Tag Archives: Lyric Theater

Arts

Reclaiming the Melting Pot: A Preview of You, Me, and Rumi

Lyric Theater ~ Friday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m.

At a time when the United States is more divided than ever, one woman is bringing people together to celebrate the many ways we share in our relationship with nature.  Lakshmi Sriraman, a Lexington, Kentucky-based Bharatanatyam artist (Indian classical dance), along with Sandhya Raman, a Textile artist and curator from India, is leading the collaborative project ‘You, Me and Rumi.’ 

Sriraman and Raman sought out a diverse, multicultural group of performers and artists.  They will be sharing art representing five elements: earth, fire, wind, water, and space in varied forms, from dance, theater, Native American flute and singing tradition, fashion design, cello, poetry, glass installation, and fabric exhibit. Sriraman describes the effort, “By bringing different cultural backgrounds and art forms together, we hope to build a community that continues to support and host such artistic events.  This will be a template for building collaboration and developing performances by bringing diverse artists on to a common platform.”

When discussing the inspiration for the collaborative art, Sriraman shared this passage: 

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing

and rightdoing there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass

the world is too full to talk about.”

  • Rumi

Rumi is one of the most popular poets in the world today, and the bestselling poet in the United States.  One of the reasons for the popularity is that Rumi is considered a poet of love and joy.  The vast work is often uplifting and thought-provoking as well as beautiful.  We are a nation in need of love, joy, and beauty. 

Sriraman further explains the inspiration for this collaborative art as “What we need in the current state of humanity and the environment is a radically fresh relationship to nature.  All spiritual traditions approach nature with great reverence. Such reverence is the result of contemplating our place in this universe, our inextricable position in this web of creation. Such reverence is informed by love, intimacy, awe, respect, and the intuitive understanding that we are not separate from nature. Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, and Space are considered five primordial elements out of which all of creation is built. In performance art, these five elements of nature have been dealt with in abstract and awe-inspiring terms.  We live in a pivotal time in history and we hope to use art to not only grab attention but also to inform and inspire.” 

Many recognized regional artists are part of this rich effort, including Partick J. Mitchell, Landra Lewis, Dan Ward, Mark Lenn Johnson, Soreyda Benedit-Begley, Suzanne McIntosh, Yolantha Harrison-Pace, Shuling Fister, Sandhya Raman and of course, Lakshmi Sriraman.

You, Me & Rumi from Under Main on Vimeo.

While Sriraman will share dance representing the elements, Sandhya Raman, a textile artist from India, will curate and share large backdrop panels from her own exhibit of Textiles and the Five Elements.  Raman also created the costumes for Sriraman’s dances and the music was specifically commissioned for this work from a script developed by Sriraman and Aniruddhan Vasudevan.  The original music was then composed and recorded by award-winning composer Praveen D Rao.  Individual artists will also express the elements; earth – theater by Patrick Mitchell, fire – poetry by Yolantha Pace, wind – dancing Shuling Fister with costume by Soreyda Begley, water – Native American singing by Landra Lewis and Native American flute by Dan Ward, glass art installation by Mark Johnson, Space – cello by Suzanne McIntosh.

Never more than the present has the need to find common ground felt more urgent.  While this effort seeks to ground both observers and participants to and with the earth, it also seeks to bind us together in mutual respect and appreciation.    

Art has long served as a catalyst to unite. During World War II, Winston Churchill was asked to cut funding for the arts and he famously replied, “then what would we be fighting for?”  As a society and as a community, art represents who we are and who we strive to be.  When we look back, alongside history, we look to the art of the era to give context for the lives of the people that era.  If history is our backbone, then art is our soul.  A multicultural collaborative is exactly the right way to forge ahead and reclaim the melting pot of America. 

Gena Bigler is a former columnist for Kentucky Forward, author of Frugal Spending for Rich Living, and the founder of She Wolf Publishing.

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Clive Pohl Interviews Chris Potter: Part III

Jazz saxophonist Chris Potter burst onto the New York scene in 1989 as an 18-year-old prodigy with bebop icon Red Rodney; the Chicago-born saxophonist then became the youngest musician ever to win Denmark’s Jazzpar Prize. His discography now includes 16 albums as a leader and sideman appearances on over 100 more. He has also performed or recorded with such leading jazz figures as Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Jim Hall, Paul Motian, Ray Brown, John Scofield and Dave Douglas, as well as with the Mingus Big Band.

