PREVIEW: Handel’s Messiah

The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and University Choral Union present Handel’s Messiah. Photo Credits: Peter Smith.

This weekend, one of the great musical traditions of Ann Arbor continues as UMS, along with the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and the UMS Choral Union, presents two performances of Handel’s Messiah. This epic, 275-year-old English oratorio received its Ann Arbor premiere in the 1879-80 season, and has since been welcomed every year as a celebrated holiday tradition. 

This particular oratorio by Handel is in three parts, and it uses Biblical text to tell the story of Jesus Christ, who is the Messiah, from the prophecies predicting his birth through his death and glorious resurrection. Maestro Scott Hanoian will conduct a Baroque orchestra and chorus that features soloists Joseph Gascho on harpsichord as well as vocal soloists Janai Brugger, Meg Bragle, Michele Angelini, and Shenyang, 

 Ending the large-scale, dramatic masterwork is the unmistakeable, triumphant Hallelujah Chorus. These performances offer the opportunity for listeners to hear the entire work from which that famous movement originated. 

You won’t want to miss this time-honored holiday tradition of epic proportion!

Performances are Saturday, December 3rd at 8pm and Sunday, December 4th at 1pm in Hill Auditorium.

Tickets are available for purchase online or at The League Ticket Office.

PREVIEW: Artists of the Photo-Secession Gallery Tour at UMMA

When did photography become an art? At some point, people took cameras and tried to capture people and places and things not simply for the sake of capturing them, but for the beauty of it. This was the beginnings of pictorialism.

As the UMMA web site states about the early pictorialist photographers:

Their poetic compositions drawn from contemporary life, combined with the use of expensive and labor-intensive printing materials such as platinum and gum bichromate, established these photographs as complex and nuanced works of high artistic quality.

The exhibition is open now and will remain open until March 5th.

Their next FREE upcoming gallery talk/tour is:

Sunday, December 11th at 2pm

Check out their calendar here for more information on the other upcoming gallery talks:

January 15th at 2 pm

February 19th at 2 pm

Review: Women’s Glee Club Concert

This concert was a lovely way to spend a Saturday evening. I enjoyed the range of songs the two choirs chose. The guest choir, a barbershop a cappella group named Voices in Harmony, mostly performed very percussive songs with plenty of the rich lower notes, while the Women’s Glee Club performed more serene songs with higher melodies and not as much of the alto section. This difference added a good variety to the concert. I only wish the theme, Journey On, had fit the subjects of the songs better.

I was, as always, impressed with the entrance of the Women’s Glee Club. They always file onto the risers, stand in straight lines, and then shift as one so that they are arrayed in window formation. I think my favorite song was “Down to the River to Pray,” because at the beginning most of the women were lined along either side of the main floor, so when they started singing it gave the sound a very universal quality and filled the space beautifully. The solos (in “Down to the River to Pray” and “Kyrie”) were all really well done. Midnight Blue, the Women’s Glee Club a cappella group, also performed three numbers. I like that in the songs Midnight Blue performs most everybody gets a solo, which allows a listener to distinguish the different voice timbres that make up the group.

Voices in Harmony was fantastic. I loved the sparkly black tops they all wore, and their enthusiasm was contagious. They began singing while one of their members was introducing them, which I thought was a very nice touch. There was plenty of choreography, making the songs really dynamic, and even when there wasn’t the women were all moving to the beat. My favorite song was “Bottom of the River”: they produced a beautiful beat by slapping the floor, clinking chains, and clapping their hands in something that reminded me of the hand jive from Grease, and they moved around throughout the song. The low notes in that piece, as well as all the others, really stood out to me, and added gravity to the performance.

These two groups each presented a unified front, enhancing the listeners’ experience. They both choreographed their songs, and they blended very well, using the same articulations (for example, in “Jubilate Deo,” sung by the Women’s Glee Club, they had beautiful staccato notes). When they joined to sing “You’re My Best Friend,” the two groups interspersed themselves among each other: I had been expecting them to stand in blocks, and the fact that they didn’t was refreshing and added meaning to the song as well. It was a wonderful performance, and I’m very glad I was able to go.

REVIEW: Beijing Opera Costume Exhibit

This Wednesday, the Union housed a very special exhibit from the University’s Confucius Institute, a display of hand-embroidered Peking Opera Costumes. I have long been interested in Peking Opera, and actually took a Peking Opera performance class for several months while I lived in Beijing. Despite having experience performing Peking opera, and having worn costumes before, I knew very little about the costumes themselves.

img_3251 When I first walked in, the exhibition was nearly empty.  The present exhibitor leaped at the chance to talk to me, and one of the first things out of her mouth was “do you want to try it on?”  I took one look at the shimmering costume, decorated with delicate embroidery and sparkling details, and promptly refused, too afraid to touch the costume, let alone try it on, lest I somehow damage it.   I don’t know if the she didn’t hear me, or simply didn’t share my fears, because before I knew it she was expertly shrugging the coat over my arms and placing the headpiece on my head.  I hadn’t expected quite how heavy the costume would feel, but it felt like I was being slowly dragged to the ground by its sheer weight.  Despite this one fact, it was surprisingly comfortable to wear, if a bit warm. The particular costume was for the titular character in the popular Beijing opera The Drunken Concubine.  Below is a video showing off both The Drunken Concubine and the beautiful and iconic costumes used in it.

