Performing Arts

Cirque Du Soleil: Flowers in the Desert

Monday, June 4, 2012
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New Year's Day from Vienna, 2013

Thursday, December 29, 2011
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Musikverein, ViennaThe Vienna Philharmonic continues a cherished tradition by starting 2013 with waltzes, marches, and more at the Musikverein in Vienna.

Tracing its roots back to 1939 and informed by the legacy of a special relationship with Johann Strauss, Jr., the New Year's Day concert by the Vienna Philharmonic features an unmatchable grace and buoyancy in music by Strauss and others.

Johann Strauss, Jr., performed with the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time in 1873, and several performances followed over the next five years.  But it wasn't until 1925, during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Strauss's birth, that the Vienna Philharmonic fully embraced the composer's music. 

In 1929, Clemens Krauss conducted a concert made up entirely of The Waltz King's music, and the tradition was sealed.

Franz Welser-Most

Conductor Franz Welser-Möst (photo by Roger Mastroiann) 

The guest conductor for 2013 is Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Möst, General Music Director of the Vienna State Opera and Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra. Welser-Möst leads his second New Year's Day concert.  He previously conducted the 2011 New Year's Day concert, and his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic was in 1998. 

Here is the program for the 2013 New Year's Day concert with the Vienna Philharmonic:

Josef Strauss: The Soubrette, Fast Polka, op. 109
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Kiss Waltz, op. 400
Josef Strauss: Theater Quadrille, op. 213
Johann Strauss, Jr.: From the Mountains, Waltz, op. 292
Franz von Suppé: Overture to the Operetta "Light Cavalry"

Josef Strauss: Music of the Spheres, Waltz, op. 235
Josef Strauss: The Spinstress, Polka française, op. 192
Richard Wagner: Prelude to Act III of the Romantic Opera "Lohengrin", WWV 75
Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr.: In Confidence, Polka mazur, op. 15
Josef Strauss: Hesperus’ Paths, Waltz, op. 279
Josef Strauss: The Runners, Fast Polka, op. 237
Joseph Lanner: Styrian Dances, op. 165
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Melodies Quadrille, op.112
Giuseppe Verdi: Prestissimo from the Ballet Music in Act III of the Opera "Don Carlo"
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Where the Lemon Trees Bloom, Waltz, op. 364
Johann Strauss, Sr.: Memories of Ernst or The Carnival of Venice, Fantasy, op. 126

New Year's Day at 11am and 5pm on Classical New England.

Three Pianos: Regular Guys and Schubert

By Brian McCreath   |   Tuesday, December 27, 2011
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Three Pianos, a theater work inspired by Franz Schubert's song cycle Winterreise, brings together three friends for song, contemplation, and wine.  Lots of wine.

Rick Burkhardt in Three Pianos

There are times when the solemnity and profundity of classical music can become overwhelming.  There are also times when just the right vehicle comes along to prick that balloon and remind us that, for the most part, classical music is really an art form that deals in the messy reality of human existence.  The play and movie Amadeus pulled this off for millions, and say what you will about historical accuracy, I think our relationship to Mozart's music has been the better for it ever since.

Now along comes Three Pianos, which, like Amadeus, brings a composer of incredibly human dimension back from the brink of plaster bust-dom.  Alec Duffy, Dave Malloy, and Rick Burkhardt tap into the spirit of Schubert through a piece of music that may have been the most difficult choice for the project, but also the one that may bring us closest to Schubert's soul. 

Winterreise takes us into the mind of a character who's engulfed in the depths of despair.  As a work of art, it's considered one of the pinnacles of the song cycle form.  As an emotional experience, it's one of those rare pieces that listeners hold incredibly closely, almost protectively.

Three Pianos tests that protective feeling for those who hold Winterreise most closely.  There's no doubt that Duffy, Malloy, and Burkhardt feel complete liberty to do what they want with Schubert's music.  There's a channeling of the spirit of Schubert's work through the voices of today's experiences and realities.  At times it's hilarious, and at times it's heartbreaking. 

But my overall experience was that, even in light of the copious wine that was served throughout the performance, the reverence for the songs among the performers is palpaple.  In fact, there are moments when it's clear that the trio felt that the most powerful experience was to simply get out of the way and let Schubert's work shine through.

