Even if you’re too young or too hip for hits like “Mandy,” “I Write the Songs,” “One Voice,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” and the iconic “Copacabana (At the Copa),” you’re familiar with the music of Barry Manilow. Think of timeless commercial tunes like “I Am Stuck on Band-Aid” and “Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is There,” or “You Deserve a Break Today” for McDonald’s – Manilow started his career performing and writing for New York’s advertising jingle circuit.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Manilow was studying accordion and playing piano by the age of seven, attending New York College of Music and Juilliard. He began working with Bette Midler in 1971, and recorded his debut solo album the following year. Since then, he’s released 40 albums and won Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Awards as a performer, producer, author, and actor.
The singer has also been contributing to numerous communities through his Manilow Fund for Health & Hope, a non-profit charity supporting local, grass-roots organizations focusing on cancer, AIDS, children’s issues, abuse, homelessness, and music education. Part of that Fund is the Manilow Music Project, formed in 2008 by Manilow and some friends. The Project donates instruments, sheet music, and music stands to school music programs, responding to depleted budgets and funding cuts.
Thanks to a local instrument drive kicked off with Manilow’s donation of a Yamaha piano, Phoenix high schools became the latest beneficiaries of his philanthropy. Bring a new or gently used musical instrument as a donation to his Comerica Theatre performance, and you’ll receive two free tickets to the show.
“I think Manilow’s concerned that, with these shrinking education budgets, the first thing to go are the arts…that’s just a shame,” says Phoenix Union High School District Community Relations Manager Craig Pletenik. “And if we can recycle some music, hopefully we can also recycle arts education.”
More than 3,400 students participate in music classes throughout the district. “Many of our students come from lower socio-economic conditions,” Pletenik continues, “and music programs can be very expensive to run. We don’t have students coming to school with their own instruments,” he explains. “They don’t even rent them – they borrow them from our inventory.”
So far, 19 instruments have been donated. According to Rebecca Grace, band director at Carl Hayden High School and the coordinator of the instrument drive, “The average instrument cost is between $300 and $700, and practically none of our students have their own; they can’t afford them.” She elaborates, “The district has a performing arts supply budget, but most of the money has been eaten up over the last eight years by the huge cost of purchasing band uniforms for 10 marching bands.”
Consider indulging in some melody-rich, jazz-inflected pop and simultaneously supporting music in Phoenix schools by bringing an instrument to the concert. “What a neat program,” says Pletenik enthusiastically. “Even if they only collect 20 instruments, that’s 20 kids who now might have an opportunity to play music that they otherwise might not have…and the piano [donation] is tremendously generous.”
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
Mayor Greg Stanton will present the first-ever “Mayor’s Arts Awards” at the Phoenix Festival of the Arts this weekend.
Stanton launched the awards to highlight the cultural richness of Phoenix and recognize excellence from the visual and performing arts in the community. A panel of distinguished members from the arts and culture areas selected awardees in five categories based upon excellence and community impact.
Stanton will present the awards Saturday, Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. on the main stage at the Phoenix Festival of the Arts at Margaret T. Hance Park, 1202 N. 3rd St. in Phoenix.
“Arts and culture are vital to the social and economic well being of our city,” Stanton said. “They improve our quality of life, uplift our spirits and help attract and keep talented employees and innovative businesses in Phoenix. The Phoenix Festival of the Arts is an important opportunity for all of us to celebrate the breadth and depth of the arts and culture community in Phoenix.”
The winners of each category include:
Dance Organization Award
Scorpius Dance Theatre
Formed in 1999 by choreographer, Lisa Starry, Scorpius Dance Theatre is observing its 11th season in operation. The contemporary dance company has been a constant presence in the metropolitan Phoenix arts community since its inception, combining the motifs of humor, drama and both organic and technical movement to form a very distinct brand of dance theater.
Music Organization Award
Downtown Chamber Series
The Downtown Chamber Series brings chamber music to distinctive art spaces in downtown Phoenix, showcasing professional musicians and the works of local artists.
