Gil Shaham makes familiar Tchaikovsky sound fresh with MSO

One can only speculate how many hundreds or thousands of times Gil Shaham has played Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra in concert, in rehearsal, and in practice. And yet, if his physical language is any indication, he is thrilled to do so again. Waiting for the Madison Symphony Orchestra to begin, he holds a wide, open-mouthed smile. When he plays, his expression shifts to intense concentration and he moves his entire body in tandem with the music: crouching, lifting, addressing the violins, making eye contact with the conductor. This is an enchanting spectacle to witness. To see — and more importantly hear — such an accomplished musician bring both newness and wisdom to familiar material is truly a gift. Indeed, none of this would matter if Shaham did not play with such grace and character. Shaham performs with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Overture Hall, 201 State St.  When it was composed 140 years ago, Tchaikovsky’s concerto was deemed unplayably difficult. In subsequent years the threshold for violinists’ technical skills increased, and while it is still fiendishly difficult, the piece is now a staple of concert violinists’ repertoire. Shaham played with incredible lightness, skimming over the strings, reaching for the highest of high notes, fingers rippling through lightning fast passagework. Shaham’s interpretation is filled with his apparent musical delight. It is broad and accessible but never clichéd. Late in the first movement the well-known theme sounded almost as birdsong — free, natural, pure. Elsewhere, as at the beginning of the second movement, his tone was dark and shady, expressing the visceral woodiness of his instrument. And extreme shifts—between fast passages and lyrical ones, or the several major tempo changes in the last movement—occurred with beautiful fluidity. How to frame such an Continue Reading

Brooklyn Tech fencer Sara Harvey-Browne making quite an impression on PSAL opponents

For the first time, Brooklyn Tech's Sara Harvey-Browne was caught off guard during a fencing match. While taking a breather at a showcase at Townsend Harris HS last month, Harvey-Browne was approached by a competitor she had just beaten. What followed left her nearly speechless. "She told me that I was her idol," Harvey-Browne recounted. "I wasn't sure if she was joking. I just said, 'Okay, thank you.'" Harvey-Browne ran into more of the same after she went 3-0 against Banneker last Thursday, registering 15 touches to two in those matches. Two of her opponents, Aicha Wague and Brittny Sobers, tentatively approached her after she had beaten them, thanking Harvey-Browne for the opportunity to face her. The two girls walked away giggling, as if they had just met Justin Bieber. "I want to be just as good as her," Wague said. "I want to be able to fence like her. I know it's going to take a lot of work, but that's what I want to do." Told that Harvey-Browne receives outside instruction, Sobers nodded. "I might have to do that, too," she said. Harvey-Brown smiled a bit sheepishly at the adulation. Reserved by nature, the sophomore, who gave up playing the violin to focus on fencing, is more comfortable discussing her love of chemistry than her exploits on the strip. After winning the PSAL individual city championship as a freshman, however, the 15-year-old may have to get used to the attention. And it's clear that her presence in the PSAL has inspired others to consider committing themselves to the sport. While Harvey-Browne could have opted to contend full time for the Brooklyn Bridge Fencing Club, her outside team, she has chosen to represent the school in the PSAL. Brooklyn Tech moved to 4-0 in Division I after beating host Banneker, 13-1.75, last Thursday. "I thought it was important to be on a team as part of the whole school experience," she said after the meet against Banneker. "I enjoy the one-on-one nature of the sport, but I also like Continue Reading

