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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Let Me Answer Some Questions: Interview with Joseph Keckler

Posted August 26th, 2019

Joseph Keckler is a multi-talented performer, with an astute comic sensibility and three-octave vocal range. (Just check out his “Shroom Opera“.) For the 2019 Fringe Festival, he brings these talents to Let Me Die, a medley of operatic death arias, interspersed with original music and commentary. The world premiere features a roster of talented singers performing songs and snippets from classic opera, along with

FringeArts talks to Joseph Keckler about his absurd, yet affecting piece.

FringeArts: What inspired  Let Me Die?

Joseph Keckler: I was attracted to the scenes in part because of the paradox they present: often the deaths in opera are the most virtuosic displays. So although these moments depict bodily failure they are in reality great vocal, great physical, feats.

I also noticed people talking about opera, as an art form, in terms of death: “opera is not dead,” etc and was compelled by the idea that seeing opera once functioned as a ‘rehearsal for death.’

I’ve been circling the idea for a while. I’ll talk more about the origin of the show within the show itself.

FringeArts: Other than death, what themes and qualities do you see running through the operatic death scenes?

Joseph Keckler: The scenes are alternately, or sometimes simultaneously sublime and absurd—that’s my jam.

FringeArts: How do you frame the different segments?

Joseph Keckler: I don’t want to give too much away, but as I’m creating the piece I am negotiating interpretation vs. doing, showing vs. telling. I want the piece to be navigable without being overarchingly didactic, and part of what I’m doing in the fragmentation is to pull moments out of their narrative context. I’ll introduce a lot of ideas very directly within the piece.

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Channeling the Past: Eric Berryman on The B-Side

Posted August 5th, 2019

Three men—Eric Berryman, Jasper McGruder, and Philip Moore—listen to an LP of songs and speeches recorded in 1965 in segregated Texas state prison farms, singing and talking along with the album. This is not your typical piece of theater, but The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons,” A Record Album Interpretation by The Wooster Group is a powerful experience. The voices of the performers blend with those on the album, capturing the humor and sorrow and bringing the men on the album to life. Between pieces, Berryman provides context from the liner notes and a book by Bruce Jackson, the folklorist who recorded the original LP. FringeArts talked with Eric Berryman in May of 2019 about this deeply moving piece.

FringeArts: How did you discover this album? 

Eric Berryman: I was working on a piece some years ago on the Legend of John Henry, and found myself listening and searching for work songs, as John Henry in its original form was a slower tempo work song and not the faster tempo revival version that has become popular. In my quest to add some of the work song music to my tangible vinyl record collection I discovered Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons, never thinking it would become my next major project.

FringeArts: What appealed to you about it?

Eric Berryman: What I loved was that it wasn’t an album of just worksongs but a collection of more. Worksongs, blues, spirituals, preaching and toasts.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother

Posted June 7th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we share a drink with poet, noise musician and Afro-futurist  Camae Ayewa and discuss her latest project Circuit City. Known as a force of nature in the Philadelphia Arts scene, Camae has also made her mark world wide as the one-woman band, Moor Mother.  Camae discusses how Circuit City explores what the concept of freedom really is, through the lens of the housing crisis and its effects on those who’ve spent their lifetime in their community. Circuit City runs from June 20-22 as part of our High Pressure Fire Service.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo by Bob Sweeney

Conversation with Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother

[Music Intro]

 

Raina: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Raina, Marketing Manager here at FringeArts.

Tenara: And I’m Tenara, I am the Audience Engagement Coordinator here at FringeArts. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Raina: Now, we’re really excited right now, because we’re really just gearing up for High Pressure Fire Service, what we also also affectionately call “Hipfizz,” from the acronym HPFS, so we’re really excited to be talking to one of the most exciting artists that we have in this incredible lineup for High Pressure Fire Service.

Tenara: Yeah, today we’re talking to Camae Ayewa, is that how I say that?

Camae: Yes.

Tenara: Excellent. Or, as some of you might know her, Moor Mother. Camae is a poet, a noise musician, a visual artist, and for the first time this Spring, a playwright. So Camae, welcome.

Camae: Hello everyone. Thanks for tuning in; thanks for having me.

Raina: Hey (laughs). So, our first question, cause it’s Happy Hour on the Fringe is, what are you drinking?

Camae: I’m drinking a spice chai.

Tenara: Oh, it’s so good. Like, vanilla spice, or…?

