Tuesday, August 30, 2016

AMC Maestro Series: Jason Ikeem Rodgers, Music Director, Orchestra Noir

Jason Ikeem Rodgers is a native of Philadelphia, PA.  He attended the Cleveland Institute of Music where he obtained a professional studies degree in orchestral conducting. He also attended the University of North Carolina School of Arts where he earned master’s in orchestral conducting and a bachelor’s in piano performance. In 2014, he was first prize winner of the conducting competition held by the Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina in Florence, Italy. That same year he was winner of the International Conducting Competition held in Atlanta, GA. In 2016 he won the first prize in the London Classical Soloists  Competition. He was also apprentice to the  Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, under John Mauceri. He has also made appearances with the Orchestra Society of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, Ocean City Pops Orchestra, Trowbridge String Ensemble, Salem College Orchestra and Play on Philly.  Mr. Rodgers served as Assistant Conductor of the
Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra from 2011 to 2013. He is Founder and Music Director of Orchestra Noir,  the Atlanta African-American Orchestra.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Conversation with Andrey Nemzer, Countertenor

A native of Moscow (Russia), Andrey Nemzer began his studies at 
Moscow Choir College, after which he became a touring soloist
with the Moscow Boys Choir under  Victor Popov.
During this time, he participated in Russian premiere of Mozart’s
Masonic Cantatas at Moscow Conservatory’s Great Hall with
pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev.  Mr. Nemzer
frequently collaborates with many renowned instrumental and
vocal ensembles of Russia including the Tchaikovsky Symphony
 Orchestra of Moscow Radio under Vladimir Fedoseev,
Moscow Soloists Chamber Orchestra, The Pocket Symphony,
Moscow Synod Choir, “Intrada” Vocal Ensemble,
 The Vocal Male Capella “Blagovest”, The Moscow Sacred Music
 Ensemble.  In the US, he is the principal soloist with The Mendelssohn
 Choir of Pittsburgh and frequently appears on stage of
 Opera Theater of Pittsburgh Summerfest. Mr. Nemzer began his
 singing career as a spinto tenor, with credits including  Russian
 premiers of Berg’s Lulu (Alwa) and Gretry’s Peter The Great (Alexis),
staged at the Helikon-Opera in Moscow, Russia, and brought to 
Santander Opera Festival, Peralada Opera Festival and
Beijing International Opera Festival, all in 2002. He can
be heard on the soundtracks of the film “Leningrad” by 
Igor Vishnevetsky, “Tsar” and “The Conductor” by Pavel Lungin.
 Nemzer was The Winner of the 2011 Mildred Miller
International Voice Competition, 2nd Prize Winner of the 2012 
Gerda Lissner Foundation Competition, and a prize winner
in the 2010 Pittsburgh Baroque Competition. He holds an Artist Diploma from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Classical Mixer..

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) had the last of its summer concert series on July 23, 2016, titled "Classical Mixer."  The evening began at 6:00 pm in the Heinz Hall Garden, a beautiful urban oasis with waterfall and water sculpture. There was a cello trio playing transcriptions of popular and classical music in the Grand Lobby of the Hall itself and a woodwind trio (clarinet, oboe, and bassoon) playing in one of the upper level bars (a beautifu  Neo-Art Deco white room with wonderful lighting)..  The concert followed and the evening ended with a jazz band featuring members of the PSO, again in the Garden.  All of the events were well-attended by fashionable patrons of all demographics.  The attendance was quite good given that on the same evening there was a Pirates baseball game, a Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble concert, an Opera Theater of Pittsburgh performance, and a Texture Dance performance.

The concert itself featured works from the 2016-17 season, conducted by Assistant Conductor Andres Franco (see my interview with Maestro Franco here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffYf6IiMKJc . The concert was a Whitman's Sampler of  familiar and not-so-familiar works.  It began with Beethoven's Overture to Egmont, followed by a movement from Mozart's Symphony No. 38.  Both of these works were performed to perfection.  The strings of the PSO are astonishing if you have not heard them.  Precise in executive and golden in tone is the only way to describe them.  The next work was the third movement from Brahms Symphony No. 3.  This was a lush interpretation that turned the spotlight on the lower strings.  It was taken at a leisurely pace by Maestro Franco.  Next were two movements from Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1, followed by Bernstein's Candide overture.  The most interesting work on the program followed- James MacMillan's rich sounding "One."  It paints a dreamlike portrait of  Scotland.  Appropriately, it was introduced by Principal Flute Lorna McGhee, who lived not far from the composer in her native Scotland.  Next was the finale of Elgar's Enigma Variations, which cold have benefited from some organ pedal notes, but Heinz Hall unfortunately does not have an organ. The final work was Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, introduced by Russian-born cellist Mikhail Istomin, who is both charming and humorous.  Its difficult not to be swept up in the tension, brass, and percussion of the bombastic  "1812". Its over-the-top but great for a summer concert.   Heinz Hall also does not have canons so some hearty thwacks on the bass drum substituted for the artillery.  Kudos to the chime player who did a great job of substituting for the Russian Cathedral bells.  Several other PSO personnel also addressed the audience throughout the course of the evening.  Craig Knox, tuba player, was totally relaxed and funny in his remarks.  Maestro Franco kept everything moving along and on-track.  His version of the "1812" was a total crowd-pleaser.

This was a great way to spend a hot summer evening in Pittsburgh. This was a well-planned event that made the maximum use of the Heinz Hall facilities, while showing the wonderful playing and sound of the PSO.  AMC had an opportunity to talk with several orchestra members in the garden; it is apparent that they are proud to be part of the orchestra and o be part of its legacy.

AMC has included some photos of the event:

Maestro Series: A Conversation with Steve Hackman...

