REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston presented John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift for Nat King Cole tribute and more on Valentine’s Day

Since Jazz and love doesn’t follow a set of rules, they came together for Valentine’s Day.

Love lit up Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Valentine’s Day as Celebrity Series of Boston presented ‘For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole’ on Friday, February 14 at 8 p.m.  Whether longing for love, falling in love, or losing in love, Veronica Swift and the John Pizzarelli Trio brought a jazz-infused twist to classic love songs and American Standards from Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, and especially Nat King Cole for one night only.

Veronica Swift and John Pizzarelli are currently on tour.  Click here for Swift’s upcoming shows and here for John’s future tour dates.  Click here for more on Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming events.

Festive purple curtains embellished Sanders Theatre’s beautiful, softly-lit stage.  Dressed in an effervescent pink jumpsuit that changed shades in different lighting, jazz vocalist Veronica Swift kicked off the evening with a drum-infused rendition of Cole Porter’s breezy classic, Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).  Each musician had an opportunity to show off their stellar talent which included pianist Julius Rodriguez, bassist Phillip Norris, and drummer Aaron Kimmel.

Swift offered a casual, low key presence as she shared childhood stories of growing up touring with her jazz singer mother, Stephanie Nakasian and her father, bebop pianist Hod O’Brien.  Swift’s versatile set had its share of joyous and stirring moments which included a poignant version of Ella Fitzgerald’s Everytime We Say Goodbye dedicated to her father as her voice swelled in quiet emotion.  She skimmed the scales in an electrifying version of Billie Holiday’s Come Rain or Come Shine and an anguished Prisoner of Love.

Veronica Swift and pianist Julius Rodriguez Photo credit: Robert Torres

At just 25 years old, she is a spirited and contemplative performer.  Jazz aficionados would appreciate her natural ability for scatting showcased in a fast paced, ebullient rendition of Billie Holiday’s I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.  Though I am not a big jazz fan, it is easy to appreciate the liberties jazz takes to transform these classics into a refreshing, eclectic new sound.

With a great deal of humor, a relaxed atmosphere, and in a sharp gray suit, avid storyteller John Pizzarelli delved into the history of Nat King’s Cole music while sharing some of his own history along the way.  He revitalized a few of Nat King Cole’s hits and shared a few anecdotes in tribute to Nat King Cole’s centennial.  American Jazz singer-songwriter and musician Nat King Cole was one of the most successful artists on Capital Records’ roster and his music has inspired generations.

Pizzarelli is currently on tour for John Pizzarelli Trio’s most recent album For Centennial Reasons:  100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole.  The title seems a subtle play on Nat King Cole’s I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons) which Pizzarelli performs tenderly later in the show.  Aside from Pizzarelli who can no less shred on guitar, Pizzarelli was joined by spectacular musicians Isaiah Thompson on piano and Mike Karn on bass.  The John Pizzarelli Trio’s collective sound had the rhythm of a moving train.  Each piece came alive as the instruments seem to “chat” with each other especially during Hit That Jive, Jack and a lively rendition of Honeysuckle Rose.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

Bassist Mike Karn, John Pizzarelli, and pianist Isaiah Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

The trio explored Lorraine as Pizzarelli shared a legendary story about how the song turned Nat King Cole from a pianist into a singer, though it is a rumored tale.  Nat King Cole was part of the Nat King Cole Trio and it was nice to see Pizzarelli reflecting that with his own John Pizzarelli Trio, each member getting their own chance to shine.

Pizzarelli’s delivered an uplifting set which included a few love songs.  His guitar hummed during a cheerful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Make Believe as lightning fast pianist Isaiah Thompson commanded the keys.  Pizzarelli showed off his side winding guitar style in his own song titled Nat King Cool and his scatting skills during Nat King Cole’s Frim Fram Sauce.  The evening’s lighthearted vibe continued with the humorous Save the Bones for Henry Jones, the vibrant I Would Do Anything for You, and one of Nat King Cole’s most popular singles, Straight Up and Fly Right.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

John Pizzarelli, bassist Mike Karn, and pianist Isaish Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

Swift returned to the stage for a few Gershwin classics that included a wistful Someone to Watch Over Me.  She and Pizzarelli delivered a wonderful rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me, I Got Rhythm, and their lauded encore Route 66.

As a big Nat King Cole fan, I would have liked to have heard Nat King Cole’s Stardust and his mega-hit Unforgettable, but it simply didn’t fit into an evening consisting of mostly the brighter side of love and its boundless possibilities.

