Review: Frank Vignola And The Hot Club Of Detroit

They play quickly. They play intensely. Then, they stop mid-song to pose for a second row audience member to take a picture on his iPhone. This is the type of evening it was for Frank Vignola and his band (he borrowed his accordionist from The Hot Club of Detroit). The men were very apparently great musicians but they seemed too intent on putting on an act, like it was a Broadway show. The music, which had the energy and story to stand alone, was distracted by the showmen. In the middle of one of bassist Gary Mazzaroppi’s many solos on the night, rhythm guitarist Vinny Raniolo prompted the audience to applaud the bassman’s skills. Then, as part of the funny man act the band had conjured up, Mazzaroppi stopped his solo and told the audience to wait until he was done. Well, they received the response they expected from the audience and they kept up the act. In what is now a bit of a weird occurrence Thursday evening, Vignola told the crowd that it was Vinny Raniolo’s birthday and asked us to sing a quick happy birthday to him. However, in looking up Raniolo’s last name after the show, I found that Raniolo had already celebrated his birthday at a September 25 show in Baltimore (link to review).  Peculiar.  Nonetheless, Vignola and the band seemed like nice guys – just a bit too eager to please with their mouths rather than their instruments, leaving a slightly shtick-y feeling in my mouth.

Thursday evening presented the half-full Ark crowd with a double bill of Django Reinhardt-inspired gypsy jazz music that concluded with local favorites, The Hot Club of Detroit.  This young group of musicians, led by brilliant guitarist Evan Perri, is much more about business.  Donning sharp suits and choosing to sit rather than dance around like Vignola and co., The Hot Club of Detroit, although adding a contemporary edge to Django Reinhardt’s original, Quintette du Hot Club du France (below).  The group’s clarinetist and saxophonist, Carl Cafagna, also added some drawing-power that Vignola’s group missed.

Django Reinhardt & the Quintette du Hot Club du France
Django Reinhardt & the Quintette du Hot Club du France

In any case, The Ark crowd on Thursday evening loved every second.  The majority of the crowd, couples on a romantic night on the town, were very encouraged by the emanations of a candle-light dinner on the Champs-Elysses.  While the rest, generally graying single men, seemed to dig the musicianship and play of the instruments.

The Hot Club of Detroit, in case one is looking for more gypsy jazz music this month, will play again this Friday evening at the Detroit Institute of Art’s Friday Night Live!.  Free with museum admission, the Hot Club will be playing sets at 7 and 8:30 while the museum will be open with other events until 10pm.

Bennett bstei@umich.edu

REVIEW: A night to remember with Patti LuPone

Patti LuPone’s “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” at the Hill Auditorium on Nov 20, 09

The one and only Patti Lupone
The one and only Patti LuPone

You gotta love a woman who starts a show with “Go Blue” and “Buckeyes suck”. To those of you who don’t know Patti Lupone (come on now, really? 😉 ), she’s one of the divas of  Broadway whom you just gotta see. If you love musicals, then you would have definitely come across her.

The list of her awards- including Tonys, Best Actress in a Musical, etc. – is almost as long as her list of stage credits. She is one of the most illustrious stars of Broadway. Her critically acclaimed roles include Evita (she was the original Evita!), Sweeney Todd, “Fantine” in Les Miserables, Rose in Gypsy, just to name a wee few.

Patti LuPone was in town yesterday for her one-woman show “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda”. This show is about the roles and songs that she could have, should have and would have done “had she been asked or had she been around or had she been a guy” (I faithfully quote her). She also delighted us with the roles she did play (oh yeah, she has had a great run).

Now, in concerts, the relationship between an audience and the artist is so different. Some artists are so god-like (and hence so cool and aloof) that the listeners, with a mingled feeling of respect and awe, sit up straight in their chairs, afraid to shift their bulk around. You can compare this to watching Zeus in heaven use his thunderbolts or the Berliner Philharmoniker perform, for instance.

Some other artists are so down-to-earth and warm that you feel as if you have been invited to a party in the artist’s very own living room and you kick off  your shoes and swing your legs up on the chair in front of you. This would be like going to a party that playful musically-gifted Hermes throws or watching  Patti (see, she made us feel so at home that I feel like I have known her for a really long time and I want to call her by her first name instead of the socially appropriate Ms. LuPone) perform.

