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July 2015

BBC Proms 2015

The largest and longest running (7/17-9/12) classical music festival in the world kicks off with First Night tomorrow in London.  Live entertainment will be offered nightly in changing programs at Royal Albert and Cadogan Halls. You can hear all RAH broadcasts online in 4.0 surround sound daily on BBC 3 Radio utilizing an Apple TV DMP.  Select TV broadcasts, in HD and 4.0 surround sound, are available on demand.  Our own Marin Alsop will conduct Last Night of the Proms (again, a distinct honor) on September 12.   UK time is 5 hours ahead of EDT, so evening concerts can be heard at 2 or 3 PM.  

June 2015

New Artistic Director Selected for Berlin Philharmonic - Passing the Baton

Now that the second greatest orchestra in the world (according to a Gramophone Magazine poll) has locked up 43 year old, Russian born Kirill Petrenko to succeed Sir Simon Rattle in 2018 at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, a horde of classical music pundits must be scratching their heads (more)
Another Hit for the Arts - ISO: A Senior Champion

In addition to the loss to the community and those holding newspaper jobs, the closure of the Gazette.net will create a void in the local culture scene.  All those great features covering upcoming book festivals, gallery openings and art shows, music productions, and theater runs in Montgomery County (and PG as well) ... gone.  Who or what will replace them?  Jeff B or Carol T or the Koch Brothers or anybody, we need you to step up now!  

Music as Alchemy: Journeys with Great Conductors and Their Orchestras - A Sisyphean Climb A Eurocentric look at a half-dozen orchestral icons and their road to concertizing from rehearsal to performance, along with insightful interviews with musicians for whom they performed, is the topic of Tom Service's 2012 book. (more)

Love & Mercy - Good Vibrations

"Guy walks into a car dealership to buy a Cadillac, stops dreaming and starts living" might be the slogan director Bill Pohlad had in mind for his new biopic about Brian Wilson.  That the creative force behind the Beach Boys comes away with the car and saleswoman (Elizabeth Banks) along with love and mercy is the subject of the best summer movie out there.  Using jump cuts between the 60s and 80s for the musically possessed young (Paul Dano) and broken-down old (John Cusack) Brian to tell the story of creativity and its aftermath, Pohlad drives the movie seamlessly to its redemptive conclusion.  While the family-authorized screenplay feels sanitized in places - stereotypical characters, overdetermined plotlines, and simplistic causality, to name the obvious - the translation of the artistic musical vision to the realized recordings on the big screen is a stunning audiovisual achievement.   

Summer Reads 2015 - Armchair Travel

Explore the past and present during your downtime this summer, wherever your mind and body takes you with these 5 (plus 1) frigates ... (more)

May 2015

Franz & Franz & Claude & Don - Cardio Quick

Audiences and the BSO got a workout last Sunday at the Meyerhoff with guest conductor Mario Venzago's spirited rendition of Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony" along with fin de siècle favorites by Richard Strauss (Don Juan) and Claude Debussy (La mer).  Mr. Venzago's tempi were brisk and the playing (overplaying?) accelerated and loud.  Presto was the new allegro and fortissimo was the norm ... Soloist Oliver Schnyder followed suit in a seldom heard D Major Keyboard Concerto by Hayden featuring a pair of lively movements wrapped around a lovely adagio ... While the covers were unique, perhaps because of the envelope-pushing interpretations, four distinctive soundscapes emerged from a past that became very present ...     

