Posts Tagged ‘Sanders Theatre’

Vijay Iyer: Listening and teaching at Harvard

April 13th, 2014 No comments


Vijay Iyer could be could be touring the world and cementing his title as the world’s best jazz pianist. (He is the back-to-back Jazz Journalists Association Pianist of the Year and the 2013 ECHO best international pianist.) He could be in the studio with his trio, working on a follow-up to 2012’s Accelerando, which was awarded with an unprecedented quintuple crown in the DownBeat International Critics Poll and a quadruple crown in the JazzTimes extended critics poll. Or he could take some time off. He has certainly earned it.

Vijay Iyer

Vijay Iyer

Instead, he’s working at Harvard, as a newly minted professor and MacArthur “genius.”  Iyer is invested in Harvard’s musical future and has become a leader in pushing for jazz to take a greater role on campus for the long term. “I wanted to start thinking about building a community, and not just be a ‘resident jazz expert,’ because I’m not,” Iyer says. “The culture needs to shift here.”

Iyer speaks in slow eloquent phrases, often swapping out one word in a sentence for a more descriptive or accurate one. He has taken the same care and composure to the class he’s teaching, Music 173r: Creative Music: Critical Practice Studio (which I’m currently taking). I’m a jazz pianist who’s listening to Iyer’s music for years, and I excitedly applied to the course, thinking it was going to be a master class workshop. It’s been a little bit of that and far more: a fusion of a workshop and a jazz ethics seminar, in which we’ve gone deep into readings by Amiri Baraka, George Lewis, Wadada Leo Smith and many others to investigate the origins of jazz and the narratives rarely told.

“A lot of people learn ‘jazz’ through this really cheap and kind of emaciated imitation of something that happened in the 50s,” Iyer says, referring to the bebop-centric approach of many music schools and conservatories. “But this music has been characterized by constant change – discontinuities and ruptures, and local versions that had their own distinct character and identity. And young musicians in your generation haven’t had access to any of this other stuff that happened in the last 50 years. This music is 100 years old, and for some reason we’ve failed to account for at least half of it.” Read more…

For the joy of it: HRCM welcomes Joyful Noise

April 11th, 2014 No comments

By Maura Church ’14
Guest Blogger

HRCM with Joyful Noise PHOTO: Courtesy Joyful Noise

HRCM with Joyful Noise PHOTO: Courtesy Joyful Noise

On April 11, I’ll be reunited with some of my newest friends. We met in July, when I traveled with Andrew Clark, Director of Choral Activities at Harvard, and Mike Pfitzer, Harvard’s Choral Administrator, to New Jersey. This mid-summer trip had the purpose of introducing us to Joyful Noise, a choir composed of adults, ages 17-70, with physical and neurological challenges and acquired brain injuries. I didn’t know what to expect. It was my first time representing the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, one of Harvard’s mixed-voice choirs, as its newly-elected president, and I was nervous. A few hours later, I was boisterously singing along to You’re a Grand Old Flag at a Joyful Noise performance, forgetting my role as president and remembering my role as a singer.

Our reunion is tonight’s Boundless Realms of Joy, a collaborative concert with HRCM, Joyful Noise and the Brattle Street Chamber Players, 8 p.m. at Sanders Theatre. A related symposium Beyond the Concert Hall, about the neurological, therapeutic and social benefits of community singing, will take place 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 12 at Lowell Lecture Hall.

My time in Collegium has been marked by spectacular masterworks. From the Rachmaninoff Vespers, to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, to the Bach Saint Matthew Passion, many of our concerts have involved famous composers, foreign Read more…

HRO: Epic pieces, epic composers

February 27th, 2014 No comments
Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra

 Maxwell Phillips ’15

Strauss, Ravel, Beethoven. Three epic pieces by these three epic composers will be featured as the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra, under the direction of Federico Cortese, performs an exciting and energetic repertoire at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 1, in Sanders Theatre. In anticipation of the HRO upcoming Junior Parent’s Weekend concert, I spoke with assistant conductor Maxwell Phillips ’15, a music and Germanic languages and literature concentrator in Kirkland House, about the concert’s challenging program, the piece he is conducting and his musical aspirations beyond Harvard.

