February 6, 2019

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 10-year relationship with Music Director Rossen Milanov this past weekend, with concerts paying tribute to the musical leadership which resulted from Milanov’s first concert with the Orchestra. Saturday night’s performance at Richardson Auditorium (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) featured Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 — the work which Milanov conducted in his debut with Princeton Symphony — as well as a Brahms piano concerto within the classical framework.

Johannes Brahms’ 1858 Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor reflected the composer’s homage to Robert Schumann, who served as a mentor to Brahms, and was originally intended as a sonata for two pianists — Brahms and Schumann’s wife Clara. Featured in this weekend’s performances by the Princeton Symphony was pianist Dominic Cheli, who received his training both at Yale University and Manhattan School of Music and is currently pursuing an artist diploma at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles.   

Like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 which followed in the program, Brahms’ Concerto stated the music ferocity from the outset, with an extended orchestral introduction to the piano solo marked by both subdued strings and effective dynamic swells from timpanist Jeremy Levine. In his opening piano solo line, Cheli emerged from the orchestral texture seamlessly with thoughtful and sensitive playing, positioning the piano as a fellow instrument in the orchestra, rather than set off with its own part.    more

JAZZ PIANO: Steve Kramer, left, and Michael Bernabe bring jazz to the recital hall at Jacobs Music in Lawrenceville on Sunday, February 10, at 3 p.m.

The Greater Princeton Steinway Society will present a Jazz Musicale by pianists Steve Kramer and Michael Bernabe on Sunday, February 10, at 3 p.m. in the Recital Hall at Jacobs Music, 2540 Brunswick Pike (U.S. Route 1), Lawrenceville. A reception with refreshments and conversation with the performers will follow the performance.

Kramer has played and conducted from Broadway to Hollywood to the White House, and over his long career has played and conducted with many jazz musicians and comedians including The Artie Shaw Band, the Ice Capades, and the National Dance Institute under Jacques D’Amboise. He currently teaches in the Princeton public schools, has private students, and performs locally with his own band. Bernabe plays regularly throughout the tri-state area with musicians Jeff “Tain” Watts, Randy Brecker, Buddy Williams, Tony Campbell, Roger Humphries, and Victor Lewis. more

TELLING HIS STORY: PU Associate Professor of Theater Brian Herrera performing his one-person, multimedia, autobiographical play, “I Was the Voice of Democracy.”It will be presented Friday, February 8, at 5:30 p.m. at the Godfrey Kerr Theater Studio in the Lewis Center for the Arts complex. (Photo by Kip Malone)

I Was the Voice of Democracy is an hour-long, solo performance written and performed by Princeton University Associate Professor of Theater Brian Herrera, will be presented Friday, February 8, at 5:30 p.m. at the Godfrey Kerr Theater Studio in the Lewis Center for the Arts complex.

The show recalls the true story of a 17-year-old who is briefly thrust into a peculiar kind of fame when a patriotic speech he writes on a whim ends up winning a national contest. Through autobiographical storytelling, this one-person, multimedia event offers a mix of analysis and anecdote, both humorous and heartbreaking, as Herrera puzzles through the memories, mementos, and artifacts that comprise the archive of his own teenage experience. more

“BRONZE LION”: This watercolor painting by artist Jun Zhan is one of many now on view at the Plainsboro Library Gallery. A reception will be held on Saturday, February 9 from 12 to 2 p.m. in conjunction with the library’s annual Chinese New Year Festival.

The Plainsboro Library is hosting an exhibit by accomplished artist Jun Zhan through February 27. His large format and detailed watercolors depict scenes of the Forbidden City in Beijing, as well as portraits of seniors from the Xinjiang Uygur region in China. A reception will be held on Saturday, February 9, 12 to 2 p.m., in conjunction with the library’s annual Chinese New Year Festival.

Jun Zhan paints portraits, still life, and cityscapes in a photo-realistic style. Most of his compositions are meticulously detailed close-ups of daily scenes, produced with a combination of methods derived from Western classical painting techniques, the “negative space” aesthetic in Chinese painting, and a documentary photography style. The Plainsboro Library exhibit will focus on the Forbidden City and portrait collections. more

“JUJU”: This work by Will “Kasso” Condry is featured in “Stand Up Men,” on view through March 3 at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park. The exhibit also includes works by Habiyb Shu’Aib and Autin Dean Wright.

