A Quiet Saturday Afternoon

Quiet time.  Time to think, reflect – and blog.  That’s something that’s been missing for a while.

Things at the radio station are going very well.  Just like any new endeavor, it’s taken a bit of time to settle into a routine.  Not to mention, as I get more comfortable (and folks around the office get to know me better), my responsibilities are expanding.

It’s been nearly a year since I stepped into the mid-day hosting spot on WCNY.  I’m finally comfortable enough to really call it my own now.  I’ve made a few changes, including a weekly hour of music “Fresh From the Wrapper,” where I feature works from CDs that we’ve just received in the station.  These are the newest classical music releases, some of which aren’t available for sale just yet, and I get to share them with our listeners.

Putting together a 2-hour Concert Hall every other week has been fun as well.  Morning host Bruce Paulsen and I divvy up the Concert Hall duties, hosting on alternating weeks.  It’s a great chance to present music from various venues and organizations here in Central New York, and wow, do we have some incredible talent cross our threshold!

I’m adding another responsibility at the station as well – a new program, which we hope to make available for syndication, called Feminine Fusion.  It features music created, performed, and inspired by women throughout history and into the present day.  Look for the first episode to air on WCNY in September.  It’s titled, “From Parlor … to Prize Winners” and features music composed by Clara Schumann, Libby Larsen, and more.  I’ll be providing a weekly blog update with program notes for each episode, so be sure to listen in if something piques your interest!

If you’re worried that the composition side of my world is being neglected, have no fear!  I wrote a very short work at the request of the Society for New Music based on the photography of Carrie Mae Weems.  The piece is called “Woman A/Part,” and it was premiered at the benefit gala this Spring.  There will be a repeat performance this summer at the Cazenovia Counterpoint Festival as well, and I can’t wait to hear it live.

I’m also taking a vacation from the radio station next week to put the final touches on my trombone concerto for Haim Avitsur.  My good friend Ovidiu Marinescu will be conducting the work (in Moscow in January – brrr!), and the CD will be coming out mid-2017.  I’m very excited about the piece, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

And, in true “glutton for punishment” style, I’ve picked up two new instruments for the summer.  I’m taking banjo lessons from the talented Nick Piccininni (all while enduring an endless array of banjo jokes from my friend, Bill Knowlton).  I’ve also bought an instrument I’ve wanted for some time now – a contrabass flute!  This particular flute was handmade by Jelle Hogenhuis, and I am having an absolute blast with it!  It arrived just after the CNY Flute Choir season ended, and I’m excited for the fall rehearsals to start up again.  I’ve also started working on a new flute choir piece that (fingers crossed) we can premiere next Spring.  I’ll keep you posted on that as well.

If you’ve read this far, well, thanks!  Now that we’re caught up again, I promise you’ll be getting more regular updates.  And if you have ideas or requests for my regular programming or the new Feminine Fusion show on Classic FM, drop me a note and let me know!

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My Friend Writes Beautiful Music!

Yesterday, my friend Chris Cresswell had the premiere of his Nocturne No. 1 for Orchestra.  This is a work originally written as a piano solo and performed by Rhimmon Simchy-Gross at the Rising Stars concert at last year’s Cazenovia Counterpoint Festival.  The original work was beautiful, and between Chris’ compositional skills and Rhimmon’s talent as a performer, the audience was treated to ever-changing colors and textures.

Chris had the opportunity to re-work this piece for the Syracuse University Symphony Band, and guest conductor James Welsch did his customary masterful job at the podium.  Having heard the piano solo, I was anxious to hear how Chris had orchestrated the work, and I have to say that, from the opening arpeggiated gesture to the echo of the last note, I was captivated.

All of the nuance of the original work remained, but the ensemble brought a depth to the work that the piano alone could never achieve.  The close harmonies shimmered, the handoffs between percussion, winds, and brass created surprising timbral shifts, and the open spaces, particularly in the short piano solo motif, gave the audience a marvelous “oh!” moment.

If I have any complaint, it is that I wanted more.  My seat-mate turned to me while we were applauding and said “We need to have an encore!  They need to play it again!”

Bravo, Chris!

Get Up And Dance!

