Stravinsky’s “Les Noces” Performed at this Year’s Candlelight Concert

The following blog entry  was written by CFA Intern Lucy Strother ’11”

This Saturday at 8:30pm, Angel Gil-Ordoñez will lead the Wesleyan Ensemble Singers in Crowell Concert Hall for the annual Candlelight Concert. The performance will be the culmination of a thrilling and highly challenging project for the choir.

Angel describes the program in greater detail, stating “The Wesleyan Ensemble Singers will perform one of the most exciting vocal pieces of the 20th Century: Les Noces (The Wedding) by Igor Stravinsky. Inspired by Russian wedding and liturgical songs in the folk tradition, the work is written for choral ensemble, four vocal soloists, four pianos, and five percussion players.” This particular instrumentation gives the piece an extraordinarily distinctive and moving sound. The piece was originally written as a ballet, first performed in 1923 by the Ballets Russe.

The concert features the campus acapella group Slavei, as well as teachers and students from the music department and will be a unique opportunity to see a remarkable work performed right here on campus. I congratulate the choir for taking on such a colossal piece!

Candlelight Concert
Saturday, December 4, 8:30pm, 
Crowell Concert Hall, 
Free Admission.

An Interview About the Theater Department’s Production of Shakespeare’s Richard III

The following is an interview with seniors Emma Sherr-Ziarko ’11 and Ben Vigus ’11, also known as Bemma Sherr-Vigus, who are performing together as Richard for their senior theses in the upcoming Theater Department production of Richard III, directed by David B. Jaffe. The interview was conducted by Theater Major Sarah Wolfe ’11.

How did the idea to have two people play Richard come about?

Emma: Well, last March we were both thinking about doing acting theses and so we got together, and we were both in Shakespeare class together, with David. And so we got together, and we were like, “Oh what could we do?” And so we came up with this idea.

Ben: And so we went to David, and we kind of, off hand suggested, “Hey David, you should do Richard III, and we should both play Richard!”

B: And he gave us a look.

E: Which I interpreted as he thought we were a little crazy.

B: And I interpreted as kind of shocked and taken aback that we would suggest this, but maybe interested at the same time.

E: And then two months later we got an email from him that said, “I’ve decided, we’re going to do Richard III and you two will play Richard.”

So now, as you’re nearing the end of this process, what has been the best part of playing this role with another actor?

Emma: Particularly with a role of this magnitude, I would say, it allows us to explore the role as more of a dialogue.

Ben: It’s like the conversations that you have with yourself. In the working process it’s actually made a lot of things less intimidating.

How do you each view your individual Richards, and subsequently, how do you view your collective Richard?

Ben: We had conversations early about what we were not going to be. We are not the female and male, anima/animus aspects of Richard, we are not a Fight Club-by “Real” Richard and “Schizophrenic Projection” of Richard. We are two physical beings, who are an embodiment of one character.

E: Right. And it’s interesting because we’ve attempted to approach the role as more honest than one would normally think of Richard. You know, Richard is the scheming, lying, dissembling villain. But we decided to take an approach of what kind of truth is there in what he says and what he does. And so that honesty manifests itself in different ways for us.

B: Because we’re both not reaching for some iconic villainous Richard, we come at it from very different places, grounded in who we are.

Other than the obvious (having two Richards) what makes this production different from the hundreds of other Richard III’s that have happened over the ages?

Ben: Well it’s really cut down.

Emma: A of all.

B: We encountered this play, which is really long. I don’t know how long it is if you actually –

E: I think it’s the second longest play

B/E: Second to Hamlet,

B: And Hamlet’s long.

E: Yeah, I think it’s almost four hours uncut.

B: And that’s too long. So we cut about 40% of the play, and got it down to a run time now of about 2:15.