Celebrity Series of Boston is just getting 2020 started with a number of performing arts musicians that includes Bobby McFerrin, Milos, the Jason Palmer Quartet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and the return of Alvin Ailey.  Click here for the full list of upcoming events.

 

REVIEW: Multi-talented Hugh Jackman wows at the TD Garden

Is multi-talented Hugh Jackman better on film or onstage?

Is it worth seeing him when he comes back to Boston?  Is he the Greatest Showman?

One thing is certain – Hugh Jackman is the genuine article.

Some actors who decide to go on tour put on self-indulgent shows of their history in show business and share their general musings about life to promote their next album or film.  They might even sing a song or two.  However, outside the studio, they can’t really sing or dance.   People cheer, even if the show isn’t what they were expecting, but they remember that guy in that film or show who was so great in those roles, and that is enough.

Hugh is one talented guy.  He is a Tony, Emmy, and Grammy award-winner as well as a Golden Globe and Academy Award-nominee.  He has also been on the other side of acting as host of the Academy and Tony Awards.  For his 50th birthday, he wished to go on a world-wide tour.

Hugh Jackman’s ‘The Man. The Music.  The Show’ will continue through October 20, 2019. Click here for show dates.  He’ll also return to Boston’s TD Garden for one more performance on Tuesday, October 1.

Hugh Jackman the Tour

Photo credit to Hugh Jackman The Show

The morning of Hugh’s appearance on Thursday, June 27 at the TD Garden, Hugh Jackman made a surprise appearance serving coffee from a coffee truck in Boston to promote his charity work with ‘The Laughing Man Cafe and Foundation.’  A loyal Bruins fan, he called performing in Boston one of his big dreams.

As superhero Wolverine (in which he demonstrated an onstage pose or two), he showed his dynamic range.  Decked out at first in a white tux, he ran the gamut of styles from flashy costumes to more casual attire with no ringleader costume in sight.  Though he reminisced about his career with a realistic look at his dogged pursuit to find success as an actor, he seemed like a humble, funny, and approachable guy.

A family friendly show, he kept the crowd moving with a broad range of music.  From reaching into an old school vibe with selections such as I’ve Got Rhythm and Mac the Knife to tap dancing to AC/DC to performing a vast selection of musical theatre including lighting up the stage with selections from ‘The Greatest Showman,’ the show had a universal appeal though especially tailored for the theatre buff.  He joined Kaley McKnight onstage to perform a stunning, powerful rendition of This is Me and a sweeping ‘Les Miserables‘ medley.  He also joined members of the Boston Children’s Chorus for a stirring rendition of You Will Be Found from the hit musical, ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’

Hugh Jackman stage

Hugh Jackman at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

The second half of the show did not outdo the first, but he demonstrated his range further in the second.  It actually became a bit trippy during his ode to his Australian idol, Peter Allen in which Hugh won a Tony Award for his portrayal as Peter in ‘The Boy From Oz.’  Peter was not only known for songs such as Don’t Cry Out Loud and Arthur’s Theme, but for his over-the-top stage performances.  He also welcomed the audience into his native Australia by recreating the outback, claiming it as one of his most out-of-this-world experiences he has ever had.

So, to answer those questions, I prefer Hugh in his epic films, but he is undeniably a wonderful performer.  The very best is a lot to ask, but his dynamic range is truly great and worth watching on tour or when he returns to Boston in October.  You will no doubt recognize the sheer talent that he has developed over decades of being a singer, a dancer, theater actor, movie star, and a hero.

REVIEW: From the creator of ‘Riverdale’, Flat Earth Theatre delivers a bizarre and suspenseful ‘King of Shadows’

The theme of Flat Earth Theatre’s 13th season has been a thought provoking, mind-bending journey exploring the extraordinary in Delicate Particle Logic, the mythical in Not Medea, and now the mysterious and fantastical in King of Shadows from Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the creator of Riverdale. This season’s unique, message-driven productions bend reality to reveal a bigger picture.

As a fan of the twist-ending, they have been nothing short of fascinating.  Directed by Michael Hisamoto, Flat Earth Theatre continues King of Shadows through June 22 at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  This show may be haunting for children.

Flat Earth Theatre King of Shadows set

The setting of Flat Earth Theatre’s ‘King of Shadows’ Photo courtesy of Flat Earth Theatre

Much like Riverdale, an ordinary setting withholds extraordinary secrets. Grounded in the reality of missing children in San Francisco, King of Shadows delves into the lives of four distinct characters, all affected by their dark past.  The haunting set and intimate, encompassing staging, especially PJ Strachman’s light design, Bram Xu’s sound design, Stage Manager/Puppeteer Amy Lehrmitt, and scenic designer Ryan Bates, create an immersive, unsettling atmosphere for what is about to unfold.

