Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rutgers Glee Club

Tom Clarke, a reader of my Asbury Park Press column, writes in to say that the Rutgers University Men's Glee Club has been developed into a world-class ensemble under its current leader, Dr. Patrick Gardner. Gardner has been choral director at Rutgers for 16 years and " is quietly making some extraordinary music with the club," Clarke writes. Clarke himself is a Rutgers alum and a former member of the club.

Others have the chance to hear for themselves. The Men's Glee Club Annual Spring Concert will be held at Nicholas Music Center in New Brunswick, 8 p.m., Saturday, May 2. Tickets are $10 and $15 and may be purchased by phone at 732-932-7511 or in person at the ticket office, 85 George St., in the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra

Soyeon Lee, pianist
At 4 p.m. this afternoon at Richardson Auditorium on Princeton University Campus, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra presents a program called “Composers’ Final Bows” with guest conductor Scott Yoo and Korean pianist Soyeon Lee. A free pre-concert lecture will begin at 3:00 p.m. Tickets at $64, 50, 36 and 16 available at (609) 258-5000, and at More information is available at 609-497-0020 or the orchestra's website.

The program:

Bela Bartok: Piano Concerto No. 3
P.I. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 "The Pathetique"


Australian Piano Music

Pianist Edward Neeman performs this evening in Princeton in a concert that features "Highlights from a century of Australian piano music," including his own Variations on "I Got Rhythm." For those of us irrepressibly driven toward music we've never heard before, the event is a must-hear. And yet, I will not be there to hear it. So I'm asking anyone who reads this to go and tell me what you think: 7:30 p.m. at Looking Glass Pond, 800 Alexander Road, Princeton. Admission is $15. For more information call 609-720-0098 or email

The program:

  • Roy Agnew: Sonata Ballade (1939)
  • Richard Meale: Coruscations (1971)
  • Larry Sitsky: Sharagan, Fantasia No. 5 (1984)
  • Edward Neeman: Variations on "I Got Rhythm" (2006)
  • Alistair Noble: glasteppich i (2008)
  • Carl Vine: Sonata No. 1 (1990)

This program will be repeated in New York City 8 p.m. Thursday, May 14 at the Gershwin Hotel, 7 East 27th St. at Fifth Avenue. Admission is $10. For more information for that recital call 212-545-8000.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pictures 2009 at Montclair Museum

The New Jersey Arts Collective is presenting its annual "Pictures" concert, a mix of student and professional work by New Jersey composers inspired by visual art. The concert will be held 2 p.m. this Sunday, April 26, at the Montclair Art Museum, 3 South Mountain Ave., Montclair. The visual art that inspired the music, Elsie Driggs' "Queensborough Bridge, 1927," will be on display. A pre-concert panel discussion will be held at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students available at

The music will be performed by Exit 9 Percussion Group and will include "SPAN," by NJ Arts Collective Director Darren Gage, and four works by students Thomas Oltarzewski, Christopher Demetriou, Ian Vogler and Daniel Konstantinovsky. The four were selected as part of NJ Arts Collective's annual composition contest.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Been to the Kingdom

Attended the performance of "Kingdom" at the VFW Theater in Asbury Park on Sunday night. On the whole I think the cast and the production team did a great job and I applaud ReVision Theatre for bringing an ambitious new musical on a sensitive topic to our little shore town. I was impressed by the acting, although I think some of the leads were playing to a bigger theater and could have done more by lowering the intensity and upping the nuance. My favorite performance of the night was Dell Howlett, who plays Cano, a key character in the plot. Cano is complex and commanding and Howlett was totally at ease and convincing in the role. The lighting was flawless. The orchestra--keyboard, guitar, bass and drum set--was great, although the score didn't ask much of the musicians.

As a musical however, "Kingdom" is a disappointment. The best part is the lyrics: Basically the entire play is done in rhyme, most of it in rapping rhythms. Within the conceit of constant rhyming, the poetry is well crafted and often clever. The melodies and raps that set this text are mundane, but at least they don't get in the way. There aren't any memorable musical moments (although there are some memorable dramatic ones). Most depressing for me was the lack of imagination in the band's accompaniment. There was just nothing there. I'm certainly glad the ReVision producers saw fit to use live musicians. I wish they had had something worthwhile to play.

