Tag Archives: Charles Sebastian

Arts

The Mason Star

If you are an avid reader and love good stories, especially those spun by Kentucky writers, the name Bobbie Ann Mason should be familiar. For over 35 years Mason has developed into a strong literary and cultural presence. Known for her ability to weave a strong tale and to accurately describe the characters and ways of the folk in the Bluegrass neck-of-the-woods, she has reached into imaginations, imprinting minds with indelible pictures that linger long after the last page.

We wondered to what sort of star Bobbie Ann Mason hitches her literary wagon. Every writer has their own writing process. For some, it’s always a matter of following a step-by-step guide. For others, the process is a routine that comes naturally.

Writing for me,” said Mason, “is like solving a mystery, doing a puzzle and arranging all of the pieces together, finding and fitting the different parts.”

The ongoing themes of solving puzzles, intricate relationships, and war pervade her works. Originating ideas, cultivating them, and bringing them to a level that has proved worthy of her many awards is part of a process that has been developed and refined through many short stories, novels, a biography, an autobiography, and an upcoming novella.

Born May 1, 1940, close to Mayfield, Kentucky, Bobbie Ann spent much of her time on the family farm, reading. The tranquility and isolation of her parents’ dairy farm ignited a curiosity about lifestyles that seemed as though they must be happening in some parallel universe. “It was an isolated corner of Kentucky, far from any city. My parents encouraged me to read, but there were few books available, certainly nothing called literature,” she said in a recent interview with Transatlantica.

This began Mason’s adventures into the popular young adult literature of the time that eventually led her to all things literary: the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew mysteries, now-classics that were on the bedside table of every young girl in 1950s America.

It was perhaps her early experiences with mysteries and the awakening of her inquisitive nature that informed this ongoing theme in her work.

“A concrete detail will hit my imagination,” she said. “For instance, I may see a man wearing a carnation and wonder ‘why a carnation?’ Or perhaps the man appears drunk and I ask, ‘what is he drunk on?’ Maybe there’s something else going on. Once I have established that image, it seems to unfold from there. Sometimes it could be a word or a detail, maybe just a sound.”

As a student at the University of Kentucky Mason discovered Hemingway, Salinger, and Fitzgerald, delivering Bobbie Ann into a whole new world of literary possibilities.

Her process began to develop, always starting with key images that initially set it in motion, seemingly random pieces that eventually coalesce.. “Then the images start to get translated into words and the words lead me, often surprise me, with where they go and what they do. Very often it is an image of some sort that sparks the inspiration for a story. That stick of dynamite found in a box of letters may very well have been the trigger for a new yarn. In the opening of Shiloh, Norma Jean is lifting weights. The novel In Country was initially inspired by the sight of a couple of teenagers selling flowers on a street corner.”

In_country-330

“I’ve always been fascinated with mysteries,” she explained. “It was this, perhaps, that led me to Vladimir Nabokov, whose Ada was the subject of my dissertation. In graduate school I read quite a bit of him and was thrilled with the way he wrote. His life story was fascinating as well, being exiled from Russia and then becoming one of the foremost prose stylist in English.”

By her late-thirties, Bobbie Ann was writing short stories. The New Yorker published her first in 1980. “It took me a long time to discover my material,” she said. “It wasn’t a matter of developing writing skills, it was a matter of knowing how to see things. And it took me a very long time to grow up. I’d been writing for a long time, but was never able to see what there was to write about. I always aspired to things away from home, so it took me a long time to look back at home and realize that that’s where the center of my thought was.”

Mason doesn’t search for material. Instead, she relies on serendipity. ”It can be scary. A novel can bubble up in the space of a minute. It just kind of erupts. Then in five minutes you realize you’ve just committed the next five years of your life.”

At first, as she began writing In Country, Mason didn’t know that it would become a story about Viet Nam. “It backed into that eventually. It’s ultimately about Sam, the main character, not that particular war. It could have just as easily been set during World War II.”

