Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sondheim Themed Concert at the Carnegie Music Hall in Carnegie This Saturday

    An evening of great entertainment is in store at the Carnegie Music Hall in Carnegie at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 2 with a perfect pairing of the brilliant lyrics of Broadway icon Stephen Sondheim and standout singer Gavan Pamer!

    Mr. Pamer will be accompanied by Kathleen Billie on piano and Freya Samuels on cello as they  perform selections from Follies, Sweeney Todd,  Dick Tracy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, West Side Story and others. 

    Carnegie Carnegie Hall's superb acoustics, lovely historic character and intimate size provide the perfect setting for this elegant musical exploration of love and relationships.  The concert will be followed by a dessert reception with the performers in the Lincoln Gallery.

    Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, $15 for students.

    Free shuttle serviceis available  from the parking lot on East Main Street. “Listen Locally: The 115th Anniversary Season” is also made possible through the generosity of the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Emanuel Ax to Perform Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 with Pittsburgh Symphony

Pianist Emanuel Ax Photo Credit: Lisa Marie Mazzucco

    Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Music Director Manfred Honeck welcomes beloved pianist Emanuel Ax back to the Heinz Hall stage in a BNY Mellon Grand Classics program featuring Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 and choral favorites from Orff, Bernstein, Verdi and Boito.
    Brahms’ Concerto No. 2 is an epic 50-minute work, written two decades after Brahms’ first concerto and at the height of his fame. This concerto has the spaciousness of a symphony, the drama of an opera and the intimacy of a lullaby, and touches on nearly every emotion — and is some of the most difficult music ever written for a pianist!
    The choral works will feature the All University Choir, a new ensemble created from Maestro Honeck's vision to work with the great young singers of Pittsburgh-area universities and colleges. The group — which includes vocalists from Chatham University Choir, Duquesne University Voices of Spirit, Grove City College Touring Choir, St. Vincent Camerata and the Washington & Jefferson College Camerata Singers, under the direction of Robert Page and Christine Hestwood — will perform Bernstein's Chichester Psalms joined by boy soprano Maksim Shcherbatyuk and Verdi's Four Sacred Pieces, as well as dramatic excerpts from Orff's Carmina Burana and Boito's Prologue to Mefistofele.  The second half will also feature the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Verdi's popular Overture to La forza del destino. 
    A pre-concert talk, open to all ticket holders and led by Assistant Conductor Andrés Franco, will occur on stage one hour before each concert. Program notes for the weekend are available online at and on the PSO mobile app the day of the concert.
    During the weekend, beginning one hour before concert time, student musicians will perform in the Grand Lobby of Heinz Hall. On Friday evening, an ensemble from Duquesne University will perform and on Sunday, an ensemble from the Three Rivers Young Peoples Orchestra will play. These performances are free to ticketholders.
    The concert begins at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets, ranging in price from $20 to $94, can be purchased by calling the Heinz Hall box office at 412-392-4900 or visiting
About the Artists
Born in Lvov, Poland, Emanuel Ax moved to Winnipeg, Canada, with his family when he was a young boy. His studies at the Juilliard School were supported by the sponsorship of the Epstein Scholarship Program of the Boys Clubs of America, and he subsequently won the Young Concert Artists Award. Additionally, he attended Columbia University where he majored in French. Ax captured public attention in 1974 when he won the first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv. In 1975, he won the Michaels Award of Young Concert Artists followed four years later by the coveted Avery Fisher Prize.
    Three prominent duo collaborations will be carried through Ax's current season. Beginning with the release of sonatas by Fauré and Strauss on the Deutsche Grammophon label, Ax will partner with long-time friend and colleague Itzhak Perlman for concerts in Kansas City, Ravinia, Dallas, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and La Jolla in the first half of the season. A return visit to Japan will be followed by concerts in Paris, Berlin, Rome, Tel Aviv and Amsterdam.
    As an annual guest with the New York Philharmonic, he will play Brahms with Alan Gilbert in addition to return visits to orchestras in Houston, Chicago, and Pittsburgh as well as duos in Philadelphia and New York with violinist Pamela Frank in a program of Mozart sonatas. Long-standing partner Yo-Yo Ma will join him in Norfolk, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Carnegie Hall where they will program all the Beethoven sonatas for cello and piano. Solo recitals in Tokyo, Arizona, Florida, Texas and Boston will culminate in Carnegie Hall as part of the hall's 125th anniversary celebrations in May.
    A Sony Classical exclusive recording artist since 1987, recent releases include Mendelssohn Trios with Yo-Yo- Ma and Itzhak Perlman, Strauss's Enoch Arden narrated by Patrick Stewart, and discs of two-piano music by Brahms and Rachmaninoff with Yefim Bronfman. Ax has received Grammy® Awards for the second and third volumes of his cycle of Haydn’s piano sonatas. He has also made a series of Grammy-winning recordings with cellist Yo-Yo Ma of the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas for cello and piano. His other recordings include the concertos of Liszt and Schoenberg, three solo Brahms albums, an album of tangos by Astor Piazzolla and the premiere recording of John Adams's Century Rolls with the Cleveland Orchestra for Nonesuch.
    In the 2004-2005 season, Ax also contributed to an International Emmy® Award-Winning BBC documentary commemorating the Holocaust that aired on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In 2013, Ax's recording Variations received the Echo Klassik Award for Solo Recording of the Year (19th century music)/Piano.

    In recent years, Ax has turned his attention toward the music of 20th-century composers, premiering works by John Adams, Christopher Rouse, Krzysztof Penderecki, Bright Sheng and Melinda Wagner. Ax is also devoted to chamber music, and has worked regularly with such artists as Young Uck Kim, Cho-Liang Lin, Mr. Ma, Edgar Meyer, Peter Serkin, Jaime Laredo and the late Isaac Stern.

    Ax resides in New York City with his wife, pianist Yoko Nozaki. They have two children together, Joseph and Sarah. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and holds honorary doctorates of music from Yale and Columbia Universities. For more information about Ax’s career, please visit

    Since his arrival in 1975, Robert Page has been a major figure in the cultural life of Pittsburgh, bringing with him an international reputation as conductor and teacher. Named Pennsylvania’s Artist of the Year by Governor Tom Ridge in 1998 and dubbed “a national treasure” by American Record Review, Page, dean of America’s choral conductors served as music director and conductor of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh for 26 years, and now holds the title of music director emeritus.
    From 1989 to 2006, Page held the title of director of special projects and choral activities with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He retired his position as director of choral Studies and Paul Mellon University Professor of Music at Carnegie Mellon University in May 2013. Page served as assistant conductor and director of choruses of the Cleveland Orchestra (1971-1989). Prior to coming to Pittsburgh, Page served on the faculty of Temple University and was music director of the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, preparing choruses for the Philadelphia Orchestra for 19 years. For more than 15 years, Page prepared the All-Star College Chorus for the Pittsburgh Symphony and Marvin Hamlisch. His choral arrangements of many of Hamlisch’s songs were featured in almost every concert.