Camae: No, just the…just spices, ’cause they had vanilla, but I said, “No, I’ll go for the spice.”

(Laughter)

Raina: I’m opting for water today, still.

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Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service, part two

Posted April 2nd, 2019
by Raina Searles, Marketing Manager

In March, we kicked off High Pressure Fire Service (or more colloquially, HPFS, pronounced “hip-fizz”) with an incredibly moving production chronicling the disability rights movement in A Fierce Kind of Love, produced by the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, and we followed that with a thought-provoking musical satire about the American abortion debate, The Appointment, by Lightning Rod Special. In just a couple weeks, we’ll kick off a highly interactive show made for a family unit and exploring the line between play and performance, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr House! by the Berserker Residents. But today, we’re talking about the final three shows in HPFS: where you’ve seen these artists, what to expect in their work, and breaking down Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service…part two.

Coming up this May,  A Hard Time by Pig Iron Theatre Company opens at FringeArts. Long time Fringe fans will recognize Pig Iron from many of their notable devised works presented by FringeArts. Most recently, they produced A Period of Animate Existence in the 2017 Fringe Festival. Other recent works include Swamp Is On (2015), 99 BREAKUPS (2014), Pay Up (2013), Zero Cost House (2012), Twelfth Night, or What You Will (2011), and many more going back to the origins of the Fringe Festival in 1997!

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HPFS: A Commitment to Philadelphia

Posted February 25th, 2019

With the opening show in the new High Pressure Fire Service series kicking off this weekend, FringeArts Artistic Producers Zach Blackwood and Katy Dammers share what HPFS really stands for and why we’re pumped about the next few months of programming at FringeArts.

A HISTORY

HPFS philadelphia

Photo by Robby Virus

In 1903, he FringeArts building at the intersection of Columbus and Race Streets opened as the nation’s first High Pressure Fire Service system, its name carved on the east and west façades. Water was pumped from the Delaware River via a six-foot diameter pipe into the brick edifice and then funneled out to more than 900 fire hydrants from Girard Avenue to South Street. This innovative system allowed firefighters to shoot a two-inch stream of water 230 feet in the air and led to a significant decline in fire-related deaths and damages. With this reassurance, insurance companies subsequently dropped additional charges on tall buildings, and Philadelphia’s downtown area entered a renewed period of urban growth and architectural advancement. Though the pipeline from the Delaware has long since been capped and decommissioned, a spidering pathway of pipeworks still connects our building to a huge swath of the city: to cafés and community centers, taverns and libraries, and inevitably several cheesesteak spots.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Phyllis Chen & Nathan Davis talk In Plain Air

Posted September 21st, 2018

FringeArts’ signature podcast series Happy Hour on the Fringe is back with International Contemporary Ensemble‘s Phyllis Chen and Nathan Davis.

Phyllis Chen at an In Plain Air workshop.

During a residency at Christ Church, composers Chen (known for her work with hand-wound music boxes and toy pianos) and Davis (a percussionist fascinated by the mechanics of instruments) immersed themselves in the sound-making possibilities of the church’s newly installed organ, bells, and open spaces, as well as the history and public role of the venerable institution. The resulting compositions form In Plain Air, presented this weekend in partnership with Christ Church Preservation Trust as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival.

In this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, the pair chat with hosts Zach and Katy about In Plain Air, the organ that will outlive us all, and Nathan’s security record.

Listen to the episode .

Performances of In Plain Air will take place on September 22nd at 1pm, 3:30pm, and 6pm, and on September 23rd at 3:30pm and 6pm. Tickets are available at FringeArts.com or through the FringeArts app.

In Plain Air Will Close the Fringe Festival on a High Note

Posted September 19th, 2018

The 2018 Fringe Festival signs off this weekend on a high note. And a low note. And all varieties of notes in between. A free multi-movement program by International Contemporary Ensemble, In Plain Air takes listeners around the historic Christ Church campus in five daytime performances September 22 and 23.

Created by composers Phyllis Chen and Nathan Davis, In Plain Air celebrates the installation of the brand new C.B. Fisk pipe organ at Christ Church. It features work performed on the impressively huge new instrument, the centuries-old church bells, and all manners of other instruments. It’s the perfect project for Davis, a percussionist fascinated by the mechanics of instruments, whose work brings out the acoustics of sound-making devices and the physicality of playing them. Davis talked to FringeArts about the pieces that make up In Plain Air and the process leading to this weekend’s performances.