Can you describe Saturday’s program? How is this repertoire different from past concerts you have played with HRO?
There are three pieces on the program. First, we’re playing Don Juan, which is a tone poem by Richard Strauss. Then I’m conducting a piece called The Rapsodie Espagnole by Maurice Ravel, and then we’re doing Eroica, which is Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony. It’s a really exciting program because all of the music is extremely energetic, extremely difficult and extremely beautiful. And it’s also all extremely fun to play, so we’re very excited for this program. And a little terrified. It’s harder and longer than usual. We play only four concerts a year, so we try to pick only really, really good repertoire, which is a luxury you have in a college orchestra, and this is a great example of that. All of the pieces are amazing, and they are so much fun to play. 

How has HRO Conductor Cortese been a mentor for you throughout this process?
I’m taking Fed’s class and I also took it last year, so he’s my teacher in an official capacity as well as through this arrangement.

You have conducted for HRO before. What has been unique about this experience?
What’s been very different about this experience is that the piece is much larger than what I’ve conducted before, and also the orchestra is much better than anyone else I’ve ever worked with, so it’s been much more a question of fine Read more…

In the groove with Herbie Hancock

February 10th, 2014 No comments

As a young jazz pianist, I feel absurdly lucky to be at Harvard during a time when an incredible series of jazzmen have swung through campus. During the last four years, I’ve seen and/or worked with Wynton Marsalis, Vijay Iyer, Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano, Roy Haynes, Benny Golson and Don Braden up close. I’ve studied their techniques and riffs, and tried to soak up their aura and experiences.

I got even luckier when my favorite pianist Herbie Hancock showed up on campus last week. Hancock is this year’s Norton Professor of Poetry and will deliver six lectures on the ethics of jazz. (Wednesday, Feb. 12 is the next one.) He has also graciously agreed to show up at all—no, really, all—of the jazz classes on campus this semester, and made his first stop last Tuesday to Ingrid Monson’s The Musical Worlds of Herbie Hancock.

Hancock has been an idol of mine since I was 9, when I learned his classic Watermelon Man on the piano. Since then, I’ve spent dozens of hours jamming on Chameleon with friends, put his transcendent solo on Butterfly on repeat and devoted a final academic project on Hancock’s transformation from modal extraordinaire to funk master.

So it was an unbelievable treat to see him at Sanders Theatre, surrounded by students and community members who idolize him as much as I do. Hancock doesn’t think of himself as only a musician: His outlook is global, and he touched upon slavery, UNESCO and Buddhism during his first lecture. He’s also a natural storyteller, and talked about advice Miles Davis gave while Hancock was going through a crisis in confidence. “Don’t play the butter notes,” Miles told him. The pianist interpreted this to mean: Don’t play the most obvious notes in the scale. It shook up his approach, and he regained his confidence. Read more…

Brian Stokes Mitchell: Say yes to work

January 22nd, 2014 No comments


Brian Stokes Mitchell

In an industry where versatility is a valuable asset, Brian Stokes Mitchell is a rare jack-of-all-trades, and he’s master of them, too. His work has been seen on stages from Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, where he recently performed a holiday concert with the New York City Philharmonic, to his Tony Award-winning role on Broadway in Kiss Me Kate. In addition, Mitchell has worked in TV and film, having lent his voice to characters in cartoons such as Pinky and the Brain, The Prince of Egypt, Scooby-Doo and many more. Stokes was born in Seattle, but his father worked for the Navy, so the family lived outside the U.S. for many years. He started his career in Los Angeles and eventually made his way to New York City, where his work in musical theater and concerts has made him a star. On Thursday, January 23, Mitchell will perform in Sanders Theatre as part of the 75th annual Celebrity Series of Boston. He will also teach a masterclass for Harvard students in conjunction with the Office for the Arts’ Wintersession JAMS! I spoke with Mitchell on the phone in anticipation of his visit.

