The Danish String Quartet offers a striking scope of expressions amid longtime friendships

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The Danish String Quartet

Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (violin), Asbjørn Nørgaard (viola), Frederik Øland (violin), Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin (cello) are the Danish String Quartet. Photo by Caroline Bittencourt

When violinists Frederik Øland, Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, and violist Asbjørn Nørgaard were 11 and 12, they met at a summer music camp, never guessing they would grow up to be part of what The New York Times called “an exceptional quartet.” 

“I grew up nearby, and I just signed up because it was a chance to play in a big symphony orchestra, something that I had never really tried," says Nørgaard, now of the Danish String Quartet, which performs at Rackham Auditorium on November 15. "And then I met Rune and Frederik. Honestly, the friendship was more founded on the soccer field than in rehearsal rooms. The vibe of Danish music summer camps is quite loose, more focusing on the love that an amateur can have for music than working hard to build a career in music. I think this priority of values has always been quite important to us, and we are at times still quite shocked when we encounter the steely ambition that also is a part of the classical music world.” 

Cultivating “Candide” at the University of Michigan

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Drawings of Candide

Some theaters revive Broadway hits. Others take chances on new plays that may or may not be successful. In 1973, an adventurous theater in New York did what no theater had ever done: the Chelsea Theater Center of Brooklyn revived a 1957 Broadway flop. 

Candide, for all its problems, featured music by Leonard Bernstein that rivals what he accomplished in West Side Story and his best concert works. After bringing in new people to revise the book and lyrics and finding a radical new way to stage the work, the Chelsea brought Candide back to Broadway; there, it drew huge audiences, earned rave reviews, and took five Tony Awards. Since then, Candide has been a staple of theater and opera companies -- it lives on the line between musical theater and operetta -- and has been revised by other companies along the way.  

Now, on what would have been Bernstein’s 100th birthday, the University Opera Theatre, in collaboration with Michigan’s departments of Theatre & Drama and Musical Theatre, will present the 1988 Scottish Opera version. Matthew Ozawa will stage Bernstein’s favorite and final revision; Kenneth Kiesler will conduct the University Symphony Orchestra. “The Scottish version has much more music,” Ozawa reports. 

A Halloween Treat From the Penny Seats: “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at WCC

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In the summer of 2011, Lauren London, now general counsel at Eastern Michigan University, brought together a troupe of unpretentious and fun-loving thespians who created the Penny Seats Theatre Company. The idea was to offer theater tickets that were about the price of movie tickets, affordable for all, echoing the penny seats available to Elizabethans who came to shows at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. 

After opening its first production at the bandshell in West Park, Penny Seats performed in assorted venues, outdoors and in, including a restaurant, a church, and the rehearsal room of a theater -- but never in a theater.  They struggled with imperfect acoustics and limited equipment, becoming more technically savvy each season. And each season, Penny Seats did more and better productions.  Now, they do four-show seasons that include summers in the park. 

Over the years, the company produced musicals, dramas, comedies, and cabaret shows, including some original works, such as Joseph Zettelmaier’s The Renaissance Man. Horror was on the menu, too, last October, with Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, and in the park last summer with Zettelmaier’s The Gravedigger and the musical based on Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein

There was no thought of making a habit of horror. Then Zettelmaier had an idea, which he presented to London and the rest of the board.  

Titanic Comedy: Jeff Daniels’ "Diva Royale" keeps audiences laughing

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Diva Royale at The Purple Rose Theatre

Kate Thomsen, Kristin Shields, Rhiannon Ragland star in Jeff Daniel's latest play, Diva Royale, at The Purple Rose Theatre. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

You can’t typecast Jeff Daniels. He’s played someone dumb (and dumber), a highly intelligent newsman, and lots of other characters with assorted traits, interests, and careers. 

He’s got roots in the theater, and he’s equally comfortable on the big and little screen. He also writes and performs folk songs. As founder of The Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, he’s produced plays. 

Jeff Daniels writes plays, too.  

Of course, you can’t expect Daniels to limit himself to one style or subject. His 17 plays, all presented at the Rose, include a searing look at friendships between people with different incomes that mixed realism with farcical elements, a political drama that showed the way the tragic situation in Flint has impacted relationships, and a comedy about hunting set in the U.P.  He’s written in the style of Samuel Beckett and Neil Simon with equal ease.

