If you’ve ever yearned to have a signed book by Dale Chihuly, this Sunday is your chance. From 3-4 p.m. Nov. 24 (book sales 2-3:30 p.m.) the glass maestro will be signing copies of six book titles at the Museum of Glass to benefit the Hilltop Artists, a non-profit Chihuly founded to give free glass-blowing tuition to youth from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds.
Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma. Requires museum admission: $12 adults/$10 military, students, seniors. 866-4-MUSEUM, museumofglass.org
When the Tacoma Symphony selection committee meets this weekend to decide which of their four conducting candidates to recommend for the orchestra’s musical directorship, they’ll have a difficult choice. Each of the three that visited earlier this year – Sarah Ioannides in February, Paul Haas in May, Kevin Rhodes in October – showed great strengths for the job. Ioannides pulled an intense, unified sound out of the orchestra, Haas charmed the audience with a rock-star ease, Rhodes swept through Rachmaninoff (and the post-concert Q&A) with passion. But last Sunday at the Pantages, the final candidate Scott Speck took himself out of the equation with a humble attitude, a talent for verbal communication and a musicality that brought new expression to that old symphonic warhorse, Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony, and endeared him to many at the post-concert Q&A.
But Speck also showed that he’s got some good programming ideas. He began with the pounding “Funeral for Akhnaten” by Philip Glass, a minimalist piece that he introduced with a conversational explanation and played with energy, if not excitement. Unfortunately there were too many messy spots in the tom-toms and upper string spiccato to achieve that hypnotically alien effect Glass can attain, and Speck didn’t do much with the dynamic architecture until the final fortissimo.
Both conductor and orchestra proved flawless, however, in the Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 1 which followed. Synching completely with soloist Oksana Ezhokina, the TSO romped through the martial back-up with crispness and fine balance, along with sensitive clarinet solos and smooth bassoon in the second movement.
Ezhokina, meanwhile, proved just why she’s in charge of the piano department at PLU and in demand as a soloist. With crystal clear articulation and lovely light pedaling (and a ruffly purple dress) she flowed through Beethoven’s ideas with a sure touch, contrasting Debussian ethereality in the upper register with punches of sforzandi, painting a translucent picture even through stormy layers. A thoughtful but never ponderous second movement moved into a third that wasn’t quite furious enough but captured the composer’s manic wit.
And then, Tchaikovsky. It takes an imaginative conductor to wring out new things from this old chestnut, but Speck did it. After a thoughtful introduction explaining the fate theme and emotional journey in an articulate way that would be perfect for the Tacoma community, he went on to interpret these with direction that was clear and insightful yet minus any narcissistic melodrama. He kept the opening strings hushed but emphasized the forte-pianos; he pulled a big, hard-edged sound with the tight brass fanfares cutting through the edge of comfort. Logical, highly musical phrasing gave meaning to the magical final bass chord of the first movement, the sweet celli solo in the second, the airy chittering violins of the third. Amazingly, the dramatic pizzicato chords of the second movement were completely together – another testimony to Speck’s skill and partnership with the orchestra – and by the time the fourth movement soared to its triumphant close, with threatening brass and timpani and piercing woodwind, Speck was working as one with the orchestra in communicating something quite new.
The Tacoma Symphony’s next concert will be “Sounds of the Season” on Dec. 7 and 8; the orchestra will announce the new musical director in early 2014. 253-272-7264, tacomasymphony.org
English and dramatic aren’t words that always go together. But at its Rialto concert last Saturday night the Northwest Sinfonietta made them fit like a kid glove. Three Englishmen from three different centuries (17th-century Purcell, 19th-century Elgar and 20th-century Britten) were played like Shakespeare characters in a dramatically-lit concert that plumbed every depth of emotion through committed string playing and a marvelously expressive tenor soloist, Christopher Cock.
The drama began with Purcell’s dark “Chacony” in G minor. Director Christophe Chagnard began with a somewhat turgid tempo, but went on to elicit every possible hue from this rolling, funereal passacaglia: From the passionate opening through waves of quiet acceptance, anguish, forcefulness, hope and then silence, the 22 Sinfonietta strings played with the clear, pellucid texture of a period ensemble without being afraid of romantic legato and vibrato.
Then came the first of two works honoring the centenary of 20th-century composing icon Benjamin Britten. His “Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings” isn’t just a stunning journey through harmony and scoring, it’s also an ode to English poetry – and tenor Christopher Cock brought this out in spades. With clear diction (though printed words would have been nice, for those of us who haven’t memorized Tennyson and Keats) and palpable expression, he sang through the movements with a golden tenor that radiated the translucent emotion of these pieces. Hornist Ryan Stewart gave solid backup, but unfortunately lacked similar drama, missing some key opportunities in the echoes of the prelude and the virtuosity of the “Hymn to Diana.” Throughout, the orchestra followed Chagnard with beautiful tone painting: the fading golden light on castle walls, the dark sinuousness of Blake’s “Elegy,” the threatening bass in the “Dirge” fugue, the elflike lightness of the “Hymn” and the final shimmering sleep.