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra - Russian Nights

Marin Alsop leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a Slavocentric concert featuring soloist Lukáš Vondráček in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 on Thursday 5/7 at Strathmore in North Bethesda and Friday and Saturday, 5/8-9, at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore.  The program will also include Prokofiev's Symphony No. 7 and the Russian Easter Overture by Rimsky-Korsakov ... (update) 

May Day May Day - Calls of Distress from the Theater Community

A major theater website shuts down, theater companies close their doors, and critics - downsized from news outlets or disaffected by the state of the art - are a vanishing breed.  Is the audience next?  (more)

April 2015

Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall - Classical Music Lover's Ticket  

Checking out my Blu-ray apps a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a phenomenal streaming package, available 24/7 from the Berlin Philharmonic ... (more)
The Show Goes On

Theatre Washington announced that it will honor the first play published or produced in 2015 without a profanity ... (more)

March 2015 

BSO Plays Hayden & Ravel - Afternoon Delight

Conductor Marin Alsop and guest soloist Sol Gabetta offered an unofficial opening to spring on the Sunday Matinee series at Strathmore (more)   

Dear Millennials - Please Come!

The print media is abuzz with dire forecasts for classical music.  The Baltimore Symphony has internal strife between the musicians and the board of directors; the Pittsburgh Symphony is bathing in a sea of red ink, with house attendance at the half empty point; and the National Symphony draws so few, that they're virtually giving tickets away.  Is there an answer? (more)

"The Death of the Artist"  - From The Atlantic January/February 2015

William Deresiewicz certainly has a bead on the Zeitgeist and those riding it into the new millennium.  Forget about inner and other directed personhoods of the past: today it's all about the entrepreneurial self.  A proliferation of awards, MFA programs, non-stop networking, and overlapping brands - multi-platforms - have transformed solitary artists toiling in the vineyard, into a hustling herd of producers.  Today's creative genius is nothing if not corporate.  How did he or she get that way?  Check out his rumination and takedown of society in Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & the Way to a Meaningful Life.  A cradle-to-grave horror story of entitlement and immaturity, moving from the SuperZips to a neighborhood near you. A must read.   

Anne Tyler - A Spool of Blue Thread

Ms. Tyler's latest Baltimore novel once again says big things about the human condition through quirky characters in everyday situations.  A fabulist of the first order, the writer explores family dynamics over three generations, played out in a well-crafted house built on shaky foundations.  The walking wounded populate Ms. Tyler's world, unable to communicate, emote, and otherwise connect with those they love.  The message here is that we all confront these same people, in different guises, over the course of our lives.  Deal with it (or them) now; they'll be back again.  One of her more satisfying books ...     

February 2015

And The Oscar Goes To? - Tinseltown Forecast

This has been a great year for movies in my estimation.  Or at least the last few months of the year.  If you're getting ready for the 87th Annual Academy Awards by seeing a last minute show or performance - in my case Two Days, One Night - you pretty much can't go wrong. (more

In Praise of Love – Suspicious Minds

It’s saying something that the wildly-plotted, cliché ridden, and didactic late play (1973) of Terence Rattigan’s, which just closed at the Washington Stage Guild, should be the most appealing entertainment out there for average theatergoer yesterday ... (more)

January 2015 

BSO Plays Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 & Bruckner 8th - Adagios for Orchestra

Next to the NFC Championship Game, nothing surprised me as much this weekend as the BSO concert led by venerable guest conductor Gunther Herbig and featuring pianist Alon Goldstein  ... (more)

The Rite of Spring: Marin Alsop and the BSO - Primal Scream

Stendhal famously wrote that the best way to enter society is with a duel.  Something of that comes to mind when considering the history and provocative composition by Igor Stravinsky for the Ballets Russes, which heralded a new era ... (more

The Tempest - Out Like a Lion
As much as I enjoyed Ethan McSweeny's epic staging (Disneyfication?) of the Bard's farewell play by the Shakespeare Theatre Company (to 1/18) - it has my highest recommendation, even minus the star Geraint Wyn Davies who was out with the flu for Sunday's matinee - I can't help feeling that theater fans are shortchanged.  In an era which is regurgitating entire texts to the delight of audiences, why can't we get an unabridged, 5-Act Shakespeare script?  Too much for one night, well, alternating productions (Part I, Part II) are not uncommon for modern playwrights, with day-night shows run on the weekends.  And while we're on the topic of words, how about surtitles?  I'm no stranger to the play or era, yet I could make out maybe half of what was said.  (I'm not a native-speaking Brit, for one, nor am I conversant with archaic English.)  Surtitles will do for classic theater what projected dialogue has done for opera:  make it accessible to a wider audience.

