REVIEW: Featuring Grammy award-winning mezzo-soprano Krista River and special guest musicians, A Far Cry ended season with a stirring ‘Sunset’

Having witnessed A Far Cry’s triumphant return to performing live and in person last September as they kicked off their 15th season with Circle of Life, it was an honor and fitting to review Sunset, A Far Cry’s final concert of the season.  Sunset was originally scheduled for March 2020 and this Grammy-nominated, self-directed chamber orchestra was thrilled to finally present it onstage.  With a heartfelt introduction by Sarah Darling, Boston-based A Far Cry brought a diverse repertoire of suspense, tragedy, and soaring vocals by mezzo-soprano Krista River before joining a collection of promising musicians including Project STEP for a robust finale.

A Far Cry criers at Jordan Hall Boston MA Photo credit to A Far Cry

Following opening group Project STEP, A Far Cry took the gorgeous Jordan Hall stage in Boston, MA for their final concert on Friday, May 13 for 90 minutes with no intermission.  A Far Cry will cap off their 15th season with a Spring Soiree on June 1 at the Nathaniel Allen Center for Arts and Culture in Newton, MA.  The event includes a sneak peek of next season, outdoor cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a charity auction with the option to attend in person or virtually.  Click here for more information and here for a look at A Far Cry’s upcoming season.

Grammy-nominated Chamber Orchestra A Far Cry Photo courtesy of A Far Cry

Elegantly dressed in flowing dresses and suits, A Far Cry opened their final concert with all 18 criers for Julius Eastman’s Joy Boy.  A piece likened to the feeling of falling in love, Joy Boy has a trickling and mounting intensity as the orchestra gradually comes to life.  It is fascinating to watch the ebb and flow in Joy Boy’s soothing opening rhythms which escalate to a gripping crescendo before lulling into its resonating finale.

Imagine moments before a stunning discovery in a suspenseful film.  That’s the escalating tension built around Lutoslawski’s fiery Musique Funebre, Spanish for Funeral Music.  A Far Cry performs this chilling and somber dirge with rich, Hitchcockian flair enhanced by a stroke of the viola and plucking, creeping rhythms.  Fueled by searing drama and violin-tinged, pulsing urgency, A Far Cry plays furiously to bring this masterful work to an exciting and astounding climax that might leave you with a few goose bumps by the finale.

‘Il Tramonto Photo credit to Sarah Darling/A Far Cry

Led by Grammy award-winning mezzo-soprano Krista River’s airy and soaring vocals, A Far Cry took on Respighi’s classic piece, Il Tramonto, which is an Italian phrase translated as The Sunset.  It is a popular piece having been featured in films such as the western classic, The Good the Bad and the Ugly.  Adorned in a shimmering blue gray gown with her hair swept into an updo, River’s expressive vocals and her stirring countenance brings out the surreal poignancy of this tragic romance.  Based on a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Il Tramonto has a moving story behind it and possibly inspired by a real life disaster in Indonesia. 

Mezzo-soprano Krista River Photo credit to A Far Cry

A Far Cry recalled how music has been “cathartic journey” and like many in the arts and beyond, the love for the arts has been tested, especially in the last few years.  Joined by promising musicians in New England Conservatory, NEC Prep, and Project STEP, A Far Cry brought this concert to a robust and wondrous close with Vicente Lusitano’s Aspice Domine and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme, the latter dedicated to an inspiring teacher that encouraged young musicians to pursue their musical aspirations.  Highlighted by a duo of skilled violinists, this group of musicians brought A Far Cry’s 15th season to a glorious close with a mix of fragility, power, and a stirring finale.

Students in Project STEP Photo credit to Project STEP/A Far Cry

A Far Cry will cap off their 15th season with a Spring Soiree on June 1 at the Nathaniel Allen Center for Arts and Culture in Newton, MA.  The event includes a sneak peek of next season, outdoor cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a charity auction with the option to attend in person or virtually.  Click here for more information and here for a look at A Far Cry’s upcoming season.

REVIEW:  Boston Ballet’s elegant and edgy ‘DREAMstate’ a fascinating departure from reality

From classically fanciful to electrifying to distinctive, unconventional artistry, the Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate is an astute exploration of the delicate nature of dreams and a fascinating escape from reality.  Aside from Boston Ballet’s traditional Nutcracker in December, Mikko Nissinen’s DREAMstate is the first live and in person return to Boston Ballet’s regular season since the pandemic.  Excitement was in the air and the Boston Opera House was full.