Compassionate and ambitious Berkeley graduate student Jessica, portrayed with finesse by Laura Chowenhill, may be in over her head when she meets Nihar, a mysterious, wise-beyond-his-years homeless teenager portrayed by Trinidad Ramkissoon.  Ramkissoon’s penetrating gaze and inquisitive nature give Nihar an edgy charisma.  He has a fuzzy past, but that does not stop Jessica from her perpetual desire to help others.

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Logical and protective policeman Eric Saunders, portrayed impressively by Matt Crawford, is suspicious that Nihar may have a dangerous agenda.  Crawford’s Eric is a great foil for Chowendill’s pensive and conflicted Jessica, setting the stage for some sparks.  Jessica’s resentful and impulsive younger sister Sarah, portrayed with sarcasm and sass by Abigail Erdelatz, is capable of anything as she longs for a different life.

Flat Earth’s multi-layered production, King of Shadows is best seen without revealing too many details.  Though it’s an increasingly outlandish tale, King of Shadows has more than its share of suspense, leaving the audience constantly wondering where each character’s loyalty truly lies.

Flat Earth Theatre - King of Shadows Trinidad Ramkissoon as Nihar

Trinidad Ramkissoon as Nihar Photo courtesy of Flat Earth Theatre

Flat Earth Theatre’s final production of its 13th season, King of Shadows continues through Saturday, June 22 at the Black Box at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Partially surrounded by a lush green lawn that gives it a campus feel, The Mosesian Center for the Arts houses a number of productions, concerts, and exhibits during the year.  Offering free parking and next door to Panera Bread,  Earful and Gilly Assuncao are among the featured concerts this month while The Wizard of Oz and the opera, La Cenerentola, are among the upcoming theatrical productions.  Click here to see all that Mosesian Center for the Arts has to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Featuring John Williams’s multi-faceted score, ‘Home Alone in Concert’ made a bustling, merry return to Symphony Hall

Kicking off with the familiar drumbeat of the 20th Century Fox fanfare performed live before the film’s opening credits, The Boston Pops presented Home Alone in Concert with style and a few surprises as this popular 1990 Christmas comedy film returned to Symphony Hall from December 29 and 30. Much like the Boston Pops’ ‘in concert’ predecessors featuring classic films such as West Side Story, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nosferatu, Singin’ in the Rain, and Psycho, the Boston Pops enhances the unique tone of each film from score to sound effects, making it an unforgettable cinematic experience.  Led by Keith Lockhart, it doesn’t get much better than watching a feature film on the big screen alongside the Boston Pops’ clever orchestration.  Click here for more information on the Boston Pops.

It was a particular treat to be greeted by the Wellesley High School Keynote Singers and Rice Street Singers who performed a few lighthearted a capella holiday hits as the audience filed into the Symphony Hall lobby before the film started.  The anticipation of Home Alone in Concert was palpable, heightened by an uproarious applause as the film started and enthusiasm that continued throughout the performance.

A heartwarming film full of high jinks and relatable family humor, Home Alone features the McAllister family as they prepare to embark on a Christmas trip to Paris and through a series of unforeseeable circumstances, leave their youngest child, Kevin, portrayed by Macaulay Culkin, home alone.  Directed by Christopher Columbus, Home Alone features a hilarious cast that includes the late, great John Candy, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara, and John Heard.

From heartwarming to hectic to haunting, Academy award-winning composer John Williams offers a bit of everything in Home Alone’s multi-faceted score.  Songs from the film’s soundtrack such as Run Run Rudolph by Chuck Berry and I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas by the Drifters are left to the original artists, but John Williams’s compelling score featuring the Academy Award-nominated song, Somewhere in My Memory were performed by the orchestra.

Home Alone writer John Hughes was gifted with the ability to capture the voice of a young generation and he does a remarkable job depicting the perspective of mischievous and utterly adorable Kevin McAllister as he attempts to fend for himself.  Though some of the movie is a bit far-fetched, it remains as enjoyable as it was close to 30 years ago before cell phones were a daily part of life.