New Year's Wishes for 2015 - Listen Up!

It's been an up and down year in theatergoing and reviewing for me.  While the good plays were still out there, I felt less of a pull than before.  It seems the institutions purveying and overseeing them are still with us and more bureaucratized.  And like everything in today's world, things have gotten more factional - an us versus them mentality has set in.  So what will it take to make it a vibrant, fun time again?  Here's my thoughts going forward ... (more)  

Into the Woods - Movie Magic Takes Sondheim Classic to the Next Level

Simply put: Rob Marshall's scaled up production is marvelous.  The cinematic translation of the mash-up fairy tale book by James Lapine (who wrote the brighter screenplay) solves many of the stage longueurs - the special effects work wonders.  The casting is near perfect, with excellent vocals and acting.  But the score by Stephen Sondheim, given a big assist by Jonathan Tunick (orchestration) and Paul Gemignani (conductor) sounds amazing on Dolby.  In fact, the music and lyrics feel like a Sondheim retrospective, with references and prefiguring to his other work. Relive the experience - 50 songs and instrumentals - with the 2-disk CD and MP3 versions of the movie soundtrack, which are going for around 16 bucks. Disney did this one right.       

December 2014

Drama Urge Notable Theater & Performances for 2014 - Year of Living Dangerously

When I consider artistic merit, one of the questions on my decision tree is: "Does It Pass the Strange Test?" To a degree, all art is derivative, but how it's packaged and presented can distinguish a pleasant theater visit from a life-long memory ... (more)

L' Hotel Review - The Importance of Being

There are theatrical world premieres and then there are World Premieres - that's the kind a support the Pittsburgh Public Theater has mounted for Ed Dixon's new play, running to 12/14 ... (more)

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu   

For a fun and inexpensive backstage look at today's Broadway venture, this dark send-up of The Biz should be in you and yours stockings. Pittsburgh's (and Gotham's) own Michael Keaton, playing an aging action movie hero who dreams of legitimacy, and bad boy theatrical phenom Edward Norton mix it up in a Ray Carver short story adaptation that seems inspired by Jorge Luis Borges.  Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and Lindsay Duncan - a fiendish critic (yes!) - advance the collateral damage.  GoPro-like cinematography puts the real into this magical film.   On many critics Best Movies for 2014 lists but a must see for all theater fans!     

November 2014

BSO Rachmaninoff & Shostakovich - Big and Bigger

If your taste in classical music runs to the monumental, you were in luck this Sunday at Strathmore Music Center. The only thing topping the impressive program were the outstanding performances ... (more). 

L'Hotel - From the Vault

What do Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Isadora Duncan, and Victor Hugo have in common?  Or Sarah Bernhardt and Gioachino Rossini?  If you said they passed though Paris, you're partly right ... (more)

Sex with Strangers by Laura Eason - I'll Call You in the Morning

Signature Theatre's well-acted psychosexual drama with Holly Twyford and Luigi Sottile raises broad questions about artistic compromise.  How far are we willing to go down that increasingly slippery slope of commercialism in this age of the internet and social media to advance our work?  When hits and followers are all that matters, what happens to our art form?  And if we're all in - as individuals or groups - who do we become: a persona or flack or a storyteller with an agenda?   Play the game, if you must, but don't let it play you!   

Deconstructing Theatre Facts 2013 - A Shaky Foundation

The annual report for Theatre Communications Group's assessment of FY-2013 was analyzed with sound bites in American Theatre's November issue... (more)

October 2014

Hedda Gabler - A Heroine for Our Time?

