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This is a joint review between Viola da Voce and Contrapuntist.

If Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are gems renowned for their heartfelt storylines and memorable melodies, then Carousel is the Hope Diamond. Cited by TIME magazine as the greatest musical of the 20th century, the musical transforms Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár’s work into a work of nearly operatic scale. In fact when the show opened in 1945, Broadway performers sang without microphones, just like operatic vocalists.

Like great opera, musical theater demands excellent vocals, great theatrics, a beautiful score and an unforgettable story. It’s appropriate then, that Lyric Opera of Chicago tackled this musical in the third year of its American Music Theater Initiative.

Contrapuntist and I have seen plenty of musicals at community theaters and as part of Broadway in Chicago productions. We’ve also been to numerous operas at Lyric. As a result, we were curious to see what would happen when the opera company put on a musical. We also didn’t know what to expect from Steven Pasquale, who is playing the character of Billy Bigelow. We had only seen him as the meathead firefighter Sean Garrity on the TV dramedy, Rescue Me.

The outcome was both mesmerizing and memorable. Pasquale is a masterful singer, who performed with unexpected power and tenderness in “If I Loved You” and “Soliloquy”.  Laura Osnes’s (Julie Jordan) voice soared with forthright passion in “If I Loved You” and “What’s the Use of Wondrin’”.  Jenn Gambatese (Carrie Pipperidge) sang with silvery clarity and ditzy innocence.

Denyce Graves graced the stage as Nettie Fowler. Her grand operatic voice seemed overpowering in comparison to the rest of the cast, which is our only minor critique. However, her performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was spiritual enough to raise the hairs on our arms.

Hearing the full orchestra perform the score under the direction of David Chase also brought out the rich harmonies and complex orchestration not heard in simplified arrangements for smaller ensembles.

Abigail Simon excelled in her heart-wrenching portrayal of Louise, Billy Bigelow’s daughter, during the ballet in the second act. Her motions captured the angst of a child carrying the burden of her parent’s actions.

Lyric Opera’s production of Carousel allows the audience to experience this musical in a different way than a Broadway show. The high-quality singing coupled with the full orchestra brought the musical’s emotional character to fruition in a way that could only happen in an opera house.

Carousel runs April 10 to May 3 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago. Tickets start at $29, and are available at lyricopera.org/carousel or at 312-827-5600.


curtin_blackoakWant to learn about the science of violins from a renowned luthier and journey from Bach to Balkan music all in one night? Then you’ll want to check out Joseph Curtin and the Black Oak Ensemble present: The Music & Science of Old and New Violins. The event will feature a talk by MacArthur Fellow Joseph Curtin and a performance by the internationally acclaimed Black Oak Ensemble on Saturday, March 7 at the International House, 1414 E. 59th St., Chicago.

Curtin has created violins for artists including Ilya Kaler, Yehudi Menuhin, and Ruggiero Ricci. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2005. In 2013, the “ex-Ricci” Curtin & Alf violin set a world record price for an instrument by a living maker when it sold in auction for $132,000. Recently, Curtin delivered a colloquium on violin science at Stanford University and was featured in an NPR story about Stradivari instruments.

The Black Oak Ensemble consists of the award-winning soloists and chamber musicians Goran Ivanovic (guitar), Desirée Ruhstrat (violin), David Cunliffe (cello), and Aurélian Fort Penderzoli (violin/viola). The group has performed on Live on WFMT, The Steinway Series, Music in the Loft Series, and the Ravinia Festival. The ensemble’s performance will take the audience on a journey from Bach to Balkan with works by composers including  Bach, Beethoven, Bartok , Paganini , Monti, Piazolla, Kreisler/de Falla and Ivanovic.

