Preview: Bill Harley is coming to town

Ok, so who is Bill Harley and what’s so special about him?

Bill Harley is a two-time Grammy Award winning storyteller and musician. This Massachusetts-based performer is famed for his use of song and story to describe the joys of growing up and family life. He is especially known for his wit and wisdom and is a prolific author. He has won a lot of other awards too- for his books, novels and concert DVDs.

He will give a free family performance at the Ark (The Ark, 316 South Main St, Ann Arbor, MI) on Sunday, November 22 at 1.00 pm.This performance is sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library.

Later that night, there will be a show exclusively for teenagers and adults at 7.30 pm. Tickets cost $15 for this performance.

More ticket information is available on the Ark web page.

I still dig the good ol’ “Dennis the menace” and “Calvin and hobbes” comics. It is said that Bill Harvey’s show appeal to both the young and the old.

So, if you are in the mood for  some clean laugh-all-you-can good humor, this is for you. I am going to go as I think the kid in me never died.

Yours truly, Krithika, [art]seen reviewer

The Phantom’s Got Nothing on Figaro

Fantastic! Or should I say Fantastico? “The Marriage of Figaro” went off this weekend without a hitch and proved to be an adventure through time and culture. I attended the Sunday Matinee and was absolutely amazed at the amount of talent produced by the singers, musicians, and set/ costume designers. Just amazing!

Figaro is a classic opera and perhaps one of the most famous. Music composed by Mozart himself and story written by Lorenzo da Ponte, Le Nozzi Di Figaro has traversed the centuries with pride and glory.

Attending the show, I was nervous as to how we were to understand the words, being that it was all in Italian, but I was relieved to see the way subtitles were displayed. A small, but adequate, screen presented the English translation and since many of the words were sung more than once, there was ample time to read and enjoy the performance. Anyone who fears going to an Opera here at the UofM in the future, don’t stress. They are catered for us to understand and enjoy.

The sets and costumes were beautiful done. I happen to know that talented young man that designed one of the dresses, the fabulous blue evening gown that the Countess wears for the ladder acts of the performance.

Sorry, image quality isnt the best, but this is the fantastic dress!
Sorry, image quality isn't the best, but this is the fantastic dress!

Everyone that I spoke to agreed with me when I complimented the comedic value of the performance. That is to say that it was hilarious! The audience, including myself, was laughing uncontrollably during certain twists and turns of the plot and at the fantastic satirical deliveries of various actors and actresses. One scene especially kept us going. Characters are eavesdropping constantly and the Countess and Susana play a trick on the Count and Figaro. By trading cloaks, the ladies trick the gentlemen into thinking they are each other. The men must be really stupid, but it is a great theatrical device and it was extremely funny. The things that men do behind their wives’ backs…except in this case it was the Count’s wife, he just didn’t know it. Absolutely hilarious!

As promised in my preview, I have a marvelous interview from a good friend, Nicholas Ward who played Bartolo on Nov. 14 & 15. Nick is a voice performance major who found his passion for singing as a young child. He performed in choirs and school musicals. During High School his teacher introduced him to Opera and he has been in love ever since. When asked his favorite opera singer at the moment, Nick replied “I’d say baritone Sherrill Milnes-he was really big in the 70’s and 80’s and has one of the most powerful and amazing voices I’ve ever listened to.” I asked Nick what he thought of the play, and I agree with him when he says “This show is an absolute success.” Nick is quick to hand out compliments (“Our director and conductor are such talented, knowledgeable people and really helped all the students put together a very well-known and well-loved opera.”), but he should know that he deserves just as much and more phrase. So Nick, and all of you other cast members, Fantastic Job! You are amazing!

Nick is the one in the Powdered wig! 3rd from the Left
Nick is the one in the Powdered wig! 3rd from the Left

Since I had a slight dilemma about the language barrier, I inquired whether this experience and Opera in general helps the performers better understand the Italian language. Nick responded “-yes, being a part of this opera really has helped me with my Italiano. Since there is so much recitative (a speak-singing style of dialogue), you have to be very precise with the Italian so it is clear.” My conversation with Nick proved to be a very interesting one, just like my fabulous Opera Experience. I hope to continue visiting great performances such as The Marriage of Figaro. Nick also hopes to keep going in Opera, but his plans are much more extensive. Ultimately, his goals include professional performance and voice coaching. It’s a long road, but Nick is already on his way and an abundance of talent and perseverance will help him accomplish his dreams.