Boston Ballet in George Balanchine’s Chaconne © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Balle

Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate continues through Sunday, March 27 at live and in person at the Citizen’s Bank Opera House in Boston, MA.  The show is approximately two hours with two intermissions and the final piece contains partial nudity.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Rolling Stones tribute DEVIL’s/eye Photo credit to Boston Ballet

Though all three Boston Ballet pieces had its highlights, the stellar world premiere of Boston Ballet’s tribute to the Rolling Stones, DEVIL’S/eye was the most uniquely compelling.  Weaving in live concert elements and classic hits such as Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Paint it Black and much more, dancers take the stage in shadow bathed in purple, red, yellow, pink, and blue glimmering from an incredible, multi-functional sound system lit by Brandon Stirling Baker.  With exhilarating choreography and edgy and exotic costume design both by Stephen Galloway, lively dancers in silk, sequins, fishnets and windswept hair complete the full glamour of a rock and roll concert showing off thrilling, contemporary freestyle moves.  The entire performance is an electrifying spectacle as dancers let loose to the Stones concert footage with epic alicicone spins, but a brief pause in the guitar-tinged, horn-infused rhythms showing off each dancer’s glowing silhouette cannot be properly conveyed here and those sensational moments are best witnessed in person.

George Balanchine’s Chaconne brings to life a regal and fanciful daydream to the heavenly sounds of the Christoph Willibald von Gluck opera, Orfeo ed Euridice.  Elegantly adorned in a flowing and ethereal skirt and crown by Barbara Karinska in front of tranquil green blue backdrop, the always fresh-faced and charming Viktorina Kapitonova performed a beautiful and romantic pas de deux with Lasha Khozashvili, dressed in white.  Khozashvili lifts and leads Kapitonova delicately as they sporadically intertwine.  The piece is primarily playful as dancers bow and sway in gleaming, royal costumes as they float along this lighthearted daydream, the flutter of slippers sweeping across the stage.

Misa Kuranaga and Patrick Yocum in George Balanchine’s Chaconne © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The final piece is probably one of the most unconventional performances the Sleepless Critic has ever witnessed with the Boston Ballet because after a brief intermission, the piece begins before the music starts and dancers are already in motion as the rehearsal blurs into the performance.

Altan Dugaraa, Sarah Wroth, Yury Yanowsky in Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

 Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura, a fan favorite, often departs from reality and the structure of how a performance would normally flow.  In many ways, it bucks tradition as the dancers float and slide between closing curtains as Seo Hye Han, topless, wraps herself in only a black stage curtain.  Bella Figura has some captivating choreographed indignation and intensity as Ji Young Chae struggles not to be held or controlled by Paul Craig, shaking Craig away.  Bella Figura seems an abstract piece with haunting and mysterious elements as female dancers are manipulated in sharp, robotic movements.   It seems Bella Figura represents the vision of a perfect female specimen as women bend under the intensity and pressure to be perfect.  In gathering rich red skirts, men and women, all topless and all looking the same, glide along the stage.  It is a memorable, distinctive performance as the piece continues even as the music concludes.

 Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate continues through Sunday, March 27 at live and in person at the Citizen’s Bank Boston Opera House.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: A Far Cry makes a luminous and powerful onstage debut at South Shore Conservatory with ‘Circle of Life’

Forgive me for being excited.  This was the first music concert the Sleepless Critic has attended since 2020 and by none other than a Grammy-nominated group during the final days of summer.  For A Far Cry, it was not only this renowned chamber orchestra’s debut at the South Shore Conservatory, but their first set of live performances to kick off their 15th season after last season was done entirely virtually. 

Elegantly dressed in flowing dresses and suits, this Boston-based group of musicians couldn’t have been more thrilled to take the outdoor stage in front of a live audience again as the skies grew dark, the crickets chimed in, and the Amphitheater’s twinkling lights began to burn. 

Tackling life’s tumultuously journey from sweeping birth to a peaceful end, A Far Cry opened their new season with Circle of Life at South Shore Conservatory’s Jane Carr Amphitheater on Saturday, September 18 in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here to find out where A Far Cry will perform next.