Often, when I give you a post about a performance, I’ll include a photo for you.  Especially during Cazenovia Counterpoint.  But not today.  I was far too busy up on stage with my fellow musicians!

Samba Laranja is the Brazilian Ensemble at Syracuse University, and during the school year we have anywhere from 35 to nearly 50 participants.  Over the summer, though, our performances are given by a small but mighty crew of long-term members.  Last night it was myself, Brian Ludwig, Rosie Rion, and Josh and Elisa Dekaney, who lead the ensemble.

We had a perfect night for music!  A gentle breeze blew in off of Cazenovia Lake as an enthusiastic crowd gathered on the lawn.  Everyone was settled in, ready to sit back and let the music wash over them.  Then we started in with the Samba Reggae, and sitting quietly was out of the question!  Everyone started smiling, clapping, and getting up to dance.  (Check out the music on the Samba Laranja MySpace page – you’ll have a hard time sitting still!)  And the dancing hardly stopped all night.  We had couples dancing salsa and samba, kids dancing in groups (with one enthusiastic group joining us on stage for a number), and tons of folks clapping and chair dancing. By the final Samba Funk, we had a line of 25 or 30 folks dancing all over the park.

Also included on the program were some indigenous songs, some Brazilian pop music, and my original choro.  I don’t know that I’ve seen so many people up and dancing at one of these concerts before.  If you were there, I thank you for your incredible enthusiasm and support.  And if not, keep an eye on this website for upcoming performances from both Samba Laranja and Josh Dekaney.  You won’t regret it.

 

Edit:  My friend Steve took some great pics!  Here are a few for you to enjoy:

Samba Laranja Performs

 

The crowd dances to Samba Laranja!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diane, Rosie & Brian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Josh & Elisa

Rising Stars, Part Deux

Another afternoon of great music both old and new marked the second Rising Stars concert of the Cazenovia Counterpoint Festival.  And, as was to be expected, it was a fantastic afternoon.  Tenor Daniel Field (fresh from his performance in the Ugly Duckling last Friday) opened the program with music of Bellini, Samuel Barber, and the premiere of Quiet Song by Elizabeth Luttinger.  Pianist Mark Sieling brought us Chopin, Mendelssohn, and premiered Etude by Nikolas Allen Jeleniauskas.  And violinist Alicia Friedrichs closed this year’s Rising Stars series with the music of Mozart, Massenet, and Heather’s Spring by Kevin Namitz, our third premiere of the concert.  And, as always, Sar Shalom Strong was on hand to accompany Daniel and Alicia.

We had a wonderful audience as well.  On hand were listeners both young and old, and from varied backgrounds as well – visual artists, musicians, composers, arts enthusiasts, and first-time attendees – all provided an enthusiastic audience for these talented young performers.

Sar Shalom Strong, Alicia Friedrichs and Kevin Namitz

Pianist Sar Shalom Strong, Violinist Alicia Friedrichs and Composer Kevin Namitz

Writer’s Corner Double-Header a Home Run!

Tuesday night was reserved for a double-header at the Cazenovia Counterpoint Festival.  Poet Jerry Mirskin and author Sonja Livingston joined forces, each reading from their newest books, and kept the audience enthralled.

First up was Sonja, reading from her memoir, Ghostbread.  Each chapter is very short, and reflects a particular memory or moment, and the chapters she chose this evening were from her early childhood.  One of seven children with a single mom, the book speaks to her experiences growing up in poverty.  What struck me the most as I sat and listened was the universality of the emotions and childish observations of herself and her place in the family and society.  With or without direct experience in such desperate living conditions, it is easy to relate to the feelings expressed in her writing.  I found myself nodding in empathy and understanding as she described her presence as an outcast on the Tonawanda Reservation.  It was not the event that I shared, but the emotion that struck such a chord in me.

Sonja Livingston

Sonja Livingston reads from "Ghostbread"

Up next was Jerry Mirskin, reading from his newest collection, In Flagrante Delicto.  He, too, had some childhood memories in his works – a candy necklace, Pez – and some warm and loving words for his wife as well.  Jerry’s work is wonderful, “goofy” at times (his choice of description, I assure you!), but warm and resonating.  It was a wonderful complement to Sonja’s memoir, as his poetry is quite personal, and Jerry took the time to put each work into context before he read it to us, giving us additional insight.  For example, Saw Palmetto takes on a subtly different meaning when you realize the event described is an attempt to cheer up a friend’s injured mother by bringing her something “real” (as in, not from the hospital gift shop) . . . and realizing that you’ve cut a plant that is on the endangered list.  Oops.

