Category Archives: Festivals/Series

Painting to Music

Here’s a painting-in-progress, done to a recording of songs by Indiana folk musician Joe Peters.

I’d never seen someone do a painting live, with a music performance, until I saw it done at Joe’s CD release party last year (on which I played).  Then I saw it done on one (or was it two?) of Mike Block’s GALA NYC concerts last spring, and at the opening Summer Stage concert by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble in New York’s Central Park (Times review here).  It’s a fascinating collaborative, creative component for a concert. Does it add anything to “the music”?  Not really.  To the overall human experience?  Sure!  I definitely want to program it this coming summer on a Greencastle Summer Music Festival concert.

Anyway, I love Joe’s music.  Enjoy.

(BTW, if you like the cello playing in the intro, the player’s initials are “E.E.”  If you don’t, then, uh, I don’t know who the guy is.  The wonderful violin/viola playing is definitely my dear friend and former spouse, Allison Edberg, who did the string arrangement.)

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Filed under Allison Guest Edberg, Folk Music, GALA NYC, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Joe Peters, Mike Block

Phoenix’s Downtown Chamber Series: An Unusual Model for Success

a view from the rear of the Great Hall at the Phoenix Art Museum

I attended the Wednesday July 27 concert of the Phoenix Downtown Chamber Series (DCS) in the Great Hall of the gorgeous Phoenix Art Museum.   The DCS, a musician-run organization founded and directed by Phoenix Symphony violist Mark Dix, has been going since 2000.  The program, except for two solo piano pieces by Granados, was of all contemporary music.  Except for two more solo piano pieces, by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963), each piece included guitar and had been commissioned and/or premiered by Duo 46, guitarist Matt Gould and violinist Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould.  I listed all the performers (each of whom played terrifically well) in my preview post.

The DCS presents about five programs a year (if I understood correctly), at various art galleries, museums, and warehouse spaces in the downtown Phoenix area.  It’s a very interesting model: no traditional concert halls, changing venues, and the concerts are scheduled and announced one-by-one rather than a season in advance. Ticket prices are low (just $10), and there are a variety of donors (35 in the $10-99 category, 42 in the $100 and above).  Volunteers (seven listed in the program for these concerts) help with logistics, ushering, ticket sales, etc.

If someone had come to me before Wednesday night and asked, “How about we start a chamber music series where we just plan the concerts one by one and have them at different locations?”, I’d probably have been skeptical about the chances of building an audience.

Now that I think about it, though, an ensemble (or, in this case fairly large group of local musicians from whom the performers

From behind the stage, looking out over the seating area

for each concert are drawn) in a large metropolitan area can certainly build a following that is not venue-specific.  Having just spent five months in NY, the new-music groups Alarm Will Sound, the Metropolis Ensemble, and the International Contemporary Ensemble, each of which perform at a variety of locations, immediately come to mind as having done just that.

There were about 250 people, I estimated, at Wednesday evening’s concert, which was a repeat of a Saturday afternoon performance.  So the DCS certainly draws an audience.  Age range? Pretty typical, it seemed to me, the vast majority looking to be, like me, 50+.  Perhaps 10% 30 and under, a bit better than most classical concerts, but that’s a very rough estimate, and for one concert on a weeknight in what’s probably one of the more close-to-traditional spaces the DCS has played. This was their first set of concerts at the museum, the twelfth venue at which they’ve performed (by my count from that link).  The couple sitting next to me had read about the concert in the newspaper (old media still works!).

I was quite surprised when Mark Dix explained, in his remarks at the start of the second half of the concert, that the 2011-2012 season has yet to be planned, and that they have found that it works not to plan an entire season in advance, but to schedule things concert-by-concert, seeing who is available when. I’d have thought that with primarily local musicians, it would work better to get the season scheduled in advance–especially during the fall/winter/spring standard concert season.