Louisville Orchestra sets sights on making movie magic

While movie music has included all kinds of ensembles, the orchestral score remains one of the most popular – something not lost on Louisville Orchestra artistic director Teddy Abrams.“We really wanted to do something new but really we wanted to honor classic film with great orchestral music," Abrams said.The conductor landed on two ideas for this season’s upcoming concert: creating a new soundtrack for the landmark Soviet film “Battleship Potemkin” and leading the orchestra in a performance of Debussy’s “Jeux” to a newly commissioned film related to sports and Louisville. The latter, he knew, had several possibilities. ► READ MORE: 'Peter Pan' program to help elder care patients ► READ MORE: Black Violin brings hip-hop, classic fusion to town The orchestra has performed several scores to film - “The Wizard of Oz” in 2007, “Psycho” in 2010 and in 2013 “Redes” (“The Wave”) by Fred Zinnemann – but duel productions on the orchestra’s schedule this season are originals. “Battleship Potemkin” has a brand new score using masterworks from the orchestral repertoire, and a new film has been choreographed to accompany “Jeux.”“It has been a complex project and a Louisville project,” said Abrams, pointing out the partnerships with several organizations throughout the community to make this happen.So, after months of work by Abrams, key curating musicians and a duo of filmmakers, the Louisville orchestra readies itself to present a double feature that aims to whet the audience’s ears and eyes innovative sounds and sights.Louisville is tied widely to three major icons on the sports world. It's the birthplace and hometown of Muhammad Ali. It's the home of the Kentucky Derby. And it's the home of the revered Louisville Slugger.So when filmmakers Marlon Johnson and Dennis Scholl were Continue Reading

New Music Tuesday: Otto’s sumptuous and funky sound deserves to make him a worldwide star

The northeastern Brazilian province known as Pernambuco has produced one of the richest music scenes in a country bursting with them. (You can hear it chronicled on the superb, 2008 CD "What's Happening in Pernambuco?") But, lately a local one-named star called Otto has been stealing all the headlines. The wily singer/songwriter upstaged an entire line-up of post-samba stars at Brooklyn's Academy of Music last December. Then, this past month, Otto's solo show provided a highlight for this year's Lincoln Center Out of Doors series. He's an arresting, and unusual, live performer, with a bear-like figure he navigates with balletic grace. But, it turns out, Otto's studio CDs prove no less beguiling. His latest work takes its name from the opening lines of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," ("One Morning I Woke Up From Uneasy Dreams") yet it has none of the horror that title suggests. It's a smart and beautiful mix of tropicalia, rock, samba, pop, and neo-electronica. Given Otto's background as a percussionist – his role before he stepped up to the microphone - it's small wonder his music has such a great sense of rhythm, roiling under the songs' slowly unfolding melodies. The opening cut, "Crua," begins with strings that flicker like stars in a night sky, while its melody snakes around the violins and cellos with a sly beauty. There's great sensuality to many of the pieces, especially the duets that pair Otto with two key female singers. One song features Sao Paulo's rising star Ceu, whose spooky tones - here and on her own records - paint her as Brazil's answer to British trip-hop queen Beth Gibbons. Two other songs contrast Otto's husky voice to the more spry and feminine tones of Mexican-American singer Juleita Venegas. In concert, Otto tends to rock out more than he does here. But in a track like "6 Minutos" he revels in a classic, fuzz-toned psychedelic guitar, inspiring in him a vocal as impassioned as anything from Continue Reading

Dave Matthews Band makes spirited comeback with ‘Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King’

Losing a loved one has a way of shaking things to the core. So it's small wonder the Dave Matthews Band strongly rethought their approach for their latest CD, "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King." It's their first work since the sudden death of saxist LeRoi Moore, who passed away last August from complications following an accident he had while riding his ATV. Moore was with band from the start, a fact they mirror by opening the CD with a elegiac sax piece played by the man himself. If you're looking for any further signs of sadness, though, you'll have to look elsewhere. "Big Whiskey" aims to honor Moore not with boo-hoos but with hints of the sound - or at least the general spirit - of the group in their earlier, quirkier days. Without doubt, the band's seventh studio CD kicks harder than any work they've issued in a decade - since 1998's "Before These Crowded Streets." (It's also their first produced by Rob Cavallo, a guy known for creating loud 'n' proud sounds for the likes of Green Day and Kid Rock.) On all the band's studio CDs since "Streets," there's been a mission to plane down their more strange and mangy sounds. Over time, they sensualized Moore's burping sax, Boyd Tinsley's scratchy violin and Matthews' own hiccupy vocals, to create a kind of smoothie version of their early, more textured sound. This time, some of the rougher edges, and the greater aggression, of old have returned, though it's far from a total turnaround. Some members' individual playing remained tamed. While Moore's name appears in many songwriting credits - and the CD does include some of his early rehearsal recordings - he's still a lesser presence here. Same goes for Tinsley's violin, which sometimes disappears entirely into a larger string section. Some tracks make especially good use of the general, tougher approach, like "Shake Me Like a Monkey," which employs the Earth, Wind and Fire horn section to create a giant brawl of sound. Here, and elsewhere, the Continue Reading