The music also never seems to alter mood--the tension and melodrama of the opening just continues unabated throughout. Every song is another opportunity for searing emotional trauma--some variation would have made at least some of those moments more meaningful.

Along with being the vehicle for Howlett's performance, Cano is also the most interesting character in "Kingdom," from a literary point of view. As the head of the local chapter of the fierce gang, the Latin Kings, he advocates self-discipline, conflict resolution through dialog and working for the betterment of the community. Once deprived of his leadership, the gang chapter becomes a rabble, descending immediately into spiral of pointless, vengeful violence.

Like the mafia of old, Cano's Latin Kings are a crude blend of social support group, religion, militia and criminality as a means to noble ends. The character of Cano, who sees only the good the Latin Kings can do and tries to cultivate the good in those around him, makes the story more complicated and worthy of discussion than it would be otherwise. In all other respects, the play is a two-dimensional portrait of gangs or ghetto life. Marisa's plea against violence at the end is well-written but predictable. A little too noticeably, it is also a recreation in aggressive modern vernacular of Maria's speech at the end of "West Side Story."


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Parlor and ReVision

Last night my daughter and I saw the Garden State Phil perform the Eroica and I'll be writing a review of that for the Asbury Park Press at some point today or tomorrow morning. (Probably it will run in Tuesday's paper.)

Afterward, we stopped by Parlor Gallery for a quick look at the show "Rare Pleasures" and to say hi. It's a nice, tidy show, some great artwork. Definitely worth a visit.

This evening I'll hopefully be heading over to the VFW theater to see ReVision's "Kingdom".

Meantime, I have to get back to my yard work. Can't let spring slip by.


Friday, April 17, 2009

More Bach

They just keep coming. In addition to the Pro Musica's St. John Passion on Sunday, the Princeton University Glee Club concert choir is performing Bach's monumental B Minor Mass 8 p.m. Saturday at Richardson Auditorium. Tickets are on sale at the Frist box office, noon to 6 p.m. today or visit or call (609) 258-5000 ext. 2. Tickets are also on sale at Richardson two hours prior to the performance. Richard Tang Yuk is the conductor.



For those not already aware, ReVision Theater's staging of the musical "Kingdom" is being performed this weekend through May 3 at the VFW Theatre, 701 Lake Avenue, Asbury Park. Performances began last night and I have yet to hear the reviews, but there has been much anticipation regarding this event, not the least because of its gang-related storyline.

But "Kingdom" is also among the latest in the wave of hip-hop inspired musicals, and from the little snatches I've been able to hear, composer Ian Williams seems to find an honest voice that fits with the setting and the story.

As a rule, I don't like musicals, it's true. And I have my doubts about ReVision Theater mounting a musical production about African American and Latino gangs and staging it in Asbury Park, where such gang activity is prevalent--it sounds like a recipe for a reality-vs.-good-intentions disaster. But make no mistake: I would love for this musical to succeed and I've heard positive things from people I trust who have been to the rehearsals. They say director Carlos Armesto has done great things with it. The musical itself was voted "Most Promising Musical" when it debuted in New York in 2006.

So if you can go, do it and tell me what you find.

Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

St. John Passion

Add this to my list of upcoming weekend events, posted yesterday.

The Princeton Pro Musica chorus and orchestra will perform J.S. Bach's St. John Passion at Richardson Auditorium in Princeton, 3 p.m. this coming Sunday (April 19). Frances Fowler Slade conducts. Here are the soloists:
    Robert Petillo, Evangelist
    Elem Eley, Jesus
    William Walker, Pilate
    Mary Ellen Callahan, soprano
    Alyson Harvey, alto
    Tony Boutté, tenor
    Dennis Blackwell, bass


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Upcoming weekend

On the list of Central NJ concerts and events for the next few days:

  • 8 p.m. Thursday (April 16)--Kurt Masur and the Philadelphia Orchestra at the State Theatre in New Brunswick; violinist Sergey Khachatryan is soloist in Shostakovich's Concerto No. 1, plus Brahms Symphony No. 2 and Strauss "Till Eulenspiegel"

  • 8 p.m. Saturday--The Garden State Philharmonic performs Beethoven's Eroica and other works at the Strand in Lakewood

  • 3 p.m. Sunday--Opera New Jersey performs an "Ensembles and Arias" program at Navesink Harbor in Red Bank

  • 4 p.m. Sunday--The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performs a one-time-only program at the Basilica Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Newark

  • 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday--The Princeton Symphony Orchestra's Chamber Series performs a program (twice) of music for flute, viola and guitar on the campus of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study

In between all that, I would love to catch the group show opening at the visual art space Parlor Gallery here on Cookman Ave., Asbury Park, 7 to 11 p.m.