Now about the show.

There was only Ms. Lupone’s magnificent brassy (and unique) voice and Mr. i-never-miss-a-beat-or-tune Joseph Thalken’ s  piano sounds on stage.

Mr. Thalken
Mr. Thalken

Ms. Lupone, started off with a lovely opening melody followed by “An English Teacher” from “Bye, Bye, Birdie”. She then regaled us with tales about her own career in between the songs. She was just so hilarious that you gotta see it. There was never a dull moment to the show. Her choice of songs was great and that is very important for any artist. Had Patti played those roles, she would have definitely owned these too. Throughout her show that night, you could see the stamina, the mannerisms and the unmatchable multi-tasking ability of a true Broadway actress. Only an actress from Broadway can sing, act, pose, mimic, dance and look fabulous while doing it all.

Here’s a list of songs that she performed and my comments about them. I wish they had posted the list in the program notes. But then again, it would have ruined the surprise. I am giving this list as I want people to go check these out. They are the perfect songs for a gloomy winter day (sigh, we will be having so many of those soon).

An English Teacher- Bye Bye Birdie (hilarious!)

A Wonderful Guy- South Pacific

Don’t rain on my parade- Barbra Streisand (Oh, this was so power-packed and she rocked this song)

Easy to be hard-  Hair (the high notes she hit in these were just mind-blowing)

Everything’s coming up Roses- Gypsy

She won a Tony award for her performance in this musical.  You will know why when you listen to her.

You mustn’t be discouraged- Fade out Fade in (my second favorite)

This was her audition song for Juilliard. This song is set in one of those make-you-feel-good tunes…until you hear the lyrics.

“When you think you’ve hit the bottom
And you’re feeling mighty low,
You mustn’t feel discouraged –
There’s always one step further down you can go.”

The song only gets better and everybody was cracking up  and I was laughing so hard that I almost fell off my seat (the guy sitting next to me didn’t notice as he was busy guffawing too).

Meadowlark- The Baker’s Wife

A boy Like that/ I have a love- West side story

Oh, this was so good- like eating fresh Creme Brulee at La Dolce Vita (hey, i just LOVE their desserts and am not advertising for them, ok).

A quiet thing- Flora the Red Menace (Originally sung by Liza Minelli)

Never Never Land- Peter Pan

This song is from the 1960 production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, with Mary Martin as Peter. Aww…this was so good. I would love to be in a place where time is never planned. Wouldn’t we all?

Don’t Cry for me Argentina- Evita

My first favorite. This was so awesome. This is “her” song and she owns it. It doesn’t get better than this. You could see her transform into Evita (or Evita as we know her from musicals) almost instantly. The humor was gone and was replaced with the pleading in her voice that also conveyed power and charisma. I had to see it to believe it. This alone was worth going to the show.

Oh what a beautiful morning- Frank Sinatra (It was definitely a very beautiful evening for me.)

Trouble in River City (“Ya got Trouble”)– the Music Man

You just gotta listen to this song. Patti never missed a beat and it just suited her voice so well.  She just fired all her guns and sang it at a faster pace than Robert Preston. I love Patti’s version better now. Wish she would release a recording of that. Sigh! Patti, are you listening?

How to handle a woman- King Arthur’s lament from Camelot

Cole Porter’s “So in Love”- from Kiss me, Kate

Sleepy man– Robber Bridegroom

This “duet” was awesome. Mr.Thalken did the background vocals while flipping the pages of the sheet music while continuing his smooth playing of course. I just love it when a person multi-tasks. 🙂

As long as he needs me- Oliver!

She then did a Sondheim Set.  What a great composer Stephen Sondheim is!

I never do anything twice (the Madam’s song) from the film The Seven-per-cent solution

Anyone can whistle-Anyone can whistle

As per the lyrics: “What’s hard is simple. What’s natural comes hard. ” What ??? I think will have to see the original musical to understand.

Send in the clowns– A Little Night Music

My Way- Frank Sinatra (loved this).  With this perfectly apt song, Patti ended the absolutely beautiful evening.

Did you think that we let her go so easily? We begged for more. She sang Sondheim’s  “Ladies who lunch” from the musical “Company”, Kurt Wiell’s “September Song” and a classic Sinatra “The way you look tonight” (she sang this without the mike and it was just so beautiful).