Home Alone in Concert

Holiday Pops presents ‘Home Alone in Concert’ Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Not only is Home Alone on the verge of celebrating its 30th anniversary since its release, but Macauley Culkin is all grown up and has reemerged recently in a reenactment of pivotal scenes from the original film to demonstrate the magic of Google Assistant.  With the same twinkle in his eye, Culkin adds a new dimension to those film scenes while keeping the spirit of the original film intact.

Home Alone in Concert was produced by Film Concerts Live!  In August, Keith Lockhart will conduct the Boston Pops to perform Star Wars:  A New Hope in Concert at Tanglewood.  Click here for more information on the Boston Pops and upcoming Boston Symphony Orchestra events.

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 Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s David Tanklefsky talks songwriting and Passim’s campfire.festival

David Tanklefsky of the band Whiskey Treaty Roadshow is just one in a wide array of dynamic musicians making their way to Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the 19th annual Memorial Day campfire.festival from Friday, May 26 through Sunday, May 29.  An interactive music festival presented “in the round,” featured artists interact with each other and the crowd, often improvising and exchanging songs during the weekend.  What often results is the unexpected.  Click here for the full list of featured musicians and for tickets.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s David Tanklefsky talks about Whiskey’s unique songwriting, the Beatles, and their touring adventures.  Click here to see their award-winning, short documentary and follow them on Facebook.

Sleepless Critic:  You’ll be at Club Passim for the campfire.festival Memorial Day weekend before the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow will make an appearance at Club Passim on Friday, July 14.  You’ve played the venue as well as campfire.festival before.  I understand it is quite an improvisational, interactive music experience.

David Tanklefsky:  I’ve done campfire a few times. This will be my first time playing there with my friend Hayley Sabella, who is terrific. Passim is a special place and we are lucky to have it in the area.  It seems like as less money is available to go around in the music world, the relationship between musicians and venues has become more of transaction.  Passim is the opposite. They are unique and truly care about developing musicians and giving them a platform for being heard.

SC:  How did the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow form and how did you meet?

DT:  Tory Hanna is really the conduit through which the band came together.  One of my best friends, who I was in a band with for years growing up, was living in a loft in Brooklyn with Tory and we started hanging out through him.  His wife Susie went to high school with Greg Smith and Tory knew Billy Keane through the Berkshires music world.  Billy had played a few shows with Chris Merenda and was a big fan of his old band, The Mammals. It happened very naturally, which I think is the best way for creative groups to get together.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow on tour Photo courtesy of Tim Bradley

SC:  Whose idea was the award-winning, short documentary and how did you decide on the details to the documentary?  It features lots of scenic, peaceful views of different areas of Massachusetts.

DT:  Tory grew up with a filmmaker named Tim Bradley who was looking for a new documentary project.  Tim captured our rehearsals for a four night tour we had organized through Massachusetts.  It was our first time playing together as a group.

Watching it now is such fun because it’s a snapshot of a band just starting out without any expectations beyond playing four great shows.  Tim meticulously planned out all the locations and the amazing videography.  When Tory mentioned his friend wanted to film us, I trusted his judgment but never imagined Tim would come up with such a well-crafted film.  It really helped catapult us into being a real band.

SC:  You have a relaxed sound, a rhythm likened to a drive down a peaceful country road.  You have a bit of a country tinge to some of your music.  Was that planned?  How did you end up conforming to a sound?

DT:  In folk music, there are songs and chord progressions that become seared into your soul over time. We’ve never had a discussion about it, but everyone brings songs to the table that we think will work with our instrumentation and vocal abilities. I think the folk/country/Americana textures come from having many stringed instruments on stage and the collaborative spirit of just sitting around, passing the guitar, and sharing songs.

SC:  Folk music is full of rich stories and each of you has a distinct style.  How do you come up with your songs?  Do you write a song together or are the songs bits of each songwriter or one song written by one another?

DT:  In this project, everyone writes independently and then brings songs to the table in various forms of completeness. We’ve been tinkering with different instrumentation and having some songs with more minimal arrangements as it has evolved.  We ask ourselves, ‘Do we need five people strumming away like mad men through this whole song?’  Often the answer is no. In the next few months, we’re planning to do a little songwriting retreat where we write more actively together for the first time, which will be new, exciting, and hopefully fruitful.

SC:  Where did your love for songwriting start?  Your particular songwriting style has a bit of humor with some rich lyrics and a bit of an unpredictable tempo at times.

DT:  When I was 10, I had an unhealthy obsession with the for three years straight.  I thought they were a perfect band.  My friends and I went as the Beatles for Halloween every year between ages 10 and 13. No one wanted to be Ringo and no one was left-handed like Paul so we were four kids with mushroom cuts and right-handed cardboard guitars.