Please let me know what I'm overlooking and I'll add it to the list.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bloomer Girl

I need to talk about my Dad. It comes up periodically. He loomed larger than life and his spirit still does. But in order to get to there, we have to start somewhere else--up the Great White Way and the stagelights of Broadway.

OK, now, I'm not one for musicals, generally. But it's not because the form itself is bad. In theory, a staged story with songs built in seems like a great idea and, approached with real creativity, it could be a powerful medium. But instead, musicals generally follow a tradition rooted in vaudeville that has little or nothing to do with either a good story or good songs. At the same time, they tend to cowtow to our basest artistic instincts by mimicking the monumentality and mythos of opera like a beggar at ... well, an opera. By aiming at the masses the medium misses the opportunity for meaning. But Broadway isn't about meaning; its about money. And so, musicals, on the whole, are a waste and I avoid them.

As with pop songs, however, smashed within the tight little fist of Broadway producers you can occasionally find a real diamond, formed and harbored there as if by accident.

And that brings me to my Dad. He was a disciplined ex-Navy pilot and an executive of a small steel corporation. He read books. Hundreds and hundreds of books. Usually novels from once-recitable Western canon but also history, poetry and philosophy. His taste for culture emphasized the nobility of the common man--the works of Lincoln, Shakespeare, Hemingway, the poetry of Robert Frost and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Vladimir Horowitz (guileless, pure talent) playing the music of Beethoven (self-made genius-overcomes-debilitating-hardship) was to be found on the stereo console's tall spindle piled atop LPs of the torch songs of Edith Piaf and "West Side Story" of Leonard Bernstein. The thread that bound them was the nobility of mundane experience, the idealization of simple humanity, the elevation of the our day-to-day stories and concerns onto a white marble throne. Dad was the American Dream incarnate and he knew it and celebrated it, toasting it with Manhattans by the fireplace with a good book.

After he died, I slowly began exploring some of the musicals that he subjected us to when we were kids. "Oklahoma", "Camelot" and "Gypsy" were certainly among them, but you can find as many detractors for those as you can admirers. The others were more significant: in addition to "West Side Story" there was Lerner and Lowe's "My Fair Lady", Wasserman/Darion/Leigh's "Man of La Mancha," Meredith Wilson's "The Music Man," Gershwin's "Porgy & Bess" and Stein/Harnick/Bock's "Fiddler on the Roof." Inarguably classics of the genre.

I've gained new respect for my Dad's taste in music as a result of this Broadway inquiry. Just last year, as a gift to my siblings, I went hunting for a couple songs he used to sing: "Free as the Sun is Free" and "I Got a Railrood Song." I had no idea where they came from, but I knew most of the words. We could not take a family car ride anywhere before, within a mile or so, he would come busting out with one or the other. If my father were a sitcom, these were his theme songs.

Turns out, they are both from the same musical, a largely forgotten flower of a work called "Bloomer Girl" with music by Harold Arlen, that was first staged in 1944. A revival was mounted in 2001 and got a tepid, if not sour review from the New York Times, a dissatisfaction that had more to do with the direction than the writing, I think. The original 1944 review, available in the NYTimes online archives, was much more favorable.

Set at the start of the Civil War, the story is a totally contrived blend of romance with commentary on both feminism and race issues. The political positions weren't exactly radical, but they were political positions and that in itself was a little radical for 1944. The authors never lose sight of the charm factor, an almost obsequious pandering to their audience. But still, they manage some great moments, including the women's rousing anthem "It Was Good Enough for Grandma" and a moving little auction block chant, "Man for Sale". And, of course, "Free as the Sun is Free" a song that, for better or worse, will haunt me to my dying day.

You can't find "Bloomer Girl" on iTunes. But, you can get it for $4.99 on CD at Amazon. A bargain. As you listen, just think of my Dad, comfortable in his armchair on the sidelines of the Cold War. My Dad would quote over and over a line from a speech by Faulkner (who, by the way, was referencing himself--and that's not nobility, that's hutzpah): "Man will not only endure; he will prevail."