One of my first Broadway cast albums was Ragtime, and it has remained my favorite musical ever since. Is there a show, album or artist that inspired you to pursue a career in musical theater?
No, there wasn’t, really. When I was in my teens, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve been playing the piano since I was 6-years-old, and I’ve been singing since before that. I didn’t really start studying acting until I was 14. My brother, George, was the thespian in the family. He was always into acting, and I was the one who did music. I did school band and school chorus; he was in the show, and I was in the pitt band playing the trombone or the piano. When we moved back to the U.S., he was in college. My second oldest brother, John, was also in acting. He was in a high school, and I was in a junior high school. He said: Do you want to take band, or do you want to take drama? And I said: Well, there’s no internal competition anymore, and it turned out I had an affinity for [drama]. He’s not acting anymore, but he’s actually costume designing on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He’s been doing costume design in television for all of his adult life now. Read more…

Boston Phil and LCO: Orchestrating Sanders Theatre

November 20th, 2013 No comments

Sanders Theatre has played host to several great classical performances this semester, including HRO’s riotous rendition of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. This weekend, the Boston Philharmonic and the Longy Conservatory Orchestra will each take the stage to fill the storied concert hall with orchestral music once again.

Benjamin Zander

Since its inception in 1979, the Boston Phil, under the baton of Benjamin Zander, has played in Sanders regularly and will perform Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and Brahms’ Symphony 2, 7:30 Thursday, November 21 and 3 p.m. Sunday, November 24 (a pre-concert talk begins at 1:45 p.m. on Sunday). The Bartok will feature the Boston debut of Moldavian phenom Patricia Kopatchinskaja, who combines a rigorous technical background with a deep interest in European folk music.

Susie Ikeda ’12 HGSE has been performing in Sanders with the Phil for 17 years. The frequency does not diminish the musicians’ enthusiasm for the space. “Brahms’ second symphony is such an important piece, a beautiful landmark piece. To be able to play it in a landmark hall like Sanders is a really wonderful combination,” Ikeda says.

Between the Phil’s two concerts, the LCO will take the stage with Dance and Dialects: Music From Norway and Bohemia, 7 p.m. Friday, November 22. The program was created around an original symphonic piece by Melika M. Fitzhugh ‘95, who won the Longy Composition Competition earlier this year. The piece incorporates elements of traditional dance music from many countries including Bulgaria, Macedonia and Norway. Fitzhugh started writing it while playing electric bass with a modern dance company in India.

The performance on Friday will represent a couple of firsts: the first time that Fitzhugh hears her piece in performance and the first time that LCO conductor Geoffrey McDonald will perform in Sanders. However, neither is fazed. Fitzhugh has played in Sanders many times, with the Harvard Wind Ensemble and Radcliffe Choral Society as an undergrad. “I thought it was glorious playing in there,” Fitzhugh says. “Everything was so alive, so wonderful, but not so huge that things would get lost.”

McDonald, the Sanders newcomer, takes the long view of the venue’s history. “As far as playing in a place that’s got a lot intimidating ghosts, that’s never particularly bothered me,” he says. “There’s something comforting in a way, that so many people have succeeded performing in the room.”

The two orchestras performing over the weekend join that historic Sanders canon.

The “Rite” and riot of Stravinsky

October 1st, 2013 No comments

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky’s groundbreaking orchestral piece Rite of Spring had a rocky start when it was first performed in Paris in 1913. The bold and dissonant composition provoked so many hisses and yells from the shocked audience that the ballet dancers onstage could barely hear the orchestra beneath them.

One-hundred years later, Thomas Kelly, best known for his “First Nights” course through Harvard’s music department, hopes to recreate the near-riotous atmosphere during the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra performance of the iconic work at 8 p.m.  Friday, October 4 at Sanders Theatre. “How loud do you have to shout to drown out The Rite of Spring? I want to try it. I’m going to ask the audience to scream,” Kelly says mischievously. Kelly will introduce the piece with a talk about its history and test his audience’s yelling abilities. Then he’ll turn it over to HRO director Federico Cortese, who will lead the orchestra through The Rite of Spring and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

Cortese has conducted Stravinsky’s masterpiece previously with two orchestras, and feels it is important for the HRO to tackle the piece even without the special anniversary. “It is one of the great pillars of 20th century culture and art,” Cortese says. The orchestra will perform a slight reduction of the composition but still play every note, meaning individual musicians will play parts originally intended for two or three musicians.