Don’t fear the Opera! Try new things, buy tickets to something you’ve never heard of, try out for shows and performances, and most of all, never stay in your dorm room watching TV when there are so many things happening right outside your door. I’d like to thank Nick for answering my questions and give one last shout out to the amazing cast and crew of Le Nozzi Di Figaro! Amazing everyone, just amazing!

Danny Fob: Artist and Art Reviewer

REVIEW: The Boondock Saints II – All Saints Day

Boondock Saints II Pass
Pass for The Boondock Saints II - All Saints Day

So in case you didn’t read my review about The Boondock Saints II, I was so pumped for this movie! My biggest problem, though? Not knowing when, where, or how to get a ticket. The State Theater website said, “Passes are available all over campus,” but that’s so vague! I literally skipped on doing a lot of homework (which, thank God, turned out wasn’t actually due that day) to look for this pass, calling every organization I could think of. Once, a lady actually called me out on being annoying since I was apparently the twentieth person who called about it. I finally resolved to show up thirty minutes early and use any excuse at all to get in. Instead, I just showed up and asked if they had any extra passes, and was handed one of probably 30 extras! I really wasn’t expecting it to be that easy and actually didn’t have anything to do for those thirty minutes then. I looked at the ticket, though, and noticed it was actually a ticket for two, so I began to call all my friends to come check out the movie. Turns out nobody can spare two hours on Thursdays before Accounting 271 exams and the IASA show. *sad face*

I went in on my own and found one of the best seats in the theater, only a couple seats away from what I would’ve picked if it wasn’t already packed. The guy actually sitting there brought to mind the awesome Irish jig theme song (below), which I completely forgot that I absolutely love! I basically wasted thirty minutes just whistling that song until, all of a sudden, the movie was on!

“When they said sneak preview, I thought they meant the whole movie.” “That’s it?!” “Rewind it!” Major fail. They accidentally played about 5 seconds of a random scene. And then they did it again. It didn’t really bother me, but when the movie began, the scene again seemed quite random, and it made me wonder if there was a mistake and we missed part of the movie. Hopefully not!

I have to admit, just like many sequels (especially those that are made ten years after the first film), jumping back into the story was kind of cheesy. They reused some film from the previous movie: super cheesy. I also thought it was kind of lame when they used some creative filming styles from the previous film, which were cool at the time, but seemed overdone the second time around. And then there were legacy connections to the previous film that I thought would have been better left out, or maybe just integrated better. For example, they had a “Spiritu Sancti” song. Yeah. Cheesy to the max.

Having said that, it was just straight up bad a**!! One thing that I really liked was that State Theater left the lights dimmed in the beginning, and only shut them off fully when the title was displayed, making it uber intense. Also, some of the connections to the previous film were actually kind of cool. It was nice that there were fans of the original there, who laughed and cheered at the right parts when they brought back parts of the first film: the comically lame cops, the flabbergasted mob bosses, and the amateur-but-awesome Saints. I was kind of disappointed that William Dafoe wasn’t the main FBI agent this time, but I guess it couldn’t have worked with him.

I would give the move a 7/10. I tried to be as critical as I could, knowing that I was a fan and therefore biased, but there really were some great lines, and I definitely laughed more than I ever have in a theater, including comedy films. At the same time, they just made everything so dramatic and intense, like the murders and some of the more emotional scenes in the movie. And then? PARTAY! I loved seeing their drinking scenes, and I literally would have fallen out of my chair laughing at some of those scenes if I were watching the movie on DVD at home.

In terms of the acting, the mob boss was definitely my favorite actor. The rage in his face was perfectly intense at just the right times. I’m glad they choose him as the actor instead of using someone from the old film; I really don’t think anyone in the previous film could have taken this role on as well as him.

My last thought as the movie finished was, “Um, yeah, DEFS not forgetting to watch the sequel!” It was such an awesome ending and gripping cliffhanger, though I’ll admit it was kind of ridiculous. But in the same way that the entire movie was ridiculous yet intense. I definitely suggest seeing this movie if you hear it’s playing nearby and have a chance; I know I’ll personally watch it on DVD about forty times.

-Bhaj, [art]seen Reviewer and Boondock Saints Enthusiast

Theme song for The Boondock Saints–I just love this song!