FringeArts: How does this project fit into your larger career?

Nathan Davis: I have long been fascinated with instruments, such as the organ, that place intermediary mechanical steps between the performer and the sound production. Ten years ago I wrote a piece for Phyllis called “The Mechanics of Escapement” for toy piano and clock chimes that are played by pulling long cords. And other pieces of mine explore the relationship of distance, separation, and communication. This project takes that one step further: the organ is a vast mechanical instrument. My work here is partly on the components of the machine (air, bellows, valves, keys, etc.) and their correlation with the instruments that the organ emulates.

FringeArts: How does it fit into International Contemporary Ensemble’s mission?

Nathan Davis: The project is closely tied to its multiple missions of creating and commissioning new work, building new audiences, and connection with place.

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Of Arms and the Man They Sing: Interview with Donald Nally

Posted September 15th, 2018

The artistic director of contemporary choral group The Crossing, Donald Nally has served as chorus master at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Welsh National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and for many seasons at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. He’s been music director of Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble, chorus master at The Chicago Bach Project, and guest conductor throughout Europe and the United States, most notably with the Grant Park Symphony Chorus, the Philharmonia Chorus (London), the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, and the Latvian State Choir (Riga). Along with The Crossing, he won the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance with Gavin Bryars’ The Fifth Century.

This Fringe, Nally and The Crossing bring their singular choral aesthetic to the Fringe for one-night only, in a new program featuring a world premiere by composer Ted Hearne. Nally spoke to FringeArts about Of Arms and the Man.

FringeArts: What inspired the use of the Virgil quote as the title? Do you remember where you were when that idea came about?

Donald Nally: The Park Avenue Armory asked me to develop a program for their ornate historic reception rooms.  Being the Armory, I got thinking about how the military has changed since those rooms were built; how it was a point of honor for the aristocracy that today mostly avoids it at all cost. So here are these beautiful rooms and they are a kind of monument to what we actually do in war: rich older people throw young people at a problem….So, we sing, and we do so about arms and about people: “Of arms and the man I sing.”  And, it’s a journey, so the first line of the Aeneid captures the whole thing well. I liked the program so much I wanted to bring it to the Fringe because you don’t need elegant 19th-century rooms to ask these kinds of questions: life, war, wealth, death, purpose. In fact, the clarity of FringeArts Theater is going to be a great environment for this musical discussion.

FringeArts: What themes or qualities unite the pieces in this program?

Donald Nally: The concert takes a look at life and war and life during war from a number of angles.  Some of it is national pride, some of it is grief, some of it is anger. Of course, I do not know quite what Ted’s new piece will be, but it’s going to fit into this overall theme of how we agree or disagree across nations and continents and what we’re actually doing when we act on those alliances or arguments.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe with Donald Nally of The Crossing

Posted September 13th, 2018

FringeArts continues its signature podcast series Happy Hour Hour on the Fringe.

The Crossing. Photo by Becky Oehlers Photography.

In this episode, Donald Nally, co-founder and conductor of The Crossing, joins hosts Zach and Raina to discuss the choral group’s unexpected origins, his brand spanking new Grammy hat, and The Crossing’s Fringe Festival show Of Arms and the Man.

Of Arms and the Man presents an enticing program of choral pieces performed by the 24-voice ensemble under the direction of Nally. In keeping with The Crossing’s mission of presenting new works for choir, the program features a world premiere from 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist Ted Hearne—the nation’s preeminent composer of works of social advocacy—and a rare live performance of David Lang’s “depart.” Catch the Festival performance September 16 at 8pm at FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard.

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Revisiting Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. With a Bear.

Posted September 6th, 2018

This my excavation

In 2006, musician Justin Vernon left North Carolina after two breakups: with his band and longtime girlfriend. Broke, heartbroken, he drove back to his home state of Wisconsin and spent a cold autumn and winter in his father’s hunting cabin. There he cut wood, drank, and wrote and recorded one of the finest, most emotionally moving, rawly authentic albums of this young millenium.

That’s the story.

It’s one that playwright Doug Williams and director Maura Krause wanted to explore and flip over. “We’re both music obsessives, and the story behind Bon Iver’s first album is a modern music legend,” says Williams. “But there are larger questions about the ‘broken male genius’ that feel really primed to be pushed back upon right now.”