We were greedy and still wouldn’t let her go. The evening ended with the entire audience standing and Patti singing Sinatra’s  “A 100 years from today” sans the piano and sans the microphone. The air was electrifying and there was complete silence except for Patti’s golden voice. The scene is still etched in my mind and that I feel is what every artist strives for- the undying adoration of a devout audience.

Still enchanted, Krithika, for [art]seen

Krithika is learning to whistle and if you hear sounds like the squeak of a trapped  mouse or a horribly out-of-tune piccolo on campus, just ignore.

Disclaimer: If I have left out any song from the night’s performance or cited the wrong song, do lemme know. Folks, I am striving to be politically correct here, ok. 😉

Review: Woh, Berliner Philarmoniker

It’s the Berlin Philharmonic.  They tell me that Berlin is one the greatest orchestras in the world today –  maybe the greatest.  So, how does this kid prepare for a taste of high culture? Roll out the tie and iron the slacks.  Unfortunately, it is officially No Shave November so the scruffier-by-the-day beard effectively brought down the class level a few points.  Nonetheless, roomie Evan and I looked relatively ready to face off against the suits that dominate the culture of classical music (a few pulls of the whiskey later, we felt ready as well).  Again, in another affront to our front of respectability, running late, we rolled up our right pant legs and took the quick ride to Hill Auditorium, locking up the bicycles next to the heavily Cadillac’d valet service (at least they’re American, right?).

Now inside Hill, we raced to beat the bells telling us how many minutes until showtime (count the lobby bells – one bell a minute until takeoff at the typical Broadway show) – we quickly learned that, in Germany, there are only 25 seconds in a minute or the orchestra was really in a hurry to start.  Finally, relaxed and seated in the velvety, red chairs of the Mezzanine, the show began.

Even for this inexperienced symphony-goer, it truly was a magical evening.  I expected a very disciplined, accurate, and direct expression of the Brahms and Schoenberg on the program as this is a fairly common stereotype of German art and culture.  Instead, we witnessed extreme emotional expositions from the 128 world-class musicians and their conductor and artistic director, Sir Simon Rattle.  Rattle seemed to prompt the emotional outpouring with his long, white, curly, unkempt locks.  Throughout the evening, Rattle flailed his entire body to all parts of the conductor platform engaging every member of the orchestra (and audience) in every movement of the orchestral pieces.

Simon Rattle Going Nuso
Simon Rattle Going Nutso (not at Hill, unfortunately)

In cooperation with Rattle, each musician moved with the flow of the music.  At all other symphony performances I have attended, the musicians seemed intent on showing little personal emotion, letting the music have full control of the auditorium.  The musicians would move nothing outside of the requisite for creating the note on the page in front of them.  The musicians of the Berliner Philharmoniker, instead, more intimately evoked the headbanging performances of The Ramones (“The Berliner Philharmoniker Live @ CBGB! One Night Only!”).  Each musician, on the edge of his or her (almost entirely his, unfortunately) chair, rolled back and forth with each note, expressing anguish in face and movement.

Oh, right, and the music.  Hill Auditorium -the Ann Arbor stop in the middle of the New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles tour – was filled to capacity with the full sounds of the Brahms’ 3 and 4, and slightly challenged with the quieter, more internal study of Schoenberg’s ‘Music For A Cinema Scene’ (Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspiel Szene).  The symphony is a musical phenomenon, in itself, in its ability to so intensively align so many musicians in a common musical goal.  The Berliner Philarmoniker fully accentuates this characteristic, totally engrossed in their communal need to be one.

And so, after 15 minutes of loud clapping and attempted whistles, we left amazed and emotionally drained.  Although very much out of the comfortable habitat of $5 cover and over-power amps, we fit into our ties on Tuesday evening, forgot the cultural implications of classical music, and fixed ourselves in the orchestral experience.

Berlin Philharmonic @ Hill Auditorium (photo by AnnArbor.com)
Berlin Philharmonic @ Hill Auditorium (photo by AnnArbor.com)

Bennett. bstei@umich.edu.