N.Y. Philharmonic brings violin diplomacy to North Korea

PYONGYANG, North Korea - Swirling dancers and musicians beating traditional drums welcomed the New York Philharmonic to North Korea Monday for a historic cultural exchange between countries that have been technically at war for more than a half-century. In a burst of musical diplomacy notably devoid of propaganda glorifying leader Kim Jong Il or attacks on U.S. policy, North Korean dancers balanced water jars on their heads or twirled pink and green fans to entertain the celebrated American orchestra — which gave them a standing ovation. The Philharmonic is the first major American cultural group to visit the isolated communist nation and the largest-ever delegation from the U.S. to visit its longtime foe. As part of its 48-hour trip, the 106-member orchestra was to play a concert Tuesday that will be broadcast on state-run radio and TV, where the U.S. is the target of daily condemnation. The national anthems of both countries will be played, followed by a program featuring Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor — popularly known as the "New World Symphony" and written while the 19th-century Czech composer lived in the United States — and George Gershwin's "An American in Paris." Orchestra musicians will also give master classes to North Korean students and play chamber music with members of the North's State Symphony Orchestra. Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel said despite the trip's political overtones, it was the right decision to go. "It would have been a great mistake not to accept their invitation," he said after arriving at the Pyongyang airport aboard a chartered 747 jet from Beijing. A stern-faced border guard checked his passport upon exiting the plane before North Korean cultural officials greeted the orchestra with handshakes and smiles. "I am a musician and not a politician. Music has always traditionally been an arena, an area where people make contact. It's neutral, it's entertainment, it's Continue Reading

Whitestone luthier taught himself how to make stringed instruments

Giancarlo Scopinich of Whitestone learned two important things when he tried to teach himself how to play the guitar: He was no Jimi Hendrix, but he does have a virtuoso talent for making stringed instruments. "I had to give it up; it's not for me," the Italian-born Scopinich, 70, said of his brief 1979 experiment in strumming the six-string. "So then I said, 'I will build a guitar; it will be much easier than learning music.' " Scopinich, who was 18 when his family emigrated from the northern Italian city of Trieste to Brooklyn, purchased plans for a guitar and set to work in his basement woodshop. "I did everything from scratch," he said. "From that instrument, I said, 'I have to build something else.' " He crafted three more guitars, and then tried his hand at other stringed instruments, all the while honing his woodworking skills. Scopinich's quest to become a self-taught luthier - or maker of stringed instruments - was not as far-fetched as it may seem. He is a draftsman by trade, having worked for JCPenney, designing store displays, and then for the famous Steinway & Sons piano makers in Astoria, where his job was to make the production process safer and more efficient. Scopinich also has woodworking in his blood. His father was a cabinetmaker in Italy and later worked for a furniture maker near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Drawing on his inherited abilities, Scopinich has challenged himself to further his newfound craft by attempting more difficult instruments, like a baroque-style guitar with intricate patterns of inlaid wood. He has also crafted a mandolin, two violins, a Russian stringed instrument known as a balalaika, and a cuatro, a four-stringed guitar from Latin America. Scopinich displays all his creations in his living room, and says he works for the love of woodworking, not profit. "I don't like to sell anything," he said. "You may say I am nuts, but I get so attached to them." Join the Continue Reading

With his new band the Kin, Mike Mangione is making the most gorgeous music of his career