These questions get a outlandish treatment in the pair’s world premiere Fringe Festival show, Bon Iver Fights A Bear, which opens tomorrow. “We figured, if we’re really trying to tell this story in the most outrageous way possible, we gotta have this talking bear narrate it and sort of call bullshit on the mythology of the whole thing,” says Williams.

“We want to explore the ways in which we romanticize the story of the white-male-genius-type that retreats to the woods to get over his heartbreak,” adds performer Emily Schuman, who plays Bon Iver, hipster beard and all. (The moniker was taken from French for “happy winter,” a repeated greeting in cult TV show Northern Exposure.) “Really, he was just a 24-year-old kid who was trying to figure himself out but ended up doing something incredibly honest.”

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Kick Off Your Fringe With Johnny Showcase!

Posted September 4th, 2018

There’s more to the Fringe Festival than just the awesome array of shows listed in our Guide. Each night, after the Fringe it’s the after-Fringe at the FringeArts headquarters at Race Street and Columbus Boulevard. Performers and audiences alike congregate at La Peg and the Haas Biergarten for drinks, games, DJs, and pop-up entertainment.

The Festival launches this Friday with the annual FREE rager, the Festival Kick Off Party with popular 10-piece band Johnny Showcase, a joyful sexy psychedelic dance funk experience, complete with heavy jazz fusion elements.

An absurdist soul outfit based in Philadelphia, Johnny Showcase is an innovative, joyful tour-de-force that toes the line between performance art and a psychedelic soul revival. Carrying the torch of funk-rock pioneers like Funkadelic and Frank Zappa, the group has gained a massive following and become something of a funky Philly folk hero legend.

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2018 Festival Spotlight: Family Friendly Fringe

Posted August 24th, 2018

The Fringe isn’t always adults only! Everyone is welcome at these fun, engaging performances suitable for the whole family.

Chichi Chip (an ode to the Gnarly)
Philly Kerplop
An interactive performance featuring hip-hop dance and a live marching band, taking place in Philly’s iconic LOVE Park. Philly Kerplop’s display of humor and daring physical dexterity will activate the park spaces in ways that feel both familiar and awe-inspiring.
More info and tickets here

FIGMAGO
Meg Saligman Studio
FIGMAGO is part art installation, part room escape, and all parts wonderfully immersive. Enter the mind of a muralist as you explore secret passages and mesmerizing art to discover a mysterious mural that comes to life. YOU become the artist as the story unfolds. Hands-on and phone-free fun for all ages!
More info and tickets here

Garden of Vessels
Sina Marie (I Am a Vessel Youth Initiative)
Welcome to the future of the pop-up garden phenomenon. Imagine a garden where imagination and technology fall in love, cultivating the minds and innate abilities of the youth to a full bloom. Visionary Sina Marie creates an interactive experience. A diaspora from the underground up! We welcome you to…the Garden of Vessels.
More info and tickets here

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Sorority of Storytelling: Sisters Combine Choreography and Bodypainting in Paprika Plains

Posted August 22nd, 2018

Natalie Fletcher and Jessica Noel are two talented creative sisters, but they’ve never performed on stage together… until this Fringe.

Fletcher, winner of the inaugural season of the body painting reality competition show, Skin Wars, will team up with Noel, a dance-theater artist who directs performance/education space and performance company Philly PACK, in an interdisciplinary storytelling performance inspired by singer Joni Mitchell’s 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. Paprika Plains will run September 21 and 22 at 7 p.m. at the Philly PACK garage in South Philadelphia.

Natalie Fletcher bodypainting.

“This collaboration is something we’ve wanted to do for a while, but the timing was never right, until now,” said Fletcher.

Fletcher and Noel spent their childhood in Amarillo on the plains of West Texas and the sisters’ production tells a story of two sisters growing up in West Texas, finding their individual paths, but always coming back together with a common language: love. Lily Blaines-Sussman, a member of the Philly PACK company, will dance as the young dancing sister, and Noel will dance as the adult. At various times throughout the production, the dancers will pause and Fletcher will come in to the performance, painting the dancers, the backdrop, while pushing the story along.

“We are attempting to tell a story with choreography and bodypainting,” says Noel. It’s a truly interdisciplinary Fringe performance: There is also a sculptural installation, theatrical lighting elements, and live music—Philadelphia musician Heather Blakeslee of Sweetbriar Rose will play Joni Mitchell covers as the audience enters.

