Broadway's Audra McDonald Launches the UH Madison Artist Series

Categories: Music

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

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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Joshua Bell: "Everything's Just Right"

Categories: Music

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

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

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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Jason Alexander: "Good-bye George Costanza, Hello Billy Joel"

Categories: Music

Courtesy of Houston Symphony
Jason Alexander
"What a lot of people don't know," actor Jason Alexander tells us, "is that I'm an old song-and-dance man." (And if we believe his biography, he's also a director, producer, teacher, poker player, magician and author.) Set for a three-day run with the Houston Symphony in Jason Alexander: An Evening of Comedy and Song, the actor, best known for his role as George Costanza on the television series Seinfeld, says he knows audiences come in expecting George to sing and dance. "The audience comes in thinking it's going to be George and it's my job to say 'Hi, I'm the guy who played George, now watch this.' It's my job to make them forget about George Costanza and leave the [concert hall] with a new view of Jason Alexander."

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Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording) Is Toe-Tapping, Jazzy Fun

Categories: Music

Courtesy of Masterworks Broadway.
Cover art for Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording).
Fabulously entertaining fans eight times a week, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical, based on the 1994 Woody Allen film of the same name, racked up six Tony Nominations this year. The musical comedy also recently released its Original Broadway Cast Recording, featuring a score of music from the 1920s adapted by Glen Kelly, with orchestrations by Doug Besterman.

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The Doubleclicks: Their Music Is About More Than Being Nerds

Chuck Cook Photography
The Doubleclicks performing at Comicpalooza 2014

In what will likely be their only appearances in Texas this year, musician duo The Doubleclicks (aka sisters Angela Webber and Aubrey Webber) performed at Comicpalooza this past Saturday and Sunday. The duo writes and performs songs with a geeky bent. They're kind of like the female version of Paul and Storm.

Aubrey plays cello while Angela swaps back and forth between instruments as varied as an acoustic guitar and an adorable, modified B. Meowsic keyboard that makes kitty cat noises.

While their songs are ostensibly fun songs about velociraptors and annoying creeps who scream out "Freebird!", there are messages about how to treat fellow humans. For example, no one wants to pay good money for concert tickets and have their experience disrupted by a drunk, screaming idiot.

The Doubleclicks had an unexpected viral hit on their hands with a song with a more overt message. The music video for "Nothing To Prove" has become an anthem for women who participate in traditionally male-dominated interests and hobbies, such as reading science fiction, playing video games and collecting comic books. The cosplay phenomenon, amongst other things, has led misogynistic types to question whether women are "really" into such things, suggesting that these hobbies are some kind of attention-seeking behavior.

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Y Kant Kendall Read? 10 Hard-to-Pronounce Band Names

Categories: Music, Pop Culture

Honoring the Kardashian family's tradition of intellectual excellence.
I didn't watch the Billboard Music Awards last weekend, because why would I? Even so, it was hard to avoid the news about Kardashian sibling Kendall Jenner's flubbing an intro:

The 18-year-old Keeping Up with the Kardashians star botched her introduction of Australia's boy band, 5 Seconds of Summer, at the Billboard Music Awards Sunday.

As she read the teleprompter, she initially looked poised and confident, but then something went wrong. Suddenly Jenner got tongue-tied and tried to laugh off her embarrassment.

"And now we welcome, one..." she said before trailing off and bending over giggling

Jenner's been linked to One Direction's Harry Styles, which might explain her inability to tell one collective of smirking teenage dipshits from another. But reading about it, I could only breathe a sigh of relief she didn't have to introduce any of these bands.

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