News and Features

Video: Where Were We – Not One, Not Two, But Art&Seek Went to Three Festivals Over the Weekend!

Music seemed to be a running theme at this year’s AsiaFest in Plano. Organizations such as the Plano Symphony Orchestra to the Dallas Asian American Youth Orchestra were well represented. Tables laden with instruments, old and new, were popular gathering spots.

One of the more interesting tables was run by Anh Q. Nguyen. You’ll see in the above video the instruments Nguyen was displaying at the event. Đàn in general means a string instrument. The categorical adjective term follows after the word Đàn.

Here are some excerpts from the website, which Nguyen kindly translated for us:      

Đàn Kìm (Đàn nguyệt) has two strings and the resonator resembles the moon, that is probably why it is named Dan Nguyet, which means moon lute. The strings were traditionally made of silk but are today normally made of nylon, which can be strummed with either finger or pick. The Dan Nguyet provides a midrange pitch in traditional orchestras and is played in short, melodic passages.

Đàn Bầu: The first đàn bầu was made in 1770. At its first appearance it was a very simple instrument comprised of a bamboo section, a flexible rod, a calabash or half a coconut. After a process of evolution and improvement, the present form of the Dan Bau is a bit more sophisticated, yet still quite simple. Đàn Bầu in general consists of 4 components including soundboard (resonator), spout, gourd, string and tuning peg.

Đàn Tranh: The Đàn Tranh is also known as Đàn Thập Lục or sixteen-stringed zither. The Dan Tranh originates from the ancient capital city of Hue, where women once played it for royalty, and the instrument is still considered a symbol of the city.

Đàn Tỳ Bà: The Ty Ba is a four-string instrument which is frequently present in a traditional orchestra. Its soundbox is shaped like a pear cut in half lengthwise. Its soundboard is made of unvarnished light wood, and its back is made of hard wood with a slightly convex surface. The neck is short and tightly fixed to the soundbox. Originally the neck bore no frets; now, however, it has four frets in addition to eight others on the soundboard and two under the strings with the highest pitch.

Đàn Kìm and Đàn Bầu are Vietnamese instruments. However, Đàn tranh and Đàn Tỳ Bà have more of the Chinese origin.

You simply must visit the Latino Cultural Center in Deep Ellum. The absolutely gorgeous ceiling in the entryway (it’s in the video) is worth the trip alone. The 2010 Dallas Folklorico Festival was a real treat to the ears and the eyes. Folklorico, which basically means Mexican folk dancing, was full of color, authentic costumes and rivaled Dancing with the Stars in my book.

Finally, I rounded out my day at the Cottonwood Arts Festival. Of all the years I’ve attended, I think this one was my favorite. While there was live music and food vendors, it was the art that captivated everyone. You’ll see in the beginning of the video that lots of folks were the artists on Saturday! A couple of the participating artists (Marty Ruiz and Sharon Johnston) gave us a little insight as to their works, and the Rockin’ With Rhett band did an impromptu performance for our cameras!

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'The Mourners' Coming to the DMA, Raved About in NYC

mourner_78The Mourners is a series of some 40 pint-sized statues that typically surround the base of the tomb of John the Fearless,  the 15th-century duke of Burgundy. Because the tomb — housed in Dijon’s Musee des Beaux Arts in France — is currently being renovated, The Mourners are able to tour for the first and probably the only time. They’re masterpieces of late medieval art, and they’re coming to the Dallas Museum of Art October 3 — in a tour to seven American museums, a tour overseen by the DMA. The first stop has been the Metropolitan in NYC, and The Mourners have been given two ecstatic reviews, one in the Wall Street Journal (“a small triumph of an exhibition”) and a new one in the New York Review of Books (“to see them is to be dazzled” — subscription required to read the full review).

You can get a little bit of that dazzle viewing the individual mourners online. Because the foot-and-a-half tall alabaster statues were removed from their niches in the tomb (where they look like a religious procession wending its way past the pillars in a cathedral), they were digitally photographed in the round. So this is the first time people can see them, full-view, thanks to the Mourners Photography Project.

Check it out: Manipulating the figures so they revolve is spooky-cool.

