Friday, December 26, 2008

Eartha to Santa

And after listening to her fabulous hit Santa, Baby more times than I can number this Christmas, I'm so deeply saddened by Eartha Kitt's death (Dec. 26, 2008).

She was the most gorgeous, glamorous, non-beautiful beauty -- too many strong angles in that face; so many superb angles to that talent -- that I've felt compelled to watch (yes, I admit it -- even Batman) and listen to with fascination.

As a singer, she could always make me think, "Ahhh! That's mah girl!"

Take care of her, Santa Baby.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On This Day: Dec. 16

1770, Ludwig van Beethoven is born in Bonn, Germany. At his full adult height, the composer stood only 5'3". Yet he towers over the classical-music nearly 200 years after his death (1827).

Things I'll bet you never knew about Beethoven:

* He has his own listing on (Internet Movie Database) as the "soundtrack" composer of a half-dozen 20th-Century movies;

* And about his trademark four notes -- the famous duh-duh-duh-DAH motive he wrote to open his Fifth Symphony: The composer described the motive as "death knocking at the door." But the Beethoven signature would become the Allies' signature during World War II because the four notes are unintentionally immortalized as Morse Code for the letter "V" (for "Victory").

1773, the Boston Tea Party took place as American colonists boarded a British ship and dumped more than 300 chests of tea overboard to protest tea taxes.

1921, French composer Camille Saint-Saens died.

1944, American composer and bandleader Glenn Miller was presumed dead after his flight went missing over the English Channel.

1965, British novelist and playwright William Somerset Maugham died.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On This Day: Dec. 15

1928, renowned violinist Ida Haendel was born. A British musician of Polish descent, Dame Ida (CBE, 1991) is a longtime Miami resident.

I first heard her perform live in Toronto in the 1990s. It was amazing to hear such sympathetic musicianship and technique so steeped in Old World styling. Her concern for the composer's intentions while adding her own voice was evident throughout the concerto with the Toronto Symphony. It's a combination that wins fans to her stage and CD performances whether she was age 9 or just recently at age 77. (NOTE: Despite the debate about her birth year, Dame Ida was indeed born in Poland in 1928.)

Even if it didn't, Dame Ida is adamant. She is famously quoted declaring: "I am not there to please the audience. I am not an entertainer. I am there to serve the composer. I want people to listen."

Dame Ida never received as much fame as she deserved. Compared to her fellow award-winners -- or more specifically perhaps, her male contemporaries and colleagues, the likes of Isaac Stern, Nathan Milstein -- Dame Ida has worked more quietly. But, she's still working! lists her video from 2006, pictured here, a performance with award-winning Miami-based pianist Ilya Itin. The program includes Beethoven's Sonatas No. 8 in G Major and No. 9 in A Major; Chausson's Poème, Op 25; plus one of her signature works, Bach's Chaconne. (85-minute recital plus a bonus 32-minute interview).

Congratulations, Dame Ida, on a milestone birthday!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hope you have a terrific Thanksgiving Day!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

He landed on his feet

CSO names new president Cincinnati Enquirer Cincinnati.Com

(Posted using ShareThis)
Remember Trey Devey?

He was the last executive director of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. He presided over the FPO's bankruptcy and demise in 2003.

I occasionally wonder what happened to him. I'm pleased to see he has resurfaced, this time in Ohio, in a promising and much more stable new orchestral environment.

But in 2002, he arrived in Florida with a swamp to drain. The FPO had some, as it turns out, insurmountable problems: financial desperation going back many years; the recent loss, after 15 years, of its founding music director (James Judd); and subscription series in three South Florida cities, none of which would claim the failing group as its own.

Worse, I suspect some shenanigans or perhaps just a convenient if not ulterior motive born of desperation and exhaustion. Whatever the reasons, the FPO's failed fund-raising attempts ultimately led to the Cleveland Orchestra (!) becoming a 10-year "resident" of the now-Arsht Performing Arts Center in Miami.

I had hoped that Devey, then a new father and personable young administrator, would land on his feet. But clearly, it would not be in South Florida.

Music Critic Janelle Gelfand, in a Cincinnati Enquirer article published on Friday, Nov. 15, announced that Devey will now make Cincy his new home. Along the way were stops in Chicago (with the Boston Consulting Group) and six months in Birmingham (the Alabama Symphony Orchestra).

