REVIEW: Ann Arbor Symphony – Beethoven 9

Saturday’s performance by the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra was celebration of the number nine: The program included Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 70, as well as Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125. Appropriately, this concert was the conclusion of a season that marked the Ann Arbor Symphony’s 9th decade (90th anniversary!).

However, although both pieces were their respective composer’s 9th symphony, the difference between them is clear. Shostakovich 9, composed just after the end of World War II in 1945, is a whimsical piece, but with, in my opinion, very little melodic material. The composer himself noted that “It is a merry little piece – musicians will love to play it and critics will love to bash it.” I certainly did not leave Hill Auditorium humming motives from Shostakovich’s 9th symphony, but the piece gave me the feeling that it was depicting something electric and fleeting, like fireflies in the dark of night. I also did enjoy the plaintive clarinet solo in the opening of the 2nd movement, “Moderato.”  However, it seemed to me as if the piece lacked the energy that I, as a listener, wanted it to have, and I am not entirely sure whether it was the actual score of the music, or the performance of it, that caused me to feel this way.

In contrast, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 contains what is probably one of the most recognizable melodies in all of music. Even if you don’t know it as coming from Beethoven 9, you most likely know “Ode to Joy.” Related to this, although I knew that “Ode to Joy” was from this work, and although I have heard recordings of the symphony, it was interesting to hear the famous melody in its original context. It is almost as if “Ode to Joy” has, in popular culture, lifted itself out of the confines of Symphony No. 9 to become its own entity.

After the mildly disappointing Shostakovich, Beethoven’s famous work drew me and held my attention. It was awe-inspiring to fully process that Beethoven wrote his 9th symphony after he had gone entirely deaf. At the work’s May 1824 premiere in Vienna, he was unable to hear a single note. And yet, listening to the work, I realize that it is abundantly clear that the music was still very much alive in his mind’s ear. The beauty of the music cannot be captured in words on paper – it must be heard. In fact, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor has become one of the most widely performed works in classical music, and it established itself as an impossibly high standard by which other composers’ 9th symphonies would be evaluated.

PREVIEW: The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Anthropocene

The new exhibition The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene at the University of Michigan Museum of Art is an ecological-issue-focused exploration of “subjects and themes related to raw materials, disasters, consumption, loss, and justice.” Over 45 international artists, using a variety of mediums, are featured. In the new reality where humans shape the environment, what will be art’s role?

I am particularly interested in this exhibition because it is a blend of two of my strongest interests, art and environmentalism.

The World to Come is on display from April 27 through July 28, 2019.

REVIEW: FAME

Although Pioneer’s Fame was a high school production, neither the subject matter nor the incredible performances that I was witness to were elementary. The maturity of these students to tackle such complex issues such as addiction, body image, racial bias, and more was impressive. They handled each of these scenarios with care and honesty- you could tell that they had done the research and done the work to portray these with as much delicacy and respect as they possibly could. In addition to the challenges that embodying these roles with these issues presented, they were also singing, dancing, acting, and performing complicated lifts. The sheer array of art forms that I saw during this performance was almost enough to make me feel like I was at a variety show. Isa Grofsorean as Iris Kelly brought such grace and poised strength every time that she began a ballet sequence. I was simply entranced by the choreography and its execution, especially on the small stage with which she had to perform it. Kenyatta Campbell was easy to love as a character. He brought a fire and drive to Tyrone Jackson and not only that, he had a contagious energy when dancing, singing, rapping, and just in his interactions with other characters. We, as a collective audience, rooted for him through and through. Bridget Roberts as Serene Katz was remarkable. Her voice is the kind of perfect that you stop everything to listen to and could listen to on end without ever ceasing. The way in which she switches with great dexterity from her belt to her head voice, while all the while making it seem effortless, is incredible. Bravo to her. Mia Galbraith as Carmen Diaz, is a true triple threat. Not only does she absolutely annihilate (in the best way) potentially the most complex, impressive, and most fun numbers in the first act and potentially whole show but she also comes out in the second act to wow the audience again with her dance skill in a flamenco-style piece while simultaneously juggling perhaps the most complex and tragic storyline. I applaud her immensely, for closing out her senior year with this truly beautiful performance. Francisco Fiori as Joe Vegas was wildly hilarious. His number, “can’t keep it down”, whilst a bit inappropriate, almost had me in tears. It speaks to his versatility as a performer, as this role departs majorly from previous parts he has had as the grandpa in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the dad in In the Heights. Seeing him play a youthful and comical class clown, who also has some pretty great dancing chops, was a refreshing change of pace and truly made me appreciate this actor for all he has to offer. Ella Manning as Mabel Washington brought the house down with her vocals, as she sang about changing her major. Her story was as engaging to watch as it was to listen to her fill the auditorium with her powerful, beautiful voice. The entire ensemble and rest of the cast, who I couldn’t possibly have time to name one by one, but who all deserve recognition were phenomenal. I don’t think I have ever seen a show that more perfectly showcased the talents of each of its students while also maintaining the integrity of what truly was an ensemble show. I truly felt that this show could have been performed at a performing arts high school, that’s how impressive it all was. This show had me wanting to give a standing ovation by the end of the first number, and if that doesn’t sum up the experience, then I don’t know what does. Overall, this show rocked me in every was that a person can be. Between wanting to laugh and cry and throw roses at the actors feet, I can’t give enough props to the incredible cast and crew who made this show look and sound great from start to finish.

