Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Collapse of the Ponte Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy, 081418

Riccardo Morandi Bridges
The demise of the reinforced concrete bridge

Major Bridges Around the World Are Collapsing—Here's Where the Risk Lies

Ponte Morandi Bridge after its collapse, in Genoa Italy, Aug 14, 2018.
 Image result for morandi sicily bridge

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Summer Poets Corner: "Aretha" by Maria

"Aretha" by Maria

She was the Queen of Soul

Her heart was good as gold

She had the voice of the gods

The angels sang her lauds

She played piano like none other

Arranged and wrote songs and some she’d cover

She walked and talked with Martin Luther King

Songs of freedom she did sing

With a mix of hot buttered soul she did bring

And demanded RESPECT the least  of all things

She sang oh Mary don’t you weep oh Martha don’t you moan

Every song she sang she clearly made her own

We will miss her much but she’s in heaven now

She has made her last and final humble bow

Her beloved audience will think of her and often shed a tear

We’ve lost someone whom we cherish and whom we love so dear

But Queens Reign forever at least that’s what I’m told

And now she’ll sing with the angels where the streets are paved with gold

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Summer Poets Corner: You Are a Living Instrument by Maria


You are a living instrument. You represent all the colors of an orchestra. Inside yourself. You are a rainbow of sound, representing a flute, a piccolo, an oboe, a clarinet, a bassoon, a trumpet, a violin, a viola, a cello, a double bass, and percussion.  All inside of yourself.

You are a living instrument. You have the power to bring a sound that would carry over a 80 piece orchestra producing sounds and overtones simultaneously changing lives awares and unawares.

You are a living instrument. You have two vocal cords that give life to sound, sound to life, and life to acoustics, touched by the power of God to bring forth His divine purpose and glory. In you.

You are a living instrument. Your body is the divine headquarters of the Holy Ghost wherein God administers His will through you and the Holy Ghost administers Gods divine order. In you.

You are a living instrument. Protect and guard it, admonish it and train it, love it and bless it, and be a blessing to someone with it. Make peace with it, trust it, accept it, work with it, receive it, understand it, care for it, soothe it. You have been honored to host it. The Lord be praised.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

James Davis, Jr: The Man, The Music, The Maestro

One of the most recognized emerging music directors, James Davis Jr. has proven to be an artistic leader who captivates musicians, audiences, and communities with his deep passion for music.

As a music director, producer, conductor, performer, arranger and teacher, James is actively involved in the modern effort to preserve live music performance and to present music as an essential part of our culture and education.

James’ musicianship and artistic sensitivity both as a performer and a director has afforded him the opportunity to collaborate with a myriad of notable artists across genres including Ashford & Simpson, Alicia Keys, Jessye Norman, John Legend, Lyle Lovett, Richard Smallwood and Wynton Marsalis.

His work behind the scenes is as equally intriguing as his stage presence as a conductor and instrumentalist.  Known for his masterful productions and entertainment business acumen, James is on the short list of music directors who are sought out by industry professionals for music-related events and projects. James is the founder and President of JDJ Music, Inc. and has made an imprint both culturally and globally on the music scene.  Most recently serving as the Associate Music Director for Arena Stage’s 2014 production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe, James has supervised musical productions at Radio City Music Hall, Lincoln Center, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Apollo Theater, to name a few.  Additionally, James was appointed Artistic Director/Curator of the August 2014 Lagos Jazz Festival in Lagos, Nigeria. James also served as the Director of Music Ministries & Fine Arts at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City from 2007-2017 and is currently the Associate Music Director for Opera Ebony. He has produced and arranged music for both film and television, including Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer and State Farm’s commemorative commercial for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, which aired nationwide.
A native of Winstonville, Mississippi, James’ musical skills were evident from a very young age, as he started playing the piano on his own at age three. His first formal musical training commenced at age seven studying piano and music theory with H. E. Marshall. James graduated from Morehouse College in 2004, where he studied piano with W. Floyd Ruffin and Joyce Johnson of Spelman College. He also studied organ performance and literature with David Oliver and choral and orchestral conducting with David Morrow. Additionally, James participated in piano master classes with Awadaggin Pratt, Stewart Goodyear and Joseph Joubert and conducting master classes with Robert Spano and Donald Runnicles. Also, while attending Morehouse,  James became accompanist for the renowned Morehouse College Glee Club and by his senior year was named Student Conductor, a position that had not been attained by a non-music major in 25 years. In the summer of 2003, in the absence of the director David Morrow, he led the Morehouse Glee Club on a week-long tour of California cities. James is master of instruments in the keyboard family, including piano, pipe organ, Hammond B3 organ and synthesizer. His solid music education and natural born talent fuels his intrinsic drive to perform and produce music of all styles. Currently James resides in New York City.  

