Ebb tide

When most folks think of cabaret, I expect the image that comes to mind is that of a single performer backed up by a piano, possibly augmented with bass or percussion.  That’s certainly the most common arrangement but, as singer (and visual artist) Dionna Raedeke and guitarist Mike Krysl will be demonstrating this Friday, it’s by no means the only one.

A relatively new addition to the St. Louis cabaret scene, Ms. Raedeke has garnered raves for her singing and musical taste.  “Dionna is one of my new favorite singers,” says actor, singer and teacher Jason Graae. “Her voice has such a haunting beauty and it comes directly from her soul.”  New York-based singer, songwriter and music director Rick Jensen—who accompanied Ms. Raedeke for her 2011 show Sight – Sound—agrees, describing her as a “vocally compelling and consistently original in her performance.”

For her new show, titled Ebb and Flow, Ms. Raedeke has put together an evening in which the sound will be acoustic, the mood mellow, and the song choices rather different from the Great American Songbook standards that are so often associated with cabaret.  Expect 70s rock, contemporary singer/songwriters, and even some new tunes.  Ms. Raedeke, with a nod to her visual artist side (and with tongue somewhat in cheek), describes the evening as a “carefully curated” one that features “everything from Pink Floyd to PINK.”

Expect arrangements that will make you re-think familiar songs as well.  An inventive musician who lists influences as diverse as Robin Trower, Django Reinhardt and Leonard Bernstein, Mike Krysl has often impressed me with both the ingenuity and virtuosity of his inventive and original takes on rock and pop standards.  I remember being particularly blown away by what he and singer Shauna Sconce did with some of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon at their recently concluded monthly sessions at The Wine Press.

“Mike Krysl’s sound is taut, deep and brilliantly soulful,” says local cabaret artist Katie McGrath. “Dionna’s voice is plaintive, joyous and straight-arrow true. My favorite musician with my favorite singer. And the angels smile.”  As someone who has been both a critic and performer on the local cabaret scene for many years and who has had the pleasure of seeing both Ms. Raedeke and Mr. Krysl in action, I heartily concur.

The one and only performance of Ebb and Flow is this Friday, August 9th, at 8 PM at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive at the intersection of Skinker and Wydown.  A not-for-profit music venue, performance space and art gallery, The Chapel has played host to a number of cabaret shows over the last few years.  It’s an attractive, unconventional space in a quiet residential neighborhood that provides its services free to local musicians as part of its mission to support the arts in St. Louis.  I think that’s pretty admirable and worth supporting.

Tickets, which are available at the door and at ebbandflow.brownpapertickets.com (along with some free sample music tracks), are $20 and include two free drinks.  Parking is free as well.  Come on down Friday and smile with the angels.

Spring Forward

Jerome Elliott

Palm Springs-based cabaret artist Jerome Elliott is making his St. Louis solo cabaret debut this Saturday (June 29) at 8 PM at the Chapel with “My Favorite Springs,” produced by Mariposa Artists. But Mr. Elliott’s relationship with St. Louis goes back several years. He sees St. Louis, in fact, as “the birthplace of my work in cabaret” due to his participation in the St. Louis Cabaret Conference in 2007.

“Prior to the 2007 workshop,” he said in an email interview, “I had done a couple of cabaret shows in Palm Springs, going by instinct only. The first St. Louis year propelled me to dig deeper into the craft and led me to the Yale Conference in 2008. In turn, the Yale Conference made me want to investigate even more, which brought me back to St. Louis in 2009. Since then I’ve created five original shows that I have performed in Palm Springs, New York, Seattle and Los Angeles. I would not have accomplished that without the work I did in St. Louis.”

Mr. Elliott also appreciates the vitality of the St. Louis cabaret scene. “I look at the St. Louis cabaret community,” he notes, “as a model for keeping this art form moving forward. As a direct result of the annual workshops, you have created a very supportive and nurturing environment for cabaret. Through social media, I’ve kept up with many of the friends I met during my two visits and I admire how many of you have continued to study and grow. I am amazed at the breadth and frequency of cabaret activity that goes on in St. Louis.” Indeed, he asked Katie McGrath (of Women Under the Influence) to do an opening set for his show here precisely “because she exemplifies what I like to call the Spirit of St. Louis.”

Based on an earlier Palm Springs show, “My Favorite Springs” pays homage both to the season spring and to the famous hot springs of his hometown in the California desert. The eclectic song list spans eight decades and includes works by Noel Coward, Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hart, Harry Chapin, William Finn, Amanda McBroom, Gordon Lightfoot, Steve Marzullo, Mark Campbell and Jerry Herman. There’s even a number (Coachella Valley Blues) with lyrics by Mr. Elliott himself.