PREVIEW: Berliner Philharmoniker

Berliner Philharmoniker

Sir Simon Rattle, conductor
Tuesday, November 17, 8 pm
Hill Auditorium

This is THE perfect orchestra experience you have been looking for. Founded during UMS’s third season in 1882, the Berliner Philharmoniker has long been considered one of the world’s finest orchestras.

To quote from the UMS website:-

<start quote>

Sir Simon Rattle,  their new music director, has conducted many of the world’s great orchestras. In addition to his duties in Berlin, he regularly guest conducts the Vienna Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and other celebrated ensembles. Rattle makes his UMS debut with this appearance, which features Brahms’s final two symphonies as well as film music composed by Schoenberg. This exclusive tour will include only a handful of US cities — New York, Chicago, Boston, and Ann Arbor.

Please note that the Berliner Philharmoniker has requested that late seating for this performance occur at intermission — after the first complete work on the program.

· Brahms : Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 (1883)
· Schoenberg : Begleitmusik zu einer Lichstspielszene, Op. 34 (1929-30)
· Brahms : Symphony No. 4 in e minor, Op. 98 (1884-5)

<end quote>

On 18 December 2008, the Orchestra announced the creation of a Digital Concert Hall: this new Internet platform will enable music fans all over the world to see and hear the Philharmonic’s concerts – live or on demand. There was a free performance sponsored by the Deutsch Bank around two months back. But I had missed it. So I am so excited to see the real deal.

Student rush tickets are difficult to get. But there might be some rush tickets at the box office on the day of the performance due to cancellations. See you there, folks.

Krithika, [art]seen reviewer

Krithika loves to get comments 🙂

REVIEW: Yasmin Levy

To the gentle strumming of the guitar and the strains of the flute, Yasmin Levy, dressed in black and the ever enticing enchantress, cast a spell on the audience with her tremor-filled “La Serena”. It was just a start.

Firstly,a lil more about the Ladino music that Yasmin Levy sings. In her rendition, she maintains the original lyrics and melody of the  songs (some of them nearly 500 years old), but changes the rhythm to a Flamenco style. She also mixes Turkish, Egyptian and other Middle-eastern music in her own Spanish compositons and the result is unbelievably beautiful.

To understand the Ladino songs better, we would have to delve a little into the Ladino culture.  In 1492,in an attempt to flush the land of all non-christians, the Catholic rulers, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued a decree that all Jews, Gypsies and Moors (a population of Muslim peoples from Northern Africa who conquered the lands of Spain and Portugal in 711 CE) living in the Spanish kingdom were either to convert to the Catholic faith or leave the country. Thousands of Jews were exiled from their homes, and in the years that followed these Jews settled in other parts of Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East (see the map of Jewish Migration).

The Jews from the Iberian peninsula carried their language with them and settled in the Ottoman empire. They became known as the Sephardic Jews and their language became known as Ladino.

It is no wonder that the Ladino songs are mostly about longing, love, desperation, passion and of course hope. These songs, handed down from generation to generation by mother to daughter and father to son, survived purely by word of mouth. They are based on simple themes from everyday life- like a mean mother-in-law or the unrequited love of a heartless lover. To those persecuted Jews, stripped of their lands and property and enslaved by new rulers, music must have been the only means to give vent to their melancholy, solitude, frustration and the occasional happiness.  The wailing laments in the songs show this pain clearly. What is common in all these songs is the singer’s candid admission of his/her true feelings. It is such a contrast to the norm of the sophisticated upper class where emotions are best hidden and there are euphemisms, innuendos and a tendency to be emotionally aloof.

Coming back to the performance, Yasmin Levy is of those singers who have a “heart” voice- she sings with such feeling in her songs that you don’t need to know to language to appreciate the pathos or empathise for the loss. Be it the complex rhythmic phrasing or the slow vibratos, she  modulates her voice so perfectly to bring out the right emotion. She is a brilliantly talented singer with a deep soulful and sensuous voice. It just doesn’t get better than that. Period.

She was accompanied on the percussion by Ishay Amir, her husband, who kept perfect rhythm.  For some songs like the haunting “Mano Suave”, he played the darbouka (see pic below), a drum that is often used in music for belly dancing.

I was so thrilled by the Armenian Vardan Havanissian who played the wind instruments flute,clarinet and zurna (see pic below).

I thought was very similar to an Indian musical instrument called the nadaswaram (albeit a shorter version of it). He was just superb. His smooth flowing style with the ornamentation and variations was out of the world.

