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Classical Rev Rocks Constella Festival

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Oct 15, 2013 - 3:56:14 PM in reviews_2013

Il Troubadore, left to right, clarinetist Leonie Leduc, percussionist Paul Radecki, mandolinist Robert Bruce Scott and cellist Jon Silpayamanant

Klingons in the house.

That was the buzz as creatures right out of “Star Trek,” with ridged foreheads and beards, began appearing in the back room at Northside Tavern Sunday night.

The occasion was Classical Revolution, an international movement to bring classical music to the people. To do so, events are held in highly accessible venues, such as bars and taverns, featuring artists of varying styles and backgrounds. The Cincinnati chapter of Classical Revolution (check them out at www.classicalrevolutioncincinnati.com) presents informal concerts every second Sunday at Northside Tavern. This month’s event was part of the 2013 Constella Festival.

The Klingons, aka Il Troubadore Klingon Music Project (Indianapolis’ 24th century Klingon Opera Ensemble), took a turn onstage, as did the Price Hill String Quartet, NANOWorks Opera Company, the saxophone duo Brickmeat and the Allan Pray Ensemble.

Talk about diversity.

Violinist and Constella founder/artistic director Tatiana Berman even performed a work by New York composer Missy Mazzoli, composer-in-residence with Constella this year.

The back room of the Tavern quickly became crowded as the program got started, with patrons at the bar lending an ear along with those seated at tables in the room.

Where to begin? With Joseph Haydn, of course, father of the classical symphony and string quartet, who was represented by the Price Hill Quartet -- violinist Janet Carpenter (sitting in for Scott Jackson, who was away on tour), violinist Rachel Frankenfeld, violist Stephen Goist and cellist Laura Jekel. After a brisk, cheerful performance of the first and last movements of Haydn’s String Quartet, Op. 74, No. 2, they added some variety of their own with the first movement of Bedrich Smetana’s String Quartet No. 1, “From My Life” -- invested with drama by violist Goist -- and Astor Piazzolla’s blazing, gritty “Four for Tango.”

Would you believe an opera about the U.S. housing bubble? Enter NANOWorks’ “The Bubble” with libretto by Kendall A and music by Jennifer Jolley. This 25-minute work -- a kind of socio-political satire in the tradition of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht -- is, in a word, brilliant, from conception to execution. Premiered in June at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, “The Bubble” follows a hapless college freshman (The Ditz, also “Cutie Pie”) from taking out a student loan, to using it as collateral to buy a house she cannot afford, all goaded by a cadre of greedy adults.

Led by NANOWorks music director Aik Khai Pung, with Liz Remizowski at the keyboard, it was a bundle of laughs, with a bubbly score and a wickedly clever libretto spiced with lines such as “what a glorious place, what glorious times, making dollars from dimes” and “collateralized debt obligations are the backbone of nations” (Jolley inserted a quote from the funeral march of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 as The Ditz signed her legal documents).

The singers were fine tuned to their roles: tenor Allan Palacios Chan as the Dean/Mortgage Broker, tenor Will Reed as the Banker, baritone Christopher Brandon Morales as the Landlord/Realtor and baritone Andrew Whelan as the Financier. Jolley herself was engagingly meek in the non-singing role of The Ditz who carries a balloon offstage at the end, only to have it burst.

This was a hard act to follow but no one could do it better than Berman, who put a world of expression into Mazzoli’s “Dissolve, O My Heart” for solo violin (inspired, we are told. by the Chaconne from Bach's Partita in D Minor). From its soft beginning through passages of agitation and strife to a final soft, high harmonic, it had an anguished feel, tempered by acceptance and resignation (the title comes from an aria in Bach's "St. John Passion").

Brickmeat – saxophonists Jonathan Brink and Woody Chenoweth -- and offered a pair of duos for soprano saxophone by Australian composer Russell Gilmour, followed by “The Doll’s Lament” by Cesar Franck, arranged for soprano and alto sax. Their piece de resistance was “Black” (by Marc Mellits), which featured one rhythmic riff after another, with constant interplay between the voices.

Il Troubadour – cellist Jon Silpayamanant, mandolinist Robert Bruce Scott, percussionist Paul Radecki and clarinetist Leonie Leduc – was founded in 2009 with a mission is to perform “all the songs of the multiverse,” hence their Klingon ID. Their repertoire includes, they say, over 700 songs from 60 countries in 37 languages, including art music, pop music, world music, their own music, you name it (they sing in Klingon, too). This made for a delightful show, complete with lessons in Klingon (majQa’ means “very good”).

There was the fierce, pounding “Klingon War Song” and a song from “planet Freddie" (“Another One Bites the Dust"). “The Klingon Love Song” was sung with breathless ardor by Scott. “Moon Song” from the Klingon Opera “‘u’“ featured some stratospheric cello playing by Silpayamanant. Their “German love song,” “Sie liebt dich” (“ja, ja, ja”) did not get lost in translation, nor did their “Japanese folk song” (“Mr. Roboto”). A request from Classical Revolution Cincinnati founder/director Laura Sabo came “from a galaxy far, far away” (“Yub Nub”).

All of this elicited whoops from the crowd, giving the Allan Pray Ensemble, a nine-piece folk band, a really hard act to follow. However, after considerable time setting up, they did so to good effect, despite the lateness of the hour (and a considerably diminished audience).