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Marvin Lowe & Friends: A Soulful Celebration

 Maria's Music Review: "Marvin Lowe & Friends: The Voices of A Soulful Celebration"

Marvin Lowe, a veteran of New York City Opera,  invites classical singers to share their talents in his annual concert.

Marvin Lowe, Bass Baritone
Mae Carrington, Soprano
Maria Freeman, Soprano
Lucia Bradford, Mezzo-Soprano
Nicole Mitchell, Contralto
Larry Hylton, Tenor
Samuel McKelton, Tenor
Clayton G. Williams, Bass
Melvin Greenwich, Cellist
Roy Jennings, Piano
Rasaan Bourke, Music Director
On Sunday, March 5, at 4pm, African-American classical singers came together to celebrate The Negro Spiritual, The Oratorio, and to Salute Broadway, in Marvin Lowe's annual concert "A Soulful Celebration" at St Philip's Episcopal Church, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. It was on a dreamy mid-Winter's afternoon, where the joy of music was bestowed on listening ears,  touching hearts and changing lives. The choir, which included the entire cast of singers, led the concert with Let Heavenly Music Fill this Place by Gordon Young, No Harm Have I Done You-an African-American Heritage Hymn, and Total Praise by Richard Smallwood conducted by Maestro Rasaan Bourke, Music Director. The program was broken up into 3 parts; negro spirituals, a dedication to deceased loved ones, and a salute to Broadway, with an intermission followed by a reception. Negro spirituals arranged by Moses Hogan, Roy Jennings, H.T. Burleigh, and Roland Carter amongst others, were performed in traditional manner invoking great black artists from the past.  Marvin Lowe's Steal Away and Po' Mo'ners Got a Home at Las' echoed memories of Paul Robeson as his honeyed baritone filled the sanctuary, while Nicole Mitchell's  I Don't Feel No Ways Tired and Calvary incited memories of Marian Anderson with her dulcet contralto. Lucia Bradford sang Moses Hogan's Deep River with her flawless mezzo, and later graced the congregation with Pie Jesu from Maurice Durufle's Requiem in part 2. Mae Carrington rendered Give Me Jesus, Great is thy Faithfulness, and a selection from the Wiz with her sweet silvery soprano, spellbinding listeners. Sam McKelton's tenor  in Ingemisco from Jose Nunez-Garcia's Requiem gave exiting vocal overtones in part 2, while Larry Hilton's  Something's Coming from West Side Story resounded through the sanctuary like a trumpet during the Broadway segment. Other selections in the program included songs from Ragtime, Showboat, and Faure's Requiem. Melvin Greenwich, accomplished cellist from Harlem and co-founder of Ensemble Sepia, played a beautiful a capella rendition of Swing Low (Sweet Chariot)  arranged by Lawrence Brown while Roy Jennings, accompanying many of the singers, played his own solo arrangement of Lift Every Voice and Sing at the piano.  At the Prelude and at the Postlude, Maestro Rasaan Bourke played an  Improvisation on a Theme and an Improvisation on a Medley of Spirituals at the Guilbault-Thérien organ, with great energy, beauty, and perfection. The concert ended with a magnificent standing ovation, Glorifying God.

A Soulful Celebration is a Marvin Lowe Enterprise. For bookings contact Marvin Lowe at 212-694-2763. A bass–baritone with a rich voice, Philadelphia native Marvin Lowe has toured extensively throughout the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. He has sung with New York City Opera, Washington Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Opera Ebony, Virginia Opera and Trilogy Opera Company. His operatic credits include roles in the New York City Opera’s productions of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men, Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking and Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha. He has sung in Opera Ebony’s productions of Dorothy Rudd-Moore’s Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet, A Woman Called Moses and the New Federal Theater’s production of Opera of Marie Laveaux. With Trilogy Opera Company he has sung in Trevor Weston’s (4), Dorothy Rudd-Moore’s Harriet, A Woman Called Moses, and Thea Musgrave’s Frederick Douglas.