For much of Mike Mangione's career, music has been a family affair.Now it's a two-family affair.Since his first album in 2005, the Chicago-born, Milwaukee-based singer-songwriter has been recording and touring with his guitar-playing brother Tom. Now, with the new band the Kin, the Mangiones have paired up with another set of siblings: Monique and Chauntee Ross, the talented cello-and-violin players behind Milwaukee duo SistaStrings.  RELATED: Performing with IshDARR, Peter Mulvey and more, Milwaukee's SistaStrings take the spotlight For their first album, "But I've Seen the Stars," the Kin borrowed the rhythm section from established Americana rock band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros — Josh Collazo on drums and Seth Ford-Young on bass — and Sharpe producer Matt "Linny" Linesch.The result is an album bursting with feeling — and the most radiant, cinematic release of Mangione's career."If my music works in the color orange, this is like the whole spectrum, from light orange to dark orange," Mangione said. "And the deeper sense of musicality, that applies to my songwriting as well."How a Will Ferrell movie launched his career: After graduating from Marquette University, I moved to L.A. and did some random stuff. A friend of mine convinced me to try doing movie extra work, and I was the mailboy in "Anchorman." It paid well because it was a Screen Actors Guild film, and I used the money to fund my first tour. I fell in love with it, got rid of the apartment in L.A., and lived on the road for two years; Tom came with me after about a year and a half. We recorded our first album in 2005, and my band the Union came together in 2007. Everyone went their own way around 2014.Forming the Kin: Three years ago, I had a violinist and cellist play a couple of shows with me, and there was one trip they couldn't make and the recommended the Ross sisters. We met in Milwaukee to rehearse and we were all late, so I knew we were a Continue Reading

EXCLUSIVE: Sound of violin reveals ‘different world’ to Brooklyn teen

When the cacophony of life filled Deshawn’s head, he found peace in the smooth tones of his violin. The 15-year-old is hoping a violin will help him once again as he transitions from a group facility for juvenile offenders to his Brooklyn home next month. The teen, whose last name is being withheld by the Daily News, was one of four young people in the country to win the instrument in the Student Promise Award by StringQuest, an online music education site. He impressed StringQuest founder Adam Crane with his heartfelt essay about the importance of music in his life and the first time he held a violin at the age of 7. Deshawn wrote he “felt like I had a different world in my hand” and “I would be lost in the sound of the violin.” He also credits the violin he had as a child with keeping him in the house — and off the streets — of Bedford-Stuyvesant, where he heard gunshots every night. During a recent interview, Deshawn marveled at his prize — a refurbished John Juzek violin valued at $2,000. He’s reluctant to say what set his life in a downward spiral years later. The loss of his beloved grandfather, whom he describes as his idol and his best friend, hit hard. By the time he was 15, Deshawn had been arrested twice. He was placed in a group home in Queens run by SCO Family of Services, where he and other teens receive round-the-clock supervision, support and counseling. The facilities are part of the city’s Close to Home initiative, which moves juvenile delinquents from remote upstate facilities to city-based sites. The program, which is run by the Administration for Children’s Services, has been under fire in recent days after three teens snuck out of a Brooklyn group home and allegedly raped a young woman. But ACS Deputy Commissioner Felipe Franco said that stories like Deshawn’s are common in the city’s 30 Close to Home facilities. “Deshawn is an Continue Reading

‘Make it Pop’ review: Nickelodeon show will be fun for tweens especially

ONCE UPON a time, teenage boys would form a band while teenage girls watched and swooned. The lively, funny, upbeat “Make It Pop” shreds any remaining vestige of that 20th century notion. Sun Hi (Megan Lee), Jodi (Louriza Tronco) and Corki (Erika Tham) find themselves tossed together as roommates in a triple at boarding school. Within hours, they have skipped right past the standard sitcom jokes about new roomies and formed a pop group, XO-IQ. It's not that roommate conflicts won't be showing up, just that “Make It Pop” places most of its chips, and high-energy banter, on the sheer fun of making pop music. A song can break out anywhere, with ordinary settings becoming the backdrop for a song-and-dance video. All three stars fit smoothly into the roles. Lee probably steals the most scenes in the first episode, but that could be because she has the coveted role of the self-absorbed space girl. Sun Hi is smart enough. She just doesn’t listen to anything she doesn't want to hear. She’s also the one who really wants to be famous, which is why she records and posts pretty much every detail of her life. Jodi is a fashionista with bright red streaks in her hair, and Corki is apparently from some very important family. Corki is the last to arrive and announces she will be spending all her time studying or maybe practicing the violin, an assertion that lasts about 20 seconds until Sun Hi breaks into song and all three break out their moves and pump up the volume. If the colorful, unsubtle “Make It Pop” represents the next generation of tween/teen TV shows, it's off to a good start. Continue Reading