If you look closely, you can see the author at the top of the I. Coincidentally, his name is also Phil *gasp*
If you look closely, you can see the author at the top of the I. Coincidentally, his name is also Phil *gasp*

The NY Philharmonic Orchestra came to Ann Arbor last weekend (Oct 9-11) for a series of performances. They hosted master classes, played THREE SEPARATE SHOWS at Hill Auditorium, and members of the brass section played alongside the Michigan Marching Band in the UM-Northwestern halftime show on Saturday. The author went to three of these events, but is only getting paid to write about one (…). Nonetheless, all three performances will be elaborated upon in a holistic review of the weekend. Ya get three for the price of one. Journalism, mon amis.

The festivities really started Friday afternoon. There was a sound check for that Saturday’s performance in the Big House, which required all participating members to be present. Joining the MMB and the brass section of the NY Phil was the UMS Choral Union and Alumni Band (former MMB members). Upon entering the stadium, the author noticed the aura of Alan Gilbert, the musical director of the NY Phil, emanating from the ladder on top of which he stood. He was wearing a Bo Schemblechler cap (with a thin M) – Go Blue.

Alan Gilbert with the Bo hat
Alan Gilbert with the Bo hat.

The rehearsal was open to the public, and the crowd was quite impressive for the event, with about 2,000 ballpark estimated attendees. The combined rehearsal started with a run through of the closer for the halftime show, a medley of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from the Finale of his 9th Symphony. On first run, dynamics were simply stunning, and the timbre and tone were good enough to elicit the grandiose feel associated with the music. After Gilbert released the last fermata, the crowd erupted into a standing ovation. And when the author says erupted, he means that not one person was sitting milliseconds after the piece ended. The author and his counterparts have never received such admiration, and subsequently exploded in elation at what had just occurred.

Friday evening was the first performance by the NY Phil at Hill Auditorium. On the docket was Magnus Lindberg’s Vivo, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 7. The author sprinted from rehearsal in Michigan Stadium to Hill Auditorium with enough time to grab a 780 calorie burrito from 7-11 for dinner (college, amirite?). 30 stories higher with a sudden nosebleed, the author watched over the 3,500 person crowd, a good mix of the geriatric, young, and stable middle-aged in awe. There is nothing quite like sitting in a venue such as Hill when it is packed with dressed-up people who are as giddy for a performance as you are. It is simply a cherished moment in life. If you have never experience such a moment, the author suggests you get a date and do it. Then comment on how great it was. Asides aside, the NY Phil did exactly as any orchestra of their caliber would do. They played exceptionally, with only slight caveats being pointed out by Gilbert’s conducting style and otherwise unnoticeable. The author was particularly excited to hear Beethoven’s 7th symphony, and he got what was expected. One qualm about this specific interpretation was that it felt quiet and slow. This might be a conflict with the author’s personal style and expectations of the piece after hearing several (many, many) renditions of the 7th on YouTube and contrasting that with Gilbert’s interpretation. The author is not sore. The second piece, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was slated to be a close second favorite for the night until he remembered how he did not enjoy the works of Beethoven’s early period, the piano period. What can ya do. The piece was played very beautifully and brilliantly executed by the soloist, Inon Bartanan.

Music from the halftime show. Swan Lake/ Ode to Joy
Music from the halftime show. Swan Lake / Ode to Joy.

The halftime show on Saturday revealed a different side of music to people who may not necessarily understand what high proficiency and status in the music world looks like. MMB director John Pasquale said that quite literally nothing like this has ever happened on a football field before. And he is right. The performance not only pushed the boundaries of what is possible by college marching bands but also put on display some of the best performers to ever play their instrument. The numerous responses of admiration only accentuate how this event was perceived by the public. From a first-hand perspective, being on the field and conducted by a maestro such as Gilbert, in front of 110,500 people, the author can tell you that the experience was nothing short of spectacular. In addition to the two aforementioned pieces, the combined forces played exerpts from Ravel’s Bolero, Bizet’s Carmen, Verdi’s Requiem, Wagner’s Ritt der Walkuren (Ride of the Valkyries), and Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. Click here to see the entire show.

