Saturday, October 1, 2016

Ben Richards in The Bodyguard Musical's Non-Singing Leading Man Musical Role (West End, London)

Ben Richards as Frank Farmer in 'The Bodyguard' musical (image: Paul Coltas)

'The Bodyguard' stage musical adaptation of the 1992 Whitney Houston & Kevin Costner has returned to London's West End now playing the Dominion Theatre. When I saw the production in 2014, I felt that one of the most unusual things about the Costner role of Frank Farmer on stage is despite being the male leading character, the writers decided to make the part a non-singing role.

(image credit: Manuel Harlan)
Currently Ben Richards stars in the Costner role on stage. The actor can sing based upon his performance as a replacement in the London stage musical production of 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' which I saw back in 2010. The actor was already popular from his series acting on British television and brought a new hunkiness to the role of Tick in the musical especially in the scene that had him dress down to nothing but his underpants which likely helped to draw some audience members to the show.

The West End revival of 'The Bodyguard' opened in July 2016 for a limited run until January 2017. The cast is expected to transfer for the Toronto premiere of the musical.

Click here for a Q&A with the actor on Broadway.com.  The 44-year-old actor also discussed in a The Sun article about being cancer-free for the past four years. Below is a recent interview with Richards. Learn more about the actor by visiting benrichards.com or on twitter.

Visit thebodyguardmusical.com for info and a tickets about the show.

Ben's credits
Theatre includes: Aladdin (Shaw Theatre); Rock of Ages (UK tour); Oliver!(Sheffield Crucible); 9 to 5 (UK tour); Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Palace Theatre), Guys And Dolls (Piccadilly Theatre); Grease (Victoria Palace Theatre and UK tour); Little Shop of Horrors (Yeovil Octagon Theatre); The Full Monty (Prince of Wales Theatre); Saturday Night Fever (London Palladium); Smokey Joes Café(Prince of Wales Theatre); Grease (Dominion Theatre); Up On The Roof (Queens Theatre, Hornchurch); and Hot Mikado (Queens Theatre).
Television includes: Ben Bradley in Hollyoaks; Mr Kit in Doctors; PC Nate Roberts in The Bill; Justin in Holby City; Gayle Tuesday; Bruno Milligan in Footballers WivesFootballers Wives Extra Time; and Dad. Ben also appeared as a judge on the second series of Strictly Dance Fever for BBC 1.
Film includesChakaraJulie and the Cadillacs and Bring me the Head of MavisDavis
Recordings include: original cast recordings for GreaseHot Mikado, and Radio Times.  He has also recorded songs and shot videos for both Singers Inc. Vol 1 and 2.


Actor Ben Richards (image: ITV)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Song for Today: St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244; No. 65 Aria (Bass) "Mache Dich, Mein Herze Rein"


"The Talented Mr. Ripley" is one of my favorite films that I viewed it again last night. The 1999 movie stars Matt Damon as the title character. IMDB summarizes the film: "The 1950s. Manhattan lavatory attendant, Tom Ripley, borrows a Princeton jacket to play piano at a garden party. When the wealthy father of a recent Princeton grad chats Tom up, Tom pretends to know the son and is soon offered $1,000 to go to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf to return home. In Italy, Tom attaches himself to Dickie and to Marge, Dickie's cultured fiancee, pretending to love jazz and harboring homoerotic hopes as he soaks in luxury. Besides lying, Tom's talents include impressions and forgery, so when the handsome and confident Dickie tires of Tom, dismissing him as a bore, Tom goes to extreme lengths to make Greenleaf's privileges his own."

In a very early scene Tom is seen walking up a metal staircase from his basement apartment. From this below-stairs existence, he is chauffeured in a limousine to the cruise liner that will whisk him off to Europe in first class. In the background is melancholy melody which I thought all these years was an operatic aria. It feels mournful for his past he is leaving behind but is hopeful in a gentle way about what is about to come. In the video below, the music starts at about 6:33.



