The McDowell Mountain Music Festival rolls into downtown Phoenix March 22, 23 and 24, bringing together music, arts, food and fun. Here are the top five reasons we’re stoked to have this locally grown event happening in our own backyard!
1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
After nearly a decade in North Scottsdale, the annual music festival is heading south to a new downtown Phoenix address. Margaret T. Hance Park will play host to the event, which will include two stages of both national and local music acts, arts & crafts vendors, food trucks, camping, kids activities and a whole lot more.
John Largay, festival founder and president of Wespac Construction, the organization behind the McDowell Mountain Music Festival, felt there were a number of good reasons to relocate the event.
Largay saw a natural partnership between the MMMF, the Roosevelt district and the City of Phoenix, with their shared goal of bringing arts and culture to the community. Says Largay, “I think it’s something that (we) can build around. So if we’re there to support community and culture, which is really our primary mission . . . I think we picked a good location and I think we picked a good partner in the City of Phoenix.”
He also liked the amenities that downtown Phoenix had to offer. “I love Hance Park. It’s a great fit for what we’re doing,” says Largay,“and from a convenience and logistics, access side, both from a light rail and parking standpoint, it’s very easy for a lot of people to get to.”
2. A ROCKIN’ LINE-UP
With national headliners like The Roots, The Shins and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and a great collection of local artists, this year’s MMMF line-up should have something for just about every music fan – which is exactly what the organizers are going for.
“We think music is universal,” says Largay, “that’s a universal language that speaks to a 10-year-old the same as it speaks to an 80-year-old, so we try to diversify our genres to make sure there’s some entertainment factor for everybody.”
Largay is especially proud that the line-up includes a number of critically acclaimed bands that haven’t stopped in Phoenix for a while, like The Shins and The Umphrey’s McGee.
3. SWEET CHARITY
As if a great location and a great line-up weren’t enough, the McDowell Mountain Music Festival is essentially a charity event, donating 100% of its proceeds to local nonprofits.
According to Largay, it’s been that way since the beginning. The festival started ten years ago as a charity project organized by Wespac employees and their friends and family and has continued to build on that mission ever since.
This year, all of the funds will be donated to three local charities: Phoenix Children’s Hospital, UMOM New Day Centers and Ear Candy Music Charity. Since its inception, the festival has given over $700,000 back to the community.
4. FREE YOGA
You’ll be able to prepare your mind, body and soul for a day of awesome music with a free yoga class from Sutra Midtown Yoga, one of downtown’s coolest studios.
According to Sutra co-owner Matthew Fritz, they will offer a free all-levels Vinyasa class on the Saturday and Sunday mornings of the festival, complete with a live dj. The class will take place inside the festival grounds on the local stage from 10am-11am both days.
The class is open to anyone who’d like to attend, whether you have a ticket to the festival or not. If you don’t have a ticket, but decide you’d like to stick around, yoga participants can buy tickets at the gate for a discounted rate of $45 with their Sutra wristband. That’s a win-win for the mind, body, soul and wallet!
Learn more here: http://sutramidtown.com/events#mmmf
5. JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE
It may sound like a copout, but it’s true: from the afterhours shows at The Crescent Ballroom, to camping at the festival, to the vast array of delicious eats and drinks to choose from – there are countless reasons to be excited about this year’s McDowell Mountain Music Festival.
Most of all, we are thrilled that it will bring together a community of music and culture lovers for a great time and a great cause. And it’s all happening right in our fantastic downtown.
If You Go
Where: Margaret T. Hance Park – 200 E. Moreland St.
March 22: doors 4 p.m./show 5 p.m.
March 23: doors 11 a.m./show 12 p.m.
March 24: doors 11 a.m./show 12 p.m.
Photos provided by McDowell Mountain Music Festival
You’ll never hear traffic noises or see plastic bags in quite the same way after STOMP, says drummer-actor John Sawicki. Since 1997 the native New Yorker has performed in the percussion stage show, which wraps up its stop in Phoenix at the Orpheum Theatre tonight. Nominated for Emmy and Academy awards, STOMP is also familiar from television, and winner of an Olivier Award for Best Choreography as well as a Drama Desk Award.
The cast members engage in a non-stop flow of sound, motion, and comedy using common household and industrial objects as well as their own bodies as instruments. Brooms, trash cans, lighters, poles, and hubcaps fill a two-story set that requires two semi trucks for the tour.