Poet Jerry Mirskin

Poet Jerry Mirskin

Both Jerry and Sonja were gracious and personable, staying to chat with audience members and sign their books afterward – books that are well worth owning, by the way!

A Trip to Antarctica, and a Trip Down the Block

I hope you were able to come to the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park on Saturday afternoon.  The presentation by composer and acoustic ecologist Doug Quin was incredible!

Doug has made several trips to Antarctica to make recordings.  He describes his experiences as almost otherworldly – there is no reference in our lives that can prepare us for the environment there.  Reading from some of his journals, he also invited us to close our eyes as we listened to some of the remarkable recordings he had made.

The calls of the Weddell seals seemed as though they were from a science fiction film, and Doug described spending his night in a tent, feeling the vibrations of their calls under his boots through eight feet of ice.  As we listened to the sounds of Emperor penguins, he spoke of their curiosity, and the one who sat next to him for almost an hour just . . . being.  We heard leopard seals, orcas, a wind-harp, and a herbie (hurricane blizzard) recorded from inside a massive empty fuel tank.  We even heard the “echoes” of lightning strikes across the globe via the radio receiver at Palmer Station.  And while I can list all of these things, I can’t possibly communicate to you the breathtaking awe of it all.

We left the Art Park and headed back to the center of Cazenovia for the Art Walk Reception.  Visitors from Michigan, California, New York City, Ithaca, and a 70-mile radius of Cazenovia gathered in St. Peter’s Hall for hors d’oeuvres and talked about the marvelous artwork on display around the area.

There was more than just food and chat, however.  Violinist Mili Fernandez and pianist Sar Shalom Strong provide music to please the ears, and mixed media artist Barbara Kellogg and sculptor Tom Huff showed their individual artistry, creating works during the reception.  What an amazing opportunity to converse with artists as they create!  Two young men were so enamored of Tom’s work that he gave them pieces of soapstone and instruction on the spot, as they began to create their own works.

Of all the events at Cazenovia Counterpoint, I think this is perhaps the ultimate expression of the integral nature of art in our lives.  Musicians, visual artists, and aficionados all gather together . . . simply to enjoy the shared experience.

Sculptor Tom Huff

Sculptor Tom Huff at the Art Walk Reception

The Ugly Duckling invades Cazenovia!

Friday night saw the world premiere of Charles Lupia’s musical adaptation of the Ugly Duckling.  With cast members ranging from elementary school actors, college students, and adult professional actors, the hall at St. James Church was filled with light and life!  Tenor Daniel Fields anchored the cast as D.L. (“Duck Lame,” aka the Ugly Duckling), his wonderful voice matched by his acting ability.  With no microphones, and a bit of an acoustic sound-trap at the stage, the strong voices of the entire cast were evident.

Gerard Moses from Studio 24 was the stage director, and clearly loved every minute of the play.  He allowed the “wild ducks” (complete with leather jackets, sunglasses and cock-eyed bills) to really play up the humor in their parts.  Yet he still showed the tender side of the story, as Samantha Swan struggled to show that her inner beauty was as great as her outer beauty.  And after the curtain calls he was on hand to cheer his young cast, giving hugs and encouragement to each and every one.

All in all, I think this is a musical with some real potential.  As with any premiere, this was an opportunity to see what worked, and what didn’t.  While the play could stand as it is, personally I thought there were one or two scenes that were out of place, and could stand to be either re-written or eliminated.  Young singing voices are also a challenge, as most of these youngsters don’t have the consistent strength for a musically broad-ranging part.  Occasionally we missed some of the lyrics, as the kids just couldn’t project where the parts were written.

But Lupia also showed real skill in his libretto and his musicality with the part of DL, the wild ducks, the entrance of the swans, and, in fact, most of the play.  I would hope that children’s theater companies discover this work and find room for it on their schedule.  And if you have the chance, I highly recommend taking the family to see it.

The Cast Takes a Bow!