    Page has served on the choral, festival and overview panels of the National Endowment for the Arts. He is a found member of Chorus America, the service organization for independent choruses, serving as president for three years. In 2001, he was honored as one of the first members of the American Choral Directors Association and in 2009 was made an honorary life member of the National Collegiate Choral Organization.

    Robert Page has been catalyst in the commissioning of new works including Turbae (Alberto Ginastera), conducting the work in Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland and Buenos Aires); The Lovers (Samuel Barber); Ball (Richard Hundley);…Among The Voices (Bernard Rands); and, for the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, An American Oratorio (Ned Rorem), Missa Mysteriorum and the critically acclaimed Requiem by Nancy Galbraith. He was the chorus master for the Chicago Lyric Opera/La Scala production of Paradise Lost (Kristof Penderecki) at the composer’s request. During his tenure with the Cleveland Orchestra he conducted the Cleveland first performances of Mass Of Life (Frederick Delius); Passion According To St. Luke (Penderecki), and a Rorem commissioned work. He presented Pittsburgh with the first performances of William Schuman’s Concerto on Old English Rounds for Viola, Women’s Voices and Orchestra, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, “Babi Yar,” Leonardo Balada’s Torquemada and Ned Rorem’s Goodbye, My Fancy, and the first professional performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.

CHRISTINE HESTWOOD is a Pittsburgh-based conductor, educator and singer who has enjoyed a long association with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  Past projects include work in audience engagement and music education advocacy. She served as co-director of the Night of 2,000 Stars, a 1996 project that featured 2,000 high school singers and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  She also served as co-director of the April 2013 Music for the Spirit concert, where more than 1,500 singers from Pittsburgh area high schools, colleges and community choirs joined voices to sing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. She was the assistant conductor of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and music director of the Junior Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. Hestwood is a vocal music teacher in the Upper St. Clair School District and the director of music at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair, where she has the privilege of conducting their 70-voice Chancel Choir. She is a proud member of Seraphic Singers, a 12-voice professional women’s chorus based in Pittsburgh. Hestwood earned degrees from Duquesne University (B.S. in voice and music education) and Carnegie Mellon University (M.M. in conducting), where she studied with Robert Page.

MAKSIM SHCHERBATYUK is a 12-year-old singer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His first public performance happened in September 2006 during a church service. He sang one-and-a-half verses of his favorite carol that he just learned and rendered the priest and parishioners speechless. Since then Shcherbatyuk has sung at many different concerts and festivals where he always had a warm reception. He likes to play piano, soccer, chess, judo and — like every kid — video games, which somehow does not prevent him from having all A grades on his report card. Shcherbatyuk attends South Fayette Middle School.

In 2011, Shcherbatyuk joined the fabulous Pittsburgh Youth Chorus at Duquesne University where he has a chance to learn a beautiful art of music as well as perform with very talented group of children. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Miss Julie, Clarissa and John" - A Soul-Shattering Drama Now Getting a World-Premier

Post-Reconstruction Virginia Plantation Serves as Locale for New Play at Pittsburgh Playwrights 

    I first got wind of "Miss Julie, Clarissa and John" by way of an email from a theater colleague. The missive came with a very enthusiastic review plus links to reviews by several other Pittsburgh critics, all of which extolled the show with great enthusiasm.
The drama, now getting a world premiere on the Pittsburgh Playwrights’ stage in Downtown Pittsburgh, is written by local playwright, Mark Southers, and the thought did cross my mind that the enthusiastic reviews may partly have been the result of  the zeal for wanting to support one of the city’s own.
Southers is the founder and artistic director of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, where he produced over 140 plays and one-acts since its beginning in 2003. Curious as hell about wanting to see the show that’s getting so much buzz, I caught a Friday evening performance that left me awestruck.
All the elements that make for good theater are there- excellent writing on the part of the playwright, scintillating direction by Monteze Freeland, a superb cast, appropriate costuming by Cheryl El-Walker and a set by Tony Ferrieri so authentic (the kitchen of a sharecropper’s cottage) it could have been lifted from the grounds of the Meadowcroft Museum of Rural Life in Avella or the Heinz Regional History Center.
If the Miss Julie portion of the title rings a bell, you might either have read or caught a performance of Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s "Miss Julie." Southers caught a performance of Strindberg’s classic drama while on a visit to Dublin, Ireland in 2008, and the experience inspired him to write a version based not in 1888 Sweden but in Virginia on a tobacco plantation several years after the close of the Civil War.

L-R  Tami Dixon as Miss Julie, Kevin Brown as John and Crystal Bates as Clarissa Photo Credit: Gail Manker

    Strindberg’s play deals with social and class distinctions and sexual mores of his era in his native country while Southers moves his to the Old South where folks were working out new social arrangements as a result of the recent abolition of slavery. It was a time when new found freedoms were under the gun of White supremacists not above using intimidation, lynching and other forms of coercion to perpetuate the older status quo.
    Top dog in what proves to be a triangle of entanglements is Miss Julie, the former plantation owner, a gal who seems to just want to have fun but whose fun sometimes takes on a sadistic hue. Tami Dixon plays her character brilliantly with mercurial temperament and a libido as strong a Blanche DuBois’ in "A Streetcar Named Desire."
Chrystal Bates as Clarissa and Kevin Brown Photo Credit" Gail Manker

 Putting up with her volatility are former slaves, Clarissa, the plantation owner’s cook who believes Miss Julie and she share a common father, who like Jefferson, had a taste for the allures of his African-American charges, and John, her common-law partner who tends to the bed-ridden master of the plantation, Captain Hodge, who we never see.
    While citing theatrical references, I might add that the play has a vague emotional similarity to the horror captured in the "Django Unchained," with Dixon serving as a surrogate for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie, and that Southers’ writing has a certain August Wilsonesque malaise, even though the play is uniquely his own.
    Fascinating is the precarious tightrope walked on by Kevin Brown whose physically imposing John is shown flexing his muscles and testing the waters in post emancipation Virginia. Still cowered to a degree by his past servitude, he also displays considerable grit when confronting his would-be new master, Miss Julie, a gal with a taste for both brightly colorful clothes and dark desires.
    Enticed by Miss Julie’s advances, he’s well aware of the dangers that await if he succumbs to temptation and word gets out about his possible miscegenational adventures. Fueled by the festivities of a solstice celebration in which he dances a little too intimately with Miss Julie along with a follow up bout with a bottle of moonshine, the plot threatens to heat up and over the boiling point.
Tami Dixon and Chrystal Bates Photo Credit: Gail Manker
   Through all this travail, Clarissa patiently bears with her supposed half-sister’s egocentric demands, insults and flirtatious assault on her man, all the while fretting about the whereabouts of her long gone mother, the only person who can authentically verify her paternity. Chrystal Bates’ Clarissa is once intelligent and patient beyond belief, bearing her long-standing suffering with equanimity but eventually letting out some of her pent-up emotion in an intensely touching confrontation with Miss Julie.
    The ending is a brilliant catharsis that comes via an ironic, unexpected twist that settles some scores and dresses old wounds but yet doesn’t fully exorcise the demons that haunt the play from the very beginning.
Due to audience demand and critical reception, the play has been extended another week. If you go, you can join the ranks of those who’ve already seen the birth of a an important new work that has enough staying power to propel it and its gifted playwright on to what should be a very promising future.
    "Miss Julie, Clarissa and John"  is at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, 937 Liberty Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh through April 2. Phone 412-687-4686 or visit website

