Posts Tagged ‘New Music concert’

Richard Thompson’s ‘Interviews with Ghosts’

April 22, 2012

Guitar legend Richard Thompson with string students during "Cabaret of Souls" last year Courtesy photo

By Marcia E. Gawecki

It’s hard to tell how long singer-songwriter-guitar legend Richard Thompson has been obsessed with ghosts.

Perhaps it started long ago, but it just hit Idyllwild Arts’ radar in November of last year with his “Cabaret of Souls” tour, which began at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

“Cabaret of Souls” is a talent show set in the Underworld (think of it as “American Idol” in Hell).  It’s part theater, part rock opera, featuring the talents of Richard Thompson, Harry Shearer (The Simpsons), Richard’s wife, Judith Owen, Deborah Dobkin, Pete Zorn and strings students  from the Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra, conducted by Peter Askim.

X-O, a cellist from China, was one of the students who performed “Cabaret of Souls” with Richard Thompson. She and the 11 other students had to wear campy outfits and learn about 30 new songs.

“But it was easy music,” X-O said, shrugging it off.

Stephanie, a violinist from Korea, said that it’s music that she’s never played before.

Stephanie said the music was old fashioned, but fun

“Peter said that it was kind of old-fashioned,” she said. “But I liked it.”

Dorie, a violin player from Bulgaria, had to wear a lacy outfit and a green wig.

“They painted our faces to look like ghosts,” Dorie said. “They wanted us to wear gloves, but it didn’t fit with our string instruments.”

According to the Los Angeles Times newspaper, “Richard Thompson has been called the finest rock songwriter after Bob Dylan and the best electric guitarist since Jimi Hendrix.”

“Last year, we helped Richard Thompson out, so this year, he’s helping us out,” said Camille, an oboe player talking about the upcoming New Music Concerts held in Idyllwild and Hollywood.

The Hollywood concert is a fundraiser for the new William M. Lowman Concert Hall, and pre-event tickets (from $10 to $20) are now on sale on the Idyllwild Arts web site,

According to a recent promotional video, Richard said that “Interviews with Ghosts” is a short song cycle or song suite of three chamber orchestra pieces.

“It’s based on supposed transcriptions from ghosts talking to each other,” Richard said. “Depending upon if you think they exist or even talk to each other.”

Then Richard said he adapted these ghost transcripts a little bit, adding rhymes and worked with the orchestra. For the past several weeks, classical music students have been playing Richard’s New Music pieces. He will be singing and playing guitar along with the student orchestra.
Jo, a bass player, said it sounds a lot like Rock n’ Roll.

Will “Interviews with Ghosts” be like talking to Jacob Marley from “A Christmas Carol,” where he complains about the chain, the cold and the loneliness of walking through doors? Will there be a message in Richard’s piece about transforming our miserly ways? Will there be jokes about God, the devil and not being able to take our cash with us?

Time Out has called Richard Thompson’s performances, “Riveting, enlightening, witty, moving, provocative and entertaining – strongly recommended.”

Will the students have to dress up for "Interviews with Ghosts?"

Expect nothing less than fabulous with Richard Thompson’s “Interviews with Ghosts.” If anything, you’ll get the rare opportunity to hear one of the Top 20 best guitar players of all time play with our student orchestra on April 28 in Idyllwild and on April 29 in Hollywood.

Besides Richard Thompson, Chen Yi will be performing “Tone Poem,” a piece commissioned by the student orchestra and three composers from So Orchestra will be performing individual works, including “Oblique Music” by Jason Tretuing, “Credo in US” by John Cage and “Music for Pieces of Wood,” by Steve Reich.

Also on the docket is Peter’s brand-new piece, “Elsewhere.”

The first New Music Concert will be Saturday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the IAF Theatre on the Idyllwild Arts campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The Sunday, April 29 fundraiser concert will be held at 4 p.m. at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre at 4800 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. For tickets, visit, or contact

Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.


Redlands Concert Reunites Oboe Teacher & Student

April 17, 2012

(from L) Nelms McKelvain, Liang Wang, Carolyn Beck and Sara Andon. Photo Peter Askim.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

For most music students, saying good-bye to a beloved teacher is painful, and starting over with another can be scary.

“I’ve had the same oboe teacher since I was 10 years old,” exclaimed Camille, who is graduating from Idyllwild Arts this year.

She was talking about Francisco Castillo, principal oboist for the Redlands Symphony. He’s the same oboe instructor as the popular Liang Wang, principal oboist for the New York Philharmonic.

Francisco was Liang’s first oboe instructor in the U.S. Last Saturday, April 14, Liang came for Francisco’s World Premier of his recent composition, “Rhapsody for Oboe, English Horn & Orchestra.”

“There’s Francisco, the big guy,” exclaimed Shen, a clarinet player from Idyllwild Arts, who attended the concert with music director Peter Askim and five other students, including Henry, Yoana, Elena, Suriah and Cynthia.