On the other hand, I do a lot of last-minute scheduling myself for the summer concert series (the Greencastle Summer Music Festival) I organize in Greencastle.  We do twelve concerts a summer, and since we pay rather small honoraria and people tend not to have summer vacation and other plans set far in advance, it has worked for seven years to do the scheduling in late April and early May, with the concerts starting just after Memorial Day.  I’ve been thinking about starting earlier, and perhaps for some of the performers that could work, but I’ve been assuming that for most of us it wouldn’t work to pin things down too far in advance. And at DePauw, where I teach, the music faculty wasn’t enthusiastic about scheduling faculty recitals a season in advance, until the concert calendar started getting so crowded that we were forced to do so or not be able to get a date.

And many of the musicians are members of the Phoenix Symphony, and I know from my friends in the Indianapolis Symphony that the schedule can be more in flux than one would assume;  run-out concerts and special events get added during the season, so you can’t always count on a free night remaining so.

Obviously it’s working for them.  I talked briefly with Mark after the concert; his enthusiasm for performing chamber music in visually-stimulating, energetic, spaces such as art museums is contagious. He mentioned how “dead” recital halls and churches can feel, and how little classical musicians as a whole think about the visual experience of a concert.  He’s right on about that.

And it’s a musician-run, local series.  Which is great.  With the high level of the performances, I was impressed once again by how many terrific musicians there are wherever you go in the United States, just as so many of us were impressed by the high level of playing of orchestras from Toledo, Albany, Oregon, and Dallas at the Spring for Music Festival at Carnegie Hall.

Since the series presents primarily local musicians, they can pay what I assume are fairly nice fees for a gig in one’s home town. They don’t have to come up with six-figure fees to pay a big-name touring ensemble with its associated travel and hotel costs. That would require more extensive fundraising, including grants, big corporate donors/sponsors, slick program books with ads, etc.  (I talked once with the artistic director of a summer series, not too far a drive away from Greencastle, about possibly booking one or two of their groups to do a concert on my series;  each of the groups on his series expected a fee much larger than the budget for our entire summer.) To get a corporate sponsor for a program, you’d have to have that program scheduled well in advance.

But they don’t need that.  The Downtown Concert Series fulfills a very different purpose than, say, the Phoenix Chamber Music Society, which presents big-name artists like the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Muir Quartet.  This is (first-rate) local musicians putting on their own concerts, and doing a great job of it.

I’m really glad I went;  it gave me a lot to think about, and possibilities to imagine.

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Filed under alternative classical performance, alternative venues, Downtown Chamber Series (Phoenix), Duo46 (violin and guitar), Ensembles, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Phoenix Chamber Music Society

My mother, so present in her absence, at last night’s concert

“I’m not quite sure how to follow that!”  The audience laughed.

Nariaki Sugiura had just finished a virtuoso performance of Alan Jay Kernis’s Superstar Etude No. 1, a rock/classical mashup of a piece, which included Nariaki leaning over and using his (shoeless) left foot on the keyboard.  Very theatrical and really energizing.  Talk about pianistic athleticism.

The concert began with a solo set by Nariaki.  He’d also played a movement of a Haydn sonata and two Cowell pieces.  And then this bombastic entertainment, which the audience loved.

So as a kind of transition, I told a couple of stories.  How my mother and Laura Sias, the strings teacher at Parker Elementary School in Royal Oak, Michigan, conspired to get me started on cello.  How I agreed, with my own eleven-year-old silent conspiracy, to play, knowing that if I refused my mother would be on my case for not trying.  If I played for a few months, however, I could then say I didn’t like it, and my mother would be off my back about playing an instrument.

The joke was on me, though.  I liked the cello and kept playing.

(Despite several attempts to quit, when I’ve been frustrated with my playing, or with myirregular practice habits, with my performances, with the anxiety attacks before (and occasionally during) performances, with the depression and self-recrimination that has sometimes followed performances . . . I always came back.  At some point, I quit quitting.)

Anyway, here I was, almost 43 years later, playing a concert.  About to perform the Schumann Five Pieces in Folk Style for the first time. As I wrote about yesterday, as a boy I used to fall asleep listening to the Pablo Casals recording of them.