Gearing up for A Far Cry that evening Photo courtesy of the South Shore Conservatory

A Far Cry’s Grace Kennerly offered a warm introduction as all 18 ‘criers’ took the stage for their opening work arranged by Alex Fortes of Bela Bartok’s Traditional Lullabies and For Children arranged by Leo Weiner.  This work of sweeping, wondrous, and charming lullabies also delivers bursts of foreboding and urgency through a solo violin.  Its soft, soothing strings create a dreamlike quality as the movement gallops toward exuberance and a sense of adventure.

A particular highlight of the concert lies within Franghiz Ali-Zaheh’s Shyschtar:  Metamorphoses for String Orchestra which is described as ‘the development of oneself in the teenage years.’  Instantly captivating, Metamorphoses evokes strife and a mysterious urgency, almost sounding like something borrowed from Hitchcock.  The carefully-timed violin plucking, occasional vocalizing, and haunting tapping enhances the work’s thrilling and suspenseful rhythms as the work builds to a searing climax before it takes an unexpectedly poignant tone and draws toward its eerie conclusion. 

A Far Cry’s Jason Fisher introduced Antonin Dvorak’s stirring Serenade for Strings.  This work carries its own quiet excitement as Dvorak wrote it while he and his wife were expecting.  It has occasional undertones similar to a wedding march and like Lullabies, a dreamlike quality and a gentle building of anticipation.  The lengthiest movement, Serenade for Strings delivers chirping peacefulness and quiet interludes with a touch of melancholy as it builds to an uproarious, gallivanting glee.

Karl Doty’s Castles, though it is Circle of Life’s shortest work, packs a no less powerful punch.  It has a vibrancy and incandescence that comes together in a rush.  With its occasional vocalizing, it evokes vitality, strength and a degree of reminiscing as this piece was written when Doty returned to his childhood home.

To complete the Circle of Life, A Far Cry performed Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135.  It’s a combination of a quiet musing, searing rhythm, and an intangible foreboding of the inevitable.  However, this piece also evokes a settling and resignation of what is to come.

Kicking off their 15th season on a powerful note with the exploration of life’s journey, A Far Cry will continue in October.  Click here for A Far Cry’s upcoming performances and here for more information on South Shore Conservatory’s upcoming events.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston @home presents mesmerizing musical trio Dreamers Circus

One of the main attractions of virtual concerts is being able to discover new music anywhere in the world.

Inside Copenhagen’s iconic Round Tower that houses a church, library, and an astronomical observatory, three musicians deliver a mesmerizing musical experience as Dreamers Circus.  Warmly introduced by violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen, this performance was filmed in Round Tower’s immaculate library as Swarm, a floating exhibit created by female Denmark artists Baskets4Life, contributes to the concert’s surreal setting.

Celebrity Series of Boston welcomes award-winning musical trio Dreamers Circus streaming through Thursday, April 15.  The concert premiered as a live streamed concert on Friday, April 9 and includes a Q & A with the group.  Click here for more information and for tickets. 

Comprised of violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen, pianist and accordionist Nikolaj Busk, and Ale Carr on Nordic Cittern, Dreamers Circus draws from classical, Swedish, and Nordic rhythms to weave a collection of playful, breezy, and mesmerizing selections well suited to the band’s name while providing a haven in this dark time.

Among the many highlights of this performance is the quirky originality and chipper rhythms in their telling song, The World is Waiting from their latest album, White Gold.  The sunny piano and whistling medley exudes a lighthearted anticipation of what’s to come.  Pentamime delves into hypnotic rhythms, suspense, and building intensity while City Gardens, from their album Rooftop Sessions, offers a fascinating and intricate mix of soothing rhythms, bright notes, as well as haunting, eclectic, and electronic sounds that brings out the song’s unique vibrancy.

Busk introduces Kitchen Stories, a rich number that fluctuates between lively and tranquil while showcasing Sorensen’s nimble artistry with the violin and Busk’s switch to an accordion before joining together for a memorable folk reel.  

Hjerter To/Fangden Og Hans Pumpestok has a bright, catchy, and fanciful medley as Busk pulls double duty performing on the piano and the accordion.  Introducing what Carr calls “a poor man’s viola,” Carr duets with Sorensen for traditional Swedish song, Folkrothvalsen.