Will we prevail because of musicals like "Bloomer Girl"? Probably not. But here's what my Dad would say: take enough simple acts by individuals like the composers and actors of that musical--add them all up and the result might just be something heroic.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Philanthropist! Heal Thyself

It's moments like these that test our convictions. We know that supporting the arts is vital to our society's well-being. Yet, how much are we prepared to sacrifice for that culture? Now, when money-to-burn has become charred toast; when each fundraising letter echoes like screams from the Titantic; when your accountant holds the stick, sheepishly unsure of how low your drunken assets can possibly go; now, when the U.S. government holds a majority stake in the bank that holds your money and nobody can tell you what that means--is it different, now? Our convictions were true, like universal laws ... once. Are they true now? The ground was firm then, like concrete. Now it is not firm--do we let go of those we supported?

It's not quite so transparent as that, I know. Fact is, I don't have any kind of money and probably will never know what it's like to be in your shoes. You'll have to make up your own mind.

If you decide to help out, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra will certainly do its part to make your decision easier to bear. This weekend, they're holding a black-tie fund-raising event Saturday, April 18, at 6 p.m. at Gladstone's Hamilton Farm Golf Club. Called "Spring Into Music: Getting Back to Our Roots," the event includes cocktails and dinner, a performance by the NJSO and its Greater Newark Youth Orchestra, and a silent auction. It's going to be a great shindig. You'll enjoy yourself while your there, and you can savor the memory as a balm. Visit the group's site for details.


Easter Beatles

Happy Easter morning! Bright and sunny, with a springtime chill--very nice, particularly after the daylong rain of yesterday. Before we head off to the services at Trinity Church here in Asbury Park, I thought I would let you know that The Showroom, a new(er) space on Cookman Avenue, is showing old movies. Last night at 7 p.m. and today again at 4 p.m., they are showing the Beatles first movie "A Hard Days Night." Like Elvis' films, this band film was intended purely as a marketing gimmick, designed to take advantage of the Beatles' enormous popularity with the younger crowd in corny, G-rated comedy (ratings didn't exist then, but the idea was the same). The result is a silly romp that nonetheless shows off the underground appeal of the four "moptops" ("cheeky lads," the British media always said). It is hard to believe now, but the Beat Generation loved "A Hard Days Night" and saw it as part of the ascendancy of the youth of America into a position of power. Probably they were right.

I don't think the Beatles in Liverpool ever dreamed of making a career in movies, and their film legacy is an almost accidental creation, a byproduct of their stardom more than their talents as a recording and performing musical unit. But it is a fascinating legacy and the films remain engaging and wild. And the canon begins with "A Hard Days Night."


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Talkin' Jazz at the Count Basie

I think every month should be Jazz Appreciation Month, don't you? But as it happens, April is the only one. So, here we are nearly halfway through National Jazz Appreciation Month. Let's start appreciating, yes? Hop to it. Try the Smithsonian's JAM website for a full discussion and even a quick, downloadable "how-to" guide to get you started.

In honor of this official designation, the Jazz Arts Project is mounting its annual series of lectures on various aspects of jazz beginning this Monday, April 13, and running through May 4 at the Count Basie Theatre, 99 Monmouth St., Red Bank. The Jazz Arts Project director Joe Muccioli, an expert jazz musician and conductor in his own right, will lead the discussions, featuring a new guest and topic each week.

The first installment will be "Jazz in American Culture" and features internationally known jazz percussionist and author Warren Smith. The talks begin at 7 p.m. and they're free, in the VIP Patrons Lounge of the theater. The group asks that you reserve a ticket ahead of time as seating is limited. For more information, visit the Jazz Arts Project website or call (732)746-2244.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Cape May Jazz Festival

Just a quick reminder that next weekend is the Cape May Jazz Festival, featuring B Swingers Big Band starring Steve Butler, James Cotton Blues, Odean Pope Quintet, Mayra Casales Group, Roni Ben-Hur, Sylvia Cuenca Group, Sharon Clark, Barbara King and Michael Thomas Quintet, among others. Friday through Sunday at various venues in New Jersey's famously cutesy Victorian town of Cape May, 'way down south. Go ahead! Stay at a B 'n' B and make a weekend of it. I'll hold down the fort here.

