REVIEW: Michigan’s Got Talent

Wolverine’s Prove “Michigan’s Got Talent”

On Tuesday February 20, I used my Passport to the Arts to attend Michigan’s Got Talent, a talent show for the University of Michigan student body. The event was hosted by MUSIC Matters, a student organization that organizes music events on campus. Performed for the Lydia Mendelson Theatre’s packed audience and a panel of three judges, the night was act after act of inspiring creative force.

The event was MCed by two members of student improv troupe ComCo and judged by former president of MUSIC Matters Anna Lair, the University of Michigan’s Vice President for Student Life Martino Harmon, and Mark Clague, an SMTD musicology professor whose scholarly interests center on the role of music in community building.

Student Band “Mahogany”

The range and variety of talent in the Michigan student body was on full display, from Korean American cover band Seoul Juice to the Michigan Ballroom Dance Team. Individual talents and student organizations alike shined their light on stage. The audience was moved by vocal performances by Jeheil Butt, who also performed with DJs Acapella, and singer-singwriter Jacqueline Dianis whose buttery smooth rendition of Tennessee Whiskey was powerful and sincere. Student jam band Toast gave a zippy and energetic performance, and nine man band Mahogany connected to the audience with upbeat grooves.

Apparently on a whim, the ComCo MCs asked if anyone in the audience had a talent they’d like to share, and a brave audience member climbed onto the stage to perform an impromptu tap dance. After that, several other audience members volunteered their talents at the piano during set changes. There was a magic in the air of rooting for someone to make the change from audience member to performer at a second’s notice.

Outrage Dance’s Final Pose

Outrage Dance gave an energetic and technically impressive performance that knocked the audience’s socks off, winning the Crowd Favorite Award. Trenton Michael (featured image) and his saxophone performed an upbeat, spunky, and honest original song that had the audience clapping along, winning him Most Original Performance.

My favorite act was probably Tola Kilian and Miguel Retto, who represented the Michigan Ballroom Dance Team with a performance of Pink Panther. The suave and sassy dance was truly a pleasure to watch, and reminded me of my days studying abroad and dancing the Tango in Argentina.

Tola Kilian and Miguel Retto of The Michigan Ballroom Dance Team

I left Michigan’s Got Talent moved by the talent of my peers, and glowing from the chance to catch and reflect the shine of my classmate’s creative expression. The opportunity to see students in the audience sit up from their velvet seats and show that they too had something to share, imparted a whispered awareness of the energetic creativity that hums in the people around you. Michigan’s Got Talent was a celebration of music, and of life. I think performers and audience members alike walked out of the theater feeling inspired, and a little more talented.

Music Matters hosts other events to promote the arts and music on campus. You can check out their instagram to learn about upcoming events like Spring Fest in April.

REVIEW: The Pigeon Keeper (Sitzprobe)

In the world of opera, new compositions are blossoming in opera houses throughout the country. SMTD’s own Voice & Opera Department is currently working alongside the Santa Fe Opera (SFO) to workshop a new chamber opera entitled The Pigeon Keeper. Commissioned by the SFO, the score was composed by David Hanlon with Stephanie Fleischmann’s touching libretto. This piece is still in progress here at SMTD and will have select open performances before its final showing with the SFO in March. This open sitzprobe rehearsal was presented at the McIntosh Theater (Moore Building) last Thursday to a small audience of students and faculty.

The opera showcases six main characters: Orisa, Thalasso (her father), The Schoolteacher, The Widow Grocer, Kosmo, and The Pigeon Keeper. Additionally, a women’s chorus (SSA), serving as crooning pigeons and schoolchildren, accompanies them. The Contemporary Directions Ensemble, under the direction of Jayce Ogren, collaborates with this cast comprised of auditioned singers and chorus members from The University.

The opera takes place on “an archetypal Mediterranean island”, following a young optimistic girl named Orsia and her father. They go on a fishing trip together on the anniversary of Orsia’s mother’s death and find a refugee boy in the water. The two take the boy in, but Orsia’s father proclaims he must stay somewhere else, or he will be sent to “the other side of the island”. With great worry, Orsia searches the island to find him somewhere to live, only to be confronted with shut doors and unwilling neighbors.