Potter takes the stage at Lexington’s Lyric Theater at 7 pm tonight. Lexington architect and jazz artist Clive Pohl talked music with Potter. Here’s part three of their conversation. 

(Part one | Part two

Clive: Your record This Will Be was the result of having won the Jazzpar Prize in Copenhagen and it’s a live recording is it not? 

Chris: Yes.

Clive: And so, I’m curious: what did that feel like as a young musician? You were not yet 30 years old and you won a very prestigious international prize. That must have been incredibly exciting. 

Chris: Yeah. Well, I thought that helped in terms of visibility for me, you know, especially in Europe, but it also served to give me a little more confidence that, “okay, maybe I can do this, I can actually go on the road as a leader and present my music.” It’s a whole different thing. Prior to that, I’d been doing my own records, but hardly ever performing live with my own group, you know, and there’s a whole thing about leading a band that involves the skills you need as a sideman but also other skills. Choosing what to play and when, choosing how to decide who you’re going to ask to be in the band. Just a million little things. 

Clive: It’s not unlike being an architect wherein you have to get the foundation in place in order to get the building out of the ground with the help of many others who, on some level, have to buy into your vision.

Chris: Right. It’s one thing to have the best vision of what could be made in your head, but then when you have to deal with reality; “okay, well, who is available, and what materials are available, and how much money can we actually spend?” And if you’re not able to negotiate those things, then the thing that actually comes into reality isn’t gonna be on the same level. So, that’s been a journey and a turning point for me; learning how to be a bandleader.

Clive: Am I correct in assuming that with respect to your compositions the ante might have been raised a little bit with the Jazzpar suite?

Chris: Yeah. I don’t remember that I had written for a large, or even medium-sized ensemble up to that point. That might have been one of my first real stabs at that. I think I did some things in school for big band or various ensembles but that helped to lead into a fascination with writing for larger groups and seeing how I can flesh out the ideas that I have compositionally for the bigger palette of a larger ensemble.

Clive: A quick question or two about your compositional development. When you’re writing a piece like, for example, Chief Seattle, (Song for Anyone, 2007) it is an absolutely beautiful piece,  and one that jumped out at me having lived in Seattle for many years. When you choose a name like that; which comes first, the music or the name?

Chris: It depends on the situation. I think that name did come later. I had just read a book with some quotes and a beautiful speech about taking care of the earth. There’s a certain energy about that piece that reminded me of someone who is in charge, and someone that does have a vision of how to lead. I found that feeling in the piece and I think that led me to the name.

Clive: Do you have a spiritual practice, a meditation practice, or a specific time of day that you compose? It’s hard for me to imagine how you find time, given how full your schedule is.  

Chris: I don’t exactly have any one practice that I use. I’ve read about different meditation strategies but really can’t say that I follow one thing with regularity. To a certain extent, the saxophone helps with that in that when I’m working on music, when I’m working on sound, by playing long notes and just focusing on breathing, there’s a kind of saxophone “yoga” I get into, and the music itself can help with some of those things. Music can’t do it by itself – life has to come before the music or there’s not going to be anything worth listening to! But it is helpful to approach music from a bit of a sacred point of view. 

Clive: Well, certainly, playing saxophone is a different experience from playing the guitar in that it involves the breath and anyone can hear that… Paul Desmond’s playing is clearly connected to his breath and inner being.

Chris: Yeah, that’s a nice thing that it has in common with the voice. It is really a complete connection to breath. It’s a serious limitation that you can only play one note at a time, but you can do so much with every note because of the expressiveness you can get from each breath. So, being able to control the breath and really think about what that means on a deep level — it does lead into a meditative state when you’re in it. As far as the time of day that I write, I’m usually grabbing whatever time I can. For that particular record I recall that I came up with the basic framework at home in terms of tunes and the basic structure, but I think I wrote and fleshed it out with the orchestration while on the road. It’s been a great big help to a lot of us as composers that you can write on a computer and save your work and then edit later. It’s very useful to be able to travel and work on things. It’s not ideal, but, in the life of a working musician there’s seldom a chance to say “okay, I’m gonna take 3 months off and do this”. I hope to have that experience in my life but so far, it’s not lining up that way (laughs). 