You won't be shedding crocodile tears when Mrs. Tesman pulls the trigger in Quotidian Theatre's modernized production which just opened in Bethesda. Hedda's narcissistic and impulsive behavior seems the norm these days.  And the scheming, deceitful, and frank bids for power in this world make opting out a credible choice in Oslo or Georgetown.  Melodrama doesn't travel well in some circles (still less the expressionistic acting styles motivated by Ibsen's transitional script).  Yet the genre remains popular.  How else to explain the successes of Breaking Bad and Mad Men?  Do we enjoy standing on the moral high ground, then as now?  You bet we do.

BSO Ein Heldenleben - A Hero's Life

A tonal extravaganza is being offered by Marin Alsop and Company over the next four days (10/23-26).  Whether you are in the mood for a full program, featuring the Richard Strauss showpiece, Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, and Christopher Rouse's Rapture, or classical music lite - an annotated Ein Heldenleben, followed by a conductor-audience discussion - the BSO has you covered ... (updated)

The Hot Sardines - Packed Tight & Tangy

The background music at my favorite Barnes & Noble Bookstore kept intruding on my browsing consciousness.  Who were the sultry vocalist and those assured instrumentalists playing jazz and blues standards with such distinction?  Some classic band from the vault on a re-mastered classic? Lady Gaga on yet another crossover?  Neither: It was The Hot Sardines, with "Miz Elizabeth" Bougerol on vocals and Evan "Bibs" Palazzo on piano and leading a very swinging band on their just released, self-titled CD.  Check them out on their website or take a look at what they're all about on YouTube.  This first-rate recording is highly recommended.    

Venus in Fur - Mighty Aphrodite

Engaging meta-theatrical recreation of the SM classic by David Ives played in the DC area to acclaim in 2011, but Rep Stage's Venus in Fur is about as good as it gets, especially with chameleon-like Kathryn Tkel as Vanda.  Joseph W. Ritsch's fast-paced and engrossing production, with profile stage arrangement and superb design, lets us all in on the primal psychodrama that unfolds.  The separation between art and life, truth and fiction, and good and evil never seems so close or satisfying.  Check it out before it closes this weekend.    

Musical Education - Head Start

Talk to musicians or listen to them speak and one thing stands out: excepting drug-addled rockers, they are very articulate.  They also write clearly, logically, and persuasively (Terry Teachout, Alex Ross).   Intriguing new evidence suggests that early music lessons offer an important first step up the academic and economic ladder ... (more)

Bruce Alan Rauscher - An American Century Theater Original

The lead actor for George Axelrod's The Seven Year Itch talks about craft and the creative process for his latest role in a candid interview ... (more)

September 2014

BSO Rachmaninoff & Korngold – Exiles on Sunset Boulevard

Marin Alsop has programmed a concert this weekend (9/26-28) that looks to be a homage to Hollywood, so closely do the works of these Tinseltown transplants suggest the moods of various film scores (updated)

The Seven Year Itch – See You in September

Some delightful stage business is being conducting in Arlington, VA at The American Century Theater … (more)
The High Price of Excellence – Performing Arts Injuries 
Yesterday’s cancellation of Hilary Hahn from the BSO season opener due to “muscle strain” - she was scheduled to play Beethoven ’s Violin Concerto-  got me to thinking about repetitive motion injuries in the performing arts ... (updated)
National Book Festival – Going Corporate
Readers and writers were poorly served by the latest iteration of the Library of Congress’s – its 14th – annual event. … (more) 

August 2014

Sunday in the Park with George - Connecting the Dots

Sondheim's masterpiece about artist Georges Seurat gets an edgy and eye-popping look at Signature Theatre ... (more)

Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It – Speak Easy!