The orchestra faces quite a challenge in playing such an ambitious and unorthodox work. Luke Fieweger ’16, the bassoonist who Read more…

ARTS FIRST: Musical marvels

April 18th, 2013 No comments

For musicians and “musiciees,” ARTS FIRST, Harvard’s annual celebration of student artists, offers plenty to faint over. Here are some of the more interesting sonorous selections that will take place during the Performance Fair, Saturday, April 27. ARTS FIRST, which is (mostly) free and open to the public, starts Thursday, April 25 and runs through Sunday, April 28 at venues throughout the Harvard campus.

  • For Shiya Wang ’13, wine is an artistic medium, a painting in tastes. For her performance A Taste of Sound, she puts wine in concert with another, more conventional art: classical music. “If someone is very familiar with wine but doesn’t know that much about music,” she says, “this gives them a way to understand music through wine, or vice versa.” Wang is no newcomer to either medium; she studied piano at Juilliard for four years before coming to Harvard and is the founder of the Harvard College Wine Society. Though she will not actually serve wine to accompany Chopin, Liszt and Paganini, her detailed tasting notes of piece-appropriate wines will encourage further tasting and listening. 3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27 , Holden Chapel.
  • A combination of acrobatics and live music, The Ethereals are bound to wow. This group consists of Nico Maffey ’13, a trained circus performer, and a band he has put together for the occasion, consisting of violinist Kathy Ran ’13, guitarist Kelly Robinson ’13, vocalist Patrick Wicker ’13 and drummer Corey Rosenberg ’13. One of those implausibly gifted undergraduates, Maffey will be performing a hand balancing routine to the song Lovesong, originally performed by The Cure but recently re-popularized by Adele. Maffey characterizes his relationship with the band behind him as some form of full-body conducting: “We’re basically working together, because if I speed up or slow down, they have to follow me.” The two-way interaction that results should be quite the balancing act, indeed. 4 p.m. Saturday, April 27 , Main Dining Hall, Dudley House.
  • Two masters of modernism collide in Studies of Berg and Beckett, a performance by Keir GoGwilt ’13 and Benjamin Woo ‘13. GoGwilt has always found the composer Alban Berg and the dramatist Samuel Beckett to be uniquely united among modernists. “Beckett has a side of him that’s retrospective,” he says. “Berg is exactly the same way. He’s caught between the modernists and his more romantic tendencies.” This often translates into quotations from past masters in the context of brave, new works: Berg quotes Bach in his Violin Concerto; Beckett quotes Schubert’s song Nacht und Träume in his television play of the same name. GoGwilt has chosen Schubert’s piece as a compositional starting point, recomposing it “as Beckett would have.” This will serve as the first piece of the performance. Additionally, GoGwilt and Woo will perform two of Berg’s Seven Early Songs, transcribed for violin. Musical curiosity, scholarship and adventurousness combine in a peculiar modern mix. 1 p.m. Saturday, April 27, Sanders Theatre.

Renée Fleming: Support the song, the breath and each other

February 3rd, 2013 No comments

Renee Fleming at Sanders Theatre. PHOTOS: JACOB BELCHER/OFA

How do you get Harvard students out of bed early on a Saturday morning? Host a master class with opera star Renée Fleming. The Office for the ArtsLearning From Performers program teamed up with Dunster House Opera and Celebrity Series of Boston to present a master class on Feb. 2 at Sanders Theatre during Fleming’s local visit for her Boston performance at Symphony Hall on Feb. 3. Accompanied by George Fu ’13 on piano and observed by a packed house of students and community members, five students performed arias and recitatives for Fleming who offered praise, tips and encouragement. The theme of the morning was support, both technically and metaphorically, as Fleming encouraged the students to focus on their breathing and help each other improve.

