.Hedwig to Heartland

World, alt, baroque—Cal Performances has it all

Talk about pent-up demand. The East Bay is truly bustin’ out all over this fall with arts and entertainment. From theater to touring musical artists, now’s the time to book seats for some extraordinary shows. The several performance spaces of UC Berkeley’s Cal Performances series, now in its 118th year, will be hosting some of the best. Here are a few picks for the month of November.

Nov. 4: John Cameron Mitchell and Amber Martin in ‘Cassette Roulette’

Calling all Hed-Heads! Fans of alt-culture classic Hedwig and the Angry Inch can catch Tony Award-winner John Cameron Mitchell, along with his touring partner, cabaret star Amber Martin, in a show that’s never the same twice: Cassette Roulette. Here’s how it works: Audience members spin the “giant Cassette of Fortune,” and JCM will sing whatever it lands on, including songs from Hedwig, Big River, The Secret Garden, Hello Again; his movies and albums; and his podcast, Anthem: Homunculus.

Martin will show off her original characters, as well as doing tributes to Bette Midler, Janis Joplin and Reba McEntire. Cameron Mitchell and Martin will be backed by Hedwig’s Broadway music director Justin Craig and house band Tits of Clay.

I’m pulling the wig down from the shelf

Suddenly I’m Miss Punk Rock Star of Stage and Screen

And I ain’t never

I’m never turning back!

— From “Wig in a Box,” Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Nov. 9: Le Consort: ‘A Journey Through Baroque Europe’

Making its North American debut is French baroque music quartet Le Consort. The baroque period is considered to extend from 1600 to 1750, and major composers include Vivaldi (“The Four Seasons”), Corelli (“Christmas Concerto in G Minor”) and Purcell ( “Dido and Aeneas”). Baroque music, experts explain, is characterized by using the power of the music to communicate.

Violinist Sophie de Bardonnèche is one of Le Consort’s co-founders, and plays alongside Théotime Langlois de Swarte, violin; Hanna Salzenstein, cello; and Justin Taylor, harpsichord. De Bardonnèche spoke to East Bay Magazine from France to describe why they love this music, and how they find and choose the pieces to play.

“We love the freedom we have to perform this music,” she said. “There are very few [set] dynamics. We can use our own creativity, and discover the score in a way it has never been played before.”

Baroque music, she believes, has resonance “similar to today’s pop music. It can be appreciated by anyone, even children. It is very accessible…sometimes melancholy, but sometimes joyous.”

Asked how Le Consort chooses the music it plays, de Bardonnèche noted that while Vivaldi, Corelli, Rameau and Purcell are of course included in the quartet’s repertoire, the members of the group spend much time seeking out and experimenting with other, lesser-known composers and compositions.

They visit libraries, particularly in Italy, that archive baroque music manuscripts, find pieces they may want to play and then try them out in rehearsal. “I love looking at old scores,” said de Bardonnèche. “It’s very exciting for us to read them together,” and decide if they will fit in Le Consort’s list. “Our very first performance was [of a piece by a] composer no one had ever heard of,” she said.

Le Consort’s Cal Performances concert will include Vivaldi’s “Trio Concert in G minor, Op.1, No. 1,” along with his “Trio Sonata No. 12 in D minor, La Follia, RV 63,” Corelli’s “Trio Sonata in C major, Op. 4, No. 1,” selections from Rameau’s “Les Indes galantes” and his “Gavotte et six doubles,” Purcell’s “Sonata in Four Parts in G minor, Z 807,” in addition to two selections by Bach.

But it will also feature lesser-known composers Giovanni Battista Reali (“Grave from Violin Sonata, Op. 2, No. 1”), Francesco Maria Veracini (“Finale from Violin Sonata in A major, Op. 1, No. 7”), John Eccles (“The Mad Lover”) and Jean-François Dandrieu, “Trio Sonata in D minor, Op. 1, No. 1.”

The BBC Music Magazine said this about Le Consort in performance: “Ravishing, exhilarating and uniquely beautiful.”

Nov. 15: Kristin Chenoweth: ‘For the Girls’

She may be only 4’ 11”, but Kristin Chenoweth can belt, as she’s proved over and over onstage, as Glinda in Wicked on Broadway, on TV in Glee and Schmigadoon!, and on multiple recordings, including 2019’s For the Girls. This solo album became a revue-style stage show, running on Broadway as a limited engagement, also in 2019. She brings the revue to Zellerbach Hall in November.

In it, the Tony and Emmy Award-winner sings songs made iconic by women she idolizes, including Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Carole King and others. The song list features, for example, “The Way We Were,” “The Man That Got Away” and, of course, “Popular” from Wicked. Chenoweth’s early training was in gospel music, and her rendition of “How Great Thou Art” pays tribute to that beginning. 

Chenoweth’s engaging stage persona makes the show more than just a song sequence. She tells stories, jokes with the band and back-up singers, and makes audiences feel part of a special event. Said The New York Times about the show: “For the Girls…exudes the snuggly promise of a slumber party.”

Nov. 17: Silkroad Ensemble with Rhiannon Giddens: ‘American Railroad’

Music lovers first discovered the many talents of Rhiannon Giddens through her time as a founding member of the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. She was the lead singer of the country, blues and old-time group, and also played the fiddle and banjo with them. The video for “Hit ‘Em Up Style” is a wonderful example of her magnetic performance persona.

Since that time, Giddens has gone on to co-write an opera, Omar, which won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Yet another project is her current leadership of the Silkroad Ensemble, which Cal Performances describes as “genre-defying,” as it brings together musicians and music from all over the world. World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma conceived Silkroad in 1998 “as a reminder that even as rapid globalization resulted in division, it brought extraordinary possibilities for working together,” according to Silkroad materials.

The work it’s bringing to Zellerbach Hall, American Railroad, explores the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad through the music of the many groups, some immigrant, some Native, who made it possible. African American, Chinese, Irish, Indigenous and other cultures are celebrated with traditional instruments—Chinese guzheng, pipa, erhu and qinqin are played alongside African American fiddle, bones, tambo and banjo, as well as their Celtic and Indigenous counterparts. 

New compositions and commissions make the experience of American Railroad an intrinsically American sound picture of a venture that made the modern U.S. possible. There will be a pre-performance panel at 6:30pm, and a post-performance “community conversation.”

For tickets and more information, visit calperformances.org or call 510.642.9988.

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