January 30, 2012

Let's Dance!

This weekend, come to Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre for an energy-filled evening of live music and dance, from Johann Strauss, Jr.'s sophisticated and elegant Blue Danube Waltzes, to the bubbly and energetic Lindy Hop, to the fiery and seductive tango.

The performance will feature the choreography of Lindy Hop specialist Carla Heiney, pictured left. Heiney’s choreography has been nationally televised on the hit show So You Think You Can Dance and she has won numerous dance titles, including the 2010 National Jitterbug Championship and the 2008 and 2009 International Lindy Hop Championships. Click below to watch a clip of Heiney’s routine from So You Think You Can Dance.

Jeff Tyzik and the RPO will be joined onstage by vocalists Todd East and Cindy Miller, as well as an all-star lineup of dancers, including Kelsey McCowan, Joseph Barlev, and 2011 Jitterbug Championship winners Stephen Sayer and Chandrae Roettig. You’ll also see the sultry and passionate tango, performed by Argentine tango experts Eva Lucero and Patricio Touceda, as well as tap dancer—and Eastman School of Music student—Alex Dugdale. Click here to read bios on all of the featured performers.

Performances are February 3 & 4 at 8:00 pm in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online or by calling 454-2100.

January 23, 2012

The Mahler Puzzle

“Gustav Mahler is the composer of contradictions and paradoxes. He is the composer of ambiguities, contrasts, complexities and cognitive dissonance.” (from “Mahler 4, a contradiction” by Kenneth Woods)

This weekend, the RPO will present its second Mahler Symphony of the 2011-2012 Season with a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, January 26 and 28 in Kodak Hall.

When starting work on his Fourth Symphony in 1899, Mahler composed backwards, beginning with the finale. The last movement of the Fourth Symphony is built around a song entitled Das himmlische Leben (Heaven’s Life) which draws its text from a collection of German folk poems, Das Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn). Mahler composed Das himmlische Leben as a free-standing piece in 1892 and toyed with the possibility of using it in the finale of his Third Symphony before deciding that the song should be used in a different symphony. The song (which will be performed this weekend by soprano Christina Pier, pictured below) is sung from the point of view of a young boy, and describes a vision of heaven as a place where no one ever goes hungry. Click here to read the full text and translation.

Thematically, the final movement of the 4th Symphony can be viewed as an extension of the themes expressed at the end of the “Resurrection” Symphony. The end of the 3rd movement of Symphony No. 4 briefly works up into a thunderous, transcendental trumpet fanfare akin to the finale of the Second Symphony, but quickly dies down, and transitions into the tranquil description of heaven in the Fourth movement. While the finale of the Second Symphony takes us to the gates of the afterlife, the finale of the Fourth Symphony goes through those gates, and shows us what the other side might be like.

Mahler's Fourth is often characterized as being lighter and ‘happier’ than many of his other works—it is one of his shortest symphonies, is scored for a relatively small ensemble, and begins with a jovial flute/sleigh bell motif. However, in true Mahler fashion, this cheerfulness often belies a darker undercurrent and is subject to extreme and sudden shifts throughout the piece, from major to minor and from cheery to tragic. As conductor Kenneth Woods notes in his blog A View from the Podium, the Fourth Symphony is “often described as his simplest and most straightforward work…but it’s also his most multi-layered, most contradictory, most enigmatic, most paradoxical work. Nothing in this piece is as it seems.”

Leonard Bernstein devoted one installment of his popular 1960s “Young Person’s Concert” educational series to an examination of the contradictions and paradoxes to which Woods refers. In the program, entitled Who is Gustav Mahler?, Bernstein uses the Fourth Symphony to illustrate the ways in which Mahler was a “double man.” Among the doublings identified by Bernstein are the problem of being both a conductor and a composer (a problem with which Bernstein was personally familiar) as well as Mahler’s inner conflict between child-like purity and tormented adult, between smart adult and innocent child, and between the Slavic folk music of his birthplace and of his Jewish background, and the ‘traditional’ Western music of the Classical idiom. As Bernstein describes, it was this sense of inner conflict, this battle between two Mahlers, that made his music so powerful and so original. Click here or below to watch Bernstein’s entire program.

If you came to the RPO’s performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony and loved it, the Fourth Symphony is just as great, but in a different way. While Mahler 2 is monumental, powerful, and awe-inspiring, Mahler 4 is made up of many different elements that briefly come forward and then fade into the background—alternatively playful and whimsical, mournful, ferocious, beautiful, and serene, the Fourth Symphony is filled with dichotomies that are woven together into something complex and characteristic of the man that wrote it.