After nearly seventeen years, I finally took the time to find the music credit by pausing the ending credits of the film. Only about a minute is played in the movie so I wanted to find the full-lenth of the song.

After a search on iTunes I found the exact recording. It comes from Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion and titled BMW 244. No 65 Aria (Bass) "Mache Dich, Mein Herze, Rein" and written in 1727. Wikipedia indicates the full Passion composition is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of classical sacred music.

The recording is conducted by Karl Richter and the vocal is by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012), a German lyric baritone and conductor of classical music.

It's a song I'll add to my "Music to Travel By Collection".  For some reason at a particular moment especially when I travel, I often imagine a soundtrack of what music would be playing at a moment. Somehow this captures a feeling of awakening or discovery maybe on a quiet early morning in some a city away from home.

The film is an excellent thriller with outstanding performances by the three leads and supporting cast. But most of all you'll love the Italian locations where most of the movie was filmed.

This portion of the Passion runs seven minutes and repeats a short lyric in German:
Mache dich, mein Herze, rein,
Ich will Jesum selbst begraben.
Denn er soll nunmehr in mir
Für und für
Seine süße Ruhe haben.
Welt, geh aus, laß Jesum ein!


This is translated as:
Make yourself pure, my heart,
I want to bury Jesus myself.
For from now on He shall have in me,
forever and ever,
His sweet rest.
World, get out, let Jesus in!

The video below includes the full seven-minute version.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Meet Eric Silberger Virtuoso Violinist of Two Volcanoes

Eric Silberger (all images: ericsilberger.com)
Even though the chance to make a professional website did not materialize (see my post on 9/21/16), the inspiration to continue this blog did flourish. Part of it is thanks to violinist Eric Silberger who I saw perform last month at the Hawaii International Music Festival. I thought it would be great to lead off the website with an interview with the artist as I was quite impressed with seeing him perform on a local morning news program to promote the festival which was only reinforced as an attendee seeing the rising star play the violin live at the festival.

Because of the demands of his schedule in continuing the festival events to the neighbor islands we were finally able to touch base a week after the the festival's Honolulu performance via telephone. It is with great appreciation for his graciousness and for the opportunity.

As I dispensed with my alternate travel website to return to this blog, my apologies to Mr. Silberger that it took an additional month to present the published interview; (Note: Due to technical issues with the alternate beta-website and incomplete transfer of the HTML code to this blog, much of the original interview article has been rebuilt.)


ERIC SILBERGER VIA LONG DISTANCE


The Hopeful Traveler had the wonderful opportunity to interview virtuoso violinist Eric Silberger a week after the last events of the Hawaii International Music Festival which he co-founded and co-organized. Mr. Silberger was back in the East Coast during the long-distance conversation. One immediate observation about Eric is he is quite eloquent and very organized in presenting his thoughts to each question.

At the festival’s Honolulu engagement, a couple of women were having a conversation during the intermission and were wondering about his background. In Hawaii many people identify themselves very closely to their ethnic heritage, the 27-year-old artist who is Chinese, Hungarian and British does not define himself in that way. He says he’s just Eric and as he travels around the globe playing the world’s stages he keeps finding different perspectives of himself. 

However music is in his blood. Eric is a fourth generation musician and begun violin studies at the age at five. He holds both a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Master of Music Degree from The Juilliard School.  Learning his craft the person to most influence him as a musician would be the late conductor, violinist and composer Lorin Maazel (1930-2014) of whom he speaks respectively and fondly. In a very personal essay for slippedisc.com, Eric leads the article with what Maazel once told him “always remain humble, our friendship depends on it” and recounts his time with Maazel at Castleton, from which the festival that Maazel founded is named and which nurtures young artists.  Being part of the Castleton festival and learning from Maazel, Eric also writes that his mentor was always very encouraging both personally and musically. It would not be an understatement that this is a highlight and very close memory in his growth and career as an artist.