~  Reviewed by Maria Antoinette Freeman

Saturday, February 11, 2017

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Frederick Douglass On How Slave Owners Used Food As A Weapon Of Control

Frederick Douglass On How Slave Owners Used Food As A Weapon Of Control

American writer, abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass edits a journal at his desk, late 1870s. Douglass was acutely conscious of being a literary witness to the inhumane institution of slavery he had escaped as a young man. He made sure to document his life in not one but three autobiographies.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
President Trump recently described Frederick Douglass as "an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice." The president's muddled tense – it came out sounding as if the 19th-century abolitionist were alive with a galloping Twitter following – provoked some mirth on social media. But the spotlight on one of America's great moral heroes is a welcome one.
Douglass was born on a plantation in Eastern Maryland in 1817 or 1818 – he did not know his birthday, much less have a long-form birth certificate – to a black mother (from whom he was separated as a boy) and a white father (whom he never knew and who was likely the "master" of the house). He was parceled out to serve different members of the family. His childhood was marked by hunger and cold, and his teen years passed in one long stretch of hard labor, coma-like fatigue, routine floggings, hunger, and other commonplace tortures from the slavery handbook.

At 20, he ran away to New York and started his new life as an anti-slavery orator and activist. Acutely conscious of being a literary witness to the inhumane institution he had escaped, he made sure to document his life in not one but three autobiographies. His memoirs bring alive the immoral mechanics of slavery and its weapons of control. Chief among them: food.
Hunger was the young Fred's faithful boyhood companion. "I have often been so pinched with hunger, that I have fought with the dog – 'Old Nep' – for the smallest crumbs that fell from the kitchen table, and have been glad when I won a single crumb in the combat," he wrote in My Bondage and My Freedom. "Many times have I followed, with eager step, the waiting-girl when she went out to shake the table cloth, to get the crumbs and small bones flung out for the cats."

As a young enslaved boy in Baltimore, Frederick Douglass bartered pieces of bread for lessons in literacy. His teachers were white neighborhood kids, who could read and write but had no food. At 20, he ran away to New York and started his new life as an anti-slavery orator and activist.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"Never mind, honey—better day comin,' " the elders would say to solace the orphaned boy. It was not just the family pets the child had to compete with. One of the most debasing scenes in Douglass' first memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, describes the way he ate:
"Our food was coarse corn meal boiled. This was called mush. It was put into a large wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground. The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with oyster-shells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands, and none with spoons. He that ate fastest got most; he that was strongest secured the best place; and few left the trough satisfied."
Douglass makes it a point to nail the boastful lie put out by slaveholders – one that persists to this day – that "their slaves enjoy more of the physical comforts of life than the peasantry of any country in the world."
In truth, rations consisted of a monthly allowance of a bushel of third-rate corn, pickled pork (which was "often tainted") and "poorest quality herrings" – barely enough to sustain grown men and women through their backbreaking labors in the field. Not all the enslaved, however, were so ill-fed. Waiting at the "glittering table of the great house" – a table loaded with the choicest meats, the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay, platters of fruit, asparagus, celery and cauliflower, cheese, butter, cream and the finest wines and brandies from France – was a group of black servants chosen for their loyalty and comely looks. These glossy servants constituted "a sort of black aristocracy," wrote Douglass. By elevating them, the slave owner was playing the old divide-and-rule trick, and it worked. The difference, Douglass wrote, "between these favored few, and the sorrow and hunger-smitten multitudes of the quarter and the field, was immense."
The "hunger-smitten multitudes" did what they could to supplement their scanty diets. "They did this by hunting, fishing, growing their own vegetables – or stealing," says Frederick Douglass Opie, professor of history and foodways at Babson College, who, of course, is named after the activist. "In their moral universe, they felt, 'You stole me, you mistreated me, therefore to steal from you is quite normal.' " If caught, say, eating an orange from the owner's abundant fruit garden, the punishment was flogging. When even this proved futile, a tar fence was erected around the forbidden fruit. Anyone whose body bore the merest trace of tar was brutally whipped by the chief gardener.
But if deprivation was one form of control, a far more insidious and malicious one was the annual Christmas holidays, where gluttony and binge drinking was almost mandatory. During those six days, the enslaved could do what they chose, and while a few spent time with distant family or hunting or working on their homes, most were happy to engage in playing sports, "fiddling, dancing, and drinking whiskey; and this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters. ... It was deemed a disgrace not to get drunk at Christmas." To encourage whiskey benders, the "masters" took bets to see who could drink the most whiskey, thus "getting whole multitudes to drink to excess."

