PREVIEW: Porgy and Bess

“Porgy and Bess” in rehearsal.

Tonight in Hill Auditorium, the incredible culmination of years of research, hours of rehearsal, and the collaborative efforts of dozens of performers and world-class directors will be enjoyed by a completely SOLD OUT crowd. This is the premiere performance of the first-ever Critical Edition of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, brought into the world by the University of Michigan’s own Gershwin Initiative. The Gershwin Initiative has poured over older editions of the opera to bring us what they believe to be a version that most closely resembles the composer’s original intent. This non-staged performance will feature students from the School of Music performing in the orchestra, choir, and as soloists.

If you’re lucky enough to have tickets, be sure to prepare yourself for a long evening: since this is a presentation of the original opera, it will be performed in its entirely. Come well-rested and well-fed so that you can fully enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

 

Check out these articles for more information about the performance’s momentous implications for history and musicology.

REVIEW: Russian Renaissance

Russian Renaissance tuning their instruments while announcing the next piece from the stage. From left to right: Ivan Kuznetsov, Balalaika, Anastasia Zakharova, Domra and Domra Alto, Alexander Tarasov, Button Accordion, and Ivan Vinogradov, Contrabass Balalaika.

On Saturday night, thanks to UMS and M-Prize, the city of Ann Arbor had the privilege of drinking in one of the finest displays of musicianship in the world, ushered in by the quartet Russian Renaissance.

Founded in 2015, “Russian Renaissance performs high-caliber traditional folk music through a modern lens.” As the $100,00 grand-prize winners of the 2017 M-Prize chamber arts competition, they received a spot on the star-studded UMS 2017-18 season and played a diverse and engaging program to an appreciative audience in Rackham Auditorium.

Given the group’s extremely unique instrumentation that is quite unfamiliar to American audiences, many entered the concert hall with no idea what to expect. Others who were in Ann Arbor last summer and witnessed the group’s winning performance couldn’t wait to hear them again. Yet for those familiar and unfamiliar with their work, Russian Renaissance delivered the unexpected.

The program began with a fresh and inviting arrangement of a Bach Fantasia and Fugue. They followed this with the Concerto Grosso No. 1 of avant-garde composer Alfred Schnittke, one of the 20th century’s great mashup artists. They performed music that is often perceived as dissonant and upsetting with true conviction and spunk, and I have yet to hear a livelier rendition of his music.  They also played delicate and heartfelt music from international films, Duke Ellington, Tchaikovsky, and Russian folk tunes. Their dazzling arrangements contained some surprise appearances, including The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Grieg. I was amazed by their dynamic range as a group: their Bach was so delicate you almost wanted to hold your breath for fear of missing a beautiful moment, but their tangos were bombastic and rapturous. Just when you thought that they had exploited every possible color from their instrumentation, they pulled out another.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what exactly made the performance so engaging and unforgettable for me. Was it the diverse program that spanned centuries of composers from around the world? Was it the fact that they played two hours of music completely from memory? Was it their colorful arrangements? Was it their perfect display of technique, virtuosity, and ensemble playing?

I think my indecisiveness is a testament to the pure musicianship that radiated from these four performers. They were clearly masters, but they were also interested in connecting with one another and the audience. I often felt like a fly on the wall of a delightful dinner conversation among four long-time friends. I felt free to enjoy the music along with them: giggling at their inside jokes, tapping my toes, holding my breath. They had complete control over the sound they made, and it was easy to get swept up in the world of each piece.

This performance made me feel incredibly optimistic for the future of chamber music, lead in part by the innovative minds behind M-Prize. As one of the most intimate and vulnerable performance mediums, chamber music is also charged with the power to bring about palpable and rapid change in the realm of Western classical music. Russian Renaissance is certainly doing their part in contributing to the “rebirth” of instrumental music today.

If you missed the performance, do yourself a favor and watch them here. Or, get excited about their first album, which is coming soon!

The final bow welcomed a much-deserved ovation, after an encore performance featuring pianist, translator, and SMTD-alum Sonya Belaya.

PREVIEW: Russian Renaissance

Tomorrow night at 8pm, Ann Arbor welcomes back the grand prize winners of the University of Michigan’s 2017 M-Prize competition to Rackham Auditorium. Founded in 2015, the virtuosic quartet Russian Renaissance seeks to bring Russian folk music to a wider audience while reimagining popular tunes for a unique and colorful instrumentation.

Check out this video of their final round at M-Prize last summer:

Student tickets are available here for $12 or $20. Come hear music as you’ve never heard it before!

REVIEW: “A-maize-ing” SMTD

The University of Michigan is hosting an overwhelming number of events this weekend in celebration of the bicentennial, and it’s been wonderful to see how all of the different schools within the University have found a way to celebrate what they do. Some schools have hosted high-stakes competitions, others have started important dialogues with the community, and still others have found unique ways to share the talents and accomplishments of their students with an audience. This seemed to be the purpose of Friday night’s “A-maize-ing SMTD” program in Hill Auditorium, and I am confident that School of Music, Theater, and Dance accomplished its goal of celebrating the talent of the student body with an appreciative audience.