Cincy, my old stomping ground from conservatory days, has a fine, 113-year-old orchestra with a budget far larger than the FPO could ever imagine. And you know what they say: New level, bigger devil.

But I certainly wish Trey all the best -- and far more credit than he could garner from his time served in the tropics.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Toulouse-Lautrec birthday

I didn't know it at the time -- the great painter was attracted to redheads.

But in a dream of a lifetime experience, I discovered a painting I'd never seen by the French genius Toulouse-Lautrec. You barely saw the face of the red-headed woman. She stood simply; her head turned away from the viewer. Nothing distinguished her surroundings. Her clothing -- unlike so much over-the-top costuming in the artist's Moulin Rouge posters -- is simple, a white long-sleeve shirt. But my connection to her on a human level was immediate. I'd promenade to other paintings, but every three or four canvases later, I'd return to the redhead.

I'm still wracking my brain to remember where or when I saw her. Perhaps an exhibit of the French Impressionists at the Norton Museum (West Palm Beach, FL). Oh, of course! It was that fabulous, overwhelming visit to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.

Rosa La Rouge is part of my life now; she's the image that comes to mind when I think of Toulouse-Lautrec nowadays. His "noisier," livelier things -- the splashy posters and eye-catching graphic arts -- were my first introduction. But his silent portrait says so much more.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born on this day: Nov. 24, 1864, in Albi, France. He died in Bordeaux on Sept. 9, 1901.

"A Montrouge" - Rosa La Rouge (1886-87), Oil on canvas
28 1/2 x 19 1/4 in. (72.3 x 49 cm)
Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Congrats to Palm City (FL) youngster

All the best to young violinist Michael Province, soloist in Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen" (Gypsy Airs) on "Oprah" on Mon., Nov. 10! The 13-year-old from Palm City resident performed for the international television audience as one of the talented youngsters that mega-star Oprah Winfrey is showcasing on her popular daytime talk show. Keep up the great work, Michael!

Remembrance: JFK

I'm of an age to remember the day Nov. 22, 1963.
A school day, but the lessons learned came from a black-and-white TV in the classroom, not the shell-shocked teacher. As a student of Y.H. Thomas Junior High School, I sat in the old-fashioned wooden desk, amid 20 other students. We sat, bent over our desks, our heads on our arms, face down, so no one could see us cry. No matter; you could still hear the sobs from various parts of the room.

Not so long ago, we had elected John F. Kennedy president in the school election. Our hope was born out later on a national scale when our parents voted. And the trauma of Nov. 22, beginning in that dingy classroom, my face pressed to the wood, would take years to release. From then on, it seems, I jumped every time a TV newscaster announced, "We interrupt this program with a special bulletin ..." It was the first time I had reason to deplore the senselessness of all that youth and beauty buried in the ground. (Photo right: Graveside ceremony, from the JFK Library)

The enormity of the hurt returned in 1982 with the death of California opera conductor Calvin Simmons, age 32, from a canoeing accident that might have been suicide (Below: Young lions -- conductors Calvin Simmons, righ, and Simon Rattle).

In both cases, the what-would-have-beens are still so haunting, never to be resolved.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A future for newspapers? or Deathwatch?

Well, if you believe Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, newspapers will do just fine. In an interview this week, Flynt claimed that newsprint isn't obsolete and won't be obliterated by the great dinosaur-killer that crashed to Earth, the Internet. Instead, Flynt suggested that newspapers need to learn how to just get along with their newer media neighbors.

On the other hand, there's a blog on with an open-minded heading: "Newspaper Deathwatch." In today's entry, mediabistro bemoans the possibility that newspapers will go the way of Public Radio or Public Television, that is, listener/viewer- and now reader-supported media. Here's a bit of the idea that mediabistro downloaded from the online source, Spot.Us:

Spot.Us is a nonprofit project to pioneer "community funded reporting." Through Spot.Us the public can commission investigations with tax deductible donations for important and perhaps overlooked stories.


Dance critic Clive Barnes has died

We've all read his work. To those of us who love dance, Clive Barnes was the writer who's opinion mattered most. His all-embracing enthusiasm for dance, especially American modern dance, drew us like a magnet to his byline. His decades-long career at the New York Times and the New York Post spanned a golden age of dance in America. He caught its illusive newness and greatness, and distilled it for us.