Public Art Award
Born in La Paz, Bolivia, Medina immigrated to New York as a child, where his interest in art was fostered by his architect father. While completing his undergraduate work in New York, Medina volunteered to teach classes at a summer program at the Kumayya Indian reservation in San Diego, Calif. His experience at the reservation is what led him to become an art teacher. Hugo’s desire to give back to the community and his love of children led him to a teaching career. Medina’s great appreciation and admiration of the southwest brought him to Phoenix, where he has been the mastermind behind some of the city’s best murals.
Rising Youth Theatre
Rising Youth Theatre is Phoenix theater company founded by ASU grads Xanthia Walker and Sarah Sullivan to create youth driven theatre that is riveting and relevant, challenging audiences to hear new stories, start conversations and participate in their communities. Recently, the diverse company of students has created plays based on immigrant youth.
Visual Artist Award
Grigsby, 94, came to Phoenix following World War II to teach art at Carver High School. He joined the faculty at Arizona State University in 1966 and served as a Trustee of Phoenix Art Museum. His public collections are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Printmaking Workshop in New York City, the Library of Congress, the Cape Coast Museum in West Africa and Philadelphia’s Brandywine Workshop, as well as art centers and galleries in leading universities and public venues across the nation.
This weekend’s Phoenix Festival of the Arts runs from Dec. 7 to 9 at Hance Park and is the city’s first signature arts festival. The free event features three days of live entertainment, arts vendors, a hands-on community mural, food trucks, Kidz Korner and more. Celebrate artists and arts organizations from across Phoenix’s cultural landscape. Hosted by Phoenix Center for the Arts and sponsored by Lou and Evelyn Grubb, this free festival will become an annual tradition.
Image of Eugene Grigsby by Dee Dee Woods
Far more than a friendly group of birdwatchers, Audubon Arizona offers a surprising range of outings for all ages from its little-known home on Central Avenue near the Salt River.
The opening of Audubon Arizona’s Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Center in October 2009 was the culmination of seven years of fundraising efforts, says Valerie Ramos, the organization’s development and marketing associate. “A lot of people still say, ‘I never knew this was here,’” she explains, so a primary goal is greater awareness of the Center’s existence.
Part of the 600-acre City of Phoenix Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, which stretches over a five-mile former industrial dump site, the Audubon Center welcomes visitors to a riparian region of astonishing natural wealth. More than 200 species of birds have been spotted, along with beaver, muskrat, coyote, jackrabbit, and javelina.
“It used to be a flowing river, and over time it became a landfill,” explains Ramos. “Then the federal government and the city were able to build a flood control channel…they restored the area by planting 70,000 plants and trees.”
The Center itself is certified Platinum LEED, which means that the United States Green Building Council considers it a high-performance, sustainable green building. Rooftop solar panels, wastewater reclamation, and recycled building materials all contribute to the rating.
Offering free admission year-round, the Center not only maintains interactive exhibits and acts as a gateway to 16 miles of trails through the Habitat, but also provides classes. “Our mission, in a nutshell, is to connect people with nature,” Ramos says, “primarily through children’s education programs. A lot of the kids who come for one-time field trips come back with their families and stay engaged with Audubon.”
Multiple after-school sessions like River Keepers and the high school program called River Pathways, in which teens collect field data for the Bureau of Land Management, encourage kids to think of the Habitat as their own beloved resource.
Ramos smiles enthusiastically. “We really are building a community of stewards, developing a love of nature — we’re getting them when they’re young. How can we expect people to care about the environment,” she asks, “unless we expose them to these experiences when they’re at an impressionable age?”
Adults have been finding their way to the Center through events like Birds and Beer, a monthly Thursday evening program. “We sell Four Peaks beer,” says Ramos, “and we recruit a wildlife biologist to give a punchy, enlightening, entertaining talk that usually involves some aspect of mating and wildlife reproduction.”
She laughs. “So you can see how that program would draw the professional audience — we’re just two miles south of downtown Phoenix.” It’s sort of a naturalist’s happy hour, a wilderness getaway in the heart of the city.
