Posts Tagged ‘Flynn Center’

2010 – conducting the arts in vermont

January 3, 2011

If there is one word that decribes the performing arts scene in Vermont (particularly Burlington) this past year, it must be ‘transitional’.

Here’s the overview:

  • The Vermont Mozart Festival hired Gil Shohat as their new Artistic Director this past summer, replacing founding director Mel Kaplan (who then – less than consenting – was moved into an emeritus advisory role). Then, less than a month ago, the Festival announced it was closing the score after 37 years of summer concerts. Insurmountable financial deficits were cited as the reason.
  • The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts said goodbye to its 30-year founding director Andrea Rogers, and welcomed John Killacky as the next Executive Director.
  • Jane Ambrose retired in June after 23 years as the Director of the UVM Lane Series. She was succeeded by the Series’ former manager, Natalie Neuart.
  • The Vermont Youth Orchestra emerged from a year of interim conductorship with Andrew Massey to hire a new permanent Artistic Director. Ronald Braunstein arrived from New York City this summer to assume the role. In early October, the VYO’s Executive Director Caroline Whiddon unexpectedly announced her forthcoming departure in the end of January. On December 8th, WCAX-TV reported that Braunstein would also be leaving his new post in the end of January. The circumstances of the situation remain unclear to the public. To date there has been no public statement from the Orchestra or its board about the decision, though (apparently inconclusive) closed meetings have been taking place to discuss the situation. At this moment, Braunstein remains in his position as the VYO’s Artistic Director – for how long is a good question. (Here’s a Burlington Free Press article about Braunstein’s performance with the VYO at Burlington First Night.)

Now that the foundation has been recreated and reshaped for many of these important organizations, let’s hope for a prosperous, creative – and stable – 2011!

discover jazz – day 9 (part two)

June 13, 2010

“He’s like the Einstein of jazz.”

That was the comment made by my seat partner at last night’s concert with Sonny Rollins. And that was before a single note had been blown. It was an observation on the 79-year old’s appearance, but it could just as well be a comment on his musical stature.

Rollins walked onto the stage to a standing ovation, wearing his trademark sunglasses, an elegant off-white jacket, and shaking a wild head of thick gray hair. Yeah. He’s a cool jazz guy. You’d better believe it.

With a furious run of notes, we were off on a musical joyride that wouldn’t end until Rollin’s former bandmate Jim Hall, had come out to send off the evening with two heartbreakingly stunning final tunes: In A Sentimental Mood, and If Ever I Would Leave You.

Other ventures into calypso (an homage to his parents’ native Virgin Islands), blues (with Rollins singing “Low Down Dirty Shame” in a fun, winking style); and straight ahead be-bop were equally powerful. Guitarist Russell Malone’s tasteful and gorgeous lines floated through the music like delicate parasol seeds, freshly blown from the dandelion stem. When Jim Hall took Malone’s place for the last two numbers, it seemed fitting. The two share much musically. Longtime bandmate Bob Cranshaw also did his part to offer many gorgeous moments, and percussionists Sammy Figueroa (congas) and Kobie Watkins (set) grounded the group with spirited solo work and solidly artful playing throughout.

I have to mention the one detraction to the night’s otherwise outstanding musical adventure: the Flynn Center’s eternally temperamental sound system in the house was not on its best behaviour to host a night with the jazz legends. I was fortunate to have seats 8 rows back, dead center, and I strained to hear Rollins through the first several numbers when all of the other instruments were playing. Really? Really? Sonny Rollins can’t be heard? If that’s what my experience was, what was it like for folks sitting futher back, or on the balcony? He did come through loud and clear in the ballads, and by the end during his tradeoffs with Hall the mix sounded just fine. But no one should ever have to work that hard to hear Rollins. He certainly did his part.

After the first couple of tunes, the gentleman sitting next to me whispered to his partner, “He’s got a lot of WIND!” That’s a fact.

