Friday, February 20, 2015

Melanie de Biasio

Last year, when we saw Jef Neve at Leuven Jazz Festival, he had invited Belgian drummer Dre Pallemaerts as one of his special guests.  We were so impressed with Pallemaerts' fantastic drumming, when I saw on the programme brochure that he worked with Melanie De Biasio on her new album, I decided to check it out.  And that is how I discovered the unique talent of this upcoming Belgian jazz singer.  Her album "No Deal" is dark and atmospheric, but incredibly enjoyable to listen to.  It got rave reviews in the international jazz world, and she was even invited to perform on the Jools Holland show - the first Belgian to do so in the past 20 years!  Here is a video of that performance:

So when I saw she was coming to Leuven early this year, I bought tickets.  The only thing I was a bit concerned about was how were they going to make an interesting show out of a rather dark, and mainly slow album?  Wasn't it going to be too monotonous, or even boring, for my husband, who was going to go with me?  I was sure I would enjoy it because I had listened to the album so often, but I was worried about him!

Well, I needn't have worried...De Biasio and her band crafted a real work of art out of how they presented the songs from the album.  We were mesmerized from beginning to end.  Even the lighting was well thought out and added to the experience we had of being swept up into a very particular world during the concert.  We were both impressed - in fact, I was amazed at how enthusiastic my husband was afterwards.  Bravo, Melanie!  Just to give an idea, here is a clip from their show at the AB that is very similar to how they played in Leuven, with the same very talented band that includes drummer Dre Pallemaerts, pianist Pascal Mohy, bassist Sam Gerstmans, and on analog synth Pascal Paulus:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

National Orchestra of Belgium and Elina Garanca, conducted by Karel Mark Chichon

Another little perk with my husband's new job: we were invited to this concert for the opening of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.  Prior to this invitation, I had never heard of Elina Garanca, Latvian mezzo-soprano and celebrated opera singer.

What a wonderful opportunity to discover an amazingly talented singer, who, despite the fact that she was ill on the evening, still sang the first half of the concert as planned, six beautiful pieces from Hector Berlioz's "Les Nuits d'Eté".  Unfortunately, after the break, the director announced that she would be unable to sing the second part of the concert.  But her husband, conductor Karel Mark Chichon, was able to save the evening with Andris Dzenitis's "Preludium".  Composer Dzenitis, also a Latvian national, was in attendance and stood and waved his approval at the orchestra as they finished the piece.

This was followed by Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" and as an extra bonus, a rousing orchestral version of "Tico Tico".  The percussion section of the National Orchestra was a lot of fun to watch during this final piece.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Sound of Music

My good friend Kristel and I had tickets to see the musical The Sound of Music at the Stadsschouwburg in Antwerp yesterday afternoon.  The magic started on the train ride - big fat snowflakes started to fall from the sky and the closer we got to Antwerp the fatter and thicker the snow became, which made for a beautiful sight as we walked out of the station and made our way through the busy shopping streets towards the theater for the afternoon performance.

I have always loved several of the songs from The Sound of Music. However, I was a bit apprehensive about hearing them in Dutch instead of English, afraid it would spoil my enjoyment somehow.  But as the show started with the nuns wondering what they were going to do with Maria, I quickly got used to the translated lyrics as the familiar melodies swept the story along.

One of the main reasons we bought tickets was the fact that Kristel is a huge fan of radio and television personality Kurt Rogiers, who played Captain Von Trapp, and did a fine job in the role.  Although he is not a professional singer, he has clearly worked hard on his technique. His fragile rendition of "Edelweiss" at the end of the show added an extra emotional layer to that moment in the story that would have been absent had every note been perfect.  The rest of the cast was excellent, and I especially enjoyed the dancing performed by the characters Liesl (played by Lotte Stevens) and Rolf (played by Martijn Vogel) during their duet in the garden - a mash up of Viennese waltzing, ballet, and jazz dance that had me thinking of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.  Charlotte Campion, despite her tiny stature, was an enthusiastic and believable Maria, and Maaike Widdershoven, as the head nun, sang an amazing version of "Climb Every Mountain".

All in all, it was a fine production, and a wonderful way to spend a snowy winter afternoon.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Every December for the past four years, my husband and I have celebrated our anniversary with tickets to the Brussels Operette Theater's performance here in Leuven.   It's always an enjoyable evening because the company puts on light opera and intends to entertain.  We often find ourselves laughing out loud, but at the same time the singing and the orchestra are of high quality, and the production is well done.