The story found its way to the big screen in 1989 as a film produced and directed by Norman Jewison, starring Bruce Willis and Emily Lloyd. The screenplay by Frank Pierson and Cynthia Cidre was based on Mason’s novel.

Her biggest challenge? “The hardest part is the beginning. Working toward getting enough to go with. For example, writing a novel. It may take me a year to develop enough material to motivate me to go further. Then when I have a draft I’ve got something to work with. At that point it gets easier and it gets fun. The hardest part’s the blank page. The words reveal things. It’s all about language, which is music, the rhythm of it, the sound of it. The visual imagery: I try to find some way to put it all together, and then maybe I’ll have a story.”

Like many writers, Bobbie Ann goes through a lot of drafts, going back over the material, honing, shaping, reworking. “The coalescing doesn’t just come along. It’s hard work. It’s hard getting a perspective on it and being critical of what it means. I flash back and forth between a creative process of not thinking, just writing, and a critical process where I stand back and look and say ‘what have I done? Does this work?’ I may have more feeling for this passage with notes to myself for how I can improve it for the next draft.”

Mason said her stories are stitched together from the tiny details she has learned to look for in daily life. “I’m an observer of detail. I notice what people have in their shopping carts at the grocery, what they are saying when I overhear them, what they’re wearing, what kinds of jobs they have.”

And then it becomes a matter of allowing herself to be carried along by the momentum of the emerging story. “You’re absorbed in this thing you’re watching and writing about.”

Girl_in_Blue_Beret_ppbk_cover-330

Bobbie Ann’s other works include The Girl in the Blue Beret; Elvis Presley; Feather Crowns; and Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail, the last two winners of the Southern Book Critics Circle Awards. 

Among the finest contemporary Southern writers, Mason has been the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Arts and Letters Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as the National Endowment for the Arts grant. She is also a former writer-in-residence at the University of Kentucky.

Check out Bobbie Ann’s website, where you will find a complete list of works, a wonderful video with Mason and Wendell Berry, and information about events.

BAM_in_Memphis-330

Arts

UK Students Present South Pacific

Whether you’re into musicals or not, Rodgers and Hammerstein is pretty hard to beat. South Pacific, which first appeared on Broadway in 1949, represents a definite high point in the duo’s efforts, with many well-known numbers and sets.

When the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre decided on South Pacific for part of its season, it was done with much community and patron support. Dr. Everett McCorvey, who is the Director of UK Opera Theatre and largely responsible for bringing the Department to worldwide attention, shares with us in the following hinterview the reason South Pacific was chosen and the many factors that go into making an outstanding opera theatre company.

CS:    South Pacific. Good, strong musical theatre.

EM:   We’re starting to highlight “classical” musicals, because the reality is a lot of students are doing crossovers. We’ll have the greatest impact as a young artist training program.

CS:    Aside from creating a great evening, that’s really the bottom line, isn’t it?  That the students get what they need to be successful.

EM:   Absolutely. We have students that are performing on Broadway, on TV.

The goal is to graduate singers who can work. We can’t overlook musical theatre, and just be classical opera, as Broadway is doing is very well. When we did Phantom of the Opera a few years ago, it was a huge success. We broke all the records at the Lexington Opera House. Then we did Les Misérables, then Sweeney Todd, and now South Pacific. We have to apply for the right from the companies to present these shows, so that becomes a factor as well.

CS:    Is this a trend for opera companies, blending musicals and operas in their seasons?

EM:   If you look at opera companies around the country, they’re doing the same thing.

CS:    How are the roles chosen from the student body?

EM:   We look in our program to see who’s ready to be featured and be on the big stage. We’re the opera company for the city, not just the university, so we have a big obligation regarding quality assurance. On the one side, we take our patrons very seriously and want to offer the best; we knew we had enough singers to fill South Pacific and it would be an exciting show for the public.

CS:    How big is the production?