“We have a carpenter and a props guy and drivers,” says Sawicki, “and let’s not forget about the lighting and the sound…our crew is amazing. They do such a great job – all that behind-the-scenes stuff that people don’t realize is so important.”
The various sounds generated by the cast are strictly live, following STOMP’s origins as a UK street performance. “There’s no backing track,” Sawicki declares. “The sounds that you’re hearing are the actual items that we’re using – they’re just amplified a bit for the houses that we play.”
STOMP’s various vignettes frequently change. “We have new numbers that come into the show, and that keeps it fresh,” says Sawicki. “The things that we do now [include] shopping carts, and we have a number with inner tubes…another one with paint cans…. So if people saw the show last year, they’ll definitely see newer stuff.”
“The number that we do called ‘Matches,’ we play these matchboxes,” Sawicki describes. “And people might react toward what I do [in] a certain way, which will cause that piece to have a different journey for that evening. It could be something as basic as a smile or not smiling, and that changes the tone.”
“New performers add a freshness,” he continues. “Their personalities and the way they play…change the whole vibe and energy. The placement of the beat can be different. When you’re dealing with rhythms and drumming, playing is their emotion, so it changes every night.”
Each performer plays a role – Sawicki is “Sarge.” “I’m in charge of the audience and the group onstage,” the actor explains. “Then there’s another guy we call ‘Potatohead’ who’s kind of in charge of making sure the music’s going right.”
Another character is ‘Mozzie,’ Sawicki continues. “He’s like my annoying little brother – he’s just like a tag-along guy, so there’s that comedy element. The whole show is based around drummers, dancers, and actors, and if one of us isn’t a dancer or a drummer, we help each other learn how to do that.”
STOMP requires constant practice, he says. “We rehearse every single day, and block out a four- to five-hour rehearsal every week. You have to be extremely focused and you have to be on point.”
The physically taxing routine takes its toll on the cast. “I can equate it to being a professional athlete,” Sawicki elaborates. “There’s definitely wear and tear…people have knee injuries, hip injuries…it’s so hard-core and so punk-rock that there are going to be injuries – that just comes along with the territory. The longer you do it, the more your body shows it.”
“There’s so much that goes on within the performance,” he says, “people sometimes think there’s more than eight of us onstage.” Sawicki chuckles. “They think, ‘Oh, I thought there were 10 or 12 or 16 people.’”
The audience returns to see the show again and again, he continues, “because there’s so much going on that they want to catch all of it. And the whole show is based upon action and reaction.”
STOMP also seems to inspire audiences. “Everything we use onstage is [what] people use in their everyday lives,” says Sawicki, “and they don’t realize that it’s possible to make all this rhythmic beauty. So after they see the show,” he continues, “they’ll hear a car horn honk or their windshield wipers and their turn signal, and all of a sudden that becomes a song.”
“It’s a contagious show because of that,” he concludes. “We take the chaotic rhythms of the world and we organize it into a show.”
All images courtesy of STOMP.
If you go:
- Thu., January 31 at 7:30PM
- Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams St.
- Tickets available at the Phoenix Convention Center box office, theaterleague.com, Ticketmaster, or 800-745-3000.
The Arizona Bach Festival continues its third season of performances through this weekend with an organ recital, a chamber orchestra performance, and last night’s unusual piano duo program of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.
When German organist and composer Max Reger arranged the concertos – originally written for various configurations of strings, winds, and harpsichord — for piano four hands between 1905-1906, he was taking another step in a long tradition. Bach often rearranged his own works for different instrumentations, recycling his melodies and themes over the years, and he was one of Reger’s favorite composers; “Bach was his big, big idol,” says pianist Eckart Sellheim. “Bach, Beethoven, Brahms…those three…were Reger’s spiritual and compositional mentors.”
A former professor at the University of Michigan and Arizona State University, Sellheim has served on the faculty and as guest lecturer at conservatories across Germany, earning a respected reputation for historical performance accuracy, with a particular interest in the fortepiano (the modern piano’s predecessor). He and his wife, collaborative piano specialist Dian Baker, performed three of the six Brandenburgs last night at Central United Methodist Church.
The appeal of the Brandenburgs is complex, says Sellheim. “It’s this mixture of very recognizable melodies…the rhythm, the incredibly clear structure, and the beauty of the slow movements.” He elaborates, “They’ve become sort of a main staple of the repertory, and many people grew up with them.”