I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a more musical experience at Burlington’s Discover Jazz Festival, and it certainly surpasses many I’ve had elsewhere. I’m very happy that memory will be my last from this year’s events.

have wingtips, will tap.

June 12, 2010

Gypsy jazz guitarist Jim Stout

The Queen City Hot Club made its debut during last year’s Discover Jazz Festival. A year later, they have two Leunig’s appearances this weekend as the Festival wraps up: today, from 2-5pm and tomorrow from 1-4pm.

Keep an eye here for an interview with Jim Stout (leader of the Hot Club), coming soon. More pics too. We talked recently, and Jim shared a lot of interesting insights about his history playing Django-stlye jazz.

Leaving now to get back to the waterfront tent for the 5pm show with the Easy Star All-Stars and the Wailing Souls. And then Sonny Rollins tonight at the Flynn Center.

I’m on ‘great music’ overload this weekend!

walter cerf lifetime achievement awards

June 12, 2010

State House, Monplelier

On Thursday afternoon I headed to Montpelier in the afternoon for the annual Vermont Council on the Arts presentation of the Walter Cerf Lifetime Achievement awards. Three women were being honored this year, and over the years I’ve become friends with two of them. I couldn’t miss their big day. Jane Amrose (UVM Lane Series) and Andrea Rogers (Flynn Center) are both also retiring this year, as is the third Cerf honoree, Jean Olson (Governor’s Institutes), who I had not met until that day. During her acceptance speech, Olson remarked on the womens’ 100+ years of combined service in serving the community.

The ceremony started at 4, at the end of the Council’s annual meeting. It opened with the annual State of the Arts presentation by VAC director, Alex Aldrich. He warned that the state’s arts organizations ignore marketing and promotion at their own peril, even when declining ticket sales and donation revenue mandate reduced budgets. Aldrich also outlined the three broad initiatives the Council is focusing on now in its own effort to market, promote and grow the arts in Vermont:

  • The Breaking into Business workshops: provides tools and consultation to artists in intensive 2-day sessions to help them learn how to market their own art.
  • The Routes Initiative: starting on August 1st, makes $200 grants available to teachers and arts orgs for transportation purposes. The Council created this program in response to the increasing comments it had been receiving about how difficult and prohibitively expensive it was becoming to physically get people to the events being presented.
  • A new marketing and outreach campaign to promote Vermont’s arts and culture sectors in state, and beyond.

Then the awards presentation began, including an artist showcase of dancing (Tiffany Rhynard’s Disposable Goods: What Is/Who Is?) and a preview of Upper Valley Arts forthcoming film, Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie.

As for the award recipients themselves, Ambrose, Rogers and Olson all shared a bit of their personal history, thanks to their co-workers and partners, and, words of insight. Jane Ambrose summed it up when she talked about how she was able to fulfill her vision for adventurous programming over the years: “It’s a Vermont thing. You have to trust people and when people trust you, you can do anything.”

The house chamber at the State House held many familiar faces that afternoon, as reps from arts organizations all over the state turned out for the same reason I did. The afternoon was a luminous collage of memories, friends, inspiration, laughs and a few tears.

Things are changing with the retirement of these three influential, strong arts leaders.

I’m looking forward to finding out – and being part of – wherever we go next.

burlington discover jazz festival

April 7, 2010

Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss

As surely as one foot follows another into Burlington’s Amy Tarrant Flynn Gallery on a sunny spring afternoon, as reliably as Ella + Louis = pure magic every single time, the city’s annual Discover Jazz Festival press conference confirms that summer is on the way for sure.

We all came together in the Gallery today to get the lowdown on this year’s lineup, and as always there were a few surprises. Great to hear the Easy Star All-Stars are going to be included in the waterfront world music tent this year, their Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Dub Band was a real highlight from last year. The young keyboard wizard Gerald Clayton (a festival favorite of past years) will be joining the fun again this time around on June 8th, and much to the delight of today’s audience, Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss announced that the dedication of Big Joe Burrell‘s permanent memorial sculpture on Church Street would happen on the opening evening of the Fest – June 4th, 4:30pm. It’s been five years in coming, since Burrell’s death early in 2005. Really good news that he’d be getting the deserved recognition.

