Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 26, 2023

Review: UMass Amherst, "William Kanengiser: Diaspora"

UMass, Amherst, MA
February 25, 2023
by Suzanne Wells
The frigid February night was perfect for an intimate evening in the Great Hall of the Old Chapel listening to classical acoustic guitar performed by world-renowned artist, William Kanengiser. Successfully combining storytelling and music in his Diaspora Project, William Kanengiser is preserving the wins and losses of immigrants around the world. 
Starting off with “Fantasia Sevillana” by Juaquin Turina, who, after studying impressionism in France, returned to Spain to incorporate it into Classical Spanish music. The disjointed first notes with hints of flamenco music soon morph into a melodic competition between a man and a bull. The increasing tempo of the music coincides with the drama of the story. When the final strings reverberate through the hall, one can almost hear a shout of “Olé!”
Moving to North Carolina, the Diaspora Project showcases Bryan Johanson’s “The Bootlegger’s Tale”. Divided into two parts, “Lament for a Broken Still” and “Ode to Whiskey,” the music conveys the stories handed down by generations of Irish immigrants known for their whiskey making during Prohibition. The “Lament…” is a series of scales played in increasing octaves, then repeated, representing the setting up and dismantling of stills. An “Ode to Whiskey” is a jig meant to extol the virtues of alcohol, but in this listener’s mind became a game of hide and seek between the bootleggers and the law in the forests of the Appalachian Mountains.
Heading east, the second commissioned work, “Lost Land” by Golfam Khayam, an Iranian composer, presents the story of returning home after a long period away only to find that nothing is as remembered. The melodic variations alternatively fill one with the excitement of reliving happy memories and the disappointment of finding those memories forever changed. A sixth string in a lower octave provides the foundation of time always moving forward.
After a brief stop in Cuba for some light-hearted fun with Léo Brouwer’s “Afro-Cuban Lullaby” and “Danza Carecteristica,” we land in Tibet, with Andrea Clearfield’s “Reflections on the Dranyen,” also commissioned for the Diaspora Project. In an attempt to preserve Nepal’s musical heritage, Clearfield composed an ode to a three-stringed instrument, the Dranyen.  The music starts off slowly, then picks up speed as if in celebration’ adding some percussion the melody takes on the frenzy of a rock concert before calming to more reflective tones, and ultimately ending with a fading heartbeat. 
Kanengiser closed the program with “3 African Sketches” by Duśan Bogdanović and the “Brookland Boogie” by Brian Head sending the audience off into a dark snowy night with toe-tapping hope.

February 24, 2023

REVIEW: South Windsor Cultural Arts, "Einav Yarden"

Evergreen Crossings, South Windsor, CT 
February 19, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Internationally acclaimed Israeli-born pianist Einav Yarden, now based in Berlin, Germany, brought an innovative program to South Windsor of lesser-known repertoire by composers with familiar last names, including Bach -- Carl Philipp Emanuel (the son) and Johann Sebastian (the father) Brahms. 

C.P.E. Bach, one of four sons of J.S. Bach who became composers, was both more prolific than his father and more popular until at least the mid-19th century. Yarden opened her concert with three short examples of what she described in brief remarks as the “sensitive style” of his music from the 1770s: two playful Rondos (in C minor and G major); and a mercurial Fantasy in E-flat major. The sharp-edged clarity of her playing recalled that of her teacher, legendary pianist Leon Fleischer. 

This was followed by a dramatic reading of the second of J.S. Bach’s six 1714 English suites, with a vigorous Prelude, a graceful Allemande, a stately Courante, a heartfelt Sarabande, a fleet pair of Bourrees, and an explosive “Gigue.” Next came C.P.E. Bach’s 1745 “Arioso with 7 Variations” in F major, which Yarden saw as foreshadowing Mendelssohn (who revived interest in J.S. Bach) almost a century later, and her buoyant performance made a powerful showcase for this imaginative score. 
Both the classical rigor of Bach the father and the emotional force of Bach the son were evident in Yarden’s protean rendition of Johannes Brahms’ 1892 set of seven Fantasies, Op. 116, concluding her program in the late Romantic era. She accordingly deepened her touch on the keyboard for a commanding Capriccio in D minor, a solemn Intermezzo in A minor, an intense Capriccio in G minor, a deeply felt Intermezzo in E Major, a glowing Intermezzo in E minor, a delicate second Intermezzo in E major, and a turbulent final Capriccio in D minor. 

Yarden displays enormous technical proficiency, unerring interpretive mastery, and a winning stage presence which clearly engaged her capacity audience. The theater in this suburban Connecticut venue offers warm acoustics and comfortable, accessible seating. 

SWCA, a nonprofit, volunteer-supported organization, has sponsored this free concert series for 40 years. All concerts take place on Sundays at 2:00 pm at 1:30 pm. Next up is the Boston-based Balourdet Quartet on March 19.