“Stand Up Men,” a new exhibit at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park, is on view through March 3. It features works by three Trenton artists — Will “Kasso” Condry, Habiyb Shu’Aib, and Autin Dean Wright.

“Stand Up Men” is a celebration of Trenton’s African American male artists and their use of canvas, photography, and sculpture to convey the pathos of what it means to exist as a man within the realm of Trenton’s black culture and beyond. “Stand Up Men” inhabits the world of the quiet, deliberate Trenton arts movement forged in love, life, and courage.

Trenton native Will “Kasso” Condry, whose murals still grace much of Trenton’s cityscape, conveys both chaos and beauty in his work. His work has graced spaces throughout the United States and echoes his strong commitment to both urban renewal and the challenges of being a local artist. His muralist approach to his work produces bold, moving images which focus on themes of history, community and humanity. He is one of the founders of the S.A.G.E Coalition, a nonprofit diverse group of visual artists, engineers, fabricators, musicians and teachers dedicated to the rebirth of Trenton. more

HOW AM I GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS?: A Hollywood makeup artist (Gina Rodriguez) is kidnapped by the leader of a drug cartel in Mexico, who dupes her into committing a crime. She is forced to prove her innocence by helping the U.S. government bring down the crime syndicate in the action thriller “Miss Bala.” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) is a Hollywood makeup artist sorely in need of a break from her abusive boss. The straw that broke the camel’s back came the day he condescendingly responded to her resourcefulness with the insulting, “Honey, we’re not paying you to think.”

So, on her way out the door, Gloria stole a couple of bags of cosmetics for her lifelong friend, Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), who is about to enter the Miss Baja beauty contest. Suzu still lives south of the border in their hometown of Tijuana with her little brother, Chava (Sebastian Cano).

Not long after Gloria arrives in Tijuana, the friends head out to a disco to attend a party sponsored by the pageant. But they are soon separated when a gunfight breaks out between the police and La Estrella, a drug cartel led by the bloodthirsty Lino Esperanza (Ismael Cruz Cordova). more

January 30, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

Through long, long years I sang my songs. But when I wished to sing of love it turned to sorrow, and when I wanted to sing of sorrow it was transformed for me into love.

— Franz Schubert (1797-1828), from “My Dream”

If the metaphor popularized in the 1934 tune “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” is on my mind, it isn’t because tomorrow, January 31, is the 222nd birthday of Franz Schubert, it’s because I’ve been listening to a Jazz Age guitarist from Philadelphia named Eddie Lang (1902-1933). What happens when Lang plucks the guitar strings, each note crystal clear, shining and separate, expresses something like the ebb and flow of love and sorrow Schubert muses on in “My Dream,” which was written in 1822 when he was 25 and had only six years to live. Lang was 25 in 1927 and had less than six years to live when he recorded much of the music that’s been haunting me for the past week, thanks to A Handful of Riffs, a CD with liner notes rightly referring to Lang as “one of the great originals,” the first to give the guitar “real soul in jazz.”

The heartstrings metaphor seems less banal when you put it together with a lyric about “a melody that haunted me from the start,” when “something inside of me started a symphony,” and “all nature seemed to be in perfect harmony.” And surely  there’s nothing to be ashamed of in a line like “Your eyes made skies seem blue again,” especially when sung on YouTube by a glowing sixteen-year-old Judy Garland a year before The Wizard of Oz. more

Princeton University Concerts (PUC) continues its 125th anniversary celebration with the last program of the single-work Performances Up Close series on Tuesday, February 19, at 6 and 9 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium.

The Brentano String Quartet and Anthony McGill (principal clarinet, New York Philharmonic), Jennifer Montone (principal horn, Philadelphia Orchestra), Daniel Matsukawa (principal bassoon, Philadelphia Orchestra), and Leigh Mesh (associate principal bass, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) perform Franz Schubert’s Octet for Winds & Strings in F Major, D. 803.

Selected in PUC’s audience survey as one of the community’s most beloved chamber music works, the hour-long octet will be the only piece of music performed at these concerts, which also feature onstage seating for its listeners as well as special lighting. The concert design is conceived by Broadway actor and director Michael Dean Morgan and lighting designer Wesley Cornwell. more

“INK AND EMULSION SUSPENDED IN POLYESTER”: This work by Robert Erickson is featured in “Saturated Geometry,” a five-artist exhibit at the MCCC Gallery through March 7. A reception on Wednesday, February 6 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. The Gallery is located at 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor.