“Sitzprobe” comes from the German word for “seated rehearsal” an unstaged rehearsal where the orchestra and vocal parts will first come together. There are no costumes or set pieces, and the focus is entirely on the music In the moment. But the music truly lent itself to creating its own atmosphere. I rather preferred the lack of distraction from any technical aspects, leaving me to fixate on the captivating text. Fleischmann’s lyricism is quite prolific: she depicts such reality through an art form that is praised for being boisterous and grand. Likewise, Hanlon’s music is gracefully whimsical, while rooted in truth about the pressing immigration crisis in the United States and abroad.

The SFO website describes the piece as “[an exploration of] how we respond to those in need in a time of hardship and scarcity; and celebrates the kindness of strangers, the power of human connection, and the unexpected places we find family.”

The final performance will be conducted by Kelley Kuo, alongside soloists Laura Soto-Bayomi, soprano; Bernard Holland, tenor; and Aubrey Allicock, bass-baritone. It will be a free fully-staged performance on March 10th at 4 pm in the Stamps Auditorium at the Walgreen Drama Center. The opera will have its professional debut at the Santa Fe Opera later this year.

 

More on the Santa Fe Opera here.

REVIEW: Gershwin Centennial Celebration

The University of Michigan’s School of Music is the world’s leading institution for the study of the work of the Gershwin brothers. SMTD partnered with the Gershwin family in 2013, and since then the team behind the Initiative has continued to educate and deliver George and Ira Gershwin’s iconic music to Ann Arbor community and beyond. Gershwin’s most beloved piece, Rhapsody in Blue, is enjoying it’s centennial this year, and the Initiative hosted a concert at the iconic Michigan Theater last Sunday to honor it’s legacy.

The concert featured SMTD’s Contemporary Directions Ensemble (dir. Jayce Ogren), along with a quartet of singers and pianist Kevin Cole, a member of the Initiative and a Gershwin brothers superfan. There were several speakers interjecting throughout the performance with information on The Gershwins including Editor-in-Cheif Mark Clauge, PHD stuent AJ Banta, Dean of SMTD David Gier and other presenters who work with the Initiative.

Four singers from the SMTD Musical Theater program performed songs from musicals the Gershwin’s wrote: Aquila Sol (BFA 25′), Keyon Pickett (BFA 25′), Alex Humphreys (BFA 24′), and Sam O’Neill (BFA 25′). The four were outstanding individual singers who nailed the pieces stylistically and dramatically while ensembling beautifully during their group numbers. Many of the musicals they were singing were not from the mainstream, including Of Thee I Sing, Sweet Little Devil, George White’s Scandals of 1924, and Lady Be Good. 

The concert closed with the iconic 1924 Rhapsody in Blue, a classic piano and jazz band piece that is always a hit with audiences. Kevin Cole was a fabulous soloist with the Contemporary Directions Ensemble and played with humble virtuosity and conviction. It was a thrill to see the piece performed in person. The concert was a hit, deeply appreciated by the Ann Arbor community.

 

More about the Gershwin Initiative here.

REVIEW: Concert Black

On Saturday I had the chance to go see a live reading of the first act of Concert Black, a musical written by SMTD student Mattie Levy. It was held at the Newman Studio on north campus. The musical itself represented the lives of three music school students, an oboe player (Played by Levy herself), a violinist, and an opera singer. The play was split three ways between them, so the audience had the chance to see the differences and similarities between each characters life and experience in music school.

The musical talked about a lot of different things including the everyday stress of being a college student, the added stress of being in music school, and the discrimination faced by many African American music students. It was also told in short pieces rather than one continuous storyline, which really gave the audience a full glimpse into the life of each character. I really admire her ability to showcase each perspective, while also telling a continuous narrative.

As someone in music school myself, I really enjoyed and appreciated the chance to see Concert Black. Some of the experiences the characters talked about were ones that I could also relate to. Especially one scene where the character who plays violin is stuck in the practice room, debating whether or not to go out with friends instead, and the inevitable feeling of guilt sets in. It’s something I’ve done so many times but never seen represented before. It’s also just a very weird and isolating feeling that not many people understand. There were so many moments like this in Concert Black, things about being in music school that tend to go unacknowledged, and it was very satisfying to see it described like that on stage.

