Nine Virtuosi and a Glass Harmonica on Crowell Concert Series (Feb. 1)

Director of the Center for the Arts Pamela Tatge discusses the New England premiere of the concert “Music at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello” with Wesleyan Professor of Music Neely Bruce.

Wesleyan Professor of Music Neely Bruce played in an extraordinary concert in the summer of 2011 at the Caramoor International Festival—it brought to the stage the Baroque instruments that would have been played in the mansion at Monticello (harpsichord, Baroque cello and violin) and the fife, fiddle and banjo that would have been played in the slaves’ quarters.  It was an astonishing program, curated by Paul Woodiel, a three time winner of the New England Fiddle Contest and a former private lessons teacher at Wesleyan (and great colleague of ours).

Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton. Image by Bill Steber Photography.

On Friday night, Music at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello comes to Wesleyan! Neely Bruce will give a pre-concert talk at 7:15pm and walk the audience through the program (which includes works by Corelli, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart; martial music from Camp Dupont; and traditional songs and tunes including “Barbara Allen” and “The Gal I Left Behind Me”). There’s a fantastic moment after intermission where two groups will play the same tune, Haydn’s “The White Cockade”: one group will play it on harpsichord, Baroque cello and violin; the other on the fife, fiddle and banjo. The concert brings a number of virtuosi to the Crowell Concert Hall stage in addition to Mr. Bruce and Mr. Woodiel, among them: Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton (Neely tells me that 24 year-old Blind Boy doesn’t believe music exists after 1941, the year Jelly Roll Morton died!); Mazz Swift, a very cool violin/vox/freestyle composition artist who is also an accomplished singer and Julliard-trained violinist who has performed with the likes of Kanye West and Jay-Z; and Jennifer Hope Wills, who for nearly four years won audiences’ hearts as Christine in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.

The concert also features Dennis James and the first-ever appearance of a glass harmonica on the Crowell Concert Hall stage. Mr. James has recreated the instrument originally designed by Benjamin Franklin. We all know what it’s like to dip a finger in a glass and circle it around the rim until a sound is formed. That’s the operating principle of the glass harmonica, whereby spinning glass disks (bowls) on a common spindle are configured with the lower notes (larger disks) to the left, and higher notes (smaller disks) to the right. The shaft is turned by means of a foot pedal (now motorized), and the sound made by touching the rims of the bowls with moistened fingers. By the way, you are invited to attend a free lecture/demonstration on Saturday morning at 11am in Crowell Concert Hall, where you can see and learn about the instruments played in the concert [fiddle, fife, banjo, harpsichord, and glass harmonica] up close.

This anchor concert to our year-long exploration of Music and Public Life is absolutely not to be missed.

Music at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
New England Premiere

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 8pm

Crowell Concert Hall

$24 general public; $19 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students
Pre-performance talk at 7:15pm by Professor of Music Neely Bruce

Lecture/Demonstration: Instruments at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 11am
Crowell Concert Hall

10 thoughts on “Nine Virtuosi and a Glass Harmonica on Crowell Concert Series (Feb. 1)”

  1. The concert was a memorable and thoroughly enjoyable experience, like nothing we had seen before. We were educated about Jefferson and the glass armonica, but we particularly appreciated the rapport and camaraderie of the musicians gathered, perhaps more for their own enjoyment than even the audience’s. Wonderful evening!

  2. I have a lot of friends who are jealous of my having attended “Music at Jefferson’s Monticello.” It was an extraordinary experience. How many people living today have had or will have the opportunity to hear an acknowledged master perform Mozart’s two compositions for glass harmonica in person? As my date for the evening said afterwards, “I’m so glad you like weird things like I do.” Mazz Swift’s a cappella voice produced all over goose flesh. And “Blind Boy Paxton amazed.

  3. The concept and talent for this event were truly way above what one could expect, especially so close to home and for a very reasonable ticket price.
    For me the timing was perfect – I had just begun reading “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.” Although I had seen and heard a glass harmonica many years ago at a museum in Dover, Delaware, I had no idea of the ingenious level to which the instrument had been developed. What a wonderful surprise!
    The balance of music and narrative was ideal – the beautifully played music, the thoughtful selection of pieces, and the variety of instruments; the historical knowledge and the manner in which that was imparted; and the virtuosity and personalities of each of the musicians – all together made a wonderful evening that could have kept in me seat for another hour.
    My thanks to everyone involved.

  4. Superb and fascinating and beautiful. My wife and I enjoyed the concert enormously, then had a nightcap at the Inn at Middletown. Years ago I helped put together the master plan for Monticello, a project which required thinking about how Jefferson’s mind worked; the concert evening brought back that challenging, delightful puzzle in force.

  5. Lovely program. Interesting, well performed, and generally engaging from beginning to end.

    Honestly, I think I would have felt this way even if my son Paul had not been performing!

    Realized I had been in that hall only once before — hearing Paul and Neely play — years ago. Look forward to returning. Love the performing space.


  6. This concert was fabulous. I can’t praise it enough. Every
    performer was excellent. The music was varied and in some cases, like the glass harmonica, unique.

  7. We attended this concert originally as fans of Thomas Jefferson and of chamber music. We enjoyed the pre-concert talk and the entire evening. We liked the chamber music, the variety of instruments, the great talent of the musicians, especially the versatile Christopher Layer.

    I think we enjoyed the second half of the program even more because of the variety and the liveliness of the music. All of the artists on the program were exceptional. And, of course, we enjoyed the beautiful glass instrument as well.

    The concept of recreating Jefferson’s day was a good idea. We like the opening song and wondered who wrote it.

    Joan Shapiro and Paul St. Onge

  8. I went to this concert out of respect for Neely Bruce and I had no idea I was about to witness such a powerful, beautifully thought out concert performed by a set of startlingly good musicians. It was food for thought and solace for the soul.

  9. I was awed by this concert; the range of music, classical to traditional, the authentic instruments, from Baroque to “African”,
    and the incredible musical talents, who so obviously were enjoying themselves and each other were a pure delight! An incredible accomplishment to pull all this together in such an informative and entertaining event! Kudos all!

  10. It was fabulous! And a rare – probably unique chance to immerse ourselves in the era’s music. I am so grateful to the music committee for making this possible. And judging by the size of the audience, others were appreciative too!

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