The Gallery at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) is now showcasing works by five artists in its group exhibit, “Saturated Geometry.” The show runs through Thursday, March 7. The community is invited to a reception on Wednesday, February 6 from 5 to 7:30 p.m.

The MCCC Gallery is located on the second floor of the Communications Building on the college’s West Windsor Campus, 1200 Old Trenton Road. more

The Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster has two new exhibitions on view through March 2.

“The National Association of Women Artists 130th Anniversary Exhibition: Wall Sculpture,” features the work of Harriet FeBland, Danielle Frankenthal, Maureen Kelleher, and Natsuki Takauji. This exhibition is curated by Jeffrey Wechsler, who was senior curator at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and retired in 2013 after 36 years of service.  Wechsler was involved with the establishment of the National Association of Women Artists (NAWA) Collection at Rutgers, oversaw the initial and ongoing acquisition of art for that collection, and organized exhibitions derived from that collection. He is currently on NAWA’s board of directors. When asked about this special anniversary exhibition he said, “While the art of NAWA members ranges over virtually every art medium, this exhibition focuses on a particular form that is somewhat hybrid in practice and visual effect: sculptural works that are mounted on a wall.  The four artists in the exhibition elaborate upon this physical concept with diverse approaches to material and meaning; they also represent several chronological generations, underscoring the long history of NAWA.” more

MODERN DAY KING ARTHUR: Bullied British schoolboy Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) finds a sword in a boulder and yanks it out to embrace his destiny and join his friends in a fight against evil in “The Kid Who Would Be King.” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

By Kam Williams

British schoolboy Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is the unlikeliest of heroes. After all, the pint-sized 12-year-old and his nerdy best friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), are bullied on a daily basis at Dungate Academy.

Unfortunately, Alex doesn’t have a father or a big brother to teach him how to deal with his tormentors. His dad disappeared ages ago, leaving behind a copy of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table inscribed with a dedication comparing his son to the classic novel’s legendary title character. more

January 23, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

“Nothing in moderation!”

— Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962)

“All or Nothing!”

— George Antheil (1900-1959)

For the past week I’ve been revisiting the work of two Trenton-born revolutionaries who were inspired by the industrial mystique of the city that has proclaimed for some 80 years, in big letters on a bridge across the Delaware, TRENTON MAKES THE WORLD TAKES.

Pianist-composer George Antheil, “the bad boy of music,” created a sensation in the Lost Generation Paris of the twenties with his Ballet Mécanique, which caught the attention of better known composers like Aaron Copland, who said “George had Paris by the ear,” and Virgil Thompson, who envied him “the bravado of his music and its brutal charm.”

The cigar-smoking comic iconoclast Ernie Kovacs took television apart and put it back together again in the fifties. “Without Kovacs,” one critic noted in 2011, “there would have been no Saturday Night Live, no SCTV, no David Letterman or Conan O’Brien.” Laugh-In and Monty Python, among numerous others, could be added to that list. more

By Nancy Plum

Since late November, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has been presenting a Winter Festival throughout New Jersey, with performances depicting how “Music Speaks.” The Orchestra brought the Festival to Richardson Auditorium last Friday night with both a performance of contemporary poetry set to music and a towering 19th-century symphony featuring text drawn from an early 19th-century anthology. In this concert, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Music Director Xian Zhang conducted a lean first half of chamber instrumental textures and a second half of lush Romantic orchestration tempered with Viennese buoyancy.  

Composer and Minnesota native Maria Schneider has been credited with revitalizing the big band sound in the 21st century, as well as fusing the jazz and classical worlds. Schneider’s 2013 Winter Morning Walks, a setting of nine poems by Iowa poet Ted Kooser, has received a Grammy for Best Classical Composition, and has been championed by soprano Dawn Upshaw, for whom it was composed.  In Friday night’s performance of this work, Schneider combined three musicians from her own jazz orchestra with strings from the NJSO to accompany Upshaw in conveying Kooser’s descriptive Americana poems. Upshaw and some of the instrumentalists were amplified, which took away a bit from the soprano’s acoustic resonance, but Upshaw used the amplification well to convey the text through the hall. more

“THE NICETIES”: Performances are underway for “The Niceties.” Directed by Kimberly Senior, the play runs through February 10 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Zoe, a college student (Jordan Boatman, left) and Janine, a history professor (Lisa Banes) have a contentious discussion — and face its aftermath. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Choices have consequences,” a professor admonishes a student in The Niceties. In this multifaceted drama by Eleanor Burgess, a critique of a paper becomes a debate about race and American history. In the course of their conversation the characters choose words, and actions, that disrupt their lives.