Later I became inspired by songwriters that are always growing, pushing, and challenging their listeners.  I think Paul Simon is the gold standard for that.  I’m in awe of the insatiable curiosity he taps into and I try to write from a position of newness like that.  Being unaware of where my curiosity will take me but trying to just follow it through.

SC:  I understand you are touring.  What kind of venue would be an ideal place for you to play?

DT:  It was a huge thrill to perform with Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter Sarah Lee. That’s way up on the list.

We’ve had the opportunity to play some amazing old theatres over the last year or so. We loved the Academy of Music in Northampton and the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.  It was total thrill to sell out Mass MOCA, but some of our best shows have been in how-did-we-end-up-here type places too.

We played a last minute show in Cambridge in March at a really tiny place in Central Square and it was packed in with people standing on tables, total chaos.  The bouncer was adamant that no one else could come in because it was too packed.  One person left outside was our drummer, Jimmy.  He came in the back door and was kicked back out onto the street. We said, ‘But that’s the drummer!’  The bouncer replied, ‘I don’t care, I said no more!’  Eventually we brokered a deal and Jimmy was allowed inside and the show went on.  Theatre and dive bar are both okay in our book.

SC:  What are the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s future plans?

DT:  Our new EP is almost done and we are in high-level band discussions about a run of shows in the fall to support its release. We did it with an awesome engineer named Marc Seedorf at Barnhouse Studios in Chicopee, Massachusetts. We had to take a month break from recording because he was on tour with Dinosaur Jr. as their guitar tech and he got to play a few songs each night with them.  He’s our new hero.

Click here for more information and tickets to Passim’s campfire.festival at Club Passim, 47 Palmer Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, conveniently located in Harvard Square.  Not only a haven for music lessons, Passim offers live concerts nearly 365 days a year featuring Grammy winners to musicians with a dream.  Click here for their music schedule and follow Passim on Facebook and Twitter.

Zumix will celebrate 25th anniversary on grand scale with ‘Boston DJs with Zumix’ benefit

Music lovers unite!  Zumix, East Boston’s non-profit organization geared toward empowering youth through music, has saved the best for last.  Featuring 20 Boston DJs past and present, live performances, special guest sets, silent auction, and much more, Zumix brings their 25th anniversary year to a grand close with ‘Boston DJs for Zumix’ on Friday, March 31 at 8 p.m.  This sensational benefit will be held at Zumix, 260 Sumner Street, East Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and more information.

Zumix radio

New radio station 94.9 FM Zumix Radio Photo courtesy of Zumix

After streaming online for 10 years, the evening benefit will also celebrate their new, growing community station, 94.9 FM Zumix, a station that serves a bilingual audience and features a wide range of programming.  All proceeds of ‘Boston DJs for Zumix’ support Zumix’s dynamic, free teen music programs in songwriting, community radio, creative technology, instrument instruction, and performance.  Click here to make a donation.

zumix radio

Youth DJ on the mic Photo courtesy of Zumix

The featured DJs are as follows:  Adam 12, Akrobatik, Baltazar, DJ Bean, Jim Braude, Julie Devereaux, Fast Freddy, Mike Gioscia, Lori Grande, Merilee Kelly, George Knight, Carolyn Kruse, John Laurenti, Dana Marshall, Jess Phaneuf, Matt Phipps, Morning Guy Tai, Nancy Quill, Neal Robert, Nomadik, and Zumix DJs.

Zumix White House

Zumix accepting an award from Michelle Obama Photo courtesy of Zumix

Winner of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Programs Award from the White House and providing music lessons and other technology to lower income families, Zumix’s mission is to empower youth to express themselves through music and make positive changes throughout their community and the world.  At first started as a songwriting program, Zumix students enjoy in-school and after school events throughout the year. Songwriting, radio, audio technology, and performance are among the renowned programs offered by Zumix for youth ages 7 through 18 and over 1,000 students attend classes.

Zumix Walk for Music

Annual Walk for Music community event Photo courtesy of Zumix

For tickets to ‘Boston DJs for Zumix,’ click here or call (617) 568-9777.  Click here for more information on their upcoming concerts, events, and festivals. Follow Zumix on Facebook and Twitter.