For more information check out the festival's website



We loved Swan Lake at the McCarter. It was the Russian National Ballet Theatre. The music was prerecorded, of course, but what can you do. It was a good recording of a first-rate orchestral performance. In spots, Tchaikovsky's music is so beautiful it takes your breath away--elsewhere he sounds like a Russian Tin Pan Alley composer, cranking out short, completely forgettable numbers. But like everyone else, I was focused on the beautiful.

In the lead role of Odette/Odile, Marianna Chemalina was just exquisite. I know very little about dance, but it seemed clear she had an ability that towered above most of the others onstage. Fascinating to me was the degree of acting involved: Chemalina plays both the shy, guileless, adorable swan/woman, Odette, and her evil twin, the enchantress Odile. As she changed characters everything about Chemalina's attitude changed, including facial expressions (I didn't think there were facial expressions in ballet. Shows you how much I know.) She became pure evil, condescending to everyone around her. Remarkable, given the physical demands of the ballet moves themselves. All this is I'm sure patently obvious to those (like my niece, the writer Jonelle Seitz) who are professionals in the dance world. But I'm a complete novice so it's all wonderful and strange.

The blossoms were out on the trees in downtown Princeton. My daughter and I ate at the nice Japanese place on Witherspoon, across from the public library. After the performance, we had blend-ins at Thomas Sweets on Nassau. A terrific evening.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

The beat of the wings

I have to rush off this morning to teach at TCNJ and then pick up my 13-year-old daughter in Sea Girt, grab some dinner and head back to Princeton with her to see "Swan Lake" at the McCarter Theatre. These tickets were her Christmas present to me, her own idea. I love Tchaikovsky and have never seen "Swan Lake" performed. And I get to hang out with my daughter all evening, just the two of us. So this should be a big treat for both us.

See you tomorrow,

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pink Floyd

In a Facebook conversation yesterday and today I am reminded of one of the formative musical experiences of my youth: attending Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" tour concert in, I think 1973, at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. I was around 14 and should not have been going to concerts without an adult. Which makes it all the more memorable and wild. I'll talk about that specifically some other time, if anyone is interested.

Pink Floyd was a huge influence on my thinking at that age and I was the gleeful mark for their double album set "Ummagumma," a reissue of two earlier releases, some of which included the now-legendary Syd Barrett. It was trippy music, scornful of societal convention, ambiguous in its message, childlike in its playful interplay of groove and raw sound and wise to the ways of traditional musical drama. The words represented the tip of the iceberg, the story unfolded in the music and that's a lesson I've never forgotten. "Ummagumma" had such pensive titles as "Careful With that Ax, Eugene"--as I recall it was a long instrumental but for one line, the title, which crescendoes into a scream. Ha! Beautiful.

Classical music offers far more interesting examples of all these things and eventually I was won over by the longhairs, particularly those who similarly pushed the envelope of listener expectation: Ives, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Varese and most of all Messiaen--they became the heroes of my college days. While I've lost my taste for Pink Floyd's music now--to adult ears its posturing, self-conscious and pretty superficial, particularly when the lyrics make sense--I'm grateful to it for its part in luring me into a larger world.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

MSO Young Artist Concerto Competition

Last month, I had the honor of being selected as a judge for the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra's Young Artist Concerto Competition. The competition selects one teenage soloist and offers a small scholarship to the final three contestants and, for the winner, a chance to perform a concerto with the orchestra.

As a judge, I was in esteemed company. There were three judges in all, including myself and pianist, producer, conductor and university professor John Balme, who is known for having led the Wagner "Ring" cycles in Boston and NYC in the 1980s and also served as General Director of the Boston Lyric Opera and Music Director of the Liederkranz Foundation. The third was Dr. Arthur Topilow, an active and dedicated musician with a great performance resume in addition to his day job as the Director of Hematology/Medical Oncology at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

The competition itself was funded this year by a grant from Herbert Axelrod, a benefactor for a great deal of culture in this area. Unfortunately Axelrod's generosity and interest in philanthropy has been overshadowed in the press in recent years by tax troubles and by the brouhaha stirred up with his sale to the NJSO of a collection of rare, vintage stringed instruments.

The competition contestants were all worthy of praise. I would have been honored to have any of them as a student. As a result, the choice of a winner was more difficult than we three judges had expected, as MSO director Roy Gussman pointed out to the entrants during the announcement of the winner.