EM:   It’s a great cast of about 40 singers and and orchestra of about 40. We’re using the set that was built for the South Pacific revival, which was used at the Lincoln Center in New York. Young people go to Broadway to see these shows more than they do pure opera these days. Opera companies are trying to engage the young people; we want them to attend the productions, otherwise it’s difficult for the art form to survive.

CS:    So this same phenomenon is definitely happening in other places?

EM:   In the next 10-12 years I predict opera companies will take over doing musicals and the other stuff. What’s interesting is that most of the shows that come back to Broadway are revivals; there are very few new shows.

South Pacific ran for almost 2000 performances after premiering in 1949. James. A. Michener wrote the book, Tales of the South Pacific, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 and became the germ of South Pacific, the musical. There have been many revivals and offshoots from the original, including a very successful 2008 Broadway revival.

CS:    How long or will this way of mixing musical theatre and opera continue?

EM:   The mission of our program is to be the best training program in the country. That being said, it’s important to me that we stay current. We are trending and trying to be a part of this new paradigm that is happening to American Musical Theatre. We will still do traditional opera as students must still be trained in this repertoire.

CS:    How many are currently in the program at UK?

EM:   About 133 in the Voice Program. 80-90 are undergraduates and 30-40 are graduates. We recruit from all over the world for our people.

CS:    So, when it comes time to sit down and roundtable about upcoming shows, what will teach the most and who you have in the student body become hot topics.

EM:   Of course. We vote on which shows are done. These include people who are voice teachers and voice coaches. We look at what stock we have and whether or not the show will work. We’re already talking about shows for the next year and the year after.

CS:    Tell me more about the cast of South Pacific.

EM:   Jenna Day, who was the former Miss Kentucky, plays Nellie Forbush. This was a role originated by Larry Hagman’s mother, Mary Martin, in the late 1940s. André Campelo plays Emile de Becque, a French ex-patriot. He plays it beautifully and has a great accent to go with it. For South Pacific, the challenge is that there is a lot of dialogue, and the singers have to be able to grab the nuances of the language. Typically for operas, they are played by people 35-50 years old, so we also have a decent age range of students between the undergraduate and graduate programs.

“Bali Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,” “Happy Talk,” “Younger Than Springtime” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” are all well-known and oft-performed pieces from South Pacific. Following is a link to a Mary Martin televised London performance from 1952:

CS:    It seems that students have to be more and more versatile in today’s world to be able to work; I’m sure competition is as thick or thicker today, yes?

EM:   Companies need these all-around arts people. People like Kelly O’Hare, who is making her Metropolitan Opera debut. The reality is the producers need the best performer, it doesn’t matter the particular skill; many skills are preferred. We’re looking at a more joint musical theatre program. Merged costume companies. We’re looking very hard at how we can collaborate, so we can serve the needs of the students. Once again, We want to ensure our graduates work when they get out. Ironically, they sometimes are our best recruiters.

CS:    Case in point?

EM:   Reginald Smith Jr. Earlier this year he won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. People see these awards and events on Facebook and Youtube and they seep into the public awareness. This includes, of course, potential students watching online and researching the best schools where they can hone their talents to eventually get work in the field they want.

CS:    Do you feel recruitment is a big issue at UK?

EM:   Alltech offers a big competition that recruits from everywhere and we bring in all kinds of people. They’ll send students to do concerts. Recruitment’s a big concern for any school, but it’s the usual deal: when big decisions have to be made for programs to be cut, the fine arts are always first. Ahead of the sciences, business and especially sports.

CS:    It seems that people are not weaned on the arts in the same way as the others you mentioned.

EM:   We work towards this with the young people so we develop arts appreciation into something else. Babies leave the hospital in UK basketball jerseys; fans are developed very purposely. We have Bourbon, horses, basketball and opera!

CS:    Patrons seem ready and eager to support.

EM:   Philanthropy in Lexington is at an all time high. I’m talking about individuals, not companies necessarily. They want to see UK at the top and they’re willing to support.