Bach wrote the six concertos in the early 18th century for the noble court in Brandenburg, a northeast German state. Perhaps because of its difficulty, his music languished unheard for over a century, but today it’s nearly as popular as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Max Reger systematically studied Bach’s keyboard works and also created numerous transcriptions and arrangements of music by composers ranging from Bach to Hugo Wolf, his own contemporary. A friend of Richard Strauss and Hans Pfitzner, Reger is sometimes considered the musical link between Brahms and Schoenberg. “He was highly controversial,” says Sellheim. “He ventures out into unknown fields, particularly the piano music, but never crosses the line.”
“You have to realize,” he continues, “it was an incredible time around the turn of the century, 1900 – there was Wolf, and Strauss, and Ravel, and Debussy…they changed the course of music.” Born in 1873, Reger was a renowned organist known as “the second Bach” because of his keyboard skills. His compositions include modulations and structure flirting with 12-tone rows, but looking back to Baroque and Classical styles.
“Reger had no sympathy for the harpsichord,” Sellheim says, “but Bach on the modern piano is really no problem at all – it works very fine.” Reger’s transcriptions are hugely challenging for the performers – according to Sellheim, the composer said he had the “greatest fun” writing them, interweaving complex lines from numerous instruments into just 20 fingers on a single keyboard.
“It’s fun to play,” he adds, “and as always Bach is so enticing and so interesting, fascinating…not only in the technical and musical aspects, but also rhythm.” Sellheim pauses. “The feeling is always that Bach goes back to the core of music – he makes us clean and clear…it’s so revealing.” He laughs. “The cleaning process makes you sober, if you’re not sober before, and gets you back to the origins…you need to confess something – there is no hiding. Everything is completely open.”
The Festival’s president, Arizona native Scott Youngs, created a seven-year “American Bach” series in his position as director of music at All Saints’ Episcopal Church and Day School. After offering more than 50 cantatas along with Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions, he continued by developing the Festival, a non-profit organization with its own board.
“We strive to present Bach’s music in a variety of ways,” says Youngs. “The music is so versatile and today’s taste so eclectic that we don’t feel constricted by any convention. At least one concert each year is slightly ‘off the wall.’” He continues, “This year’s concert for piano four hands…some portions are strictly from Bach’s scoring, and some portions are…through a much more Romantic and contemporary lens. Lots of notes!”
If you go
- Friday, January 11, 7:30PM at Central United Methodist Church, 1875 N. Central
Eckart Sellheim and Dian Baker play Reger’s transcriptions of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos
- Saturday, January 12, 3PM at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 6300 N. Central
David Enlow performs a dramatic recital on the Visser tracker organ
- Sunday, January 13, 3PM at Camelback Bible Church, 3900 E. Stanford Dr., Paradise Valley
The Festival Chamber Orchestra welcomes violin soloist Stephen Redfield and flute soloist Elizabeth Buck
This weekend Phoenix Theatre offers its final performances of the all-Gershwin musical ‘S Wonderful, directed by Associate Artistic Director Robert Kolby Harper. “This kind of show is really hard,” he says, “not just for the director-choreographer but for the actors because they’ll change clothes 50,000 times, and they’ll sing 40 songs by the end of the night.”
Perhaps the number of wardrobe changes is slightly exaggerated, but ‘S Wonderful does cover more than 42 Gershwin tunes in its whirlwind tour of five time periods and locations. Mini-musicals take audiences to a 1939 Parisian café, a 1948 Hollywood movie studio, and New Orleans in 1957 – there’s a total of five vignettes of 15-20 minutes each, all sharing the same sleek but effective Art Deco-inspired set pieces.
If you’re searching for a deep, complex plot, don’t bother – the simple, timeless themes of yearning, attraction, romance, and love are carried on the thinnest of storylines. It’s all a vehicle for the rich music of the Gershwin brothers. And “if you’re looking for linear,” says Harper with a chuckle, “you’re screwed, because it’s not gonna happen.” He shakes his head and continues, “But that’s not how memories are; memories are collages, feelings…sometimes just snapshots.”
A tight, talented onstage three-piece combo of piano, bass, and drums plays nearly non-stop, providing not only accompaniment but also interludes between the mini-musicals and seamless segues between styles.