And the Daniels play that’s on the boards at the Purple Rose now, Diva Royale, is a lively slapstick comedy that feels very much like a musical comedy. The opening night audience responded to the musicality of the show, clapping after scenes the way spectators at musicals usually clap after musical numbers.   

Transfigured Foursome: The Jerusalem Quartet will come to Ann Arbor as a sextet

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Jerusalem Quartet

The Jerusalem Quartet -- (l to r) Kyril Zlotnikov, Ori Kam, Alexander Pavlovsky, Sergei Bresler -- will become six with the addition of Pinchas Zukerman and Amanda Forsyth for their October 6 concert. Photo by Felix Broede.

Ori Kam, violist for the Jerusalem Quartet, grew up in two countries, studied music in three, and now teaches in Switzerland while performing all over the globe, often with the Jerusalem Quartet.

Kam joined the Quartet in 2010, but “Israel is a small place," he says. "I knew the quartet and its members since its very early days and had some opportunities to hear and even play with them together before joining. When the opportunity came about for me to join, I was very happy and eager to step into the role.” 

In Israel and America, Kam grew up surrounded by music. “My mother is a violinist,” he says. “There was always music in our household, especially chamber music.” He can’t remember a life without music, but two experiences convinced him he might want a life as a musician. 

Through Molly’s Eyes: The Kickshaw Theatre Takes us to "Milvotchkee, Visconsin"

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Kickshaw Theatre's Milvotchkee, Wisconsin

Talking Molly: Brenda Lane, Dave Davies, and Nancy Elizabeth Kammer are part of the six-person cast in "Milvotchkee, Visconsin." Photos by Sean Carter Photography

Molly has a hole in her head. Memories are escaping through it. Her doctor thinks that’s entirely possible. At least, that’s the way Molly hears what he says. 

Fred Smith, who built a statue park in Milvotchkee, Visconsin--Molly gave tours of the park for many years -- was struck by lightning. He lived for 12 years after that. What happened during those years? Molly is obsessed with this story, which may or may not have some relationship to reality. 

The Kickshaw Theatre’s current offering, Laura Jacqmin’s Milvotchkee, Visconsin, is set in various locations in Milvotchkee, a place you won’t find on any map, and in Molly’s mind as she descends into dementia. Molly encounters a variety of people in places that include a hospital, a movie theater, and her distorted memory. 

Staying Alive: Melanie at Green Wood Coffee House

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Melanie wowed audiences at Woodstock back in the summer of ’69 with her hit "Beautiful People." On that rainy night, spectators lit the night with candles, inspiring her song "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)," which sold more than a million copies in 1970. Billboard, Cashbox, Melody Maker, Record World, and Bravo responded by naming Melanie female vocalist of the year.

Her single "Brand New Key," an almost-innocent sexy delight, topped the charts in '71. She appeared on Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, and Dick Cavett. She played the Royal Albert Hall in London, Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, and the Sydney Opera House in Australia. Cher and Dolly Parton are among those who covered her songs.

To those who enjoyed folk music, and even some who didn't, Melanie was a household name.

Now, at 70, she tours and tries to stay afloat, which includes a sold-out show at Green Wood Coffee House in Ann Arbor on Friday, Nov. 10.

Still, she says, “I’ve been carefully airbrushed out of history."

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

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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.

Simultaneous Strings: Emerson and Calidore team up at Rackham

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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.

Kickshaw mounts a first-rate production of "Really"

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Really, Kickshaw Theatre

Girlfriend (Shaunie Lewis) helps Mother (Pamela Bierly Jusino) try to capture the moment in Kickshaw's staging of Really.

There's a standard announcement before Kickshaw Theatre’s production of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Really: Director Lynn Lammers reminds spectators to turn off phones and that “the taking of photographs is strictly forbidden” by the actor’s union. Before she can finish, a young photographer appears, camera in hand. Click.

But no rules have been broken. The photo won’t be developed. Calvin, the photographer, is dead.

That doesn’t mean he’s out of the picture. Calvin is at the center, the only character who has a name. Mother and Girlfriend may have outlived him, but they are defined by their relationships to him. Mother is visiting Girlfriend, a photographer who has invited her for a photo shoot.