One of the most stunning elements of all the garments in the room was the hand-sewn embroidery.  Featuring popular motifs such as the peony and the phoenix featured below, each design was filled with minute detail and vibrant colors. Sometimes the embroidery had special symbolism.  Empresses tended to wear clothing with phoenixes embroidered onto them, whereas Emperors often would wear garments featuring the five-toed dragon.

Another presenter at the exhibit taught me how to flip and twirl a handkerchief, which might be part of an opera production.  While the technique looked simple enough, I can say from personal experience that it is far from easy.  It would take years, or at least months of practice to be able to flip it as expertly as she did. img_3282

I hope that the Confucius Institute has further such events, as these costumes were too pretty to not be admired on the daily.  To keep up with the events going on, check out the Confucius Institute’s official website.



REVIEW: The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden is a difficult movie to discuss without ruining the film. It’s one of the films best to watch knowing as little as possible. The trailer is sufficient preparation–it gives you a sense of what the movie is about without actually telling you what the movie is about. I don’t intend to write any spoilers, but if you haven’t seen the movie yet and have any desire or intention to, stop reading right here. Don’t read any other reviews. Don’t watch any scenes on youtube. You can watch the trailer, but that’s it. It’s a good movie. Just go watch it.

Still, even if I lost some (or all) readers there, I am obliged to go on with this review. I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.

The premise of this film is that as part of a conman’s plot to marry a rich orphan and gain her fortune (before declaring her insane and throwing her into an asylum), a thief is planted in the house as the rich orphan’s handmaiden. It is her duty to aid the conman and get her mistress to fall in love with him.

Complications arise.

I won’t go in to anymore plot details, but what I will say is that the film manages, very successfully, to pull you along. Things move at a quick enough pace that viewers don’t have time to wonder what if or maybe or hmmm–they have only the time to comprehend what is before them. We do not have time to ask the questions–let alone figure out what the real questions are. It is not rushed however. Individual scenes are not flashes. Rather, individual scenes are chosen carefully so that while they may be long and sufficient, they also always keep the plot moving just enough.

From a visual angle, the film is often beautiful, and more often disturbing. Sexual sadism rears its head in this film, and while the worst is heard and not seen, the atmosphere is persistently perverse. There is something wrong about this home and the people in it. Though the details and depths of this depravity are not revealed for sometime, the sense that something sinister lurks is present from first sight. That is not to say the atmosphere is gloomy or anything like that–there are many moments of levity and even sensual scenes. The wonder of this film lies in how it is able have us entangled in all its running themes, in both the romance and the dread.

And, of course, the suspense.

The movie will be playing at the Michigan Theater throughout the week. Student tickets are $8.

REVIEW: Helicon’s Synesthesia

Friday night’s Synesthesia was the first Helicon event I’ve attended, so I had no idea what to expect – which is usually the most interesting way to enter into an art show. It was what I can only describe as a down-the-rabbit-hole experience; from walking in the door, past crowds of people, art was found in the corners stairwells, in the basement, in the attic. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was standing in line for the bathroom or for an art installation. Not only did I double take at the art, but at UM faculty milling about past students: not an everyday occurrence outside of the classroom, at 10 p.m. on a Friday night. Synesthesia featured the work of dozens of students; mediums ranged from sculpture to photography, from painting to video installation.

Image from @umicharts

The space itself was immersive; as I stood looking at sculptures in a basement where exposed cement walls and open staircases were not an artistic design choice, I began to fear for the strength of the structure as I could hear every footstep and movement above me. The element and adventure of risk became a theme as I climbed past people up steep stairs not equipped for a dual-flow of traffic. As I sat on the floor of an attic, staring at an image projected onto a sheet asking myself when the show was going to begin or when the technical support was going to arrive, I realized it already the show had already begun. The fuzzy image on the screen was the art, the music in the back the focus. It was then I began to question whether or not I am equipped to “get” art. Regardless, my favorite piece of the night, a readymade (which is the embodiment of comedy gold in the art world; an artist with a sense of humor) consisting of a Virgin Mary figurine titled Abstinence. Lesson learned: you do need to be literate in the ways of painting/drawing/sculpting to be considered an artist, merely innovative.

Image from @umicharts

If Synesthesia intended to create an experience, an art piece in itself, it succeeded. At one point, while standing in a hallway waiting for a mass of people to pass by, a person crawled out from behind a black sheet, pulling themselves up from what I can only hope was a work of experiential art. Some say you can find yourself through art; if this holds true, I’ve come to find I am the equivalent of a suburban mom of the art world. I may not understand what’s going on, but I am so ready to cheer on every student out there making, creating, and putting their work and themselves out there.