Sunday, October 23, 2011

Find the magic in Brigadoon, Lerner & Loewe's musical romance: Final Weekend Thursday through Saturday, October 20-22 at 7: 30 p.m., Sundays Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. in the Van Duzer Theatre on HSU campus in Arcata.  Why, it's almost like being in love!  $17/$12 general, $12/$10 students & seniors from HSU Box Office (826-3928.) Produced by HSU Departments of Music and Theatre, Film & Dance.

Media Previews: Humboldt State Now, The Lumberjack, Tri-City Weekly, Arcata Eye, North Coast Journal, Humboldt Beacon, Stage Matters.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Leaving the cynical city (and its cynical musicals) behind, two men from New York drift out of cell phone range into the Scottish highlands, where they discover an enchanted village that lives only for a day every 100 years, called Brigadoon. There they find new love and a different way to live. But can the magic last, and if it’s lost, can it be found again?

Brigadoon was the first big hit for the legendary team of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe, a partnership that later produced My Fair Lady and Camelot.

The music is classic, and the details of the story has been updated to better reflect the original contrast between the values of modern life and an alternative and perhaps better life and community. “We want to show how it connects to young people today, with the pressures they feel,” said co-director Bernadette Cheyne. “We want the audience to feel that this is about them.”

Brigadoon at HSU is co-directed by Bernadette Cheyne and Richard Woods, with musical direction by Elisabeth Harrington. It features a full orchestra playing the lush score that captures the spirit of Scotland, conducted by Paul Cummings. Jeff O’Connor is the choreographer.

The cast features Miles Raymer as Tommy Albright, a troubled young man from 2011 Manhattan, and Brandy Rose as Fiona MacLaren, the woman who wins his heart in Brigadoon. Philip de Roulet plays Charlie, and Jessi Shieman plays Jean, the Brigadoon couple about to be married as the play begins. Camille Morgan plays the playful Meg, Michael Thomas is Jeff, and Fran Wittman is Lundie. (The complete cast and other details of the production can be found at HSU Stage & Screen.)

BRIGADOON: The Golden Age

Every two years the HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance and the HSU Department of Music collaborate on a big stage musical. Brigadoon is something of a departure from recent productions that were more contemporary in theme and style. A Broadway hit in 1947 and revived many times since, Brigadoon is considered a classic of the Golden Age of American musical theatre, usually designated as the 1940s to the 1960s—with Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot among the last of the Golden Age shows.

The Golden Age musical presented differently crafted songs in a different way than more recent musicals. The songs are tuneful and self-contained, designed to helplessly stay in the heads of hearers. This show has many, such as “From This Day On,” “Heather on the Hill,” “There But For You Go I,” “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” “Waiting for My Dearie,” the comic “The Love of My Life,” and the classic “Almost Like Being in Love.”

But these songs still embodied dramatic meaning in the play itself. That includes Brigadoon’s best known song. Solo artists from Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Nat King Cole to Natalie Cole and James Taylor have recorded “Almost Like Being in Love.” But in the play it is a duet between Tommy (the contemporary New Yorker) and Fiona (the Brigadoon woman.)  It not only advances the dramatic plot--it is a drama in itself.

The song begins with each of them alternating lines. Musical director Elisabeth Harrington describes what’s going on: "Tommy begins with a modern upbeat tempo: ‘What a day this has been/What a rare mood I’m in/ why, it’s almost like being in love,’ and then Fiona slows it down with her Scottish accent, and they trade lines back and forth until they’re singing in harmony. So these two styles of two cultures are blending together, as well as expressing two people falling in love.”

Brigadoon today is one of the lesser known and most highly rated of the Golden Age musicals. Even at the time, Brigadoon was praised (by the New York Drama Critics Circle) for its “altogether original and inventive blending of words, music and dance,” its “thoughtful beauty” that is “the lyric theatre at its best.”

But Brigadoon is not a musical comedy, its original director insists. “This was a play with music,” said Robert Lewis. “It was a play with beautiful music and an interesting story and interesting characters.”