PREVIEW: Michigan Pops Orchestra – aPOPScalypse

Date: Sunday, Nov 22nd, 2009
Location: Michigan Theater
Time: 7pm
Tickets: $5 students and $8 adults
Buy them from the Pops Orchestra members or at the Michigan Theater right before the concert.

Watch this exciting performance by the only student-run and student-directed orchestra at Michigan! The Michigan Pops Orchestra, comprised of about 100 students, performs popular music from movies, shows, and classical works. In addition to the captivating music, there’s often a fun PowerPoint presentation full of fun pictures.

The Pops Orchestra was founded in 1995 by Warren Hsu to provide non-music major undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to continue playing their instruments. From within the orchestra, chamber ensembles and a smaller string orchestra is formed, giving students even more chances to play their instruments in a relaxed atmosphere.

The theme this semester is aPOPScalyse. The program has not been posted yet, but based on the name, there will be a lot of music related to fighting, the end of the world, and whatever other themes the name conjures up.

Preview: “Collapsing Borders—Einstürzende Grenzen.”

Sometimes, all the good stuff come at the same time. This week is one such week where there are  just so many great events to choose from. One  great event is the “Collapsing Borders—Einstürzende Grenzen” on Fri, Nov 20, 2009 between 6-8.30 pm.

This is a live digital audio-video jam session with Markus Guentner (from Regensburg, Germany) and nospectacle (Detroit- Ann Arbor, USA) at the Video and Performance Studio, Duderstadt Center, 2281 Bonisteel Blvd.

Guentner, hailed as “the inventor of pop ambient”, is a dj as well and is known for his work on Cologne’s Kompart record label.  Here’s a sample of Guentner’s music.

nospectacle is based right here in Detroit. The group is made up of  Christopher McNamara (who teaches at the U of M’s Dept of Screen arts and Cultures), Jennifer A. Paull, and Walter Wasacz and is an electronic music, video and DJ project.They play mostly McNamara’s original compositions.They performed  a set of music to Andy Warhol’s multimedia experience at the Cranbrook Art Museum.Here’s a link on youtube.

Both the artists are known for melding sound, art and visuals. As per the program flyer, “The point of focus is to show how art and entertainment technologies play a crucial role in transcending political, cultural, and psychological borders.”

This free event is followed by an after-party, 9 p.m. – 2 a.m. at Sava’s (in the space once occupied by Zanzibar), 216 S. State St., Ann Arbor. Called Sonic Subliminal, the dance-friendly event features DJ sets by Guentner, nospectacle and Forest Juziuk of Dark Matter. $5 for the party.

Hmm…electronic music and a dance party on a friday night after a hectic week full of studying appeals to me immensely. You ready to party too?

Krithika, for [art]seen

REVIEW: When the Berliners held us captive

It is a pleasure to be in Ann Arbor (thank you,UMS) which enjoys such exclusivity that it is often a stop along with the “other music capitals”   on the tours that the best and the brilliant artists make. The pleasure turned into pure bliss when the Berliner Philharmoniker was in town yesterday.

Berliner Philharmoniker at the Hill auditorium
Berliner Philharmoniker at the Hill auditorium

The Berliner Philharmoniker, one of the oldest as well as the best orchestras of today, is currently on a coast-to-coast seven-stop U.S. Tour. In September 2009, the orchestra released a recording of Brahms Symphonies (four in total), conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Hence on the U.S. tour, these symphonies play the centrepiece of their concerts along with Brahms’ other compositions and Schoenberg’s (an ardent lover of Brahms) creations too.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts with such precision and clarity (probably as was an orchestral percussionist himself) that even the listener will attune his emotions to the conductor’s  movements (or so I felt).  A far-sighted visionary with big plans for the Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Rattle is one of the main supporters of the Digital Concert Hall (I love this concept, check it out).

Sir Simon Rattle
Sir Simon Rattle

Now back to the performance.

Brahms’ Symphony # 3: the first piece of  the evening

This symphony, in F Major is such a beautiful piece. First, a little on the structure of the symphony. The first movement ( in the tempo allegro con brio) starts very vigorously with a three note opening, the energy of which startles the listener, making him sit up straight and pay attention. There is a brief lull where the strings play an expressive melody and the opening theme comes back with full vigor. The notes go back and forth between the major and the minor modes. The theme is recurrent and there is a sense of foreboding and urgency.