An initial glance reveals the lineup to be fairly light in representation by women artists, with singers Luciana Souza and Sharon Jones being the sum total of female performers occupying any kind of featured or headlining role. There are a lot of challenges in scheduling the many moving parts of a festival like this, and there were undoubtedly many preliminary versions before the final schedule came together, which may have included a broader diversity of musicians. It must say a lot about the quality of last year’s festival that I’m still thinking back to it now and recalling the blistering opening night salvo with Anat Cohen jamming hard on the Jitterbug Waltz, and Jen Hartswick closing things down a little over a week later with every bit equal class, energy, and skill. So when I really think about that it comes down to musicianship, not especially the fact that those artists were women. On that level this year’s bill looks as strong.

In particular I’m looking forward to clarinetist Don Byron’s appearance with Allen Toussaint on June 5th. Two nights later the Flynn Space will host Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his Quintet in what will undoubtedly be an adventurous outing. On June 10th, local tenor sax man Michael Zsoldos will be joined by Miro Sprague (piano), Martin Wind (bass) and veteran drummer Matt Wilson. THAT’S going to be something else. The next night it’s legendary guitarist Jim Hall and another outstanding ensemble (Greg Osby, sax; Scott Colley, bass; Joey Baron, drums) and then on the night of June 12th ‘saxophone Colossus’ himself Sonny Rollins rolls in for a living history lesson on the Main Stage.

How about that.

And there’s more, just wait until all of the smaller venues start to fill out their schedules. Any wonder why Vermont is heaven for music lovers?

tabla, ngoni, sarangi, djembe

April 3, 2010

Rainy night for Indian music at the Flynn

It’s been a big week for music. A big week for big music.

(Tuesday night, 7:30pm – Flynn Center in Burlington)

“Breath: the first rhythm”

With those words, master percussionist Taufiq Qureshi launched a two and a half hour exploration of (mostly) traditional percussion, violin and sarangi music with his brother, Zakir Hussain, and five other of India’s top musicians.

There were times during the evening as solos were traded off among the musicians when I closed my eyes to to follow the complex layers of rhythm, spinning themselves into tight cocoons of texture, before unwinding and rejoining to form new strands with other players. Tension, release, tension, release – the cyclical patterns native to North Indian music are familar, prescribed, but always made fresh again in the hands of each artist.

That’s reason enough to go out of your way to get to an Indian music concert, but this particular show also had much more going for it: Zakir Hussain is one of the best tabla players in the world. He’s an artist I first came to know through his 1970s Shakti recordings with guitarist John McLaughlin. Hussain has been recording for over 40 years now and collaborating with everyone from Mickey Hart to Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Yo-Yo Ma, and many Western classical orchestras. Add another six players of equal ability into the mix for this week’s concert, and that’s a party.

Were the sets and solos too long? I didn’t think so but it’s a comment I heard from a few others who were there. I feel the same way about ‘long’ movies – more for your money, right? It’s hard to complain about that. In the case of Tuesday night’s luxurious, extended explorations I can’t really imagine how that could have been condensed in any way. It was a long concert for a Tuesday night, at the end of a long work day. All the more reason to appreciate it. A normal Tuesday night would still come at the end of a long work day, but it would probably be a lot less entertaining, and include some preparation for the next work day followed by an early bedtime. This night was just music, music, glorious music.

Ngoni master Bassekou Kouyate

(Wednesday night, 7:30pm – Flynn Space in Burlington)

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba entered the world stage a couple of years ago when their release Segu Blue earned the prestigious BBC ‘Album of the Year’ and ‘African Artist of the Year’ awards along with many other nominations. For some reason it can be difficult for African instrumentalists to earn the same degree of recognition as vocalists, so when this recording rose to the surface it was a real – and really well-earned – triumph.