Conductor, composer, arranger, producer and songwriter Steve Hackman is increasingly in demand as one of the most compelling artists contributing to a new landscape in hybrid music. Fluent in both classical and popular repertoire, he crafts  and conducts virtuosic, cross-genre works and performances that intrigue the established audience and engage an excited new one. He currently holds the positions of Creative Director of FUSE at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the 'Mash-Up' series at the Colorado Music Festival, and founder/creative director of his music brand :STEREO HIDEOUT:

Saturday, July 23, 2016


The Opera Theater of Pittsburgh took a leap of dare and staged Richard Strauss' infrequently perfromed "The Silent Woman."  This 1934 work is a comedy based on the notion that opera singers are not all bad and that finding the right woman is not an easy task.  Its not profound but it is funny.  The OTP set was spare and did not always function properly.  But in some ways it added to the lighhearted nature of the work.  The conductor was Brent McMunn and the director was Janathan Eaton.  OP perfroms in English, but also provides surtitles in English, and, as a result, there is little that should be missed by the listener.  The performance was held at the Falk Auditorium of the winchester Thruston School.  This is a relatively new location for the OTP and it seemed to meet their requirements admirably.  It holds about 380 people and the house was nearly full.  The performers were uniformly good.  Jeremy Galyon sang the role of Sir Morosus,  an elderly Admiral looking for silence in his household as a result of an injury to his hearing.  Galyon has a wonderful voice that is rich and resonant and his articulation is wonderful.  The femals lead,  Aminta, was played by soproano Julia Fox.  She had a nice range in her acting- from being shy and demurr to srewish and loud.  Dimitrie Lazich played the pivotal schemer and puppetmaster Barber Schneidebart.  Lazic hwas outstanding.  Not only does he has a good voice, but he is comfortable moving all around the stage.  He is energetic and very comfortable in his acting.  A special note to on Mathew Maisano who played one of the opera singers Morbio.  He has a real comedic talent, both with his face and his hands.  The OTP orchestra was quite good, save a few intonation problems from time to time.  Yet it sounded rich and its dymanics were good, in apite of it being rather small (espeically considering the size of the soundcreated by Strauss). "A Silent Woman" is funny and musically engaging.  The cast was great, both regard to sining and acting.  given that today's temperature is gong to be in the 90s, I recommned spending an evening with the OTP before its summerfest ends.                                                                                                                                         

Friday, July 22, 2016

Steele in the Steel city....

Texture Contemporary Ballet presented its usual powerful mix of classic ballet and modern movment.  Executive director Alan Obuzor selects great modern choreograhers and choreography (including his own) and often unfamiliar music.  This program, ititle "Interfusion," included Cello Fury, which bills itself as Pittsburgh Cello Rock band.  It includes three cellos and a  drummer.  They were situated in a niche above the dance stage; the cellos were amplified.  They made some impressive music, but the composer/arranger for each was not in the program.  The drummer was frequently too loud- drowning out the more subtle celli.  This could have been an amplification issue, but it made for some odd balances.

The Texture is highly talented, with high energy.  On occassion, there were so many dances that they seemed to swamp the rather smallish stage of the New Hazlett Theater. The first piece, "Symphony of Shadows," was high energy and the dancers were well rehearsed.  Becuase the auditorium seats are so close to the dancers, it was easy to see their facial expressions, and they were not always the best.  Some had perpetuals smailes seemingly pasted on their faces, regardless of the  content of the music or the choreography.  Some had perpetual knitted brows.  Even Mr. Obuzor had an arched-eyebrow look that hovered between expecation and anxiety, and this was true for him for the entire program.  This is a small point, in the midst of choregrapher that requires great extentions, leaps, and turns, but in a small space it is distracting.  One dancer who managed to have a more natural expression was a 17-year old from Peters Township High School- Ms. Isabella Mascio.  AMC suspects she can grow into being a really really strong dancer. 

There was a duet titled "Unbroken," featuring the music of Wim Mertens (a favorite of AMC), chorograhy by Mr. Obuzer.  His partner is this piece was Diana Yohe.  It was a beautiful and lyrical love story in music.  Ms. Yohe was spectcular in her reactions and well as technique.  Mr. Obuzer is also strong, but at times, when he was to be looking at his parnter he seemed to be gazing beyound her to the wings.  Its not a good thng when a lover looks through or beyond their partner.

Nezxt follwed a solo piece titled "Japura," choreographed by Mr. Obuzor, with music by Philip Glass.  The soloist was Henry Steele.  Based on this piece, as well and the entire program, Mr. Steele is an emerging star.  He has a gymnastic background that gives him strength and poise.  He has very long arms that accentuate his line, making him quite graceful.  If he is to arch his back, the arch envelops his whole boy; if he is to bend at the hips, his legs ream rooted while his bodying smoothly stretches; if he is to have an open hand, all of the fingures are perfectyl placed, all done seemingly without effort.  His body makes every motion full and long.  He is great to watch.  Mr. Steele is a senior at point Park University and AMC expects him to have a great career.  By the way, he was also able to do convincing lifts with partners taller than himself, where he did not have the advanatge of height for leverage. 

Another work was "Regresson al Realidad" with music by Piazzolla and choreography by Obuzor. this was a frenetic and sensual piece.  It seemed most taxing for the dancers.  There was almost a failed lift by one the male dancers, but he manged to save it with a good recovery.

All in all, Texture is a joy to see and hear.  The choroegraphic is energetic and the dancers are quite accomplished.  Congratulations to Mr. Obuzor of shepharding this group.  The perfromance was well-attended, which was good, given there was a baseball game not far away.  A Texture program is always worth seeing.