Clive: Right. I have one last question for you, Chris. It may be a difficult question for you to answer, but I’m curious to hear how you might muse upon it. You’ strike me as someone who is clearly talented from early on and clearly disciplined and committed to the music. So, the question of nature versus nurture, where do you stand with that? What percentage of your makeup is natural talent versus just raw hard work? 

Chris: That is something I’ve thought about. I mean, being naturally gifted at something is obviously a big head start, and I think a big part of the head start is that, if it’s rewarding to do it, immediately if you say like “oh okay, I get this”, then you’re gonna want to do it more and you’re gonna devote more energy to it. So, it’s a cycle that reinforces itself. It’s definitely easier for some people to grab certain things I’ve seen and harder for others, you know. It definitely helps to just be able to understand things quickly. I mean, not in every case, but that was something that manifested itself fairly early with what I was doing. On the other side, I feel like I’ve known many extremely talented people that never found a way to live up to what they were probably able to do. I’m a firm believer that while raw talent helps, it doesn’t even get you halfway there. There really has to be a lot of time spent, and a lot of commitment to it.

Clive: I suspect too that on some core level, you understood as a teenager that you had to get up to New York and that commitment to that place helped to fuel your forward motion.

Chris: Oh yeah. I mean, it was great to get kicked in the pants! I mean, there wasn’t anyone my age in South Carolina that I knew who was playing at all. So, I was this big fish in a small pound. So, coming to New York and meeting all these other amazing musicians and being exposed to all this stuff that I really just hadn’t heard was a huge catalyst for growth and remains that way and that’s why I’m still here. 

Clive: Yeah. There is a decidedly competitive streak between musicians, no doubt about it.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. In a mostly positive way.

Clive: Sometimes delivered with love and sometimes not. 

Chris: Yeah. Maybe sometimes not, but usually with, you know – if there is respect!

Clive: That’s right. That’s right. Well, on that note of love and respect, I  want to thank you and I look forward to hearing you on April 22nd. I’ll come up and say hello if that’s OK…

Chris: Thank you! I’m looking forward to it! 

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Clive Pohl Interviews Chris Potter: Part I

 Down Beat called him “One of the most studied (and copied) saxophonists on the planet.” Chris Potter, also an accomplished composer and formidable bandleader, will bring all of that to the stage of the Lyric Theater on the evening of April 22nd – the latest installment of the Origins Jazz Series.

Lexington architect, musician, and composer Clive Pohl caught up with Potter only hours after Potter’s return from a European tour. They had a wonderful, wide-ranging conversation and we’re sharing it in three parts so that by the time you take your seat on the 22nd, you’ll have a full appreciation of artist and music.

Part one:

Clive: I’m curious about your family and the musical environment you grew up in.

Chris: Well, no one in my family was a professional musician or even an amateur musician, but they were big fans of music. My father’s father, my grandfather on his side, was a big fan of classical music and listened to it all the time. So, my father had a familiarity with that and he had all kinds of records around the house along the lines of Beethoven and Brahms, and Igor Stravinsky, and Bartok and, you know, a wide range of that music with a bunch of other kinds of music. There was Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and there was blues music from Chicago. There was, you know, a few other things like, I remember a record of Gamelan music and music from Greece and also a few jazz records. So, that’s how I discovered the music, Miles Davis records, Dave Brubeck records, Charles Lloyd. I was a huge fan of the Beatles – I had their records as well. I discovered them when I was 6 or 7. When I was 9 or 10 is when I really discovered jazz and decided I wanted to see if I could play the saxophone. I carried on about it until my parents realized that I was serious. So, they got me one when I was 10 and I got really involved in it right away. And they were always very supportive, which I’m very thankful for.

Clive: And Paul Desmond was an early influence in that decision, is that true?

