REVIEW: Venice Baroque Orchestra

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the kind of person who can listen to recordings of classical music and muster up any kind of emotion whatsoever. If I try to use it to improve my concentration while I’m working on something, it only serves to distract me further. That being said, I absolutely love listening to orchestras play live. There is strength and passion in a live performance that never properly transfers into the CD or digital format.

The Venice Baroque Orchestra, who played at Hill Auditorium this past Wednesday night, was no letdown. They played both Vivaldi’s masterpiece The Four Seasons and Philip Glass’ interpretation of The Four Seasons, titled The American Four Seasons. I discovered at the end of the show that Philip Glass was actually in attendance to watch his work performed – he seemed overjoyed and perhaps a little overwhelmed by the group’s talent. The orchestra was a much smaller group than I’m used to seeing, consisting only of eighteen members. The lead violin, Robert McDuffie, also doubled as the conductor. There was no shortage of sound, however – the auditorium was full of their music. Most of the musicians stood for the entire performance (about an hour and a half, total). Although it looked exhausting, I liked the effect this had on the show – the lack of chairs gave the performers more freedom of movement on the stage. Their expressiveness, coupled with the movement of the music, built up the illusion that the performers were in constant, graceful dialogue with each other. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

The collection of instruments was interesting, too. There was a lute being played during the Vivaldi piece – I don’t think I’d ever seen one played outside of a Shakespeare production! That plus the harpsichord added a lot of dimension to the work. In Glass’ piece, they removed the harpsichord and lute, and added a keyboard. My initial reaction when I saw that being set up was trepidation, because I tend to associate keyboards with the ubiquitous synthesized pop music on our radios today. I was afraid the modern instrument would somehow cheapen the sound of the orchestra. As soon as they started playing, however, I was proven wrong. As it turned out, the only part of the concert I didn’t like were the songs in between movements of The American Four Seasons; the second one especially was too repetitive and grating. The movements themselves, though, were well done. It was sometimes hard to hear the relationship between Glass’ work and The Four Seasons, but the last two movements really brought that connection to the forefront. Glass’ music was unmistakably modern, but no less beautiful than Vivaldi’s.

Preview: Halloween Concert at the Hill

It’s halloween. While you are  scratching your heads for finding affordable yet funky costumes ( hopefully and definitely not a ‘Snooki’ or  ‘Lady Gaga’ one- Puhlease!) and choosing which party you want to attend, do not miss this Halloween tradition in Ann Arbor- the Halloween Concert by the University’s Orchestras!

The concert will feature the University Symphony Orchestra and the University Philharmonia Orchestra and will be conducted by grad students in conducting. This  concert is an absolute annual favorite-  a true “of the students, by the students, for all” event! For once, no stuffy suits and mournful all-black attire on stage as the orchestra will be dressed in costumes (so don’t forget yours and of course, please no ‘snooki’ or ‘lady gaga’)!

Photo from 2008 Halloween Concert, courtesy, Ann Arbor News
Photo from 2008 Halloween Concert, courtesy, Ann Arbor News

The graduate students arrange the entire concert- right from selecting the music to selecting the costumes. And they do dress very creatively. Most of the times, the string section dress alike. I am sure it does get spooky for the conductor to be leading an orchestra full of zombies, devilish ghouls and ghosts! But that is the fun part!

The program offers a whole lot of spooky music like  Debussy’s “Fetes from Nocturnes” and Holst’s “Jupiter from The Planets” as well as pieces written for Halloween like Chadwick’s “Hobgoblin” and March of the Little Goblins. For those who are classical music aficionados, the music is definitely worth it and is truly “concert” quality. For those who think orchestral music is not for them, you are mistaken and this is your chance to get to know the ‘cool’ side of classical music.

So see you at your spookiest best then at  Hill Auditorium on Sunday October 31 2010 @ 3 pm.

Tickets ($8) at the League Ticket Office.

Stay Scary!

Preview: BOB DYLAN- Need I say more?

circa 1966
circa 1966

That’s right folks, Bob Dylan is coming to the University of Michigan, and lucky me, I’m going to see him. He’ll be at Hill Auditorium this Thursday evening at 8:00pm. I am so excited for this concert that it’s not even funny. This is one of the most influential musical artists in history. He’s pretty much the reason people don’s sing like Elvis anymore. Here’s the deal though, I just checked and apparently the tickets are SOLD OUT! That’s how huge Bob Dylan is, Hill is sold out. That’s about 3,500 people!