Let’s start with the name of the group that Bassekou Kouyate has assembled: Ngoni Ba. The ngoni is an ancient instrument native to the griots (djelis) of West Africa, a long, generally

Ngoni ba (the "big ngoni"), left

4-stringed construct with a hide-covered body. It’s an ancestor of the modern banjo. “Ba” means “big” in the native Bambara language of Mali, and refers to the bass ngoni of Bassekou Kouyate’s own design that makes his group wholly unique.

Bassekou himself is a descendant of lineage equal to that of his instrument: he comes from generations of ngoni players including his father, a master of the instrument. His wife Ami Sacko lends her powerful vocals to the ensemble, as do three other ngoni players and two percussionists (on djembe, calabash, gourd shaker, you name it). What a setup for a second night of musical adventure.

The Flynn Space was as full as I’ve ever seen it, with an audience that transformed from rapt and unmoving to loose and grooving as the bluesy, soulful sounds took root and flourished. By the last couple of tunes everyone was standing and dancing, and it propelled the musicians into an even more engergetic encore.

The new recording from Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba is I Speak Fula. It’s on order, so listen for it soon on World of Music!

playlist #103 (2/22/2010)-black history month

February 22, 2010
World of Music
Pgm #103 – Black History month with the sounds of Africa, change, and revolution
Catch the show on Mondays 3-5pm EDT – at 105.9FM in Burlington, VT or online at The Radiator
Nas with Youssou N’Dour & Neneh Cherry: Wake Up (It’s Africa Calling) / Open Remix / (download) – (USA / SENEGAL)
Chuck Bernstein: Kindred Spirits / Delta Berimbau Blues / CMB Records 102844 – (USA)
Nikki Giovanni: A Greater Love of God and Country / In Philadelphia / Collectables 6508 – (USA)
Mahalia Jackson: I’m Going to Wait Until My Change Comes / Amazing Grace / MCA 20489 – (USA)
Keb Mo’: America The Beautiful / Yes We Can / Hidden Beach Recordings 70 – (USA)
Guelel Kumba featuring John Sinclair: Njulli (Fulani Journey) / Afrissippi: Fulani Journey / Knock Down South 11 – (SENEGAL / USA)
Gil Scott-Heron: Me & The Devil / I’m New Here / XL Recordings 471 – (USA) *NEW*
Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective: Amuñegü (In Times to Come) / Wátina / Cumbancha 3 – (BELIZE)
Chabuca Granda: Callecita Encendida / Lo Mejor de Chabuca Granda / CD-DIS 26040 – (PERU)
Chiwoniso: Rebel Woman / Rebel Woman / Cumbancha 8 – (ZIMBABWE)
Gil Scott-Heron: New York is Killing Me / I’m New Here / XL Recordings 471 – (USA) *NEW*
Les Amazones de Guinée: Demembalou / Wamato / Sterns Music 1106 – (GUINEA)
Perú Negro: Taita Guaranguito / Jolgorio / Times Square Records 9035 – (PERU)
Black Uhuru: Freedom Fighter / Now / Mesa Bluemoon Recordings 79021 – (JAMAICA)
Nina Simone: Revolution (Parts 1 & 2) / Forever Young, Gifted and Black / RCA 74413 – (USA)
Nas: America / Nas / Def Jam 115050 – (USA)
Marvin Gaye: Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) / What’s Going On / Motown 3746353392 – (USA)
Mahotella Queens: Masibambaneni / Mahotella Queens / Label Bleu 2571 – (SOUTH AFRICA)
Madagascar Slim: Take Me Home / Good Life Good Living / MS 901 – (MADAGASCAR)
Novalima: Chinchiví / Afro / Mr. Bongo Classic Recording 41 – (PERU)
Sly & The Family Stone: Poet / There’s A Riot Goin’ On / Epic Legacy 82876759112 – (USA)
Ram: Marassa Elu / The Rough Guide to the Music of Haiti / Rough Guide 1067 – (HAITI)
Rokia Traoré: Sara / Bowmboï / Nonesuch 79852 – (MALI) *Coming to the Flynn Main Stage on 4/18*
Ali Farka Toure: Okatagouna / Ali Farka Toure / SonoDisc 8448 – (MALI)
Langston Hughes: The Weary Blues / The Voice of Langston Hughes / Smithsonian Folkways 47001 – (USA)
Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars: Tamagbondorsu (The Rich Mock the Poor) / Rise & Shine / Cumbancha 18 – (SIERRA LEONE) *NEW – coming out on March 23rd *
Marva Wright: Change is Gonna Come / After the Levees Broke / AIM 5015 – (N’AWLINS)
Omara Portuondo featuring Jorge Drexler: Gracias / Gracias / World Village 479021 – (CUBA)

