Spotlight on Canada

Photograph taken by Jared Grove (Phobophile) with a Nicon Coolpix 3200. (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

July 1st marks the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation as “one Dominion under the Name of Canada” – whereby the colonies – Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada (later to become Ontario and Québec) – were unified per the British North America Act of 1867.

The sesquicentennial got off to a great start earlier this year when Canada was named The Best Place to Visit in 2017 by The New York Times.   On a personal note, one of my favorite vacations was a 2001 cross-country trip where I returned to NYC via Canada, going from Vancouver to Toronto via train.  The Canadian Rockies were absolutely magnificent (photo below), as were the skies over Alberta.

Canadian Rockies August 2001, photo by ER Daly

The good news kept coming this spring when the critically acclaimed musical Come From Away  went on to win a tony for Best Direction.  It’s still playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre – if you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to – you can find my review here.

The evening of July 1st, the Empire State Building will be lit in red and white to mark Canada Day, and other festivities include:

Canada Day Cookout  at Dirt Candy, 86 Allen Street from 5:30pm to 11:59pm

Joe’s Pub will host the 15th Annual New York Rocks the Great Canadian Songbook,    once again produced and emcee’d by Jeff Breithaupt and featuring an all-star line-up of singers backed by Don Breithaupt and the WORKIN’ FOR THE WEEKEND HOOSE BAND, no Canadian hit song will be safe from (northern) exposure. This year’s all-star line-up includes: Marissa Mulder, Ophira Eisenberg, J’Sun, Carolyn Leonhart, Jamie Leonhart, Jeremy Kushnier, Christina Bianco, Alyson Palmer, Tyley Ross, Greg Naughton, Shelley McPherson, Michael Halling, PJ Griffith, Victoria Lecta Cave, Amy Cervini and The Breithaupt Brothers.  7:00pm, Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette Street.

The festivities aren’t limited to just one day.  During the entire month of July, you’ll be able to see a diverse collection of Canada’s finest theatre, literary and musical artists, when the Soulpepper Theatre of Toronto will be in the Big Apple with a full company of artists to present a month-long festival  at The Pershing Square Signature Center on 42nd Street, performing their adaptations of classics such as On Human Bondage and Spoon River, as well as ensemble creations such as Cage and Alligator Pie, no to mention a concert series and forums on innovations in the performing arts.  Every evening there will be a free cabaret performance in the Signature Cafe and Bar (check the schedule for show times;  most start between 8:30pm and 9:30pm).

If you’re looking for more information on Canadian events in NYC, check out the Canadian Association of NY (CANY)  a member-run organization that has been the focal point for the Canadian community in the NYC area since 1864.  CANY hosts social, cultural and business events throughout the year;  on their website you can fin a list of Canada Day 150 events. 

You can find more information on Canada, and Canada in NYC on the Consulate General’s Facebook page  and their Twitter feed .

This year also marks Montréal’s 375th birthday – Fort Ville-Marie was founded in 1642.  You’ll find more information about Québec and Québec in NYC on the Facebook page of the Québec Government Office in New York  and also on their Twitter feed .

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CANADA!!

French Culture and Language in La Grosse Pomme!

The French language and French culture is found throughout the globe.  According to the Organisation internationale de la francophonie,   French is spoken by 274 million people on 5 continents.  This article focuses on France, which has the largest French-speaking population in New York City that has grown exponentially over the last dozen years or so.    

There are 67 French-related organizations in New York City, under the umbrella of the Committee of French-Speaking Societies.   I’m just going to talk about a few of them.

If you’re looking for French film, theatre, lectures, books or even lessons, here are three great places to start:  the French Institute, Alliance Française (FI:AF)  which has all of the foregoing, all year round.   In addition to their midtown facility, FIAF also has language classes in Brooklyn. 

The Maison Française at NYU  and the Maison Française at Columbia  offer a wide variety of lectures, screenings and exhibitions. 

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy in NYC  has been a  force for spreading French Culture in NYC.  You can find out about dual-language education programs here ; they maintain a robust calendar of film, theatre, readings, festivals on their events calendar 

If you’re looking for books – in both French and English, head over to  Albertine, the book store located in the Cultural Services building, or Idlewild bookstore, which has locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

If you’d like to be part of an on-line community of French speakers and people interested in the French language, check out New York in French 

For more general information about the French in NYC, take a look at French Morningwhich publishes in both English and French, and covers French activities in LA, Miami, San Francisco and Texas

You also might want to take a look at French District,which has 10 editions in the US (three are also in English), and a large directory of service providers.