Mr. Barnes died Wednesday, Nov. 19, in Manhattan at the age of 81.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Schubert -- by Austrian pianist Paul Badura-Skoda

Today is the Todestag (death date) of Austrian composer Franz Schubert (died Nov. 19, 1828, at the age of 31).
I can remember a time -- it seems more like an era ago -- when the date signaled a flurry of performances honoring Schubert. An especially inspired concert of "Winterreise" (the song cycle "Winter Journey")in Rochester, NY, a decade ago cannot be erased.

But tonight, I'm humbled again listening to Schubert on this 180th Todestag. This time, the source of humility and inspiration is Austrian pianist Paul Badura-Skoda (pictured right).

As luck would have it, Vienna's Badura-Skoda played here in Florida in November 2007, an all-Schubert-and-Beethoven program at Lake Worth's Duncan Theatre as part of the pianist's 80th anniversary tour. The performance of Schubert was so sublimely spiritual that my friends still talk about it a year afterward.
Badura-Skoda is one of the great pianists of the century. For years, he had the largest number of recordings on store shelves compared to other artists. Among his 200 recordings are the complete piano works of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert - some of the most gripping Schubert imaginable. And in his 80s, he is still releasing new CDs in Europe.

(To preview audio, visit

Friday, November 14, 2008

Met Opera Live HD broadcasts now in the Treasure Coast

Vero Beach (FL) Opera and the Majestic Theatre are bringing the Met Live Broadcasts to Vero Beach on Saturday afternoons.

Due to the overwhelming response to these broadcasts, the Majestic will show prerecorded encore performances on the Wednesday evening following each Saturday's live broadcast.

Tickets are $20 for adults/seniors and $15 for students/children are available at the MAJESTIC Theatre and online at

Special thanks to our friends at WQCS who also radio broadcast the Met performances on WQCS 88.9 FM.

For the dates of upcoming Met Opera Live in HD performances, visit The next is "La Damnation de Faust" (New production) – Berlioz - Saturday, November 22, 2008 (1:00 pm ET. Robert Lepage directs Marcello Giordani in the title role of this new production, conducted by James Levine. Also starring Susan Graham..

Memorial for H. David Prensky, veteran, dentist, arts lecturer

News Arts Editor

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

(enlarge photo)
Mr. Prensky
Palm Beach Post
(enlarge photo)
The devoted husband Henry David Prensky wrote a poem for his beloved Bryna nearly every day of their 50-year marriage. She died in 2002.

There were many David Prenskys.

There was the classical music devotee and popular preconcert lecturer. The advocate for the arts and tireless booster of the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. School of the Arts. The ardent Democrat and campaigner for a universal health-care system. The devoted husband who wrote a poem for his beloved Bryna nearly every day of their 50-year marriage.

Henry David Prensky died Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008, of complications from emphysema at Hospice of Palm Beach County at JFK Medical Center in Atlantis. He was 90.

Dr. Prensky, who preferred his middle name, was born Dec. 5, 1917, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He learned to love classical music from his mother and studied piano as a child.

He married June Kamen in 1936, and the couple had two children. Unlike his brother, Bertram Ross, who became an acclaimed dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, David Prensky opted to become a dentist like his father to better support his young family.

Dr. Prensky served as a ship's dentist in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theater during World War II.

After the war, he settled in the Miami area, where he integrated classical music into his dental practice by playing it to relax his patients.

He and his wife divorced. He married artist Bryna Raskin in 1952. "She was absolutely the love of his life," said Anne Driver De Moore, Dr. Prensky's assistant.

The couple fell in love with Mexico during a delayed honeymoon in 1954 and relocated to Mexico City.

In Mexico, David Prensky developed a thriving dental practice whose clients included members of the British embassy, while Bryna Prensky opened a gallery showing contemporary Mexican art. Dr. Prensky arranged to have most of his wife's collection, which was shown at The Society of the Four Arts, donated to the Naples Museum of Art after her death in 2002.

The Prenskys became seasonal residents of Palm Beach in the mid-1970s and permanent residents in 1984.