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The Reviews Keep Sailing In …

In case you’re interested: I’m continually adding links to new reviews of the Dallas Opera’s Moby-Dick to our own feature coverage – at the end of Olin Chism’s review and Bill Zeeble’s news report (four music blogs were listed in just the last two hours).

Wanna know what easily is the most widely read/reprinted review? No, not the New York Times’ or the Dallas Morning News’. We knew, of course, that outlets everywhere pick up news items by the Associated Press; in fact, AP reports are pretty much the primary default source, the digital equivalent of oxygen when it comes to padding out many ‘news’ websites. Everyone uses it.

But opera reviews?

Yet if you type up a Google search for “Jake Heggie whale of a hit Moby-Dick” — which is more or less the headline for Ronald Blum’s AP review — you’ll get more than 300,000 hits. Naturally, tons and tons of those are duplicates and aggregators and some aren’t even Blum’s review, and you have to wonder why anti-war and stand-up comedy websites are using classical music reviews for filler.

Still, if you scroll down and just start counting the names of newspapers and TV stations and eliminate all those items that aren’t Blum’s review, well … if you’re lazy (or time-constrained) like me, you may quit after hitting 70 or so.

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Spice Up Your Coffee With the Monday Round-up

rsz_moby_09THAR SHE RAVES: Yep, the Big Boy with the Flukes made a Big Splash over the weekend. If you want to check out the (mostly very excited) reviews that have come in so far for the Dallas Opera’s Moby-Dick, check out our own Olin Chism’s glowing notice and Bill Zeeble’s report on audience response: There are links to other critics at the end (including a resounding NYTimes rave – the “staging ranged from striking to near-miraculous”). Moby will be getting even more media attention soon. A lot of the national press and the opera blogs haven’t weighed anchor yet, plus there’s that music critics confab I mentioned that’s coming here this week. And then there’s Scott Cantrell’s front-page News feature about both Moby and Before Night Falls coming up at the end of May from the Fort Worth Opera Festival. The two have made North Texas the center of the opera world this month.

FILM IN FW: Fort Worth filmmaker Andrew Disney (Frank’s Last Shot) is throwing a kickoff party tonight at the Ginger Man to announce the local, LA and NYC talent in his new comedy-action feature, Searching for Sonny. As the name “kickoff” implies, he’s going to start shooting — be doing it through June. Hat tip: Blotch.

DPL BECOMES THE iDPL: On May 11, the Dallas Public Library will start offering e-books, digital audiobooks, audio and video through its website. What’s up for the download? About 100,000 items. To use the new system, sez Unfair Park, you’ll need the free OverDrive software (available through the DPL site), a library card and a compatible device with internet access.

TDT FINALE: The Texas Dance Theatre finished its first season at the Scott Theatre Saturday — with what Chris Shull said in was the troupe’s finest work yet. Even if he couldn’t figure out some of it.

OK, SO NO ONE’S STAGING SONDHEIM IN NORTH TEXAS RIGHT NOW: But it’s his 80th year, and if anyone wants to mark the occasion — the way they’re doing at the Roundabout in NYC with Sondheim on Sondheim – they ought to check out Stephen Holden’s superb essay on why there wasn’t a Sondheim before and why there won’t be one after.

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The Paul Slavens Show: May 2 2010 Live Blog

Happy May everyone, its a lovely night, kick back and check out some tunes, take a second and leave a nice comment or some suggestions for music to play on this show
new to me this week:
Angus & Julia Stone
Birdsong at Morning
Robyn &Royksopp

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Dallas Opera's 'Moby-Dick' Debuts Spectacularly – UPDATED LINKS


Dallas Opera‘s  world premiere of Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick has wowed the audience and critics. KERA’s Bill Zeeble attended the opening and has more.

  • KERA radio report:
  • Online report:

Triumphant was the word from several critics. They praised the music of composer Jake Heggie and the adapted story by Gene Scheer, as well as the sets, imaginative video projections and singers’ voices. Audience member Donna Wright was excited to see her first opera premiere, and was impressed by it all.

Donna Wright, audience member: “The singing, the effects, how they managed to do so much with basically the same set. Oh it was great.”

Fort Worth Symphony pianist and music educator Buddy Bray says the opera stayed true to Herman Melville’s masterpiece. Bray says Moby-Dick was huge and effective on all fronts.