To find out about Québecois artists appearing in New York, go to Québec’s international page then scroll to “Events” at the bottom  

The Consulate of Luxembourg has events posted on its website 

Belgium Consulate in NY posts events on its Facebook page   

For Swiss events in NYC, you can sign up for a newsletter through the Consulate’s website

A great source for finding information on concerts by musicians from French speaking Africa and the Caribbean is Afropop  

I realize I don’t have everything in here, so if there’s another organization I should know about, just drop me a line!

Liz’ Picks to Catch Before They Close

A few weeks ago I got to attend a working rehearsal of Jules Massenet’s  Werther at the Metropolitan Opera.  Based on the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, the opera tells the tale of a young poet, Werther, who falls in love with Charlotte, but, alas, she is to marry Albert.. which she does…  They meet again on Christmas eve, but Werther’s love remains unrequited and he commits suicide.  The story of the lovelorn poet can seem like an outdated trope, but the performances are absolutely spectacular, and the score is delightful. See Werther before it closes on March 9th.

On the theatre front, I attended a preview of Jitney, a rarely performed play from August Wilson’s Pittsburgh cycle, that centers around a group of African-American men trying to make ends meet by driving unlicensed taxis, or jitneys in a run-down section of Pittsburgh. Their livelihoods are threatened when the City announces it’s going to board up the building they operate from, and if that weren’t enough, the boss’ son returns from prison only to argue with his father, adding more tension.  By focusing on this particular group, their personal stories, their relationships with each other and the place to which the larger society wants to consign them, Wilson opens a window to the conflicts and struggles that we all face, no matter what our race, social strata or location.  The acting is brilliant, as is Wilson’s dialogue.  Be sure to see Jitney before it closes on March 12th.

Distinguished Concerts International NY – The Power of Classical Music

I recently attended a performance at Carnegie Hall of Requiem and Cantata Memoria for the Children by Sir Karl Jenkins. I didn’t know either piece, but I was moved by the performance.

DCINY, ‘Cantata Memoria For the Children’ – Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor; Sir Karl Jenkins, DCINY Composer-in-Residence; NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE; photo by DCINY Production/Nan Melville photography; Photo Courtesy of DCINY

I was also impressed by the fact that there was not only an orchestra, but also several hundred singers in the chorus on stage. I tried contemplating the logistics of putting such a group together, but my mind kept short circuiting. So, I met with Iris Derke, the Co-Founder and General Director of Distinguished Concerts International (DCINY) which produced the concert, and Andrea Niederman, Associate Director of Marketing and Promotions and Box Office. I attended the concert as DCINY’s guest.

Liz Daly: Now that I’ve seen one of your concerts, I’d like to get a sense of what you do, and what your impetus was for founding DCINY – I think it’s a unique entity.

Iris Derke: The start of DCINY … Jonathan (co-founder Maestro Jonathan Griffith) and I are both musicians – Jonathan is a very fine conductor as you saw – and my background is as a flautist and a concert promoter. I’ve always enjoyed the behind-the-scenes of what makes these concerts happen. We had both worked with companies that had done similar types of things – at one point we worked together for the same company, which we left and pursued different paths.

I started receiving phone calls from people I had worked with who said, “Can you help me make a concert happen?”   Jonathan had a similar circumstance, and since we had worked well together, we decided to do a couple of concerts. We’re both passionate about what we do and the people who called us are passionate. We learned very quickly that when you bring passionate people together, who have some know-how, you can make big things happen. That first season we did, I believe, 12 events, when we thought we would only do a few. We decided that the first concert would be the music of Karl Jenkins – that was January 2008 – and it’s grown to us celebrating our 10th anniversary next January, again with Karl Jenkins – we’ve commissioned a major work from him.

Liz: How many projects do you do a year?

Iris:   About 20 to 24. Our main stage events, like the Jenkins concert, average 12 to 15.       Of the remainder, some we do in Weil Recital Hall, featuring solo artists and small chamber ensembles; we also feature smaller choirs and instrumental groups at Alice Tully Hall and other types of events.

Liz: Let’s talk about how an event like the one I saw comes together – a couple of hundred people on stage – and they’re not all from the Bronx and Brooklyn – how far in advance do you start this…. (Editor’s note: the chorus is comprised of singers and chorus members from professional, semiprofessional, and amateur ensembles, as well as individual singers, from around the world)

Iris: Right now we’re working one to three years in advance. Our 2018 season is pretty much built, and we have interest for 2019 already being tagged.

The choirs that you saw on stage were the work of conversations and relationships of our whole team: me, Jonathan and our development team reaching out to choirs, conductors, composers and artists around the world. Some were referred to us. We also have about a 40% return rate of choirs and directors, who, once they’ve done it, have to come back again. All choirs go through a rigorous audition process; we want to make sure that they’re of a certain level, that they’re pointed towards the right repertoire, the right conductor, that it’s the right fit for that particular entity. When those choirs arrive in New York they’re already fully prepared, so that the work in New York is about fitting them together as one large ensemble.