REVIEW: The Bushnell, “Tootsie”

The Bushnell, Hartford CT
through February 26, 2023
by R.E. Smith

Photo by Evan Zimmerman
Like so many recent Broadway shows, “Tootsie” is part of the “you’ve seen the old movie, now see the new musical” genre. The show’s creators, clearly recognizing that gender inequity issues have changed drastically since the 1980’s, have decided to re-focus the original story on to the world of theatre. Self-absorbed actors, ditzy showgirls, arrogant directors, down on their luck writers. . .all are fair game for this pleasantly entertaining comedy. 

And by the way, one fellow dresses up as a woman to get a part!

Drew Becker plays the Dustin Hoffman role of Michael Dorsey, an actor so dedicated to his craft that it has actually become a detriment. He saves his career (kind of), finds love, helps his friends, rights wrongs and learns important life lessons while posing as “Dorothy Michaels”.  There’s plenty of humor and energy in Becker’s performance and his vocal range and ability is impressive. We believe his performance, but the script itself does require some suspension of disbelief.

Ashley Alexandra as Julie Nichols, our “other” leading lady, has the most relatable and grounded character in the cast. She uses delicate brush strokes, in stark contrast to the broadly drawn characters surrounding her. She’s given the most “real” emotional motivation to work with and delivers on that potential through her subtle, confident presence and powerful singing voice.

They are ably assisted by 2 audience favorite characters who just happen to have the 2 most memorable songs. Payton Reilly as Michael’s frantic ex-girlfriend Stacy delivers rat-a-tat-tat comic relief in the form of “What’s Gonna Happen”, while “Jeff Sums it Up” is delivered with droll affability by Jared Michael David Grant.

David Yazbek, who did the music for “The Band’s Visit”, takes the score for an impressive musical tour across multiple styles, from the Sondheim-esk “Whaddaya Do”, the Webber-like “I Won’t Let you Down”, all helping to add fuel to the parody fire that is the “show within a show”. “Opening Number” is works equally well as a truly hummable tune and a spot-on spoof.

The whole ensemble delivers palpable high energy in their group numbers. Often acting as a snarky Greek-chorus and clearly enjoying the self-parodying choreography, one of the show's truly delightful highlights. Matthew Rella and Adam DuPlessis make the most of their smaller parts with superb comic timing and delivery. The show is rife with both clever wordplay and broad physical humor.

“Tootsie”’s parts are greater than the sum of the whole. The performances, songs, choreography, and humor are all wonderful, and make for an entertaining experience, but just like Michael Dorsey’s five o’clock shadow, the underlying narrative structure and turns don’t quite hold up to close scrutiny. But if you just sit back and enjoy the hi-jinks, you won’t be disappointed!

February 21, 2023

Review: Barrington Stage, "10x10"

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
February 19-March 5, 2023
by Jarice Hanson & Shera Cohen

Credit should be given to both Barrington Stage Company and the City of Pittsfield for this year's presentation of "10X10". Now in its 12th year, "10X10" offers audiences a reminder that BSC's full season is not far away. Appreciating these mini-plays is a pleasant dose of the talents of a theatre troupe regularly seen in July/August. "10X10" is a little bit of summer in February.

An overall observation which we didn't think about in the past 11 years is the range of skills of each actor. My guess is that the three men and three women present at least four diverse characters over the course of 90-minutes. Some roles are comic, some dramatic, others portray children or seniors far beyond their years. The range of actors (a few of whom are BSC "regulars") is admirable especially when the fast-paced vignettes offer about 30-second intervals from one play to the next.

The plays themselves are chosen competitively from a variety of submissions; each written by a different playwright. However, the directors of five plays each are BSC's new artistic director Alan Paul, the balance by noted playwright Matthew Penn.

Two of my favorite plays are: "Right Field of Dreams" written by Stephen Kaplan and "Gimme Shelter" by Robert Weibezahl.

Particularly impressive are the three male actors; young Skyler Gallun has great energy and is consistently present in every play he was in; Matt Neely, the middle-aged actor, excels at vocal work in each vignette; and Robert Zukerman, the older man, differentiates his characters best out of all of the players (women and men).  

While I do think some of the plays have fairly weak or no endings, all have a strong beginning. Maybe a few small rewrites are needed. 

It's always fair to give a shout out to the full cast in an opening number that welcomes people with a wink and a nod to musical theatre, this time with clever new lyrics. 

