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The ‘audacious integrity’ of Fred Ho

April 15th, 2014 No comments

It is with great sadness that the Office for the Arts at Harvard notes the passing of Fred Ho ’79, baritone saxophonist, composer, writer, producer, political activist and leader of several musical ensembles. Jon Pareles of the New York Times once praised Fred for his “audacious integrity,” a trait that was always evident in his prodigious output which included multimedia works, scores for dances, oratorios and operas, and several books. Speaking of his work, Fred always enjoyed quoting visionary composer, performer and band leader Sun Ra: “Everything possible has been tried and nothing has changed. What we need is the impossible.”

In a post on this blog, OFA Director of Programs Cathy McCormick reported on Fred’s final public performance: The Sweet Science Suite: A Scientific Soul Music Honoring of Muhammad Ali at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in October of last year.

In this clip, from the November 2009 ceremony honoring Fred as recipient of the Harvard Arts Medal, he offers his thanks with an extraordinary performance on his baritone sax.

Fred Ho ’79: Playing his grand work at BAM

October 21st, 2013 No comments

Fred Ho '79 in November 2009, when he was awarded the Harvard Arts Medal. PHOTO: Jake Belcher/OFA

Fred Ho ’79 has a long, warm, and artistically rich affiliation with the Office for the Arts at Harvard and Harvard Jazz Bands. As an undergraduate, Ho received an OFA grant for music composition. As a professional, he has returned many times, including as Peter Ivers Visiting Artist through our Learning From Performers program, and as a guest of the Jazz Band. In 2009, Ho was awarded the Harvard Arts Medal. He returned to Cambridge in 2011, commissioned by then director of bands and long-time Ho advocate Tom Everett, to premiere The Soul Science Stomp for big band and dancers.

On October 11 and 12 in Brooklyn, Ho presented a monumental new work, The Sweet Science Suite: A Scientific Soul Music Honoring of Muhammad Ali at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival. It was billed as Ho’s final grand workdue to Stage Four-C metastatic cancer. Deena Anderson, LFP program associate at the OFA, and I attended on the second night. We were knocked flat.

Conceived and composed by Ho, the ambitious work in five movements was a power-packed interdisciplinary statement of spectacular martial arts movement, complex music performed by Ho’s 18-piece Green Monster Band, and fully integrated lighting, video and costume design. Ho’s compositions, a showcase for brass, were full of a robust energy, anger and, in the end, funk and joy. Tenor saxophonist and composer Don Braden’85 (interim director of the Harvard Monday Jazz Band) performed in the sax section and delivered a gorgeous solo.

“I could hear the musical influences of Sun Ra, Mingus, Ellington and Pharaoh Sanders, especially during Don Braden’s solo. He channeled Pharaoh for sure, and that’s what Fred wanted,” Deena said to me. Read more…

Forgoing football for a bit of baroque

November 15th, 2012 No comments

I love football, and I love the Patriots (and I’m from New York, so that’s a big deal). You know that song that goes, “I’ve been waiting all day for Sunday night”? Well, for me, it’s “I’ve been waiting all week for Sunday” so I can watch three or four games —I don’t even care who’s playing. But this Sunday I won’t be watching the afternoon games: I’ll be at the Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra concert in The Memorial Church. And what could drag me away from my Sunday of football? Two words: Doug Balliett.

Doug Balliett ’07 is a double bass player, and he’s good. He first came to my attention when he was selected to be in the first class of Artist Development Fellows in 2007. During the fellowship, he worked on his CD The Retelling, which retells Homer’s Odyssey. But I didn’t listen to the CD until after I saw him perform in ARTS FIRST that year; in the spirit of Fred Ho ’79, Doug was on the Yard Stage painted green and singing Sir Psycho Sexy with his band. The performance was shut down because of the “colorful” lyrics, but I thought it was great and was impressed that college kids in 2007 knew one of the formative albums of my youth by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Since leaving Harvard, Balliett has done quite a bit (read about it here and here, and see him perform here) and all of it is impressive. In addition to getting a master’s at Julliard in Historical Performance and his other musical pursuits, he has a radio show which streams 3 p.m. Thursdays on WQXR, NYC’s classical radio station, with his twin brother, bassoonist Brad Balliett. They have a 10-point manifesto that guides the show:

1. We are the Brothers Balliett.
2. We believe that the best music is the music that excites the best curiosity, excitement, passion and conversation.
3. We believe in music that bears repeated listening and offers something new with each visitation.
4. We believe that stretching the ear is a way to stretch the mind.
5. We believe in the continually ceaseless creativity of composers everywhere.
6. We believe that music must reflect the time in which it was written, and that all eras deserve representation.
7. We believe that great nations should strive to attract and support great artists.
8. We believe in absolute artistic freedom, unfettered by trend or dogma.
9. We believe that the power of ideas, creativity, and personality can shape a city’s character.
10. We believe in the groove.

