In a recent trip to the chorus rehearsal room of First Presbyterian Church, in the Houston Museum District, I had the distinct privilege of previewing the Houston Masterworks Chorus's upcoming performance of Mendelsohn’s Elijah. The concert, this Sunday, April 22nd (see event listing below), features the tour-de-force masterworks chorus and several sololists from our very own Rice University.Read More
Better late than never, I am BACK and BETTER than ever.
As I awoke from my grad-school induced coma in early January, I finally had the time to blog again. So... how did I dive into my blogging adventures of 2018?
Well, over the last week and a half I had the opportunity to attend not one but two really inspiring performances! I held off on blogging about them until now, because I really wanted to think about what the connection was (for me) with these two events. While both involved classical music, one was an opera and the other a concert of chamber music. To add to the mystery of these two organizations (although that mystery will be shattered in a moment) one is a well known performing institution of Houston and the other is a rather new innovative startup that hit our music scene in #HTX a few years ago.
Any guesses as to what I am talking about yet?
This young chamber music organization I am speaking of is no other than
Here’s the run down on Kinetic:
Mission: To enrich the musical vibrancy of Houston's cultural landscape through live performances,
distinct programming, and interactive learning experiences.
“Formed in 2015, KINETIC is a collective of 16 passionate and diverse chamber musicians who thrive on collaboration to create high energy, innovative, and world-class live performances throughout the city of Houston. Led by founder & Artistic Director, Natalie Lin, the ensemble can be seen performing in various traditional & nontraditional spaces around town like at MATCH (Midtown Arts & Theater Center), in art galleries, schools, and hospitals.”
Concert I attended: Inner Voices
Edward Elgar: Introduction & Allegro
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Nocturne & Scherzo for String Quintet
Anna Clyne: Prince of Clouds
Benjamin Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings
Sunday, January 21st. at MATCH in Midtown Houston
Photo Credit: Ben Doyle
My introduction to Kinetic was through a Strategic Planning project this time last year.
Overall, these guys and gals are talented, unique, and really quite engaging.
Artistic Director and Founder, Natalie Lin, is a master of putting on fun and friendly concerts while maintaining a high level of artistic integrity.
In addition, the following week I attended a production of Elektra, by Richard Strauss at the Houston Grand Opera. Now as many of you are aware, this Houston music institution was hit HARD by Hurricane Harvey, forcing them out of the Wortham center for their entire season. Currently, they reside in a makeshift space at the George R. Brown convention center of Houston. Lovingly named “The Resilience Theater”
…and in case you are not familiar, here is a bit about Houston Grand Opera
“The Vision and Mission of Houston Grand Opera:
Houston Grand Opera’s vision is to inspire opera’s future. Our mission is to advance the operatic art to serve an ever-evolving audience. We will produce great operatic works that create and sustain a new American art form and fuse them with historical repertoire to inspire the next generations of opera lovers—both in our own community and globally through technology.”
Another fun fact, HGO was founded in 1955 by German-born impresario Walter Herbert
and Houstonians Elva Lobit, Edward Bing, and Charles Cockrell
Concert I attended: Elektra by Richard Strauss
Full cast and creative team can be found here.
(Side note: CG is one of my favorite voices. She dazzled me in HGO’s production of Sigfried last year
and completely outdid herself with the mad portrayal of Elektra, simply stunning. BRAVA DIVA!)
Saturday, January 27th at The Resilience Theater
So, what is the real connection between these two evenings?
While these two concerts represent completely different examples of the classical music canon, I got to experience them both with the same similarity…. With classical music novices!!!
I had the pleasure of seeing the Inner Voices concert with a former co-worker, her young daughter, and husband, and I saw Elektra with a current classmate of mine who had never experienced classical music in its best form, LIVE!
So, I had the unique opportunity to introduce these two groups of people to the world of classical music. Which, is easier said than done.
Let’s do a quick exercise here: I want you to think of opera in a very stereotypical fashion (which is easy to do by most) and give me three descriptive words or phrases or images that come to mind…
How about…. BORING! LONG! and A PLETHORA OF LARGE VIKINGS!