Pittsburgh Watercolor Society celebrates 70 Years Strong with its first exhibit of this anniversary year

Victor Beltran "Jazz in the Park"

    The Pittsburgh Watercolor Society (PWS) announces its latest exhibit, Waterworks 2016. This exhibit, opening April 2, 2015 and running through April 25, 2016 will once again be presented at Spinning Plate Gallery, 5821 Baum Blvd., Pittsburgh, and is the “kick off” event for the PWS 70th anniversary year! The exhibit, open to all current Pittsburgh Watercolor Society members, showcases new works in watercolor and other water media. The opening reception on April 2 from 5 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. is FREE and open to the public.
    This exhibit features new works by PWS members completed within the past 3 years. All members are encouraged to enter this exhibit to create a comprehensive overview of the diversity and quality of the works created by our members. The juror for this exhibit, Graham Shearing, will select three pieces for special awards.
    Mr. Shearing has a lifetime’s worth of professional experience in collecting and critiquing art. He is a collector, critic, curator, consultant and writer who has lived in Pittsburgh for nearly 30 years. After studying law at the University of Cambridge and reading for the English Bar, he was distracted by the lure of art and has been so ever since.
    Even before university, Mr. Shearing says, “ I was an obsessive collector, habitué of museums and art galleries and a haphazard researcher. I never stopped doing these things. At Cambridge the critical moments were experiences in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Kettle’s Yard under the tutelage of its founder Jim Ede, and attending Sir Nicolaus Pevsner’s lectures in the Architecture Schools. Law came second. David’s Bookstall in Cambridge marketplace started a series of small libraries I have built up, dispersed and reassembled. Now, years later, with remaining accumulations of stuff, pictures, prints and books in the reviving city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I have lived for nearly thirty years. Here, I have been an art dealer, art critic, flaneur and unprofessional cook.”
    The Pittsburgh Watercolor Society was founded in 1945 to develop, encourage and maintain interest in watercolor painting. The original membership of 20 was one of the first groups to be affiliated with the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. The membership of the Pittsburgh Watercolor Society has grown to over 200 artists who enjoy this opportunity to explore and share their broad range of style and techniques.
Anni Matsick "Sweet Dreams"
    The Pittsburgh Watercolor Society sponsors two exhibits per year. "Waterworks" is a members-only show with awards selected by a regional noted juror. Members may choose one piece to exhibit. "Aqueous Open" is an international juried exhibition with entries open to artists from around the world. The show is selected by an internationally known artist/juror who travels to Pittsburgh to jury the show and teach a workshop.

  General meetings are held twice a year to update members on group exhibits, workshops, and activities and view a demonstration. Members have many opportunities to volunteer some time or talent to the group. For more information about this exhibit or the Pittsburgh Watercolor Society, please visit the PWS Web site at
    Spinning Plate Gallery is an independent artists’ space located in what was long known as the Constantin Pontiac Building in East Liberty. This wedge-shaped three-story structure was built in 1926 as a Hupmobile dealership. Art Deco was the reigning architectural style of the day, as evidenced by its terrazzo floors, sweeping staircases and decorative exterior brickwork.
    These elements were retained when the building was reborn as Spinning Plate Artist Lofts, Artspace’s first project outside Minnesota. Developed in partnership with Artists and Cities, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based neighborhood development corporation, Spinning Plate has 37 live/work apartments that offer open floor plans, large windows and high ceilings. The spacious first floor gallery in what was once part of a new car showroom is a bright, airy space at the tip of the wedge that gives artists a convenient venue for showcasing their work.

    Spinning Plate is in East Liberty, one of Pittsburgh’s oldest and most diverse neighborhoods. Long in decline, the area is now experiencing a revival, thanks in part to the influence of this project, which has inspired other housing projects as well as new restaurants, shops and other investment. The project is within walking distance of the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater and a number of other cultural attractions.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Drama Tackles Horrifying Issue

    demaskus Theater Collective in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust (SHE SAID 2016) presents YOU WOULDN’T EXPECT, a new stage play based upon true events surrounding the North Carolina Eugenics Program (c. 1946—1968), at 2pm and 8pm the August Wilson Center (980 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh) on Saturday, March 26, 2016. Tickets ($20-$30) are available at
    Between 1933 and 1973 North Carolina sterilized 8,000 people as part of a eugenics program that sterilized 60,000 women nationwide. Written by playwright Marilynn Barner Anselmi, You Wouldn’t Expect focuses on a group of characters affected by the sterilization program that changed so many lives and, in turn, prevented others.
    “African-American women were disproportionately targeted,” says Anselmi.  The intense drama showcases the relationship between two women—Mary Tom Walker (the Deputy Coordinator at the local Eugenics Office) and Temperence Hedgepeth (her new Assistant Coordinator)—thrown together by the powers that be and are forced to work with each other despite their obvious differences in the middle of a divided south.
    Anselmi’s play was a semi-finalist at the 2013 Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference and presented during the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival, Readers’ Theatre of New Works in Winston/Salem, NC.
"    You Wouldn’t Expect"" contains mature content and may not be suitable for younger audiences. This production is made possible through the generous support of The Heinz Endowments Small Arts Initiative and The Pittsburgh Foundation’s Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Initiative.

    There are several ancillary events taking place in conjunction with the production. To more deeply engage audiences and give them the opportunity to digest and respond to the content.