Financial support for the Center continues through innovative fundraising events like this weekend’s Gifts from Nature, an annual art sale and festival. “It’s an opportunity for Audubon Arizona to engage art lovers,” says Ramos. “With every item that’s purchased, a portion of the proceeds benefits our nature education and conservation programs.”
30 artists offer jewelry, wearable art, home décor, photography, paintings, ceramics, and garden pieces, all chosen through a juried process – if you’re an artist interested in participating, contact the Center next July.
The $25 ticketed kick-off event Friday night gives guests a preview of the exhibits and an artist meet-and-greet plus wine and hors d’oeuvres. Admission on Saturday and Sunday is free, and this year’s event features food trucks like Luncha Libre, Pizza People, and Burgers Amore as well as live music performed by students from Arizona School for the Arts, acoustic guitarists, and Ensemble Indigo (full disclosure: I’m a member of this chamber group).
Kristel Nielsen is one of the show’s newest artists, bringing a connection to nature through ceramic bells and wind chimes. “I want my work to look as though it belongs in the natural world,” she says. “I enjoy making forms that are organic and have a splash of color.”
Nielsen continues, “My style is slightly ‘Arizona primitive,’ very folkloric…some bells look archeological, as though they came from a temple ruin.” Along with outdoor art, she creates plates, jewelry, and holiday ornaments, including terra-cotta angels.
“I use a one-step firing process,” she explains. “It’s an environmental practice to not use that much energy, to not have to fire twice on one object.” Nielsen developed her technique when Taliesin West opened its clay studio for employees to use after work, and began selling her creations at the Desert Botanical Garden and Southwest Gardener.
The show’s artists, including Allison Shock, Caren Gomez, and Nathaniel Smalley, are all local. “The bottom line is that you’re contributing to a non-profit whose mission is to connect people with nature and provide opportunities for inner-city kids,” says Audubon’s Valerie Ramos emphatically. “Every dime spent at the event contributes toward our programs.”
If you go
Event: Gifts from Nature
When: December 1 & 2
Where: The Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center, 3131 S. Central Avenue, Phoenix, 85040
Artists participating in Gifts from Nature: Joan Baron — Jacqueline Benard — Cynthia Eral — Dos Damas Designs — Julius Forzano — Lynn & Mark Gardner — Caren Gomez — Wendy Goodma — Nora Graf — Pam Harrison — Sue Laub — Mary Lavan — Michael LiPira — Regina Lord — Brenda Lovejoy — Devon Meyer — Daniel Moore — Kristel Nielsen — Barbara Pohan — Arlene Powers — Rebecca Rush Profeta — Walter Salas-Humara — Christina Scherer — Amanda Scheutzow — Allison Shock — Nathaniel Smalley — En Chuen Soo — Vivian Stearns-Kohler — Genie Swanstrom
All photos courtesy of artists and/or Audubon Arizona.
In a spacious gallery filled with the striking and innovative work of 60 artists, four musicians share the spotlight on a small stage. Although they’re playing traditional acoustic classical instruments – violins, viola, and cello – the sounds they create, alternately disturbing and hypnotic, are anything but conventional.
Named for an iconic Arizona amusement park, Legend City is a former auto body shop turned arts venue at 521 West Van Buren, and the workspace of artists Randy Slack, Jon Balinkie, Jason Grubb, and Brandon Sullivan.
“It’s a real point of civic pride,” says DCS founder and Phoenix Symphony musician Mark Dix. “Of the downtown arts community, Chaos Theory really is the annual show people want to [show] in, because each artist is only allowed one piece, and that piece has to be created that month –- thus the term ‘chaos’.”
“These artists in our community who have been here through thick and thin and whose output continues to deepen are just such a treasure,” Dix continues, “and that’s why Downtown Chamber Series exists.”
He explains, “There are lots of opportunities to do chamber music in town, but the visual art is really the true inspiration, and being able to see concerts like this in a room that’s reaching the senses on multiple levels.”