Saturday night was another class-act performance by the NY Phil. On the bill was Esa Pekka Salonen’s L.A. Variations and Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. L.A. Variations served to be a nice piece, albeit one that will have to be listened to again to fully appreciate. Ein Heldenleben, meaning a hero’s life for those of you who didn’t take German 201, was a piece that the author had not heard before, but was a surprising treat. Strauss’ tone poem goes through six facets of the hero’s life, with no pauses in between. Ein Heldenleben is said to be semi-autobiographical in that Strauss quotes many of his previous works in the piece. If one listens intently during the fifth movement some passages from Don Juan and Also Sprach Zarathustra can be identified.

It goes without saying, the quality of performers in the NY Philharmonic Orchestra is the top tier of the music world. Alan Gilbert is a man’s man’s conductor, and is a treat to learn from – his evocative movements contort the sound of the orchestra to suit his liking quite effectively. As a semi-amateur conductor, the author can elucidate that conducting is not easy; there is much psychology that goes into the role. All in all having the NY Phil on campus this past week was a huge treat. It brought huge exposure to music and to the State of Michigan, two things that are very near and dear to the author. Go Blue.



REVIEW: An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea (or, a relapse into self-loathing)

Two legends separated by smoke and photoshop
Two legends separated by smoke and photoshop


Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock came into town the other night, for a stop of their seemingly endless world tour. From what I gathered from my comfy mezzanine seat, Hill Auditorium was packed to the brim. As I looked around me, I could sense that the people in the audience were one of two things. The first being an eager college student/mid 20s stereotype who was super “into jazz,” not just doing it for the ladies, and went wide-eyed at the entrance of the alliteratively named pianists, having just brushed up on their discographies on wikipedia. The second being the older stereotypical jazz types, the ones who followed Hancock from his times in the Miles Davis Quintet and Corea from his times in the Miles Davis Quintet. Come to think of it, these people might just be into Miles Davis with no regard for the pianists. Anyways, these enthusiasts have a vinyl collection that fits a full wall of their suburban mancave. The third stereotypical group were the old old-timers of jazz. Slightly (by a few years) older than HH and CC, these fellows went on a different course through life. While HH and CC are on track to grab more Grammy’s this year, these folks are on track for senility. And, of course, you have the persons that are only there to please their significant others and those like me who had a computer programming assignment due at midnight worth 10% of their grade but “would probably kill [them]sel[ves] if [they] didn’t go.” Now, I realize I said that the audience members were one of two things, but you really can’t be so stereotypically binary when dealing with the categorization of persons, especially in this hedonic day and age, so I expanded it to four. Please send all complaints to


A good picture of the two
A good picture of the two


Being a jazz enthusiast myself, I was curious to know what HH and CC would be playing, and how they would be doing it. I thought, “well, they could either be sitting on the same piano stool playing four-handed jazz pieces, or they could take turns at the stool and kinda rotate after each piece. Or they may have brought a band with them and the night will just be a big jam session like they do at Cliff Bells sometimes. Or it could be that they have dueling pianos set up; that would be cool. Yeah.” Well it turns out that my shotgun approach of guessing was right, and the two had a comfy dueling piano setup. Two nice Steinways. At least I hope they were Steinways. Man, I hope they were Steinways. HH and CC entered the stage to ravenous applause and a standing ovation. I thought, “wow, wikipedia must have some good praise for these two to have a standing ovation without even playing anything.” Then I began to ponder the nature of the standing ovation, if it really was a ‘mob mentality’ thing or every single person in the audience genuinely thought highly enough of the duo to pay their respects. Chick took over the mic and said a few words of gratitude before sitting down at the Steinway. I was no less than a quarter through Herbie’s biography on wikipedia when a kind man behind me whispered “shut your fucking phone off, sir.” I reluctantly obliged him, knowing that I would have to wait to see if my earlier prediction was true.