“From forty years hindsight,” said scholar Miles Kreuger in 1992, “this is a show that very classically represents the transition in the development of the musical comedy into the era of the musical play.”

Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner

top photo: Miles Raymer as Tommy, Brandy Rose as Fiona


“The music is beautiful, and so well crafted," said Elisabeth Harrington, Music Director for Brigadoon at HSU. "The vocal music is rich with upbeat Scottish-sounding themes evoking jigs and reels, as well as flowing ballads expressing effusive sentiments of love. There are a lot of references to place, like fragrant heather and the mist. There are so many catchy tunes and memorable songs, including the most famous, “Almost Like Being in Love.”

”The music itself is a major character because it’s used as an emotional anchor throughout the show. Songs become repeated themes for emotions and settings. One of the most memorable themes is that of the title, "Brigadoon," which begins with a simple 1-3-5 progression. This is heard multiple times throughout the score, and sung three times with the full choral ensemble. The tune is hauntingly beautiful, and will most likely remain in the audience’s ears as they leave the show.”

BRIGADOON: Ensemble Singing

Frederick Loewe was not only a composer—he was also a skillful vocal arranger. So it isn’t surprising that Brigadoon is full of intricate ensemble singing as well as famous solos and duets. For the HSU production, Elisabeth Harrington is not only the musical director but the vocal coach. She comments here on that aspect of the show.

“The vocal style is incredibly rangy—there's everything from unison to six and seven part harmonies. It was written at a time when voices were expected to cover a really solid two octave range, and to sing in close, tight harmony and be really precise. The singing demands are big. But the music is gorgeous.”

“The vocal ensemble music is quite extensive, and often the unison singing and lush harmonies are heard in the same song, such as in "Down on MacConnachy Square," and "Jeannie's Packin' Up." In general, the style of singing can be described as "classical" music theater, implying beautifully shaped phrases and a clear, open vocal tone throughout an extensive range for each voice type. One challenge for the singers has been trying to maintain that open tone while bringing in elements of the Scottish dialect, which features some more closed-mouth vowel shapes.”

The mix of available singers required some additional adjustments. “The score assumes you have an even number of male and female singers for the chorus, but we have more female than male. So we’ve had to move some of the women down to tenor who would have been singing alto, at least in certain places. It gets tricky in the more intricate harmonies, when the women are in two parts and the men in four parts.”

 “I’ve singled out a small ensemble of twelve singers who are able to do these tricky things, particularly the a cappella harmonies. But the richness of this music gives all the participants the opportunity to be part of a group that sings in beautiful harmony, and that’s been a joy to watch and see blossom.”

top photo: Camille Morgan as Meg
  BRIGADOON Orchestration: Full, Lush, Scottish--But No Bagpipes

Frederick Loewe wrote the much-admired musical score and the songs for Brigadoon. There were a few additions to accommodate choreographer Agnes de Mille’s dances (such as the Sword Dance), arranged from Loewe’s themes by Trude Rittman, described as “Broadway’s leading specialist in that particular craft.”

There were bagpipes in the Broadway production of Brigadoon, but they were used in one scene that was added to the script, and the music was apparently a traditional folk melody. It wasn’t part of Loewe’s score, nor were any bagpipes, as Paul Cummings notes in his comments on the orchestration he will conduct for the HSU production.

“We had the option of using the full orchestration, which probably dates back to the 1950s, or the reduced orchestration—what’s now often called the 'band-stration,' Cummings said. "Basically it eliminates the string section. We chose the full orchestration. Elisabeth and I agreed that having the strings is important, because we want to come as close to the original as possible. A lot of the beauty of the score comes from the string section. Also, we have the space in the Van Duzer Theatre to use 20 musicians in the pit.”

The orchestration calls for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, three trumpets, trombone, French horn and strings. But no bagpipes.

“No, the score is written for standard orchestra. There are bagpipe-like drones and bagpipe-style tunes all through the show, but there are no bagpipes in the original Broadway orchestration. Frederick Loewe managed to depict this Scottish culture through his own original music, without interpolating known folk melodies or using bagpipes and tin whistles. It’s a great show with great music, and I think Loewe really captured the Scottish spirit of it, and that’s what counts. We’re trying to be faithful to what he wrote.”