Liz: I was going to ask about how you rehearse such a large group, because it looked like you had about 20 different choirs onstage.

Iris: We had 10 to 12 different choirs with each act, for approximately 280 to 290 singers; those are the types of voices and the types of power you need for the works we do. That’s why we very much pair projects with the right choirs. We wouldn’t do a Bach suite with 300 voices, but a Handel’s Messiah, like we did in the fall, is glorious when you’ve got so many voices.

Liz: How long is the final rehearsal when they all come to New York?

Iris: Everyone arrives already fully prepared – that’s integral to the success of the performance. When they’re here they have two half days of rehearsals – choir and piano with a conductor – those are quite intense. But, many see it as the most important part of the residency, because it’s very much a workshop; we want them to go back as an even better choir than they were when they got here. Then we have the general rehearsal at the hall, which puts everything together with our professional orchestra and soloists… and then the performance. It’s a lot of very good work done in a very intense, focused amount of time.

Liz: You’ve been doing this for almost ten years now, and I’m sure that your background and Jonathan’s make it easier.

Iris: For us at DCINY it’s almost ten years, but the collective experience – Jonathan has conducted around the world and he’s also an educator; I’ve been producing events and performing for well over 20 years, and our team: our development, production, promotion and PR teams, Andrea and audience development… so much talent, passion and drive with our team – it’s impressive what can be accomplished when you harness that energy with one focus. There are so many aspects to what we do and what we enjoy doing.

Liz: What are the major challenges to putting on a concert?

Iris Derke, Co-Founder, General Director, DCINY

Iris: We don’t have two days here that are the same, and we have a team of people who embrace that. You need to have that flexibility in the arts in order to produce the best possible results. It’s that happenstance of life and logistics that I think we see as a plus: flying in for 23 hours from New Zealand, the bus not being at the airport, not being in the right seat at the beginning of the performance, but ending up in the right seat because you met two people from Japan and China who are now your best friends, that you’ll be traveling with next year …it’s that spontaneity and surprise that produces a delightful and exquisite experience like no other.

We always have special cases, special music requests, but that results in each concert being infused with its own unique and incredible experiences. That’s why we have concert capsules on our website giving one a perspective, or at least a glimpse, in to what happened that day!

Liz: I would imagine that if you’re participating in a performance like the one I attended, that it’s a chance to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t encounter.

Andrea: We invite all our singers into private Facebook groups so they can get to know each other and ask each other questions; when you get to rehearsals, you’re looking out for other people.

In concert, you’re seated by height and voice part, not by the choir you’re in, so you’re forced to meet the people next to you, you mingle at breaks, then there’s a big party after the concert… it’s a lot of fun.

Iris: Again it’s personal, for all of us in this office we’re here because we personally feel plugged in to what we do, and we want that experience for everyone. We get letters back from our soloists – these are professionals who are hired, many from the Met – who write “that was the most amazing experience, let me know when I can perform with DCINY again, because I want to be a part of this!” That makes me so happy.

Liz:   At the Jenkins concert, there were two children’s choirs. Do you often work with children?

Iris: We work with all ages. It depends on the needs of the project. For example, in June we have a concert where one act features children’s voices. We engage guest conductors who are really tuned into children and know how to harness their best work and produce incredible experiences. We often work with Francisco Nunez, Artistic Director of the Young Persons Chorus of NYC. He jumps on the podium and the kids just come to life and sing and perform with every part of their being and soul.

Andrea: Conductor and composer Cristian Grases is just remarkable – he will be conducting a world premier for us. I oversee audience development, and it’s so much fun when the audience gets into it, and connects, and the conductor connects, and the choir…. then we’re making music and everyone’s involved. That’s the best.

Liz: I’m sure for those kids on stage, they’ll carry that experience with them for the rest of their lives, whether or not they continue with music. DCINY’s tag line is “Changing lives through the power of performance,” can you elaborate?

Iris: It’s very important to us. We like to set up collaborations and partners to affect as many people as we can. It’s true that everyone who’s on stage performing with us may not go on to become professional musicians, but when they go home, they continue with their musical activities, and when the NY Phil or another traveling musical ensemble comes into town, they purchase tickets and attend their performance. They keep classical music alive because they remember how it felt and understand how important it is, whether it’s on-stage performing or sitting in the house and hearing a concert. At the Jenkins concert, people were crying around me – and there are fewer and fewer opportunities to touch people like that…

Andrea: While we’re fortunate to be growing, we’re cognizant of our place, and we like to give back. We’ve worked with Highbridge Voices in the South Bronx (they’re on our YouTube page). They raised money for their programs via Ticket Funder – they sell tickets to the concert they’re performing in, and keep a large portion of the proceeds for their programs.

