Imaginary Landscapes: UMMA concert explores the sonic side of abstraction


Jonathan Ovalle

U-M assistant professor of percussion Jonathan Ovalle compiled a program of music that complements the visual art in the exhibit Victors for Art: Michigan's Alumni Collectors -- Part II: Abstraction.

When most of us think about the word “abstract” our minds go directly to pieces by artists like Jackson Pollock or Pablo Picasso. But "Angles of Abstraction" will let guests see -- well, hear -- that the word abstract can apply to much more than just visual art.

Curated by University of Michigan's Jonathan Ovalle, "Angles of Abstraction" (Sunday, Oct. 22, UMMA) started to come together after the assistant professor of percussion was approached by a colleague over the summer and asked him to create a concert that tied into the themes of the UMMA exhibit Victors for Art: Michigan's Alumni Collectors -- Part II: Abstraction.

“The big buzz words were ‘abstract’ and ‘exploration,’” Ovalle said. “Both of those words are super intriguing to me.”

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Edgefest & Piotr Michalowski have helped make A2 a haven for avant jazz


Ballister by Geert-Vandepoele

Piotr Michalowski, Andrew Drury, and Joe McPhee played Encore Records on October 17 as a warm-up to Kerrytown Concert House's annual Edgefest (Oct. 18-21). Photo by Eric Gallippo.

As free-jazz hero Joe McPhee got started on the third movement of Tuesday night's Fringe at the Edge concert at Encore Records, he settled into a minimalist, two-beat groove that was sometimes barely audible.

While McPhee patted his palm against the mouthpiece of his pocket trumpet, drummer Andrew Drury fell in, lightly tapping skins, rims, and cymbals for a nervous, anti-beat.

Piotr Michalowski held his sopranino saxophone and listened a moment, then completed the percussive theme by popping and puffing through his horn, before the trio opened up into long-toned exuberance. When it was over, Drury made Michalowski jump and then grin, as he frantically bowed away at some metal for a screeching effect.

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In Their Own Voices: Michelle Held & Frank Allison at Crazy Wisdom


Frank Allison & Michelle Held

Frank Allison and Michelle Held have found their voices through song. Allison photo by Doug Coombe.

Detroit-based Michelle Held was a professional actress, appearing at the best theaters in Michigan, including the Purple Rose, where she trained, and the Williamston Theatre near Lansing. Her then-boyfriend gave her a guitar, but Held hardly touched it because she was busy with day jobs and rehearsals. And when she did try to play it, it didn't go well. “I would pick it up and get frustrated,” Held says.

When she took a full-time job at a production house, Held took her guitar to work but had too little time to do more than tinker with it. It wasn't until she was laid off from that job in 2009 that Held could work on her guitar skills and, finally, she says “began to get the hang of it.” In 2011, she wrote her first song.

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Musical Royalty: Ann Arbor Symphony performs "Ludwig and the Kings"


Katie Geddes and David Vaughn at The Ark

Arie Lipsky will conduct cellist Zlatomir Fung and the Ann Arbor Symphony is an eclectic program of music that evokes King Solomon.

On Saturday, Oct. 21, the Ann Arbor Symphony will present a program called “Ludwig and the Kings.” “Ludwig,” of course, represents luminary German composer Ludwig van Beethoven. But who is the King in question?

“Growing up in Israel, I had daily bible studies and was fascinated with the complex characters of some of the prophets and kings," said conductor Arie Lipsky, who has led the symphony for 17 seasons. "This concert presents a rare musical outlook on King Solomon, known to be the wisest man on earth.”

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After threatening retirement, folk legend Tom Paxton rambled back to The Ark


Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton.

When Tom Paxton played The Ark two years ago as one of the final stops on what was advertised as his national farewell tour, it was hard to believe that he’d really retire. Yes, he had just turned 78, had been writing and performing his songs for nearly 60 of those years, and had earned the right to get off the road. But he still looked like he was having a good old time on stage, his voice sounded great, his guitar playing was as clean and crisp as ever, and he had a new CD of his recent songs.

Yes, he did say he was sick of airports, but was that reason enough to stop touring? Apparently not.

Like the Energizer Bunny, Paxton has kept going and he returned to The Ark again on October 13 with a couple of new collaborators, The Don Juans, some new songs, and even plans for the foreseeable future.