Frederick Douglass, circa 1879.
George Warren/National Archives
The nefarious aim of these revels was to equate dissipation with liberty. At the end of the holidays, sickened by the excessive alcohol, the hungover men felt "that we had almost as well be slaves to man as to rum." And so, Douglass wrote, "we staggered up from the filth of our wallowing, took a long breath, and marched to the field – feeling, upon the whole, rather glad to go, from what our master had deceived us into a belief was freedom, back to the arms of slavery."
Douglass sounds even angrier at these obligatory orgies – he calls them "part and parcel of the gross fraud, wrong, and inhumanity of slavery" – than at other, more direct forms of cruelty.
"It was a form of bread and circus," says Opie. "Slaves were also given intoxicated drinks, so they would have little time to think of escaping. If you didn't take it, you were considered ungrateful. It was a form of social control."
When he was about 8 years old, Douglass was sent to Baltimore, which proved to be a turning point. The mistress of the house gave him the most precious gift in his life – she taught him the alphabet. But when her husband forbade her to continue – teaching slaves to read and write was a crime – she immediately stopped his lessons.
It was too late. The little boy had been given a peek into the transformative world of words and was desperate to learn. He did so by bartering pieces of bread – he had free access to it; in Baltimore, the urban codes of slavery were less harsh than in rural Maryland – for lessons in literacy. His teachers were white neighborhood kids, who could read and write but had no food. "This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge," Douglass wrote in one of the most moving lines in Narrative.
"This also shows the ingenuity of enslaved people," says Opie, "and how they tricked and leveraged whatever little they had to get ahead."
Today, when one thinks of Frederick Douglass, the image that springs to mind is of a distinguished, gray-haired man in a double-breasted suit. It is difficult to imagine him as a half-starved boy garbed in nothing but a coarse, knee-length shirt, sleeping on the floor in a corn sack he had stolen. As he wrote in Narrative, "My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gashes."
It is a heartbreaking image – redeemed by one little word, "pen." A pen that he wielded with passion, clarity and irony to gash the life out of slavery.
Nina Martyris is a journalist based in Knoxville, Tenn.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Dmitri Hvorostovsky - the beautiful baritone of everybody's dreams dies of a brain tumor


Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Silver-Maned Baritone From Siberia, Dies at 55

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the charismatic Siberian baritone who won critical acclaim and devoted fans around the world for his burnished voice, uncanny breath control and rueful expressivity, died on Wednesday in London. He was 55.



Dmitri Hvorostovsky the beautiful baritone of everybody's dreams is taking another absence from singing to be treated for a brain tumor. Read below