Yep, that pretty much sums up the general notion of what non-opera goers think of opera.
Now, I want you to think of a chamber ensemble performance in the same way, what are a few thoughts that come to mind?
“Wait, when do I clap???” , “This is one really long song” (an actual quote I heard from an audience member), or BORING.
…. So, I wanted to be strategic about how I was going to get these classical music newbies to enjoy themselves.
For my co-worker and her family I chose to go with something a bit light-hearted. Sure, I had invited them to concerts before, but I figured Kinetic was a cool introduction into an often not-so-thought-of cool art form.
For my classmate, it was the easy choice, because she invited me! However, I did my homework and made sure it was appropriate for someone’s first opera. Once I did, I knew this one act tragedy would provide just enough drama and beauty any music listener could appreciate, and it’s only one act… so there is that.
Now, as I report to you after the fact, I am happy to say I was quite successful, with all involved parties ending the night with phrases like:
“That was so cool, I love experiencing new things like that”
“Who knew I would ever like classical music?”
“WOW that was so dramatic and fun!”
…and while we have yet to set a date for a follow-up concert or opera, I am sure I have at least a few classical music converts on my hands, AND lucky for me, this beautiful year is just beginning!
You thought I forgot about cocktails huh?
Well, I did, in fact, enjoy a delightful glass of prosecco at the new Holmann Draft Hall in Midtown Houston before the HGO production. Interestingly enough, they keep many of their wines tapped in order to ensure optimal drinking temperature for flavor (I think I got that right!).
I recommend it to all as your pre-opera drink. After all, you cannot go wrong with bubbles before opera.
That's all for now. See Y'all next time for Cocktails at Intermission! Cheers.
What even is a glass harmonica?
In all my years of schooling, performing, and working within the classical music industry, this was one instrument I had never experienced. With its name suggesting a mystical and ethereal characteristic, I was intrigued...
While looking for my next event to blog on, I came across Ars Lyrica’s season opener
Sweet Philomela at Zilkha Hall – Hobby Center, Friday, September 22nd at 7:30pm.
Ars Lyrica’s Executive Director, Kinga Ferguson, invited me to their dress rehearsal Friday morning, giving me an exclusive first look behind the scenes.
Before my adventure with Sweet Philomela began, I felt that I needed to get some background information on the glass harmonica, as this was a featured part of the program. What was I up against here? Perhaps, it was the encroaching fall season that was upon us (if you can even call the weather we have here in Houston “fall”) but I couldn’t help imagining an instrument that evoked a chilling connotation, right out of a horror film, fit for Halloween. To my surprise, the glass harmonica is not even close to that depiction. It is in fact quite a lovely instrument, with a sweet sound that can give chills to even the most doubtful listener.
Here is a bit more background on this unique invention:
“Franklin's new invention premiered in early 1762, played by Marianne Davies—a well known musician in London who learned to play Franklin's new invention. Initially Franklin named it the 'glassychord', but soon settled on 'armonica' as the name for his new invention—after the Italian word for harmony "armonia". Apparently Franklin built a second instrument for Ms. Davies, as she toured Europe with hers, while Franklin returned to Philadelphia with his own.
The armonica made quite a hit, particularly in Germany. Mozart was introduced to it by Franz Mesmer, who used his to 'mesmerize' his patients, and later Mozart wrote two works for it (a solo armonica piece, and a larger quintet for armonica, flute, oboe, viola and cello). Beethoven also wrote a little piece for amonica and narrator (!), and many of their colleagues of the day composed for it as well—some 200 pieces for armonica (solo, or with other instruments) survive from that era.”
As I continued to read on about this otherworldly instrument, my excitement for Sweet Philomela grew and soon I found myself seated in Zilkha Hall, with the musicians of Ars Lyrica tuning.
When the concert begins we are introduced to singer Sherezade Panthaki who effortlessly masters the Handel air
As we continue on through the first section of Handel excerpts, we are greeted with the virtuosic sounds of the Ars Lyrica baroque orchestra, favored by many in the city. As a feature of Sweet Philomela, the organization has brought in guest concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock. And they are led by Ars Lyrica Artistic Director and Conductor, Matthew Dirst.