“When you go to see a gallery exhibit,” Dix elaborates, “you’re typically only standing in front of a given painting for a few seconds before you move on to the next one. Being able to have a concert in the space,” he concludes, “[allows] people to sit and really absorb the mastery of this stuff.”
Chosen by Dix, the unusual musical repertoire sets these performances apart from any other chamber music in the Valley. The program begins with a charming early quartet by Beethoven, then continues with the slow second movement of Franz Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” quartet, poetically named for a song the composer reused as a theme.
Nearly 150 years later, American composer George Crumb was inspired to use that same lyrical theme in his work Black Angels (Images I): Thirteen Images from the Dark Land, written for amplified string quartet. More of a theatrical piece than strictly chamber music, Black Angels weaves a surreal, unsettling soundscape as it conveys Crumb’s intent: a voyage of the soul in three stages of departure, absence, and return.
Crumb wrote the quartet in response to the Vietnam War and other turmoil of the era, says Dix. “We had the assassinations of Kennedy, of Malcolm X, of Martin Luther King, Jr.…we had the inner-city neighborhoods on fire,” he explains. “So all of these things wrapped into the emotions of a given age.”
“This piece has titles and elements in it that allude to Vietnam,” he continues, “such as sounds of insects in the jungle and the terror of war.” It’s also deeply and thoughtfully encoded with symbols and numerology, Dix says.
“The whole piece has a lot of math loaded into it, 13 being the devil and seven being godliness,” he elaborates. “So you have these two things that are juxtaposed against each other – 13 and seven occur throughout the piece.”
Although the string quartet performs surrounded by wine glasses, the drinkware isn’t used for any alcohol-related enhancements. Instead, each glass is painstakingly tuned to a specific pitch and used as a musical instrument, as specified by Crumb’s score.
“Three of us are playing wine glasses – we each have about seven of them, and then the cellist is playing a solo on top of that,” says Dix. “So, similar to the sound of bells, using a wet finger on the rim of the glass creates a vibration.”
It’s an ethereal sound that contrasts sharply with other effects in the piece. At one point Crumb instructs the players to lower their instruments from under their chins and instead play them between their knees.
“When it gets into that gorgeous chant-like section, it’s a reference to the ‘Death and the Maiden’ theme from Schubert,” says Dix. “We hold our instruments as if they’re viols,” he describes, “which forces us to play rather expressionlessly, and the sound becomes much more tenuous and weak…a medieval type of sound.” Crumb’s intention was to parody a Spanish Renaissance sarabande.
“I think pulling that dark theme from the Schubert quartet was something that spoke to him,” Dix speculates. “And it’s got a beautiful solo on top of it, and that very meditative moment, and you just want it to continue,” he says, “but then it gets truncated.” Dix laughs. “And then it gets back into this battle of heaven and hell.”
“There’s a notation at the end of the piece,” Dix recalls, “where the upper string players are fingering notes with their left hand and sliding the fingers, and then with the other hand gently flutter-drumming the string with two thimbles on two fingers.”
“So you have these multiple things going on,” he continues; “the pitches being generated on the string, the string being hammered with the thimbles, and then the hammers moving up and down the string. And that effect is very delicate, and it can really only be heard by the person holding the instrument, not by an audience.”
The solution, decided Crumb, was to use microphones, not to add to the audio palette but to amplify those sounds created by the musicians. “Those effects are created by his masterful detail in the score, not by someone on a sound board with a computer,” Dix clarifies.
“What I’m getting at,” he continues intently, “is that the percussion elements are not employed to just be cute or unusual. They’re really employed by a very sophisticated composer to take us to a place.”
He compares Crumb to skilled soundtrack composers like Ennio Morricone and Bernard Herrmann. “We experience this all the time in a film score,” says Dix, “when we see a movie and there are things employed by a composer, be it on a synthesizer or hopefully by a full orchestra, which really magnify the intensity of a murder scene, or of any emotion you can imagine.”
“It takes me to an emotional place of relevance,” he elaborates, “where I can relate to this art that he’s created.” Dix smiles ruefully. “On a personal level I was just hungry for a heavy program that really dealt with some darker thoughts and emotions.”