CS:    It seems opera at the University and State level has come so far, particularly since you’ve taken the helm. Many people agree. It’s not hyperbole.

EM:   It’s a collective effort, of course. I’m glad we’re growing in the right direction, growing students to their potentials and their employability.

CS:    With so many success stories, it seems that growth has been a constant factor over the last 15 years.

EM:   Definitely. The Richard Tucker Foundation publishes a list of companies each year that are the top in their field, and we were listed in that recently, which gave me a real thrill. We’re doing the right thing for our growth and our students.

CS:    Dr. McCorvey, as ever, it’s been wonderful talking with you.

EM:   Yes, thank you.

You can go to the Lexington Opera House website, where you will find info on South Pacific, tickets, and more on the seasons for the UK Opera Theatre and the Lexington Opera House.

http://www.lexingtonoperahouse.com/events/detail/uk-south-pacific

Photos by Philip Groshong Photography. AKA ‘Photo Phil’.

Arts

LexPhil Explores American Soundscapes

Following strong success in September with Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, the Lexington Philharmonic is at it again. The next adventure is slated for 7:30pm, October 23rd at the Singletary Center for the Arts: American Soundscapes, an evening of (you guessed it!) American composers. LexPhil will open with the more familiar: Aaron Copland’s Our Town, taken from Thornton Wilder’s play of the same title, and George Gershwin’s Catfish Row Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess. But then, the program looks to present and future with a performance of Travels in Time for Three, a newer work by American composer and musician Chris Brubeck.

Maestro Scott Terrell spoke to us recently about the upcoming concert, the musicians involved, and his bold vision for our symphony.

_MG_9403

CS: Time for Three: Zach DePue on violin, Nick Kendall on violin and Ranaan Meyer on double bass.

ST: Yes. Plus they’ll have a drummer with them that night.

CS: How did this develop?

ST: Four years ago we introduced them here which is a huge undertaking, as they have become their own genre. The audience was blown away by their virtuosity when they were here before.

CS: And this was an opportunity to have them back.

ST: Yes. They are an ensemble that has opened a lot of people’s eyes and brought audiences a different sound. They relax the concert experience as well. When we had them here a few years ago, they did a series of pieces written for them and by them. Since then composers have taken on writing pieces for them, such as Chris Brubeck and  Jennifer Higdon.

Enlarge

Chris-laughing-in-Chair
Chris Brubeck

CS: Brubeck is the composer of Travels in Time for Three, correct? Nice play on the group name.

ST: He was a good choice for someone to write a piece with such an unusual group. Chris composes concert music and is a great trombone player and jazz player. He has pedigree with his father.

CS: Dave Brubeck.

ST: Right. Chris had a one-of-a-kind musical education growing up and he has come into his own as a composer. Chris is deeply trained in Jazz, but this concerto is so broad in its variety of styles. This is his first big piece on our programming. When we had Time for Three here last time, they said Chris had written this piece for them, it was really dynamic and they would like to present this here.

CS: Tell me more about the piece itself.

ST: At times the piece is very baroque, while at other times you might hear a Jimi Hendrix-style sound. Travels debuted in 2010, and calls for the three guys, plus a drummer.

CS: This seems quite a bit different than the other two pieces: Our Town and Porgy and Bess.

ST: Gershwin was able to absorb the environment and create an opera that is definitely American, but is distinctly Gershwin in character. The honkytonk piano, the hurricane music with the ship bells, etc. All three composers had to adapt to their environment to create something new and fresh. There is also the sense of pushing boundaries away from the already-established.

CS: So, each of the pieces adapts to its times and perhaps pushes then-established boundaries, is that correct?

ST: Definitely. We forget that Copland was a big part of films and TV. Our Town was nominated for an Academy Award. It’s lesser- known Copland, but definitely his sound and color. It’s a lovely piece that doesn’t get performed very much; he adapted to his environment in the same way Gershwin did with Porgy and Bess. One would think Gershwin would not take on this subject-matter, being a composer from New York with so much ability and the experiences of the North. But, once again, we have that stepping-out-of-the-norm mentality, which is a trait that makes all three great.