Buddy Bray: “Yes, totally worked for me because it was big and beautiful.”

Bray calls Heggie a natural.

Bray: “I think when he’s writing one note, he already thinks about what he is going to write that will play out an hour later. So he’s always thinking of a big arc. He is the real thing. He is a genuine opera composer. And this country has very few of them, and he just knows instinctively how to do that.”

Guest blogger Olin Chism reviews:

With Dead Man Walking, composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer proved decisively that they know how to fashion a large-scale musical drama. On Friday night at the Winspear, the Dallas Opera gave the premiere of their latest collaboration, Moby-Dick. It was quite a gamble to take on the American literary classic, but it paid off handsomely. Moby-Dick makes gripping musical theater, with a spectacular production reinforcing the opera’s dramatic power. At the end the enthusiastic audience gave Heggie and Scheer their heaviest applause.

Herman Melville’s novel is lengthy (approaching 500 pages in my copy) but it’s easy to spot candidates for trimming to operatic size. There are many, many pages devoted to whale lore, anatomy and behavior, not to mention lengthy descriptions of sailing and whaling as they existed in the mid-19th century. These would hardly do in an opera. But the easy trims still leave a herculean task for the librettist trying to arrange the remainder into a coherent whole, and one impressive thing about the new opera is Scheer’s success in doing so. There is some tinkering with details, but by and large the libretto remains faithful to Melville in plot and tone.

Heggie’s music makes the story spring to vivid aural life. The composer is well known for his conservative lyrical impulses (no grating on the ear here), but there’s grit in dramatic scenes and he fashions a brooding musical atmosphere that seems a fitting complement to story and setting. I particularly liked the orchestral writing with its colorful instrumentation. The vocal writing seemed apt, too, though few solo numbers jumped out as obvious high points. Repeated hearings are needed.

Moby-Dick has a topnotch cast. The headliner is Ben Heppner as Captain Ahab (above). He seemed vocally stressed at times on Friday night, but he remained a formidable presence. Morgan Smith as Starbuck (the one character with a grip on reality) was superb, as was Jonathan Lemalu as Queequeg. Talise Trevigne as Pip and Stephen Costello as Greenhorn (Scheer’s name for Melville’s Ishmael) were notable among the rest of the large cast. Patrick Summers led a powerful orchestral performance.

phpfrvb3dPMThe physical production is simply magnificent. A whole team of designers, animators, projectionists and programmers creates a high-tech world that keeps the sea a brooding presence and gives the opera’s climactic moments an almost physical power. Leonard Foglia is the impressive director, with Robert Brill, Jane Greenwood, Donald Holder and Elaine McCarthy as designers of scenery, costumes, lighting and projections, respectively. The others involved are too numerous to list.

  • Scott Cantrell’s Dallas Morning News review
  • Associated Press review by Ronald Blum
  • Steve Smith’s New York Times review
  • Front Row review by Wayne Lee Gay
  • Theater Jones review by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs
  • Out West Arts blog
  • Opera Warhorses blog
  • Fort Worth Renaissance blog
  • The Classical Review blog
  • Gary Cogill’s review for WFAA (with video)
  • Chris Shull’s review for Opera Now magazine
  • Chris Shull’s review for
  • NYU Professor Cyrus Patell’s blog
  • San Diego Theatre Scene review
  • Interchanging Idioms blog
  • Albert Imperato’s blog at Gramophone. UK


Gene Scheer and Jake Heggie (l to r). Photos by Karen Almond.

Moby-Dick will continue through May 16, with Madame Butterfly joining in starting May 7.

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Saturday Spotlight: Mariachis in the Plaza and More Cinco de Mayo Festivities

mariachi jalisciense

Photo credit: Mariachi Jalisciense web site

Today in the Art&Seek spotlight, we’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo –with mariachis! Artes de La Rosa and the Rose Marine Theater in Fort Worth present Mariachis in the Plaza.  Performers include Mariachi Jalisciense and Ballet Folklorico de Fort Worth. There will be live dancing,  mariachi music,  traditional Mexican food and  local artists selling their work.  And it all takes place rain or shine.

There are many Cinco de Mayo events – and other festivals – going on this weekend.  You can find a healthy list of them here.