Dimming the stage lights to the two soloist spots and stand-lights like candles was a brilliant move here, bringing out the shadowed drama of the poetry and the magic of the final offstage horn.
More Elgar followed after intermission – the “Introduction and Allegro,” played with warm sound and great unison of thought by the orchestra spread dramatically out across the width of the stage. This allowed literal sound movement, as the theme was tossed aurally from far-left violins to far-right basses and back to the central quartet. It’s a joy to hear such a skillful string section play such idiomatic music with such commitment and enjoyment.
And finally, more Britten – the “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.” Not often played in the Northwest, and never by this group, which showed in some messy sections (the final fugue, the Romance). Overall, though, they captured the immense variety in the piece, from the German army jackboots to the ‘30s cabaret nostalgia, from the frenetic Italian strumming to the misty chant.
The only disappointing part of the evening was a rather weird inclusion of the slow section of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” march – otherwise known as “Land of Hope and Glory.” There’s definitely something very British about how this is sung by a swaying, standing, devoted crowd at the last night of the BBC Proms concerts, but sung by a bewildered American audience who doesn’t know the tune or the words (or even why they’re singing it) the effect falls flat.
The Northwest Sinfonietta’s next concert is “Soundscapes” on Feb. 14-16. 253-383-5344, northwestsinfonietta.org
Free for All’s “Drunken Telegraph”
The Broadway Center’s “Free for All” year-long series continues this weekend with the next edition of “The Drunken Telegraph,” an evening of tall stories from locals. 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15. Free with online registration. Studio III (up the silver elevator), 915 Broadway, Tacoma. 253-591-5894, broadwaycenter.org
Ballet demystified at Wheelock library
Thanks to the Sigma Alpha Iota music fraternity, ballet audiences can get a peek into the mysterious world of choreography. Tacoma City Ballet director Erin Ceragioli, who has created a 20-minute new prequel to “The Nutcracker” for her company’s production this December, will demonstrate just how a ballet is choreographed. 11 a.m.-Nov. 16. Free. Wheelock library, 3722 N. 26th St., Tacoma. 253-617-7811, tacomapubliclibrary.org, tacomacityballet.com
“The Ladies of Lyric and Song”
Tacoma opera soprano and director Erin Guinup presents her new one-woman show “The Ladies of Lyric and Song,” a free concert covering 100 years of musical theater from operetta to rock told through its female characters. 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16. Free. Schneebeck Hall, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma. 253-879-3236, tickets.pugetsound.edu
Taiko drum blizzard hits UPS
Tacoma’s got a blizzard coming: Canadian taiko drum ensemble Fubuki Daiko, which translates as “Blizzard Drums,” is coming to the University of Puget Sound. Used to frighten enemies and inspire troops in ancient Japan, taiko drums unite athleticism, dance and pounding rhythm in one unique experience. 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19. $12. Schneebeck Hall, UPS, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma. 253-879-3236, tickets.pugetsound.edu
It’s always exciting to have a new theater space in town. How big is it? What’s the atmosphere? What kind of drama does it make possible? Dukesbay Theater, newly opened upstairs in the Merlino Building, is exactly the kind of permanent black-box space Tacoma has been wanting for years. And the first production – Alfred Uhry’s classic “Driving Miss Daisy” – is exactly the kind of theater that fills both the physical space and an ongoing gap in local productions. Best of all, Sunday’s show on opening weekend showed a grace of cast and crew that overcame technical issues to offer a powerful, immersive experience.
Dukesbay isn’t the first such small space folks have tried downtown. Directors have made over spaces from the Mecca to Commencement Bay Coffee to Urban Grace chapel in an attempt to creatively reuse space for theater. But Dukesbay seems more permanent than this – they’ve taken on a lease and installed a clever system of movable black curtains, plus a lighting grid, tiny change room and about 40 chairs for flexible seating. (See dukesbay.org for a fascinating slideshow on how they transformed the space this summer.)