There is one line in Eric’s essay where he reveals he will miss not only the music that Maazel brought to the world, but also his external optimism, belief, fearlessness, and most of all his sincerity.  It appears Eric has taken his experiences with Maazel to heart: On the phone Eric displays a tone of authenticity, genuineness and positivity. This may be part of the reason why critics in their music reviews recognize not only his artistry on the violin but his charisma on stage. 

But why introduce a festival in of all places Hawaii?  Eric said he heard good things about the islands and the people that with soprano Amy Shoremount-Obra and pianist Carlin Ma found it would be inspirational to inaugurate a music festival for Hawaii.  How it came all together was both by organized madness and happy accidents. The festival at the Blaisdell Concert Hall opened with a chocolate tasting presented by Will Lydgate. Eric met the chocolate connoisseur while on a layover at the airport in Barcelona. He was also already a colleague of cellist Daniel Lelchuk and with the additional contributions of pianist Ian Parker, taiko master Kenny Endo and soprano Mikayla Sager, the founders had a full line-up for the festival’s premiere concert performances that played Honolulu, Maui and the Big Island.

One of the more dazzling and unusual combinations at the festival was a melding of the talents of Endo, Shoremount-Obra, Lelchuk, Parker, Ma and Eric into “Tears of the Earth/Jugoya”. It was a piece that one could say spanned continents and cultures.  Eric admits that Shoremount-Obra’s vocal contribution was improvised. He added that one of the many challenges of putting the festival together was working with all the artist to put together the program that honors the festival’s intentions.

Eric looks forward to presenting the festival’s second year in 2017 and mentions the emerging music of JP Jofre, a bandeonist, as a possibility. The bandoneon is an essential instrument in most tango ensembles and folk music. JP (Jean Pablo) Jofre is an Argentinian musician, composer and arranger whose debut album called “Hard Tango” is described as “classical-tango hybrid” by the New York Times.


So what would be a perfect day for Eric? Maybe a vacation. Because of his extensive traveling and performance schedule a vacation means something different to him than to most people.  He may have a day off here or there but he likes practicing and preparing for a performance that this is a source of enjoyment for him and does not feel like work at all. He has become a seasoned performer that he says he does not get nervous performing live anymore but he does feel the adrenaline and has since gotten used to it. Outside of playing any music, he seemed uncertain what kind of day that would be like and said it will only be different from day to day.

Eric hopes that recordings are a part of his future and is expecting one to be released soon on digital and CD platforms that will include a couple of violin sonatas. That brought on the question that as a musician, what would Eric be listening to. He says his music tastes are diverse and could include artists of soul/R&B to country music. But Eric is also on the lookout for the music of up and coming artists, perhaps to invite for the next Hawaii International Music Festival. Possibly even composing himself may be down the line.

So you may ask why “Eric Silberger Virtuoso Violinist of Two Volcanoes” well that’s because of two videos that are available on YouTube. One of which films Eric as the first violinist to play inside a volcano in Iceland and a second video he made during his travels to the Big Island of Hawaii in August where he plays the violin at Volcanoes National Park, the location of active Kilauea crater. He’ll likely be the only violinist ever to make this dual claim. The two videos are posted below. He has noted elsewhere of the Hawaii video that “at one particular moment of the video I could hear the wind play the violin together with me.”




Eric plays a rare violin from 1757 and performing in unusual locations present hazards to the instrument. He says he takes no extra special precautions when traveling (his violin is a carry-on on planes) but when playing outdoors he took the precaution of having a second violin available.

One purpose that Eric said he looks forward to fulfill is to connect with people to find a sustainability in the arts. Although not likely within this intention The Hopeful Traveler mentions that he found a connection to Eric’s television appearance playing Paganini because of musical theatre. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber who adapted that Paganini composition for a rock band is a huge influence in the Hopeful Traveler post archives and travels.  Eric says of musical theatre that he finds it is something amazing of how all the parts come together.  When Eric mentions Maazel, the first thing that came to The Hopeful Traveler’s mind is the conductor’s contribution to Lloyd Webber “Requiem” mass which produced the hit single “Pie Jesu”.  But it was the connection in hearing Eric perform the Paganini piece on the news that lead to attending the Hawaii International Music Festival which lead to the interview and to this blog post about Eric. And there you have it. We never know how music will connect or inspire each of us in the future but in some way it manages to do so.