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This Week in Texas Music History: Johnny Horton

horton-200Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This week, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman celebrates a famous ballad singer who also blended honky-tonk with early rockabilly.

You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Friday on KXT and Saturday on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KERA radio’s 90.1 at Night.

  • Click the player to listen to the podcast:
  • Expanded online version:

Johnny Horton was born in Los Angeles on April 30, 1925, but grew up near the East Texas town of Rusk. In 1950, he began singing on the radio in Pasadena, near Houston. Horton became famous for such ballads as “The Battle of New Orleans,” “North to Alaska” and “Johnny Reb.” However, he was much more than a ballad singer. Horton also combined honky-tonk with early rockabilly to create his own unique style. His first big hit, “Honky-Tonk Man,” captured the essence of the honky tonk lifestyle, but it also incorporated a rockabilly beat that was quite unusual in country music at the time. Johnny Horton died in a car wreck near Milano, Texas, on Nov. 5, 1960, but his music remains popular and has been recorded by many younger artists.

Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll recall an often overlooked musician who helped lay the foundation for western swing.

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There Really Is a Festivus for the Rest of Us! MayFest, Cinco de Mayo, Asian Festivals and MORE

It’s festival time in North Texas, and there is most definitely something for everyone. May is always chock full of festivals ranging from Cinco de Mayo celebrations to the African Cultural Festival to the Asian Festivals and so many other fun festivals from which to choose.

We here at Art&Seek love us a good festival, so we were first in line at Mayfest in Fort Worth yesterday just as the event was opening and and brought you back a few tips:

~Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Mayfest is spread out over 33 acres on the banks of the Trinity River, so there’s a lot of territory to cover.

~Purchase tickets for rides, attractions, food and drinks before you wait in line holding cash. There are ticket booths scattered throughout the festival grounds.

~Opt for the free shuttle from TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium. There’s a large paid paid parking lot ($5), but it’s a bit of a haul if you’ve got small children in tow.

~Come hungry, there’s tons of great food!

~Be sure and check out the petting zoo. The bunnies are absolutely the cutest thing you’ll ever see.

~Be sure and spend some time watching the wake boarders, and just enjoying the Trinity River.

We caught up with organizer Darcy Harrell and she shared a little bit of what to expect at this year’s Mayfest. Enjoy the above video. Mayfest 2010 runs through Sunday, May 2.

Ready for more? Here we go!

Cinco de Mayo Celebrations on May 1:

Cinco de Mayo in the West End: The West End comes to life with ballet folkloric dancers, mariachi bands and pinata parties! The Bud Light Main Stage headliner is Chickenfoot. Radio Disney will host family fun with games, prizes and music.

Cinco de Mayo in Historic Oak Cliff: Cinco de Mayo Big Parade and Festival is the largest parad in North Texas with over 20,000 in attendance. This colorful event includes marching bands, folkloric dance groups, school groups and much more! This event will also feature three bands including Latin, jazz, Tejano and Spanish rock.

Cinco de Mayo at the House of Blues: There will be live performances by Mariachi Juvenil Jaguar and Mo-Set AllStarz of Molina High School, W.T. White HS Mariachi Band, Mariachi Los Unicos de Greiner MS and Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico. $20 ticket includes entertainment and light Mexican fare.

Folklorico Festival of Dallas: (May 1-2) The Annual Folklorico Festival, held at theLatino Cultural Center, is a two day bilingual event in Spanish and English. The event is free and open to the public and will bring together a multi-ethnic group of local and international artists to share their traditional folkloric music, dance and customs.

Discover Dallas Days: Cinco de Mayo at the Old Red Museum: Old Red will host its very own Cinco de Mayo party complete with games, activities, and piñatas. Explore the rich Mexican history that helped Dallas become the city it is today.

Mariachis in the Plaza in Fort Worth: live Marachis, ballet folklorico, face painting and local artisans selling their work along with food from local Northside restaurants. Perfect for the entire family!

Asian Festival Celebrations on May 1:

2010 Asian Festival in the Dallas Arts District: This fun, colorful and festive event will unite Asian cultures while creating a diverse marketplace featuring native arts & crafts, music, dance, food, martial arts and children’s activities. Unique cuisine from Indonesia, Korea, China, India, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries will be sold by independent vendors. The children’s area, Passport to Asia for Kids, will provide activities culturally relevant to the traditions of the arts of Asia such as origami, face painting, henna painting, jewelry making, and many more.