The result, for “Driving Miss Daisy,” is excellent. Configured in an intimate, shallow proscenium setting, the theater puts you smack in the middle of both car and living room of Daisy Werthen, the sharp-tongued old Atlanta lady who reluctantly accepts the fact that she needs a driver – a black one, who’s not afraid of saying exactly what he thinks and who eventually becomes her dearest friend. Part of Dukesbay’s mission (they’ve been nomadic for a few years) has been to present theater that opens up race – both for the actors and the audience. This is much needed in Tacoma: When was the last time you saw an Asian child in the von Trapp family, or an African-American Dorothy? The other topic it opens up is age, and “Daisy” is a wonderful portrait of how life affects us as we get to the end of it.
Even better than the play itself and the intimate space, though, is this cast. With consummate professionalism they moved through technical problems (no spots in the last few scenes), wardrobe malfunctions and the sheer challenge of acting two feet away from the audience to soar into a place which held watchers transfixed (and applauding between every scene). As Daisy, Syra Beth Puett was quite perfect, balancing old Southern manners with feistiness, and moving from sharp independence to extreme old age with a sure touch. As Hoke, Malcolm West captured perfectly the mix of bluntness and kindness that makes this character sing, sending the audience into gales of laughter with his wry facial contortions in the driver’s seat and wringing deep emotion out of Hoke’s final actions. Robert Geller wasn’t perfect as Daisy’s long-suffering son Boolie but he was the foil to the magnificent partnership of the other two. Accents, period character and a genteel pastel set all helped seal the sure direction by Julie Halpin.
In 90 minutes of pure, uninterrupted theater, “Daisy” is the kind of production that’ll send you away changed in heart, no matter how well you already know it. Don’t miss it.
7:30 p.m. Nov. 15, 16, 21, 22, 23; 2 p.m. Nov. 17. $15 (includes coffee and baked goods). Dukesbay Theater, 508 6th Ave (upstairs), Tacoma. Reservations recommended: 253-267-0869, dukesbay.org
“Exploration” of new music for violin and piano at UPS
UPS faculty violinist Maria Sampen collaborates with PLU’s Oksana Ezhokina on piano for an innovative concert exploring new music for violin: the premieres of Mark Phillips’ “Violin Power” with an interactive digital accompaniment, and Andrew Mead’s Sonata no. 3 movement VI “In Memoriam M.B.,” written in memory of composer Milton Babbitt. Also on the virtuosic program are Stravinsky’s “Divertimento,” Korngold’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and Sonata no. 6 by Ysaÿe. 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8. $12.50 general/$8.50 seniors, students, military and UPS faculty and staff/free for UPS students. Schneebeck Hall, University of Puget Sound, North 15th Street and North Union Avenue, Tacoma. 253-879-6013, tickets.pugetsound.edu
Trick your eyes at Tacoma Art Museum
A new installation just opened at Tacoma Art Museum plays with perception and visual illusion: “Optic Nerve,” works from the museum’s permanent collection (some of which have never been displayed before) from op art artists like Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, Spencer Moseley and Francis Celentano. Also opening this weekend is “Shimmering Tree,” projection art by L.A.-based artist Jennifer Steinkamp that cycles through one year in the life of a tree. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. third Thursdays. $10 adult/$8 student, senior, military/free for five and under and 5-8 p.m. third Thursdays. 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. 253-272-4258, tacomaartmuseum.org
Museums offer Veteran’s Day events, discounts
Three Tacoma museums are offering special programs and discounts for the military this weekend for Veteran’s Day. At the Washington State History Museum, all residents of Joint Base Lewis-McChord and all veterans get free admission Monday. Special public events include a scientific wooden toy-making workshop (10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.), Bryan Willis’ stage adaptation of the novel “If All the Sky Were Paper,” with local actors reading from war-time letters, and an all-day scavenger hunt. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday and Nov. 11. $9.50 general/$7 seniors, students/free for ages five and under and all military on Nov. 11. 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. 253-272-9747, washingtonhistory.org
At the Buffalo Soldier Museum, local speakers will talk on the history of the holiday, care of the flag and acknowledgement of organizations. Noon-1 p.m. Nov. 11. Free. 1940 S. Wilkeson St., Tacoma. 253-272-4257, buffalosoldierstacoma.org
The Museum of Glass joins over 20 other studios and schools in Veterans Glassblowing Day this Saturday, offering free admission and discounted workshops to veterans and families. Glass fusing workshops on the hour 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 9 ($20/person, ages six and over.) Museum free to military and families 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 11. 1801 Dock St., Tacoma. 866-4-MUSEUM, museumofglass.org
David Roholt paintings at PLU
David Roholt’s paintings balance the abstract and the representational, contrasting color and surface texture and inspired by everyday scenes. The Pierce College instructor shows work in a solo exhibit at Pacific Lutheran University through November. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday through Nov. 13. Free. Ingram Hall, 12180 Park Ave. S., Tacoma. 253-535-7373, plu.edu
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