Music director and pianist for the show is Jasmine co-founder and Webster University faculty member Carol Schmidt, whose work is frequently scene on local cabaret stages. Carol is also the music director for The Cabaret Project’s monthly open mic series at Tavern of Fine Arts

Mixing a rich baritone with a sly wit, Elliott has received accolades for his performances in New York (The Duplex), Los Angeles (M Bar), Seattle (Julia’s and Egan’s), as well as at many cabaret venues in the Palm Springs area. His work in Southern California music and theater has garnered seven nominations for the Desert Theatre League’s annual Desert Star Awards.

Mr. Elliot, though, says he thinks of himself primarily as “an actor who sings” rather than a singer per se. “I’ve learned that one of my natural abilities is story-telling. I like to give myself leeway to improvise within the patter. I love to write patter and a good third of my show consists of talk.”

“My Favorite Springs” bounces on to the stage at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive in Clayton, on Saturday, June 29, at 8 PM. As its name implies, The Chapel is a converted chapel that now serves as both a performing arts venue and a gallery space, which makes for a very friendly and mellow vibe.  For more information: brownpapertickets.com; look for event 365191.

The Cliburn Report 14: 40 Great Unclaimed Melodies

[Thanks to The Firesign Theatre for the title of this post. If you haven’t heard the hilarious 1970 sketch in question, you owe it to your sense of humor to check it out. Some of you may even be old enough to remember the commercial—featuring Jack Benny’s long-time announcer Don Wilson—that inspired it.]

[Note: this has been corrected based on information obtained from tinyurl.com/cliburn2013rep; viz. the anonymous comment]

“Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes. – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Silver Blaze”

“I would while away the hours / Conversin’ with the flowers,” but since I’m “leavin’ on a jet plane” for the finals of the Cliburn International Piano Competition, I thought I’d use the flight time to devote some attention the musical canines that were silent, or very nearly so—that is, composers whose work was poorly represented or entirely absent during the three rounds of preliminary and semi-final recitals.

Let’s start with the dogs that didn’t bark at all.

One of only two knownphotos of Alkan

Charles Valentin Alkan – Not a household name but certainly known among pianists. Granted, most of his stuff is fiercely difficult, but somebody could have taken on (say) Aesop’s Feast, the Sonatine, or the Barcarolle (with its prescient “blue” notes)—any of which would have been well within the capabilities of these technically proficient pianists. Besides, none of them appeared to shy away from technical challenges;  Stravinsky’s thorny Trois mouvements de Pétrouchka was heard often as were  works by Liszt (including 11 of the Transcendental Études by Vadym Kholodenko).

And, speaking of Stravinsky, the Pétrouchka suite was the only work of his on the bill.

François Couperin – Yes, he wrote for the harpsichord and organ rather than the piano, but so did Bach and that didn’t keep him off the program (although he didn’t appear that often either; three performances including a Siloti transcription).

Charles Ives

John Field – Nothing from the inventor of the nocturne. In fact, no nocturnes at all. Maybe everyone was afraid of putting the audience to sleep?

George Gershwin – He’s marginal in this context, perhaps, but surely his Preludes would have made an interesting addition.

Charles Ives – Ives only wrote two piano sonatas, but they’re amazing pieces—and would surely have been appropriate for a competition held in America. Indeed, American composers were poorly represented in general.

Dimitri Shostakovich – Granted, Shostakovich might not be as well known for his piano works as Prokofiev (see below), but his Twenty-Four Preludes and Fugues are real gems. It would have been nice to see a few performed.

These dogs, meanwhile, barked so little you could easily have missed them.

Albèniz – A prolific and popular composer for the piano, he’s represented only by Book 2 of Iberia (Tomoki Sakata)

Bartok – Again, a composer well known for his piano works, but represented by only three performances: the 1926 Sonata (Luca Burrato), the Étude, op. 18, no. 3 (Alexy Chernov), and Out of Doors (Beatrice Rana).

Grieg – Another prolific and popular composer of piano miniatures and one massively popular concerto, Grieg is represented by a whopping total of three waltzes (performed by Alexey Chernov). I find this odd, to say the least. Is it because most of his work doesn’t offer the kinds of opportunities for flash that one finds in the work of (say) Liszt (who is very well represented)? Or has he simply fallen out of fashion?