Retirement opened a new chapter in Dr. Prensky's life. He threw his prodigious energies into supporting groups such as the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, the Palm Beach Festival and the fledgling Palm Beach County Council of the Arts, the forerunner of the Palm Beach County Cultural Council.

He put his extensive recordings collection and seemingly inexhaustible fund of musical anecdotes to use as a lecturer for organizations such as the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, the Society of the Four Arts and Regional Arts.

"We always considered him sort of an elder-statesman professor who helped our audiences really enjoy and appreciate the programs they were coming to see," said Judith Mitchell, the Kravis Center's chief executive officer.

Dr. Prensky's charm and persistence served him well in the many causes he supported. It was difficult to say no to David Prensky.

"He was a man of deep convictions, deep passions and deep compassion," said his son, William Prensky.

"To know him was to love him," said longtime friend Lily Rovin of Palm Beach.

Dr. Prensky was in the advance guard of the drives to build the Kravis Center and the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.

"He clearly played a major role in my deciding to support the school of the arts," said Alexander Dreyfoos, who donated $1 million to the school's foundation, which Dr. Prensky helped start.

"He just was the life force here," said Pat Montesino, executive director of the School of the Arts Foundation. "He lived and breathed this school and the work of the foundation. He considered every student here his child."

Dr. Prensky's efforts for the school included setting up visual arts and music libraries and establishing annual scholarships for graduating visual arts and music majors. The school's orchestra rehearsal hall is named in his honor.

Dr. Prensky served on the board of the Etta Res Institute of New Dimensions at Palm Beach Community College, where he lectured on music and organized symposiums on current events.

On the political front, he helped found the Palm Beach Democratic Club and was its program chairman.

As a founding member of Floridians for Health Care, Dr. Prensky joined in the victorious battle to keep Good Samaritan and St. Mary's medical centers open.

Dr. Prensky battled for health-care reform into the final weeks of his life, when he campaigned from his sick bed for the adoption of single-payer national health insurance.

Dr. Prensky is survived by his son, William; a daughter, Catherine Prensky Mason of New York City; three grandchildren, Joel Mason of Wisconsin, and Josh Mason and James Regan of New York City; and three great-grandchildren.

No information on service yet, but donations for the Bryna Prensky Visual Arts Scholarship Fund or the David Prensky Music Scholarship fund for graduating seniors at the Dreyfoos School of the Arts can be sent to: School of the Arts Foundation, P.O. Box 552, West Palm Beach, FL 33402.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Vero Beach Opera shines wth stars in 21st season

Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers

Vero Beach Opera is full of surprises for its 21st season. Of its seven upcoming events, five feature international opera stars: sopranos Deborah Voigt and Susan Neves — each in two appearances — and legendary basso Paul Plishka. (Deborah Voigt, photo by Peter Ross)

The music covers Broadway, jazz and popular songs, zarzuela (Spanish operetta) and operatic favorites. It starts at 3 p.m. Sunday with Broadway’s Edmund Nalvaro. He played the principal role of Thuy in “Miss Saigon” on Broadway in New York City, and on the second national tour of the award-winning show.

A new resident of Vero Beach, Nalvaro joins Vero Beach Opera’s resident artists and artistic director Roman Ortega-Cowan for Kaleidoscope, a concert of selections from Gershwin and Bernstein to Mozart and Puccini.

Through April, the company offers at least one performance a month — two in February, if you count the gala black-tie Grande Masque Ball on Feb. 28 with hostess Susan Neves.
Deborah Voigt, a longtime Vero resident and stage favorite, is featured in the Dec. 19 Christmas Concert, and will perform an operatic recital March 3. to

The season peaks with an original production, designed by VBO, of Donizetti’s delightfully hilarious “Don Pasquale” on Jan. 31. It is fully staged with contemporary sets and costumes, plus orchestra and chorus. And it’s perfect casting for another guest star, Metropolitan Opera basso Paul Plishka, in the title role.