Finder Quigley Pop-Up | 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. | August Wilson Center Café
Finder Quigley is teaming up with demaskus Theatre Collective and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to present a pop-up exhibition in collaboration with the premiere of YOU WOULDN’T EXPECT. A dramatic theatre work detailing government-sanctioned sterilization of women from the 1930’s-1970’s, YOU WOULDN’T EXPECT serves as the grounding inspiration behind FQ’s exhibit in the August Wilson Center.
Tickets $10 and only include entrance to the Finder Quigley pop-up art exhibit held at the August Wilson Center on March 26th from 1PM until 5PM. Refreshments are provided. Artists and staff will be on hand to discuss the work with you individually and wrap purchased artworks for buyers to take home that very evening.
For more information and to purchase tickets visit:

Dinner + Discussion | 5:30 p.m. | August Wilson Center Café
demaskus Theater Collective is excited to partner with New Voices Pittsburgh’s Women of Color HERStory Month® 2016 to host a panel discussion at 5:30 p.m. between performances and during a delicious meal!  Audiences are invited to discuss and learn more about the reproductive and social justice implications of the eugenics program profiled. Participating panelists will be announced in the coming weeks. Phoinix Premiere Events will host the event which will be catered by Chaz & Odette, the new locally sourced and globally inspired restaurant in Shadyside.  
    Chef Chaz Smith and Chef Odette Smith-Ransome combine their years of international travel and culinary experience to create a unique dining experience.  With a strong focus on fresh local ingredients the duo brings multicultural cuisine in a “homey” atmosphere. The chefs’ desire is to share their travels by offering seasonal menus showcasing the cuisines from around the world.  Tickets ($30 which includes the cost of a ticket to the play and the dinner) can be purchased at  Seating is limited.

Post-show Talkbacks | Immediately following the 2:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m. performances Genea Webb, Arts & Entertainment freelance journalist of the New Pittsburgh Courier will moderate post-show Q&A sessions immediately following the 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. performances of YOU WOULDN’T EXPECT.  Audiences will have the opportunity to share thoughts, ask questions and engage with artists/administrators of the Collective as well as with special guests.

    Treading Art is a visual arts media partner for YOU WOULDN’T EXPECT. Immerse yourself in stimulating dialogues and editorials on art and travel, glimpses into select enclaves, and a weekly listing of curated events. Treading Art’s events-based marketing service fosters business development through capturing new audiences, strengthening brands, and increasing patronage.

demaskus Theater Collective
    demaskus is a collective of service-oriented artists and administrators seeking to make known the messages of the marginalized through quality theatrical productions and presentations.  Incorporated in 2006, The collective is based in Pittsburgh, PA and welcomes artists and administrators from across the nation.

Finder Quigley
    Finder Quigley connects beautiful things with the people who love them. Through an ongoing series of ever-changing pop-up exhibitions, FQ builds an atmosphere where budding and established collectors alike can make a meaningful connection with the art on display. Each exclusive event is different, with a low-key atmosphere tailored to the event theme for an immersive experience that stands apart from the typical gallery crawl. Chat with artists and art collectors while browsing a variety of pieces ranging in price and size, lovingly packaged for buyers to take home that day. Ask questions. Take your time.  Have a moment. That’s what Finder Quigley does.

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Sex With Strangers" Opens at City Theatre - Condoms Optional

Megan Byrne and Nick Ducassi in "Sex with Strangers" Photo Credit:  Kristi Jan Hoover

    If you want intellectual stimulation or a play that makes you feel, "Sex With Strangers" may not be your cup of tea. But if you want to laugh, be immensely entertained, tap into your voyeuristic inclinations and get a peek inside the world of book publishing and its digital age applications,  "Sex With Strangers" is just the ticket.
You might suspect that the romcom’s scenario of a single woman spending the night alone in a north Michigan bed and breakfast with a blizzard raging outdoors cutting off cell phone and Internet service followed by the unexpected arrival of male stranger would lend itself to a play in the thriller genre. But with that given as the starting point, playwright Laura Eason immediately wipes away those nefarious mental cobwebs spinning a tale that’s at once jocose, smashingly well written and entertaining in a middlebrow way.
Two writers, opposites in many ways, find themselves together in the close confines of a remote B and B confrontation. Olivia (Megan Byrne) is the more sensitive, introspective of the two, a 39 year-old still licking her wounds after her promising early novel failed to get the sales and critical reviews she thought it deserved. Now supporting herself by teaching, she’s still writing, not for the public, but as a hobbyist, "only to please herself."
Her novel, however, has caught the eye of fellow author, Ethan (Nick Ducassi), a 28-year old boy wonder who made a good bit of change and got a share of the public limelight as a result of a bet that he could seduce a different woman every week for a year. The details of these affairs he chronicled in a blog with the alluring title :Sex With Strangers," which later became a "New York Times" Best Seller book, then a film.

Nick Ducassi and Megan Byrne Photo Credit: Kristi Jan Hoover 
On first meeting, Olivia is understandably wary, but Ethan’s lothario experiences give him an overwhelming advantage when it comes to seducing even the most reluctant wench. He is also very persuasive and comes armed with praise for Olivia’s failed book and even quotes lines from the book. Nothing, it seems, breaks the ice like a good dose of sycophancy.
Beset by Ethan’s flattery, quick wit, literary successes, persuasive personality and sexual charisma, Olivia succumbs to his advances, reluctantly at first, and the couple initiates the first of four enthusiastic sexual encounters that heats up the stage but ends just before things get lewdly demonstrative.
As savvy as Ethan is about e-publishing and digital age commerce, Olivia clings to earlier ways that include paper books, vinyl records and CD albums. His efforts to get her book republished under a pseudonym and fake bio involve more modern technologies. He proposes that the book be released as an e-book, then promoted on his newly created literary app.
The age difference between the two writers alone makes you wonder about Ethan’s true intentions, and the playwright keeps you guessing till the end about the motivations and depth of the relationship of both characters.
In Act Two, the setting moves to Olivia’s Chicago apartment. As might be expected from an avid book reader’s abode, there are enough tomes on the shelves to fill an entire section of the Carnegie Library. Where set designer Tony Ferrieri got his hands on this massive trove of hardbacks remains a mystery, but I look for a fundraising book sale from the City Theatre in the near future as a result.
As the play progresses, Olivia’s fortunes take a turn for the better, thanks in part to Ethan’s machinations that not only get her book published but also selling well. But as her future brightens so does their relationship, both professional and personal, darken.
Byrne plays a sensitive, introspective, level-headed, yet vulnerable Olivia. There’s plenty of intelligence lurking inside her low-key demeanor giving her plenty of ammunition to fend of Ethan’s suspected sociopathic tendencies.
On the other hand, Nick Ducassi is disarmingly charming and leaves the door open as to the true and possibly benign, nature of his character. The playwright gives him a horde of quick-witted dialogue and rejoinders that he seems to relish as an actor really enjoying a fully lived-in role. As a combo, the two actors are a perfect yin and yang match up that don’t let their evident differences stand in the way of their erotic chemistry.
Christian Parker’s direction allows the play to breath organically and come to life with convincing reality. It would be remiss not to mention Andrew David Ostrowski’s lighting design, his 70th theatrical production at City Theatre. For "Sex," the way he sets off the Michigan blizzard outside the B and B living room window is both magical and inventive.
Whoever is responsible for the quixotic ending to the play - be it the playwright or the director, I relish the unresolved closure. Will the romantic liaison and professional collaborations continue into the future or not? If nothing else, the open-ended finish will provide plenty of food for thought and discussion on the drive back home.
"Sex with Strangers" is at the City Theatre on Pittsburgh’s South Side through April 3. For tickets and other information, phone 412-431-2489 or visit website