New England Philharmonic President Ann Teixeira offers inside look at 40th Anniversary concert March 4

Led by Maestro Richard Pittman, the New England Philharmonic (NEP) has a stellar reputation for bringing magnificent works and uncovering promising masterpieces in each of their meticulously crafted concerts.  Music Director Richard Pittman is celebrating his 20th anniversary with the orchestra as New England Philharmonic presents its 40th anniversary concert featuring Michael Tippett’s stirring and thought-provoking A Child of Our Time with Chorus pro Musica under the direction of Jamie Kirsch.  This exciting concert will be held at Tsai Performance Center at Boston University on Saturday, March 4 at 8 p.m.  A number soloists and musicians are slated to perform at this special celebratory concert.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

New England Philharmonic President Ann Teixeira offers an inside look at how each season’s works are selected, their annual Call for Scores competition, and how to celebrate two anniversaries in one extraordinary night.

Jeanne Denizard:  How did this 40th anniversary season come together and how were the works selected?  I understand part of the process is NEP holds an annual Call for Scores competition.  Was there a specific theme involved this year?

Ann Teixeira:  Music Director Richard Pittman is responsible for the music selection each season.  Once the orchestra and Board know what he has chosen for the next season, the season’s theme is identified and each concert is given a title based on the relationship among the pieces.  When he selects a program’s theme in advance, it is almost always selected for the family concert.  This year’s family concert was called, The Big Bad Wolf.

JD:  On March 4, the NEP will hold an anniversary concert celebrating two anniversaries at Tsai Performance Center at 8 p.m.  A number of musicians and soloists will be returning for this big night.  What inspired highlighting these two significant anniversaries in one evening?

AT:  The orchestra is primarily celebrating NEP’s 40th anniversary, but this is also the first of Richard Pittman’s 20th year as Music Director.  We are fortunate to have a number of musicians who are long time members of the orchestra on stage for the 40th anniversary concert, including violinist Louise Myers, who joined it as early as its third concert in 1977, and 30-year NEP cellist Jennifer Snodgrass among others.

As the NEP did for its 30th and 35th Anniversary concerts, we will once again perform a vocal work that includes a chorus and vocal soloists.  For the 30th anniversary, it was Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck and for the 35th anniversary, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.

The 40th Anniversary concert features Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time with Chorus pro Musica and soloists soprano Sarah Pelletier, mezzo-soprano Krista River, tenor Charles Blandy, and bass Sumner Thompson.  The NEP celebrates another anniversary as this same piece, also with Chorus pro Musica, was performed 25 years ago this season under Ron Feldman’s music direction.

JD:  This year also marks NEP’s 20th anniversary under the direction of award-winning Music Director and Maestro Richard Pittman.  Not only has he led the orchestra to a number of honors, but he has conducted orchestras all over the world and founded a distinguished ensemble, Boston Musica Viva.  Please tell me about how his presence enriched the NEP over the years.

AT:  Dick is a widely recognized and often honored conductor both in the U.S. and Europe.  He founded the Boston Musica Viva, an ensemble widely regarded as one of the best contemporary music ensembles in the world, 47 years ago.  He has enriched the NEP with his broad and deep knowledge of contemporary classical music and the high standards he applies to his repertoire selection.  He selects only the ‘best’ of contemporary classical music which not only utilizes as many instruments and musicians within each piece, but accommodate our part-time musicians.   Program selection is a balancing act!   The programming and training he provides leads to the orchestra’s musical growth and retention of them as well as higher quality performances often recognized by reviewers as equivalent to professional orchestras.

Composers are happy and honored to have the NEP select their compositions for performance due to Dick’s relationship with them.  The composers often attend the performance and speak to the audience about their composition and sometimes the process of composing it, enriching the concert experience.  Composers also sometimes attend a rehearsal, which further enriches the musicians’ experience and training.

JD:  This season features fanfares from former composers-in-residence.  This particular concert features Melospiza melodia from two-term composer-in-residence, Richard Cornell, who wrote this specifically for the anniversary.

AT:  Yes, Richard Cornell used song of the sparrow as his inspiration for this piece.

JD:  NEP features Michael Tippett’s  A Child of Our Time, which is inspired by what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and is a significant work against oppression in the world.  Why this particular work?  I understand that it resonates especially with today’s world.

AT:  When Maestro Pittman selected A Child of Our Time a year ago, he had no prescience for how relevant its statements would be to the current political environment.  While it is explicitly a statement against oppression, it also progresses into a statement about tolerance, thus making it currently relevant on both dimensions.  It is serendipity, it is so relevant, and we hope it will leave its impact on the audience.