Dmitri Hvorostovsky has stopped opera performances to dedicate himself to treatment for a brain tumor. (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) 
The news came on Dec. 8 that the beloved baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky has withdrawn from all scheduled future opera performances to dedicate himself to treatment for a brain tumor, which had begun when the tumor was diagnosed in June 2015. This seemed to have been a coordinated announcement because an email came to me from the Vienna State Opera at 11 a.m., and those from the Metropolitan Opera and the Royal Opera House in London arrived at 11:02 a.m. They contained the following statement:
To all my friends, fans and colleagues: It is with great sadness that I must withdraw from opera performances for the foreseeable future.I have been experiencing balance issues associated with my illness, making it extremely difficult for me to perform in staged productions.I will continue to give concerts and recitals as well as make recordings. Singing is my life, and I want to continue bringing joy to people worldwide.With this pause in my operatic career and more rest in between each engagement, I hope to have more time to focus on my health and treatment.Thank you for all your love, messages and well wishes. Your support is felt and means the world to me.With love,DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY
I am among Hvorostovsky’s millions of admirers who wish him well. 
As an artist, he has faced a particular challenge that many of his colleagues would find enviable. He has a beautiful voice, is a glorious singer who always goes deep emotionally and musically, and whose breath control has enabled him to spin out bolts of gorgeous sound that is beautiful unto itself, but also has meaning in the context of the aria or song he is performing. 
The “challenge” he has faced is that he is also very handsome and charismatic. Many of his fans who are not attuned to his exquisite musicianship have had the habit of cheering after every song when he appears in concert singing deep, dark song cycles by Russian composers. The same happens to his equally glamorous, free-spirited and hard-working colleague Anna Netrebko, with whom he often appears
The difference between the baritone and Netrebko is that Hvorostovsky, from the very start of his career, has gone deep in terms of choice of song literature that speaks of the Russian soul. I should add that he is a marvelous singer of Italian repertory, especially Verdi, and it is his soulfulness that makes characters such as Renato in Un Ballo in Maschera so memorable.
I have long noticed, and admired, that many Russian singers are very passionate in their engagement with music and text, especially from their homeland. Theirs is a fascinating and frustrating country, one with deep reserves of emotion that surface in its literature and performing arts. While Russia’s political issues have been and continue to be, shall we say, mind-boggling, its people have long shown a stunning amount of patience and courage in the face of extreme adversity. “The Russian people” as depicted in operas such as Boris Godunov are the real heroes of these masterpieces.
Hvorostovsky’s talent was evident from the beginning, as was his soulfulness. In 1989 he won the prestigious Cardiff Singer of the World competition (none other than Bryn Terfel placed second). When he sang Yeletsky’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spadeshe already displayed his soulful lyricism and prodigious breath control. Fourteen years later, in costume for the same role at a performance in St. Petersburg conducted by Valery Gergiev, he brought much more to this aria, as one would expect from artists who continually strive to grow and deepen their connection to music, words and audiences.
One of his greatest performances (and also of Renée Fleming’s) came when they appeared at the Met in the beautiful Robert Carsen production of Eugene Onegin. Watch them in rehearsalin a conversation with Beverly Sills and in the performance in the garden scene. Now watch the final scene, ignoring the French subtitles and focusing on their artistry.

In recital, each song he sings is a story told (even if you do not have the benefit of translation), whether in GlinkaMussorgsky or Shostakovich. Another composer he has advocated for is Georgy Sviridov, whose “Russia Cast Adrift” is inimitably connected to Hvorostovsky.
Last April he sang “Ochi Chernye” (Dark Eyes) at the Konzerthaus in Vienna. He also recently sang his very moving and patriotic song, “Katyusha”. Notice how, in the latter song, the audience is engaged with his performance.
I did not know of a song called “Cranes” that Hvorostovsky recently sang so soulfully. It was made famous by a Soviet-era actor and singer named Mark Bernes (1911-1969). The lyrics for “Cranes” are based on a poem by the Dagestani poet Rasul Gamzatov, who visited the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima and was moved by the story of Sadako Sasaki, a girl who feverishly folded origami peace cranes while dying of the effects of radiation from the bombing on Aug. 6, 1945. 
Gamzatov’s poem was translated into Russian by Naum Grebnyov and was read by Bernes, who adapted the poem into lyrics for music to be composed by Yan Frenkel. When the song was finished, Bernes was deeply moved, in part because he identified with some of what it expressed. He was ill with cancer and died a week after this recording was released. Listen to it first as performed by Bernes, listening to the music and reading the text in translation. Then watch Hvorostovsky’s performance of this song, with the knowledge of its back story and significance and you will understand why the audience was so deeply moved. 

Dima, as Hvorostovsky is known to his colleagues, is beloved for his playful, sometimes mischievous, spontaneity and unpredictability. Watch a conversation I had with him in 2012 when he was a guest at my series, Adventures in Italian Opera at the Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò of New York University. He often speaks softly, so you might have trouble making out some of what he said, but this conversation gives you a full sense of his natural charm, his edgy demeanor and the seriousness of his devotion to his art.


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