Mendelssohn – Only three works: the Fantasy in F-sharp Minor, op. 28 (Scottish Sonata), the Sonata no. 3 in B-flat Major, op. 106, and Variations serieuses, op. 54.

Liszt by Lehmann

So who is well represented? Well, after Liszt, the biggies were Chopin, Schumann, Beethoven (including the challenging “Hammerklavier” sonata), Brahms, Rachmaninov, and Prokofiev.

Ravel looks to be well represented—sixteen performances—but those performances covered only five works including the multiples of Gaspard de la nuit. Still, they’re major works, so maybe that’s not a big deal.

What, if anything, does this mean? The Cliburn and other competitions have been criticized for encouraging safe repertoire and performance choices—a kind of reversion to the mean, in which idiosyncrasies are weeded out. I didn’t see enough of the preliminary and semi-final rounds to comment on the performance side, but it certainly does appear that, given the ability to choose their own music, contestants tend to go with the tried and true. What do you think?

The Cliburn Report 8: Here, There, and Everywhere

Jade Simmons

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June.  Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

I’m a bit late with this one, but I have an excuse: I had to write up and record a review of the tour of Anything Goes that’s playing the Fox Theatre locally. That’s the disadvantage of being both a music and theatre critic.

Anyway, I’ve been concentrating on mainstream media outlets so far, but I don’t want to give you the impression that the blogosphere isn’t paying attention to the competition as well. Here are a couple of recent examples:

Chang Tou Liang’s Pianomania blog has been covering the competition at least as assiduously as mainstream critics Scott Cantreel and Gregory Isaacs (see below). It’s interesting to compare their picks with his.

I have mentioned the fine job pianist Jade Simmons has been doing as host of the Cliburn live webcast. Her Emerge Already! blog is worth a look (and listen—it includes audio blog entries).

Giuseppe Greco
Photo: Ralph Lauer

Back on the mainstream media beat, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram continues its daily photo coverage of the competition, including both performance and backstage pictures from day 6 (May 28th).

Gregory Isaacs’s coverage for TheatreJones continues. His favorites from the first, second, and third Tuesday sessions were:

Oleksandr Poliykov
Photo: Ralph Lauer

Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News singled out the following contestants in his morning, afternoon, and evening reviews:

The Cliburn Report 7: Da Capo

Claire Huangci

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June. Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

No matter where you stand on the question of the validity of piano competitions in general and The Cliburn in particular, you must admit that the folks behind the Fort Worth-based competition/festival are always looking for ways to improve it and raise public awareness of it (not necessarily the same thing).

This time around, for example, they have doubled the length of the preliminary round by allowing each contestant to perform two 45-minute recitals instead of one as they used to do. It’s more work for the pianists and (especially) the jury, but it does give every performer a second chance.

François Dumont

For an example of the importance of that second chance, one needs look no farther than Claire Huangci (23, USA), who opened the Phase II preliminary session Monday afternoon. As Gregory Isaacs notes in his TheaterJones review:

Her performance of excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty, in a virtuoso arrangement by the Russian pianist Mikhail Pletnev, has surely caused the judges to reconsider her. Marquis said that the second recital might make up for an off day in the first round. In this case, it allowed Huangci to have a spectacular day after a good one. Also, it helped to make up for her falling, by luck of the draw, into the dreaded first position in the competition.

As it happens Ms. Huangci’s Sleeping Beauty suite was one of the few performances I’ve been able to catch on the Cliburn’s live webcast, and I heartily second Mr. Isaac’s comments.

Alex McDonald

Meanwhile, wall-to-wall coverage by Mr. Isaacs and Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News continues. In addition to Ms. Huangci, Mr. Isaacs’s favorites from the first, second, and third Monday sessions were:

Mr. Cantrell’s morning, afternoon, and evening reviews singled out:

By way of contrast, he named Mr. Favorin “most annoying player so far.”

And so it goes.

The Cliburn Report 6: First movement coda

Jayson Gillham

Photo: Ralph Lauer

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June.  Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

As some of you may know, this is the first edition of the Cliburn in which the thirty semi-finalists are given a literal second chance to show their abilities as soloists. Previously, the field was cut from thirty to twelve after only one round of recitals. This year, each contestant gets to perform two forth-minute programs, beginning today. That’s a classic good news/bad news scenario, as Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Tim Madigan observes. “For all the positives,” he writes, “the new format has brought scheduling challenges and intensified the already grueling nature of the preliminary round. In past competitions, with just one recital per competitor, the preliminaries started to feel like a slog for the media and audience members committed to sitting for every note.”