At the Jenkins performance, you saw the call to action [asking the audience to make donations to organizations that work with children]. We try to do as many things like that as we can, to give back, to partner with organizations that are doing good.

Liz: Andrea, how did you become involved with DCINY?

Andrea Niederman, Associate Director of Marketing, Box Office and Promotions, DCINY

Andrea: I sang in choir and was a theatre major, so when I saw a posting that looked interesting – it mentioned Carnegie Hall – I applied (it was for a different position).  This is my sixth season here. My job, along with my assistant Catherine, is to fill the seats with enthusiastic audience members who are responsive and will give the performers on stage the experience they’re expecting, and vice-versa. The audience is not filled with family and friends – we have a loyal following of New Yorkers. Our tickets cost less than a movie ticket and every concert is different, so you’re not hearing the same thing every time.

Iris:   We did our first live webcast last April with video game composer Christopher Ten (Civilization 4), who is the only cross-over musician to win a Grammy for video game music. He has a huge following that brings us new audiences. We decided to do a live webcast with him; by the end, we had almost 800,000 hits. And we just did the same for the Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall in the fall; and we plan on doing it for the Karl Jenkins concert in 2018 for the opening of our tenth anniversary.

Liz: You started out 10 years ago with just two people?

Iris: In the beginning, just Jonathan and I did everything. It’s truly amazing and humbling to see how we’ve grown.

Liz: How many are you now?

Iris: We have 22 full-time people on staff at DCINY, and we also have our own part-time production staff, about 18 people who just come in to take good care of our artists over those important rehearsal and performance weekends.

Liz: That’s great growth – I think the statistic is something like fewer than half of new businesses make it to five years, so to be looking at 10 is fantastic.

Iris: We’re thrilled – I still can’t believe that we’re soon to celebrate our 10th anniversary – our gratitude to all the people who helped us get there is beyond words. For us the tenth anniversary is about saying “Thank You,” not only to our own team – because without each other we wouldn’t be here – but to all the performers, conductors, composers, and audiences as well as the fantastic venues and their crew and vendors who have joined us over the years and have contributed to some truly spectacular performances. We wish to celebrate them all for helping to push our mission forward every day: Changing Lives through the Power of Performance. We have people signed up for January 2018, who say, “I was there for your first concert, I’ve got to come back for this one and celebrate with you. I wouldn’t miss it!” – it’s all so exciting.

Liz: Do you still perform?

Iris: I do … from time to time on our series … I’ve done a few concertos. One of the artists we work with often, DInos Constantinides, surprised me – when I came back from a trip, there was a flute concerto he wrote for me sitting on my desk, just like that! So we’re thinking about scheduling that for 2018.

Liz: Do you still sing, Andrea?

Andrea: Yes, James Meaders, our Associate Artistic Director and I started a choir, Urban Konterei, which is on hiatus right now, but we’ve performed with DCINY and in our own concerts. That’s been a joy, to express myself through music.

Liz: What’s coming up for 2017?

Iris: We’re right in mid-stream on that. In February we have 4 concerts: 2 main stage at Carnegie and 2 at Weil; 4 concerts coming up in March – we go right through to the end of June – and we take a little breath in the summer, although we will be in Barcelona in July, performing a Verdi requiem with Jonathan conducting – we have singers from around the world joining us for that particular performance. Then we take another breath, and we’re back in November. Our year goes in cycles and always stays chock full and interesting.

Liz: This morning I received an e-mail from you, about auditions for singers for 2018?

Iris: We’re very excited about 2018. We sent an e-mail blast for singers who want to audition to perform on April 8, 2018 at Carnegie Hall with conductor and composer Eric Whitacre (if you want to sing, click here ) It’s rare for him to have the time to do these kinds of events. He did one of the first virtual choirs – talk about bringing people together and garnering emotions from people through their computers! It’s a testament to his music and what he’s able to accomplish. Also in 2018, The King Singers will be making their 50th Anniversary performance with us at Carnegie Hall.

We’re filling up the dates for 2018 and hope to close many of them soon, so we can shift to the music focus and know that our performing groups are all set.

Liz: Thank you Iris and Andrea – this has been fun.

Iris: Thanks for helping us get the word out; this is an opportunity for us to make personal connections, with you, with your readers, to create that spark “Oh, I sing with a choir, I’d love to find out more…” to reach those people who haven’t even conceived that there’s an opportunity for them to work with Karl Jenkins or to be on the Carnegie Hall stage…. and the audience – it’s great to see people hopefully changed a little after a night with us.