Nariaki and I started playing.  And my mother was suddenly very present for me.  A pianist, she was my first accompanist, and we performed together for years.  A wonderful mentor and colleague as I became an adult and a college music professor myself.  We used to love shop talk.

Now, parts of her brain experiencing the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia, she’s in a (lovely) memory-care facility.

Her grandson, my son, visited her Tuesday.  At first she started to introduce him to others as her husband, then when Pete interrupted to say he wasn’t her husband, she said he was her son. He tried to explain he was her grandson, but she ignored it.  “She did not want to be corrected twice,” he told me.  “Her social sense is still intact.”

Howard Hanson (a major 20th-century composer who was the head of the Eastman School of Music for years) visited the University of Tampa when she taught there, and she was the piano soloist on a concert he conducted.  The poster is on a wall of her room.

Now she conflates him with whatever composer she is playing.  So she told Pete about Beethoven visiting her in Florida and the concerts they did together.

I hadn’t played in Greencastle since last summer (I was on sabbatical for the 2010-2011 academic year/concert season).  My parents moved to Greencastle about four years ago.  I’d taken Mom to every concert I’d played here since–and she’d played a few herself.  So this was the first time I’d sat in that church with my cello and not had her there.

And I was playing these pieces that I used to listen to when I started playing the cello.  My 11/12 year old self was very present.  The music is so beautiful.  Memories of how much I loved a particular passage started flashing into my awareness, more strongly than when we rehearsed.

My love and gratitude for my mother, who’d gotten me playing, who’d always supported me, who’d played with me, was so strong.

She was so present for me in her absence.

Somewhere in the first movement, I started to cry.  I held it back, but I was on the brink.  Teared up, for sure.  Afraid I’d lose it.

I didn’t, though. I got through the Schumann, and the rest of the program, just fine.  Had an especially good time playing the Saint-Saëns Concerto and Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango.  

I’ll see Mom Saturday. I’ll take my cello, the cello she and my father took out a second mortgage to buy, and we’ll play some pieces together. She can tell me about her concerts with Beethoven, or whomever.

I’ll probably go over to my ex-wife’s house and cry after that.

(There’s more to say about the experience of last night’s concert, which a friend not there asked me to write about.  When I started to write this post, I didn’t know that it would be about missing my mother. There were many other dimensions, of course–and, writing muse willing, I’ll write about them soon.)

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Filed under Dealing with dementia, Eric Edberg performances, family life, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Nariaki Sugiura

Oh! I’m playing a concert tonight

That's Nariaki. I'm the guy above!

Ha!  I have a little block (maybe more than a little) when it comes to promoting my own concerts.  So I’m just getting this up the afternoon of the show.

Tonight, pianist Nariaki Sugiura and I play a recital as part of the Greencastle Summer Music Festival, which I started about seven years ago and continue to (barely) organize.  There have been stories in the Banner-Graphic (the Greencastle, Indiana paper) and on the DePauw site.

It will probably be Nariaki’s last concert in Greencastle for quite a while.  He starts a new faculty position at the University of North Dakota next month. He’s a fabulous young pianist, who just finished (or is close to finishing) his DMA at Indiana University.  He was the accompanist for Janos Starker’s cello studio for several years, so he knows the cello repertoire inside out.

He’s a delightfully flexible collaborator, too.  Sometimes when a pianist has worked a lot with a famous artist or teacher, he or she will want everyone to play the way the great one did/taught:  “Starker does X!” “Mr. Rose always made a ritard here.”  “Alisa Weilerstein plays this tempo.” So what?  We are playing, not them.

My favorite was when in my own doctoral-student days I was rehearsing the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations with a pianist and triumphantly nailed the final variation.  I sighed, smiled, and looked up at her.

She’d been listening to a recording. “Rostropovich plays faster,” she deadpanned, in her not-yet-fluent English.

With Nariaki, though, it’s always starting fresh, and I like that.  He’s never asked me to play like Starker or anyone else.

Nariaki starts things off tonight with a solo set.  He begins with a vivacious Allegro from a Haydn piano sonata, followed by two short programmatic pieces (“Banshee” and “The Harp of Life”) by the American composer Henry Cowell (1897-1965), and then a piece by a actual living composer: Alan Jay Kernis’s Superstar Etude No. 1.