Chris: Uh-huh. Well, the sound of Paul Desmond’s alto, you know. That was a sound I had never heard before. A beautiful sound wafting in the air.

Clive: This is something I notice in your playing: the consistency of tone and clarity of each note, regardless of which notes you string together.

Chris: That may be the hallmark of someone that has a vision of what they want to do. I definitely hear that in his playing and it’s a much different quality than, say, John Coltrane’s but, in a way, they share this clarity of purpose.

Clive: Yes, you can hear an absolute commitment. And I’m not surprised to hear you mention such a broad array of influences because I hear some of that in your playing. Some popular references, but also the Bartok reference is very evident. Among all those classical musicians that you mentioned, do you rank him high among them as an influence?

Chris: Oh, sure. Yeah. You know, a few of the composers from the 20th century spoke to me most at first… Stravinsky looms really large. You know, The Rite of Spring! And also the French impressionists, for lack of a better word: Ravel and Debussy. I think they have been an influence on a lot of jazz musicians. But yes, the music of Bartok shares with Stravinsky a very rhythmic focus. They have very different ways of dealing with it, but that was a big focus of their music, which I think is something that you can apply to what we do.

Clive: I’m curious about the Mingus Big Band, your place in it and what that meant as a building block in your development.

Chris: Yeah. I think that was very, very helpful. It was an environment that you wouldn’t get in school, let’s put it that way. There was a certain rawness to the energy of the group that I think was true to Mingus’ spirit. I never met him obviously, but a few of the members in the band had actually worked with him and knew him and so the spirit was such that if you didn’t stand your ground and stand up to take a solo when there was a chance, you just might not get to play! I mean, it wasn’t a nice polite, everyone gets a medal kind of situation. It was much rawer than that and there were arguments and this and that, but it was alive, you know, the music was alive and you could feel the whole thing and there were some great musicians that I had the chance to work with: John Hicks, John Stubblefield, and Frank Lacy… all these guys that were very, very kind to me and supportive. Yeah, that was a big learning thing too…

Clive: In part, because you could hold your own, is that right?

Chris: Yeah. Well, you just have to show that you can jump in and deal, then all right! You’re in the family.

Clive: You started making your own records pretty soon after getting into the scene in New York and you’re Concentric Circles record in`95 with Kenny Werner raises a question because I was very much affected by Kenny Werners book, Effortless Mastery and I wondered if you had anything to do with it or if it influenced your thinking and playing at all.

Chris: He hadn’t written that yet when I was first getting to know him. So, just seeing how he operated was definitely an inspiration. He would show up, there was a weekly class he had at the New School. We would choose notes at random out of a hat and then he’d write a tune based on those notes in different ways and we would suggest different ways of going about it and explore that – using that to promote the idea that you can make something out of anything if you know the craft and have the imagination. And then, in between that, he’d tell all these stories of his crazy exploits and his friends’ crazy exploits and we were just in stitches.

Clive: So, very often brushing up against people like that is less about theory and more about the energetic experience of being human, wouldn’t you say?

Chris: Yeah. The nuts and bolts musical information you can get out of a book or you can get out of looking at scores and reading theory, but the real important thing is how people put it together and how it reflects who they are and what you hear in the music. And yes, there is no direct way to transmit that knowledge except to be around the person and to be receptive to everything about what they’re communicating both about music and everything else. You see how it’s all connected. That’s really the way education works in this kind of music.

Chris Potter

Clive: Charlie Haden seemed to possess a quality that allowed him to transcend genres and you can hear it in his music, it’s wonderful stuff.

Chris: Yeah. There’s a lot of amazing folks that I’ve met being involved in this music. Ornette (Coleman) and Wayne Shorter, I mean,  these are special people – besides being great musicians!

Clive: I know you’ve played a lot with Brad Mehldau, who is a much-admired contemporary of yours, yes?

Chris: I first met Brad Mehldau when I came to the New School and we were in an ensemble together, so we were both like 18 or 19. I feel like we’ve kind of grown up together in a certain way, even if we don’t see each other all the time or play together all the time. Just kind of watching the art of their music, and their life, and their career. People like Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel, you know. A lot of musicians that I’ve come up playing with, you know, like Adam Rogers and Craig Taborn…

Listen: Potter and Mehldau perform Book of Kells on the album “Moving In”

Clive: The Underground Orchestra guys. Is that who you’re touring with in Europe right now or is it The Dreamer is the Dream group?