You can find more information about DCINY, including their scheduled concerts, and how to audition for them here.

Karl Jenkins: Requiem, Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Sir Karl Jenkins, DCINY Composer-in-Residence; photo by DCINY Production/Nan Melville photography; photo courtesy of DCINY

Mary Sue Daniels – Anaconda in the Big Apple

Mary Sue Daniels

Mary Sue Daniels

This week, I got to interview my long-time friend and former colleague, Mary Sue Daniels, who’s living her dream of being a cabaret performer in the Big Apple. She’ll be bringing her show, Straight Outta ‘Conda to Don’t Tell Momma  on West 46th Street December 14th, at 7:00pm. It’s a great way to unwind after work!  I’ve seen her show twice, so it was a lot of fun to talk with Mary Sue about her childhood in Anaconda, Montana, her musical influences, and her show.  Give a listen – then go see the show!

MAD Summer Exhibits

Two exhibits recently opened at the Museum of Art and Design, in addition to the Studio Jobs show (reviewed previously here) .  Eye for Design is a look back at graphic design in the 1960’s and 70’s, through catalogues, invitations and posters created for the Museum in that era, when it was known as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts.  This show not only affords you an overview of design ideas and techniques, and how they create a visual identity, but also allows an appreciation of the many innovative exhibits the Museum held.

4 Fearless Phoenicians by John Reiss

4 Fearless Phoenicians by John Reiss

I especially liked the installation of John Reiss’ work for Amusements Is, a 1964 show which featured artist-designed toys and games.  On one wall is a blown-up version of the catalogue, which eschews the typical photos of objects and explanatory text.  Instead, it was designed like a children’s counting book, on vividly colored pages which mixed photography and typography, as well as absurdist word-plays, such as “4 Fearless Phoenicians,” capturing the playful nature of the exhibit.

One room is devoted to the work of Emil Antonucci, whose work is defined by repeated motifs, clean graphics, bright colors and a certain whimsy that clearly convey their message.  Take a look at the invitations he created for The Art of Personal Adornment, with their hand-rendered drawings of jewelry, as well as The Bed, where the invitation for the exhibition  folds into a bed.  His work on invitations and catalogues for exhibits such as The Bakers Art, Stitching, Tools of Design, and On SOUND also illustrate the ways in which the Museum was expanding the definition of craft to include “mundane” practices, such as cooking, and sensory experiences, such as sound – a definition which is often considered overly expansive. In a nice instance of synchronicity, the On SOUND exhibit also included work by Harry Bertoia, the subject of a current exhibition at the Museum (reviewed below.)

Be sure to check out Linda Hinrich’s work, with it’s Pop art and psychedelic flavor;  in the same room, be sure to watch the video showing submissions for Levi’s 1974 denim art contest, many of which are very imaginative: most images were of flowers and birds, but I also saw a jungle scene, and one of the Golden Gate Bridge. The contestants (over 2,000) employed a wide variety of techniques – appliqué, studding, embroidery and patchwork.

Eye for Design closes on September 18th.

Jewelry by Harry Bertoia

Jewelry by Harry Bertoia

Two floors are devoted to the work of Arri (Harry) Bertoia (1915-78), whose minimalist ethic is manifest not only in the shapes, forms, movements and line of his monotypes, but also in his exploration of the limitless possibilities of metal , both visual and sonic. 

Bent, Cast & Forged: The Jewelry of Harry Bertoia   is a wonderful display of his jewelry from the 1940‘s, with their spare, biomorphic shapes, inspired by nature.  Many have loops, allowing for kinetic movement, and are made from recycled metals (because of the war).  Several of Bertoia’s monotypes are displayed alongside his jewelry, highlighting the connection between them. Presaging his interest in sound, you’ll also find pendants entitled “Gong.”

Sonambient sculptures by Val Bertoia

Sonambient sculptures by Val Bertoia

Atmosphere for Enjoyment concentrates on Bertoia’s tonal sculptures: groupings of metal rods of various heights and thicknesses – sometimes weighted on the top – mounted into a low pedestal, which produce sound when strummed, plucked, or struck.  It’s a bit hard to describe the sound – somewhere between bells, wind chimes, harp, gong – some soothing, some harsh, some lush – it all depends on how the rods are played.   As you walk through the exhibit, you’ll hear excerpts from his archive of “sonambient” recordings, played on a four-channel algorithmic continuous loop created by John Brien.  For a closer listen, go into the exhibit installation – an unenclosed room lined with photos of the Sonambient Barn Bertoia created in 1968 in Pennsylvania, which still stands today.