The Kernis is wild and crazy.  A hard act to follow!

But I’ll give it a try.

Together we’ll play the Five Pieces in Folk Style by Robert Schumann.  I think it’s the first time for both of us, certainly for me.  I grew up listening to these pieces as performed by Pablo Casals.  As I explain in the press release included here, the first cello record I was given included these pieces.  I’d listen to them, or the Schumann Cello Concerto on the other side, almost every night as I went to sleep. (I had an automatic turntable, which would turn itself off when a record was over, in my room.) At some point in my teens, I decided to wait until I was an adult to learn and perform them–I thought it would be nice to “save” them.  Last week, thinking about tonight’s program, I decided now is the time.

That got me thinking about other childhood pieces, and the Saint-Saëns A Minor Concerto started floating through my head.  An album with Leonard Rose playing it, along with the Lalo Concerto and the Fauré Elegy, came into possession early in my cello life as well.  I got to meet Mr. Rose in 1973 after a concert, and he autographed the album for me.  I was with another cello student and he signed it, “Hello fellow sufferers!  Greetings, Leonard Rose.”  The Saint-Saëns Concerto was one of my favorite pieces.  I haven’t performed it since 1989–it’s out of fashion to play concertos with piano accompaniment, although this was done all the time in the 19th century as well as the pre-World War II era in the 20th.  So why not?  It’s such a terrific piece, and it sounds great with piano.

We finish off with Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango, which he composed in 1982 for Mstislav Rostropovich. They didn’t get around to performing it until 1990.  So I definitely didn’t grow up listening to it.  But I love Piazzolla, and this piece is enormously fun to play.

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Filed under Eric Edberg performances, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Nariaki Sugiura

Promoting a concert with YouTube videos

I mentioned in my last post that I asked John Kamfonas to make some videos in which he discusses the music he’s performing at Wednesday night’s Greencastle Summer Music Festival concert.  (Hey, if you’re within driving distance of Greencastle, Indiana, the concert’s at 7:30 PM, at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, and it’s free. Directions here.)

Inspired by a project in Greg Sandow‘s Juilliard class (which Greg was kind enough to let me sit in on) this spring, I asked John to talk to the camera about what he loves (or is afraid of, or something else personal) in the pieces he’s playing.  He did a great job of talking about and demonstrating the pieces, as well as editing the video.  We both thought the videos about the music itself–as effective as they are–turned out less personal than we had intended, so he made the first video below as a personal introduction.

The idea we’re trying out is to promote and present concerts in a way that presents an alternative to the classical-music-is-formal-and-boring-and-classical-musicians-are-stiff-and-dull impression many people have.  I can’t say how much I appreciate John going for it.  So here are his videos, starting with his introduction.  Comments welcome!

Thanks and congratulations again to John.  The daunting thing is that I’m playing in two weeks, so now I have to practice what I preach!

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Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, John Kamfonas (piano), YouTube

Adventures in Concert Presentation: John Kamfonas at the Greencastle Summer Music Festival Wednesday

John Kamfonas

John Kamfonas is a young pianist (early twenties–to me, that’s young; he’s about my son’s age).  He’s playing tomorrow (Wednesday) night on the Greencastle Summer Music Festival, a series of 12 Wednesday-evening concerts I organize (or as the say in NY, “curate”).

To me, John’s a great example of a next-generation musician.  He’s a terrific classical pianist, who just received his Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music (MSM).  (Which is where I met him, when I sat in on some guest presentations at the MSM Center for Music Entrepreneurship). He also improvises and plays in a rock band.

We ended up sitting next to each other when a large group went out for burgers and beer after a presentation by David Cutler, the Savvy Musician himself. When John told me about his improvising and rock lives, I thought he might be great to invite to play in Greencastle. I love his musical diversity, and his youth and rock-music interest might appeal to a younger-than-usual audience. To me, the question for classical-music presenters and performers is how to we attract younger audiences and maintain artistic integrity?  One part of the answer is presenting young performers (with whom young audiences can identify) who play classical and original and/or non-classical music.