The concert builds to a thrilling finale with A Room in Paris and Prelude to a Song.  While A Room in Paris delivers an upbeat and joyful urgency, Prelude to the Sun provides a perfect blend of sonic and dreamlike harmony.

Not to be left out is the engaging and laid back camaraderie between the musicians as they take the audience on an intriguing and inviting musical journey that could suit any musical taste. Celebrity Series of Boston @home presents Dreamers Circus on demand through Thursday, April 15. Click here for more information and tickets.

Celebrity Series of Boston will present their annual Stave Sessions kicking off on Wednesday, April 21. Click here for a closer look at their season and ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston at Home’s free concert, ‘Quartet Kalos: The Songs We Make’ makes meaningful debut

This virtual concert ended with a laugh.  On Thursday, February 25, Celebrity Series of Boston at home’s free weekly Neighborhood Arts concert series featured the soothing and unique rhythms of Quartet Kalos: The Songs We Make livestreamed on Celebrity Series of Boston’s website, Facebook Live and YouTube at 7:30 p.m.  The concert was filmed at Futura Productions in Roslindale, MA and included a Q & A with the group. Click here to see the full concert on demand.

Introduced by Celebrity Series of Boston’s Associate Director of Community Engagement Robin Baker, this livestreamed concert was particularly meaningful for this skilled quartet.  Not only did they make their Celebrity Series of Boston debut as a group though they have all performed for Celebrity Series individually since 2017, it was the first time performing live together onstage since the pandemic and they couldn’t have been more delighted.

Composed of Maria Finkelmeier on marimba, Angela Shankar on clarinet, Francesca McNeeley on cello and soprano Mary Mackenzie all in masks, Quartet Kalos provided a blend of eclectic, original, enigmatic, playful, and intriguing rhythms that provide a soulful respite from the pressures of the world today.

A portion of Quartet Kalos’s music is Swedish-inspired due to members of the group having lived there and these particular concert selections took some time to deliver their take on classical music and hymns. 

Their lively and inquisitive opening number, Solstice, is an instrumental piece blending soprano Mary Mackenzie’s silvery and versatile vocals.  Mackenzie’s operatic range has a brilliant and natural shine, even when delivering the spoken word.

Dreamlike and experimental, Beau Kenyon’s I Will is melodic and smooth in its building intensity.  Aaron Copeland’s timeless Appalachian Spring is easily recognizable within Quartet Kalos’s upbeat arrangement to Shaker tune Simple Gifts.  Quartet Kalos also provides a unique and memorable blend on the Swedish tune, Uti Var Hage with timeless hymn, I’ll Fly Away (arr. Angela Shankar) in a sea of galloping rhythms with a special dedication.

Maria Finkelmeier’s original and spirited composition, Clone has an urgency and mischievousness filled with rhythmic stops, starts, and lively moments.

However, the real standout was Swedish tune, I denna ljuva sommartid (arr. Sanna Andersson), a glorious, uplifting song about summer’s great beauty which is particularly missed in the depths of winter.  This lively number is further enhanced by its stirring acapella harmony.

Quartet Kalos:  The Songs We Make is still available for viewing here.  Celebrity Series of Boston’s free virtual Neighborhood concert series will next present Hub New Music on Thursday, March 11 at 7:30.  Click here for more information and for all that Celebrity Series has to offer this season.

REVIEW: Season 5 of WGBH’s ‘Sing That Thing!’ still packs a vocal punch

Maybe there was a moment watching American Idol or The Voice where that person auditioning is a friend, acquaintance, or just familiar somehow.  Perhaps it’s a moment of six degrees of separation where suddenly Kelly Clarkson, Lionel Richie, or Katy Perry are not so out of reach now that the person you know knows them.

Now imagine how much likelier that might happen watching WGBH’s popular local singing competition, Sing that Thing! kicking off its fifth season on Friday, April 12 on WGBH 2.  Composed of eighteen dynamic choral ensembles over this season from Boston and beyond, each group competes by creating a unique vocal performance within variety of music genres as coaches decide who will make it to the next round and give feedback on their performances.  Click here for further details.