So many songs in such a relatively short show might create a dizzying, abbreviated effect, but Harper says that while “there are moments where it’s more snippety, there’s a big group of songs where you get a nice chunk.” A few of the numbers receiving more extended play include “Nice Work If You Can Get It” as well as selections from the Gershwins’ beloved folk opera.
“[The songs] that I’m most excited about are from Porgy and Bess, because I get to sing a little bit on ‘There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York,’” says actor Toby Yatso. “I’ll probably never be in a production of Porgy and Bess for racial reasons,” he continues, “so I think it’s fun to be able to experience those songs, that music, that score, even if it’s just a little taste…it’s a unique opportunity.”
Yatso is an Associate Artist at Phoenix Theatre, and serves on the faculty for Arizona State University’s Lyric Opera Theatre program (as does Harper). He’s won numerous ariZoni and Encore Society awards for his work onstage and as a director, teacher, and choreographer in shows like The Producers, Avenue Q, and Glorious.
“What I like about Toby is that he’s never satisfied with just bringing the same-old same-old,” explains Harper. “And he’s just awesome to work with – I laugh hysterically.” He smiles. “That’s one of my big things in rehearsal: if we’re not laughing, we’re going home, ‘cause life’s too short. We’re not curing cancer here, people – we’re doing a musical revue.”
“At the end of the day, if you’re in a revue, yeah – sing pretty, but you’ve got to be funny. It can’t all be about the voice, because I can get a CD and sit at home in my PJs and have a cocktail,” Harper continues. “So I want people who can be interesting to watch, and move you to feel something…lift the music off the page.”
The cast also includes Kaitlynn Kleinman Bluth, Jenny Hintze, Kyle Erickson Hewitt, and Jenn Taber, who stars in ‘S Wonderful’s mini-musical “Of Thee I Sing,” embracing the role of an abandoned chanteuse. “Jenn’s one of the funniest women I’ve ever met,” says Yatso. “She can sing anything and is just so committed to everything she does…and it’s fun to work with her because we’re such different-sized people. And I love that – I just love the contrast of us.”
The 6-foot-5-inch-plus Yatso continues, “I think I’m known because of my height, and as a unique physical presence.” His character in the first vignette is a newsroom worker, a sort of silent movie standard with choreography making the most of Yatso’s build. “This is so much about the physical storytelling — I get to heighten all my physical attributes…and I have a lot!” he laughs wryly.
He’s delighted with all three of his female co-stars. “Jenny and I have danced together a lot – I always feel like she makes me look like a better dancer than I probably would be by myself,” Yatso chuckles. “And Kaitlynn…we always felt we were so connected onstage.” He smiles again, and exclaims, “When I heard it was those three women, I thought, ‘I am a lucky, lucky man!’”
‘S Wonderful includes plenty of dancing along with songs ranging from the less familiar (“My Cousin in Milwaukee”) to beloved favorites. “Of course you can’t have Gershwin without ‘Someone To Watch Over Me,’” says Yatso. Harper agrees; “I don’t know who can hear that song and not have a real visceral reaction to those lyrics.” He continues, “I think even now…even teenagers can listen to that and go, ‘Wow – yes, I feel that. That’d be awesome – I’d love to have someone watch over me like that.”
“And that’s the whole point,” Harper says. “That’s what music does, especially the Gershwins’ music – it connects people in ways that are meaningful, that are deeper than just dancing in the club. It boils down to love.”
Even as ‘S Wonderful leaves the stage, Phoenix Theatre prepares for the world premiere of another production: Love Makes the World Go ‘Round, based on the music of Bob Merrill, who wrote hits like “Mambo Italiano,” “If I Knew You Were Coming I’d’ve Baked a Cake,” and “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?” as well as works for theatre and film like Funny Girl and Carnival. Merrill, who reportedly composed on toy xylophones, took his life in 1998 at the age of 74.
“Love Makes the World Go ‘Round is set in a New York piano bar, where these three women have sort of wandered in,” explains Producing Artistic Director Michael Barnard. “They’re each in a different stage in their lives and their marriages – or ‘not-marriages’ – so they get into conversations with the help of the piano player…it’s a very funny piece.”
The tiny cast includes Jeannie Shubitz, Allison Houston, and Patti Davis, while the pianist is Brad Ellis, an arranger and accompanist for television’s “Glee,” who also worked with writer Duane Poole on the show’s arrangements.