CS: The pieces complement thematically as well as being new and older Americana.

ST: In all three of the pieces, you get a real sense of honesty. The intention of all three is very clear. They go together very well.

CS: And strongly American.

ST: American music is still Gershwin and Copland and in a newer, still-forming way, Chris. There’s a definite character in the sound world they create. They’re different, but American in their approach. Of course, Copland’s life and his output were tremendous: ballet, film scores, theatre, the versatility is unbelievable. He was also a product of his environment with his pieces for movies, which is where many composers found work and patronage. All three draw the best out of the orchestra. Genres gradually blur in these pieces. Today, Gershwin and Copland sound usual, because everyone has heard them and they have been labeled “The American Sound,” but they were daring in their day, just as Chris’s music is daring and expanding presently.

Below: Technical Sergeant Matthew C. Erickson performs Brubeck’s Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra with the NEC Symphonic Winds conducted by William Drury. Recorded live in NEC’s Jordan Hall on March 6, 2014.

Brubeck is coming to Lexington later this season on New Year’s Eve to perform with his quartet. He’s written a lot of wonderful pieces, including one composed with his father concerning the photographer Ansel Adams.

CS: Travels in Time for Three. A new and different piece, I trust?

ST: The piece is 35-minutes, so it’s decent-sized. It traverses all of these musical styles that are emblematic of the American musical scene. Time for Three started out as students doing their own thing and have spiraled into composers seeking them out and writing for them..

CS: What is so appealing to you about this group?

ST: They’re a very versatile group that is capable of taking the audience through the many genres and the music Chris has created. It’s extremely virtuosic and interesting. You’d be surprised if you saw the three of them in a nightclub without a drum set. They’re all highly-trained musicians, world-class players in their own right. and they defy expectations and they’re committed to the music they perform. This community heard them a few years ago, but I wanted to bring them back for a more substantial collaboration. I like what they stand for. They can jam with anybody. They are comfortable representations of what’s happening in music now.

Here’s a clip of Time for Three at the Heartland Music Festival:

(Note: After 15 years with the trio, Zach DePue, has decided to depart Time for Three in order to to dedicate 100 percent of himself to his role concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Zach’s successor is acclaimed solo violinist Nikki Chooi. According to the Time for Three website, “Nikki is appearing on selected dates with Time for Three during the 2015-16 season, fulfilling his schedule of international concert dates while starting to play as a full time member of the band. In coordination with his duties at the Indianapolis Symphony, Zach will intersperse appearances with TF3 throughout and until the end of the same season, helping Ranaan and Nick make the seamless transition. Nikki will take over fully beginning with the 2016-2017 season.” LexPhil confirms that Zach will be performing with the group in Lexington.)

CS: Can you tell us about other concerts that Time for Three will be performing while in Lexington?

ST: Right. It’s not just the average “drop-in and do the show” visit. They have the ability to connect with people in a very formal way, but also in a very grass-roots way. They are doing four pop-up concerts. One is the National Anthem at Keeneland on October 22. Another will be in the lobby atrium at UK Healthcare’s Chandler Hospital, and then another at Ethereal Brewing. They’re also performing our educational Discovery concert, currently sold-out with over 1400 students at Singletary. These students will experience how interactive and exciting Time for Three is to watch in action. And on Friday, October 23, the day of our concert, UK School of Music will host a Music Entrepreneurship Assembly with Time for Three. So, the Friday night concert is the culmination of many activities and partnerships that take place throughout the week.

CS: LexPhil partnered with UK HealthCare and the Saykaly Garbulinska Foundation for this concert.

ST: Yes, we’ve combined forces on a number of projects. It is really amazing, the connection between music and healing, and UK Healthcare recognizes the power of music and has worked with us for several years to bring live music into the healthcare environment. One of Time for Three’s appearances will be at Eastern State Hospital. The Saykaly Garbulinska Foundation is a supporter for this partnership as well as our bi-annual Composer-in-Residence program which will take place in April. We’re fortunate to have partners who have a deep appreciation for the arts in this community.