“We want to transport the audience to a very specific world as soon as they enter,” adds Noel. “The world is Joni Mitchell and paint. Heather and the bartenders will be painted by Natalie before the show starts. The whole project is somewhat of an installation.”

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Happy Hour on the Fringe with Heiner Goebbels

Posted August 21st, 2018

FringeArts signature podcast returns with the first episode in a new series of enthralling Festival-related shows.

Frankfurt-based composer and director Heiner Goebbels has had his work produced around the world including his native Germany, Switzerland, England and New York. He taught for nearly 20 years at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies in Giessen (1999–2018) and served as president of the Theatre Academy Hessen for twelve years (2006–2018). He was the artistic director of the International Festival of the Arts Ruhrtriennale for two years and and received the first appointment for the newly established Georg Büchner Professorship in 2018.

His works Stifters Dinge and Songs of Wars I Have Seen will be produced in Philadelphia in the 2018 Fringe Festival September 7 –9.

Listen now to the conversation between FringeArts president and producing director Nick Stuccio and world renown composer and director Heiner Goebbels covering Goebbels’ seminal works and long career.

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Pipeline of Fun: Ants on a Log Reach Kids through Humor and Music

Posted August 15th, 2018

Folk duo Ants on a Log (Julie Beth and Anya Rose) write music for children and other childlike people, songfully advocating for positivity, social justice, and silliness. They have been featured on XPN’s Kids Corner, at the Philadelphia Folk Fest, and on radio stations around the globe. In 2016 the Ants performed their debut musical Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline, using the power of eco-feminist music and humor to encourage families to stay “curious” about alternatives to fossil fuels.

Julie (a music therapist) and Anya Rose (an elementary science teacher) reworked their musical for the 2018 Fringe Festival show Music for Children and Other Curious People, performed on two dates in Fishtown and West Philadelphia. The pair spoke to FringeArts about creating a fun, socially conscious work for kids.

FringeArts: What do you like about creating theater and performing for kids?

Ants on a Log: Ants on a Log gives us an outlet for our silliness, and it’s a fun challenge to create something that is appealing to both children and adults. We love performing for kids because they are excited and curious about everything, which is how we think adults are too, but only in those rare moments when it’s deemed socially appropriate. Silliness aside, theater and music feel really important right now. This is how ideas are spread. It’s no accident that our songs are so catchy: we want you to accidentally memorize how to change the world for the better.

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The Inappropriateness of Words: An Interview with Heiner Goebbels

Posted August 6th, 2018

Heiner Goebbels is a prolific German artist, composer, and director who has created compositions and theater works for ensembles and orchestras around the world. His work often defies easy characterization, using unconventional musical composition and theatrical staging to push the boundaries of contemporary performance art.

This year’s Fringe Festival will feature two of Goebbels’s pieces: Stifters Dinge, a performative installation with no actors, only machines, sounds, and whispers, and Songs of Wars I Have Seen, a musical composition performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Tempesta di Mare, interspersed with text from Gertrude Stein’s World War II memoir Wars I Have Seen, recited by the members of the orchestras. Stein’s text, which uses plain language to describe her own experience during the war, is juxtaposed with orchestrations that span centuries of musical styles, played on modern and period instruments. FringeArts asked Goebbels about the many sources of inspiration for the piece, as well as the relationship between the two works he is presenting in this year’s Festival.

FringeArts: How did you encounter Gertrude Stein’s writing?

Heiner Goebbels: The first experience I had with the meditative musicality of her prose was when Robert Wilson recited some paragraphs of her book The Making of Americans during the funeral service for German author Heiner Müller. It was a moving encounter with literature, which is so hard to describe: a novel, a poem, a litany, an incantation? And with other excerpts of this book I created my music theater work Hashirigaki in 2000.

FringeArts: What inspired you to adapt her memoir into Songs of Wars I Have Seen?

Heiner Goebbels: I got the idea to work with some of that text for my opera Landscape with distant relatives, which I created in the context of 9/11, because of the difficulty and the inappropriateness of personal words when trying to talk about an experience of violence and disaster.

