American Masters
Lisa Coston Sings Bolcom's Cabaret Songs

Laura Martier
Sings Jazz

A Night at the Opera
Steve Kelley and Elizabeth Hogue
Tim Rice
A Soldier's Tale


Gerry Errante: 50 Years in Music

      Our congratulations to F. Gerard Errante who played a concert commemorating fifty years in music at Chandler Recital Hall, February 24, 2003. The format was a history of the clarinet from its beginnings through the present day, with conversation and demonstration by Mr. Errante, a performer of international stature. He began with a piece by Jacob Van Eyck (1589-1657) for sopranino chalumeau, a folk instrument and precursor of the clarinet. We were also treated to a Handel sonata, some French pieces and art songs by Schumann, Brahms and Schubert with the clarinet as the voice of the singer.

      Very modern pieces were included: Tango (1990) by Richard Vella, Sonata (1989) by David Baker and Silent Tears (1999) by Mr. Errante and John Toomey. This latter piece is for clarinet with electronic processing and pre-recorded electronics and was intriguing enough to prompt this listener to buy a CD recording that includes it. The program closed with a Benny Goodman tribute. The collaborators for this lovely evening were Janet Kriner, cello and Oksana Lutsyshyn, Ruth Easterling Winters and Charles Woodward on piano. The reception that followed offered good food and even better conversation. A gala occasion indeed.

Norfolk Chamber Consort: American Masters

      Lisa Coston demonstrated another facet of her vocal talent when she sang five of William Bolcom's twelve Cabaret Songs with texts by Arnold Weinstein, accompanied by Ruth Winters. Her thespian talents expressed in subtle ways conveyed the mood of each song from sad resignation in Waitin' to the broad humor tinged with loss in George. Toothbrush Time, Oh Close the Curtain and Amor the best known of the cycle were a joy to hear with Ms. Coston's clear diction and perfect sense of timing. She owns these songs.

      The concluding concert of the season by the Norfolk Chamber Consort was given at Chandler Recital Hall on April 7, 2003. The program opened with three Piano Preludes for violin and piano by George Gershwin, transcribed by Jascha Heifetz and played with a sweet tone by Amanda Armstrong, violinist and Ms. Winters' commanding presence at the piano. Even though we enjoyed Leonard Bernstein's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano with Gerard Errante and Ruth Winters, we liked it even better when they were joined by Amanda Armstrong to play the modern, quirky, precise piece Slang (1994) by Libby Larsen (b.1950), the youngest composer represented on this program. The many entrances for the instrumentalist were breathtaking when performed with such clarity and precision by this excellent trio.

      The program concluded with a set of songs for soprano and jazz quartet made up of pianist John Toomey, Jimmy Masters on bass, Eddie Williams saxophone and Rich Mossman on drums. The lights in the hall were lowered to accent the stage lighting as the miked vocalist Laura Martier and the quartet began with Harpo's Blues by Phoebe Snow. The rich, full sound was somewhat overwhelming after the acoustic chamber music, but we adjusted and enjoyed music with a different orientation in the sound spectrum of our world. Guinevere by David Crosby, My Back Pages by Bob Dylan and Buy and Sell by Laura Nyro followed with vocal solos sharing the stage with instrumental ones. It was fun to hear jazz played by very committed performers in an acoustically excellent space and with smokey vocal tones but with clean air! We were offered an encore and the audience applauded until it was delivered: Where is Love from the musical Oliver, performed by Ms. Martier and Mr. Toomey.

      We chatted with Laura Martier who lives on the Outer Banks, has two teenage sons and several CDs to her credit. For now her career is limited but in four years her children will be off to college and she will be free to sing. The four songs are available by Ms. Martier and Mr. Toomey on the CD Intersection, the debut release of VSOJAC Records. Jack Frieden of WHRO's Vocal Scene of Jazz produced the CD with Jimmy Masters, tonight's double bass player.

Norfolk Chamber Consort Opens 36th Season

      Outstanding playing and innovative repertory are the hallmarks of this group of dedicated musicians. On September 20, 2004 at Chandler Recital Hall we heard the first of four programs in the 2004-2005 season series titled A Night at the Opera. A piano duet of Bizet's Overture to Carmen, with Allen Shaffer and Charles Woodward at the piano, began the evening with some flash and a sense of fun.