The illustrious Handel section ends with the Air: “Sweet Bird” in which the soprano and flute trill in unison. Highlighting the virtuosic and playful nature of Handel’s music expertly.
However, what awaits me next is the introduction of the Glass Harmonica, with Mozart’s Adagio for Glass Harmonica, K. 356. As the piece begins, we are left in suspense while the Glass Harmonica player and guest artist, Dennis James, pauses before his entrance. And then it happens. The magic of the glass harmonica is utilized quite effectively in Mozart’s adagio. James plays the instrument with ease, providing not only beautiful music, but an entertaining performance.
Throughout the rest of the program we experience a whirl of emotions and sounds but above all else, the beautiful music that is the Ars Lyrica baroque orchestra.
In creating this season, Ars Lyrica was inspired by the Artful Women found internationally throughout the music world and beyond. Moreover, Ars Lyrica found that we have a strong contingent of Artful women – in their own regards – right here in Houston, TX. For their season opener, they chose to honor Jano Nixon Kelley, who is known for philanthropic work throughout the Houston Arts & Performing Arts community.
To read more about how you too can be a part of this celebration: http://www.arslyricahouston.org/artful-women-honorees-2017-2018/
As Philanthropy has become an increasingly important part of our city this year, Ars Lyrica’s season theme of “Artful Women” can be seen as an endeavor all can appreciate.
You didn't think I'd leave you without a cocktail recipe, now did you?
The Sweet Philomela
1 part dry gin
2 parts Champagne
1 part pomegranate juice
½ part simple syrup
Combine gin, champagne, juice, simple syrup, and ice in a shaker.
Put a Handel concerto on the speakers, shake to the beat of the music, pour and enjoy like a true brit. would!
Until next time, i'll catch y'all for cocktails at intermission!
As many of you know, a few weekends ago Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey devastated my beautiful city of Houston, TX. In the days since I have found myself reflecting upon a certain magic that accompanied the storm.
Overall, the national/local news has been really great at updating the world with pictures and video footage of the first responders rescuing families, animals, and elderly folks from the floods waters, but I have had a few personal experiences that I wanted to share…
The first instance came as I was cleaning out my Aunt’s house, in a community near the famous-for-overflowing Braes bayou. After a rough few nights, Harvey left feet of water, flooding her beloved home, destroying much of the original character of this 1950s gem, and gifting her with a mess of soggy furniture to be disposed of. However, on our days cleaning the mess not 1, or 2, but dozens of people, many random neighbors, stopped in to see how they could help. In fact, one neighbor even bought several dozen pizzas to share and invited the whole block in for a much-needed break from flooded home cleaning. These random acts of kindness were just the first example of what I now refer to a good ol' Houstonian magic.
Instance number 2 came as I was shopping for groceries at a local HEB. While I was in the produce section a woman kindly stopped me to ask a question about the store and followed it up with “How is your family? Did they fare well in the storm?” This woman did not know me or my family. Then, while waiting in the monstrous checkout line two men struck up a conversation with my sister and I to comment on our excellent wine & alcohol taste, offering up some tasty cocktail recipes in the process, and finished the conversation with “We hope you and your family are fine and if they are not, that they find the help they need.”
As the last few weeks have flown by, I have seen COUNTLESS instances of this magic. I call it magic, simply because I am convinced that this city has not only proven to be a great city, but one that has cultivated a community of kind, selfless, caring, and thoughtful human beings. In today’s world, that is magic.
However, this is a blog about the arts, so let’s talk about the arts in Houston. Harvey didn’t skip over our beloved theater district , flooding several of our local institutions including the Wortham (Houston Grand Opera), the Hobby Center – Zilkha hall, the Ballet, the Alley theater, and much more. So, over the last week, our arts community has come together to figure out their first move. In response, many have chosen to set aside time for concerts, performances, silent auctions…etc. all to benefit the great city we live in. In other words, fall concert planning has been put on the back-burner, in order to deal with the task at hand.