“Loewe was interesting because he was one of the great Broadway composers who was a specialist in this domain. He wrote mostly for the theatre. Yet he and Lerner are household names even now. This music has stood the test of time.”

Photo above: Fiona Rose Melia as Sword Dancer in Brigadoon at HSU

Sunday, October 09, 2011

David Shemer at HSU
Director of the Jerusalem Baroque Ensemble David Shemer will visit the Humboldt State University campus on Sunday, October 9 for a series of free events open to the public.

 In his harpsichord recital at 2 p.m. in the Fulkerson Recital Hall, Shemer will perform several selections by J.S. Bach. At 3 p.m. he will lecture on Israeli contemporary music, and at 4 p.m. he conducts a Baroque music master class.

David Shemer was born in Riga in Latvia, then part of the Soviet Union. He studied music there until emigrating with his family to Israel in August 1973, two months before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. He studied music theory, conducting and harpsichord at the Jerusalem Academy of Music. After graduation he was conscripted into the Israeli army, but was able to complete his M.A. in choral and orchestral conducting during his service.

He won a British Council scholarship to study at the Guildhall School of Music in London, and returned to Israel in 1982 to teach at the Jerusalem Academy. In 1989 he began the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, the first ensemble of its kind in Israeli, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2009.

Among Shemer’s accomplishments on the harpsichord is a recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

At HSU, Shemer will play the following:

J. S. Bach : Partita No. 1, in B flat Major, BWV 825: Praeludium, Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Menuet 1, 2, Giga

Inventio in f minor, BWV 780
Sinfonia in f minor, BWV 795
Inventio in G Major, BWV 781
Sinfonia in G Major, BWV 796

Partita No. 2, in c minor, BWV 826: Sinfonia, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Rondeaux, Capriccio

Media: Tri-City Weekly, HSU Now, Arcata Eye, North Coast Journal

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Homecoming with the HSU Symphonic Band and Jazz Orchestra

The HSU Symphonic Band goes upbeat and tuneful while the Jazz Orchestra powers up some jazz masters in their shared Homecoming weekend concert on Saturday, October 1 in Fulkerson Recital Hall.

The Symphonic Band plays Satiric Dances by American composer Norman Dello Joio, originally written to accompany a political comedy by Aristophanes. “It’s got a lot of pungent humor,” said Band conductor Paul Cummings. “At times it’s kind of angry clown music.”

“March of the Belgian Paratroopers” by Pierre Leemans is a “widely performed and very tuneful march” in the European tradition. “It’s much more like a symphonic piece than the John Phillip Sousa style of American march,” Cummings said, “but it still has a catchy melody.”

“Ye Banks and Braes O’ Bonny Doon” by Percy Grainger is a slow and sweetly sad tune based on Scottish folk melodies, while the Folk Dances of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich “is a high energy piece expressing joy,” Cummings said. “It has a forward momentum that finishes in a frenzy, so it ends our half of the concert with a flourish.”

Then the Jazz Orchestra gives a big band treatment to classics from the Count Basie, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Charles Mingus and Maynard Ferguson repertoires. “’Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ is a tribute by Charles Mingus to the great tenor saxophonist Lester Young, known for wearing the lid referenced in the title,” said director Dan Aldag. “It features tenor saxophonist Phillip Sagastume, bassist Charles Welty and vocalist Jo Kuzelka, who will sing the lyrics Joni Mitchell wrote for this tune.”

Other selections include “Down for the Count” by jazz master Frank Foster, “Boplicity” by Miles Davis, “Driftin’” by Herbie Hancock and “Go East Young Man” by Slide Hampton.

HSU Symphonic Band and Jazz Orchestra perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday October 1 in Fulkerson Recital Hall. Tickets are $7 general, $3 students/seniors, from the HSU Ticket Office (826-3928) or at the door. Free to HSU students with ID. Produced by the HSU Music Department.

Media: HSU Now, Arcata Eye, Humboldt Beacon