Francisco remained in touch with Liang, who graduated from Idyllwild Arts and the Curtis School of Music in Philadelphia. In January, Liang visited Idyllwild Arts, taught Master Classes and played with the student orchestra (see blog post, “NY Phil Oboist Makes Idyllwild Arts Proud,” dated Dec. 9, 2011).

“Liang has brought such prestige to our instrument,” Camille said.

Dr. Nelms McKelvain, piano instructor at Idyllwild Arts, drove down from Idyllwild to see Liang in concert.

“Liang was my advisee when he was here,” said Nelms. “I’d go a long way to see him.”

For the Saturday night concert, the students sat in the balcony in the Redlands Memorial Chapel, yet had a full view of the stage. Some of those around them had binoculars so they could see the performer’s faces.

(from L) Idyllwild Arts Supporters: Henry, Shen, Elena, Yoana, Cynthia, Suriah, Carolyn, Sara, William & Peter

After the Redlands Symphony warmed up with “Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Liang played “Oboe Concerto,” by Richard Strauss.

“Liang’s phrasing is so unique,” said Peter Askim, afterwards. “He phrases like a singer — so natural and pure. He never plays anything the same way twice. It’s like he’s discovering the piece for the first time – every time.””

During the first two songs, Co Boi Nguyen, the assistant conductor, led the orchestra. According to the program notes, Co Boi is an assistant professor of music at the University of Redlands School of Music, and she usually conducts at least one program during the regular symphony season.

After intermission, conductor Jon Robertson took over for the World Premier of Francisco’s work, “Rhapsody for Oboe, English Horn and Orchestra.” Liang and Francisco took the stage to great applause. Liang was playing his oboe, while Francisco had a much longer oboe with a lower sound, which is the English horn.

The two played well together, like father and son, carefully not upstaging each other. The piece was lively, and even frenetic at times, but was well liked by the audience. Both Liang and Francisco received a large bouquet of flowers afterwards.

According to the program, Francisco said his rhapsody came about in a funny way. While he was talking with Liang about what pieces he would play with the Redlands Symphony, Liang suggested that they play something together.

(from L) Carolyn, Francisco, Liang, Sara and Peter. Photo Peter Askim.

“I jokingly said that I didn’t want to play an Albinoni or Vivaldi concerto, and would prefer something more interesting and new,” Francisco recalled.

“Well, then, write something yourself!” Liang replied.

For inspiration, Francisco listened to oboe concertos by Mozart, Strauss, Pasculli and Piazzola. He also listened to favorite composers, Bach, Villa-Lobos, Charles Ives and Louis Armstrong, among others. In the end, Francisco turned to his oboe, English horn and computer to make something uniquely his own.

“As you listen, you will find some of my favorite musical ideas, including Polyrhythm, Latin folk melodies, simple harmonies, virtuosic, demanding, yet sustained lyrical passages, silly moments are at the same time dramatic and tense,” Francisco wrote in the program.

“However, if you are looking for a form, you won’t find it,” Francisco added.

“I really liked Francisco’s piece,” said Shen. “It wasn’t boring like the Hayden piece” (“Symphony No. 104 London” ended the evening.)

Camille, who was away at college auditions on Sunday, had heard a rehearsal of Francisco’s piece.

“It’s New Music, and it had a very Latin feel to it,” Camille said.

After the Redlands concert, the students and Peter went to the stage to meet and congratulate the performers.

(from L) Yoana and Elena, students from Bulgaria, enjoy a pre-concert dinner. Photo Peter Askim.

According to Peter, several principals from the Redlands Symphony have also taught music at Idyllwild Arts, including Todor Pelev, associate concertmaster/violin; Gail Cruz, violin; Carolyn Beck, principal bassoon; Sara Andon, principal flute; David Scott, principal trumpet and William Schlitt, principal timpani.

Francisco, who dedicated his rhapsody to Liang Wang, conductor Jon Robertson and the Redlands Symphony, was all smiles afterwards.

“This was the first time it was played before a live audience,” Francisco said. “It’s a good feeling.”

In other news, get your tickets now for the New Music Concerts featuring new works by Richard Thompson, Chen Yi and Peter Askim with the Idyllwild Arts Student Orchestra on Saturday, April 28 at the IAF Theatre (free) on campus, and on Sunday, April 29 at 4 p.m. at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater in Los Angeles. Pre-concert general admission tickets for the Sunday show are $10 to $20 and are available on the Idyllwild Arts web site at Click on ‘Academy,’ then ‘Music’ and ‘New Music Concert.’

For more information, see Idyllwild Me blog post, “New Music: Dramatic Shift for Students” dated April 9.

Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.