Divided into three categories consisting of adult, high school, and college, the coaches measure on factors such as visual performance, musicality, intonation, and projection during the course of eight episodes.  Expect less of the Hollywood glitz and glamour and much more insight into what it truly takes to deliver a thrilling performance.

Sing that Thing’s Season five coaches include Anthony Trecek-King, President and Artistic Director of the Boston Children’s Chorus, Jared Bowen, Executive Arts Editor at WGBH and host of Open Studio, and Annette Phillip, vocalist and creative director of Women of the World and Assistant Professor at Berklee College of Music.

Sing That Thing Season 5

From L to R: Coaches Anthony Trecek-King, Annette Phillip, and Jared Bowen Photo credit to Meredith Nierman/WGBH

Sing that Thing’s season five premiere returns to its roots in a way by showcasing a couple of talented groups from its first season.  Season one returning champs Boston Arts Academy Spirituals competes with  The Zumbyes from Amherst College also featured on the first season.  Univoz Vocal Ensemble also joins the competition, making their debut on the show with original compositions.  Sing that Thing! offers a peek into how these ensembles prepare to perform and get ready for their sheer energy!  Whether singing a tender ballad or a resounding hymn, these sophisticated and lively ensembles are the real deal.

Click here for more on Sing that Thing’s new season starting on Friday, April 12 at 8 pm on WGBH 2.  This program can also be seen on WGBX 44, WGBY, New Hampshire PBS, Vermont PBS, Maine Public, and CPTV – Connecticut Public Television.  Apply to be a part of Sing that Thing’s sixth season here and catch up on previous episodes here.  Find out more about Sing that Thing! on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using #singthatthing.

 

 

REVIEW: Versatile singer Joyce Didonato performed classics with a compelling twist as Celebrity Series presented ‘Songplay’

It is easy to see why mezzo soprano Joyce Didonato has such a following on social media and otherwise.  For one night only, she took the stage to share what she has learned from music and more as Celebrity Series presented Songplay on Friday, March 1 at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall at 8 p.m.  Click here for more information and here for where Joyce Didonato will appear next.

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Celebrity Series of Boston presented Joyce Didonato for one night only on March 1 Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series

Celebrity Series has a knack for welcoming artists that not only show off their talent, but teach the audience a thing or two about their craft, leaving the audience some material to ponder.  With a lively, charming presence and a versatile voice that defies a definitive genre, mezzo-soprano Joyce Didonato shattered a few traditions and came up with a refreshing repertoire that combined opera, jazz, baroque, and other genres making a few classic songs new again.

Emerging from backstage in a shimmering emerald evening gown, this dynamic singer was greeted by a full house.  This particular show seemed to be tailor-made for professionally-trained singers as Joyce shared details of her extensive vocal training, recalling in jest and self deprecation the tools that helped her become the professional singer she is.  She also shared some personal reflections and comical stories between songs about her life and music.

With soaring, soothing vocals and an impeccable range, Joyce’s voice is as sophisticated with an aria as it is playful with jazz and Broadway numbers.  Fans of opera and jazz would especially enjoy the show, but Joyce and her band offered enough variety and humor with each transformed song that most music fans could appreciate it as well.

Celebrity Series Joyce Didonato Robert Torres

Throughout the evening, she introduced her acclaimed band one by one with anecdotes and playful music interludes.  Each band member had their individual chance to shine.  Behind a large Steinway and Sons grand piano sat pianist and arranger Craig Terry with whom she shared more than a few lighthearted moments with.  They kicked off the evening with the Italian aria, Caro mio ben and later Craig performed a captivating rendition of Dizzy Fingers.

Hailing from Buenos Aires, Lautaro Greco introduced the bandoneon, a unique instrument which is played like a piano, shaped like an accordion, but sounds like a horn.  He joined her lively band that included revered double bassist Chuck Isreals, acclaimed percussionist Jimmy Madison, and legendary trumpet player Charlie Porter.  The band’s random, surprising music notes added a few humorous and cheeky moments to the performance, the horn chasing her soaring vocals during a jazz-infused interlude.  All in good fun.

A few of the evening’s highlights included a heartfelt, angst-ridden rendition of Will He Like Me?  from the Broadway show, She Loves Me, a tender, reflective rendition of Gene Scheer’s Lean Away dedicated to Andre Previn, Duke Ellington’s classic Solitude, and a song Joyce always dreamed of singing, Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose.

