Unexpected: Student Perspectives

Alexandra Provo ’10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern, interviews students in this week’s production of Unexpected: Voices of Incarcerated Women

This Thursday and Friday, Unexpected: Voices of Incarcerated Women, directed by theater professor Ron Jenkins, will be performed in the CFA Hall. Unexpected is a multimedia theater piece comprised of spoken word, music, and visual art performed by both Wesleyan students and formerly-incarcerated women from the York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Connecticut. It combines excerpts from the anthology I’ll Fly Away, edited by Wally Lamb, with the art and writings produced in Wesleyan theater workshops by women incarcerated at York. Wally Lamb will be reading from his book at Thursday’s opening night performance.

The goal of the work is not only to humanize incarcerated women and to share their stories but also to empower the women to create and perform those stories themselves. Joanna Bourain ’12, an FGSS and prospective studio art major who took both Professor Jenkins’ Solo Performance and Activism and Outreach Through Theater courses, worked primarily with Lynda Gardner, a formerly incarcerated woman. “I met Lynda because she was working in my group and—ah, I’m so corny—but it’s such a cool experience to meet someone in a seemingly very different life point—she’s sixty, she’s incarcerated, suffering from a really bad gambling addiction, drug problems—[and then] to realize that we have the same colored soul, is what I like to say. We ended up becoming really close friends. We bonded over the fact that we’re both visual artists, that we both really like expressing ourselves and using art as a cathartic medium.”

Joanna became involved in Unexpected primarily through Lynda, who is performing in the play and also has provided the artwork shown in the projections. Joanna has been working to coordinate those projections and has created an exhibition of Lynda’s artwork in one of the glass cases at the Usdan Center. She contextualizes the artwork by including documents and items from Lynda’s prison time in the display. Joanna drew on her experience researching contemporary curatorial practices in Professor Mari Dumett’s course, Contemporary Art: 1980 to the Present.

Samantha Pearlman ’11, a theater major who took Solo Performance, remarked “abstractly, working in a women’s prison as a female who goes to Wesleyan makes me reflect a lot about what it means to be female, what it means to have an education, what it means to be an artist.” In her own work she hopes “to focus on how art either helps females figure out who they are or makes them define who they are, what they see.” Sara Schieller ’12, also a theater major, remarked “This is something I could see myself doing in twenty years.”

Unexpected: Voices of Incarcerated Women
Directed by Ron Jenkins
Based on the anthology I’ll Fly Away edited by Wally Lamb and other
writing by the Women of York C.I. in the Wesleyan Theater Workshop.
Thursday & Friday, February 25 & 26, 8pm
CFA Hall

For more information: http://www.wesleyan.edu/cfa/events.html#theater

Going Places with the Shanghai Quartet

On Friday, the music of Mozart, Debussy and Penderecki will fill Crowell Concert Hall performed by the Shanghai Quartet, one of the most virtuosic quartets touring today.  (You may remember seeing them on the cover of our spring brochure in their jazzy red sports car.) Our classical music audiences have been waiting all year for this concert, and I know they won’t be disappointed. Known for their passionate musicality and impressive technique, the group was founded over twenty-five years ago at the Shanghai Conservatory, and today features violinists Weigang Li and Yi-Wen Jiang, violist Honggang Li, and cellist Nicholas Tzavaras.  At Wesleyan, the quartet will be performing Debussy’s String Quartet, Mozart’s Quartet in D Minor and Penderecki’s Quartet No. 3 (a work they commissioned.)

Under the group’s logo on their website, the tagline reads “Going Places” and they do.  For the past 27 years, the group has been touring, teaching, and innovating in the field of classical music all over the world. In addition to regularly touring the North American continent, they have toured in such places as Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, and several countries in Europe. They regularly perform at Carnegie Hall and last season were featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  They are also committed educators having taught for thirteen years at the University of Richmond, and now serve as the quartet-in-residence at Montclair State University in New Jersey, where they perform, coach chamber music and teach individual lessons. They are also guest professors at the Shanghai Conservatory in China and have served as Graduate Ensemble-in-Residence at the Juilliard School.

In terms of music education, an interesting note about cellist Nicholas Tzavaras:  His mother is Roberta Guaspari, the public school violin teacher in East Harlem whose story was retold in the 1999 movie Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep.

The Shanghai Quartet has not only ventured far and wide geographically, but also in terms of the direction and scope of their music. In its fusion of “the delicacy of Eastern music with the emotional breadth of Western repertoire,” the group transcends the boundaries of genre. A peek at their extensive discography reveals that their repertoire ranges from Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Bach to Chinese folk songs and classical interpretations of Disney favorites. They also commission contemporary works, including their 2008-2009 commission of Krzysztof Penderecki’s String Quartet No. 3, which appears on Friday’s program.

Come early and have the rare opportunity to hear our renowned Professor of Music Alvin Lucier discuss the works to be performed.