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Thinking Out Of The Music Box: Phyllis Chen on In Plain Air

Posted July 2nd, 2018

Christ Church recently completed the installation of a state-of-the-art C.B. Fisk pipe organ in its historic home, one of the oldest buildings in the nation. In a world premiere performance at this year’s Fringe Festival, musicians from International Contemporary Ensemble will explore the physicality of the grand organ, the lasting power of its sustained notes, and the tangibility of its vibration throughout the space.

In Plain Air is composed by Phyllis Chen and Nathan Davis. A founder of International Contemporary Ensemble, Chen has worked extensively with toy pianos and other miniature mechanical objects, but the massive organ presents new challenges due to its enormous size and complex mechanics. Chen spoke to FringeArts about the inspiration behind the piece, the distinctive quality of the Christ Church organ, and the significance of working inside one of Philadelphia’s most historic buildings.

One portion of this work will be made entirely from crowd-sourced music box compositions created at a music box-making session this weekend, July 8, at the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. Chen will guide Philadelphians as they create their own music box piece by punching out holes in a paper strip. These compositions will then be joined from end to end (exquisite-corpse style), creating a grand music box composition to be unveiled in the Christ Church courtyard prior to entering the church as part of In Plain Air. 

FringeArts: How does this project fit into your larger career and to International Contemporary Ensemble’s mission?

Phyllis Chen: I have been a pianist since I was five but this has been my first opportunity to explore the organ. I can still remember the first time Parker (the Christ Church organist) walked us through the innards of the organ while it was still being constructed…all the pulleys, levers and Rube Goldberg-esque design that took such engineering and craftsmanship to create. As a composer I have gravitated towards cheap, miniature and small objects as musical instruments, so working with this new state of the art organ has been a new direction for me, despite it being in the keyboard family.

As a pianist, the organ has always been a bit like a mythical instrument to me for its large range and coloristic possibilities. For example, there are low sounds of the instrument that can be physically felt in the space for its powerful vibrations. As I enjoy playing and composing for small instruments, finding the organ has begged me to think more about the place in which it lives and how it is part of its surroundings. This has led me to think of ways of incorporating the community and the performers into the space itself.

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Join The Crossing on a Musical Journey

Posted June 6th, 2018

Coming up in the 2018 Fringe Festival is Of Arms and the Man, a performance by Grammy-winning choir The Crossing. The show will explore ideas of life during war and the alliances and enemies that can be formed across national borders. It is a discussion through music about life, death, and purpose.

Before presenting this new work at Fringe, The Crossing will kick off the summer for the ninth year in a row with The Month of Moderns, a festival of new music led by conductor Donald Nally. The festival’s theme this year, life journeys, arises from the need to look inward, to reflect, examine one’s own life, and speak out on the current political environment.

Donald Nally. Photo by Becky Oehlers Photography.

“When I was a child, I was fascinated by how sad cows’ eyes seemed. I wondered if they were lonely,” says Nally on his inspiration for this year’s festival. “I no longer wonder that; they are animals, like us, and of course they are. I thought we might make a season about that.”

The Crossing, a world-renowned vocal ensemble, sings new music that reflects the values of our time and the issues facing the modern world. Every year, the choir unveils world premieres and performs music unlike anything the audience has heard before. Working with new pieces allows the members of The Crossing to explore the music and to freely interpret the notes and lyrics, creating a truly unique experience for both performers and audience members.

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Songs of Rivers Tempesta di Mare Has Seen

Posted May 16th, 2018

The 2018 Fringe Festival features Songs of Wars I have seen, an intriguing theater/music work by composer Heiner Goebbels inspired by a World War II memoir by Gertrude Stein. The composition will be performed (and spoken) by musicians from two local ensembles. But while the Philadelphia Orchestra will be familiar to most Festival-goers, baroque orchestra Tempesta di Mare remains less known.

This weekend provides an opportunity to get to know the classical ensemble, as they present their Spring program in concerts at Penn’s Landing and in Chestnut Hill. The program, River Music: Bach & Telemann on Water’s Edge, includes pieces by J.S. Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann, Baroque heavyweights whose compositions figure prominently in Tempesta’s seasons.

“This music is powerful and evocative, and it tells fascinating stories,” says Rafael Schneider, who works for the orchestra. Telemann’s piece “Hamburger Ebbe und Flut” (Hamburg ebb and flow) premiered in 1723 at a large hall overlooking the Port of Hamburg, a location Schneider compares to the Independence Seaport Museum overlooking Penn’s Landing and the Delaware. The Seaport Museum will host Saturday night’s concert, an event which also serves as the centerpiece of Tempesta’s annual gala. This festive gathering includes boat rides along the Delaware, a cocktail hour with signature drinks, a meal, and a post-concert dessert reception with the artists.