The second movement is a slow one with a recurring theme, almost conversational, I feel. The horns,bassoons and the strings seem to be having a dialogue. There are many  variations of  the theme and it borders on being sad in a restful quiet way.

The third movement is faster and more melodious. I LOVED this the best. There is a mode change and the theme is briefly optimistic before returning to a sad melody.

The final fourth movement starts in hushed tones. But then suddenly, you hear the theme from the second movement, with the dynamics  completely different this time, played in a loud confident manner. The ending is soft and inconclusive.

In this symphony,  there isn’t much percussion. But then the staccatos and the abrupt note changes of the strings almost keep a rhythm going. There are so many layers of emotions to this symphony that it is unbelievable.

My interpretation of symphony No.3

As I was listening to the symphony, I could imagine a story unfolding. The first movement starts with news of the war (the brisk energy). There is panic and the womenfolk mumble softly among themselves (the strings).  Then the Prince leaves along with the warriors (the resounding ending).

The second movement is about the conversations of the womenfolk left behind. The Princess and her friends talk among themselves about their men. There is talk of separation( the quiet melancholic tone) and of pride in the Prince’s valor ( the buoyant tone, especially of the horn). I  also “saw” the mixing of the sad and buoyant tones this way- “Someone was about to burst into tears but then they changed their mind as if they suddenly remembered something to be happy about.”

As for the third movement, news from the battlefield returns and the town is mourning for the lost Prince, also feared to be dead (the almost sad theme). There are some rumors that he might be alive (the minor-to-major mode change). But then that is not so and the princess mourns along with her subjects (the main melody played by the horn and taken by the string section).

In the finale, they are still mourning (hushed voices). There is more sadness (theme from the second movement). There is finally good news  that the Prince has returned triumphant and all rejoice (the resounding trumpets and the entire orchestra).  The princess tells the Prince about what she went through (the second movement theme again) and there is a quiet and thankful rejoicing (the first movement theme returns). It all ends with all wondering if there would be another war (the mysterious ending).

Back to the performance

Moving on to the performance of  the Berlin Philharmonic  in particular, their rendition of  Symphony #3 was out of the ordinary. I was seated in the second row and I could see the players so close. They were completely one with the music (some were playing it by heart) and I felt that the beauty of Brahms’ work shone through purely because of  the conductor’s and  the musicians’ interpretation. In this symphony, the horn, bassoon and the contrabassoon hold such a key part and the players were absolutely brilliant. The string section was of course amazing too.

Arnold Schoenberg’s “Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene”

After a 20 minute intermission, the orchestra treated us to one of Schoenberg’s works.

Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg

Titled “Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene” (music to accompany a film scene, this was so different. It is a perfect example of Schoenberg’s 12-tone system and it was disturbing. It had three sections- danger, fear and catastrophe. The first thing that came to mind was that it was perfect background music for a classic Hitchcock movie, especially “Birds”.

Hitchcock's "Birds"

Brahms’ Symphony No.4

Next, the orchestra performed symphony #4 in E Minor. This was Brahms’ final symphony and is considered one of his most celebrated works.

To me, the first movement was the many bests of the evening. There are two themes (rhythmic and lyrical) to this one that keep entwining about one other, one soft and the other energetic and the final coda is an explosive outburst that brings the two themes together. I absolutely loved the soft melody of the strings and the exuberant end of this movement. The second movement also has a similar thing going on.

The third movement, the only real scherzo of Brahms’s symphonies, is so energetic and triumphant.The clarity and sharpness  given by the timpanist as well as violins was so clear here.

The fourth movement is like a roller coaster ride- with a initial bass theme followed by one of the most beautiful violin melodies and then a resounding crescendo. Then the tempo slows down and there is a flute solo followed by other solos while the violins are softly playing in the background. In the end, we hear the turbulent opening theme of the finale again and there is a somewhat sad ending that leaves you wanting for more.

And we wanted more too as we pleaded in vain with Sir Rattle for an encore. Alas, we didn’t get an encore and while I believe in moderation- in-everything, it definitely does not apply to  doses of divine music like these.

Krithika, [art]seen reviewer

Krithika is still in heaven after the night’s performance and will resume earthly duties only when it is absolutely impossible to procrastinate any further. 🙂