Fleming owns the stage not only with her own powerful voice but with a unique blend of charisma, warmth and humor that only adds to her already dizzying list of accomplishments. Cracking jokes while she gave advice, Fleming put both the performers and audience instantly at ease. Levi Roth ’14, the morning’s first vocalist, sang an aria from Massenet’s Cinderella, the Dunster House Opera production running Feb. 8-16. After he sang, Fleming encouraged Roth to remember the role of acting during performance. Often, she said, vocalists focus so much on singing they forget to bring enthusiastic acting to the performance. Working as a team, the two tweaked his approach to add more presence. Indeed, Fleming made sure to continue working with each student until she saw progress — no matter how small or large.

Fleming’s advice, always presented with warmth and humor, was enhanced by her incredible knowledge of operatic history. She contextualized each performance with history, and also asked performers — Roth, Allison Ray ’14, Liv Redpath ’14, Camille Crossot ’16 and Elizabeth Leimkuhler ’15 — to explain how their songs fit into the operas from which Read more…

Toni Morrison, goodness and the “shock of forgiveness”

December 10th, 2012 No comments

Sanders Theatre filled on Dec. 6 with eager spectators awaiting the arrival of acclaimed author and Princeton professor Toni Morrison. Following opening remarks by both Harvard’s University President Drew Faust and Divinity School Dean William Hempton, the literary luminary proceeded across the stage, smoothly propelled by a wheelchair, until she arrived at a draped table. Morrison serenely began to deliver Goodness: Altruism and the Literary Imagination as the HDS 2012 Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality.

The heartbreaking shooting of nine girls in a Pennsylvanian Amish schoolhouse sparked Morrison’s exploration of “goodness.” While the tragedy itself made national headlines as a classic example of evil, the story evolved into a tale of forgiveness: The Amish community did not seek justice or vengeance, and concomitantly consoled the grieving families of not only the victims but also of the killer. To them, it was “God’s place to judge [the killer], not theirs.” The narrative thus moved from the killer and children to the “sheer shock of forgiveness,” a forgiveness “characteristic of genuine goodness” that spawned Morrison’s journey to demystify the meaning of goodness.

Author Toni Morrison (photo by Corbis)

Morrison – who has a Nobel Prize in literature, Pulitzer Prize for fiction and a Presidential Medal of Freedom – noted her frustration as she delved further into a plethora of definitions and theoretical literature on the definition of goodness. Morrison bounced across interpretations of altruism: Is it instinctive selflessness? Is it narcissistic, serving as ego-enhancement, or perhaps even a mental disorder? Is it a scientifically based phenomenon, in which there is a “good” gene and a “selfish” gene?

Naturally, in her study of goodness, she wondered about its antithesis, evil. Unimpressed by evil but “confounded by how attractive it is to others,” she pondered the origin of this Hollywood-like attraction; perhaps it is the passionate howl, the dances or even the clothing associated with evil. What is more, we may point to the multitudinous literary displays of good and evil, from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment to Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Extending a personal connection to this intersection of literature and the notion of goodness, Morrison alluded to her own works, such as Mercy and Beloved.

Before hearing the lecture, I might have assumed Morrison would attempt to concretely define goodness for her audience. But there is something about a discussion of goodness that carries with it enough arbitrariness to undermine meaningful discussion in the first place – hence the frustrating plethora of definitions Morrison confronted. Morrison seemed to recognize this, instead simply suggesting her own understanding of goodness as “the acquisition of self-knowledge…when the protagonist has learned something vital…that he or she did not know at the beginning.”

Indeed, an individual may adopt the interpretation Morrison expressed. But the elaborate account of her journey, juxtaposed with a religious atmosphere – manifested by not only Sanders’ intricately carved beams and wooden pews but also Morrison’s spiritual presence centered at that table draped with white cloth, carefully telling her story wearing a dark ensemble coolly topped with a black fedora – set a stage for which members of the audience could reflect upon the idea of goodness for themselves, individually and with one another. It was as if Morrison, personifying a religious character, enlightened us with her journey and tempted the audience to embark upon its own.