At one point during the show, Joyce referred to playing traditional music just one way as an emotional straight jacket.  Watching her put a creative spin on these classics with humor, grace, and gusto was a liberating experience.

Celebrity Series of Boston offers a dynamic roster featuring the annual Stave SessionsAlvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Shawn Colvin, and much more.  Click here for more information and for tickets. Tickets can also be obtained at the Celebrity Series of Boston’s box office.  Follow Celebrity Series of Boston on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s renowned conductor Cynthia Woods discusses ‘Angels and Heroes’ and describes her inspiration

On International Women’s Day, the Sleepless Critic pays homage to women who are making their mark around the world.  One woman who is thriving in the Boston area and beyond is renowned Cambridge Symphony Orchestra (CSO) conductor, Cynthia Woods.

Cynthia has toured around the world and put together Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s latest show, ‘Angels and Heroes,’ a one day only concert performance on Sunday, March 17 at Kresge Auditorium at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Click here for more information and tickets.  The Sleepless Critic interviewed her about her exciting music background, what inspires her, ‘Angels and Heroes,’ and her future plans.

Angels and Heroes

Photo courtesy of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra

Sleepless Critic:  Grammy award-winning composer Nan Schwartz has not only composed arrangements for Natalie Cole and is from a long line of women composers, but she has also created orchestration for several films such as My Week with Marilyn, Life of Pi, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, and Julie and Julia.  What inspired the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra to take on Nan Schwartz’s latest work, the 15-minute trumpet tone poem, ‘Angels Among Us?’  I understand this piece will be performed live for the very first time.

Cynthia Woods:  I met Nan Schwartz a few years ago and immediately thought her music would be a great way to broaden our programming.  I asked her to keep me in the loop about her works for concert orchestra and she very kindly did.

Simultaneously, I was actively looking for some fresh concertos that use the brass to break up the piano or violin concerto routine and found a great fit when I heard Angels Among Us.   Its beautiful lines and lush melodies evoke shimmering imagery and its rich, jazz influence brings a breath of freshness to the concert repertoire.

SC:  One of the featured soloists for the afternoon is trumpeter Joseph Foley.  He has performed all over the country and his first solo CD makes its debut this year.  How did he become part of this performance?  I understand this is a particularly challenging piece.

CW:  I knew I needed an exceptional trumpet player who was also very comfortable crossing idioms and had a range that went much higher than what is considered standard.  Joe, whom I have known for years, came to mind right away as the perfect choice.

SC:  It is easy to see why this performance is called ‘Angels and Heroes’ because Joseph Schwanter’s powerful piece, ‘New Morning for the World’ pays tribute to the great Dr. Martin Luther King, JrReverend Ray Hammond of Bethel AME Church will narrate some of Dr. King’s most acclaimed speeches.

CW:  As you know, Art reflects the times we live in and the struggles we face as a society.  I wanted to program something that reflected some of our current struggles we face while adding a historical context.  Schwantner’s brilliant ‘New Morning for the World’ was a perfect choice.  Dr. King preached hope and love and Schwantner represented that by using bold, fractured rhythmic cells to represent the unrest and despair of inequity against the soaring, vocal-like writing of the strings and brass.

The text is drawn from a series of some of King’s most famous speeches including ‘Behind the Selma March’ ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ and ‘I Have a Dream.’  We are thrilled Reverend Dr. Raymond Hammond is joining us to narrate these speeches and to bring renewed life and hope to Dr. King’s words.

SC:  The theme of this concert is using your voice to break through feelings of powerlessness.  Please expand on that.  I understand the pieces in this performance complement each other.

CW:  Yes, all the works in some way celebrate the human spirit and its ability to transform our lives for the better. The ‘Angels’ of Schwartz’s work are the ordinary people such as parents, teachers and friends, who, in the quietest way, change our lives for the better.  Schwantner reminds us while we may face many challenges and heartbreak in life, we must have hope for change ‘because the arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’ (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). The Sibelius, which was inspired by the simple beauty of 17 swans soaring overhead, reminds us of the simple beauty and inspiration our lives hold on a daily basis.