So while I was in NY, John, at my invitation, dropped a CD off at my building (ah, how nice it was to have a doorman!) and sent me an email proposing a program with improvisations, classical music (Brahms, Liszt, and Hadjidakis, the latter arrangements of Greek folk tunes) and some rock music–improvisations on Michael Jackson tunes.  Sounded great, and since he’s young and didn’t need a big fee (yet), we could afford to fly him in.

We’re having a “Meet John Kamfonas” pizza party tonight for college and high-school students in town.  That’s proved to be a bit challenging.  There are relatively few DePauw students on campus for the summer, since we don’t have summer classes. I don’t have the contact information for that many of them, and have had to recruit my kids and their friends to pass on Facebook invitations.  I also had to ask friends to host the party at their house, since I don’t have a piano.  They are big supporters of the festival, so they were happy to do it, but I hate asking for help with stuff (something I’m working on).  Since I just got back to Greencastle a week ago, and was shy about asking someone else to host a party, word may have gotten out too late for a big turnout.  We’ll see.

I also asked John to make a YouTube video or two we could use to introduce him–he made four!  I don’t know how much of a difference they’ll make in a small town, but I do know that a number of people appreciate videos on concert venue websites as they decide whether a concert is interesting to them.  This is something Greg Sandow talked a lot about in his Juilliard class: both using videos and having performers talk about themselves and what their personal connection to the music.  They’ll be in my next post.

Meanwhile, in addition to Facebook invites and email invitations, there’s been an article in the local paper and it got picked up by the DePauw site.  My guess is the the DePauw PR director decided to do a story on it because presenting a program combining classical music, improvisations, and Michael Jackson relates to my sabbatical research.

I’ll let you know how the party and concert go!

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Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, Center for Music Entrepreneurship, Festivals/Series, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, John Kamfonas (piano), Manhattan School of Music, Sandow, Uncategorized, Young Performers

Coming Up: Tribeca New Music Festival and GALA NYC Events

Greg Sandow, back from his trip to England, has been writing up his experiences, including yesterday’s post on the intersection between alt-classical (as he, his wife, and some others say) music and the London Symphony.

It’s interesting that one of the keys to developing new, age-diverse diverse audiences is new music that is challenging and accessible at the same time.  New music, new audience.  And the mix and/or juxtaposition of musical languages (i.e., indie rock, classical, contemporary classical, non-Western, etc.) that is so much in evidence in so many performances here in New York.

With that in mind, here are some events I’m looking forward to here in Gotham:

The Tribeca New Music Festival began Monday night, with a performance by the string quartet Ethel (warmly reviwed by the Times).  I was till out of town, so I didn’t have to choose between that concert and the free Time for Three show at the church across the street from my apartment. (And, damn it, both are groups I really want to hear in person!)

I am planning to attend the rest of the Tribeca Festival events, including Dither and Redhooker tonight (May 26) at Merkin (near Lincoln Center), and Tribeca Monsters Tuesday (May 31) at Galapagos (in Brooklyn), as well as the others listed on the festival website.  (I find it a bit amusing that, in its 10th season, a festival named for Tribeca, a Manhattan neighborhood which used to be low-rent and is now insanely expensive, has no performances in its namesake locale.)

Saturday night I’ll be at the final GALA NYC show at the Brooklyn Lyceum before the series takes a summer break (it resumes in the fall).  I loved the May 14 event.  I almost called it a “variety show” in my post, but thought it might have an unflattering connotation.  Then I got a promo email from Mike Block, the versatile cellist and organizer of the series, including this:

WHAT IS GALA NYC? A variety show featuring new and exciting collaborations by world-class musicians from different backgrounds.  Come see some world premiers and new re-interpretations of existing music! You can see videos from our previous 3 performances at www.Youtube.com/Galanyc.

So obviously “variety show” is the right term!  Tickets are only $15.  I think it’s about the best deal in New York.

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Filed under GALA NYC, Tribeca New Music Festival