CS: It seems to be growing, getting stronger.

ST: We’re fortunate.

CS: Absolutely. Thanks again for your time and efforts, Scott.

ST: My pleasure.

American Soundscapes is October 23, 2015 at 7:30pm at the Singletary Center for the Arts. For the schedule of events and ticket info, please visit www.lexphil.org, phone (859) 233-4226 or email tickets@lexphil.org.

Arts

The Enchanting Ute Lemper: A New Year’s Concert to Remember

As 2014 comes to a close, Lexington bids farewell with a welcoming: a special New Year’s Eve performance of the incomparable chanteuse,  Ute Lemper.

Photo by Lucas Allen

Photo by Lucas Allen

The evening pays tribute to the sounds of the Moulin Rouge, including musical selections from Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose to Bertolt Brecht’s Surabaya Johnny.

The program begins with an orchestral Tribute Medley to the Moulin Rouge, concluding with Jacques Offenbach’s famous “Can-Can” from his satirical opera, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Ute Lemper takes the stage to perform classic French songs by some of the nation’s most beloved singers, Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. After intermission, the show continues with the orchestral and cabaret selections of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.

On the selection of Ute Lemper as the featured soloist of the NYE Celebration, LexPhil Music Director and Conductor, Scott Terrell describes Ute as, “an internationally acclaimed chanteuse that I am honored to bring to the LexPhil stage this season. Her range of cabaret songs from Edith Piaf to Bertolt Brecht will dazzle the audience for a truly memorable New Year’s Eve!”

Ms. Lemper, a native of Münster, Germany, spent her first eighteen years there, before traveling the world, living in Paris, and finally settling in New York City, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

I chatted by phone with Ms. Lemper, concerning her upcoming date in Lexington, her many awards and talents, and what makes her tick.

You lived in Germany until you were 18. What made you leave at that time and pursue the arts?

I was in the original Viennese production of Cats after studying in Vienna in the early 80s. This was after I graduated from the Dance Academy in Cologne and the Max Reinhardt Seminary Drama School in Vienna.

And this led to other opportunities?

Yes. Particularly playing the original European Sally Bowles in Cabaret. This was in Paris. Then Velma Kelley in Chicago. We did that in London and New York, and I won the Olivier Award in London for the performance.

Then voice-overs for films dubbed for German-speaking audiences?

They called me to do the voice of Ariel for Disney’s Little Mermaid and for Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the German-releases, yes.

But, more than anything, you’ve become known for singing Kurt Weill, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, and singers who have seemed absent in the last generation. Is that accurate?

I have quite a bit more in my repertoire, like show tunes and original songs I’ve written. As a matter of fact, I’ve been writing a lot more of my own material in recent years, but I became known for singing the songs of these artists. I put out an album in 1987 called Ute Lemper sings Kurt Weill, and it was a huge success. In the early-90s I followed it with a second album of Weill’s songs and it did well too. I do Weill songs in my performances, among other pieces.

What do you feel is the common thread in your performances? What are you trying to achieve?

One common thread is to make a journey through time, to bring people on an historical journey. Making classical sounds more contemporary. But I have also fallen into this niche of keeping alive many songs that have fallen by the wayside or in some cases were purposely forgotten.

Purposely Forgotten?

Yes. Like many of the Weill songs, which were abandoned in post-war Germany because they reminded the people who lived through those times of the horrors. It’s only many years later that they can be reflected upon and brought out into the light. The wounds were too deep for decades.

Photo by Lucas Allen

Photo by Lucas Allen

I imagine you feel a strong connection to this, having grown up in post-war Germany?

Yes, it is part of my heritage, but this also happened when I went to live in Paris.

What exactly?

When I lived as a Parisian, I found myself becoming an ardent pupil of the French chanson. As a result, I have incorporated many of Edith Piaf’s songs and Brel’s pieces into my show.