Doug Balliett '07

Now Balliett is back in Cambridge to perform with the Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra in a concert of “gorgeous and goofy” music called Dragonetti Diaries: Inside the Mind of a Prodigy. The concert description is great reading and ends with: “Bassist Douglas Balliett returns to Harvard for a pyrotechnic tour de force: fistfuls of small notes on a very large instrument!” So the question is: Why are YOU not going to the concert? There’s football every weekend, but this concert is only happening once (and you can make it home in time to watch the 8 p.m. game).

Dragonetti Diaries: Inside the Mind of a Prodigy will take place 4-5:30 p.m. on November 18 at Harvard’s Memorial Church. Tickets are $10, students and seniors $5, available through the Harvard Box Office.

Dear Fred Ho: Thank you for rocking our world

November 20th, 2009 No comments

Fred_all_greenCROPA week ago today, Fred Ho received the Harvard Arts Medal. First he told his story in words. Then he told it again in music when he picked up his sax and played some of the sweetest sounds ever heard. We were on the edge of our seats. Thank you for your art, Mr. Ho, and for inspiring us to think more deeply about living life joyfully, naturally, creatively and occasionally wearing green body paint. A week later and for all time, we carry your beat in our hearts.

If you missed the Harvard Arts Medal event, you can still watch this short OFA video, a collage of Fred Ho images and music (which he provided).  

 

 

Categories: Music Tags: , , ,

Harvard Arts Medal Recipient Fred Ho on being Chinese-American

November 11th, 2009 No comments

Fred Ho, recipient of the 2009 Harvard Arts Medal, has very definite stance on his relationship with China and Chinese culture. He self-identifies as a Chinese-American, not a Chinese person, and despite being invited to perform in the Middle Kingdom, has avoided traveling to the first half of his hyphenated identity.

When asked if he sees himself as a Confucianist, he dismisses the thought.

“Am I a Confucianist? No. Confucianism is not the entirety of Chinese culture,” he declares. “It promotes subservience and submission.”

He also draws a strong line between being Chinese-American and Chinese. “What I’ve learned about Chinese history culture and identity, I’ve learned it as a Chinese American,” Ho says. “I don’t believe I’ll learn more about being Chinese American by going back to China. I refuse to be a tourist.

Finally, he sees modern day China as a “polluted cesspool,” filled with traffic jams and biohazards. He wouldn’t want to travel over there without financial support in the name of cultural exchange. Besides, “I don’t know how accepted my music and views would be in China,” he says.

Ho’s assumptions pose an interesting question of how identity and imagined homelands fit into art. What do you think he should do?

Fred Ho will be honored as the 2009 Harvard Arts Medalist, 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13 at New College Theater, where he will be interviewed by WGBH commentator Callie Crossley. For FREE tickets: http://ofa.fas.harvard.edu/cal/details.php?ID=40662.

Ho will also perform 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14 at Lowell Hall. For info: http://ofa.fas.harvard.edu/cal/details.php?ID=40540

Categories: Music, Theater Tags:

WHO IS THE GREENEST MAN AT HARVARD CONTEST! (with prizes)

November 1st, 2009 No comments
Imagine this filled with candy. Then imagine it filled with quaff. Let the dream lead you to OFA for the Green Man Contest today only!

Imagine this filled with candy. Then imagine it filled with soda. (OK, OK...beer.) Let the dream lead you to OFA for the Green Man Contest today only!

OK, kids, it’s contest time! The question is: Who is the greenest man at Harvard today, Friday, Nov. 13? If you can figure out the answer (hint: scroll down to a recent blog entry) and if you stop by the Office for the Arts, 74 Mt. Auburn Street, by 4 p.m. today Friday the 13th (or as we like to think of it: your lucky day) and answer the question correctly, then we have prizes for you! And you know the definition of prizes: FREE GIFTS! Tickets to saxophonist Fred Ho’s concert on Saturday night (save $8!), CDs by Fred Ho (save more than $8!), and Harvard University Band mugs and glasses teeming with candy (priceless!). (OK, it’s leftover Halloween candy, but that stuff doesn’t go bad.)