What I remember the stage looking like. Not sure if this was taken at Hill. Chick was definitely dressed that way. The pianos aren't Steinways though, so I could be wrong..
What I remember the stage looking like. Not sure if this was taken at Hill. Chick was definitely dressed that way. The pianos aren’t Steinways though, so I could be wrong..


Chick started off the festivities with a number called, “who the hell cares, it’s avant-garde.” In true sense of the title, CC started fooling around the Steinway, half-way caressing it up and down, half-way neurotically spazzing his bony fingers over the pristine ivory. He switched up to include the Db pentatonic scale in order to give some love to the ebony, which were slightly less pristine due to the fact that players don’t take as much care with them given they don’t take up as much space or have as much clout as the ivory. Across the pianos, Herbie came fully loaded with perfect harmonies and backup to Chick’s melodies. It was interesting to see and hear, as Chick’s playing in this first piece was wholly soloistic avant-garde-ism. He left nothing but scraps for Herbie to create a chord progression with, yet Hancock did as best he could. The result was an eclectic mezcla of superior tastes. I was only focused on my programming project, having invested 20 hours in three days on it, and fatigue was setting in quickly. I was literally DOZING off at a concert with HERBIE FRIECKIN HANCOCK AND ARMANDO ANTHONY CHICK FRUCKIN COREA. One vitamin C pill and 5-hour energy later, I was alert and noticing everything around me (actually that didn’t happen, I was still dozing off. Man, I was tired). I struggled to see Chick beat the living shit out of the timid Steinway for the next 20 minutes while Hancock faced his own battles in keeping up with the lunacy that was occurring in Hill Auditorium.


Chick Corea, or Spanish Inquisitor? You tell me.
Chick Corea, or Spanish Inquisitor? You tell me.


Their next piece was more to my vision of what Herbie’s sound is. It was full electronic, as both pianists had a keyboard/synthboard setup to their immediate right. For much of the night I was expecting that the pair would play a few standards, for the casual jazz fans in the audience. After the resounding ‘fuck you’ of the first tremoloed note that Herbie played, I could tell that “Chameleon” and “Watermelon Man” were totally not in the night’s playlist. I started thinking how conventionally unconventional the duo’s choice of music was. On the one hand, the two are certifiable geniuses globally famous for a few songs produced in the 60s and 70s. On the other hand, the two are certifiable geniuses with complete disregard for playing their own standard tunes. They had their battle for awhile until I woke up to see Chick introduce his wife, who was about to sing a number. Mrs. Corea sang extremely well for her age and received a few standing ovators.


"Why are we looking at a blank page, Chick?"
“Why are we looking at a blank page, Chick?”


I woke up again to another standing ovation, and I soon realized that it was the end. I checked my phone, immediately going to wikipedia to check the hype. It turns out that wikipedia does actually dish out a fair amount of praise. My prediction was right! I got up at once and shouted “bravo!” and “encore!” This wouldn’t have been awkward if the duo hadn’t already received their applause, left the stage, and came back to their Steinway stools by the time I got to cheering. From the first two notes that Chick played, my countless hours watching Jazz concerts on youtube told me that something epic was about to happen. A love note to the fair-weather listeners, Chick was piloting the auditorium to his favorite encore chart, “Spain.” As he is wont to do during his various renditions of “Spain,” Chick started out fiddling around softly, vaguely hinting at the melody for anyone who hadn’t caught on yet. Herbie soon stole the lead part, executing it as flawlessly as Chick does, while Chick took up the avant-garde “bass line.” And this is how it progressed for awhile, the two trading off melodic lines, each more complex than the last, until the build up of tension was too much. The chorus came bursting out of the stage like a cathartic squeezed pimple. If you have never heard this piece, I suggest you check out my favorite rendition here. I couldn’t help but ogle at the polytonal, polyrhythmic aural complexity emanating from the stage. It was pure bliss. The perfect conclusion to an interesting show, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea always find a way for everyone in the audience to enjoy the experience.