For a sampling, here is Ute performing Piaf’s La Vie en Rose.

So you’ve become something of a torchbearer for these artists who may very well have been left behind?. 

I’m not sure if they would have been left behind, but each of them speaks to a certain time and place and the music is very good. I feel drawn to these more cabaret-style pieces. At one point I was a dancer in Maurice Bejart’s company. I paint. I have many creative and artistic outlets, but the song is what I’m really known for and what I do the most. And with my performances, they are a mish-mash of many songs, with many histories behind them. Many of the songs from one artist can sound and feel different, however. Weill is a good case in point. Like so many of his contemporaries, he had the first half of his career in Europe, then came to the States. The songs from later in his canon have a different feel than those earlier songs. This is what cabaret should be: a blending of many different tones and feelings for variety and appeal.

(Ute was part of the German reunification of artists after the Wall was torn down in 1989. She performed in Roger Waters’ staging of Pink Floyd’s album The Wall, celebrating Germany’s historic move toward peace and solidarity.)

You were part of the German unification after the Wall fell?

Yes. It was and still is a complicated process, unifying the artists from East and West. While it’s had its challenges, there has been no other day like it in history. Unbelievable and overwhelming. Most artists had difficulty even expressing the feelings of it in their work, it was so intense and powerful. I wrote a song, Ghosts of Berlin, concerning it.

Do you feel the unification has been good for Germany, 25 years past the demolition of the Wall?

Absolutely. Today we face other issues, like Solidarity tax.

Solidarity Tax? 

When the Wall fell, a Solidarity tax was imposed on West Germany to rebuild East Germany. While this was supposed to last only a few years, to get East Germany on their feet, it continues to this day. While West Germans are perhaps bitter about the tax, there is no doubt that the freeing of East Germany, and the money used to rebuild it from the West is nothing but a success story. Sadly, this cannot be said for many similar situations in the European Union.

Do you feel the wounds and ghosts of the past have healed and settled enough to bring out many of these songs in places so affected by wartime?

I did a concert with Zubin Mehta back in 1988. There were at least 50 holocaust survivors, people with numbers on their arms, that attended. One is not sure about the healing and settling, even with sufficient time passing.

What’s the next exciting step for Ute Lemper?

I’ll be doing a 70 years of liberation concert in Rome. I’m showcasing songs that were written in the death camps. Most are in Yiddish and German. I’m finishing up a great project with Paul Coelho called 9 Secrets, from his work, Manuscripts found in Accra. I did the original music for it, so I’m very excited about that.

I also released an album of love songs based on the poems of Pablo Neruda.

Ute, thank you so much for your time. Lexington’s lucky to have you for this special night!

Of course. Thank you!

Photo by Lucas Allen

Photo by Lucas Allen

Tickets to the New Year’s Eve Celebration range from $25-$75 with $11 student tickets as available. Special seating is also available for parties of four with bottle service of champagne at prices of $500 for cabaret tables and $600 for box seating. Price of the special seating includes one bottle of champagne. Bottle service is limited to ticket holders over 21-years of age. Valet parking is available for $10 per car at the Short Street Entrance to the Lexington Opera House.

A New Year’s Eve Dinner at Portofino’s will be hosted following the concert by LexPhil for $75 per person. Tickets include a three-course prix fixe menu and Champagne toast, and must be purchased in advance by December 26, 2014.  20 percent of dinner ticket is tax-deductible, as allowed by law, and will benefit LexPhil.

Ute Lemper will perform at the Lexington Opera House on December 31st at 7:30. To purchase tickets, click here, or call (859) 233-4226.

Arts

Phyne Art: UnderMain’s Sebastian chats with Brian Greene

Physicist Brian Greene

Physicist Brian Greene

The Lexington Philharmonic recently presented Heroes: Eroica and Icarus in the orchestra’s Lexington Opera House debut. UnderMain music writer Charles Sebastian chatted with renowned physicist Brian Greene who conceived this modern retelling of the Greek myth of Icarus, replacing the sun of the original with a black hole in space.