SC:  You have worked all over the world.  Please tell me what first inspired you to choose a career in music and what has been your favorite career moment so far?

CW:  My parents enrolled me in a Preschool for the Performing Arts when I was three, and I think I have had the music bug ever since.  I have very vivid childhood memories from when my folks would take my brother and me to the local orchestra concerts, which were conducted by the pioneering conductor Catherine Comet. My eyes were glued to her and thought it looked like fun! My passion for music began early and never dimmed.

I have so many wonderful memories. One of my favorite moments might be our recent ballet production of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  It ended up being everything I could have hoped for artistically as a synthesis of music and dance, two of my favorite art forms.

SC:  Is there a particular conductor that has inspired you over the years?

CW:  It’s hard to choose because there are so many wonderful conductors out there, but my favorite one would be Bernard Haitink if I had to choose.  He seems to overflow with music every time he performs.

SC:  I understand you conducted Conrad Pope’s The Little Match Girl, such a compelling tale. You also worked on Morgan Neville’s documentary on Amar Bose.  Please tell me more about that.

CW:  Two seasons ago, the CSO was very fortunate acclaimed Hollywood composer Conrad Pope agreed to write The Little Match Girl for us.  With youth runaways and homelessness at an all time high, we envisioned a tone poem outlining a story that is still very relevant today. Instead, it found its essence as a ballet filled with various scenes of our heroine’s life, from snow ball fights to teasing a grumpy old man to her vivid memories of her grandmother waiting for her in heaven.  Due to this evolution, both Pope and I hope to see it fully staged at some point in the future.

I worked with Morgan Neville on his documentary about Amar Bose filmed on location at various parts of MIT where Bose was a student and he designed where the CSO performs, the Kresge Auditorium.  Anytime you work with artists of different fields, it gives you a broader sense of your own idiom.  It was an inspiring and rewarding experience.

SC:  When you are not conducting, you are also a lecturer and writer.  Any new projects you’d like to let people know about?

CW:  We are busy planning lots of great things for our 45th anniversary season next year including a newly commissioned ballet of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. We also hope to commission a new work for our Family Concert series as well as continue to highlight diverse and relevant programming that inspires our audiences. I think it will be our most challenging and rewarding season yet.

Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s latest show, ‘Angels and Heroes will be held Sunday, March 17 at Kresage Auditorium at MIT.  Click here for more information on Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and for tickets.

REVIEW: Captivating and lighthearted, Boston’s annual Holiday Pops as festive as ever

In its 23rd year, The Holiday Pops are in full swing and as festive as ever!  Illustration and illumination dominated this year’s performances woven into a wide spectrum of Christmas carols, spiritual hymns, and holiday traditions.  Whether it’s the excitement of the all-volunteer Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the Boston Pops adding their own unique, personal flair, or their highly anticipated sing-along, The Holiday Pops makes it easy to alleviate the stress of the season and happily embrace what truly matters.  Sponsored by Fidelity Investments and led by Keith Lockhart, The Holiday Pops at Boston Symphony Hall continues through Christmas Eve.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Elegantly adorning the intrinsically-detailed gold balconies are twinkling lights on thick, festive wreaths, just a sampling of the stunning surroundings inside Symphony Hall.  During the show, the stage spontaneously came to life with a variety of scenery illuminated above the stage from flickering candles to colorful, dancing snowflakes.

This beautiful performance of Holiday Pops delivered equal doses of reflective material and lightheartedness, the first half playful and spiritual.  Leroy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival which included Deck the Halls, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and Silent Night kicked off a memorable first half. The Boston Pops orchestra performed a harmonious and airy rendition of Parade of the Wooden Soldiers accompanied by a bright, festive short film created with original artwork and animation by FableVision Studios.

The Holidays Pops reflected on the revelation of Jesus during Shepherd’s Chorus as well as The Festival of Lights in an increasingly uplifting Songs of Freedom:  A Celebration of Chanukah featuring detailed portraits illustrated by children’s book artist, Judith Clark.  With stirring excerpts from O Little Town of Bethlehem, What Child is This, Go Tell it On the Mountain, and more, acclaimed baritone David McFerrin narrated The Christmas Story illustrated with Tomie dePaola’s original artwork.