This year's performance was "Clivia", a 1933 operette by Austrian composer Nico Dostal  The influence of 1930s Berlin is clearly represented in the potpourri of cabaret, popular dance and classical opera.  The story is a typical slapstick filled operette: mistaken identity, political intrigue, star crossed lovers, odd characters, and plenty of song and dance.

An imaginary film crew, including the diva Clivia, and financed by a rich (and scheming to get richer) American, Mr. Potterman, is trying to get into the ficticious country of Boliguay ostensibly to make a movie, but in reality to serve as a cover up for Potterman's plans to overthrow the country.  In order to get the necessary visa to get into the country, Clivia weds a local guacho, who turns out to be the general who leads the Boliguayan government.

Two other notable characters were the journalist from Chicago, Mr. Down, and his Boliguyanan love interest, the leader of the female guard troop, Jola, who had several enjoyable song and dance duets together.

As it has been every year, the theater is full and everyone is enthusiastic, clearly enjoying the show, despite the high level of kitsch.  The absurdity of it all and the sarcastic humor make up for the corniness; and the professionalism and most of all, the enjoyment of the cast and crew do the rest.  We'll be there next year!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Venetia Antiqua Ensemble (Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista, Venice)

The week I spent in Venice this September gave me a wonderful opportunity to discover the city and its rich history.  One thing I really wanted to do while I was there was see a performance in the famous La Fenice opera house.  Unfortunately, when I checked for tickets online, only the most expensive seats were still available, and I did not feel like spending hundreds of euros for a ticket.  I was a bit disappointed.

During one of my daily walks exploring the city, I happened to pass by the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista, and noticed a sign announcing a concert of early music by the Venice Music Project in its small church on the Friday evening, my last night in Venice.  On an impulse, I bought myself a ticket (and it was very reasonably priced)!

On the evening, I made sure I got to the little church early and took a seat in the front pew.  The harpsichordist was tuning her instrument before the concert began (see photo).

The Venice Music Project brings music from the 17th and 18th centuries, with original instruments and performance practices.  The evening I attended, they performed pieces by Steffani, Vivaldi, Handel, and Albinoni, some of them sung by American soprano Liesl Odenwaller.  Her rendition of Handel's "Tune Your Harps" was very charming.  It was a lovely concert and a fitting way to end my week in Venice.

Orphée et Eurydice (De Munt, Brussels, June 2014)

I bought tickets to this opera after reading two articles about it in the newspaper, one that ended with the wish that everyone should see this opera, because it was impossible for any opera to be "more real, more pure, and more beautiful" than this production by Romeo Castellucci of Gluck and Berlioz's tragedy.

The production combined the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice with the real life story of Els, a young woman with Locked-In syndrome in a nursing home outside of Brussels.  Halfway through the opera, when Orpheus descends to the underworld to find Eurydice and bring her home, cloudy livestream images take us literally to Els' beside, where she is listening to the opera along with us, via headphones.  The music of the descent accompanies words on the screen that tell us Els' life story: a happily married young mother of two children, who is suddenly, without reason taken away from all of that by a freak accident: a stroke, whereby she ends up as a Locked-In syndrome patient: awake, aware, but in no way able to move, speak or interact with her environment, trapped in her own body.

It is hard to describe, but the way the production was put together and performed was incredible and the entire experience was very moving.  I'm so grateful I was able to go.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

L'Oro d'Italia Photographic Concert

In the context of the Italian presidency of the Council of the European Union, my husband and I attended this event at the BOZAR in Brussels last night.  I had no idea what to expect, as it was billed as a "photographic concert".  It turned out to be an very entertaining tribute to Italian cinema.  The Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra played the music composed for famous Italian movies while still photographs from the production of those movies were projected on a huge screen at the back of the stage.  In between, commentary was provided by well-known Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini.

The best moment of the evening was the only time actual moving picture footage was used, when a short clip of Anna Magnani singing in one of her films was projected, and after a few bars, the live orchestra joined in to accompany her.  It gave me goosebumps.  Magnani, the first Italian woman to win an Oscar, and considered one of the greatest actresses in Italian cinema, died in 1973 - however, for a brief moment, it was as if she had come back to life in a Brussels concert hall.

The evening left me wishing I knew more about Italian movies.  The only things that were familiar to me were the music from Sergio Leone's westerns (famously composed by Ennio Morricone), the theme from Il Postino (composed by Luis Bacalov) and of course, both the movie and the theme song La Vita e Bella (directed by Roberto Benigni and composed by Nicola Piovani).  Of all the films spotlighted in the concert, this was the only one I have actually seen, and in retrospect, it seems quite a shame.