Arild Remmereit conducts Mahler's Fourth January 26 at 7:30 pm and 28 at 8 PM in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. The program also includes Peggy Stuart Coolidge’s Blue Planet, Lehár’s “Vilja Lied” from The Merry Widow, Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Emperor Waltz, and Imre Kálmán’s “Heia in den Bergen” from The Gypsy Princess. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online or by calling 454-2100.

January 16, 2012

Bennett Brings Legends of Swing to Life

This weekend, experience the spirit, energy, and exuberance of the Swing Era as Dave Bennett and the Dave Bennett Sextet join Jeff Tyzik and the RPO in a salute to clarinet-greats Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Pete Fountain, and more, January 20 and 21 at 8:00 pm in Kodak Hall.

Clarinet prodigy Dave Bennett has recorded with three of Goodman's famous band members - guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli; vibraphonist Peter Appleyard; and pianist Dick Hyman - and has earned widespread praise for his musicianship, as well as his ability to replicate the technique, style, improvisational skills, and tone of the greatest jazz clarinetists in history.

Of Bennett, Dick Hyman remarked: "Dave is a phenomenon - plays his instrument beautifully, invents and improvises with great skill, and above all, in a perfect Benny Goodman manner, brings tremendous excitement to a performance," while Pizzarelli commented, "if Benny had heard this guy he would have had him over to play duets."

Bennett has performed with numerous orchestras including Toronto, Detroit, Omaha, and Nashville, as well as the RPO. In his second appearance with the RPO, Bennett will perform Benny Goodman's biggest hits, including the electrifying Sing, Sing, Sing, as well as the hits of other great clarinetists of the Swing Era, including Artie Shaw's Begin the Beguine, Jimmy Dorsey's Tangerine, Woody Herman's Woodchopper's Ball, and a New Orleans-style Pete Fountain Medley. Click below for a preview of Bennett performing the George Gershwin classic, I Got Rhythm.

Tickets for these performances start at $15 and can be purchased online or by calling the Box Office at 454-2100.

January 2, 2012

70 Years After Premiere, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel Retains Contemporary Feel

When Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel made its premiere in April of 1945, it captivated everyone from theater critics to a 15-year-old Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim, who attended opening night with friend Jamie Hammerstein (son of Oscar) later described the evening as a “seminal experience” and recalled how the musical moved him to the point of tears:
“I remember how everyone goes off to the clambake at the end of Act One and Jigger [the hoodlum villain] just follows, and he was the only one walking on stage as the curtain came down. I was sobbing.” (How Sondheim Found His Sound, p. 64)
For Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Carousel came at the heels of their debut, the hugely successful Oklahoma! When writing their second musical together, Rodgers and Hammerstein included many of the elements that had made Oklahoma! a success, such as the ballet sequence. They also added new elements; for example, instead of opening the show with the traditional overture, Rodgers composed the “Carousel Waltz,” which was accompanied by an onstage pantomime.

One of the most important innovations introduced in Oklahoma! was the integration of music and story, so that plot advancement and character development were accomplished not only through dialogue, but also through the songs themselves. In Carousel, Rodgers and Hammerstein built upon this concept, creating masterfully-written examples of musical storytelling such as Billy Bigelow’s near-8-minute-long “Soliloquy” and the famous bench scene.’

Based upon the play Liliom by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár, the plot of Carousel centers on the complex and often turbulent relationship between carousel barker Billy Bigelow (portrayed in this production by Ben Crawford, pictured above, left) and mill worker Julie Jordan (portrayed by Alexandra Silber, pictured right). In contrast to the generally sunny Oklahoma!, Carousel depicts a complicated world that is at times painful, tragic, and dark, a shift in tone that prompted Sondheim to quip, “Oklahoma! is about a picnic; Carousel is about life and death.”

It is, perhaps, this timeless and universally-relatable subject matter that makes Carousel just as moving today as it was 67 years ago. Of course, Carousel features one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most beautiful scores, with classic songs such as “If I Loved You,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “What’s the Use of Wondrin,’ ” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Together, these elements contribute to make Carousel one of the all-time masterpieces of musical theater and a favorite of everyone from critics to audiences to Richard Rodgers himself:
“One of the most frequent questions I am asked is: ‘What is your favorite of all your musicals?’ My answer is Carousel. Oscar never wrote more meaningful or more moving lyrics, and to me, my score is more satisfying than any I’ve ever written. But it’s not just the songs; it’s the whole play. Beautifully written, tender without being mawkish, it affects me deeply every time I see it performed.” (From Richard Rodgers’ autobiography, Musical Stages, p. 243)
The RPO performs Carousel in a live concert performance, complete with Broadway actorsJanuary 6 & 7 in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online or by calling 454-2100.