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Vender Una Fantasia: An Interview With Alex Torra

Posted April 13th, 2018

Cuban President Raúl Castro’s second term is coming to a close and as such he’s preparing to vacate the office, making good on the two-term limit he set back in 2013. Though he intends to remain on the National Assembly and retain his position as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (the country’s only legal party), for the first time since 1959 someone other than a Castro will rule the island. On April 19th, Cuba’s National Assembly will undertake the historic vote to decide just who that someone will be. The following day, as the reality of that outcome is settling in with Cuban citizens, those of us here in the island’s not-so-friendly neighbor to the north will have a chance to settle into some theater seats and get an irreverent, pointed examination of our nations’ contentious relationship.

Jenna Horton and Benjamin Camp. Photo by Kate Raines, Plate 3 Photography.

¡BIENVENIDOS BLANCOS! OR WELCOME WHITE PEOPLE! will receive its world premiere here at FringeArts on April 20th through the 28th. This new, original play from Team Sunshine Performance Corporation has been years in the making, and a true passion project for the ambitious company’s co-founder Alex Torra. Serving as the show’s lead artist and director, he was spurred to create the work in part because of his complicated relationship with his Cuban heritage. However, as the project has grown, it’s expanded its concerns far beyond the personal to encompass the long history of cultural exploitation and outsider ignorance Cuba has suffered through. Case in point, I’m embarrassed to admit just how recently I became aware that Cuba’s aforementioned vote was happening so soon. Live and learn.

Recently, we spoke with Torra to learn more about the origins of this bold, lively new play; the long journey to making it a reality, full of trips to Cuba and visa nightmares; and what audiences can expect to see onstage once the rumba beat starts.

FringeArts: Where did the title ¡BIENVENIDOS BLANCOS! OR WELCOME WHITE PEOPLE! arise from?

Alex Torra: Back in 2015, I had an opportunity to travel to Cuba for the first time. It was a super intense and difficult trip for me – for many Cuban-Americans, we only understand Cuba through the things our parents tell us and from photos or videos. To see it with your own eyes is a whole different experience.

I was really taken aback by how many of my interactions were tourism-based, and how much of the culture I was seeing was focused on getting (at that time) white tourists to have a great time and spend money. I kept having the strangest sensation – that Cuba was selling itself. I saw this phrase “Rentar Una Fantasia” on the back of a taxi. It clobbered me. Cuba has opened its doors to tourists, and now, tourism serves as one of the largest sources of revenue for the country. Cuba openly caters to tourists, and especially tourists from wealthy majority-white nations, to come and partake of the island and culture. It’s for the sake of survival, for sure, but it makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Idalmis Garcia. Photo by Kate Raines, Plate 3 Photography.

In my research, I discovered that this is a recurring theme in Cuban history. There is desire/repel quality to the way Cuba has dealt with foreigners. It goes as far back as La Conquista, where the Native people of the island, at some moments, welcomed Spanish strangers to the “New” World before they were enslaved, tortured, converted, and poisoned by European sicknesses. Then, in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Cubans, who had achieved independence from Spain had begun to welcome Americans. The Americans, in the early 20th century, used Cuba as a new marketplace and the island, especially Havana, became a kind of playground for the mafia, Hollywood, and tourists. When Castro came into power, many Cubans were happy to see the Americans go, but then the country became reliant on the Soviet Union. After the fall of Russian Communism, Cuba opened up to tourism for the first time in 40-50 years, welcoming European and Canadian tourists, and now, Cuba has opened up and is welcoming American tourists.  It’s a powerful and complicated story, of both revolting against these outside forces and also welcoming them in.

FringeArts: How has your identity and relationship with your heritage informed the piece from its conception?

Alex Torra: It was the starting place for the project. We’ll see how much of this finds its way into the final performance, but a big complication for me is my white Latinoness. I present white (some say I “pass” as white), but I’m part of a Latinx minority group. As a first generation Cuban-American, I was encouraged to find success by my parents and community, and so I set out to do that. Along the way I deleted my Miami accent, I went to theatre schools that focused on American and Euro traditions of theatre where the work was made for primarily white audiences, and I worked hard to fit and succeed. I “whitened.”

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