, men and new shoes.

On the surface, "Fabulous!" is fun and it sparkles with energy. Don’t let the title fool you though; look and listen closely and you will find that "Fabulous!" has a deeper meaning at its rhinestone-encrusted heart.

In the hysterically funny and poignant song “Falling for a Girl In the Closet," the audience sees a very closeted Hollywood movie star fall in love with someone he assumes is a woman. The song is an honest peak into one man’s struggle with his sexual identity.

“This is one of the songs we have re-written the least. We wrote it and haven’t really touched it much since. It just worked from the get go,” said Dan Derby.

Michael and Dan both wanted to create songs you can’t get out of your head. Michael stated, “We hoped to write a show that people left feeling happy, singing a song and believing that the world is a pretty good place. There aren’t a lot of new shows on Broadway like this today.”

According to a very positive review by the New York Times, a sweet and light-hearted show is exactly what Dan and Michael have delivered. When asked about the Times review, both men admitted to serious nerves, but excitement too. “The New York Times can be rough. It was very positive though, and we were elated!” Dan added.

December 5, 2014

Festival of Trees on Safari

Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA
through January 4, 2014

Berkshire Museum’s current exhibits make for a somewhat odd duo -- festive Christmas trees and an African Safari. Odd, but so effective, artistic, fun, and wide open to all sorts of creativity that the Museum is a must see early this winter.

For those who have attended “Festival of Trees” in the past, this very successful annual exhibit is new each year, featuring holiday trees of all shapes, sizes, colors, materials, and (most important) decorations. Dozens of trees are displayed throughout the second and third floors. Coupled for the first time with an equally important exhibit called “Lions & Tigers & Bears: Through the Lens with National Geographic,” the two shows exemplify this season’s theme, “On Safari.”

“Lions & Tigers & Bears...” (it’s difficult not to follow with “oh, my”) is a compelling look at wildlife photography featuring 50 photos from three of National Geographic’s top photojournalists — Michael “Nick” Nichols, Steve Winter, and Paul Nicklen. Observe the profound impact of visual storytelling with stunning images of these massive animals. Interesting reading on the displays’ signage is the story of a photographer’s harrowing experience sinking into quicksand, and a head-on shot of a majestic tiger.

In touring the Museum, trees seem to be situated around every bend and in every corner -- some larger trees stand alone, some in a mini-forest scene, and dozens of tiny trees which have been decorated by elementary schoolers on festival scaffolding. The latter is titled “The Kid Zone.” The “stars” of the show are the ornaments, all made and carefully placed by numerous Pittsfield community groups, senior centers, schools, clubs, farms, art agencies, health programs, and other non-profits.

Nearly any ornament that one can imagine dons the trees. Yes, there are the traditional decorations, and they are lovely. Especially fun are ornaments depicting a safari and wild animals made from paper mache, clothe, drawings, cutouts, and stuffing. Visitors can expect to see lots of wonderful trees with animals incorporated into the designs.

The two exhibits are sponsored by many businesses in and nearby Pittsfield. The proceeds benefit Berkshire Museum’s education program.