The event schedule is as follows:
5:30PM: Doors open
6:00PM: Joseph Curtin talk, audience questions, and intermission
7:30PM: Black Oak Ensemble Concert
8:30PM: Concert ends. Reception for people with VIP tickets begins.
9:30PM: VIP Reception Ends

Ticket Tiers and Prices:
VIP: $35 – Only 50 available. VIP tickets include a special reception with the artists after the concert
General admission: $25
Student: Free – Reservation required, and students must show a valid UChicago student ID at the door.

To purchase tickets, or for more information, click here.

Photo credits: Joseph Curtin by Ching Chen Juhl. Black Oak Ensemble courtesy Black Oak Ensemble 


ErlkoenigSchubertManuscriptPageI’m now in the third part of my series about a playlist which I created for one of my violin students who came to me never having listened to classical music. Part one is available here, and part two is here.

7. Franz Schubert’s Der Erlkönig Op. 1, D 328

I wanted to introduce my student to the operatic style of singing. But opera can be an acquired taste. I didn’t learn to like it until I got to college and became friends with several sopranos.  I decided that Der Erlkönig would be an ideal gateway for my student to learn about operatic singing. It’s only about four minutes long, so it’s easily digestible. Plus, it has a compelling story about a father, his son, and the evil elf king who kills the boy right in his father’s arms.

8. John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine

At this point in the playlist, my student had listened to music mostly from the romantic, classical, and Baroque periods of music. I wanted to move her towards various styles of contemporary classical music. John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine is probably one the most easily approachable works from contemporary style known as minimalism.This piece is loud, boisterous, and includes an intriguing array of percussion instruments. I love this particular video because it shows many of the different instruments in the orchestra up close, and I wanted my student to become familiar with instruments outside of the string family.

9. Igor Stravinsky’s “Infernal Dance” from The Firebird Suite

As with the John Adams piece, I wanted to continue familiarizing my student with contemporary classical music. But this time, I wanted to drive her towards the Russian composers of the early 20th century. The Firebird Suite was the first music by Stravinsky that I had played or even heard, back when I was in youth orchestra. I was about the same age as my student when I fell in love with this work, so I hope it would appeal to her as well. I was fiendishly delighted when my student told me that the explosive first chord of this piece startled her.  I remember having the same experience. That chord really is scary the first time you hear it.

Image of  Der Erlkönig manuscript via Wikimedia Commons


Headphones_photosteve101This is the second part of my series about a playlist which I created for one of my violin students who came to me without ever having listened to classical music. You can read part one here.

4. Mozart’s Allegro from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Serenade in G, K. 525

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is not only one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s best-known pieces but also among the most famous classical pieces of all time. It figured prominently in the Academy Award-winning biopic Amadeus, has appeared in 8 different episodes of The Simpsons, and has been in the soundtrack of multiple movies including Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows, Alien, and There’s Something about Mary.1 If you play a string instrument, chances are that you’re going to play it in orchestra numerous times (and it is fun to play). It’s a must-listen for anyone getting to know classical music.

5. First Movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67

The first three notes of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 are instantly recognizable even to those with no knowledge of classical music. Beethoven meant these notes to represent death knocking on a door. Later, the Allies used the melody as a signature piece during World War II because the notes resembled Morse code for the V for victory. This piece has also appeared in movies including Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Breakfast Club, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof .2

6. Brahms’ Intermezzo Op. 118, No. 2

I included Johannes Brahms’ Intermezzo Op. 118, No. 2 because it’s one of my sentimental favorites. I first encountered this piece when I had to analyze it for one of my music theory classes in college. I fell in love with its lyrical melody and delicate counterpoint. It’s Brahms, with his tender underbelly exposed. Beyond my own affection for this work, there are a couple of practical reasons I included it. First, Brahms is one of the most renowned classical composers. No list would be complete without one of his works. Second, I wanted my violin student to hear an approachable solo piano piece.