Brimming with beloved classic Christmas carols and guest appearances by Santa and more, the second half of Holiday Pops was a vibrant, yuletide spectacle.  While bulbs glowing to the beat, the jolly Tanglewood Festival Chorus delivered a string of Christmas waltzes, singalongs, and more including the annual reading of Clement Charke Moore’s Twas The Night Before Christmas, read enthusiastically by special guest, Boston journalist Janet Wu.

Boston’s charming signature versions of Sleigh Ride and the always clever and amusing 12 Days of Christmas were welcome additions to the mix as Santa Claus made his grand entrance.  Holiday Pops concluded with Let There Be Peace on Earth, as Earth shone overhead, brilliantly conveyed the quiet hope for the coming New Year.

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The Boston Pops presents the beloved holiday film, ‘Home Alone in Concert’ with live orchestra December 29 and 30. Photo credit to Twentieth Century Fox/Boston Pops

Before ringing in the New Year, The Boston Pops will offer special presentations of Christmas film favorite, Home Alone featuring the music of John Williams with live orchestra at Symphony Hall on December 29 and 30.  The Boston Pops will cap off the year with their annual New Year’s Eve concert led by actor, animator, singer, and filmmaker, Seth McFarlane.

All performances take place at Boston Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets, through SymphonyCharge at 888-266-1200, and at the Symphony Hall Box Office, 301 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, Massachusetts.  The Holiday Pops are also available at home with A Boston Pops Christmas: Live from Symphony Hall album through ITunes, Amazon, and Amazon MP3.

 

REVIEW: With comic wit and vintage flair, Boston Ballet’s ‘Genius at Play’ is an exhilarating dance celebration

Honoring the centennial birthdays of legendary choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein, The Boston Ballet opened its 55th season on a joyous, lighthearted note on Thursday, September 6 with Genius at Play continuing through Sunday, September 16 at the Boston Opera HouseGenius at Play certainly lives up to its name, a production with glimpses of Robbins and Bernstein’s signature dance moves, music, and lively banter sure to leave the audience in carefree spirits.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Accomplished conductor Beatrice Jona Affron opened the show, leading the orchestra with Leonard Bernstein’s sparkling and triumphant masterpiece Overture to Candide, first performed in 1957.  Much of Genius at Play celebrates the very nature of dance and its playful competitiveness and Overture to Candide quite fittingly sets the tone.

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Boston Ballet in Jerome Robbin’s Interplay; photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Interplay, with choreography by Jerome Robbins, rewinds the clock as women pile on high ponytails in casual, colorful costumes by Santo Loquasto.  As the mischievous, upbeat rhythm of Morton Gould’s American Concertette plays, dancers Maria Alvarez, Dawn Atkins, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Dalay Parrondo, Isaac Akiba, Paul Craig, Sun Woo Lee, and Lawrence Rines take part in some friendly competition.  Creativity runs wild as dancers perform lifts, spins, and high leaps while also paying subtle homage to Robbins as they rhythmically snap their fingers and playfully shake their hips.

With choreography by Jerome Robbins and jazz-infused music by Leonard Bernstein, Fancy Free is the source material for what became the hit Broadway musical and Academy award-winning film, On the Town, a tale about three sailors portrayed here by Irlan Silva, Derek Dunn, and Michael Ryan, who are on shore leave in New York City.  Taking a page from the old movies with cheerful 40s costumes by Kermit Love, these sailors realize they are in over their head when they meet three passers-by portrayed by Emily Entingh, Viktorina Kapitonova, and Dawn Atkins.  With a multi-dimensional, romantically-lit set equipped with a vivid, leaning lamp post, these sailors depict a wonderful camaraderie as they embark on an amusing night with plenty of surprises.

With music by Philip Glass and choreography by Jerome Robbins, Glass Pieces is quite the gem.  Taking place in what looks like a subway station, Glass Pieces has a palpable rhythm and urgency as dancers are unleashed into a celebration of dance in the city.  From a plain landscape into a spectrum of color, Glass Pieces transforms into a splendid piece of artistry as dancers perform in a variety of styles in silhouette, reflective, and in unison.

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Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in Jerome Robbin’s Glass Pieces; photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

With comic wit, vintage flair, and renowned choreography, The Boston Ballet proudly presents Genius at Play through Sunday, September 16 at the Boston Opera House.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  For future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.