On the surface, The Niceties is about racial injustice and its connection to American history. On a deeper fundamental level, the play examines the extent to which communication is difficult, particularly when conflict is magnified by social media. Generational tensions — including parent-child relationships — and gender issues are explored, as well as the conflict between idealism and pragmatism.  more

PERCUSSIVE POWER: Tap dancer and choreographer Savion Glover brings his dancers and six-piece band to New Brunswick’s State Theatre February 7.

State Theatre New Jersey presents Savion Glover’s All FuNKD’ Up on Thursday, February 7, at 8 p.m. Glover and company, with live band, will perform. Glover will also be doing a lecture/demonstration for select community groups earlier in the day on February 7.

A Tony Award-winning tap dancer, choreographer, and producer, Glover is celebrating his 35th year in show business. All FuNKD’ Up marks his newest expression that continues to procure tap as sound and sound to music. more

WELCOME HOME: The Westminster Choir presents its annual Homecoming Concert Monday, January 28 at Richardson Auditorium on the Princeton University campus. The choir is back from engagements in Texas and Oklahoma, and the concert, titled “Half Acre,” includes choral masterworks ranging from Claudio Monteverdi’s “Hor che’l chiel e la terra” to Ted Hearne’s thought-provoking “Consent” to Erik Ešenvalds’ evocative “Long Road,” as well as American folk songs and spirituals. Admission is free; tickets are required. Reserve at www.princeton.edu/utickets.

FACULTY STUDENT ART SHOW: Student art is presented alongside the work of their teachers in this annual exhibition at the West Windsor Arts Council. Teacher Anne Kullaf’s “Still Life with Radishes,” above, is shown here with “The Lost Cheetah,” below, a pastel by 5-year-old student Sohil Chandhok. The show runs through March 1.

Students of all ages go to the West Windsor Arts Center to expand their knowledge and experiment with art and creativity. Whether they are adults or children, they take classes in order to try something new or hone their skills by learning from teaching artists in the region. Classes are offered in many artistic media including painting, drawing, and sculpting as well as fashion design, photography, and the literary and performing arts. The annual Faculty Student Show aims to provide the experience of submitting and preparing their work for a professional exhibition as well. more

“MARGE: A PREVIEW”: An exhibit and sale of watercolors by longtime Trenton resident and artist Marge Chavooshian will be at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion from February 2 through March 3. An opening reception is Saturday, February 2, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

The Trenton City Museum has announced its new exhibit, “Marge: A Preview,” running February 2 through March 3 in the Tom Malloy Gallery at Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park. An opening reception is Saturday, February 2, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. more

THE THRONE IS MINE: After spending most of her childhood exiled in France, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) returns to Scotland to claim her rightful place as heir to the throne of England. Queen Elizabeth I has other ideas in the costume drama “Mary Queen of Scots.”

By Kam Williams

Mary Stuart (1542-1587) is a tragic figure whose life story does not naturally lend itself to the big screen. After all, despite being King James V’s only legitimate offspring at the time of his death, she spent most of her childhood exiled in France and over 18 years of her adulthood imprisoned in England before being beheaded at the behest of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.

But that hasn’t discouraged filmmakers from periodically taking liberties with the facts in order to mount an entertaining, if fanciful, biopic about the ill-fated aristocrat. Katharine Hepburn played Mary in a 1936 version directed by John Ford, while Vanessa Redgrave landed an Academy Award nomination for her rendition in a 1971 remake which netted a half-dozen Oscar nominations.  more

January 16, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

Had the trump of judgment blown, they could not have quivered more; yet still they felt no terror, rather pleasure.

—Herman Melville, from Moby-Dick.

The T-word again! I’ve been trying to think which great writer’s works are most evocative of the twilight zone we entered when Trump shut down the government rather than give up his fantasy of a border wall.

