Houston's Society For the Performing Arts Announces Its 2015-16 Season Today

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Photo by Harry Fellows
The Hot Sardines
In a season once again serving up an eclectic mixture of dance, music and theater as well as speakers including returning favorites such as writer/performer David Sedaris and chef/author/TV personality Anthony Bourdain, Houston's Society For the Performing Arts remains dedicated to its mission to bring the arts to Everyman.

No, everyone is not going to like everything offered here but that's the point -- pick what suits and maybe stretch your world by trying one more. Who know, you might discover a previously unknown fascination for Russian accordian playing technique. And the price of a ticket is still less than what you'd pay for a trip overseas.



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Audra McDonald Wows at UH's Madison Artist Series

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Photo courtesy of the University of Houston
Audra McDonald
She's played a doctor in a Grey's Anatomy spinoff, Billie Holiday in a new musical commemorating her life, the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd, and so many other disparate roles that even she probably can't keep track of them.

Singer and actress Audra McDonald, holder of six Tony Awards and two Grammys on the side, brought her talents to Houston for a one-night-only performance Tuesday to benefit the University of Houston's Moores School of Music through the Madison Artist Series.

Singing at the Wortham Theater, McDonald showed off her strong vibrato and sliding glissandi amid an assortment of show tunes and blues numbers, accompanied by her touring pianist and music director Andy Einhorn.

"The last time I was singing here was in 2006, and I got one of the worst reviews of my life," McDonald said after her opening number.

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Broadway's Audra McDonald Launches the UH Madison Artist Series

Categories: Music

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All photos by Autumn de Wilde
Award winning actress and singer Audra McDonald returns to Houston, where she made her opera debut in 2006, for the first of the University of Houston Moores School of Music's Madison Artist Series. During her time here, McDonald performs in a public concert and leads a private master class for Moores School students.

Songs from her newest CD, her first solo album in seven years, Go Back Home along with Broadway tunes and jazz standards are on the set list. "There will definitely be something for everyone," McDonald tells us. "We'll be doing a good mix of standards from the great American songbook, favorite showtunes, some pop songs, and of course, newer songs by some of the musical theater composers who've become my dear friends."

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet Is Moving to the Unexpected

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Sharon Bradford

People don't usually associate ballet with the music of Prince and Stevie Wonder, but Complexions Contemporary Ballet isn't interested in replication. "We are not afraid to entertain," says Co-Artistic Director/Co-Founder Desmond Richardson.

Hailing from New York City, Complexions Contemporary Ballet was founded in 1994 by Richardson and Dwight Rhoden--two directors who both value multiculturalism as well as breaking artistic barriers. Their focus is to be continuously evolving, a group that changes with the culture and time. Their success in doing this has brought them such honors as the New York Times' Critics Choice Award.

Rhoden, the company's resident choreographer, has worked with The Joffery Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and The Dance Theater of Harlem.

"Dwight often begins his creative process with the music, which informs what he has to say...the current social climate also affects the work at times," says Richardson, former principal dancer with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, and Ballet Frankfurt. "I assist in the studio by workshopping movement before we teach it to the dancers," says Richardson, who also choreographs on occasion.


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Stanton Welch's Romeo and Juliet Brings Authentic Italian Design to Houston

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Courtesy of Roberta Guidi di Bagno
Sketch of Juliet
For the past year and a half, world-renowned Italian costume and scenic designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno has worked to design the sets and costumes for the first new production for Houston Ballet in 28 years -- Artistic Director Stanton Welch's Romeo and Juliet.

Guidi di Bagno and Welch met in 1998 while working on his commission of ├śnsket for the Royal Danish Ballet. When it came time to look for a designer, that's who Welch reached out to in his search for authenticity in the classic tale of young lovers doomed by a family feud, a story set in Renaissance-era Verona, Italy,

"After speaking with Stanton, I looked at paintings from the Old Italian Masters of the 1400s," Guidi di Bagno says. "I took inspiration from those real representations of the time period and then I washed a surface away in my mind and added my own interpretation."