That respect for Winterreise came through when I met with Alec Duffy after seeing a performance.  You can hear part of that conversation and see photos from the play below.

Three Pianos runs through January 8 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. 


Porgy And Bess Controversy At The A.R.T.

By Jared Bowen   |   Wednesday, September 14, 2011
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September 14, 2011


Watch the video piece that aired on September 13 on 'GBH's Greater Boston.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Earlier this week we featured the first of two stories on the American Repertory Theater's bold new adaptation of the Gershwin classic Porgy and Bess. For all the excitement surrounding the production starring Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis and David Alan Grier, there's also been a fair amount of controversy. Namely when, if ever, is it appropriate to revise a classic? Looking back on it though, the show has always been dogged by controversy.

The tortured romance between Porgy and Bess rises out of a tempest: The murder Bess's lover Crown commits. The trauma sends her drunk and drug-addled soul into the eventual arms of the crippled beggar Porgy.

It's part of life in Catfish Row, a fictionalized enclave of Charleston, South Carolina where drugs and violence are pervasive.

Actor David Alan Grier plays Sportin Life in this Broadway-bound American Repertory Theater production. He's the bad seed: A pimp and drug dealer feeding Bess's drug addiction and slithering his way through town. Dangerously, he's charming too, as when he's presiding over the regular craps game.

"Like any neighborhood, any community you know that's the spooky house, that's the bad guy. That family drinks. That family goes to church. People know. You know you have that common knowledge of each other," Grier said.

It's a view of African American life in the 1930s from Porgy and Bess's white creators, George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward.

From the moment George Gershwin chose to adapt DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy into an opera, there has been controversy. Controversy that he'd dare to create anything but popular music. That he'd dare write music solely for African American performers at a time when much of the country was segregated. And that he'd presume to be able to tell the story of a black community. Audra McDonald plays Bess.

"When people say P&B is racist I say no, just because I really feel that he had the best intentions when he wrote it. He wanted to get in and be inside of a community, this African American community; and show their wants, their desires, their hopes, their dreams, their fears as opposed to just the mammy coming in here," McDonald said.

When it debuted at Boston's Colonial Theatre in September 1935 and premiered on Broadway shortly after, Porgy and Bess was punctuated with pointed stereotypes and grossly derogatory terms. Adapting the opera today for the A.R.T. musical is Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks.

"I'm not a politically correct writer. I didn't approach it like, 'it's a racist show so I have to make it politically correct.' Not at all! It's a show with some dramatic holes, some missteps dramatically. I have to make it right. I have to flesh out the characters. All those things. I didn't go through it to sanitize the language at all," Parks said.

For decades the racist overtones in Porgy and Bess have given actors starring in the show pause.

"From the very beginning we were setting out to make sure that this is about these people. And their struggles and their story and really focusing on the dramatic story as opposed to look at all those black people up there," said McDonald. "Boy they sing well and oh they get passionate and you know and then they kill and they drink the whiskey and smoke the whatever — so I don't feel like I've had to stress about that in any way."

A scene from the A.R.T.'s production of Porgy and Bess. (Photo by Michael J. Lutch)

There is a scene where Sportin' Life is publicly shamed by Catfish Row matriarch Mariah, which troubled Parks when she reviewed the original opera.

"It's a what I call a Mammy moment, which is effective if the characters adhere to certain stereotypes. The Mammy, a large woman with the hand on the hip doing that Aunt Jemima type kind of thing," Parks said. "And then the cowering well-dressed dandy. 'Oooh, I'm scared.' I don't know any street character like Sportin' Life who would take this kind of crap from anybody. And in real life, in reality, if someone were to talk to him like that they'd be dead the next day."

"So we're fleshing out all the characters and so instead of a Mammy moment, I made a Mamma moment or a mommy moment in which I said, 'well, how could this moment work in the real world? What would Mariah have on Sportin Life that would really make him scared?' I thought, oh she knows his mother. And any tough guy we know, all tough guys, if you start saying hey I know your mother and I'm going to tell on you. Then they're like, 'oh come on don't be telling my mama what I'm up to,'" Parks said.

Then there's the controversy over changing a classic. The A.R.T. says it was the Gershwin Estate that invited changes to the show when it handpicked the theater's Artistic Director Diane Paulus to create a musical from the original opera.