Just last night I had the pleasure of attending the #HarveyReliefConcert presented by Apollo Chamber Players, Musiqa, and Jazz Forever.
When trying to decide how best Apollo could help the city, ED Matt Detrick began coordinating this event with the hopes of donating all proceeds to Catholic Charities and the Greater Houston Community Foundation. The evening provided not just a wide array of folk music, composition premiers, and a big band finale, but a moment for hundreds who had weathered the storm to come together, finding refuge and calm through the power of art and music.
See, more magic.
One of my favorite art songs, An die Musik by Franz Schubert, puts it quite perfectly.
Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb' entzunden,
Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt,
In eine beßre Welt entrückt!
Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf' entflossen,
Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir,
Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten mir erschlossen,
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür,
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir!
You, noble Art, in how many grey hours,
When life's mad tumult wraps around me,
Have you kindled my heart to warm love,
Have you transported me into a better world,
Transported into a better world!
Often has a sigh flowing out from your harp,
A sweet, divine harmony from you
Unlocked to me the heaven of better times,
You, noble Art, I thank you for it,
You, noble Art, I thank you!
While our city continues to rebuild, it is my hope that you all can find refuge. Whether it be through music, art, football, food, or some other favorite past-time. I hope you can tap into a bit of this Houston magic and get back to some sense of normalcy.
For this post’s recipe I would like to provide a “recipe of performances” you all may wish to attend or donate to in the coming weeks.
Be safe friends, let’s keep this magic alive,
and I’ll catch y’all for cocktails at intermission.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 - 1950
The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.
All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.
My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
While music may be the “food of love”, poetry represents the eloquent beauty of language and its expression. This past Friday, August 19th, Silambam Dance Company brought these two art forms, along with traditional Indian dance, together to produce Kāvya: Poetry in Motion.
Though the average new audience member, much like myself, came expecting a lovely show of traditional Indian choreography and music, we were instead presented with a performance of text, music, and dance from all over the world. A wonderful surprise indeed.
As I strode into box #2 at downtown Houston’s MATCH theater, I was instantly aware of the buzz of friendly conversation, women in beautiful sari’s, and couldn’t help but feel as if I was walking into a lovely family gathering, immediately transported to a world in which I knew something special was about to happen.
Once the stage faded to black, and the last seat was taken, the evening began. The performance was broken into 6 main sections:
Perhaps, the section that touched me the most was Wanderlust, mainly because of the poem by Millay, cited above for you to read. As the different poems were read, dancers in sari’s of every color graced the stage. In addition to the beautifully crafted choreography, a scene was acted out, further enhancing the music and text. Overall, the collaborative production created a somewhat abstract performance left to each audience member’s interpretation.
Although this dance company is made up of a majority of amateur and young dancers, Silambam expertly crafted a multicultural program that people of all ages could appreciate. In fact, one of the dancers I really enjoyed couldn’t have been much older than 11 or 12! She danced with the spirit and feeling of an artist much more her senior, I am sure due in large part to the education and artistic programming of the company’s staff.
As the evening went on, the air was filled with text recited in Spanish, Sanskrit, English, and more. All in all, it was a lovely experience to hear poems, that we all know, spoken in their native tongue. Or as many would say, the way they were meant to be heard. And although I do not speak these languages, the music and dance delivered each message articulately, sending a wave of goosebumps at the culmination of each piece.
Although most Houstonians are fully aware of the city’s rich diversity, many would say the most diverse in the country, those outside our metropolitan region are just becoming privy to this information. Arts organizations like Silambam are not only helping to celebrate the culture found within our city, but producing works that will help bring notice to our inventive and collaborative art community. Many people will say that I am a great cheerleader for H-Town. However, I really just feel like I advocate for things, people, and places I believe are producing a product that mesh with my beliefs and as a result help to bring necessary innovation and change to the art world and beyond.
As I sit here I can still hear the sound of the Ghungroo bells and am reminded of the transcendent experience and performance Silambam expertly pulled off.