don’t rain on my…oh, alright.

July 12, 2009

Burlington's Taiko drummers, rounding up the parade

Burlington's Taiko drummers, rounding up the parade

“How many people went to the parade today?” (audience cheers.)

“How many people were in the parade today?” (BIG audience cheers.)

“This will be the parade everyone remembers,” Jay Craven continued, as he introduced the night’s feature at the Flynn.

It was a wet one alright. The parade for the Quadricentennial had been scheduled to start at 5 and end around 7. By the time I came into downtown around 6 driving through a heavy downpour most of the way in, I knew it must be cancelled. The standing traffic barriers on all of the sidestreets said otherwise. Sure enough – it was on, in the pouring rain.

Bands, floats (no irony there), the Vermont French Antique Car Club, Bread and Puppet, they were all rolling along as normal down the parade route even as onlookers had to move closer to the middle of the street to avoid the small streams flowing down the gutters. Burlington’s Taiko drummers kept the beat at the end of the lineup, smiling and dancing in rain ponchos made luminous in with the backlighting from the following patrol cars.

Somehow fitting that a celebration of Lake Champlain should include so much water.

Taiko drummers: rain, no rain. No matter.

Taiko drummers: rain, no rain. No matter.

Tonight’s feature at the Flynn was the new collaboration commissioned for the Quad celebrations, From the New World, choreographed by the French/Algerian dancemaster Heddy Maalem. It’s a dance interpretation of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival at the Lake, set to Dvorak’s Symphony #9 (“From the New World”). At least mostly. Did I miss something? Like the last movement of the symphony, which was replaced for the final dance tableau by a movement from Dvorak’s “American” Quartet? No one ever promised a complete performance of the symphony for tonight’s show, true, but when the performance concluded without that last movement ever playing and the lights came up there seemed to be some brief confusion in the audience. For a moment everyone looked at each other, I heard a few “Is that it?” and “Is it over?” comments, and then the applause began.

Post-parade libations at the Vermont Pub & Brewery

Post-parade libations at the Vermont Pub & Brewery

It did feel inconclusive, but then again this Quadricentennial celebration also is not the end of the story for the Lake region, it’s but a milemarker in the region’s history.

A lot of preparation and hard work went into these shows (tonight’s and the premiere, last night), which never could have been realized without the vision of Jay Craven and Heddy Maalem, the commission from Burlington City Arts, the nearly 40 dancers, and many contributing organizations and sponsors.

What will they do for the 500th? I can’t imagine, but I’ll have my umbrella ready for whatever it holds.

mi fado

March 5, 2009

It takes a lot for all of the elements to come together just right and create the kind of music experience offered last night at the Flynn Center.

3/4/09 - marquis for mariza

3/4/09 - marquis for mariza

The evening began at 6 in the adjacent Amy Tarrant Flynn Gallery with an excellent hour-long, anecdote-packed a/v tour through the colorful history of Portuguese “fado” music, a relatively recently evolved singing style from two very different but coexistent sources: the ‘tavernas’ in Lisbon’s working class neighborhoods, and the more formal academic environment at the University of Coibra (where fado is traditionally only sung by men! Quel dommage!).