Chris: No. It’s kind of a hybrid, it’s basically the Underground Band. It’s the same band that I’ll be with there (in Lexington): It’s Adam Rogers on guitar and Fima Ephron on bass and then Dan Weiss who will be playing drums. So, it’s gonna be primarily music that’s already been recorded with Underground, but also some other music. We were just on the road for a few weeks and it was really taking off in a nice way, so we will be happy to present it there.

Treat yourself: 

Watch for part two of Clive’s conversation with Chris Potter on April 16.

To purchase tickets, please visit lexingtonlyric.tix.com

Arts

Scene&Heard: Four Seasons, Many Moods

The first sight that greets you when entering the Lyric Theatre is a wall of local art. Immediately, this wall serves to situate you: you are not here for only a show, or a concert, or an exhibition or a community gathering. Instead, this wall seems to emphasize that every single piece of art that takes place inside this building is part of a larger context of local artistry and engagement between artists and what political theorists call civic society—those people and organizations that go out of their way to build a sense of community.

The Lexington Chamber Orchestra, which performed in a matinee at the Lyric, is exactly that sort of organization, They are, first and foremost, a community ensemble, drawing their onstage talent from the Lexington community. And in return, that community supports them. Though admittance to the Chamber Orchestra’s performances is free, most everyone I entered with donated to support the orchestra.

The program, mostly lighter fare, was titled Four Seasons, and seemed to welcome back audience for the first performance of the New Year. While Jan Pellant, the Music Director of the Chamber Orchestra, had only programmed three pieces, each contained an internal variety that allowed the ensemble to move through a wider range of moods than a quick glance at the program might suggest.

Maestro Jan Pallent | Courtesy Lexington Chamber Orchestra

The concert began with 4 selections from J. S. Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge. Translated, the title simply means ‘The Art of the Fugue,’ and Bach had under this title written an entire course’s worth of demonstration and model of the fugue form.

From a compositional perspective, a proper fugue is a difficult thing to do well—a fugue is a series of rhythmically and harmonically interlocking musical phrases in which each phrase could, in theory, function as a predominant melody. Holding together that level of complexity is a tricky task for any composer, but Bach was the undisputed master of the form. He wrote Die Kunst der Fuge towards the end of his life, and left no indication of what instruments were to perform the piece, how fast or how loudly they were to play it, or even whether he even considered the piece to be properly finished.

All of this ambiguity could be considered a challenging task for any conductor. But, as Pellant points out in his program notes, “these points give the artists opportunities to create uniqueness based on personal creativity” as well.

In performance, Pellant gave the score a respectable shakedown, imbuing variety to the orchestration and performance choices. The first movement, light and quick, was an excellent demonstration that the Chamber Orchestra knows how to balance a technically complicated piece to both demonstrate each individual element and create a unified whole— not an easy thing to accomplish with Bach, who can sometimes feel like a lecture from your math professor on the numerical properties of pi. The second movement elaborated on the technical distinction of the first.

The third movement was a real highlight that emphasized the ensemble’s harmonic balance, and the low voices thrummed away at the base of chords that are passed through the upper three voices in a rhythmically steady pulse that unwinds through the ensemble.

The final movement continued this rhythmic development, rolling through the ensemble like a well-built clock.

The most fascinating aspect of a good Bach performance is that it’s both utterly predictable, in that you can usually make a pretty good guess as to where he’s headed in terms of rhythm, melody, harmony, and the overall structure of the piece, but the craftsmanship of each individual element is such that you don’t find yourself minding it all that much. Often, the best way to enjoy Bach is to let yourself sit back and enjoy the music as it presents yourself to you. This is especially true of his fugues, which unfold with an exacting mathematical precision. The real talent of the Chamber Orchestra lay in the clarity with which Pellant held each part strong to its own voice, maintaining the counterpoint without allowing it to dissolve into a multi-part mush of predictable harmonies.