"To make Porgy and Bess into more of a musical, it's about breathing, stopping, letting silence play a role. And also letting there be dialogue. Sometimes I need to add words, sometimes whole new scenes, sometimes take a new scene and turn it inside out, and make it new. Recycle it. Very green," Paulus said.

But it's these types of changes that have riled purists of the original opera who find it abhorrent that the A.R.T. would tinker with a sacred cow. Stephen Sondheim delivered the most thunderous criticism in August when, without having seen the show he wrote The New York Times "…there is a difference between reinterpretation and wholesale rewriting…Advertise it honestly as "Diane Paulus's Porgy and Bess. And the hell with the real one." [Read Sondheim's piece in The New York Times].

"The purists have the right if that's how they want to spend their energy. It's such a great opera and if they want to see it in its purist state, if they want to see Shakespeare done in the Globe, with bear-baiting and people who haven't bathed recently and all men on stage, I'm sure there are places that will provide that opportunity for them. Great! No sweat!" Susan-Lori Parks said.

"I've never done Shakespeare in 30 years where they didn't cut, snip, change this, get rid of that, Hamlet's speech is too long. Let's do this. That's just Ibsen, Chekov, everybody. That's what is done. Opera too," said actor David Alan Grier.

In its 76-year-history, Porgy and Bess has evolved from DuBose Heyward's novel, to a play, to the opera, to film, to the musical. After the Boston opening night, back in 1935, Gershwin immediately cut 45 minutes from the show. And two years later, after George's untimely death, Ira Gershwin also began changing the opera.

"Maybe Gershwin wasn't done with this piece when he died. Maybe like all great composers, Mozart had three endings to Don Giovanni up his sleeve and there were things that were still in motion," said Paulus. "Not to say that the work we have by Gershwin isn't a masterpiece. It is. But then there was potential in there that was being wrestled with."

"People have been trying to put it in a box for all these years, I don't mean put it away, but shove it into you know: It's an opera, it's a musical, it's — I think, it just continues to defy. It's this sort of big large squid that just plopping out (gesturing madly) that's like NO! I'm all of these things," said actor Audra McDonald.

Most notably, an American story that continues to resonate…and provoke.

Bruce George: A Poet For the Stage

By Bridgit Brown   |   Friday, July 29, 2011
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Bruce George is a legend even though he would rather be recognized as a poet. But he is the reason why the art of performance poetry catapulted to stardom in this decade, and continues to thrive despite the rapidly changing interests of the American television viewership. For instance, Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voices, a seven-part HBO series that began airing in April 2009 was a spin-off of one of his ideas. This documentary-like program was narrated by Queen Latifah and profiled teenaged poets as they competed for the National Youth Poetry Slam - a BIG deal if you're a teen with something to say, poetically speaking that is.

But Bruce stresses that he had little to do with the diffusely organized trend toward performance poetry these days even though the idea behind the HBO series Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam came from him. True that the movement started gaining new ground in the late 1990s, but there would be no television program featuring the art of performance poetry if Bruce did not come up with the idea, share it with a mentor who then shared it with Russell Simmons, and the rest is his story.

Other accomplishments accomplishments include the recently published collection of writings that he edited called The Bandana Republic: A Literary Anthology By Gang Members and Their Affiliates to a number of gigs from providing content for I-Tunes and I-Pod to a cameo appearance in the Oscar-winning film that starred Denzel Washington – Training Day. Currently he is collaborating with poet/essayist Louis Reyes Rivera on a book-in-progress to be titled Street Smarts: An Anthology of Urban Survival Strategies.

When Bruce is not being the indispensable representative of today’s performance poetry movement or performing his own work on stage, he speaks on behalf of the art form and trains others to perfect their poetic flow through performance.

Just recently, he taught a two-day workshop at Berklee College of Music to students enrolled in the college’s Poetry Jam and Slam course. It was during this time that he spoke to Basic Black Perspectives Now on his part in today’s movement to speak poetically.
Peace and Poetry!

At Dorchester School, Inclusion Through Art

By Andrea Smardon   |   Tuesday, April 26, 2011
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Students at the Henderson School practice the "Earth Dance" during a movement class. In the background, teacher Cynthia Archibald looks on. (WGBH)

BOSTON — A public elementary school is Dorchester is getting international attention this week. Policy makers and educators from 17 countries are coming to Boston as part of a conference focused on using the arts to improve the education of students with disabilities. 
As part of the event, the conference is highlighting the work of the William Henderson Inclusion Elementary School for its pioneering work incorporating the arts into its classrooms. 