E: But also, I mean part of what I think is ingenious that David realized from the beginning, was that we’re playing this, we’re doing this play as an ensemble of 10 20-something year olds, and we’re not pretending that we’re 80 years old, or 10 years old. We are these people, we’re these Wesleyan students, playing these parts. We’re not going to be in Elizabethan costumes, thank God.

B: We have an ensemble of 10 actors that are going be able to tell this story. And so we have two actors playing Richard, and then just about everyone else is playing two or three roles. And they swap onstage and you see all of that.

E: Yes.

B: That’s happening.

E: That is happening.

B: Also, we’re taking kind of a non-literal approach to – that sounded pretentious – to –

E: You’ve said more pretentious things.

B: I was talking about aesthetic! It’s really hard to talk about aesthetics without being pretentious! Anyway, the deaths – (without giving too much away) we’re not trying to make it look like people are actually dying on stage. We’re staging things in a little more of a stylized way and using blood to symbolize a death, or suggest it, or evoke the feeling of that death. And Taiko!

E: Taiko!

B: That’s another thing that’s cool about this, that’s one of the first ideas that David had, was that we were going to have taiko, really intense beating drums in the background of the whole production, doing great things.

What’s your favorite line in the show, and who says it?

B: Margaret, of course, has all of her wonderful names that she calls Richard. There’s just a slew of them.

E: “Thou elvish marked abortive rooting hog.” May be my favorite. It’s on my refrigerator.

B: “Why strew’st thou sugar on that bottled spider?” “Foul bunch-backed toad”. “Hell hound”. Richard gets called a lot of bad things… He’s generally unliked.

E: Which is completely undeserved. For me, one of his last lines, “I have set my life upon a cast, / And I will stand the hazard of the die.” Which I think is very Richard to me. Yeah, I’ve done these horrible things, but I will deal with the consequences.

Okay, this is my deep question to end with. What’s the greatest challenge of performing Shakespeare today, in America, and as college students at Wesleyan?

Ben: I think there’s a really strong aversion to Shakespeare. I think it’s hard to make it relevant. And for good reason, it’s just very difficult to know what people mean when they talk, and then to invest in the story if you can’t connect to their basic meaning.

Emma: Yeah, I mean I come from a completely Shakespeare nerd background, which is a problem because I lose perspective of what is understandable and what is useful versus what is beautiful, but the important thing for me is to remember that it’s beautiful text, and it is, I believe, the most beautiful text written in the English language. And if we can use that, and appreciate that, and bring it to a certain level, it can be understood and enjoyed by Wesleyan students, by Americans, and everyone.

Performances take place Thursday and Friday, November 18 and November 19 at 8pm and Saturday, November 20 at 2pm and 8pm in the Theater in the Center for the Arts, Tickets are sold out.

For more information, call the box office at (860) 685-3355 or visit The play will run for about 2 hours and 15 minutes with intermission, and contains material that may be unsuitable for children.

Eiko and Koma Continue Their “Living” Installation at the Walker Art Center

For those of you who were at the opening of Eiko and Koma’s Retrospective Project at the Zilkha Gallery last November, or saw Raven at the CFA this past July, I wanted to write to tell you that the Retrospective continued its journey last week with the opening of their installation, Naked, at the Walker Art Center in the Twin Cities on Tuesday, November 2nd. Naked is a living installation that Eiko and Koma have been working on for the past six months during their residency at the Park Avenue Armory. Eiko and Koma will perform Naked throughout the month of November, six days a week for an unbelievable six hours a day (with only a fifteen minute break)! The piece explores themes of nakedness, desire and the elasticity of time.

This is the first time that Eiko & Koma have created a living installation since Breath at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1998. Unlike the single body that was present in Breath, both Eiko & Koma will always be on view during Naked, in much longer exposure and closer proximity to audiences than they have ever allowed themselves.