Drum & Piano Recital ‘Pure Entertainment’

May 29, 2010

Una played the marimba, while Keri accompanied her on piano

It was like having a recital the same night as the Academy Awards. That’s what happened to Idyllwild Arts music students, Una and Meiling, two juniors. Last night, Friday, May 29, was the same night of the student film screenings where they rolled out the red carpet, and the audience line went clear down the parking lot.

However, those friends, family members and faculty who came to Una and Meiling’s recital, got to witness “pure entertainment.”

You knew it the moment you walked into Stephens Recital Hall. Set up before us was a marimba, four kettledrums, and a snare-bass-drum-cymbals combo set. These large percussion instruments dwarfed everything around them, including Una, who weighs about 90 pounds.

Stephanie (L) on violin with Una on marimba

Yet, she obviously knew how to command these instruments. For Una’s first piece, “Furioso and Valse in D Minor,” by Hatch, she performed solo, hitting the large wooden marimba keys with her mallets.

For those of us who didn’t know until tonight, a marimba is a musical instrument in the percussion family. Keys or bars (usually made of wood) are struck with mallets and are arranged like those on a piano, with the accidentals raised vertically and overlapping the natural keys.

Marimbas originated in Africa hundreds of years ago and were imported to Central America in the sixteenth century. Needless to say, it’s a very large instrument, but it produces a soft, wooden and metal sound.

For her next piece, “Sonata for Marimba and Piano,” by Tanner, Una was accompanied by her classmate, Keri. Like many instruments that are generally the “backbone” of the orchestra, and never out in front, this was a nice piece. Keri’s piano didn’t drown out the marimba, in which Una played with two mallets in each hand. And Una had many moments in which the piano wasn’t playing.

Una's teacher talks to Una's father, as she looks on

Next, Una came out and stood behind the four large timpani drums. They looked like oversized copper metal pots covered with soft leather tops. You knew immediately that the sound coming from them would be commanding–and it was. It sounded like a jungle movie in which something was going to happen soon.

In a rare moment at Idyllwild Arts, brother and sister got to play together at the same recital. For this piece “Solo Impression for Four Timpani,” by Firth, Una was accompanied by her older brother, Rich, on piano. His piano part was frenetic sounding and sporadic, while Una’s drumming built up to a crescendo.

Although the timpani piece was a short one, two people in the audience couldn’t have enjoyed it more: their parents.

That night, Una wasn’t without accompanists. For her next piece, “Three Oranges,” by Hoffman, she was joined by Stephanie, a violinist, who is also Rich’s girlfriend. Una played the marimba, while Stephanie “plucked” at her violin. The overall effect sounded like harp music. Naturally, the song lead to larger sounds by both instruments. At times, Una used double mallets to get a larger sound.

For her final piece, “The Love of L’Histoire,” by DeLancey, Una changed instruments again. This time, she played the snare-bass-drum combo. In addition to the drums, there was also a wooden piece that sounded like horse clomping, a cowbell, and cymbals. The title, “The Love of L’Histoire,” suggested a French patriotic sound, but it was more “New Age,” space-type music with irregular rhythms.

But when Una got going, her arms were outstretched, and she was pounding on the snare and bass drums at the same time. It looked difficult, but she pulled it off.

“You should have seen her at the ‘New Music’ orchestra concert,” said Andrew Leeson, a teacher in the Creative Writing Department. “It looked like her arms were stretched eight feet wide. It was amazing!”

Afterwards, Una took two bows and received a standing ovation. She also got flowers from her brother and his girlfriend.

Una is looking forward to returning to Idyllwild Arts this summer. She’s received a scholarship, and will have a chance to work with new teachers and percussion instruments.

After a brief intermission, it was Meiling’s turn. Many of her fellow piano students moved closer so they could see her fingerings on the piano.

Meiling at the piano

For her first piece, she chose “Sonata K280 in F Major,” by Mozart. It started out fast, and Meiling played it loud and confidently. For the middle or “adagio” part, she played the piano more melancholy and quiet.

Her next piece included three preludes by Chopin, including “No. 1 in C Major,” “No. 3 in G Major,” and “No. 16 in B-Flat Minor.” The “No. 3 in G Major,” was the best of the three, because it was loud, intense, and I envisioned a flight of bumblebees.

For Meiling’s last piece, she was accompanied by Yifan, another pianist, on a grand piano set up next to hers. “Scenas Infantis,” or Memories of Childhood, by Pinto, included many familiar lullabies, including, “Ring Around the Rosy,” and “Sleeping Time.”

Although it sounded simple at first, it soon built into a nice, complex arrangement. And the dueling pianos gave it a commanding sound.

“She’s a good player,” said Ie-Seul, a senior pianist, who had played her Mozart and Chopin pieces, but didn’t know her final one.

After her second bow, Meiling received a hug from her boyfriend, Felix.

All in all, the instruments, the arrangements, were unexpected, and the musicians played with skill and confidence. It wasn’t the Academy Awards, but pure entertainment.

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