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February 5, 2009

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New

Little-known aspect of Black History
Ancestors way ahead of their time with herbal remedies

The writer’s late mother, Cleoria Rose Coleman Sparrow, was born on a farm in Virginia in 1910.

Fresh from a strong and profitable run of its Christmastime production of Balanchine’s choreography to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker in the Academy of Music, the Pennsylvania Ballet is set to interpret the spirit of another holiday. This time around it’s St. Valentine’s Day. The show is called “Love & Longing,” and it will be danced at the Merriam Theater of the University of the Arts Feb. 11-15, with matinee and evening performances.

“Love & Longing” is comprised of three pieces. It will open with Fearful Symmetries by Peter Martins, one of the greatest of all New York City Ballet dancers under the late George Balanchine and now the company’s artistic director. Symmetries will be followed by the world premiere of Requiem for a Rose by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Wrapping up this holiday bon-bon will be Twyla Tharp’s crossover modern dance/modern ballet favorite, Nine Sinatra Songs, which features a soundtrack of Frank Sinatra’s peerless interpretations of nine classic pop standards.

Speaking in his office at the Pennsylvania Ballet’s East Falls studios after having just led a company class, Erdenheim’s Roy Kaiser pronounced himself pleased with the troupe’s financial condition in spite of the overall economic dislocations. Although ticket sales and receipts were slightly below predictions for The Nutcracker, the company still drew an audience of tens of thousands.

Turning to “Love & Longing,” Kaiser explained, “It’s such a romantic program, perfect for Valentine’s Day. We’ve done the ‘Sinatra Songs’ before, and they’ve always been so popular. They often bring in to the ballet a completely different audience, people who like Frank Sinatra.”

Regarding what he described as the central piece of the program, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for a Rose, set to Franz Schubert’s Adagio movement from his Quintet in C major, Kaiser explained that he first came into contact with Ochoa’s choreography when his company danced at New York’s City Center in 2006. “She had a piece being danced, and I thought it was fantastic.” Encounters with other ballets encouraged Kaiser to make the commitment to commission Ochoa to choreograph a world premiere for the Pennsylvania Ballet. Requiem for a Rose sports a cast of 13 featured dancers divided into soloists and couples.

“Annabelle has a deep understanding of Schubert’s music,” Kaiser said. “She finds interesting and unpredictable ways of reflecting and enhancing the music for the audience.”

For ticket information call 215-336-2000 or visit www.paballet.org.

JOINT VENTURE

The Philadelphia Singers joined forces with the Tempesta di Mare Baroque Orchestra for a pair of performances of With Cheerful Hearts this past weekend. The Singers, founded by the late Michael Korn more than three decades ago, have long been local favorites for their involvement in the Chestnut Hill-based Bach Festival of Philadelphia. Tempesta di Mare is fast becoming familiar to Chestnut Hillers as a result of its recent and forthcoming concerts in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Madame Levy’s Salon is scheduled for Saturday, March 21, at 8 p.m.; Aci, Galatea & Polifemo is set for Friday, May 15, at 8 p.m.

For logistical reasons, With Cheerful Hearts was performed in Old St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Society Hill. Founded in 1733 by the Society of Jesus, it’s the oldest Catholic parish in Philadelphia and was, at one time in colonial history, the only site in which the Catholic Mass was legally celebrated within the English-speaking world. The present structure is the parish’s third. Built in 1838, it’s a Greek-revival jewel of simple beauty that boasts peerless acoustics — perfect for a concert by a chamber choir accompanied by a period instruments orchestra.

With Cheerful Hearts featured four works: Vivaldi’s Magnificat, John Blow’s With Cheerful Hearts: Ode for New Year’s Day, Bach’s Trauer Ode (Cantata No. 198), and the instrumental Concerto Grosso in B-flat by Silvius Leopold Weiss. Tempesta di Mare directors Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone and Philadelphia Singers music director David Hayes wisely placed the Bach at the end of the program. It was so far and away the finest piece of music of the lot that nothing else would have survived coming after it in concert.

John Blow’s With Cheerful Hearts may not be a score of equal genius, but it’s always great fun hearing an unfamiliar piece of music, especially when it’s being sung and played by so excellent a band of musicians. Chief among its delights was the duet featuring mezzo Alyson Harvey and baritone Gregory Cantwell. Vivaldi’s Magnificat is a rarely heard gem that received a moving rendition, and Weiss’ Concerto Grosso in B-flat showed Tempesta di Mare to be Philadelphia’s most technically accomplished and stylistically convincing baroque instruments orchestra.

 

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