Gabriel Wyner’s “How To” book broadly promises to upload and download a new language in your cortex with blazing speed and keep it there.  Can he deliver?  (more)

Stupid [expletive] Bird - The Seagull on Seventh Street

So what's last year's best play look like?  Find out soon or see again before this encore production closes Sunday (8/17) at the Woolly Mammoth ... (more)

Essentialism 101 – When Good Enough Is Best

We’ve been programmed by our culture to seek out the best.  Certainly in the DC area, where overabundance is the norm and expectations exceed our grasp, we want (no, expect) excellence on demand.   If the show’s not a rave or your team’s not winning (or playing), the clock’s ticking: find something else.  Does this make sense? (more)

July 2014
BSO All-Beethoven – Da Capo
You say you don’t understand classical musical and the ticket prices are too high.  Well, the BSO is offering a concert next week I can pretty much guarantee will overcome those objections ... (updated)

Uncanny Valley – Science Fictions

Uncanny Valley , an aptly named play by Thomas Gibbons, does produce an unusual aesthetic effect and a most jarring theatrical experience for the viewer at the Contemporary Theater Festival at Shepherd University (to 8/3).  (more)

Fallout: A Novel by Sadie Jones – Break a Leg!

Sadie Jones’s latest about the 1960s and ‘70s London theater scene comes with a lot of advance critical praise, but mixed reader response. Can a novel with predictable plot turns, almost stereotypical characters, and dialogue that often lapses into clichés be considered a good one? (more)

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson - There's Something Happening Here

Clear design, whether it's an idea or a blueprint for further development, is a thing of beauty.  When it leads to a fully implemented product, system, or service, it's a driver of the economy. (more)

June 2014 

Philippe Entremont, Pianist, National Gallery of Art

My eyes did a double take on the announcement.  Was that The Philippe Entremont playing in the West Wing ... for free?  The famous soloist who performed the great Romantic Piano Concertos with Eugene Ormandy and Leonard Bernstein in the 1960s and 1970s, whose vinyl LP recordings I still own and play? (more

Charm City Postcard  - Wired

A pleasant Father's Day Sunday drew us to Baltimore for some siteseeing ... (more)

John Updike Biography by Adam Begley - Fortunate Son

This entertaining and engrossing account of Updike's life fills in the blanks in a most satisfying way.  A literary bio which analyzes the works vis à vis the author's life, it is respectful to a fault to the writer, family, and friends ... (more)

May 2014

A Symphonic Celebration of Kander & Ebb -  All That Jazz

Conductor Jack Everly's rousing finale to the BSO Pops season last night at Strathmore Music Center was something to behold ... (more)

April 2014

Arguendo - Razing the Bar

Who knew that oral arguments before the Supreme Court could be so, well, funny?  That's the verdict in the latest production by the New York-based Elevator Repair Service now being performed at the Woolly Mammoth (to 4/27) ... (more)
Audience Appreciation Night Should Be Every Night - Rules of Engagement
It was refreshing to read Christine Quintana's article posted recently by DC Theatre Scene: "Thank You for Coming - audiences as seen from the front line"  ... (more)

The Virtual Theatergoers Union - See Them All!

In an effort to spur interest in the local performing arts scene an advocacy group known as the Virtual Theatergoers Union (VIRTU) announced exciting plans for the 2014-2015 season.  Starting this fall, you can "see" your favorite play or musical without actually attending a performance. ... (more)

March 2014

Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad

The 1960s play by Arthur Kopit, with a mouthful of a title and domineering mother par excellence, is the theater of the absurd's apotheosis of momism.  Now receiving a most creative revival by The American Century Theater (to 4/12) in Arlington, VA ... (more)

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Lobby Heroes

How many people does it take to film a farce?  If you're Wes Anderson, thousands. It's style over substance in this throwback fable about the loss of standards in a changing world.  Marvelous cinematography, art design, and music compete with tongue-in-cheek dialogue and convoluted plot based on (inspired by more likely) the writings of Stefan Zweig.  A frolicsome Ralph Fiennes and just about any bankable male actor Hollywood could muster join box office draws Soairse Ronan and Tilda Swinton to flesh out this cinematic excess.  The full-court-press marketing is paying big dividends, where the movie is playing everywhere, the reviews are great, and the customers sated.  A feast for the eyes with sober themes, like Gravity, this is one to see on the big screen.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra - Making the Old New

