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Steve Metcalf has been writing about the musical life of this region, and the wider world, for more than 30 years. For 21 of those years, he was the full-time staff music critic of The Hartford Courant. During that period, via the L.A. Times/Washington Post news service, his reviews, profiles and feature stories appeared in 400 newspapers worldwide.He is also the former assistant dean and director of instrumental music at The Hartt School, where he founded and curated the Richard P. Garmany Chamber Music Series. He is currently Director of the Presidents' College at the University of Hartford. Steve is also keyboardist emeritus of the needlessly loud rock band Duke and the Esoterics.Reach him at spmetcalf55@gmail.com.

Music and Politics: Four Intersections

Kevin Bishop
Kevin and Holly Bishop, on opposite ends of the group, with the girls of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music and others.

Many of you around here know Kevin Bishop, a violist and Hartt School grad who has established himself as one of the region’s most enterprising musical figures.

Among other projects, he founded Cuatro Puntos, the ambitious chamber music collective that has toured around the country and the globe in recent years as part of its declared mission of musical diplomacy and cross-cultural understanding. The group has also sponsored workshops here in Hartford called Chamber Music for Peace, with the goal of helping young musicians learn how to engage in their communities.

Bishop is also a founding member of the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra (HICO) an ensemble that has been actively showcasing the work of younger, living composers, particularly women.

For the past couple of summers, Bishop has traveled to Afghanistan as a visiting artist and teacher at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), an organization devoted to the training of young Afghan instrumentalists and singers.

ANIM has attracted worldwide attention for its fearless devotion to the musical education of young people in a country where the very pursuit of music is often a defiant and courageous act.

Now, Kevin has announced that in June he will be moving full-time to Kabul to assume the position of Conductor of Orchestras at ANIM. The new post will also include teaching viola and assisting in the planning of world tours of the various ANIM performing ensembles.

One of the groups he will lead is the Ensemble Zohra, ANIM’s 35-member all-girls’ group. In January of 2017, the girls of Zohra will perform at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, to be joined by the German superstar violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. Later in the year, Kevin and the ensemble are scheduled to tour the United States, with stops in New York (Lincoln Center), Washington (Kennedy Center), Los Angeles, and, yes, Hartford.

Credit Afghanistan National Institute of Music
Afghanistan National Institute of Music
Kevin Bishop of the Hartt School announced that in June he will be moving full-time to Kabul to assume the position of Conductor of Orchestras at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music.

As a way of gaining additional understanding of the organization Kevin will be working for, I urge you to visit the ANIM website.

There you will find a useful history of the institute, along with other information. There is also a tab for making a contribution, which would be a nice way of recognizing Kevin’s remarkable commitment to this remarkable cause.

Perlman Cancels North Carolina Concert

As some of you may have read, a couple of days ago violinist ItzhakPerlman became the most recent arts figure to take a stand against North Carolina’s recently-passed HB2 law.

Perlman’s Facebook statement in its entirety:

As my fans know, I have spent a lifetime advocating against discrimination towards those with physical disabilities and have been a vocal advocate for treating all people equally. As such, after great consideration, I have decided to cancel my May 18th concert in North Carolina with the North Carolina Symphony as a stand against House Bill 2. As Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently stated, HB2 “is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. [It] is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens.” I couldn’t agree more and will look forward to returning to North Carolina when this discriminatory law is repealed.

The Crucible

In anther intersection of music and politics, Hartford Opera Theater will present two performances of Robert Ward’s 1961 opera “The Crucible” Friday and Saturday nights (May 20 and 21) at the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Aetna Theater.

Credit Hartford Opera Theater
Hartford Opera Theater
Joseph Hodge will conduct the Hartford Opera Theater's production of "The Crucible."

The opera is adapted from Arthur Miller’s celebrated 1953 play, which treated the Salem witch trials as a very thinly veiled allegory of the McCarthyist anti-Communist hysteria of the early 1950s. This production of the opera is set in that period.

The opera, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1962, has some local history: after its premiere at New York’s City Opera, it was produced at The Hartt School in 1964, in what is believed to be its second production anywhere.

The Hartford Opera Theater production is conducted by Joseph Hodge and directed by Kristy Chambrelli. Tickets and information available at hartfordoperatheater.com.

Farewell, Yvonne

I keep a private little running list of my favorite musical moments in movies. Maybe one of these days I’ll do an entire blog of that topic.

Credit Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Madeleine Lebeau, who played the character Yvonne in the film "Casablanca" died at age 92 on May 1, 2016.

Near the top of that list would be the scene in “Casablanca” where a group of Nazi soldiers, having gathered at Rick’s Café for a taste, begin bellowing the German patriotic anthem, “The Watch on the Rhine.”

Unhesitatingly Paul Henreid, as the Czech underground leader Victor Laszlo rushes to the bandstand and instructs the house orchestra to strike up “La Marseillaise” – the French national anthem -- in reply.

After receiving a nod of approval from Rick himself (Humphrey Bogart, of course) -- the musicians comply, and within moments, one by one, all the patrons join in a defiant sing-along, with Henreid leading the impromptu performance.

The Germans are vanquished -- musically, at any rate. The most indelible figure we see among the café singers in Rick’s young and recently cast-aside girlfriend, Yvonne, whose tear-streaked face is the picture of patriotic fervor. At the song’s conclusion she shouts “Vive La France!” A great scene, and yet another reminder of how powerful music can be in the political arena.

I bring this up because the actress who played Yvonne, Madeleine Lebeau, has just died at age 92. She was the film’s last surviving cast member. 

Reach Steve Metcalf at spmetcalf55@gmail.com.

Steve Metcalf is an administrator, critic, journalist, arts consultant and composer. He writes the weekly Metcalf on Music blog for WNPR.org, and is the curator of the Richard P. Garmany Chamber Music Series at The Hartt School.

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