Nick Ducassi and Megan Byrne Photo Credit:  Kristi Jan Hoover

Friday, March 18, 2016

"Disgraced" - Dinner Party Gone Toxic Opens Door to Fiery Polemic on Religion, Race and Radicalism

(left to right): Nafeesa Monroe, Fajer Kaisi, Lisa Velten Smith and Ryan McCarthy Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Public Theater
    For a drama with so much emotional impact, "Disgraced" starts off benignly enough. In a stylish apartment in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Emily is seen working on a portrait of her husband, Amir.
The face on the painting is his but the pose is copied from a work by Spanish artist, Diego Velasquez titled "Portrait of Juan de Paraja," Velasquez’ assistant and a Moorish slave. The couple banter lightly, witty as a Noel Coward duo, but the painting holds potent, foreboding implications that hint at the play’s eventual denouement.
From this innocuous beginning, the arc of the play, which won Pakistani-American playwright Ayad Akhtar a 2012 Pulitzer Prize, gradually descends into dangerous territory. It’s one  pitted with heated opinions on issues best left unexplored at a dinner party attended by Amir, a Pakistani Muslim, his WASP-ish, Sandy Dennis-blond and white-skinned wife, Emily, an African-American lawyer named Jory and her Jewish husband, Isaac, curator at the Whitney Museum.
A religious agnostic and corporate lawyer whose star is in ascendance at his law firm, Amir shies away from his Pakistani origins and Islamic background for professional reasons. Ironically, Emily is enamored with Moorish artistic imagery, which she incorporates into her own work and catches the eye of Isaac, who offers her a show at the Whitney.
Things take an inauspicious turn with the arrival of Abe, Amir’s nephew, who comes knocking to encourage him to come to the defense of a local imam accused of radical tendencies. The youth, who changed his name from Hussein to Abe and is fully assimilated into the American way of life, believes the imam is innocent and implores his uncle to help save him.
With added entireties from his wife, Amir gives in and comes to the religious leader’s defense. His good intentions backfire when the news media reports on his involvement in the case, which unsettles the powers-that-be in the law office.
Worried about his status at his law firm, he begins downing drams of aged Macallan scotch even before his dinner guests arrive. At first a festive event that jump starts over a fennel and anchovy salad, the initial camaraderie soon transitions into opinions on religion, politics and race. Fueled by alcohol, inhibitions melt away, and things get even edgier with revelations about the personal malefactions and prickly marital betrayals.
As Amir, Fajer Kaisi artfully transitions from an intelligent, handsome, confident lawyer at the top of his game to a man who loses almost everything like some blameless hero cut from a Greek tragedy. As Emily, Lisa Velten Smith lives the cozy-comfortable life of a well-heeled artist with a promising future, an energized young woman insulated from many of life’s pratfalls and a bit egocentric as a result.
As the Whitney curator, Ryan McCarthy knows how to play the game, affable and congenial in social situations, he also shows undercurrents of the ruthlessness and self-serving traits often a necessary by-product of the competitive art world. As an emotional antidote to the somber tone of the dinner party, Nafeesa Monroe is an energizing spark plug that adds a lot of humor and panache to the proceedings.
Justin Ahdoot Phgoto Credit: Pittsburgh Public Theater

Jutin Ahdoot captures with a lot of depth the youthful energy and thoughtful character of Abe, a lad caught up in a cultural conflict that pits his life in 21st Century America against the ancient traditions he inherited from his Islamic roots.
    At times, the cast seems a bit rushed and overly deliberate in their delivery and a bit out of synch with one another. It’s a small mote for a play that deals with such momentous issues and topical components as radicalized Islam, ethnic and racial tensions and the elusive nature of prejudice in all sorts of guises.
    Tracy Brigden, artistic director of Pittsburgh’s City Theatre, handles the directorial duties with support from scenic designer Anne Mundell, who creates an appropriately swank backdrop on the O’Reilly Theater stage, sound designer, Zach Moore, who incorporates some appropriately exotic and intoxicating music into the production and Catherine Moore, whose fight direction makes the violent component of the drama seem all too real.
    Running about 90 minutes without an intermission, "Disgraced" is a provocative look at some heady contemporary issues that is both insightful  and agonizingly thought-inducing.
    At the end, we find Amir alone with the portrait of himself as Velasquez’s slave, now realizing how chained he is to his to own cultural and religious upbringing, this despite his avowed free-thinking emancipation from religiosity. It’s a lesson that might well apply to most everyone.
    "Disgraced," a production of Pittsburgh Public Theater, is at the O’Reilly Theater, Downtown Pittsburgh, through April 10. For reservations, phone 412-316-1600 or visit