2019 being the 200th anniversary of Melville’s birth, I’ve just finished reading The Confidence Man (1857) and “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853), both of which contain eerie intimations of the twilight zone. Not so nuanced are the closing walls pressing the victim of the Spanish Inquisition to the brink of the abyss in Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” with its last-second Hollywood ending as the French army enters Toledo. Given the ever-deepening menace of a foreign adversary, with twilight shadows verging on the depths of night, the present-day reality needs a writer who can suggest the subtle nightmare presence of powerful autocratic forces, like those, say, in Franz Kafka’s The Castle and The Trial, though what’s happening here begins to call for a variation on “The Metamorphosis” in which an entire country wakes up one morning to find itself transformed into a giant insect giving off an odor of kvass and speaking in a voice with a distinctly Russian accent.  more

By Nancy Plum

In the second installment of his year-long residency through Princeton University Concerts, Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel returned to Princeton last week for several days of music-making, panel discussions, and educational activities focusing on the theme “Music and Faith.” Bracketed by a master class with the El Sistema-inspired Trenton Music Makers Orchestra and panel discussions on music education and music’s role in social change, the keynote concert last Monday night in Richardson Auditorium featured musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Violinists Bing Wang and Rebecca Reale, violist Teng Li, cellist Ben Hong, and clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan, joined by Princeton University pianist and faculty member Juri Seo, presented a concert featuring music of 20th-century Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, a world premiere of a piece by Seo, and a solid gold standard from the master of chamber music — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.   more

“BLUE BIRTH”: Close-up nature photography by Tasha O’Neill is featured in “From a Child’s Perspective.” The exhibit is at D&R Greenway Land Trust’s Olivia Rainbow Gallery at One Preservation Place in Princeton through February 7. Admission is free.

D&R Greenway Land Trust’s Olivia Rainbow Gallery presents “From a Child’s Perspective,” close-up nature photography by Tasha O’Neill, through February 7. The artist focused macro-lenses on rare minuscule plants and other species, giving D&R Greenway visitors the experience of the late Olivia Kuenne’s own enthusiasms outdoors. Whimsical titles add to the sense of having entered an enchanted forest. The Gallery was founded in this young artist’s memory.

O’Neill discovered some of her subjects on guided walks with Jim Amon (former director of stewardship) on Greenway preserves. Some species were introduced on daylong photo-safaris in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, with Princeton Photography Club fellow members. Others presented themselves to the artist near her summer home, close to Maine’s Acadia National Park.  more

“OCELOT #6”: This hand-knitted textile is featured in “Ruth Marshall: Knitting the Endangered,” at the Hunterdon Art Museum through April 28. A textile-knit artist, Marshall hopes that her replications of endangered animals will remind people of the threat that animals face and the importance of wildlife conservation.

Ruth Marshall’s creations weren’t inspired by visits to art galleries or a university class, but by working at the Bronx Zoo.

Marshall is an Australian-American contemporary textile-knit artist, whose vivid hand-knit replications of endangered animals remind viewers of the threat the animals face and the importance of wildlife conservation. Her work is now spotlighted in a solo exhibition at the Hunterdon Art Museum (HAM).  “Ruth Marshall:  Knitting the Endangered” runs until April 28.

Marshall worked at the Bronx Zoo as an exhibition sculptor for 14 years and became very concerned about the plight of endangered animals. While on the job, she had a daily reminder of one such threatened creature. more

Xiaofu Zhou

On Sunday, February 3 at 1:30 p.m., violinist Xiaofu Zhou and pianist Yuan Ping will perform at Miller Chapel on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary, 64 Mercer Street. The program will include works by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Debussy, and DeFalla.

Zhou is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with Jascha Brodsky and Arnold Steinhardt. He did graduate studies with Dorothy DeLay at The Juilliard School. Zhou has been active both nationally and internationally, performing at Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Kimmel Center, and the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. Ping has won prizes in numerous international piano competitions, and he often performs with leading orchestras and conductors in China and abroad.  He has also played accompaniment for different soloists.

Tickets are $30 ($15 for students). Visit http://nj23.eventbrite.com or xfPrinceton@gmail.com.

A NEW HOME: Animal shelter volunteer Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and receptionist Olivia (Alexandra Shipp) celebrate his adoption of puppy Bella. But Bella is later separated from Lucas and his mom, and embarks on an eventful 400-mile journey home. (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Life has proven to be quite a challenge for Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard) right from the start. Soon after birth, the puppy was separated from her mother, though she was lucky enough to be nursed back to health by a stray cat. 

The lovable mutt eventually lands at an animal shelter, where receptionist Olivia (Alexandra Shipp) introduces her to a volunteer, Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King). Lucas decides to adopt Bella, hoping she might help lift the spirits of his mom Terri (Ashley Judd), a military veteran suffering from PTSD. more