The first 10 people who stop by OFA, walk up to our man Tyler at the front desk and say the magic words get first choice of the prizes. And frankly, if you can’t figure out the answer and show up clueless, we might reward you just for being successful at living under a rock. (And no, the answer isn’t “Kermit the Frog.”)

If you show up too late for free stuff, no prob. We have a plan for latecomers, too! There will still be time for you to celebrate Fred Ho as Harvard Arts Medalist, 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13 at New College Theater. Also free. But very very rich. He’ll be introduced by Dean Evelynn Hammonds and interviewed by WGBH superstar Callie Crossley. (I saw Crossley interview Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. onstage last night at Sanders, and she’s seriously good.) Plus Fred Ho can zoom on the sax, which we’re told he will. So that’s free, too.

Anyway, don’t keep Tyler waiting. C’mon over. Be a winner! And just in case you need it, here’s another hint: Ho, Ho, Ho.  (Except Santa isn’t on campus today.)

  • Fred Ho will be honored as Harvard Arts Medalist, 5 p.m. Friday Nov. 13 at the New College Theater. Tickets available at the door.
  • Fred Ho will perform 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14 at Lowell Hall. Tickets $8-10. FMI: http://ofa.fas.harvard.edu/cal/details.php?ID=40540
  • Tyler will be at the Office for the Arts, 74 Mt Auburn St. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. to give out 10 free gifts to any student who walks up to him and says, “Fred Ho.” We really like Tyler, and we want him to be happy. So please, don’t make him eat all that Halloween candy.  

On board the ‘Zen Train’ with Fred Ho

October 29th, 2009 No comments

Composer/musician Fred Ho ’79, currently in residence as the Peter Ivers Visiting Artist at Harvard under the auspices of the Office for the Arts’ Learning From Performers (LFP) program, has been working with the Harvard Jazz Bands and a trio of undergraduate dancers on his new piece, “Take the Zen Train.” Commissioned by LFP and the Jazz Bands, this six-movement work will be performed at a concert on Saturday, November 14 at 8 pm in Lowell Hall, with choreography by Daniel Jáquez in collaboration with the dancers. He will receive the Harvard Arts Medal 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13 at the New College Theater.

In this video, Ho discuss their collaboration, the inspiration for the piece, and how “Zen Train” is getting on the tracks for its journey to Harvard.

Coming Up: Daniel Jáquez in rehearsal

“No diguises, no posturing, no bull…”

October 11th, 2009 No comments
Fred Ho, in the flesh.

Fred Ho, in the flesh.

I’m not sure what to expect when I meet Fred Ho. The only publicity shot I had seen of him up until then was him naked and painted green, holding a saxophone. As he explains later, he’s a Luddite and a nudist, who only agrees to prearranged photoshoots on the condition that he is naked. Which explains this photo – the green color was chosen by the photographer.

He explains, “The nudity is an expression of ethics. Nothing to hide, no disguises, no posturing, no bullshit.”

Ho, however, is a bundle of contradictions. Despite his nudism, he enjoys designing his own clothes. Today, he’s wearing a colorful vest made from children’s kimono fabric and shoes he also designed himself. He wears round, wire rim glasses and speaks with a low, gravelly voice. His music is seemingly equally contradictory: he fuses traditional African and Asian music.

Ho graduated from the College in 1976 – and he’s back to receive the 2009 Harvard Arts medal, with the Office of the Arts commissioning him a jazz orchestra piece which will feature choreography as well as music. He has a matter of fact way of speaking which reflects his toughness and perspective after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2006.

“It’s really about the journey, about the birth of a new Fred Ho,” he tells me about the OFA-commissioned piece titled “Take the Zen Train.” “Zen train means it’s not necessarily a journey with a final singular destination. That perhaps this is a journey to explore infinity and possibility … a journey can be twisty and bumpy.”

I can understand a bit of what he’s getting at, but I realize suddenly how deeply I’m entrenched in the status quo that’s he’s going against. What’s his current journey? “I’m on a journey to eliminate ego, get off the treadmill, to do the art and politics that no one else can or will do, to carry no baggage, to be a Luddite,” he says.

As for what his time at Harvard taught him, he offers, “I learned what I did not want to be. I did not want in any way to participate in the status quo.”

Next up: Fred Ho on his Chinese American identity.

Categories: Lecture, Music Tags: , ,