Throughout the show you’ll find several of the “Diamond” chairs Bertoia designed for Knoll, that you can sit in (very comfortable!) Take time to peruse Bertoia’s monotypes from 1940-1978, whose sinewy, elegant lines are a perfect pairing with his sculptures.

Untitled by Harry Bertoia, monotype

Untitled by Harry Bertoia, monotype

If you take a guided tour of the Museum (our docent, Marjorie, was very knowledgable and personable)  you may actually get a chance to “play” some of the sound sculptures created by Bertoia’s son, Val, who used the same metals as his father had.  I did, and it gave me a deeper appreciation for their construction and sonic abilities. 

Both exhibits of Bertoia’s work close on September 25th.

You can find more photos from these exhibits on      my Instagram feed.

On September 16th, at 6:00pm, the Museum will host a panel discussion with John Brien and New York–based musicians Lizzi Bougatsos and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe about the continued relevance of Harry Bertoia’s sonambient sculptures. The program will include a screening of two films by Jeffrey and Miriam Eger, and a presentation by Val Bertoia, who will play his sonambient sculptures in the exhibition immediately following the talk.

Throughout the year, MAD has numerous lectures, films, workshops, and activities for the whole family.  You can find the schedule here 

Podcast Interview with Jazz Vocalist Jocelyn Medina

Jocelyn Medina

Jocelyn Medina

This week, I’m thrilled to bring you my interview with vocalist and composer Jocelyn Medina.  I first met her a year or so ago, when I took her (beginners) class at the New York Jazz Workshop.  In addition to jazz, Jocelyn has also embraced other musical traditions, including Ghanaian drumming and Hindustani voice.  In our interview, Jocelyn talks about her musical journey from classical to jazz, and how her travels and immersion in other cultures have infused her style.  She’s already cut two CD’s of original compositions, and will start working on her third in July. This weekend, along with some of the other musicians who will appear on her next CD, Jocelyn will be performing at Club Bonafide   and then on Saturday, May 28th, and at the Bar Next Door on Monday, May 30th. If you can’t make either of those dates, she hosts a jazz performance followed by an open mic every Sunday night at Rue B   – your chance to hear some great talent and have fun!

Spotlight on MEXICO!

Benito Pablo Juárez Garcia

Benito Pablo Juárez Garcia

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, this week, we shine the spotlight on Mexico.  Not to be confused with Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of the Mexican army over the invading French forces of Napoleon III, in a battle that took place on the outskirts of Puebla on May 5th 1862. The Mexican soldiers were under the command of Benito Juarez, Mexico’s first indigenous president.

To find out more about Mexican visual and performing artists in New York take a look at the website of the Mexican Cultural Institute New York   You might also want to visit their current show:  Indomitable: Contemporary Photography from Chiapas   This exhibition presents an overview of Chiapas’ contemporary photography through images captured by young artists in search of new paths and answers. You’ll find a wide array of styles in this show of about 40 photographs.

At The Americas Society through June 18th, you can see the site-specific installation Hemispheres:  A Labyrinth Sketchbook by Silvia Gruner  (Mexico City, 1959) who significantly contributed to the creation of a distinct vocabulary for Mexican contemporary art exploring the relationship between identity and the collective.   

This year the Lark Theatre   will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of their Mexico/US Playwright Exchange   

The Jose Limón Dance Company celebrates its 70th anniversary this year!  And the Limón School offers classes, workshops and training programs.

Dzul Dance fuses dance with aerial arts, contortion and acrobatics as a means to communicate indigenous pre- Hispanic, Mexican and Latin culture, and create bridges between contemporary art and historical heritage.

Through May 21st you can see Javier Dzul’s choreography in Cocoa Díos, a high-energy show of transported rituals, music, song and dance – choreography by Javier Dzul – that tells the ancient Mesoamerican legend of how chocolate came to earth. Performances are simultaneously in Spanish and English.  I haven’t yet seen it, but friends have highly recommended this show.

Lotería Perfoming Arts is a sponsored project at Artspire, a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts, dedicated to promote original collaborations between Mexican and American artists through performances and educational programs

Works by Mexican playwrights and artists are regularly featured at the Repertorio Espanol  , the Hispanic Society  (see the earthenware from Puebla in its collection) and El Museo del Barrio 

Since 2008, Mexican jazz singer Magos Herrera  has been living in NYC. Catch her performances when she’s in town!

Let me also give a shout out to the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, NE Chapter here in NYC, which has been very active bridging the business communities of the US and Mexico.