The scene changes, crew, and instrumentalists were also a part of the show. Members of the crew and orchestra wore white, rather than black, which made everyone stand out against the backdrop. I thought this was so cool, and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It made me think about how everyone in a production like this is equally apart of it, not just the people on stage.

Overall I really enjoyed Concert Black and I can’t wait to see act two!

 

REVIEW: Extemporaneous: Solo Piano Explorations

Kerrytown Concert House recently hosted the magnificently versatile composer and pianist, Alyssa Smith. She is a recent graduate from the University of Michigan’s School of Music, obtaining her Masters of Jazz and Improvisational Studies last spring. She often frequented the Blue Llama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor with the Alyssa Smith Trio. Additionally, she held a flourishing piano studio for many students in the Ann Arbor community. Now based in New York City, Smith continues to enchant audiences with her sensitive and thoughtful playing. She is now working at the Brooklyn Music School while upholding her private studio, and performing in New York City with the Alyssa Smith Quintet.

The solo concert was entitled “Extemporaneous: Solo Piano Explorations”, featuring a culmination of Smith’s own improvisational compositions. She played a selection of six pieces, each with a different style and character. As a classically trained pianist, Smith delicately interweaves Romantic and Impressionist styles into her playing, along with inspiration from jazz greats like Bill Evans and Chick Corea. It is evident that she has transcended the realms expected of a concert pianist or a purveyor of jazz standards; rather, she has masterfully assimilated her profound understanding of these disciplines, fashioning them into her unique musical expression.

Smith introduced each tune with a personal statement or anecdote. Her remarkable capacity to intricately intertwine the humility and splendor inherent in the human experience was both impressive and deliberate. The themes of her pieces ranged from animals she admires to embracing change and even included a botched endeavor with fixing a broken medicine cabinet. When you think of these things, not often does virtuosic piano playing come to mind, but Smith finds a way to bring out humor and vitality in the ordinary. 

Alyssa Smith will be back at Kerrytown Concert House in the spring with a new set featuring her playfully virtuosic pianism. Keep an eye out at https://kerrytownconcerthouse.com for her next performance—or if you are ever in New York City!

REVIEW: Carmen: The Met Live in HD

The Metropolitan Opera hosts viewings of select operas in movie theaters across the country, under their series “Met Live in HD”. These performances on screen are marketed at an affordable price, to increase accessibility efforts in opera. The 2024 year premieres with Bizet’s Carmen, an iconic staple of Opera literature. 

Young Russian Soprano, Aigul Akhmetshina, takes the stage as the youngest ‘Carmen’ to perform at The Met. Her demanding presence is alluring, along with her spunk and sense of unpredictability. She was a force to watch on stage, equally expressive and keen to the role. She sings alongside Met Opera greats: Piotr Beczała, Angel Blue, and Kyle Ketelsen. This quartet was truly remarkable, each buzzing with personality and vocal virtuosity. Akhmetshina is contracted to sing ‘Carmen’ at opera houses and festivals around the globe until at least August 2024.

The story of Carmen’s success is quite a tragic one for the composer, Georges Bizet. Bizet struggled to get his work on stage, though a fresh winner of the Prix de Rome. 1875 Paris was not fond of his depictions of proletarian life, lawlessness, and a tragic ending with an aggressive on-stage death. However, the historically controversial themes have been embraced by modern viewers and the score has trickled into aspects of pop culture, making songs like “Habanera” one of the most well-known arias to date.

The Met revels in creating the most aesthetically unique productions of Carmen year after year. Director Carrie Cracknell makes her Met debut taking a stab at a modern adaptation of ‘Carmen’s’ adventures and escapades. This production is set in the 21st Century, with references to gun violence, systemic labor abuse, and female empowerment. Her directing choices were clear and concise, revitalizing a story seeping with stereotypes and sexism. 

I would recommend seeing a Met HD Opera in theaters. It is an intimate way to experience some of the most distinguished operas in the United States. 

 

 

235 minutes. Not Rated. Includes gendered violence, cigarettes, and sexual themes. Sung in French with English subtitles.

Synopsis and more on Carmen HERE.

Met Live in HD showings HERE.

 

Image thanks to New York Theater Guide.