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Houston Symphony Announces Its 2015-16 Season & Plans a Trip Way South

Categories: Music

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Photo courtesy of Houston Symphony
The one and only Matthew Morrison of Glee
In announcing its 2015-16 Season, the Houston Symphony says its Music Director Andr├ęs Orozco-Estrada will take the orchestra to Colombia for its first performances in South America.

Closer to home, POPS programming will feature Glee star Matthew Morrison; and the music of the Beatles, Carole King, Frank Sinatra, and John Williams. There will also be a film presentation of Singin' in the Rain, with live orchestral score.

In general, the symphony plans to expand globally during its 102nd season, and is offering a number of world premieres in addition to the second installment of a three-year Beethoven cycle featuring the Eroica and Symphony No. 9.


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Matthew Shipp Brings His Free Jazz to Houston, Sitting in With The Core Trio

Categories: Music

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Photo by Veronica Triplett, courtesy of The Core Trio
The Core Trio with Matthew Shipp

A lot of tinkerers want to fix Houston's jazz scene, but Matthew Shipp says there's no need to break out the toolkit for something that either isn't broken or requires a larger repair than all the city's musical handy men and women can muster.

"So many players come out of there to begin with. As far as national attention, obviously Robert Glasper and Jason Moran come to mind, and let's not forget the great Joe Sample. So, Houston is doing something right."

That's comforting to hear, particularly from someone with Shipp's jazz resume. A New Yorker and a leading figure in the current free jazz scene, Shipp isn't just turning a keen observational eye on the scene here, he'll be part of it, at least for a night, when he plays Ovations Saturday as a special guest of locals, The Core Trio.

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Joshua Bell: "Everything's Just Right"

Categories: Music

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Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco
Joshua Bell
Go ahead and clap between movements if you want to. Violinist Joshua Bell says he doesn't mind. Of course, this is a guy who has twice played in Washington D.C.'s Union Station, so he's not your usual classical music purist. (The first time he played in Union Station was in 2007, Bell was incognito and none of the rush-hour commuters recognized him or his playing. The second time, earlier this year, Bell's appearance was announced and throngs of fans crowded into the station.)

Bell says he isn't bothered when audience members clap between movements (a serious faux pas in the classical music world), but he's less forgiving about fans who jump in at the end of a solemn piece to begin clapping. "That I do mind," he told us recently, speaking in a phone interview from his home in New York. "Sometimes there needs to be a beat after the last note, a little time to let it hang in the air."

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"45 Days: Explore the Arts in Houston" Initiative About Halfway Through Its Run

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Photo courtesy of Houston Arts Alliance
Houston Cinema Arts Festival
More than two weeks into this year's "45 Days:Explore the Arts in Houston" initiative, Jonathon Glus, president and CEO of the Houston Arts Alliance, says the campaign "to drive cultural tourism and to drive people who already partial to the arts to do something new " is working well.

"The response has been great. More than 50 organizations are participating.," Glus says. They've been encouraging an Instagram program through social media, asking people to send in their photos of themselves having fun at arts events.

The program's efforts seem to be working, Glus says and the crossover factor -- where someone interested in one type of arts attends others -- is especially high in Houston. And he and his office later provided statistics to back that up:


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Andre Watts Dazzles With a Spirited Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2

Categories: Music

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Photo by Steve J. Sherman
Pianist Andre Watts
Pianist Andre Watts received a rousing standing ovation after his performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Houston Symphony on Friday night. Concert goers popped to their feet almost as soon as Watts hit the last note and the emotional response (and extended applause) was well deserved.

During what was the first of three performances he gave with the Houston Symphony over the weekend, Watts alternately attacked and caressed the piano. The concerto begins with a few notes ringing on the piano; rather than starting quietly and building to a crescendo over the span of the piece, Watts' playing was stirring from the first note. That he was able to reach an even higher crescendo is a testament not only to Watts talent, but conductor Andres Orozco-Estrada's deft handling of the orchestra and his exploration of subtleties in the score. There are moments for the woodwinds to shine (notably clarinetist Thomas LeGrand), which added to the depth of the performance.

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