The 90-minute program was similar in design to Michigan’s well-known, annual Collage concert: a wide variety of high-quality, 4-minute acts from all departments within SMTD followed one another in rapid succession. There was no intermission, but the house lights were left on so that audience members could feel free to enter and exit the space at their leisure.

I was glad to have stayed for the entire concert. I thoroughly enjoyed the pacing and wide variety of the evening. The program darted between exceptional performances of classical chamber music, to theatrical performances, to jazz-inspired grooves, representing the talents of several Michigan composers, actors, dancers, singers, and instrumentalists.

While every performance was engaging and showcased the utmost artistry and professionalism, the acts that stood out to me most were the ones with music composed by a living, Michigan-based composer. Nathan Thatcher’s Ebb & Flow for flute, viola, and harp sparkled magnificently alongside the graceful, yet large, light-strewn, ribbony river puppets created by a Michigan puppetry class. I felt very lucky to relive an excerpt of composer Douglas Hertz and choreographer Al Evangelista’s Saeculum (which premiered earlier this year), a massive feat of collaboration between composer, chamber choir, string quartet, and dancers, as the piece is difficult to perform. Professor Stephen Rush’s miniature funk opera cast the founding of this institution in a very different light (although I do wish that the sound had been mixed better, so that I could have appreciated all of the sharp remarks). The Vanguard Reed Quintet and Sapphirus Saxophone Quartet exuded immaculate tone and blend in their performances of works by Michigan alums and faculty. Tristan Cappel’s quartet performed his own relentless, rhythmically and harmonically tight jazz composition for two saxophones, bass, and drums.

As a student of the SMTD, it always brings me joy whenever I get to watch my talented friends and colleagues perform. “A-maize-ing SMTD” was wonderful because it was a rare opportunity to see multiple performing arts departments onstage together. Watching this performance certainly made me proud to be a Wolverine.

 

REVIEW: Emerson and Calidore String Quartets

Emerson and Calidore String Quartets

There’s something nearly unbelievable about witnessing collaboration of the highest caliber. Thursday night, Rackham Auditorium hummed with the reverberations of violins, violas, and celli played by the members of the legendary Emerson String Quartet and the rapidly-rising Calidore String Quartet.

The program consisted of works for 5-8 string players, which guaranteed that every piece involved members of both quartets working together. Even though Emerson has been playing together for a few decades longer than Calidore, there was no sense that musicians in one quartet were stronger than the others: they played together beautifully.

While I questioned their decision to open the concert with slower and  lyrical pieces, I ended up feeling more engaged than I was expecting. Every aspect of their collective sound was so exquisite, every long phrase so artfully constructed that it was difficult to resist being swept up in the ebb and flow. Their blend was so pristine that if I closed my eyes, it became difficult to tell if a melody was getting passed around or stayed on the same instrument.

The first half ended with my favorite part of the concert, the Scherzo from Shostakovich’s String Octet. While Shostakovich’s teacher may have frowned on his student’s harsh writing style, the piece was an absolute head-banger. It was impossible to resist grooving along with Calidore and Emerson.

Mendelssohn’s famous String Octet filled the second half, and watching the eight musicians nod, breathe, and bob together through this monumental work made one feel like the fly-on-a-wall of a lively dinner conversation.

It was incredibly special to share the room with professionals who were professional enough to share the stage. Both groups were more than capable of giving their own concert, as they have already done numerous times, but the fact that they chose to come together, try out new interpretations, and combine their unique approaches is what I believe made the evening so beautiful. I’m thankful that these truly great musicians have recognized that some of the best things happen when you link arms.

PREVIEW: Emerson and Calidore String Quartets

Emerson String Quartet

This Thursday, two string quartets of different backgrounds will come together to present a marvelous program of string ensemble music in Rackham Auditorium.

The multiple-Grammy award-winning Emerson String Quartet is known worldwide as one of  the premiere ensembles of its kind. Since their professional start in 1976, Emerson has developed an international reputation and recorded over thirty albums.

Even without such an impressive resume (yet), the young Calidore String Quartet is on the right track for an equally substantial career. Since winning MPrize in its inaugural year, the quartet has already received prestigious fellowships and was featured in a UMS concert of their own.

These established and emerging musicians will present a marvelous program of string ensemble works, including Mendelssohn’s octet, a famous and monumental work which he wrote as a birthday gift for his teacher when he was 16.

The concert will take place this Thursday, October 5th, at 7:30pm in Rackham Auditorium. Don’t miss out on this rare opportunity to hear from two world-class string quartets in one concert! Buy tickets here or at the League Ticket office!

Calidore String Quartet