Named to third place was the remarkable cellist Sydney Lee, a 12-year-old from Oakland, N.J. Second place was Su Hyun Park, a junior at Paramus Catholic High School, who wowed us with a performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, one of the most difficult works in the solo violin literature. First place went to pianist Sue-jin Jung, a junior at Chatham High School, for her performance of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3.

Congratulations to all the winners and entrants. They did a fine job. I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this competition. It was a wonderful to hear such talented young people give it their all. We look forward to hearing Jung perform the Beethoven with the MSO in the coming season.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Beethoven and the Garden State Phil

There are probably about as many reasons to love Beethoven as there are to love sex. But one, his strange physicality, leaps to mind. Some primal urge, animal and powerful, surges through Beethoven's most famous musical epics. Susan McClary, a 21st century feminist musicologist, goes so far as to categorize some of Beethoven symphonies as straightforward "triumphs of the 'masculine' over the 'feminine' principle." She adds: "Many of Beethoven's symphonies exhibit considerable anxiety with respect to feminine moments and respond to them with extraordinary violence: see for example, the first movement of the Eroica."

Could it be true? Could our hero be so deeply flawed as that? You betcha. Beethoven was rough-handed and direct, poorly educated, self-absorbed, self-consciously masculine, aggressive and bullheaded. Like Hemingway, he could probably have been accurately described as "a great ass of a man." Like Hemingway, he was utterly brilliant.

Some will remain unable to be at ease with this music's violence, unable to find a psychological posture from which to appreciate safely Beethoven's genius. Lamentable, yes, but at least they get it. They understand the danger, the glorious rampage boiling in Beethoven's soul. Some will make a larger mistake and completely misunderstand, hearing the music as a soothing anthem to the mundane, unaware of its context, unaware of its forceful, revolutionary aspect. We must try to be patient.

Don't believe me? I beg you, don't take me at my word. Go to the concert at the Strand, 400 Clifton Ave., Lakewood, on April 18. There you will hear the Garden State Philharmonic match the Eroica symphony with excerpts of Wagner (equally disturbing in his own way) and Rossini in the orchestra's fourth Masterworks program of the season. Conducted by artistic director Anthony LaGruth. Visit the group's website for more information.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Baltimore Consort last night

Attended TCNJ's Baltimore Consort concert last night. I'm always impressed by the sound of the instruments, how beautiful they are, how mellow, soft and precise. Perfect chamber music instruments. We miss that sound in the more biting attack and fuller resonance of modern instruments. Modern classical guitar is the only instrument that approaches this Renaissance ideal and it seems severely limited compared to say, the 18-string lute that Ronn McFarlane was playing last night. Harpsichord comes close as well, but then, modern harpsichord makers only imitate construction of a couple centuries ago.

The ensemble members have been playing together for several decades and they still exude a delight in making music together, skipping and dancing onstage and smiling and laughing at each other's jokes. It's clear that they're having a grand time and that gives their performance a real party quality that fits the music perfectly. For sheer musical dazzle McFarlane and flutist Mindy Rosenfeld were just amazing.

If there was a downside, I suppose it lay in our distance from the repertoire. The skipping dance rhythms, rudimentary harmonies and twittering melodies of instrumental music written c. 1500 begin to lose their appeal to unaccustomed modern ears after about half an hour. As this was an all-instrumental program, there was no heart-rending ballads or clever poetry to distract us from the style.

Still, the last set on the program of Scottish music was a surprise, not just for its resemblance to folk music we hear being performed and composed today, but also for the exquisite structure of the melody, particularly in the opening song for lute and flute and the spinning intricacies of the closing dance, built on the still-famous song by Robert Burns "Green Grow the Rushes".

The hall was only about half full, but the crowd that was there loved the show, bought the CDs on sale in the lobby and brought the group out for an encore with a standing ovation.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

New World Symphony

This last season, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has been trying out a new format, the "Best of ..." series. Other orchestras have a "Best Of ..." cycle, which trot out a sort of greatest hits plus rare gems. The idea is to attract new audiences who want the potential at least to hear the classical themes they are familiar with through popular culture. NJSO has gone one better (or worse, depending on your viewpoint) with this idea by shortening its "Best Of ..." series to four one-hour concerts, each concert performed without intermission and each starting in late afternoon so audiences can go out to dinner.