New England Philharmonic presents the 40th Anniversary Concert:  A Child of Our Time at the Tsai Performance Center at Boston University on Saturday, March 4 at 8 p.m.  Click here for tickets, how to become a subscriber, and more information.

The New England Philharmonic thrives on the support of the community.  Click here to support the NEP, volunteer, and sign up for their newsletter for upcoming performances and more.

The Boston Ballet presents William Forsythe’s thrilling ‘Artifact,’ part of their 2017-18 season

On Thursday, February 23, the Boston Ballet begins another magnificent spring season and simultaneously launches a five-year partnership with brilliant dancer and world-renowned choreographer, William Forsythe. As part of Forsythe’s five-year partnership, William Forsythe and Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen work together to establish each season’s performances, highlighting one of Forsythe’s stunning works each year.

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Choreographer William Forsythe and Misa Kuranaga in rehearsal for Artifact; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

William Forsythe’s full length masterpiece, Artifact, a revelation in the art of dance and has thrilled audiences since its stage premiere in 1984.  Artifact continues through Sunday, March 5 at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets, call 617-695-6955, or visit the Boston Ballet box office at 19 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Take a closer look at William Forsythe’s Artifact here.

Boston Ballet Artifact

Boston Ballet’s Misa Kuranaga and Patrick Yocum, William Forsythe’s Artifact; © Rachel Neville

The Boston Ballet boasts a monumental lineup for its 2017-18 season including timeless romantic classics such as Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty from April 28 to May 27, 2017 and John Cranko’s Romeo & Juliet from March 15 through April 8, 2018.  This season is also filled with masterful works such as Kylian/Wings of Wax from March 23 through April 2, Robbins/The Concert from May 5 through May 27, Obsidian Tear from November 3 through November 12, and the return of Tchaikovsky’s beloved holiday classic, Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker from November 24 through December 31, 2017.  Click here for a closer look at all of Boston Ballet’s 2017-18 season highlights.

Click here for tickets, call 617-695-6955, or visit the Boston Ballet box office at 19 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Subscriptions and group rates are also available. Follow the Boston Ballet on Twitter!

From Renaissance to pop music, Barnaby Smith talks VOCES8’s exciting Celebrity Series of Boston debut

Sometimes a great sound is born out of friendship.  In the days following Valentine’s Day, Celebrity Series of Boston is proud to present British octet group, VOCES8, a renowned a cappella group that has toured all over the world and tackles a variety of genres from Renaissance to contemporary pop music.  They will make their Boston debut on Wednesday, February 15 and 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall in Cambridge, MA at 8 p.m.

VOCES8’s Artistic Director Barnaby Smith talks about how the group was formed, its music roots, and what is in store for their exciting Boston debut.  Click here for more information on VOCES8 and for tickets.

Jeanne Denizard:  This is British octet group, VOCES8’s Celebrity Series of Boston debut.  Which songs are you most excited about sharing with Boston?  How do you select the songs you perform?

Barnaby Smith:  We are excited to come to Boston for the first time as a group because we know what an incredible city it is for the arts.  I am excited to sing our Renaissance Polyphony because Boston has such a wonderful tradition for early music, and I always find it thrilling to sing this specialist style of music to a knowledgeable audience.

We choose our songs in a number of different ways. Often festivals ask for specific repertoire or programme their festival on a specific theme, which guides us in uncertain directions. This is mainly true for the classical repertoire. As Artistic Director, I then listen to a lot of music and select songs I think the group will sing well or fit a theme I am working on for programming. Group members can make suggestions for all genres of music, but our pop and jazz rep is chosen a lot more by the members and arrangers of the group who might have ideas for great songs they think would work well for our voices and specific lineup. It’s always a collaborative process, and one of the exciting parts of my job as artistic director is to glue all the moving parts together into one great vehicle.

JD:  VOCES8 tackles a number of music genres such as pop and Renaissance polyphony.

BS:  Singing lots of different music in different styles is what keeps our job so wonderfully engaging.  We get to enjoy many different styles of music, but we also have the challenge of trying to master them too.  Singing a Bach motet requires a very different skill set than scatting a jazz tune. We have eight wonderful personalities and it is exciting that everyone brings an area of expertise, so we can all always be learning from each other too.

JD:  What inspired you to put this group together in 2003 and how did the group members meet?