Theatre Review – Mabel Madness

I didn’t know a lot about Mabel Mercer until I went to see Mabel Madness  at Urban Stages  last weekend.  This one-woman show, written and performed with verve by Trezana Beverly, takes us from Mabel’s childhood in the UK, to her life as a cabaret star, first in Paris and then in New York.  The play is set in Mabel’s apartment in NYC in 1983, a year before her death.  It opens with Mabel, seated in an armchair on one side of the stage, telling the audience that we’re her family, then walking to the other side of the stage where she rummages through some trunks and a bureau, trying to find an outfit to wear for dinner with her manager.  She’s very worried, as she’s been on a comeback tour, her voice just cracked, and she thinks her manager’s going to fire her. 

As she’s fretting, she recounts her life story.  Born in 1900, her parents were performers:  her mother was a white English 14-year old music hall performer, and her father  a black American jazz musician who died before she was born. Mabel was raised mainly by her grandmother; she didn’t discover that her father was black until somewhere around her teens. But Mabel didn’t let anything stop her, whether it was racial discrimination or two world wars.  She went to Paris in the 1920’s, eventually headlining at Chez Bricktop, and becoming the toast of the town.  On the eve of World War II she boarded an ocean liner for New York City with a ticket bought by Marlene Dietrich.  Mabel conquered the Big Apple in short order, performing at supper clubs such as Tony’s, the RSVP, and her own Byline Club.  Which isn’t to say that she didn’t have problems along the way… Not to be a spoiler, but this play has a happy ending. 

This piece operates on many levels.  It is first of all the extraordinary story of a woman who didn’t let life’s obstacles get her down and made it big on two continents.  On another level, this play is also about believing in yourself, and coming to terms with the imperfections in the people you love.

This is also the tale of a woman who changed the way singers performed.  Mabel Mercer took singing from the crooning style practiced by Bing Crosby, which is really all about hitting the notes, and taught singers to go for the emotion and tell the story in a song:  to understand the lyrics and convey their meaning to the audience. Frank Sinatra made no secret of how she influenced his phrasing and taught him to tell the story, saying that everything he knows, he learned from Mabel Mercer. The roster of singers she influenced include Bobby Short, Tony Bennet and Billie Holiday.  When listening to Mabel Mercer’s recordings, I get the feeling that like many cabaret singers, she came across better in person than in a recording studio, so it may take a bit of time to warm up to her style, especially the way she rolls her r’s.  But stay with it.

Mabel Madness boasts  some great songs, such as “Just One of Those Things,” “Summertime”,  “Love for Sale,” as well as original compositions by Peter Napolitano and Barry Levitt.

Ms. Beverly plays all the roles, not an easy task, and does so with the right mixture of gusto and restraint.

Mabel Mercer’s  legacy continues through the Mabel Mercer Foundation, which hosts an annual four-day Cabaret Convention in NYC, as well as workshops in schools. 

The play’s run has been extended through April 10th at Urban Stages – Catch it if you can.

Interview with Classical Pianist Fang Yuan

Fang Yuan, concert pianist in NYC (photo courtesy of JC Lee)

Fang Yuan, concert pianist in NYC (photo courtesy of JC Lee)

On Friday, February 26th, I interviewed classical pianist Fang Yuan, whose concert the previous evening I really enjoyed – I’m looking forward to a return visit! Joining our conversation was Joanna C. Lee, of Museworks.  (I had previously recorded a  podcast  with Joanna and her husband about the Pocket Chinese Almanac)  Below is a transcript of my conversation with Fang and Joanna.

What brought you to New York for the week?

I came to New York just for my solo recital at Carnegie Hall.  I arrived on Monday (4 days ago) from China, and I’ll leave this afternoon (Friday) to go to Berlin.  However, I came to the US about 7 years ago, and played in New York and Baltimore, as part of a student cultural exchange program. But this is my professional debut in the US!

You began your music studies when you were quite young – are there other musicians in your family?

I come from a musical family; my grandmother and aunts on my father’s side were all amateur musicians, playing different instruments, especially the accordion.    My mother learned piano in middle school and later on taught music at middle school.  When I was four years old, I started studying piano with my mother.  My father also loved classical music very much, and wanted me to go into the musical world.

JCL:  The accordion was very popular, as you can play both melody and harmony on it.  It’s also a portable instrument, and this was the time when Chairman Mao was sending everyone all around the country.

You’ve studied at music schools in China and Germany.  What differences did you note in their teaching style, their curricula?

One of the obvious differences is that in China, we learn Chinese music; one of our exams each semester is on a Chinese piece.  There is also a different pedagogical style;  in China, because the prestige of the school is tied to the achievements of their students, students are taught what they need to be successful, to win competitions.  In Germany, there’s more attention to what’s inside [the student and the music].  Technique is also very important -– but we studied the compositions a lot.  The teachers also tell you what they think, and teach you about life. They help you understand the connection between music and life.