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Beautiful Blend: Emerson and Calidore String Quartets at Rackham


Emerson and Calidore String Quartets at Rackham

The legendary Emerson String Quartet (above) was joined by the Calidore String Quartets at Rackham Auditorium for octet performances in addition to their usual foursomes. Photo by Lisa Mazzucco.

Classical music fans clapped in high anticipation as the Emerson String Quartet walked onstage at Rackham Auditorium for its UMS concert on Thursday, Oct. 5. But it wasn't just the four-decade-old Emerson ensemble for which the audience was excited; fans were also eager to hear the Calidore String Quartet, a newer ensemble that hooked up with its mentor group for this concert, including performing as a blended octet.

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Musical Maestro: Shafaat Khan at The Ark


Shafaat Khan at The Ark

Shafaat Khan.

Sitar and tabla player Shafaat “Maestro” Khan demonstrated the aptness of his title at The Ark on Tuesday, Oct. 3. Khan’s command of his instruments evoked select meditative, spiritual, and romantic moods and the evening passed as more of a conversation than a one-sided performance.

To call Indian classical music a tradition in Khan’s family would be an understatement. Indian classical music is an institution in the Khan family. Shafaat Khan is the nephew of legendary Ustad Vilayat Khan and son of Inayat Khan. His brother is Shujaat Khan, another eminent sitarist whom I had the privilege of attending his performance in Kolkata, India in 2009.

As a student of sitar, I have an appreciation for the advanced skill these teachers bring to the instrument. But it was clear that by the sheer talent Shafaat Khan brought to the stage, anyone and everyone could appreciate his music and skills.

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Cantina Jams: A2SO plays the music of "Star Wars"


A2SO Star Wars

Return of the Jedis: Last year's A2SO Star Wars concerts were sold-out affairs, so the symphony brought them back.

Not so long ago -- last year, to be precise -- in a venue that’s close, close by, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra (A2SO) played two sold-out concerts featuring John Williams’ music from the Harry Potter films. The audience response was so enthusiastic that A2SO immediately started making plans to perform two concerts featuring Star Wars music, and those concerts will happen Saturday night and Sunday afternoon (October 7-8) at the Michigan Theater.

“We were so overwhelmed (last year) ... and the audience, some of whom had never seen a live symphony concert before, told us that the music evoked powerful images for them, even though there was no visual component accompanying the music,” said A2SO conductor Arie Lipsky. “They also told us that they’d never thought that music had played such a vital role in the movies, and they thanked us for highlighting the music on its own. So many said, ‘Now we’re hooked on seeing live symphony orchestra shows,’ and we responded by investing in music from all the Star Wars movies.”

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Simultaneous Strings: Emerson and Calidore team up at Rackham


Calidore String Quartet

The Calidore String Quartet met the Emerson String Quartet by going backstage and asking the legendary group to give the young ensemble a listen.

When Jeffrey Myers, first violinist for the Calidore String Quartet, grew up watching the Emerson String Quartet, he didn’t imagine members of the world-acclaimed quartet would mentor him -- or that he would share the stage with them.

After all, the Emerson, named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, has accepted nine Grammys for its 30-plus recordings and performed all over the world since being established in 1976. Its members, violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton, and cellist Paul Watkins, have notable careers individually, too.

Yet, when the Emerson performs in Ann Arbor on October 5 at Rackham Auditorium, it will perform with the Calidore, which Myers and three friends -- second violinist Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry and cellist Estelle Choi -- formed when they were students at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles.

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Still Sunshining: Jonathan Edwards at Green Wood Coffee House


Jonathan Edwards at Green Wood Coffee House

Jonathan Edwards earned his first performing check 50 years ago and his first hit with “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” in 1971.

When Jonathan Edwards’ song “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” came out in 1971, it seemed to speak to the anger and the frustration that many felt at Nixon, the war in Vietnam, and other aspects of the establishment. But it did it in a memorable, catchy, almost joyful way.

Another song on that first Edwards recording, “Shanty” is still played by many classic rock stations around the country on Friday afternoons as a way of signaling and celebrating the beginning of weekends. (“'Cause we gonna lay around the shanty, mama / And put a good buzz on.”)

Edwards still tours and plays in Ann Arbor regularly, and he’ll be at the Green Wood Coffee House on Friday, October 6 at 8 pm. I spoke with him on the phone recently.

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