7th Annual Plano Asian Heritage Festival: Celebrating the Asian American Heritage Foundation, a fun-filled day with kite flying, lion dances, marital arts, Asian food, arts and crafts, a fashion show, cultural booths, ethnic dances, children’s activities and more!

Richardson – Grand Prairie – Denton

Cottonwood Arts Festival (May 1-2): I’ve attended this little shindig many a year and can attest to it’s high fun factor. It’s wonderful to wander the event and finding new and exciting treasures and artwork. Cottonwood isn’t just about the art, though. The festival also features local bands who perform the best in rock, country, jazz, blues, swing and folk. Be sure to check out the courtyard, where you can sit in the shade by the lake and relax while you enjoy the music. Food and spirits are also available in the courtyard.

13th Annual Big Mamou Cajun Festival: Enjoy free toe-tapping Cajun music each day from 1 PM to 5 PM. The band will make you jump out of your seat and you won’t be able to stop your feet from dancing to the crazy Cajun beat. Authentic Cajun foods, featuring traditional Louisiana favorites such as: red beans and rice, gumbo and hundreds of pounds of spicy boiled crawfish.

Denton Mudbug 2010: Another festival I can’t get enough of every year. Sit in the shade and feast on crawfish, corn on the cob, ‘taters and listen to the sounds of such great local bands as The Heelers, The Von Ehrics, The King Bucks, RTB2, Big Daddy Alright and The Shed. There will be tons of food and drinks, children’s play area, silent auction and a great time can be had by all!

There are tons more festivals coming our way in May, so keep checking back here at Art&Seek!

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Spooky 'Queen of Spades' Avoids Eurotrash

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The word “Eurotrash” was coined to describe a certain kind of operatic production, fashionable across the Atlantic, that aggressively mocks the vision of the opera’s original creators. The Eurotrasher invariably calls attention to himself, and the less his production has to do with the original, the better.

Probably the finest (that is, the worst) example of Eurotrash was Christoph Schlingensief’s late and unlamented production of Parsifal in the 20-aughts at the Bayreuth Festival. The best way to experience this Parsifal was to stare at the floor or put on a blindfold and just listen (at least Eurotrashers don’t generally mess with the sound). Alas, most people don’t have the self-discipline required to stare at a floor for five hours, and the urge to look, as with a terrible car wreck, is strong. Probably those who did look didn’t hear half the notes Wagner wrote.

It should be emphasized that not every unusual or even bizarre production is Eurotrash, nor does it have to originate in Europe. The urge to do something new with Butterfly or Boheme is understandable, and it’s quite possible to bring new ideas to a theatrical masterpiece without painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

A beautiful example of new ideas that work is the Houston Grand Opera’s current production of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades. It’s surreal, true, but the sometimes nightmarish quality of director Richard Jones’ and designer John Macfarlane’s conception (it originated at the Welsh National Opera) enhances rather than destroys the mood of Tchaikovsky’s work.

Macfarlane favors strange, near-disorienting angles — tables tilt, in one scene he almost succeeds in creating the illusion that the viewer is looking down into a pit rather than toward the rear of the stage. Jones has his chorus moving around, sometimes zombie-like, in mysterious formations.

There are a couple of misfires — a strange drag dance, a dead-countess scene that fails to spook the audience (there’s loud laughter instead) — but overall Jones and Macfarlane are Tchaikovsky’s friends, not his enemies.

By and large the cast is superb, as is the playing of the Houston Grand Opera orchestra under Carlo Rizzi’s guidance. Vladimir Galouzine (Herman), Tatiana Monogarova (Lisa), Tómas Tómasson (Tomsky) and Vasily Ladyuk (Yeletsky) bring beauty and dramatic weight to prominent roles, and Judith Forst brings striking believability to the 80-something countess while producing vocal sounds no one that age could manage.

The Queen of Spades has one more performance Saturday night at the Wortham Theater Center. Joining it this weekend (through May 14) is Handel’s Xerxes.

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