PREVIEW: FAME

RUN to see Pioneer High School’s production of FAME!

Based off the classic movie and set in the iconic New York High School of the Performing Arts, Fame showcases the many talents of its performers. The lives of the students that the show follows couldn’t be more different. Some are trying to break out of the shadow of their family’s legacy, some are a little too obsessed with finding fame, and some are trying to hack it at a prestigious school that couldn’t be any more different than the neighborhood they grew up in. But they all have something in common: they are willing to put in the hard work to make it as a professional artist. Within the walls of these schools, we see these students grow up over four years: find love, experience struggles, and bust out some serious acting, singing, and dancing chops.

You don’t want to miss this production in its last weekend of shows: May 3rd and 4th at 7:30 pm and May 5th at 2 pm. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students/seniors, available at a2tix.com or at the door. Go fall in love with these characters, be awed by their talent, and feel all the feels before it’s too late!

PREVIEW: Parsonsfield

Celebrate the survival of finals, the end of another semester, and the coming of summer by listening to some nice indie folk music at The Ark! Parsonsfield, who performed at Folk Fest back in January, will be performing on May 2 at 8pm with opener Jamie Drake. Tickets are only $20 for the chance to listen to this multi-genre band explore the intersections between bluegrass, rock ‘n roll, and folk!

REVIEW: Martha Graham Performance

The Martha Graham Dance Company’s performance last Friday night was fantastic. The four pieces which the troupe performed were a fascinating combination of new and old, literal and abstract, light and dark. The first piece was easily my least favorite. It was described as a rare comical piece choreographed by Martha Graham but I just personally didn’t enjoy the narrative which felt a little literal to me, and I will never understand artists’ obsession with Greek mythology and philosophers. However, the second piece was creepy and gripping. I loved the witchy, demonic feel of it all. I could have easily been convinced that I was witnessing a secret, pagan ceremony where the devil was being summoned. The second dance was also supposed to be based on Greek mythology and the story of Persephone, but it was not an obvious or literal translation. Deo was the recently premiered piece which was co-sponsored by UMS and I was quite impressed with it. After the intermission we came back to a similarly interesting and sometimes dark piece. The third dance was creepy in different ways though. The first movement featured three women in bland, grey uniforms which reminded me of communist East Europe dancing in and out of a strip of light. It was such a gripping effect, really displaying the power of lighting. When the women were not in this strip of light they ceased to exist on the pitch black stage. The third movement of this dance was not my cup of tea. It featured the full dance crew in prom dresses or little black dresses and the men in shirts and trousers which instantly set a strange tone to me. My boyfriend best described the dancing itself as being reminiscent of mannequins. However, the fourth piece was another Martha Graham original and it sold the show. The first movement featured a sole dancer in a black and red cape-skirt-thing, reminding me of a witch meets a flamenco dancer. She then danced with various parts of the female part of the dance crew, eventually wearing a black and white dress which had me instantly thinking of stormtroopers from Star Wars. The story behind this piece was interesting. Graham choreographed it after denying the chance to dance for the Third Reich leading up to WWII. It played well with the general theme of the show which was focused on women. Her piece in particular dealt with the consequences of war and the way women play into that narrative. I expected to be able to draw comparisons between this performance at that of Ballet Preljocaj, the modern ballet company. However, I found the two so different in tone that they can’t really be compared. If forced, I think I would end up saying I preferred the ballet, but it didn’t take quite as long for me to get into the Martha Graham performance as it took for me to be convinced that I liked ballet preljocaj.