The Star-Telegram also has a photo gallery of day three for your perusal.

Alexey Chernov

Photo: Ralph Lauer

Mr. Madigan also has a nicely balanced article on what winning the Cliburn does—and doesn’t—mean to a young pianist’s career. It’s well worth a read.

Dallas Morning News music critic Scott Cantrell continues his coverage of the competition with reviews of the Sunday evening recitals as well as the morning and afternoon performances at the paper’s arts blog.

The pianists he singles out for special praise this time are Jayson Gillham (26, Australia-U.K.), Alexey Chernov (30, Russia; “the most riveting contestant so far”), and Sara Daneshpour (26, U.S., who “gets the prize so far for the most ravishing playing”).

Sara Daneshpour

Photo: Ralph Lauer

Gregory Isaacs of the Music Critics Association of North America continues his more detailed coverage of the first, second and third rounds on Sunday at the TheaterJones site. He shares Mr. Cantrell’s enthusiasm for Jayson Gillham, Alexey Chernov, and Sara Daneshpour, but has positive things to say about many of the others as well.

Phase two of the preliminary round began Monday, May 27, at 3 PM central. You can view the entire series live at cliburn.org, hosted with great charm by pianist Jade Simmons.

The Cliburn Report 5: Morning, Noon, and Night in Fort Worth

Nikolay Khozyaninov

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June. Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

Note-for-note coverage of Phase 1 of the preliminary round continues with Dallas Morning News music critic Scott Cantrell’s reviews of the Saturday afternoon and Saturday night recitals at the paper’s arts blog. None of his reviews are unqualified raves although his comments on Russia’s Nikolay Khozyaninov (age 20) include praise for his “pretty amazing performance of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit.” He also singled out Italy’s Alessandro Taverna (age 29) for the way he “managed to find some surprises in that Cliburn cliché, the Three Movements from Stravinsky’s Petrushka.”

Lindsay Garritson

Meanwhile, my fellow member of the Music Critics Association of North America, Gregory Isaacs, continues his coverage of the first, second and third rounds on Saturday at the TheaterJones site. He has something positive to say about nearly everyone, but his favorites so far are Ukraine’s Oleksandr Poliykov (age 25; Mr. Isaacs loved his Pictures at an Exhibition); Taiwan’s Kuan-Ting Lin (21), who did well by Liszt; American Lindsay Garritson (25) whose performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 earned a standing ovation; Nikolay Khozyaninov (he loved the pianist’s Ravel as much as Mr. Cantrell did); and Italy’s Alessandro Deljavan (27) whose outrageous stage persona (he grimaces and hums along, a la Glenn Gould) nevertheless appears to come with good musical judgment. “Weird facial expressions matter not a whit,” notes Mr. Isaacs, “and he received a standing ovation.”

The Cliburn Report 4: Morning Mood

Beatrice Rana

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June. Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

If you missed the first day of the Cliburn’s seven-day marathon of preliminary round recitals, never fear; the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a huge photo gallery of the contestants in action, along with an article by Tim Madigan describing some contestant and audience reactions to opening day. Mr. Madigan isn’t doing any handicapping yet, but he did describe 20-year-old Italian pianist Beatrice Rana’s recital as “a highlight of the first day, particularly her exquisite sonata composed by Muzio Clementi…The piece featured slow, pianissimo passages requiring a delicate touch, interspersed with fast music that allowed Rana to showcase her speed and dexterity at the keyboard.”

Nikita Mndoyants

Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News, on the other hand, is doing mini-reviews of each recital. His Friday report is less enthusiastic about Ms. Rana than Mr. Madigan’s (although it’s still mostly positive). His praise of Russia’s Nikita Mndoyants and Italy’s Luca Buratto mostly mirror my own impressions from the webcast (although I’m less bothered by Mr. Buratto’s presentation eccentricities than he is). His blog coverage of this morning’s concert singles out Taiwan’s Kuan-Ting Lin as “one of the most impressive performers so far, sensitive to melodic shape and harmonic nuance,” although he also has praise for the Ukranian Oleksandr Poliykov.

My fellow Music Critics Assocaition of North America member Gregory Isaacs is also doing wall-to-wall Cliburn coverage at the TheaterJones site. The link will be updated as he adds more reviews, so it’s worth a bookmark.

Finally, those of you wishing to escape the hype around the Cliburn (and competitions in general) might want to check out Brad Hill’s curmudgeonly (but thought provoking) article at Huffington Post. You may or may not agree with all of it, but I think you’ll have to admit he makes some telling points.

Next Page →