On the electric upright bass was Miles Danso from Ghana. The bass melded so well into the songs.  On guitar was Yechiel Hasson, a master of Flamenco style.  There were songs which had Ms Levy singing with only the guitar to accompany her. Both the artists’ amazing talents could be seen  in those duets.

Unlike in Western music where ensembles play with sheet music, in this kind of music the musicians just play by memory. This is definitely harder as it needs perfect co-ordination. But this kind of setting leaves so much of room for improvisation and encourages spontaneity based on the mood of the audience and that was what we saw in the performance.

One perfect example of the amalgamation of Falmenco and Ladino was “Noches Noches”. The Flamenco genre’s staccato clap punctuating a vocal line was shown so beautifully in this one. It is such an evocative song.

“Una Ora” had Arabic music elements and would have been a great one for belly dancing, as would have been the funny song, “Mi suegra la negra”(The mean mother-in-law). You can imagine a newly-wed daughter-in-law singing this to herself, gritting her teeth, as she is doing some chores for her mother-in-law instead of being with her husband. Here’s a translation of the lyrics. Ms. Levy also showed some of her Flamenco moves here.

“My mother-in-law the evil one

Takes revenge on me.

I can no longer live with her.

She is stronger than death itself.

Soon I shall get rid her.”

The old cantina, “Adio Kerida” (Farewell,my love) was so beautiful. She had the audience singing to it. It might as well have been an metaphorical ode sung by a Jew to his native land.

My favorite of the evening was “la Alegria”. Contrary to its name (which means “happiness”), the song is about a woman who is pining for her love. It is so sad that it churns your insides and leaves you with a deep disgust for that imaginary cruel lover. The whooshing sound of the bass in this is so moving.

Yasmin Levy’s own compositions “Una Noches Mas” (a very slow moving number) and “El Amor Contigo” (a fast paced flamenco style song) were also about love. The Ladino style could be seen in her compositions as well.

That Yasmin Levy brings together musicians from so many different countries and different faiths is a testimonial to the respect the musical world has for her. May her efforts to bring people together with music bear fruits.

I was not the only one to have fallen for her music. There was an encore and Yasmin ended with a really sad Spanish song. As I was heading out, I overheard someone say, “That wasn’t fair. The last song only left me yearning for more. Wished she had sang some more.”  Sigh, sigh, I defintely agree.

Krithika, [art]seen reviewer

Krithika likes to jump in puddles of water, especially when a person wearing all white walks past by

PREVIEW: Yasmin Levy

Artist: Yasmin Levy

Saturday, November 14, 8 pm
Hill Auditorium

Tickets available at the Michigan League Office or at the box office before the performance.

This saturday night, it is time to awaken that latent gypsy spirit in you and head to the Hill auditorium. Yasmin Levy is going to be in town and she will take you on a musical journey with some Ladino music. Yup, folks, it is not a typo and it is Ladino, the language of the Sephardic Jews who were driven out of Spain in the late 15th century and who settled in Israel. These jews carried the music of  Andalusia with them and as they stayed in their new home in the Middle East, their music imbibed from the different  traditions and took its own unique form. Yasmin Levy, touted as World Music’s next Superstar,  is one of the few exponents of Ladino music.

With such good looks and a great powerful voice, Yasmin could have been a pop star. But she chose to help preserve Ladino music as a tribute to her father.  Her father, Isaac Levy, is considered as a pioneer researcher into the long and rich history of the music and culture of Spanish Jews and its diaspora. How he got  into that is interesting. One day,  Isaac Levy listened to his mother singing a Ladino song and decided to note the lyrics and the melody down. He felt that these songs were such an important part of his heritage that needed to be preserved. He then went around in the neighbourhood and started collecting songs and soon had enough to publish four books on them . But sadly, unfortunately for Yasmin, he died when she was only two. Yasmin’s mother, an accomplished singer, carried on her husband’s legacy, by performing these songs at concerts. Yasmin joined her in her teens.

Soon, her raw power-packed voice demanded its own stage and Yasmin went solo. She performs with such a deep raw passion that reminds us of the indomitable spirit of  her ancestors. (Check her out on youtube:

Traditional Ladino music is similar to Portuguese fado and Spanish flamenco in its deep-throated soulfulness and acoustic-guitar flourishes.  In the haunting voice of Levy, the odes pull at your heartstrings. Do come dressed in your most vibrant bohemian clothes and sample it for yourself.

Yours truly, Krithika, art[seen] reviewer.

Krithika likes to tap dance while waiting for the Blue bus.