The second piece was an excerpt of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5; the Chamber Orchestra performed the Adagietto section, which is one of Mahler’s most excerpted pieces. However, the Adagietto was nonetheless an interesting choice for such a tiny ensemble. The rich, almost overdeveloped late romantic chords of Mahler’s symphonies can tax even the large string sections of full-size orchestras, and for a smaller group, especially the intense layering of chords can be a challenge.

Here Pellant had to toss about his hands, one after the other, to each section, making a thousand tiny adjustments on the fly. His long, stentorian frame remained firmly planted in front of his score, but his left hand would flicker and shudder, always coaxing out more vibrato, more emotion, from the scraping bows.

The lights remained up in the audience throughout the performance, giving it a participatory feel for the listeners. The boxy design of the Lyric’s theater, in which the stage sits bluntly in front of the audience,  helped to collapse the distance between orchestra and audience, which diffused a great deal of the stuffiness that often invests classical performances.

The final piece came from the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. Taking his inspiration from Vivaldi’s famous (and famously overrated) Four Seasons Suite, Piazzolla wrote a set of four pieces for strings ensemble and solo violin that described the seasons of his native Buenos Aires. Mixing high-minded classicism with the rolling and rumbling rhythms of Latin dance music, Piazzolla wrote incredibly technically complicated pieces for string performers.

For the final piece, the Chamber Orchestra was joined by soloist Kyung Sun Lee, a violinist who has held teaching and performance positions at Oberlin College, the University of Houston, and Seoul National University (all schools with music departments of the highest order).

Kyung Sun Lee | Photo courtesy of the Lexington Chamber Orchestra

That training was pushed to a dramatic degree, as Piazzolla wrote a violin part that approached the technical complexity of Sibelius’ legendary Violin Concerto. Lee played with expressive sensitivity at the very highest end of her violin’s range, and her fingers danced through a score that included double stops, glissandi, and portamento demands far beyond even that normally asked of internationally acclaimed soloists.

The Chamber Orchestra kept up admirably with this furious pace. The rhythmic impulse was, throughout each movement, absolutely wonderful. Pellant kept the orchestra driving, clearly articulating complex syncopations that both held the beat aloft for a moment in midair but nonetheless returned it to the ground with a cadence even more propulsive than before.

The result was a powerful but lighthearted end to a concert that brought a feeling of generosity and welcome to the audience.

The Lexington Chamber Orchestra rang in their new year with a smile and a cheery wave of the hand, and Lexington’s 2018 is the better for it.

Arts

And Her Name is Jazz!

Les McCann with Jazz Whatley Cole, the very first scholarship recipient of the Les McCann School For the Arts

This past Saturday night, my husband and I headed down to the Lyric Theater to hear Les McCann again! Les and Javon Jackson rocked the house and occassionally cradled us too. Mike has fond memories of hearing Les play when he was younger; those memories take him back to his early years in Lexington, Kentucky. For your listening pleasure, here is one of his favorites: Every Time I See A Butterfly.

That same night the Les McCann School for the Arts (LMSA) announced their inaugural scholarship recipient and her name is Jazz Whatley Cole.  Jazz is an amazing young woman, a theater major in SCAPA since 4th grade where she concentrating much of her time with the extracurricular activities in the costume department.

She is an aspiring fashion designer, starting Jazz Cole Designs during her freshman year at Lafayette High School. Last year as a junior, she was accepted into the prestigious Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles, CA. This scholarship will help her make that transition.

It was a big night for both her and the namesake of this award; that same day Les McCann was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Kentucky. UnderMain would like to thank Chester Grundy, Everett McCorvey and Dave McWhorter for all of their hard work in honoring this jazz great.

Also to Gus Puerdikakis (Les’ mean cowbell brother) whose generosity has made this award possible along with the teaching of music, photography, jewelry making and fashion design to so many in our community.

Overall, I believe creativity doesn’t just occur by it’s self, something has to catch your eye, something has to inspire you to whatever it is that you do and are truly passionate about. Therefore, if you can conceive it, and you believe it, then you can achieve it! – Jazz Cole

For more information on the School for the Arts, contact Denise Brown, artistic director for the LMSA. at ladyfuj@hotmail.com.