For more information on Silambam’s season of productions: www.silambamhouston.org
P.S. Did you think I forgot about cocktails? :)
Because Kāvya: Poetry in Motion was only an hour, no intermission was included. So this round I went for pre-concert cocktails, down the street from MATCH, at Double Trouble Cocktails and Coffee. I chose the "Perfect Paloma", quite perfect indeed. Not only did it cool me off from the horrendous Houston heat, but tasted delicious! If you are looking to try a cocktail equally as delicious and refreshing, but don’t own a blender or margarita machine (the PP was frozen mmm) like moi, try out my recipe below.
Drunken Pamplemousse (AKA grapefruit) Soda Recipe:
Makes One Cocktail
½ Fresh squeezed Pamplemousse juice
2 tablespoons water
½ cup Pamplemousse La Croix
Shot of Vodka
In a small saucepan, combine the juice, sugar, and water. Simmer on low for 10 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Make sure to stir frequently so the sugar does not burn! Once thickened let cool for an hour. In the meantime, take a pretty glass and stick it in the freezer to get frosty. If you have a fridge that will crush ice for you, great! Otherwise, crush it the best way you know how. To prepare cocktail, combine 1 tablespoon of your Pamplemousse simple syrup, crushed ice, a shot of your favorite vodka, and sparkly La Croix in a cocktail shaker and shake what yah' mama gave yah’. Finally grab your frosty glass, filled halfway with more crushed ice, pour the cocktail and garnish with a lemon wedge. Voila!
Until next time! I'll catch y'all for cocktails at intermission.
Photography by Veer Surapaneni
Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Freddy Mercury, and quite recently George Michael and Sharon Jones… What do these rockstars all have in common? That’s right, they’re dead. Nevertheless, those who know their music recognize that because of their multiple albums and top hits, their melodies and their stories live on. Immortalized in the sound waves that pump through our headphones, these rock n roll legends have never really left us.
The Rec Room, located on the east side of downtown Houston across from Minute Maid park (go ‘stros), is just the spot you are looking for if in need of some dead rockstar mourning. However, you won’t find any tears (at least the sad ones) or sorrow here…
On a mission to mix-up the usual Friday night routine, I headed out to the second annual Dead Rockstar Sing-A-Long Club, celebrating the music of George Michael and Sharon Jones at the Rec Room. What I now adoringly like to refer to as “Karaoke on crack.”
After a short walk from our dinner spot, we arrived at the Rec Room. From the moment we walked in the door, it was clear we were about to experience a night to remember!
Side Note: Each audience member receives a songbook with lyrics for all of the numbers to be sung, just in case one needs a little lyrical help.
The Dead Rockstar sing-a-long has no intermission, so pre-show drinks were quite necessary. As wine and beer were our options, in their adorably decorated bar, we went with a
2016 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir from Sokol Blosser Winery (Dayton, Oregon)
With subtle notes of fruity deliciousness and just a hint of that dry finish one looks for in a Rosé, I was completely blown away and ready for a second glass. (Do I sound like a wine aficionado yet !?!)
(To our delight, the Rec Room encourages you to not only grab drinks in their bar before the show,
but continue to drink them in their theatre throughout the production. Double YAS!)
Now, finally getting on to the performance…
the lights lowered and after a brief introduction by the house manager, the show began.
First up, the crowd favorite “Faith” by George Michael. With the initial guitar lick, the small but mighty crowd went wild. As a life-long “choir girl” I have often experienced the exhilarating feeling of group singing, but this was something different, quite otherworldly and unique. It wasn’t until the final number, “Freedom”, a George Michael must, that I finally began to understand what I was feeling. As the song dwindled, we all joined in on a final chorus that fades into the outro and ended in a roaring applause. While the cast of this production was quite impressive and full of talent, I’d like to think that we were also applauding our sing-a-long participation as well. Go team!
As a classical musician, one of my biggest pet peeves is the exclusivity the genre often perpetuates. The Rec Room cultivated an experience that was not only inclusive, but collaborative.
Classical world, take note.
Overall, I have always believed that music has the power to unite.
Maybe it was the wine, but there was a distinct buzz in the air that I am confident all could feel.