What: Vero Beach Opera 21st season with Kaleidoscope
Where: Waxlax Center, 1895 St. Edward’s Drive, Vero Beach
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $20-$50 for concerts, $30-$100 for opera production
Contact: (772) 778-1070

Sunday, 3 p.m.: Kaleidoscope Concert, popular and operatic selections, Waxlax Center

Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m.: A Christmas Concert featuring soprano Deborah Voigt, Community Church of Vero Beach

Jan. 31, 7:30 p.m.: “Don Pasquale” (Donizetti), fully staged, starring basso Paul Plishka, Vero Beach High School Performing Arts Center

Feb. 15, 3 p.m.: “Musical Extravaganza” concert of zarzuela, tango, Afro-Cuban and Neapolitan styles and opera; Waxlax Center

March 3, 7:30 p.m.: Soprano Deborah Voigt in “A Very Special Operatic Recital,” Waxlax Center

April 4, 7:30 p.m.: “Susan Neves and Friends in Concert,” starring soprano Susan Neves, Waxlax Center

Grande Masque Ball, “Opening Night at the Opera,” Feb. 28 at 6 p.m.: Hostess Soprano Susan Neves, Grand Harbor Club; black-tie, tickets $300; call (772) 569-6993

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Soprano Deborah Voigt announces new Vero Beach Opera competition


Vero Beach (FL) Opera announces the chartering of the Deborah Voigt/Vero Beach Opera Foundation. Among the foundation's trustees are Chairperson Deborah Voigt, Dr. Joan Ortega-Cowan and Román Ortega-Cowan (wife of the Vero company's artistic director, Roman Ortega-Cowan).

The main focus of the Foundation will be the PROTÉGÉ/MENTORING PROGRAM through which Deborah Voigt will personally select a Protégé, specifically a young soprano, each year who will then spend about six weeks with her during rehearsals and performances at a selected U.S. Opera house where she will be performing. The Protégé will enjoy extended contact with Voigt while gaining personal experience of artistry at the highest level.

The Deborah Voigt/Vero Beach Opera Foundation is extending an invitation to selected conservatories, colleges, universities and opera companies with outstanding operatic training programs for young artists to submit letters of recommendation for a full lyric or young dramatic soprano between the ages of 22 years and 30 years of age. The Protégé will be selected in April 2009.

During the 2009-2010 opera season, the Protégé will spend six weeks with Voigt at the Chicago Lyric Opera during rehearsals and performances of TOSCA from Sept. 7 – Oct. 15, 2009. The Foundation will provide housing, voice lessons, coaching and some personal needs. The Protégé will perform for Vero Beach Opera during its 2009-2010 opera season.

For more information, contact Vero Beach Opera office at P. O. Box 6912, Vero Beach, Florida, 43961 (phone 772-569-6993 or visit

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Russian orchestra concert at Kravis Center heartfelt

Special to the Daily News, Palm Beach, FL

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

If any conductor qualifies for living-legend status, it's Russia's conductor Valery Gergiev. Since he began appearing in South Florida three years ago, he has proven why he's the decade-long darling of Lincoln Center and music meccas worldwide.

His debut at the Kravis Center in 2006, leading the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra with pianist Vladimir Feltsman, still stands as one of the supreme concerts of the young 21st century.

Returning to the Kravis on Tuesday afternoon, Gergiev led his own Kirov Orchestra — officially renamed on Monday as the Maryiinsky — to reflect its original, historic designation: the orchestra of the oldest theater in Russia, the famed Maryiinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

The program of Wagner, Beethoven and Prokofiev was typical Gergiev: thoughtful and intense, oversize but intimate, complex yet speaking directly to the heart.

But with guest pianist Alexei Volodin in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, the Gergiev mystique seldom reached its accustomed depth. Although the 31-year-old rising star was on tour with his hometown St. Petersburg orchestra, he rarely connected musically with the players behind him.

As a pianist, Volodin was equal parts ideal and imperfect. His technical prowess and strength were astonishing. He practically had 10 computerized fingers at his disposal. Still his habit of suddenly rushing the tempo — as jolting as speed bumps on a highway — unsettled the unwary listener.

Even in a work as famous as the Fourth, Volodin brought attention to details that rarely reach a microphone. But the music's warmth and humanity suffered. Instead, he created dramatic contrasts between the moods and melodies, but went no farther.

That left the 37-minute Beethoven straddling two worlds. With Gergiev, the orchestra opened up the big picture and gave the work scope. Whether majestic or prayerful, he saturated the music with warmth, graceful nuances and an inner glow.