The sound of the Phoenix Chorale can be something like an instantly addictive drug – often, listeners are hooked after hearing just a few notes sung a cappella, without accompaniment. In addition to winning Grammy Awards, the Chorale’s mesmerizing sound recently received even more recognition – iTunes named the choir’s recording Northern Lights: Choral Works by Ola Gjeilo as Best Classical Vocal Album of the Year.
Led by Artistic Director Charles Bruffy, the Chorale turns those clear, pure tones to holiday repertoire for a program scheduled for performances December 20-23 at venues around the Valley, including Brophy Chapel and Trinity Cathedral. While the concerts include traditional favorites like “I Saw Three Ships,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and the “Wexford Carol,” the centerpiece is a 10-movement suite called Gaudete! (“Rejoice”) written by former Phoenix Chorale director Anders Öhrwall, and performed by the Chorale in his memory.
Born in Sweden in 1932, Öhrwall founded the Bach Choir at Stockholm’s Church of Adolf Frederik, leading it for 36 years. He received a Swedish royal medal for his work, and conducted the Swedish Radio Choir and Youth Choir, the Stockholm Philharmonic Choir, and the Drottningholm Baroque Festival. Öhrwall was known not only for his meticulous rehearsal technique, but also for his numerous and popular choral arrangements and compositions.
Öhrwall conducted the Phoenix Chorale for two years when it was known as the Bach & Madrigal Society of Phoenix, leading the ensemble’s change of name to the Phoenix Bach Choir from 1990 to 1992. He died on February 4, 2012 at the age of 79.
The tunes of Gaudete come from a collection of Latin songs published in 1582 in Sweden, and while the melodies may be recognizable – from carols like “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” and “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” – the text is less familiar. Öhrwall’s work stands apart with its addition of a woodwind trio, featuring a local ensemble: the Paradise Winds. “It’s the clarity of the Phoenix Chorale that sets it apart, but also that they make such a warm sound,” Bruffy explains. “I think it’ll be a really nice and complete sonority in this pairing with instruments.”
Founded by bassoonist Joseph Kluesener, the Paradise Winds shape themselves into a flexible, varying ensemble depending on the requirements of the music. “For this concert,” says Kluesener, “there’s a combination of bassoon, oboe, and flute, and the repertoire divides the winds into different arrangements of those three instruments.” The oboist is Nikolaus Flickinger, and the flutist is Arizona State University professor Elizabeth Buck.
Kluesener, who also organizes Classical Revolution PHX, created the Paradise Winds as a genre-bending group in 2009 using ASU graduate students, alumni, and faculty. “That was the point,” he explains, “to control the programming, the repertoire we play, and to really get to know what our instruments can do together.”
As a testament to the group’s innovative and tight-knit sound, it’s been featured on American Public Media’s radio show Performance Today. Although the musicians don’t have a regular rehearsal schedule, they do enjoy a deep familiarity with their ensemble. “Everybody is really keenly capable,” says Kluesener, “so we don’t have to waste a lot of time mastering the vision of the presentation…because we’ve done so much together over the last three years.”
Beyond Öhrwall’s Gaudete, other holiday repertoire takes advantage of the Paradise Winds in different configurations – for example, Philip Stopford’s arrangement of “Silent Night” adds flute to the choir. “It’s one of my favorite songs throughout the year,” says Bruffy. “I love the melody of it, and the peace that it always evokes. It’s just quite lovely in its simplicity with an occasional fingerprint on the harmonies [from Stopford].” Born in 1977, Stopford has been compared to iconic choral composer John Rutter.
In the case of “Hark, the Herald Angels,” Bruffy says he told his friend Jim Taylor, “Hey, I like this piece, but I’m only going to have flute, oboe, and bassoon – can you hook me up?” Bruffy smiles and continues, “So he created this arrangement with the specifications of just the three instruments instead of a whole orchestra.” He laughs. “It’s the ‘Hark, the Herald’ that we know, but this time ‘Herald’ has a little more character.”
For contrast, the Chorale also performs three other arrangements of the classic Gaudete verse – one is from Phoenix Chorale soprano Kira Zeeman Rugen, who created her version for the male voices in a choir she conducted at ASU. Audiences even have the chance to sing along during a few favorite carols at each concert.
“One thing that I really like about the entirety of the program,” says Bruffy, “is that with the complexity and velocity…and even voracity of the season, the pieces we’re going to be doing are simply beautiful.”