PREVIEW: Handel’s Messiah

Handel's Messiah Poster   (courtesy of UMS)
Handel’s Messiah Poster (courtesy of UMS)

What: Handel’s Messiah
Who: Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and the UMS Choral Union
Where: Hill Auditorium
When: Saturday, Dec. 16th at 8pm
and Sunday, Dec. 17th at 2pm

It has been said that ‘the holiday season in Ann Arbor is never officially underway until Handel’s Messiah is performed at Hill Auditorium.’ While the local radio stations may disagree, the truth is that Handel’s Messiah is consistently one of the best performances you will see at Hill. It has become a familial tradition for many people to attend every year, and for good reason. Handel’s Messiah is a grandiose piece in both in terms of quality and the talent required to put on a performance of it. The talent that will be performing this weekend consists of the UMS Choral Union in conjunction with the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.

PREVIEW: The Theory of Everything

Eddie Redmayne stars as Stephen Hawking.
Eddie Redmayne stars as Stephen Hawking.

What: The Theory of Everything
Where: Michigan Theater
When: Various times until 12/11 (click here for showtimes)
Price: $8 for students with a valid MCard, $10 for adults

The Theory of everything is about the love story of Jane and Stephen hawking. If the nature of this movie doesn’t already entice you to watch it, then the indie-classic quality of the movie should. The film stars Eddie Redmayne (Marius from Les Miserables) as Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking. Under the direction of James Marsh, The Theory of everything delves into an interesting world of philosophy, science, and love, all while being set in beautiful locations such as the University of Cambridge.

REVIEW: San Fran Symphony

Photo Courtesy of UMS
Photo Courtesy of University Musical Society

The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra took a residency in Ann Arbor this weekend, with two performances at Hill Auditorium and numerous master classes being given around town (Gil Shaham’s violin master class being one of them). This artistic residency would not be possible without the help of the University Musical Society, which coordinates functions such as these several times a season.

Michael Tilson Thomas received great applause as he first stepped on the stage at Hill this Thursday, raising his baton before a close-to-capacity crowd. With no hesitation, he gave a downbeat to start the nocturnal stroll in the park that is Mahler’s seventh. The SFSO played at a very high level, albeit with some faults that only the musically inclined would have caught. Michael Tilson Thomas, however, put on a show. From stomping his foot at the apex of the fourth movement to his fluid body movements in the andante portion of the work, MTT was definitely a sight to see. It must be noted, as well, that MTT is known for playing Mahler well, and Thursday’s performance was a testament to that notion.

Something must also be said about the choice to play Mahler’s seventh in a college town such as Ann Arbor. Mahler was the product of the late German romantic period, meaning that his works (along with Bruckner and late Brahms) involved some form of intricacy and musical abstractionism that only veterans of the symphony could appreciate. Now, the brand of the SFSO definitely attracted a lot of patrons to Hill, but the ambient-nocturnal nature of the particular piece was not captivating enough for much of the student body. The students that were in attendance, however, were either symphony fans or die-hard Mahler fans. Fortunately, the author is both.

Discrepancies aside, the SFSO played a wonderful show Thursday night. From what I heard, Friday night was also a spectacular performance (they played Mephisto Waltz!). The SFSO received grand standing ovations both nights, and have been very well received throughout their residency here in Ann Arbor.

PREVIEW: San Fran Symphony

A young Michael Tilson Thomas. He turns 70 this week.
A young Michael Tilson Thomas. He turns 70 this week.

Who: The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas

What: Mahler’s Symphony No.7

Where: Hill Auditorium

When: Thursday, November 13th, 7:30 (alternate program on November 14 click here for details)

Price: $14-$85

The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra will be in Ann Arbor on the 13th and 14th, bringing the great Mahler’s 7th Symphony along with them. The SFSO is constantly regarded as one of the finest orchestras on the world circuit, and seeing them here at Hill Auditorium is nothing short of a treat.

Mahler’s 7th was written in 1904-05 and marks the composer’s return to his ‘progressive tonality.’ The symphony is roughly 80 minutes in length and is sometimes referred to as Lied der Nacht (lit. Song of the Night) due to its evocation of Nocturnal themes.