Shanghai Quartet

Performing works by Debussy, Mozart and Penderecki

Friday, February 19, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Pre-concert talk by Alvin Lucier, Professor of Music, at 7:15pm

For Young Organists, a Chance to Be Heard

For many young organists, the only time they play in a concert setting is during a competition. According to University Organist Ron Ebrecht, “They win the competition but then they have nowhere to perform their concert for an audience.”

Giving young organists this valuable opportunity is the inspiration behind Young Organ Virtuosi, celebrating its tenth anniversary of biennial concerts. This year’s guest artists are Adam Pajan, who will perform works of Tournemire, Franck, Demessieux, Bach and Reger on Friday night and Jacob Benda, who will perform works of Bach, Franck, Alain, and Guillou on Saturday evening. Pajan studied at Furman University in South Carolina and is now completing a Master’s program at Yale. Benda began as a pianist but over the course of his college career became enamored of the organ and has been playing ever since.

With the Young Organ Virtuosi concerts, these artists will get a chance to play in a non-competitive atmosphere. Not that the selection process isn’t rigorous–but Ebrecht says he doesn’t exclusively book competition winners. He also takes people who have placed second in competitions, because he says those people can be “more musical than the people who won the competitions. Sometimes the people who win are so concentrated on playing the right notes, they don’t make them into music.” In this setting, Ebrecht hopes to offer a more congenial atmosphere focused more on the music and less on status. “There are no razorblades between the keys,” he says. “They get to be nice to each other.”

It’s not just the friendly atmosphere that makes the concert a different kind of experience. In the past five or six years, the program has expanded to include other events beyond the Wesleyan campus. People who have previously performed now host their own editions of the event, and in March this year’s two guest artists and Ron will travel to Seattle to play a Young Organ Virtuosi concert at the University of Washington.

The event is also unique for its involvement of Wesleyan students. Organ classes at Wesleyan are consistently enrolled to capacity; many students, about half of whom are music majors, return year after year. Ebrecht is deeply committed to engaging his students in all aspects of organ performance. This year students will also be learning about the technical side of the organs helping to restore the console of the recently donated second practice organ in addition to performing in the annual Organ Romp, the student performance associated with the course. With the Young Organ Virtuosi Concert Series, Wesleyan organists have the opportunity to perform in a Saturday afternoon recital.

Ebrecht is constantly reminding students of where they can go with their organ playing. He is an extremely accomplished musician who’s played all over the world–this August he’ll be playing a Bach recital in Erfurt, Germany on one of the few organs Bach actually played that is still in original condition–and the practice organ in the lower level of the chapel is surrounded by posters of where he has played. “It’s fun for students when practicing to see where they could potentially go,” he says, and with the Young Organ Virtuosi concert they’ll get another chance to learn about the possibilities by interacting with other organists their age, hearing about their experiences in conservatory programs and what it’s like to work as an organist.

Young Organ Virtuosi
Friday, February 12, 8pm and Saturday, February 13, 4pm & 8pm
Memorial Chapel
Free Admission

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts

Gina Ulysse: Using Her Total Person

There are a number of events on campus this week and next that will help to bring into focus what is going on in Haiti right now.  We are so fortunate to have faculty who can share their personal and scholarly understanding of this magnificent country with us as we try to grapple with the present-day horror and the necessities of the future.

If you have never seen Professor Gina Ulysse (Anthropology, African-American Studies and FGSS) perform before, you must.   I can guarantee that those who have will be flocking to see her again, so I suggest that you plan to arrive early this Thursday night when she performs her dramatic monologue Because When God Is Too Busy:  Haiti, me and THE WORLD.    We have moved the event from the CFA Hall to Memorial Chapel so that we can accommodate a larger audience.  According to the description in the Facebook event page, the monologue “considers how the past occupies the present.  Ulysse weaves spokenword and Vodou chants to reflect on childhood memories, social (in)justice, spirituality, and the dehumanization of Haitians.”  What Gina does that few other solo performers I have seen can do is to weave her scholarly critical analysis of her country with deeply personal experience and use the tools of the artist to integrate them and make them come alive for an audience.   The quality of the knowledge that we gain from her journey is not the same knowledge we would receive from having her read from a memoir or a scholarly article.  It is not the same knowledge we would receive from a spoken word or vocal music performance.  It is all of these multiple ways of knowing in one.  Gina uses her total person, her mind and body, to take us on a journey of words and music, and we feel lucky to have had the chance to take that journey with her.

Because When God Is Too Busy:  Haiti, me and THE WORLD
Thursday, February 4, 6:30-8:30pm
Memorial Chapel, Wesleyan University

The performance will be followed by a faculty panel that will include Alex Dupuy (Sociology) and Liza McAlister (Religion, American Studies) & Gina Ulysse to discuss earthquake.  Haitian Relief Action Team will be collecting a suggested donation of $3 and food and refreshments will be served after the performance.