I just couldn't take another Mendelssohn Violin Concerto ... Or could I?  (more)

Death of the Playwright? - The Revolution Will Not Be Accredited

Who really writes the script we traditionally assign to the playwright?  This question has been raised in the past about novelists and screenwriters, but today the line of authorship has also been blurred in the theater ... (more)

Tribes - Emotional Intelligence

Are we determined by language or family or biology, and if so, how much?  The artistically inclined characters in Tribes are spring-loaded to state their case in Nina Raine's British dramedy now at Pittsburgh's City Theatre Company (to 3/30) ... (more)

Short Takes - Moving from Me to You in One Sitting

Research has shown that reading fiction increases empathy, yet as reported in an NEA study less than half of American adults read at least one novel, play, or poem [my emphases] in 2012.  Art lovers, that's pretty bad.  For those who need to get back in the game, start with short stories.  If one doesn't suit, pick another. Try any collection of Nobel-Prize winner Alice Munro, George Saunders, or Steve Millhauser.  If you're into variety, hit the shuffle mode for authors and select Best American Short Stories of any year.  To bone up for longer works or classics, a short story collection is often the royal road to interpretation - Dubliners (James Joyce), Go Down, Moses (William Faulkner).  Start anywhere, but get going!   

Season's Greetings - More Noise, Less Signal

Just last month the NSO mailed me their subscription series for 2014-2015; yesterday I received the BSO's.  Earlier Strathmore provided the good news of their upcoming season.  These are just the music venues.  Each day my mail box comes filled with exciting programming announcements from theaters. ... (more)

Baltimore Museum of Arts - Free All the Time

Charm City's flagship museum is in dry dock while renovations are underway and the Cone Collection travels, but the accessible galleries never looked better.  A German Expressionist exhibit and a newly opened Contemporary Art Wing (featuring some Andy Warhols I'd never seen) fill some of the gaps nicely; and the rest are shown to best advantage with the donated works of arts patron extraordinaire Saidie A. May (1879-1951).  A cousin of the Cones, the relatively unheralded Ms. May fashioned a shadow collection that rivaled her more celebrated relatives.  But history has a way of rectifying fame's omissions: a stolen Renoir from the May bequest - much in the news of late - is about to be returned and reunited with its family after 60 plus years. See them all  3/30.      

Taking One for the Show - Living to Play Another Day

Backstage dramas come in many forms, though the public usually reads about the ones dealing with last minute cast changes ... But it's not only actors that have to suck it up for the good of a production ... (more)

Alexandre Desplat - The French John Williams

Watching the credits roll on The Monuments Men - an entertaining, bad movie - I was surprised to find that my favorite film composer scored it. I shouldn't have been.  Just over the last year or so I've heard his work in Philomena, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The Ides of March and earlier in everything from The King (as in his Speech) to The Queen.  Younger moviegoers will have met the composer at least subliminally in The New Moon (of Twilight fame) and the Harry Potter Series.  Search him online and you'll find you've heard him too.  Mr. Desplat, who orchestrates and conducts his own music, favors a soaring and rich symphonic sound.  A smart orchestra artistic director somewhere would do well to feature his body of work in a Pops Program.  There's a big audience waiting.        

Ticket Prices - Cut Them and They Will Come!

I've said in the past that the high price of tickets (and fees) is stifling audience-building initiatives. You can't get new subscribers when your seats are empty; neither will those concessions get sold.  And what about the buzz from a full house marketed the most cost-effective way possible: Word of Mouth?  Rather than blow money on design that no one will see, why not ask your generous donors to underwrite the cost of tickets?  One theater has gotten the message.     

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