One music; two distinct paths of expression – as I was listening to the discussion on fado it occurred to me how often we find this kind of divergence as a particular style takes root and evolves simultaneously but separately, in different areas of the same geographical region. Indian classical music came to mind immediately, with its improvisatory Hindustani tradition in the North (a style partly shaped by centuries of neighboring Islamic and Persian influence), and the voice-reliant, religious-themed orientation of Carnatic music in the South.

At 7:30 the concert began, three solitary guitars on the stage in three distinct voices (bass, lyrical Portuguese, and classical acoustic), strumming a stirring prelude in anticipation of the entrance. And a moment later, there she was: Mariza, with her signature stylish peroxide wavy bob and long black fitted dress. She strolled into the scene with a radiant smile and a broad wave and began singing in the dark, soaring voice that simultaneously defines her artistry and dispels any initial impressions given by her petite physique.

Half African (mum is from Mozambique, where the future fadista was born), and half Portuguese, Mariza was raised in a seaside Lisbon ‘taverna’ owned by her father. Early on, she described the ‘fado weekends’ her father’s tavern hosted, and her own first forays on the stage as gradeschooler when she was allowed to sing her three fado songs at 9pm each Saturday night, promptly followed by a 10pm bedtime where her father carried her upstairs and tucked her in. (And where the young Mariza, waiting in anticipation for the sound of her father’s footsteps going back downstairs, promptly hopped out of bed and took a seat on the second floor landing to listen the rest of the night’s singers…)

If you’ve heard ‘fado’ you may be inclined to describe it as a mournful, wailing, sad or nostalgic sounding style of singing. You’re definitely right about that. As Mariza demonstrated, though, that’s like looking at the half moon and describing it as “dark”. Accurate, but that’s only part of the story. In omitting the ‘other’ half you’ve not only missed a significant and defining characteristic of the whole picture, you’ve also neglected to describe the one obvious factor upon which you based your judgement of the ‘dark’. (Without light, no dark. The classic paradox.)

So, as it goes with most artistic effort, fado can be thought of much more as a spectrum of expressive capacity rather than a single wedge of the emotional color wheel. For all of its poignancy and longing and wistfulness (‘saudade’) there is also joy and passion, and a love of life and homeland. Mariza’s performance was infused with all of that, and the surprisingly contrasting emotions of the songs she shared made for a compelling and exciting narrative that just kept on unfolding in new insights throughout the show.

I mentioned all of the elements coming together last night to make this a special, memorable experience. The musicianship was incomparable; the unique combination and balance of instruments seemed a good fit for what occasionally can be an alternately constrained or overly ‘lively’ sound at the Flynn; and the subdued, striking lighting schemes gave every illusion of creating the intimate ‘taverna’ space that this music calls home. (I could have lived without the flashing “laser Floyd” spotlight efx on one of the early ‘up’ numbers, but it’s a small complaint to balance against the otherwise beautiful tableaux throughout.)

Mariza is in the second month of a 4-month, 47-city North American tour in promotion of her new recording “Terra”. She is a powerhouse of a singer and a gracious, charming host on stage, generously sharing the spotlight and credits with her fellow performers. If you missed her here you may still be able catch her in another city, and by all means do it if you can. (Tour schedule’s on her website…a Flash-heavy experience, be patient…)

Otherwise I can recommend her earlier recordings, “Fado em Mim”, “Fado Curvo”, and “Transparente” (a tribute recording to her African grandmother).

“Fado”, as Mariza informed the audience last night, “means ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’.”

How very fortunate for us that hers included Vermont as a destination.


[The musicians: Mariza, fadista; Jose Marino Abreu de Freitas, bass; Angelo Braz Freire, Portuguese guitar; Diogo Clemente, classical guitar; Hugo Marques, drums; Simon Wadsworth, piano/trumpet]

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