For next time I guess I would just say get them early, because you don’t want to miss moments like this. Artists like Bob Dylan are not going to last forever, and this tour may be our last chance to see in live.

As always,
This is a very excited Danny Fob: Artist and Art reviewer

REVIEW: Benoit Pioulard, Windy & Carl & Hitoko, Man the Hunter

Shows at the Yellow Barn on Huron can be hit or miss, either packed with great energy or awkward with only a handful of patrons.  Thankfully, this one was a total hit right from the beginning with a large diverse crowd of Ann Arborites dressed in their Saturday-night best arriving even before the first act.

The show began with a short unannounced set by Skate Laws, aka Forest Juziuk of Hott Lava, the experimental film outfit that booked tonight’s show.  Perhaps one of the strangest live performances I’ve seen in recent memory, Forest orated and gyrated to a prerecorded soundtrack of vaguely hardcore music, played off an iPod connected to the house PA.  As unexplainable as his music is, it is thoroughly entertaining and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two from his musings on, I don’t know, the American educational system.  It was kind of hard to follow, but in a really charming way.

Full disclosure: Man the Hunter is a close friend of mine, so I’ll keep this super-duper-objective (what up, Evan!).

I’ve seen Ann Arbor’s own Man the Hunter perform several times in the past, and this show was among his best.  Joined for the first time by Ezra Noble on bass, his nostaliarock sound took on a groovy new dimension that ultimately led to a more danceable set.  The catchy-ness of his songs paid off, with the crowd singing and shouting the lyrics to his songs, sometimes louder than the PA.  You guys remember summer 2010?  Are you nostalgic about it yet?  Come to a Man the Hunter show and you will be.

I must admit, I missed most of Windy & Carl & Hitoko because I needed a pizza really, really bad.  Upon my return from Papa John’s, they were playing a sustained tone that gently undulated, but never appeared to really change.  I’m 95% sure it was the same note they were playing when I left.  Historically, I have had a hard time approaching ambient music, especially live, but I will admit I regret missing the majority of their set.  The other concertgoers seemed to really enjoy it.

Benoit Pioulard will always remind me of riding the University of Michigan buses the winter of my freshman year, when I lived on North Campus.  His gentle and compelling music set the perfect mood to watch the snowy Ann Arbor landscape pass, and allowed me to forget for at least a minute how bogus it is to live up there.  Seated in front of an extensive collection of guitar pedals, Benoit seemed completely at peace in front of the mesmerized crowd, most of whom sat in rows on the Yellow Barn’s unfinished wood floor.  Making slow and deliberate music, he crafted a beautiful soundscape of heavily effected vocal and guitar tones for each song.  His melodies are either haunting or slightly awkward; I have yet to decide which, but I don’t think it really matters.  He’s moving to England shortly, so make sure to catch him next time he’s stateside.

Overall, the show was fantastic, but I found the lineup to be a little strange.  Following the high energy sets of Skate Laws and Man the Hunter, Windy & Carl & Hitoko and Benoit Pioulard seemed a little out of place with their relaxing offerings.  Not to say it didn’t work, but I’m used to leaving a concert after the highest energy act.  Perhaps that is why I was restless on my way home from the Yellow Barn, but hey, at least I didn’t have to catch a bus to North Campus.

REVIEW: Deerhunter, Real Estate, Casino vs. Japan

The Magic Stick in Detroit is the kind of venue in which one could live a fulfilling life without ever leaving.  Downstairs: bowling, pizza, theater.  Upstairs: cozy music venue, bar, billiards, deck with (another) bar.

Despite the amenities, I hadn’t been to a show that more than half-filled the Magic Stick.  This show finally did it.  The night began with Casino vs. Japan, a minimal electronic act celebrating a recent reissue on semi-local Moodgadget Records.   I was surprised to see Casino vs. Japan on the bill, not only because the music is very different from the other two acts, but because minimal electronic music usually doesn’t lend itself well to live performances.  And as I arrived towards the end of the set, my suspicions were confirmed: pale dude behind a laptop wearing a beanie.

The gathering crowd showed appreciation, and towards the end of the set I realized that this type of music could fill an important role on a split bill like this one.  Rather than the typical classic rock and stale pop piped in through the PA as the crowd assembles, live minimal music allows for milling about and holding conversations in the same way, but at least there’s something creative going on in front of you.