What attracted you to the music of Central Europe:  Haydn, Chopin, Beethoven?

I grew up with the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn,  and other classical composers.   I felt an especially strong connection with Brahms, which is why I went to Germany (most of the other students went to the USA).  I think after several years in Munich, classical music changed me, how I think, even my character and direction – it taught me to really love the music world. 

When you studied at the Munich Hochschule fuer Muzik und Theater, you were a double major in Piano and Chamber music – why these two areas of study?

Chamber music was part of our regular course work.   In my first semester, I scored high marks in my chamber music class.  I enjoy working with other people, and thought that later on I might want to be a chamber musician.  I worked with a very good group of people; one of them, Noah Bendix-Balgley, is now the first concert master at the Berlin Philharmonic.

I like to play different forms of music, and the last three years I have had more opportunities to play with orchestras. I would like to have more opportunities to play with different musicians.   I also want to continue as a solo pianist – the repertoire is so vast! 

But chamber music makes me very happy and I find it very relaxing.

You are a professor of piano at the China Central Conservatory of Music – can you tell me a bit about that?

Since I was young, I have wanted to be a teacher, to teach at the middle school level, and especially at my school.  My goal was to return to China after my studies in Europe and bring back what I had learned abroad.  I was very lucky and I am very happy I was was able to do that. 

I like teaching, but I’ve actually stopped as of this January, so I can concentrate on my playing;  there are things that I would like to do as a performer, and now, while I’m still young, is the time to do them.

People in China want to understand and learn more about classical music, and I want to help them.  Being in the classroom is not the only way to do that. 

At Carnegie Hall you premiered  your “Yellow River Rhapsody.”   Could you tell me about how you developed this piece?  Do you think you’ll be adding more Chinese music to your repertoire?  

Last year I did a lot of touring in China, performing with orchestras.  When I played the Yellow River Concerto, the audiences loved it.  When I play it, I can feel its importance, and how it brings out the good, human character of the Chinese, even when they are suffering.  But I think this piece relates to all cultures, and all people, to human suffering and struggle in general, like great literature does.  The audience as well as the musicians relate to this piece. The third movement is quite melodic; when I play it I think of the typical, modest, hard-working Chinese women.

I arranged my solo piano version (Yellow River Rhapsody) by ear; my goal was to have people hear the orchestral parts even though I’m playing solo piano.  This also lets me play it wherever I go, since I don’t always play with an orchestra.  I hope more people will hear this piece.

JCL:  This piece was composed by Xian Xinghai in 1939 as an eight-movement Yellow River Cantata, using folk songs and evoking the river as an emblem of resistance to the Japanese invasion.  Fang’s version eliminates the final movement; however it captures the concerto’s orchestration in purely pianistic terms.

Are there other styles of music you might like to play, like jazz, opera, rock’n’ roll?

I enjoy all types of music, but classical music is near to my heart.  I would like to play Pi-Huang by Zhang Zhao; it is the essence of Peking opera.  The music is very dramatic; it contains one of the most patriotic  poems from the Song Dynasty.  The music has deep ideas.

JCL:  This is a modern piece from the 1970‘s. In it are musical gestures from Peking opera, including a classic excerpt from “Night Flight of Lin Chong” (from the epic Water Margin) as well as quotations from the poem Full River Red by Song Dynasty hero Yue Fei. 

Is Peking opera still popular with the general population in China?

Not with my generation – Chinese pop is very popular.  I listen to all types of music, but classical music is my world.

You have a daughter – does she also play the piano?

She’s only 3-1/2, so she just fools around on the piano.  She is very musical, and loves to sing and dance; she’s very good. She reminds me of myself when I was the same age!  When I was about nine, I wanted to be a professional dancer, but my father wouldn’t allow me, because he thought dancers had a very short professional life.

You’ve toured extensively in China and Europe.  What other places would you like to visit?

I think music is for everybody.  I would like to go where people want to know more about the music I play.

Fang Yuan:  Now may I ask you a question?  What did you think of the concert?

Liz Daly:  I enjoyed it very much, especially the Haydn piece (Sonata in C Major, Hob XVI: No. 50);  it made me think of water, so it was a perfect piece to be on the program with the Yellow River Rhapsody, which I especially enjoyed – it captured the essence of the river.

FY:  Thank you.  The piano is a very sensitive instrument, especially the one I played last night.  When I played the Haydn piece, I could really feel the music.

JCL:  Fang is a Bösendorfer artist, which means that wherever she plays, it is on a Bösendorfer piano, which the company supplies.  After she arrived on Monday, Fang went to their studio, and picked out the piano she wanted to play.  This is a very high level of service for the artist. In fact, Fang is the only Bösendorfer artist from China!