BS:  All the original members were in the RSCM’s Millennium Youth ChoirRSCM’s Millennium Youth Choir in the UK.  When we all got a little old to be in the choir anymore, my brother Paul and I decided that we’d still like to see all our friends from choir during the school holidays, so we set up singing sleepovers. We’d all get together on Friday, rehearse on Saturday and sing a concert on Sunday. Everyone had to sleep on the floor of our parents’ house and we’d have a good party somewhere along the way too.  It all began out of friendship and our enjoyment of singing together.

We then got invited to a choral competition in Italy in 2005. The competition offered to pay our flights and accommodation to go to Italy for a week. We thought it would be a great holiday, so off we went without doing too much rehearsal or expecting much. When we arrived, it turned out to be a very serious competition. We rallied, did three days of intensive rehearsal, and somehow won the competition. The rest is history.

JD:  Is there a standout or unconventional song that was particularly challenging that you surprisingly share in your repertoire? 

BS:  In our programme in Boston, I am going to select The Luckiest.  The Luckiest is a song originally by Ben Folds who sings it solo at the piano. We have had to turn that into an eight part piece of choral music. It requires the singers to perform with perfect blend and also for us to find a very varied collection of colours to paint the wonderful text. The interesting thing about it and the reason I am proud of the group is that I hope it sounds easy when we sing it  I hope we’re a little like the Swan who is kicking furiously under the water but looks so elegant above it as he glides along. I think this is the ultimate test for a group’s technique and I am thrilled with how accomplished we have become at performing that particular song.

JD:  How did you decide on your sound?  Having toured all over Europe at some of the most prestigious venues in the world, was there one that you couldn’t believe you were onstage at?

We grew up listening to some of the great a cappella groups such as the King’s Singers, The Swingles, The Manhattan Transfer, and The Real Group which has always inspired us. We wanted to achieve the same technical perfection as these groups, but create our own sound so we chose a unique line-up with two females and six male singers. We have two countertenors who sing alto, a very British choral style. When we put the eight voices together, it creates quite a unique concoction. We work very hard without technique to be able to blend this sound.

We have been very fortunate to sing in many incredible venues across the world. Often I have to pinch myself!  Perhaps most recently would be our Christmas concert in Tokyo Opera City. It is a concert hall with a wooden ceiling as tall as a cathedral. It’s an incredible space.  Sometimes I think we take for granted the wonderful spaces we get to sing in. One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to take a photo documentary of every hall so that I can remember them in years to come.

See VOCES8 on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at 8 p.m.  Click here for the full list of performances and for tickets. Subscriptions and gift cards are also available.  Celebrity Series of Boston thrives on support from the community. Click here for a variety of ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.

Jessica Lang Dance, Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, Alvin Ailey, and Stave Sessions part of Celebrity Series of Boston’s extraordinary season

With close to an 80-year history of bringing inspirational and highly acclaimed national and international live entertainment to Boston, Celebrity Series sets the stage in 2017 with an extraordinary lineup that includes Broadway star and actress Kristin Chenoweth, the return of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the annual Stave Sessions, and much more.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

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Alvin Ailey’s “Odetta” Photo courtesy of Mike Strong

Making its spectacular Boston debut, Celebrity Series of Boston presents Jessica Lang Dance from Friday, January 27 to Saturday, January 28 at the Bach Center Shubert Theatre.  Winner of the 2014 Bessie Award, NY-based dance troupe, Jessica Lang Dance, based on Jessica Lang’s award-winning choreography, weaves classical ballet with stunning, contemporary artistry.

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Jessica Lang Dance “Spectrum” Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

After a sold out 2013 recital, the Danish String Quartet returns to NEC’s Jordan Hall for an unforgettable evening of innovative, powerful music featuring works by Beethoven and Schnittke.  The Danish Quartet performs for one night only on Saturday, January 28 at 8 p.m.  Single tickets are available.

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Danish String Quartet Photo of Caroline Bittencourt

On Saturday, February 4, award-winning soprano Susanna Phillips will make her Celebrity Series of Boston solo debut at NEC’s Jordan Hall at 8 p.m.  Accompanied by pianist Myra Huang, Phillips is a captivating singing-actor and recitalist.

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Award-winning soloist Susanna Phillips Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Celebrating the works of legendary jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald for her 100th birthday, jazz violinist Regina Carter performs Simply Ella on Friday, February 10 at the Sanders Theatre.  Carter’s album, Simply Ella is coming soon.

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Jazz violinist Regina Carter pays tribute to Ella Fitzgerald Photo courtesy of David Katzenstein

Click here for the full list of performances and for tickets. Subscriptions and gift cards are also available.  Celebrity Series of Boston thrives on support from the community. Click here for a variety of ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.