During Real Estate’s set, the crowd thickened considerably, growing to include: a group of kids who couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, many, many teenagers in plaid shirts, and a girl with gold shoulders who brought with her a group of overdressed college students who pushed everyone aside to get to the front and take a bunch of iphone photos of themselves.  And do you guys remember the Bash Brothers from The Mighty Ducks?  They were there.   I guess that’s what a Pitchfork Best New Music review earns you.

Real Estate played an impressive set, embellished with a couple new tracks from the guitarist’s solo project, Ducktails.  If you could describe Real Estate’s set as relaxing, which it was, Deerhunter’s was anything but.  The distinctive affected and noisy sound of Deerhunter was augmented by an unexpected energy that slowly built throughout the set.  Perhaps it was the stage presence of the front man, Bradford Cox, who despite his weak and skinny appearance due to Marfan syndrome, was able to interpret his emotional involvement in every song in a physical way throughout the 90+ minute set.  Or perhaps it was the carefully constructed set list that consistently grew in intensity and encompassed material from their three most recent albums and EPs.  Or maybe it was just the mosh pit that formed several times, stressing the floorboards of the Magic Stick in an alarming manner.  Either way, I was past the point of exhaustion by the time the last song ended.

Final thought:  Avoid the Bash Brothers when moshing.  Seriously, those guys weigh at least 300 pounds a piece.  No match for skinny hipsters.

REVIEW: Rosanne Cash @ the Hill Auditorium!

Does this happen to you? You know that you have forgotten something but don’t now what and you let it remain at the back of your mind.

And then suddenly it comes to you-at the stoplight as you wait for the lights to go green, tapping your fingers on the steering wheel impatiently and hear the bells in the bell tower  nearby chime “500 miles away from home!”

Eureka! Oh, yeah,  of course I forgot to post the review for Rosanne Cash’s performance at the Hill Auditorium! Now, how did that happen? Well, I do have to tell you about the first show for the UMS for this year at the Hill Auditorium.

Rosanne Cash was here at the Hill auditorium in the not-so-recent past (in today’s world, I believe that anything more than a day old gets archived under “the not-so-recent past” category) performing songs from her album,The List.  The  songs were from a list of 100 that her father Johnny Cash gave her when she was 18 so that she could learn what he considered to be “the essential songs that  every country singer must know.”

Rosanne Cash
Rosanne Cash

I loved the way the stage was set. We had the guitarists, the pianist, the fiddler and the drummer all neatly spread out with  screens in ths backdrop. Paintings and drawings  of exotic birds, flowers and patterns (they seemed amateurish but very colorful) were projected onto the screens and they were interesting. My friend and I tried to make connections between the songs and the paintings. Unless someone would deem to correct me, I guess the projections were just random and nice distractions.

Miss Cash walked in to big applause and started off on a great song, William Heagney’s “miss the mississippi and you”. What struck me first as I listened to her live was  that her voice was very different. Neither too melodic nor too shrill, it seemed to have something very unique. I felt that her voice wasn’t suited to all the songs. But her rendition of “she’s got you”, “500 miles”  and ” miss the mississippi and you” was really very pleasant.

The song “500 miles” was my favorite. Ms Cash sang it more slowly than the Hedy West’s original and it was even more moving. The pace of West’s version made it  rushed and it feels as if the railroader was resigned  to his fate and so he shrugs it off in a  matter-of-fact manner with this song. Cash, on the other hand,  made it more like a lament and hence there was more pathos in it leaving room for even more empathy from the listener.  There is a Hindi song with this very same tune (the slow version) that I have loved for years  and I was surprised and sad to find that it had been, to put it euphemistically,   “inspired by” 500 miles! Well, I will leave that matter at that. <shrug>

Ms.Cash’s  songs were from a vide variety of genres that included folk, blues, pop and  rock. I loved her band. They were superb and made her shine. Especially when it came to them doing their lil solo improvisations, they were awesome! I loved the lead guitarist, John Leventhal, Ms.Cash’s husband, who would not be out of place in a rock band as he was so full of energy and really good.

That she gave two encores and the audience was still clamoring for more, goes to show her popularity. Would I listen to her? Hmm…yes, to some of her songs. I think her voice is something that grows on you and is more like a cultivated taste. As for her song choice from the list of 100, it is really good. That she chooses to “rerelease” these songs to introduce them to new generations is commendable.

Overall, it was a very pleasant evening. And thanks to the bells chiming “500 miles away from home” at noon in Kerry Town for reminding me about what I had forgotten.

more than 500 miles (8549 to be exact) from home ,

Krithika for  [art]seen