Learn more about Eric by visiting his official website at ericsilberger.com or by searching for Violinist Eric Silberger on Facebook (or just click HERE).

Hear Eric on JP Jofre's Hard Tango Chamber Band's Manifesto available on Amazon.com (MP3 and CD) and on iTunes.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hawaii International Music Festival: In Performance at the Blaisdell Concert Hall (August 10, 2016)

(image: Carlin Ma Photography)

Amy Shoremount-Obra, soprano (image: Dario Acosta)
The Hawaii International Music Festival had its Oahu premiere performance on Wednesday August 10th 2016 at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. The show promised an evening to "thrill the senses". And it did just that from the beginning. Chocolate farmer Will Lydgate lead the audience through a chocolate tasting. A free sample packet was given to each guest at the door.

Mikayla Sager, soprano (image: Dario Acosta Photography)
It was a very different kind of start to a live music performance. I may not be much better at recognizing the nuances of flavors but it was interesting to learn about the subtle differences of finely made chocolates. (Visit steelgrass.orgmanoachocolate.com for more information)

Then it was onto the main event. The program looked short even with the listed 15-minute intermission. But it turned out to be an exquisite two-plus hour evening of fine live music and singing. Of the vocal performances, Amy Shoremount-Obro (Soprano) offered a silvery rendition of the rarely performed "Ch'il bel sogno" from Giacomo Puccini's opera "La Rondine".  It was a song that I have long loved since I first heard it over twenty-five years ago by Andrew Lloyd Webber's then wife Sarah Brightman. Webber produced an album with Brightman singing songs from unsuccessful musicals ("The Songs That Got Away").

Ian Parker, pianist (image: North Shore News)
Mikayla Sager gave the audience a crowd-pleaser with melody of "Csardas" from the opera 'Die Fledermaus' by Johann Strauss Jr.

Now if you asked anyone in the audience tonight if George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" could still sound grand performed by a solo pianist there would have been likely many doubters. But Ian Parker delivered the familiar composition with cheers from the audience to close out the first part of the show.

Kenny Endo, taiko master (image: Darian Wong)
Opening the second portion of the festival, renowned taiko master drummer Kenny Endo was joined by Shormount-Obra, Parker, violinist Eric Silberger and cellist Daniel Lelchuk for "Tears of the Earth" and "Jugoya (Crystal Clearn Moon)". It was an unusual combination but the melding of talents was fascinating that somewhere down the road this should be saved as a recording.
Eric Silberger, violinist (image: smolart.com)

Silberger whose elegant violin performance of the baroque "Chaconne" by Tomaso Antonio Vitali pulled and prepared the audience for the upcoming musical delights. Lelchuk and Silberger again delighted the evening's attendees with cello/violin duo of "Passacaglia" by Handel Halvorsen.

Daniel Lelchuk, cellist (image: birdfootfestival.org)
Most of the numbers performed this evening were unfamiliar to this viewer which should be part of the purpose of the festival to help the audience discover these pieces. Balance them with the familiar and it's a way to draw in the audience into each number.

Silberger, Shormount-Obra and Carlin Ma founded and organized the festival's inaugural year. This is no small feat and I was glad to be in attendance that night. Ma served as a partial host for the evening. Perhaps an addition for future concerts would be short presentations to talk about the music or the artists while crew is preparing the stage for the next performance. It is with hope more people will discover the festival in its annual incarnations and that the organizers can keep the tickets affordable (tickets at the Blaisdell were $30) and the program varied with such talented and invested artists as the ones who shared their music that night.

More info at himusicfestival.com. Visit these sites to learn more about the festival's artists:
amyshoremount-obra.com
carlinma.com
daniel.lelchuk.1.com
ericsilberger.com
ianparker.ca
kennyendo.com
mikaylasagersoprano.com
Carlin Ma, festival co-founder (image: carlinma.com)

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