Eiko and Koma described Naked in an interview with Walker Performing Arts Director Philip Bither:

“By coming back to live and move in a gallery, we hope to collapse the time passed since Breath, a time in which we have lingered as much as we have aged. We are inviting a close look at another one-month period of time in our bodies, saying to our audience: Linger, stay here with your eyes, live and kinetically observe how our bodies move towards death.” –Eiko & Koma on Naked, 2010

For more information, see these links…

A description of the project on Eiko and Koma’s Website

An write-up in Minneapolis’s Star-Tribune

From the Walker Art Center’s Blog

An Interview with Professor Neely Bruce About Pianist Donald Berman and Chopin

CFA Intern Lucy Strother interviews Wesleyan professor Neely Bruce for details regarding Donald Berman’s upcoming concert.

This Thursday and Friday, Wesleyan welcomes pianist Donald Berman ’84 back to campus! Berman will hold a master class for piano students on Thursday, and on Friday night, he takes the stage in Crowell Concert Hall with a beautiful piano program, featuring music from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries (and the 21st, if you include professor Neely Bruce’s brand new arrangement of the orchestral accompaniment for the Chopin “La ci darem la mano” variations.)  I learned some more details about Berman’s career and his upcoming performance from professor of music and arranger-extraordinaire Neely Bruce.

LS: Is it typical for Berman to combine 18th and 19th century non-American composers like Scarlatti, Schumann and Chopin with 20th century and contemporary American pieces?

NB: Don Berman is a specialist in new and recent music, especially the music of Ives. That being said, he plays the music of the nineteenth century very, very well. I got the idea of inviting him to do this concert when I heard him play the Chopin variations on “La ci darem la mano” last season with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

LS: Is there an overarching connection between the pieces on the program? Why did Don Berman choose this particular program?

NB: The idea of this concert is to show how the music of Chopin is related to that of his contemporaries (especially Schumann) and the influence he had on posterity—which is enormous, by the way. Practically every composer who has written for the piano since Chopin is indebted to his approach to the instrument.

LS: Tell me about your arrangement of the orchestral accompaniment for the “La ci darem la mano” variations. What is your experience with this piece? Did you take any creative liberties with the arrangement?

NB: These variations are Chopin’s first work for piano and orchestra. Robert Schumann, who was a first-rate music critic as well as a composer, reviewed them with a flourish. “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius.” That’s how he greeted his Polish contemporary in print. Both men were nineteen years old when Chopin performed the piece and Schumann reviewed it. My arrangement of “La ci darem la mano” is based on contemporary practice. In the nineteenth century, if one didn’t have an orchestra, or were performing a concerto in an intimate setting, one often arranged the orchestra parts for string quartet. I’m sure this was done for salon performances of these variations in Chopin’s lifetime, but no such arrangement survives. So I have made one. “Creative liberties” are the only way to approach such a project. There is a brief timpani solo in the orchestra original. I had a lot of fun figuring out how to do that.

LS: You were working at Wesleyan when Berman was a student here.  Did you cross paths?

NB: Of course. Don was a wonderful pianist, even as an undergraduate. He was the first winner of the Tishler Competition. He took my class in American piano music. (I haven’t offered it in many years, but used to offer it regularly.) We have stayed in touch over the years.

LS: Anything else that’s notable about Don or the upcoming concert?

NB: Don Berman was the last student of the late John Kirkpatrick, who premiered the Concord Sonata of Charles Ives and edited a great many of the Ives pieces for publication. This gave Don an inside track with lots of unperformed, and even unedited, Ives works. He has two spectacular CDs called The Unknown Ives which are revelatory. I’m delighted that he has chosen to make something special of the relationship of Ives and Chopin. Anyone who has played the music of Ives knows that Ives’s technique was shaped by the technique of Chopin. Don Berman’s recital will show how that works, and how the music of these seemingly so different composers can continue to delight listeners, both as specific pieces of music and through their juxtaposition.

Thanks, Neely! Come to Crowell Friday night to see this amazing pianist that the New York Times described as a “thorough, exciting and persuasive musician!”