Sunday, March 6, 2016

PSO Celebrates Sibelius' 150th Anniversary with Concert of Finnish Music

Conductor Osmo Vanska Photo Credit:Kaapo Kamu

         It’s a Finnish celebration at the BNY Mellon Grand Classics on March 11 and 13 when the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra welcomes Finland’s leading conductor, Osmo Vänskä, to Heinz Hall for a program filled with the music of his country’s most esteemed composer, Jean Sibelius.
    Vänskä makes his long-awaited return to the Pittsburgh Symphony to celebrate Sibelius’ 150th birthday. The concert opens with the rousing Finlandia, one of the world's great works of musical patriotism. Its slow hymn-like passage before the finale perfectly embodies the aspirations of a country trying to free itself from foreign oppression. Canadian violinist James Ehnes returns to Pittsburgh to perform Sibelius' only concerto, a mercilessly beautiful and highly virtuosic work. Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 — with its warm strings, playful woodwinds and the most heroic of finales — closes the program
    A pre-concert talk, open to all ticket holders and led by Assistant Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong, will occur on stage one hour before each concert. Program notes for the weekend are available online at and on the PSO mobile app the day of the concert.
    During the weekend, beginning one hour before concert time, student musicians will perform in the Grand Lobby of Heinz Hall. On Friday evening, a Youth Chamber Connection Quartet will perform and on Sunday, the Center for Young Musicians will play. These performances are free to ticketholders.
    The concert begins at 8 p.m. on Friday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets, ranging in price from $20 to $94, can be purchased by calling the Heinz Hall box office at 412-392-4900 or visiting
About the Artists
    Music director of the Minnesota Orchestra for over a decade, OSMO VÄNSKÄ is recognized for his compelling interpretations of repertoire from all ages, passionately conveying the authentic message of the composer’s score.
    Recent and upcoming performances include Vänskä’s return to the Chicago and San Francisco symphony orchestras, The Cleveland Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. He regularly conducts the London Symphony and London Philharmonic orchestras, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Wiener Symphoniker and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and has developed strong relationships with the Helsinki Philharmonic, New World Symphony and the Mostly Mozart Festival, New York.
    Last season he led the Minnesota Orchestra in a historic first visit by a major U.S. orchestra to Cuba since the normalization of relations between the two governments. He also became principal guest conductor of Iceland Symphony Orchestra, having previously held the position of music director. As one of the most renowned interpreters of Sibelius’ music, he continues to celebrate the composer’s 2015 anniversary – at the BBC Proms and with the São Paulo, Lahti and Yomiuri Nippon symphony orchestras.
    Vänskä is a distinguished recording artist, primarily for the BIS label. In 2014, his album with the Minnesota Orchestra of Sibelius’ Symphonies Nos.1 and 4 won a Grammy award for Best Orchestral Performance, following the nomination of Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5 the year before. Previous albums, including a complete Beethoven symphonies cycle and recordings of Beethoven’s piano concertos with Yevgeny Sudbin, again with the Minnesota Orchestra, have also garnered worldwide praise – including Grammy and Gramophone award nominations.
    Formerly music director of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Vänskä studied conducting at Finland’s Sibelius Academy and was awarded first prize in the 1982 Besançon Competition. He began his career as a clarinetist, occupying, amongst others, the co-principal chair of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, and in recent years has enjoyed a return to the clarinet, including on a 2012 recording of Kalevi Aho’s     chamber works.
    Born in 1976 in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, JAMES EHNES has established himself as one of the foremost violinists of his generation. Gifted with a rare combination of stunning virtuosity, serene lyricism and an unfaltering musicality, Ehnes is a favorite guest of many of the world’s most respected conductors including Ashkenazy, Alsop, Sir Andrew Davis, Denève, Dutoit, Elder, Ivan Fischer, Paavo Järvi, Maazel, Noseda, Robertson and Runnicles. Ehnes’s long list of orchestras includes, amongst others, the Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, New York, London Symphony, Philharmonia, BBC Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, DSO Berlin and the NHK Symphony orchestras.
    Recent and future orchestral highlights include London Symphony with Alsop, Vienna Symphony with Elder, New York Philharmonic with Mena, Orchestre National de France with Gardner, Philadelphia and Boston Symphony Orchestra with Denève, Frankfurt Radio Symphony with Orozco-Estrada, Danish and Washington National Symphony with Noseda, Pittsburgh Symphony with Vänskä, Royal Philharmonic with Dutoit, DSO Berlin and Sydney Symphony with Søndergård, and Oslo Philharmonic with Petrenko.

Violinist James Ehnes Photo Credit: B. Ealovega
    Alongside his concerto work, Ehnes maintains a busy recital schedule. He has appeared at festivals such as City of London, Ravinia, Montreux, Chaise-Dieu, the White Nights in St Petersburg, Festival de Pâques in Aix, and in 2009 he made a sensational debut at the Salzburg Festival performing the Paganini Caprices. Ehnes is a regular guest at the Wigmore Hall in London and at the 2007 BBC Proms he premiered a new work for violin and piano by Aaron Jay Kernis. In May 2016, Ehnes will embark on a cross-Canada recital tour to celebrate his 40th birthday.
    As a chamber musician, he has collaborated with leading artists such as Andsnes, Lortie, Vogler and Yo-Yo Ma. In 2010, he formally established the Ehnes Quartet, with whom he made his debut European tour in February 2014 and returns in autumn 2015 for performances at the Wigmore Hall, Auditorium du Louvre in Paris and Théâtre du Jeu de Paume in Aix, amongst others. Ehnes is the artistic director of the Seattle Chamber Music Society.
    Ehnes has an extensive discography and has won many awards for his recordings including a 2008 Gramophone Award for his live recording of the Elgar Concerto with Sir Andrew Davis and the Philharmonia Orchestra. His recording of the Korngold, Barber and Walton violin concertos won a 2008 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance and a 2008 JUNO award for Best Classical Album of the Year.
    His 2010 recording of the Paganini Caprices earned him universal praise, with Diapason writing of the disc, “Ehnes confirms the predictions of Erick Friedman, eminent student of Heifetz: ‘there is only one like him born every hundred years.’” Ehnes’s recent recording of the Bartók Concerti was nominated for a 2012 Gramophone Award in the Concerto category. Recent releases include concertos by Britten, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khachaturian.
     Ehnes began violin studies at the age of four, became a protégé of the noted Canadian violinist Francis Chaplin aged nine, made his orchestral debut with Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal aged 13 and graduated from The Juilliard School in 1997, winning the Peter Mennin Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Music. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and in 2010 was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada. Ehnes plays the “

Friday, March 11 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 13 at 2:30 p.m.

Heinz Hall
OSMO VÄNSKÄ, conductor

Jean Sibelius                 Finlandia, Opus 26, No. 7

Jean Sibelius                 Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 47
I. Allegro moderato
II. Adagio di molto
III. Allegro, ma non tanto
Mr. Ehnes

Jean Sibelius                 Symphony No. 2 in D major, Opus 43
I. Allegretto
II. Andante, ma rubato
III. Vivacissimo
IV. Finale: Allegro moderato

"Kimono" - a Dance Interpretation of the Issue of Predation

 Alexandra Bodnarchuk, Ryan Bergman

        fireWALL Dance Theater and off the WALL Productions, are proud to present Kimono, a new movement theater work developed and choreographed by local actor and movement specialist Mark C. Thompson. 
    Kimono aspires to recount a disturbing story, juxtaposing scenes of ugliness and beauty in an eerily beautiful way, as it deals with the subject of predation and victimization in a form that resembles a parable.  It explores the theme of social justice through the experience of victims, the evil of predation, and the culpability of predators.
     With the help of a woman who appears on his doorstep, a traumatized man, an artist, reconstitutes his life through the transformational work of creating beautiful kimonos. The result is that together they discover the will and courage to do what remains to be done — to call out, expose, and symbolically drive back the predator.
     Exciting. Moving. Stirring.  Kimono is all of these. This unique production is the result of a particularly gratifying collaboration between all involved, and is right in line with off the WALL’s mission – to bring new works and developments to fruition and to support local artists.
     Depicting a story too often hidden in shame, covered up in protection of the culprit, the story of Kimono boldly speaks of social injustice, giving predation what it deserves – to be called out, exposed and driven back.
 Performances: March 18-19, 24-26 @ 8:00 pm; March 20 @ 3:00pm
A New Work, developed and choreographed by Mark C. Thompson
Featuring Mark C. Thompson, Moriah Ella Mason, Alexandra Bodnarchuk, and Ryan Bergman
 Mature Audiences only. Kimono features adult themes and female and male nudity.
 Tickets: $ 5.00 - $ 30.00
Phone: 724-873-3576
Moriah Ella Mason, Mark C. Thompson
     In conjunction with the performances of Kimono, off the WALL and Moriah Ella Mason, a Licensed Massage Therapist and interdisciplinary artist, offer a workshop addressing the issues raised by the play.
Healing the Body from Physical and Emotional Trauma
    In this two hour workshop, participants will learn about the physiology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and how the often confusing symptoms of trauma come to be.  Together we will learn about and practice a range of body-based self-care strategies for managing the symptoms of trauma and chronic stress including meditation, self-massage and acupressure, and aromatherapy.
     The workshop is free to the community and is scheduled for March 23 at 7:00 pm and March 27 at 2:00 pm.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Ridgway Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous - Cutting Edge Fun