      Mozart operas dominated the evening. In these troubled times Mozart's exuberant and playful music is a welcome gift. The fine dramatic coloratura soprano Elizabeth Hogue, a five year resident of Tidewater and heard last season at Virginia Opera as Queen of the Night, paired with baritone Steve Kelley in two duets. As Zerlina in La ci darem la mano form Don Giovanni, Hogue showed she could deal with the Don and Mozart quite well. In Bei Männern, welche Lieb Fühlen from Die Zauberflöte. she and Mr. Kelley acted out the conflict of the couple by circling the piano but as they resolved their differences their voices blended beautifully. Charles Woodward at the piano gave a fine finish to these pieces. Later Michael Daniels on cello joined Mr. Woodward to perform Beethoven's Variations on Bei Männern, welche Lieb Fühlen from Die Zauberfölte. The variations were typical of Beethoven, logical and inventive and somehow a little predictable until the fourth movement, which was lyrical with a long solo piano opening joined by a gentle cello creating much beauty. The fifth and last movement was vigorous with bursts of plucked cello strings.

      The entire second half of the program was a woodwind octet, Harmoniemusik, tunes from Don Giovanni arranged by Johann Georg Trübensee (1746-1813). The thirteen melodies were played by some of Tidewater's finest instrumentalists including Sherie Aguirre and George Corbett, oboes; F. Gerard Errante and Dennis Zeisler, clarinets; David Savige and James Nesbit, bassoons; and David Wick and Alicia Waite, horns. The performance was serious, not with all the polish and elegance that Mozart's music can have. Was it the arrangement?

      As a remembrance of Tim Rice (1933-2000), Virginia Beach music teacher and composer, Allen Shaffer introduced his friend's music and then conducted it. Fully Clothed in Armor with Her Shield and Spear, Athena Emerged from the Forehead of Zeus, Opus 19 is a comic theater piece with Yun Zhang on violin joining Michael Daniels on cello. This is music of Mozart once-removed with an atonal edge - Mozart just slightly out of tune. Steve Kelley, as Zeus, complains of pain and dizziness that consumes him with fear and paranoia. He accuses his wife Hera, Elizabeth Hogue, of placing an image of pain in his head so she can smile at his suffering. Contradicting himself, he asks for comfort from her and she by turns gives him red grapes, green grapes, a kumquat, seaweed, etc. All of these strange exotic cravings continue until they dash off stage to the hospital, only to have Hera return after a charming musical interlude to declare "It's a girl." If from my description the humor sounds labored, let me say that it was saved by the acting and vocal skills of Ms. Hogue and Mr. Kelley who gave us quite a show.

Additional Innovative Repertory Coming Soon

      Norfolk Chamber Consort will feature two vocal musical treats on their second and third programs. On November 22 Lisa Coston will be featured in J.S. Bach's Cantata 169, Gott Soll allein mein Herze haben. This Bachfest will also include sonatas and one concerto. On Valentine's Day 2005 baritone Christopher Mooney will sing selections from Robert Schumann's Liederkreis with Charles Woodward at the piano.

      The rest of the program will include a trio and three romances by Clara Schumann and a fantasy by Robert Schumann. The final program entitled The Archduke features two of our favorite pianists, Oksana Lutsyshyn and Andrey Kasparov, playing Beethoven's Grosse Füge arranged for piano duet by the composer, and much more.

Stravinsky and The Soldier's Tale

      Last season the 35th Anniversary of the Consort offered a major treat, music by Stravinsky on March 29, 2004 at Chandler Hall. The first half included his chamber work Pastoral (1933). Originally a vocalise, here the violin played by Lesa Bishop is the "voice" with a lovely singing tone accompanied superbly on piano by Oksana Lutsyshyn.

      F. Gerard Errante brought to life Three Pieces (1919) for solo clarinet. In the first piece the meter changes with each bar of the music. The second piece was very exciting and the third, to this listener, was as if a picture by Picasso in his cubist period was translated into music.

      Ms. Lutsyshyn returned to the stage and offered us Serenade in A (1925) where the regal opening quickly gives way to gentler tones only to return briefly. The other movements show an influence by Bach on this modern musical language. The precise playing delineated the complexity of the piece though she created the illusion of effortlessness.

      The second half of the program was The Soldier's Tale (1918). During the First World War Stravinsky was intensely preoccupied with Russian folk music but in this piece he moves toward a broader influence. In The Royal March the influence is the Spanish paso doble band. In other pieces we hear tango and ragtime and then there are the chorales in the dramatic climax. (Grove Dictionary of Music). The tale is told in words by a Narrator, Robert Randolph; Soldier, Steve Kelley and the Devil, Robert Burchett. Three dancers create the action and the music is continuous, played by a chamber group led by Dennis Zeisler. The choreography was by Amanda Kinzer, sets and lighting by Mark Curtis and the production was coordinated by Amanda Bernick.

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