Preview: Holyoke Civic Symphony, "Such Sweet Sorrow"

Holyoke Civic Symphony, Holyoke, MA
March 12, 2023

Ronald Gorevic
The theme of Holyoke Civic Symphony's upcoming concert, “Such Sweet Sorrow,” will remind audience members of the sadness of parting yet with the joy of love and hope shining through March 12th at 3 pm as HCS continues its season’s theme. The performance is part of the symphony's series, “A World of Romance.” Doors open at 2:30pm. Admission is free with donations appreciated.

The program includes two works inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: Romeo and Juliet: Wedding Procession by Charles Gounod and Romeo and Juliet, Overture-Fantasy by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

There’s more romantic music with guest soloist Ronald Gorevic playing violin in Antonin Dvorák’s Romance, Op 11. Gorevic also performs on his viola in Romanze, Op. 85 by Max Bruch. Frederick Delius’ The Walk to the Paradise Garden adds to the program’s world of romance.

Ronald Gorevic’s performances have been enthusiastically heard by HCS audiences over several years. He has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a performer and teacher, on both the violin and viola. He has been principal violinist with the Springfield  Symphony Orchestra for more than 20 years and is currently on the faculty of Smith College.

February 13, 2023

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, "Romantic Rachmaninoff & Price"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT 
February 10-12, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

In the fourth program of the HSO’s 2022-2023 “Masterworks” series, Music Director Carolyn Kuan paired two works by African-American women composers with a beloved late Romantic piano concerto played by an African-American soloist for a dual celebration of Black History Month and Valentine’s Day weekend. 

It opened with Jessie Montgomery’s five-minute 2012 mini-rhapsody “Starburst,” in which, the composer-violinist-music educator says, “Exploding gestures are juxtaposed with gentle fleeting melodies…to create a multidimensional soundscape.” A nimble, full-bodied account by the HSO strings got the concert off to an exuberant start. 

Next came Florence Price’s first symphony, which largely disappeared after its well-received 1933 premiere by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra until a recent renewal of interest in her work. A discursive, folk-inspired opening “Allegro [ma] non troppo” movement is followed by a hymn-like “Largo, maestoso,” a rollicking “Juba Dance: Allegro,” and a slapdash “Finale: Presto.” Interplay between a large percussion section, including bells, celesta, and a wider-than-usual array of drums, and the brass, string, and woodwind sections of the orchestra evoked both the call-and-response and body slapping techniques of Black traditional music in the HSO’s blazing performance.      

Terrance Wilson
The concert closed with a rapturous reading by Terrence Wilson of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto, his 1901 breakthrough piece after three years of writer’s block cured by treatment with hypnosis and now a cornerstone of the standard repertoire. Wilson, a Bronx native with two decades of international acclaim to his credit, played the opening solo chords with immense power but varied his keyboard touch with tasteful nuance through an expansive, mercurial opening “Moderato” movement, a lush, serene “Adagio sostenuto,” and a vividly exciting “Allegro scherzando” finale, to capture all the music’s shifting moods. Kuan and the HSO offered impassioned support. 

As if this finale weren’t grand enough, Wilson rewarded the audience’s enthusiastic applause with a still more daring feat of digital dexterity in his encore, the pounding “Precipitato” finale of Sergei Prokofiev’s 1942 seventh piano sonata, which he seemed to toss off with disarmingly thunderous ease. Even without the Belding Theater’s overhead “piano cam,” the staggering virtuosity of Wilson’s furious finger work was abundantly clear to his enthralled listeners.

February 1, 2023

PREVIEW: Westfield Athenaeum, MOSSO Chamber Music Concert

MOSSO (Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra)
Westfield Athenaeum, Westfield, MA

The Westfield Athenaeum will present a three-concert chamber music series beginning Thursday, February 23, 2023 at 7:00PM with MOSSO (Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra) performing. This is the second year of this partnership with Westfield Athenaeum. A pre-performance talk starts 6PM, which is free to ticket holders.
Violinist Beth Welty, horn player Sarah Sutherland, and pianist Elizabeth Skavish will perform horn trios of Frédéric Duvernoy, Trygve Madsen, and Johannes Brahms. Beth Welty, Chair of MOSSO, is Acting Principal Second Violin of MOSSO and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. Sarah Sutherland, MOSSO and SSO horn player, is also MOSSO’s finance director.
Champlain Trio
The series continues on Thursday, March 23, with a performance by the Vermont-based Champlain Trio, which includes MOSSO and SSO Principal Cello Emily Taubl. The Champlain Trio will perform Brilliant Colors, a program which features music by Tchaikovsky, Erik Neilsen (Trio No. 2 written for the ensemble), Jennifer Higdon, Amy Beach, and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. 
The series concludes on April 20, with MOSSO and SSO horn player Robert Hoyle’s quintet, the Connecticut-based Harmonia V. The quintet will celebrate April in Paris with an all-French program, featuring pieces by Barthe, Fauré, Ravel, Poulenc, Debussy, Pierné, and Lefebvre.