A classroom at the Henderson School, a full-inclusion Dorchester elementary school that emphasizes the arts as a learning tool. (WGBH)

Tim Archibald is a professional musician, but he looks more like a gym teacher in his warm up pants. And he seems poised to jump into action at any moment.

In his office, which doubles as a supply closet for student drama productions, he seems pretty confident about today’s big project for the second graders, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony arranged for xylophones.

“Last week we did Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, today we’re really upping it and we’re moving to Beethoven’s 9th,” Archibald said. “The idea of being able to move from a traditional simple lullaby to something you might learn in Symphony Hall is ah… we’ll see how we do, right?”
In class, a couple dozen students are eager to work on the piece. In one corner, a student drops his head onto the desk. A teacher’s aid works to get him on task. The aid himself has cystic fibrosis -- as well as perfect pitch.
Overall, about one third have special needs ranging from severe disabilities to minor learning impairments, but in some cases, it’s hard to tell which ones.
“Often times people from the outside come in and they say which are the students with the disabilities because they’re all learning together in the same classroom, that’s the whole idea,” Archibald said.
“In our world, people have all sorts of different success rates at being able to do different tasks and being able to learn different things. I think the Henderson Inclusion School kind of reflects the way of the world.”
Before approaching the xylophones, the students worked on keyboards with technology that allows each to work at their own pace. A second-grader demonstrates how the keyboard calls out numbers to get her back on track if she misses a note. The correct keys light up as she plays.  
Archibald says the keyboard can provide as much or as little support as you need. This, he says, is the essence of how teachers at the Henderson design all of their curriculum. And it’s how students at different levels with different learning styles are able to learn in a classroom together. It’s a method called Universal Design for Learning.

Students at the Henderson school play outside during their recess period. (WGBH)

“This type of universal design, here it is in an electronic instrument, but it can be built into the thought process of how you develop curriculum for students to learn,” Archibald explained.
William Henderson was the first principal at the school, and the man for whom the school is named. He himself is blind, and says working with disabled students requires creativity.
“When you have kids who do not read regular print, whether it be because of blindness, learning disabilities, or cognitive delays, or because they have difficulty holding a book because of physical disabilities, you find other ways of accessing information.” 
The school was originally founded 22 years ago in partnership with VSA Massachusetts, a state chapter of a national organization on arts and disability. Henderson says the artists hired and trained by VSA have been helping the school find new approaches to learning.
“We found that the arts engage children, it embellished the curriculum, brought life to social studies. So that children talking about the Boston Tea Party, in addition to writing and reading about it, they’re doing role plays, they’re making murals, they’re doing poetry,” Henderson said.
Henderson said that makes the learning experience richer. “It’s something that the children remember a lot more, and both teaching and learning are more fun and a lot more meaningful.”
As it turns out, Henderson says, this approach to learning benefits all students, not just those with special needs. In the school auditorium, visual artist Mary Dechico is working on a backdrop for the school production of “Singing in the Rain.” She’s a parent with two students at the Henderson school.  
“I’m going to cry the day my older son leaves here. He loves it. He’s usually above the curve in his learning, but he just adores this place,” Dechico said. “He loves all the different kids, he’s grown up with these children, in the same classroom, doing the same things. It’s part of life, I feel likes it’s just so nice to see him approach the world that way.”

Students are seen in movement class. (WGBH)

Back in music class, the students are making progress on Beethoven’s 9th.  Within a half hour, they’ve learned to play the first two lines as a group.  Eight-year-old Grace Kiwaunaka says she takes piano lessons at home so it’s easy for her, but she thinks the class is doing a fine job.
“Everyone does it really well, and everyone has a different way of doing it, but they all do it really well even though it’s different,” Kiwaunaka said.

About the Authors
Brian McCreath Brian McCreath

Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 
Bridgit Brown Bridgit Brown
Bridgit Brown is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Emerson College ('98). She was a Fulbright Lecturing and Research Scholar in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, and her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Bay State Banner, Color Magazine, Black Perspectives Now, Colorlines of Architecture, Exhale Magazine, Ibbetson Street Magazine, and Somerville Review.


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