Down in Miami, the news is that New World Symphony is pushing the envelope even further, offering $2.50 concerts that are each 20 minutes long. The group offers three concerts on a Friday and people can buy tickets to all three for about the cost of a movie. More than likely, they'll just buy a ticket to one. A nice break from the rest of your day, yes? Twenty minutes or so listening to Michael Tilson Thomas conduct masterworks? I think we could all stand a little of that.

The old-school method of bringing in new audiences was to offer "rush" tickets. Typically, "new audiences" then meant college students and young professionals, mostly white. I was one of them, standing in line to attend the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts for $2.50 a pop. In these days of attenuated cultural illiteracy and the shrinking relevance of the classical tradition, "new audiences" means reaching across boundaries of that may include racial and national background, religion, social class, gender, age, education and just plain preference. This area, for instance, is a reservoir of dedicated tattooed blues and rockabilly fans that the NJSO would love to syphon into its theaters' seats.

These new concert formats are a nod to the relatively fast-paced lifestyle of New Jerseyans, and the pressures to make the most of our free time. How true such pressures actually are I'm not really sure. I think a lot of it is more cultural than real, a snowballing fantasy that we're all living lives of near-crisis pitch. But we feel those pressures--that much is a certainty. We buy into it. And as long as we do, efforts by orchestras to package the repertoire accordingly will not be in vain.


Friday, April 3, 2009

The Baltimore Consort at TCNJ

Early music ensemble The Baltimore Consort will perform at The College of New Jersey 8 p.m. Saturday in an all-instrumental program called "Gut, Wind and Wire". You can find out more information at the TCNJ Music Dept. website. If you're close by, there is a master class today (Friday) that starts at 2 p.m.

Jarvis et al.

The following is reprinted from my blog post Tuesday, 3/31/09, at

This morning, we're getting the word that Peter Jarvis is no longer going to be teaching at William Paterson. Peter's great strengths--as a player, conductor and educator--for many years were focused by his position at WPU. It's a sad day for new music in New Jersey-- even sadder for the WPU community. But it will be interesting to see what happens now, what direction Peter's career takes.

I found out about this yesterday because Peter was supposed to give a second performance of my solo for drum set "Jungle 5-7675" at WPU's "Day of Percussion" on April 18. He emailed me last night to say that as of right now, he doesn't think he will be playing at all that day. Luckily, The College of New Jersey Music Department had him down a few weeks ago to premiere the piece at its Faculty Composers Concert, organized by Ralph Russell. It was great.


I am Carlton J. Wilkinson, known in my childhood as Colly. I'm a composer, songwriter, poet, writer, teacher and, most importantly, father to two beautiful children. My wife is a teacher and very active in our community here in Asbury Park. She doesn't like it when I talk about her in print so I won't be spending as much time as I would like ruminating over her many talents and charms.

Most relevant to this blog, I am the writer of the Asbury Park Press Sunday Entertainment column "Music Notes" dedicated to classical music and jazz. To begin with, I'll be using this blog as an extension of that column, posting music news, comments, upcoming notices and reviews. But I'll no doubt have occasion to throw in all kinds of other chatter from the crossed wires of my brain. Hopefully that will lead me and this column in unforeseeable and still interesting directions. I love exploring.

One of the biggest reasons for starting a blog is as part of a larger effort to put my work and my views more deliberately out into the community. I have always had the belief that sometimes just saying a thing out loud is enough to make it come true--once others hear it, an idea can take on a life of its own until it becomes a movement or until someone somewhere picks it up and runs with it. I've also always believed that culture is a ceaseless conversation between everyone. I trying to more firmly hold up my end.

The title of the blog ("The And of One") arises from that idea of putting myself out there. In musician-speak, "the and of one" is a syncopation, a note midway in between beat one and beat two. My views offer a syncopation to the cultural conversation happening (or most often not happening) in the media and online. As a bit of poetic rhetoric, "the and of one" could also imply that no one is isolated--there is always an "and" for every "one". That is certainly true in my case and the last 20 years have been a ceaseless object lesson in that concept. As much as I care to isolate myself, I am recognizing that fact that I am connected to others at every turn. Familly, friends, audience. I am trying, in all my creative work, to be more outward, more observant and out of myself. I have only my subjective experience to draw from, but the effort to force myself to view others and to communicate with others has already reaped unexpected rewards. I think my family and friends would probably agree that I have a long way to go in that respect.

But enough about me. Here we go. Please give me your feedback and comments on anything I write. That is the idea.