“It’s sort of like when you’re going through any type of hell in life; when the good moments come up, you want them to last longer, and they don’t. They get chopped off.” He pauses. “And when the bad moments are happening, they’re interminable, and you want them to end. So there’s the sort of schizophrenic nature of it.”
Downtown Chamber Series musician photos by Tom Marrs.
If you go:
- What: Downtown Chamber Series, featuring violinists Nokuthula Ngwenyama and Tessa Gotman, violist and DCS founder Mark Dix, and cellist Jan Simiz.
- Where: Legend City Studios
- When: 8PM on Saturday, November 17 and Sunday, November 18.
- More info: find it on composer George Crumb’s website and learn more about Black Angels, including Crumb’s own program notes.
After eight years as music director of The Phoenix Symphony, Michael Christie will step down at the end of this season. From Arizona he’ll be heading to the upper Midwest as music director of Minnesota Opera, a job he began this fall in tandem with his duties in Phoenix, and he’ll also continue to lead the Colorado Music Festival.
As Christie wraps up his tenure in the Valley, the Symphony seeks to fill his position by auditioning a series of possible successors in front of the orchestra’s musicians, administration, and audiences. Two candidates have already left their mark on the orchestra: Sarah Hicks from the Minnesota Orchestra, and Tito Muñoz of the Orchestre symphonique et lyrique de Nancy (the Symphony and Opera Orchestra of Nancy, France).
A third guest conductor leads performances tonight at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and tomorrow at Symphony Hall. Born in Moscow in 1972, Ignat Solzhenitsyn studied both piano and conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music. He’s the son of the Nobel Prize-winning author and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich).
Ignat Solzhenitsyn divided his time between working at the keyboard with celebrated teacher Gary Graffman and studying the baton with Otto-Werner Mueller, an equally eminent professor whose influence can be traced through several generations of conductors. Solzhenitsyn also learned from cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, he says.
“Rostropovich really taught me how to think about music, how to project character and gesture in conducting; Mueller added his meticulous analytical sense and exacting technical training.” These characteristics must be combined for the best overall conducting technique, explains Solzhenitsyn. “The paradox of Mueller’s method might be distilled in two seemingly contradictory admonitions that ring in my ears to this day: ‘Don’t just beat time!’ but also: ‘One can never be too clear!’”
Solzhenitsyn goes on to describe how he studies new works. “Roughly speaking,” he explains, “there are two ways to study a score: vertically and horizontally. The vertical yields foundational knowledge – what happens in (each) bar? How are these bars linked?”
The “horizontal” way to study is more time-consuming, Solzhenitsyn says, but he elaborates on its importance. “In studying the various layers — which might be a single instrumental line, or dynamics, or articulation, or pitch range, or string muting, or transposition changes — one arrives at a more subtle and ultimately deeper understanding of the whole.”
Solzhenitsyn’s credentials are hard to top; he won an Avery Fisher Career Grant, a $25,000 prize awarded to musicians with great potential. It’s an esteemed honor for which the winners don’t even know they’re under consideration until they receive a congratulatory phone call.
Along with an ongoing touring schedule as a pianist, Solzhenitsyn is Conductor Laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and Principal Guest Conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. He also serves on the piano faculty of the Curtis Institute.
This weekend, he conducts repertoire both familiar and challenging: Felix Mendelssohn’s lovely Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto with guest artist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, and Igor Stravinsky’s music for the ballet Petrushka.
Solzhenitsyn doesn’t take his job lightly. “When conducting great music,” he says, “I always feel a deep sense of privilege and responsibility to the composer. Most of all, I try to share my love for a given piece of music with the musicians of the orchestra and, ultimately, with the audience.”
- Visit Ignat Solzhenitsyn’s website.
- Solzhenitsyn conducts Friday, November 9 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and Saturday, November 10 at Symphony Hall in downtown Phoenix.
- Michael Christie returns to the stage the weekend of November 23-25 to lead Carl Orff’s epic favorite Carmina Burana, a huge secular choral work excerpted in countless movie soundtracks.