A Carver at the Ridgeway Chainsaw Carvers Rendeszous

       The historic town of Ridgway, Pennsylvania is welcoming hundreds of chainsaw carvers and thousands of spectators to the Ridgway Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous March 5-12.  Carvers  will showcase their talents creating amazing works of art from a simple log.
    Tour the historic town of Ridgway and see the 5-foot tall chainsaw carvings of fun wood animal sculptures decorating the streets. Last year, over 15,000 spectators came to watch them carve and create the magnificent masterpieces by chainsaw and other carving tools transforming a simple log into a unique masterpiece!

Carving a Stag from a single Log
   Local chainsaw carver Zoe Boni’s first carving experience was at the Ridgway Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous in 2003, which inspired her to become a full-time carver later that year.
    Stop and smell the sawdust! Events and activities are happening all week!  Get the entire family together and visit Ridgway, Pennsylvania for some sawdust fun!
    Featured artists will be putting on demonstrations and educational "how to" workshops.  Stop in and see the galleries, specialty shops and businesses for a taste of the small-town charm!  Delicious food will be served at restaurants along with luncheons and dinners hosted by local churches and organizations.
 Win a Bear at the Rendezvous Auction
  The highlight of this week-long event is the annual auction.  Each carver is asked to donate at least one carved item.  The auction will be held on Saturday, March 12th and visitors will have the opportunity to take home the pieces they've been watching all week.  Carvings make perfect yard ornaments, indoor or outdoor decorations and unique, one-of-a-kind gifts!
    Carved items include everything from statues, welcome signs, benches and even a kitchen sink!
   Looking for a place to stay the night?  Rooms fill up fast, so book early!  To find a convenient hotel, cozy bed & breakfast, or even a rustic cabin near Ridgway, visit
    Benezette, home of Pennsylvania's wild elk herd is only 45 minutes away.  Seeing an elk for the first time is an extraordinary experience and something you will never forget!
    For more information on the Rendezvous and other things to do in the area, phone | (814) 849-5197 or visit

Thursday, March 3, 2016

"Bridges of Madison County" Opens at Benedum on March 8

Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca) and Andrew Samonsky (Robert) in the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy)

        The producers of the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY have announced that Elizabeth Stanley and Andrew Samonsky, last seen in The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Paper Mill Playhouse, will star as Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid.
    Featuring gorgeous, soulful music by three-time Tony Award®winner JASON ROBERT BROWN that draws upon the rich textures of Americana and folk and the sweeping balladry of classic Broadway, Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News hails it as "one of Broadway’s best scores in the last decade."
    Tom Geier of Entertainment Weekly exclaims that Brown "has written a lush and deeply romantic score, filled with rich and melodic duets," and NPR proclaims it’s "MAGIC! An evening you will cherish long after the show is over!" The production began performances on November 28 at the Des Moines Civic Center in Des Moines, IA and will continue to over 15 additional major markets across North America in its first season.
    In Pittsburgh, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY will perform March 8-13, 2016, at the Benedum Center.  Subscriptions and group sales to the PNC Broadway Across America-Pittsburgh series are available online at, by calling the subscription office at (412) 456-1390; orders for groups of ten (10) or more may be placed by calling (412) 471-6930.
    Single tickets start at $26 and go on sale Friday, January 15, 2016 at 9:00 a.m. and can be purchased online at, calling (412) 456-4800 or in person at the Box Office at Theater Square, 655 Penn Avenue.
    THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is part of the 2015-16 PNC Broadway Across America-Pittsburgh series, presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Symphony, and Broadway Across America.
    Elizabeth Stanley’s Broadway roles includer Dyanne in Million Dollar Quartet; Allison in Cry-Baby, and April in the Tony Award-winning revival of Company First National Tour: Kira in Xanadu.
    Off-Broadway: Gussie in the New York City Center, Encores! production of Merrily We Roll Along, and The Nurse in Hello, Again (Transport Theatre Group—Drama League Nomination, best ensemble).
    Favorite regional roles: Kate in Kiss Me Kate, Sugar in Sugar, Constanze in Amadeus. TV: Black Box, Made in Jersey, Fringe, The Chappelle Show, and PBS Great Performances —Company. Graduate of Indiana University.
    Andrew Samonsky recently played Captain Phoebus in the American premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Paper Mill and La Jolla Playhouse.
    Broadway: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Neville), Scandalous (Kenneth Ormisten, original cast recording), and South Pacific (Lt. Cable, including the Live From Lincoln Center PBS broadcast).
    Off-Broadway: Queen of the Mist as Frank Russell (Drama Desk Award nomination, original cast recording), and Encores! productions of Fiorello! and Merrily We Roll Along.  Original productions of Somewhere in Time (Richard, Portland Center Stage), Tales of the City (Beauchamp, ACT), Little Miss Sunshine (La Jolla Playhouse, Joshua), and Disney’s On the Record (Original Cast Recording).  He’s a soloist with symphonies across the country.  TV/Film: Elementary, Guiding Light.

Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca) and Andrew Samonsky (Robert) in the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

    The critically acclaimed musical of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY features one of Broadway’s most accomplished creative teams with music and lyrics by three-time Tony Award®-winning composer JASON ROBERT BROWN (Parade, The Last Five Years), book by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer MARSHA NORMAN (The Secret Garden, The Color Purple, ‘night, Mother), and led by the Tony Award®-winning director BARTLETT SHER (South Pacific, The King and I, The Light in the Piazza).
    The team also includes scenic design by two-time Tony Award®winner MICHAEL YEARGAN (The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific), costume design by six-time Tony Award® winner CATHERINE ZUBER (South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza, The Coast of Utopia), lighting design by two-time Tony Award® winner DONALD HOLDER (South Pacific, The Lion King), sound design by JON WESTON, orchestrations by JASON ROBERT BROWN, and movement by DANNY MEFFORD.
    Based on the best-selling novel by ROBERT JAMES WALLER, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY tells the story of Iowa housewife Francesca Johnson and her life-changing, four-day whirlwind romance with traveling photographer Robert Kincaid. It’s an unforgettable story of two people caught between decision and desire, as a chance encounter becomes a second chance at so much more.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Bach's St. John Passion an Apt Prelude to Holy Week

Conductor Manfred Honeck Leads PSO in Performnce of Bach's St. John Passion

       Music director Manfred Honeck leads the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, guest vocalists and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh in a BNY Mellon Grand Classics program featuring the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra premiere of Bach’s St. John Passion oratorio on March 4 and 6 at Heinz Hall.
    Composed in Leipzig in 1724 for the Good Friday Vespers, the St. John Passion intensifies the narrative of the Passion of Christ told in the Gospel of John. Honeck welcomes guest vocalists Martin Lattke, tenor, as the Evangelist; Paul Armin Edelmann, bass, as Jesus; Sunhae Im, soprano; Andrey Nemzer, counter tenor; Thomas Cooley, tenor; Lucas Meachem, baritone; Alexander Elliott as Pilatus; Amelia D’Arcy as Ancilla; Jeffrey Klefstad as Petrus; Jonathan MacDonald as Servus; and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh in a semi-staged representation of this biblical composition. With stage director Sam Helfrich and lighting designer Eric Southern, the Pittsburgh Symphony will present this timeless masterpiece in a program guaranteed to elevate the audience’s senses and bring new meaning to the Lenten season.
    A pre-concert talk, open to all ticket holders and led by Assistant Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong, will occur on stage one hour before each concert. Program notes for the weekend are available online at and on the PSO mobile app the day of the concert.
    During the weekend, beginning one hour before concert time, student musicians will perform in the Grand Lobby of Heinz Hall. On Friday evening, a Youth Chamber Connection Quartet will perform and on Sunday, the Vincentian Academy Choir will sing. These performances are free to ticketholders.
    The performance begins at 8 p.m. on Friday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets, ranging in price from $20 to $94, can be purchased by calling the Heinz Hall box office at 412-392-4900 or visiting
About the Artists
SAM HELFRICH is an opera and theater director based in New York. He has directed opera productions at Boston Lyric Opera, Portland Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Spoleto Festival/USA, Virginia Opera, Opera Boston, Pittsburgh Opera and Wolf Trap, among others. Recent opera highlights include Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at Virginia Opera, Lermontov’s Masquerade (accompanied by the Brooklyn String Orchestra), the world premiere of Enemies: A Love Story, by Ben Moore, at Palm Beach Opera; Embedded, by composer Patrick Soluri, at Fargo-Moorhead Opera; Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos at Virginia Opera; Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking at Eugene Opera; André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire at Virginia Opera; the American premiere of Philip Glass' Kepler at Spoleto Festival/USA; Adams' Nixon in China at Eugene Opera; a fully staged Messiah with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; the world premiere of Michael Dellaira's The Secret Agent at Center for Contemporary Opera in New York; the Armel Opera Festival in Hungary and Opera Avignon; The Turn of the Screw at Boston Lyric Opera; Philip Glass' Orphée at Pittsburgh Opera, Virginia Opera, Portland Opera and Glimmerglass Opera; and Anthony Davis’ Amistad at Spoleto Festival/USA.
     Recent theater credits include Arthur Miller’s After The Fall at NYU/Tisch Grad Acting, off-Broadway productions of Owned, a world premier play by Julian Sheppard, and Tape, by Stephen Belber, both of which played to wide audience and critical acclaim, and a double bill of plays by Shaw and De Musset at the Franklin Stage Company.
     Upcoming projects include Patrick Soluri’s Embedded at Ft. Worth Opera, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek at Boston Lyric Opera, Haydn’s Creation with the Pittsburgh Symphony and the world premiere of Dan Sonenberg’s The Summer King at Pittsburgh Opera.
     Helfrich is also an associate arts professor and head of dramaturgy in the graduate Department of Design for Stage and Film at NYU/Tisch School of the Arts.
     Hailed as one of the finest choruses in the country, the MENDELSSOHN CHOIR OF PITTSBURGH (MCP) is proud of its long artistic partnership with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and looks forward to another exciting season at Heinz Hall. Primarily a volunteer chorus, the Mendelssohn Choir is composed of more than 100 singers whose passion and commitment enables them to perform alongside the world’s greatest musicians. In addition to its performances with the PSO, the Mendelssohn Choir produces its own concerts in the community and operates the Junior Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, the region’s premier young adult chorus.
    The Mendelssohn Choir began its 2015-2016 season with an all-Duruflé concert on October 11 at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, and bid farewell to Betsy Burleigh, MCP’s much beloved music director. Burleigh is universally acknowledged for building upon the legacy left by Music Director Emeritus Robert Page, and taking MCP to new levels of excellence during her 10-year tenure with the Choir. Under her direction, MCP has earned high praise for its mastery of the great choral classics. The Mendelssohn Choir is engaged currently in the search for its next music director, who will be its seventh in its 108-year-old history. For the remainder of the season, Maria Sensi Sellner will be acting music director and will prepare the Choir for its forthcoming performances with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
     As the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s “chorus of choice,” the Mendelssohn Choir has performed with some of the world’s foremost conductors including Lorin Maazel, Mariss Jansons, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Michael Tilson Thomas, Claudio Abbado, Mstislav Rostropovich, Leonard Slatkin, Charles Dutoit, André Previn, Sir Neville Marriner, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Helmuth Rilling, Ingo Metzmacher, Richard Hickox, Zdenek Mácal and Manfred Honeck. Performances of the Choir with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra are heard locally over WQED-FM (89.3) and distributed nationally by PRI. Committed to fostering the choral art form, the Mendelssohn Choir has numerous recordings, commissions and premieres to its credit, including works by Ned Rorem, Nancy Galbraith and Derek Bermel. The Choir’s most recent recording released in fall 2011 is Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Children’s Festival Chorus of Pittsburgh with Manfred Honeck conducting.


Friday, March 4 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 6 at 2:30 p.m.

Tenor Martin Lattke (Evangelist)

Heinz Hall
MARTIN LATTKE, tenor (The Evangelist)
PAUL ARMIN EDELMANN, bass (Christus)
SUNHAE IM, soprano
ANDREY NEMZER, counter tenor
SAM HELFRICH, stage director
ERIC SOUTHERN, lighting designer
THE MENDELSSOHN CHOIR OF PITTSBURGH (Maria Sensi Sellner, acting music director)