Photo credit: Photosteve101 via Flickr

1. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0003665/

2. http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/onestopbeethoven/qt/beethoven_movie.htm


Property_670x380Lyric Unlimited will soon present the world premiere of a true rarity – a klezmer opera based on a graphic novel.  The Property, by composer Wlad Marhulets and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann, is drawn from a graphic novel of the same name by acclaimed Israeli author Rutu Modan. Performances will take place in partnership with the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts in Hyde Park from February 25-27, with additional performances at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie from March 4-5.

The Property follows the journey of Regina Segal and her granddaughter Mica , who travel to modern Warsaw in an attempt to recover family property lost during World War II. Regina faces the difficult truth about her past, while Micah enters into a relationship with their Polish tour guide and realizes their reasons for coming might not be all that they had appeared.

The opera integrates Eastern European and Jewish references from Modan’s novel. The cast includes six singers, including mezzo-soprano Jill Grove as Regina and Anne Slovin as Mica. An ensemble of six instrumentalists will include musicians from Chicago’s renowned Maxwell Street Klezmer Band. The music melds styles ranging from klezmer to funk to represent how the story exists on the planes of both memory and modern day.

The world premiere of The Property is at the heart of Lyric Unlimited’s Memory and Reckoning events, which accompany Lyric’s premiere of The Passenger by Miecyslaw Weinberg, February 24-March 15. Lyric Unlimited commissioned The Property and decided to present it as a companion to The Passenger because of Weinberg’s life and background. A Polish Jew and the son of a Yiddish theater conductor, Weinberg was influenced by klezmer and Jewish liturgical music. Like The Property‘s main character Regina Segal, he fled his native country to escape the Nazis.

The world premiere performances will take place at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts (915 E 60th Street, Chicago) on Wednesday, February 25 at 7:30pm; Thursday, February 26 at 7:30pm; and Friday, February 27, 1pm. Tickets start at $20, on sale now at lyricopera.org/property or 312-827-5600. The February 25 and 26 performances will be followed by talkbacks featuring artists and University of Chicago faculty.

Performances will also take place at The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts (9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie) on Wednesday, March 4 at 7:30pm and Thursday, March 5 at 7:30pm
Tickets start at $20, on sale now at NorthShoreCenter.org  or 847-673-6300.


Playlist for a Violinist Who’s Never Listened to Classical Music: Part 1

January 30, 2015

I recently began to teach a junior high-aged violinist who had played the violin for six years, but had never listened to classical music. As a Suzuki-trained violin teacher, I believe that listening to high-quality performances and recordings is a must. Learning how to play an instrument without listening to music would be the equivalent […]

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Three Christmas Flash Mobs Celebrate the Season

December 24, 2014

There’s nothing like a flash mob to add a joyful zing to holiday music. Here are three Christmas flash mobs guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Students from the Berklee School of Music joined Boston musicians to perform “O Holy Night” in the courtyard of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Soloist Mark Joseph […]

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Hanukkah Music Takeoffs on Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, and More

December 18, 2014

If you can’t get enough of “Shake It Off” and “All About That Bass”, then you’re in luck. The Jewish singing groups Six13 and the Maccabeats have created their own takeoffs on the popular tunes to celebrate Hanukkah 2014. And if you like a little dancing to spice up your Hanukkah music, then you’ll love […]

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Another Time for Three Musician Denied by US Airways

November 18, 2014

For the second time this year, a musician from Time for Three has been denied by US Airways. Bassist Ranaan Meyer, who was attempting to fly out of LAX following Time for Three’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars, posted a video on Facebook today in which he explained that US Airways would not permit […]

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“Breaking Ice” Concerts to Benefit an Orphanage in Awassa, Ethiopia

October 14, 2014

This weekend, the Fused Muse Ensemble will present three performances entitled “Breaking Ice” that integrate music, dance choreography, and video art. Proceeds from this event will benefit the Awassa Children’s Project in Awassa, Ethiopia. The Illinois not-for-profit project provides funding for an orphanage in Awassa with an environmental mission to plant trees, dig fresh water […]

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