One of excitement, reverence, inspiration, and revelation.
These Rockstars may be dead, but their songs live on and “Gotta have some faith in the sound.”
Until next time rockstars, i'll catch y'all for cocktails at intermission!
Over the last year or so, several people have recommended Axelrad Beer Garden's
Wednesday night Jazz. As this colorful beer garden often feels like a second home to me, I figured it would be a great first stop for Cocktails at Intermission!
Hunkered down under an umbrella, while enjoying a typical afternoon Houston shower, I began my evening at Axelrad beer garden. After a long day of consultant work, this was EXACTLY what I needed. While I waited for my friends to arrive (fellow music lovers of course) I began to peruse the bar menu and make my pre-concert drink choice. After a minute or so I spotted the frozen beverage machine in the corner and happily decided “challenged accepted.”
So, without hesitation, I asked the waiter what the frozen drink of the week was (?)
His answer: “Frozen Black Lemonade”. My face: gif. for effect to the right...
Nevertheless, I’m always down to try something new. To my surprise, this frosty beverage was delicious! Basically, it turned out to be a frozen vodka lemonade with a bit of “activated charcoal”. Interestingly, activated charcoal has been popping up in juice bars everywhere for its detoxifying abilities, however, I think the vodka may have negated that effect … Nevertheless, I really dug it! This atypical cocktail ingredient lent a slightly smoky aftertaste that I thought was a brilliant pairing for the jazz yet to come.
<<<<<< LOOK AT THAT COCKTAIL!
Moving on to the music, after settling in with my slice of cheese pizza from Luigi’s (literally one of my favorite pie spots in town), my friends and I chose a spot a few tables back from the stage and braced ourselves for the smooth tunes of the evening.
To our surprise, the band was not only made up by legendary and Grammy award winning drummer Mark Simmons (former member of the Al Jarreau band) but, local legend and guest Sax & Flute player Kelly Dean. Along with these two fine musicians were the band leader and pianist who brought the house down with his #killer solos and the smooth bass guitarist, both of whom I didn’t have a chance to grab names of (blame owed to the yummy cocktails!) They began with the famous Chick Corea piece “500 miles high”, setting the stage for an evening of classic jazz standards, embellished by expert Piano, Drum, Bass guitar, Sax, and Flute solos. As a particularly new musical resident of Houston, it was a pleasant and welcome surprise to hear legends, literally in what feels like my own back yard. While some will say the jazz scene in Houston died years ago, these guys represented that it is definitely alive and well.
As the music swelled, humidity dissipated, and light turned to dark, Axelrad, provided the perfect backdrop and cocktail offering for another beautiful Wednesday in #HTX.
P.S. I definitely went back for seconds of Frozen Black Lemonade at intermission ;)!
Recipe: Frozen Charcoal Lemonade Cocktail
Makes approximately 8 cocktails
12 ounces vodka (As a good Texan, I always choose Tito’s!)
12 ounces frozen lemonade concentrate
Zest of 1 lemon
24 ounces cold water
2 Teaspoons Activated Charcoal
Lemon slices for garnish
In a shallow freezer safe pan mix the lemonade concentrate, vodka, water, activated charcoal, and lemon zest. Freeze mixture overnight or about eight hours. When ready to serve, remove from freezer and fork the mixture into glasses. By using a fork you can break up the frozen mixture similar to the steps when making a granita. To finish off the cocktail and for extra effect, add a slice of lemon to each glass. Salute!
In life, it is often necessary to pause and take what I like to call an “intermission”.
Breath. Reflect. Eat.
All reasons to take an intermission.
In the performing arts world, intermissions are necessary and needed by the musicians, actors, dancers… etc. for the same exact reasons.
In this blog, I intend to not only introduce you to the wonderful world of classical music (and beyond) & the drinks/food that come along with it, but, discuss the necessary intermissions myself, friends, colleagues, and maybe even you have deemed necessary in life.
So, leave the judgment at the door, soak in the beautiful sounds, bottoms up on the artisanal beer, and brace yourself for the journey.
As for me, I’ll meet you for cocktails at intermission.