With Volodin, the piano was hyper-articulate, brilliant but detached. The pianist was rock to the orchestra's water.

Wagner's Prelude to Act I from Lohengrin and two scenes from Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet, showed the skill of Kirov/Maryiinsky players. Even if Gergiev couldn't quiet the violins as much as he wanted in the Wagner, he created an aura of mystery, intimacy and delicacy in the otherworldly prelude.

Romeo, however, was outstanding. Despite a slip or two in the solo woodwinds, the orchestra swerved with ease through Prokofiev's complex and winding layers. For more than an hour, Gergiev delved into each vignette of the ballet score, carving out beautiful, breathtaking moments of comedy, sinister turbulence, splendor, elation and almost aching bittersweetness.

The Kravis audience rustled restlessly during 20-plus episodes; some left early. But Gergiev's scene painting was so dramatic that dancers would have proved a distraction. This was purely an orchestral tour de force.

Yet after an hour-plus of Prokofiev, Gergiev and his band still had the energy, not to mention the chops, to nail an over-the-top encore, the three-minute ground-shaker that is Wagner at his most heroic, the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin.

The orchestra, led by conductor Valery Gergiev, opens Regional Arts' Music at 8 series Wednesday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m. with Mendelssohn and Prokofiev. Guest soloist Alexei Volodin performs Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 4. It's at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL. For tickets, call (561) 832-7469 or visit

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Seraphic Fire concert at Harriet a poignant New Orleans testament

Special to the Daily News

Friday, October 31, 2008

West Palm Beach, FL: The words transform and transcend are boldly emblazoned on the brochure — of a choir, for goodness sake. It's over-the-top enough to make a music-lover smile indulgently. That is, until said choir actually transforms a simplistic-looking program into a testament.

On Thursday afternoon, a concert by Seraphic Fire transcended the bounds of music and roared straight into the realm of social consciousness. Filmmaker Michael Moore would have been proud.

Seraphic Fire, Miami's professional, classical chamber choir, presented When the Saints Go Marching In, its second subscription concert in West Palm Beach, at the Harriet Himmel Theater at CityPlace. The program promised to re-create a traditional New Orleans jazz funeral. But in substance and format, the 90-minute event was groundbreaking, surpassing the sum of the 21 hymns, spirituals and traditional tunes of grief, faith and hope.

The funeral, it turns out, was for New Orleans itself, a city still struggling mightily to resurrect itself three years after Hurricane Katrina. Artistic Director Patrick Dupre Quigley, a New Orleans native, ripped the lid off the languishing situation he called "the most shameful thing to happen in the last 50 years."

Guest narrator Bill Quigley, the conductor's father and a New Orleans legal activist, told the story of three families between songs of grief, faith and hope. A distinguished professor of law, and director of the Law Clinic and Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans, Quigley laid out step-by-step the tragic human cost paid by hundreds of thousands of city residents — then and now.

The 13-voice Seraphic Fire and seven of its soloists further imbedded Professor Quigley's poignant images with artistry you just can't find short of far more famous recording groups. For vocal beauty, clarity and musical sensitivity, these singers are gold medalists, assembled by conductor Quigley from across the United States for the South Florida season.

For the first time in Seraphic Fire's Palm Beach County concerts, Quigley also played the piano throughout the afternoon, singing several tenor solos (Louisiana 1927, An Uncloudy Day) as well as riffing with guitarist Alvaro Bermudez in jazz and raise-the-roof gospel arrangements. Countertenor soloist Reginald Mobley stilled the soul in Blessed Assurance and His Eye Is on the Sparrow.

A trio of women, singing from the Harriet balcony, stopped time in an a cappella version of Softly and Tenderly. Tenor Darrin Stafford was the resident rock star in Gather at the River. As a whole, the a cappella choir showed off impossibly lovely legatos (smooth lines) and perfect blend even at its softest on Sweet Hour of Prayer.

It takes more than inspiration to found a choir, then prove to be a conductor of style plus sensitivity throughout its seven seasons. Add to that, Quigley dreams up programs that are not only overarching statements but also musically satisfying experiences. So whether in the ethereal incense of Victoria Requiem in September or the spirited dance-fest of Down by the Riverside on Thursday, Seraphic Fire is, hands-down, the early mover-and-shaker of the '08-09 season.

