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

REVIEW: A Far Cry with Roomful of Teeth

A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth receive a well-deserved standing ovation.

I must confess that I’ve been putting off writing this review, and it’s not just because finals are right around the corner. On Wednesday night, UMS was fortunate to host two of the country’s finest chamber ensembles: self-conducted, 18-piece string orchestra A Far Cry, and Grammy-winning vocal octet Roomful of Teeth. The performance was so stunning that I’ve had a hard time putting it into words until now. Here goes.

At the opening of the concert, I was struck by how A Far Cry played the arrangement of Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives, Op. 22  as if they were engaging in a group discourse. The performers (minus the cellists) all stood together, moving freely with the music and communicating fully with their bodies. They played so convincingly that the audience was moved to laughter after some of the more light-hearted movements. Although there were only string players onstage, A Far Cry exploited the timbral possibilities of their instruments so expertly that there were instances where I could have sworn that I heard a piccolo or a trumpet.

Roomful of Teeth came out next, having adopted composer and tenor Ted Hearne for the evening in order to perform excerpts from his song cycle, Coloring Book, which set texts by Black American writers. The piece embodied the diversity it celebrated in the myriad of stylistic approaches it used, and Roomful of Teeth demonstrated their skill in numerous singing styles as they effortlessly switched between warm, hymn-like lyricism and grittier, groovier textures. The performance of the piece brought me to a profound place of empathy, and I was reminded of the reason why I enjoy going to concerts in the first place.

The second half was again opened by A Far Cry, this time playing experts from Ted Hearne’s Law of Mosaics––a piece that I had heard for the first time just a few days prior to the concert and had been itching to hear live. Even though I had heard the piece before, I still wasn’t prepared for the singularly powerful event that took place. The piece is a true sonic mosaic if there ever was one: as soon as appreciators of nearly any genre of music, be it classical, contemporary, or club music are able to catch a glimmer of their favorite music, the piece has already moved on to the next thing. It was certainly one of the more exciting pieces of the evening.

Roomful of Teeth joined A Far Cry for the final two pieces of the concert: an arrangement of Josquin des Prez’ Nymphes des bois/Las deploration sur la mort de Johannes Ockeghem, and Caroline Shaw’s Music in Common Time. Shaw’s arrangement of the des Prez, a 500-year-old work, had such dense, powerful polyphony that it seemed as if Rackham auditorium had suddenly transformed into a cathedral. Shaw’s piece, just three years old, was powerful in a very different sense. A profound sense of togetherness pulsated throughout the hall: the music was simultaneously complex yet approachable, simple yet mesmerizing, virtuosic, yet easy to connect to. You didn’t know what beautiful sound was going to come next, but you were more than willing to discover the unexpected as Shaw’s music gently guided the audience to the next moment.

This concert was definitely one of my favorite UMS performances this season. It was incredible to witness such a high level of musicking by performers who clearly loved what they were doing. There were many bodies onstage, yet they breathed and created music together as one organism. I spoke with a handful of the performers after the show, and was delighted to find that they are every bit as kind and intentional as their music-making suggests. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next opportunity where I can listen to either group again.

PREVIEW: A Far Cry with Roomful of Teeth

This Wednesday, two of America’s leading, landscape-changing contemporary music ensembles will join forces to take Rackham Auditorium by storm.

Founded in 2007, 17-member, Boston-based string ensemble A Far Cry operates under a unique model of rotating leadership among the ensemble members: despite the group’s size, they perform without a conductor. The GRAMMY-nominated ensemble has revived seldom-performed gems of the classical repertoire, in addition to premiering and recording several works by living composers.

“Dedicated to mining the expressive potential of the human voice, vocal octet Roomful of Teeth performs a wide array of traditional and contemporary works, even employing vocal techniques such as yodeling and throat singing. The GRAMMY-awarded ensemble also features Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw.

A Far Cry will be performing works by Prokofiev and LA-based comoser Ted Hearne, while Roomful of Teeth will perform a piece by des Prez. The groups will join together at the end to perform Caroline Shaw’s “Music in Common Time.”

The performance will be Wednesday, April 12th in Rackam Auditorium at 7:30pm. Buy your tickets here!

REVIEW: Michael Fabiano and Martin Katz

Tenor Michael Fabiano takes a bow with pianist Martin Katz.

Award-winning tenor and UM alum Michael Fabiano was joined by Collaborative Piano Professor Martin Katz in Hill Auditorium on Saturday to present a concert of art songs composed in the 19th and 20th centuries. As both artists have received numerous accolades for their work separately, it was a true delight to witness them come together for this intimate evening.

The program was separated into four groups of related works. The first group was four Victor Hugo poems that were set by Franz Liszt. The second was a collection of six pieces from the small yet significant collection of seventeen art songs by Henri Duparc. The second half opened with a selection of Italian songs from Giacomo Puccini and Arturo Toscanini, with Samuel Barber’s Three Songs of James Joyce, Op. 10 ending the program. The songs encompassed themes of love, death, and everything in between.

Fabiano established his prowess as both singer and actor by engaging with the audience through the difficult repertoire he sang. He was clearly comfortable onstage, no doubt owing to his operatic experience, and moved freely about the stage, adding unspoken meaning to the songs. He was able to capture the myriad of emotions that transpired over the course of the program by making use of different vocal colors and embodying the drama of the music.

The musicianship of Martin Katz was so clearly present during the concert that at times one might have forgotten that he was playing. He demonstrated his mastery over every unique style of the program’s composers, painting a breathtaking backdrop for Fabiano to explore and revel in.

Although the translations of the French and Italian songs were readily available in the program book, I decided not to follow along. I found the experience of imagining the story based on the emotions portrayed by the composer and the performers to be far more engaging and enjoyable.

At the conclusion of the written program, Fabiano proceeded to perform five encores for the highly receptive audience. Each one was more demanding than the last, and the concluding performance of the famous “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot was absolutely stunning.  The evening was a beautiful reminder of the incredible talent Ann Arbor has been blessed with through the University of Michigan.