First, some background: Eroica or Heroic Symphony was composed in 1804 and originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, though Beethoven later changed his mind. Longer and more richly textured than contemporary symphonic works of its day, the Eroica stands as a breakaway from the classical forms that preceded it. LexPhil conductor Scott Terrell contends that it is for this reason the symphony makes good sense adjacent to the Philip Glass score for Icarus on the Edge of Time.

The novella of Icarus was published in 2008 and sets the well-known story in space with images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Philip Glass score was commissioned by the World Science Festival in New York, the brainchild of Greene. It has developed a great deal of momentum since its inaugural year in 2008. The film accompanying Icarus was created by surrealist filmmakers Al and Al, with a narrative by Brian Greene and playwright David Henry Hwang, who is perhaps best known for his award-winning play, M. Butterfly. In the Lexington performance, Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker will provide the narrative.

Here’s Sebastian’s conversation with Dr. Greene, speaking from his office in New York City:

What was the germ of Icarus? The one thing that let you know this was the story?

“The Greek myth had fascinated me since childhood, but the deeper piece is about being willing to go against the norm. Being willing to break out of the box with science or with anything is essential to progress and these are the things that create a whole new world. Science is a great story of adventure.”

Why use the media of film and music for science?

“Melding film and music with these scientific ideas I feel teaches science in a deeper way. The recognition of how science affects our daily lives is essential to the quality of our lives and our knowledge of the world around us and ourselves.”

You’re known mainly for your scientific writings. Are you still teaching?

“Oh yes! I maintain my position at Columbia University as a professor of mathematics and physics and I have my graduate students. Writing was a hobby that took off. It makes for a busy schedule. Then there is the World Science Festival, started by me and my wife.”

What role, if any, does education play in Icarus?

“Icarus fits with the general perspective in all my books, which is that they must make science penetrating. The language of science is math and many people have to have it translated. The ideas of science can be big and hard to fathom, and no one wants to feel stupid. By educating through the arts, these ideas are more accessible to most people.”

Was this your first time working with Philip Glass?

“Yes. I didn’t know what to expect. We met on a panel some time ago, he probably doesn’t remember it, but I do, because it happened to be where I met my wife. I sent him a story after the discussion. That was ten years ago.”

That sounds memorable. What was the collaboration with Glass like?

“Highly collaborative. He really wanted to understand the science behind Icarus. He asked me down to his studio one night around 11 o’clock. He was trying to understand how a black hole functions; he was very thorough with his questions and stayed open to my thoughts. Fortunately, we live in the same city, so it was a quick trip to his place.”

Whose decision was it to bring David Henry Hwang into the project?

“Glass’s. He had used Hwang on many previous projects as a librettist and felt it would add to the overall impact if he had a role in the writing.

How many times has Icarus been performed at this point?

“The Lexington performance is around 25. It’s been around the world in places as exotic as Malta.”

Had you delved into theatre or film prior to this?

“Yes. I developed another show that ran for three performances called Spooky Action, which deals with the concept of quantum entanglement. It premiered at the World Science Festival here in New York.”

What is the main ingredient for Icarus that you feel has made it a popular piece?

“I believe it works on so many different levels. Boys and men like it because it is a hero adventure, but then there is the science that goes along with it, that makes it different than the myth from which it’s borrowed.”

It’s obvious in this case that science is affecting the arts. Do you feel your piece somehow affects science, in reverse order?

“It’s a two-way street. Icarus may open up more avenues in art and it might dovetail back into science and somehow affect processes within it. It’s hard to say, but I would like to think that would be the case.”

How do you find working in collaboration?

“It’s one of the things that most excites me: working in new forms with others. I can spread my own wings in ways that are challenging and new.”

Will we hear more about Icarus?

“A sequel is planned, hopefully to coincide with the 100th anniversary of General Relativity.”