Seraphic Fire's West Palm Beach concert series continues at 1 p.m. Feb. 12 with "Ikon," music of the Russian Orthodox Church tradition. It's at the Harriet, 700 S. Rosemary Ave. For more information, call (305) 476-0260 or visit

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tiny dancers

'Small Steps' a giant leap for youngsters — and director

TCPalm: Florida's Treasure Coast and Palm Beaches

By SHARON MCDANIEL, Correspondent

Published Sunday, October 5, 2008

They're sixth-graders, and they're dancing with the stars. Not the Hollywood types, but with New York's famed Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre.

Nineteen South Florida children will perform on the Kravis Center's main stage with one of today's top contemporary dance troupes. It's a prize not even many top dance professionals can claim.

The youngsters, from Jupiter and beyond, will have their big moment at 5 p.m. Oct. 12. They're an imaginative part of Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions, a 40-minute work by award-winning French-born choreographer Pascal Rioult. Along with Rioult's child-themed version of Firebird, the students are integral to the matinee program's concept, "A Little Child Shall Lead Them."

Small Steps was a grand experiment, said Rioult (say ree-YOU), a first for him to combine children with his 17-year-old company. It proved an all-around winner at its January premiere in Pennsylvania: a blast for the youngsters, an ego boost for the community, and a repertoire bonus for a dancer-choreographer who knows that education through art can change lives.

"So we had 12 little kids — they'd never been on stage before; two-thirds never took dance," Rioult said. "I worried about it: 10 dancers on stage and (the) kids — a lot of people and a lot of movement. But the kids held their place and it was amazing and they were beaming!"

Fifty students from sixth through eighth grades auditioned at Bak Middle School of the Arts. The 19 selected will rehearse with Rioult dancers beginning Tuesday. Fittings for the colorful, fanciful costumes start Thursday.

The youngsters animate the shapes and colors of a dream world invented by the main character, a boy of about 14 — another reason for the program title, "A Little Child Shall Lead Them." He wants to escape to someplace he can dance, free of his father's fierce disapproval. His "shape world" of rainbow colors, of squiggles and wriggles and bounces, is from the poem Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions by Deborah Sacarakis, the story line for the ballet.

"I gave (the youngsters) fairly simple movements. Like in the underwater world, they move like fishes. Or like a centipede. And insects whirl," Rioult said.

A watered-down kiddie show it's not. A commission by Lehigh University, the Small Steps project sprang from the expressive, theatrical narrative by Lehigh staffer Sacarakis, then an original score by Lehigh choral director Steven Sametz.

"It also works for me artistically," Rioult said. "The kids are totally integrated into the piece; they don't look out of place there. It's not too common to see a family program with serious art, (like) new music by a really good composer."

And a sensitive treatment of a common family problem. When love overcomes the fear and anger on both sides, father and son reunite forever.

"It really surprised me: Fathers said that they cried," Rioult said of the January premiere. "They don't go to dance, but they really got it."


FIREBIRD (show in photo above)

Pascal Rioult's Firebird is set to the famous music by Igor Stravinsky. But the choreographer's 2003 contemporary dance version is much more child-centered.

"It's a story of innocence," Rioult said of the 40-minute ballet. "It's the fight between evil and good, and potential of child to believe in magic and bring us to believe the world can be a better place."

The dance troupe portrays a depressed, disturbed group of people who are "slaves to wrongdoing," said Rioult.

But a little girl, dressed in white, enters that darkness and intervenes. She is the Firebird of myth, the symbolic phoenix of hope and rebirth.


In Pascal Rioult's Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions, a young boy loves to dance. But his father disapproves and forbids it. The boy dreams up a fantasy land where he can dance, full of colors and shapes that dance with him.

When the father realizes he has driven his son away, he begins searching. But he is threatened by the strange world he finds the boy in and hesitates. Finally, forced to confront his fears, the father enters the boy's world.

On that common ground, father and son set aside their fears and reconcile.

Sharon McDaniel

What: Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre and local children in a family program of contemporary dances: Rioult's Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions and whimsical, child-themed Firebird.

Where: Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach

When: Sun., Oct. 12 at 5 p.m.

Contact: (561) 832-7469 or (800) 572-8471


© 2008 Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers