Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera scrap fall seasons

Wow. The arts news in Sacramento is dire. From the Sacramento Bee:

For the first time in its 17-year history, the Sacramento Philharmonic will not present any concerts during the fall season, and it remains unclear whether its musicians will return to the stage in the spring of 2015. The Sacramento Opera has also decided not to stage performances in the fall. The decision follows months of financial uncertainty for the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, the organization formed last year when the philharmonic merged with the Sacramento Opera.

Larry Gardner, president of the American Federation of Musicians Local 12 and principal bassonist in the Fresno Philharmonic, is quoted in the story:

He noted that smaller orchestras in smaller cities such as the Fresno Philharmonic and Modesto Philharmonic are presenting full seasons in 2014-15 after cutting back on offerings directly after the recession. “Those orchestras have turned a corner,” said Gardner. “When you look at the skyline in Sacramento and then look at Modesto or Fresno’s, you begin to wonder, ‘What’s going on in Sacramento?’ ” Gardner said. “It sure looks like there is money in Sacramento, but it doesn’t seem to be going to the orchestra or opera company.”

Let’s be thankful that things seem more stable in Fresno. The Fresno Philharmonic and Fresno Grand Opera both announced lively new seasons. 

Weekend pick: La Forza


It’s a flute lover’s dream. La Forza, a flute choir organized by Janette Erickson, will give its second annual concert 3 p.m. Saturday at Memorial United Methodist Church in Clovis. The choir is made up of students and former students of Erickson, the principal flutist of the Fresno Philharmonic. Erickson and Nicola Iacovetti will share conducting duties. The program includes music by Bach, Kodaly, Faure, Respighi, Bloch, Bartok, Vivaldi, Liadov and Tchaikovsky.

Erickson writes:

Besides the current students, there are returning former students that are playing and acting as mentors to the younger ones. Colleen Carlson, a UOP graduate and former student, will be soloing Vivaldi’s “Summer” from the Four Seasons. The group is also augmented by bass clarinest, John Ayala and string bassist, Steve Walker.

Note: The concert is Saturday, not Sunday, as was listed in Friday’s 7 section. (My bad.) Tickets are free. Details: (559) 299-4615.

Spotlight on strings

This year’s edition of the Fresno Opera & Orchestra Summer Academy, or FOOSA, which is heading into its final weekend, skips the opera and focuses on strings. Nearly 70 students — some from as far as Hong Kong — are participating in this program from the Youth Orchestras of Fresno, along with a lineup of esteemed faculty members. The result: Classical music fans in Fresno get a chance to hear some fine concerts this weekend, including a faculty chamber music recital 8 p.m. Friday that should be top-notch. There is a final student concert 8 p.m. Saturday, and the grand finale comes 4 p.m. Sunday (note corrected time; initial info in academy press release was wrong) featuring students and faculty playing together. (It’s amazing how pairing up professionals with talented young musicians produces an impressive sound, faculty members say.)

We had fun featuring the talented young musicians in the academy as the cover story in Friday’s 7 section. Bee graphic artist John Alvin came up with the spiffy center spread:

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Don’t miss this video I made about the academy:

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The Beehive Interview: Carl Gardner


Back in January I told you about Carl Gardner, the winner of the first Fresno Philharmonic young artists concerto competition. (I helped judge.) Along with the title came the opportunity for Gardner to perform with the orchestra at Sunday’s“Side by Side” concert at the Saroyan Theatre. It’s all part of a collaboration between the Fresno Philharmonic and the Youth Orchestras of Fresno, of which Gardner is an alum.

I feature an interview with Gardner in Friday’s 7 section. Here’s the extended version of that interview.

Looking back at the concerto competition, what are your thoughts about that afternoon? Did you think you’d nailed it?

Leading up to my performance that afternoon I felt very confident about my playing. I have learned by this point in my life to be conscious of when I really KNOW a piece of music. I was confident that no matter what the results of the competition I would have put forth a very good effort. That’s a really good feeling to have when going into any audition. That way I was able to focus on myself and what my best effort was going to sound like rather than how my counterparts were going to sound.

I don’t remember much while I was playing, other than I was surprised at how it sounded to play in Shaghoian Hall. I was used to a small room where I did not need to worry about projecting as much as I needed to in the Hall.

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CONCERT REVIEW: Wu Man and the Fresno Philharmonic


The celebrated musician Wu Man on Friday introduced the pipa, the lute-like ancient Chinese instrument, to the Fresno Philharmonic audience.

It was exhilarating.

There are those, I’m sure, who would tend to steer away from a concert like this — Chinese music is just too “weird.” But I strongly encourage people with that avoidance mindset to take a chance and broaden their horizons. Wu Man’s performance of Tan Dun’s Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa was a mesmerizing and joyful romp encompassing two musical cultures. Beyond Ms. Wu’s polished expertise, it was almost as fun watching the members of the orchestra stray beyond their own comfort levels, joining enthusiastically in a performance that included stomping, plucking, tapping and vocalizing. The customary cool orchestral detachment melted away, giving us something that hinted at the primal.

What’s more, all this takes place in the intimate Shaghoian Hall, where you’re close enough to the musicians to really feel the impact. You have two more chances to experience this unforgettable concert, one of my favorite all-time Fresno Philharmonic experiences: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. (My only regret about Friday’s event that there wasn’t a bigger crowd.)

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Lots of classical music this weekend


Wow, what a weekend for classical music in Fresno.

For the first time in its history, the Fresno Philharmonic will play a piece by a Chinese composer — Tan Dun’s Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa. And it will feature the world’s most foremost player of the instrument: Wu Man. Don’t miss my interview with her in Friday’s 7 section. This “East Meets West” concert also features two beloved Beethoven symphonies. The orchestra performs Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Shaghoian Hall.

Keyboard Concerts brings yet another famed pianist to the Fresno State Concert Hall: the British musician Stephen Hough. He will play a program Friday night that includes rarely performed pieces by Schoenberg, Wagner, Richard Strauss and Bruckner, as well as works by Brahms and the monumental Sonata by Liszt. Fun fact: Hough will appear on “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor on April 12.

Fresno’s Michael Krikorian, pictured above, who at age 12 began studying with Fresno State piano professor Andreas Werz, is now a graduate student in piano performance at Manhattan School of Music studying with Arkady Aronov. He returns for a hometown concert Sunday at the Fresno State Concert Hall sponsored by the Orpheus chamber music ensemble.

 The choral ensembles of College of the Sequoias, Fresno City College and Porterville College and Reedley College perform 3 p.m. Sunday at the Fresno City College Old Administration Building Auditorium. More than 180 singers and a small orchestra will perform Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” Tickets are $5.

Closing concert of Pacific Artist Series


Looking for an evening of beautiful vocal music? Fresno Pacific University’s Pacific Artist Series concludes for the season tonight with soprano Julie Carter and accompanist Rudelle Joy Gaje:

The program will include selections in Italian, German, Spanish, French and English. There will be arias from the operas “Don Pasquale,” “Gianni Schicchi,” “Serse” and “The Magic Flute.” Trumpeter Max Hembd will join Dr. Carter on “Jauchzet” from Cantata 51 by J.S. Bach. In addition, there will be art songs by Faure, “Quatre Chansons de jeunesse” by Debussy, and Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Cuatro madrigals amatorios.” The English portion of the concert will feature folk songs, spirituals, and Broadway music.

The concert is 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Fresno Pacific’s McDonald Hall. Tickets are $12 general, $8 seniors, and $5 for students.


The Beehive Interview: El Cimarron Ensemble’s Michael Kersten


It’s shaping up to be a banner weekend for fans of challenging artistic fare in Fresno. The Fresno State theater department is opening “Absurd Masterworks” featuring short plays by Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett. And the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble, on the cutting-edge of music, presents a concert that includes an original opera by Fresno’s Jack Fortner titled “NOTHING and more.”

The Fortner opera will be performed by the Austria-based El Cimarron Ensemble, a dynamic group of younger artists that has its finger on the pulse of the contemporary European chamber music scene. I have a story about the production in Friday’s issue of 7. Directing the work, which will be presented 8 p.m. Saturday at the Fresno State Concert Hall, is Michael Kersten, who founded the group with guitarist Christina Schorn and percussionist Ivan Mancinelli in early 1999. We caught up with him via email to talk about El Cimarron and “NOTHING and more.”

Question: For those who aren’t familiar with the ensemble, tell us a little about the group. 

Answer: Having started as a youth and students project in Salzburg (Austria), it has had residencies in Taranto (South Italy), Sassari (Sardegna), and finally we’re back in Austria.

We have chosen the name El Cimarrón-Ensemble after our first production, “El Cimarrón” by Hans Werner Henze, probably the most important composer in the late 20th century. This means, we have basically 5 positions: guitar, percussion, flute, baritone, and stage director.

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CONCERT REVIEW: Keyboard Concerts


When it comes to the music of Prokofiev, I now have a transformative experience on which to draw: sitting 8 feet away from piano star Daniil Trifonov as he plays a two-piano arrangement of the “Romeo and Juliet Suite.”

It’s hard to imagine any venue in the country letting you sit closer to a world-class pianist than the Keyboard Concerts series, which presented the Russian pianist Trifonov and his mentor, the acclaimed Armenian-American virtuoso Sergei Babayan, in a rousing recital Friday night at the Fresno State Concert Hall. When a concert sells out, as this one did, chairs get added to the front of the hall, not the back, with the result being that audience members can get even closer to the piano.

During the first half of the concert I sat about six rows back. For the second half I moved as close as I could get, in the front row — I’d never sat that close before at a Keyboard event — and while I can’t say I recommend the experience for everyone (or, for me, every time), it was absolutely thrilling to be in the company of the dynamic Trifonov. It was like sitting in the front seat of a roller coaster.

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Tonight: Sergei Babayan and Daniil Trifonov at Keyboard Concerts


The Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State offers two for one tonight: a double concert by world-class pianists Sergei Babayan and Daniil Trifonov. I recap the concert in Friday’s issue of 7:

To call Trifonov the student of Babayan doesn’t seem like it does the relationship justice, considering that Trifonov is what Keyboard Concerts’ artistic director Andreas Werz calls “the hottest 23-year-old pianist in the world right now.” But it’s accurate: After winning the prestigious 2011 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition for young artists, an event held every four years, and the 2011 Rubinstein International Piano Competition, the Russian-born Trifonov continues to study with Babayan in Cleveland even as he pursues his own concert career.

The duo will play one piece for four hands on one piano and three pieces on two facing pianos. In terms of musical firepower, this is one of the highlights of the Keyboard Concerts season.

Tonight: Keyboard Concerts


Jonathan Biss, who performs tonight at Fresno State as part of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series, will play works by Brahms, Kurtág and Chopin and Beethoven. The American-born pianist is appearing at some impressive venues these days. From my preview story in last Friday’s 7 section:

Andreas Werz, artistic director of Keyboard Concerts, points out that Biss played the same program at Carnegie Hall in New York a couple of weeks ago and will present it right after his Fresno concert at Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. “His career has definitely taken off,” Werz says.

I’m interested, too, in the ways that Biss has embraced technology. In September he taught a five-week course on Beethoven’s piano sonatas to 35,000 participants in partnership with Coursera, a MOOC (massive open online course). The course will begin a repeat run featuring the same lecture videos and fresh assignments on March 13. You can get more details at his website.

A glittering Fresno Philharmonic gala


Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss was on scene Saturday night to photograph some of the Fresno Philharmonic’s most passionate fans at the orchestra’s 60th anniversary gala dinner. Above, conductor Theodore Kuchar visits with Roxie Moradian, one of the founding figures of the orchestra back in 1954. The gala was one of the year’s preeminent social-scene events, and I had fun ducking into the dinner and the dessert reception following the show to chat with some of the city’s philanthropic class.

Craig also got some nice new photos of Kuchar and the orchestra in action, although we weren’t allowed to get any photos of Chang on stage because of a stipulation in her contract. Be sure to check out his excellent photo gallery.

My take on the concert is featured in Monday’s Life section. I thought Sarah Chang’s performance of the Bruch Violin Concerto was full of strength:

There’s a fierceness to Chang as a musician, a sturdy and muscular confidence to her playing, that adds a level of complexity to the image of elegant fashionista crafted these days for so many women players by classical music’s marketing gurus. She tackled the Bruch not with daintiness but a brisk, vehement confidence. During breaks in her part, while the orchestra played, she often dropped her arms completely and held the violin in place with her neck and chin — a pose of strength and certitude.

After the concert, Chang changed out of her dazzling jewel-toned concert gown for a simpler black gown, and she greeted patrons at the dessert reception. I grabbed this photo of her with a family very excited to meet her:

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Where was Jackie?


Jackie Evancho didn’t show up Sunday night for her scheduled concert at the Saroyan Theatre. The promoter notified management at the Fresno Convention Center of the event’s cancellation on Friday afternoon by sending an email. But because city servers were down, that communication wasn’t received until Saturday, says Claudia Arguelles, director of sales and marketing at SMG. No news release was sent out.

I was on vacation at the time and was enjoying a digital-free couple of days, or I would have done more to spread word about the concert’s cancellation. As (bad) luck would have it, we timed a big Jackie story to run Sunday with her appearance — a lengthy essay in which I used the occasion of Evancho’s concert to dig into the meaty issue of the age-old divide between critics/academics and fans. The Spotlight section is prepared in advance of the Sunday paper and printed on Thursday nights, so there was nothing we could do other than note in the front section of the paper that the concert had been cancelled.

Why didn’t the concert take place? The reason given by promoter John Low: “production reasons outside the artist’s control.”

I have my suspicions. Ticket demand for the concert did not seem to be high. Weeks before the concert, the promoter had gone into deep-discount mode, offering 60% off through The Bee’s website.

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Win tickets to Fresno Philharmonic’s ‘I Got Rhythm’


The Fresno Philharmonic gets in a Latin mood this weekend with “I Got Rhythm,” a concert celebrating American and Latin American rhythms. Guest pianist Orion Weiss is featured. From the Philharmonic:

The concert will feature Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas’ La Noche de los Mayas. The program also includes two compositions, Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez’s Batuque and Arturo Marquez’s Danzon No. 2 from the album “Latin American Rhythms” recorded by Maestro Kuchar with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela and nominated for a Latin Grammy Award for best instrumental album. Mr. Weiss will join the orchestra to perform Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm Variations and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G.

I have one pair of tickets to give away to the 7:30 p.m. Friday concert at the Shaghoian Hall. To enter, leave a comment on this post. Deadline to enter is 5 p.m. Wednesday. One comment per person, please. I’ll be informing winners at about 6 p.m. Wednesday via email, so check yours around that time. If you’re a winner, you’ll need to pick up your tickets at The Bee’s front lobby by 5 p.m. Friday. Rules are on the jump.

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The Beehive Interview: Lianna Stuart

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If you follow Fresno’s classical music scene, then you’re sure to recognize Lianna Stuart’s last name. Her mother is the wonderful violinist Cynthia Stuart, a longtime member of the Fresno Philharmonic and many other local performing groups. And talk about coming from a musical family: Lianna’s aunt, Claudia Shiuh, plays viola in the Phil — she’s the one whose sheer joy at making music is evident from the back of the house — and is also well-known for her chamber music.

Lianna gets the nod tonight as the first musician featured in the Orpheus chamber ensemble’s new special series called “The Next Generation,” which will provide a showcase for young talented players in the community. Besides her musical pedigree, she has an interesting background. As the daughter of a violinist, she and her four older siblings learned to play violin. (And there was no dropping out of that school.) But for many years growing up, she swore she’d never pursue music as a career. Along with violin practice, she spent her adolescence listening to such artists as David Bowie, The Beatles, and Flaming Lips. Today she performs in an eclectic band called Before Perils.

Still, she finally caught the violin bug, and big time. After stints at Fresno City College and San Francisco State, where she studied with world-renowned soloist,Jassen Todorov, she’s returning to Fresno State as a violin performance major. She also teaches at the Gottschalk Music Center and as a student teacher at Edison Bethune Charter Academy as part of the Youth Orchestras of Fresno after-school program.

We caught up with Lianna to talk about her and tonight’s concert, which is 8 p.m. tonight at Wahlberg Recital Hall.

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Tonight: Jeremy Denk at Keyboard Concerts

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Once again, the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series delivers a much-talked-about pianist for a solo recital. Jeremy Denk, perhaps best known for his ongoing collaboration with the violinist Joshua Bell, will play a program tonight at the Fresno State Concert Hall that includes Bartok’s rarely played Sonata, a four-piece suite of Liszt’s piano music and Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B minor.

Denk is also an accomplished writer, and I encourage you to check out his witty and insightful blog.

Here’s my roundup on Denk from Tuesday’s Life section. And here’s a recent Boston Globe review of Denk playing the same program he’ll present in Fresno.


A very different chamber concert

The Orpheus chamber music ensemble isn’t just Beethoven and Brahms. That much was evident at Sunday’s notable concert at Fresno State. The first part of the program paired up some fine young dancers from Clovis’  In the Spotlight Dance Center with music from Fresno area composers. The second half was a video presentation of a new version of “60×60,” an ongoing series that showcases contemporary composers in 60-second slices. Fresno State’s Brad Hufft introduced both parts of the program.

In the dance portion, two of the composers were in the audience: Jack Fortner and Benjamin Boone. In a sweet touch, Boone brought his sons Atticus and Asher, which had a special significance considering the title of Boone’s piece: “Atticus, Atticus.” The three of them are pictured (Atticus is seated, and his brother Asher is standing behind his father. Too cute.)

The program didn’t list the three dancers’ names. (If anyone from In the Spotlight can fill me in, I’d like to include them.) Their modern dance moves were keyed to the music in interesting and vigorous ways, from the emphatic looped-and-spliced recitations of text in Charles Amirkhanian’s piece to the charged aural disorder of Boone’s piece.

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Win tickets to the Fresno Philharmonic

UPDATE 10/25: Congratulations to our winners: Amy Querin, Nicolas Barajas, Kathy Juarez, Lee Garcia and Derek Fridolfs. Hope y’all enjoy the concert.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Wow. I get to give away FIVE pairs of tickets to the Fresno Philharmonic’s upcoming Saturday concert at the Saroyan Theatre featuring young violin sensation Chad Hoopes. I’m hoping to feature an interview with Hoopes later this week, but in the meantime you can read a little about the concert in my Sunday Spotlight column [first item].

These are all really nice tickets, with the pairs ranging from Rows A through N of the orchestra section.

The concert is 8 p.m. Saturday. To enter our giveaway, leave a comment on this post. I’ll pick five winners at random who each will receive two tickets. Deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday. If you enter, please remember to check your email, because that’s how I’ll be notifying winners. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to be able to come down to The Bee’s front lobby during business hours by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up.

See complete rules on the jump.

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Coming up: a distinguished French pianist

The esteemed French pianist Jean-Philippe Collard has been to Fresno so many times to perform he could probably make his way blindfolded from the airport to Fresno State’s Concert Hall. Collard will play at 8 p.m. Wednesday as part of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series. You can read the pianist’s long and distinguished resumè here. As always, I remind readers that the general admission ticket price of $18 is a steal compared to what you’d pay to hear an artist of this caliber in a bigger city.

Artistic director Andreas Werz is dedicating the concert to the memory of former Bee arts writer David Hale, who died Oct. 12.


Buchanan High quartet pumps up touring Beatles show

The Buchanan High School String Quartet gets its turn in the spotlight in Friday’s 7 section — and for good reason. This is the third year running that the talented members of the quartet will have performed with the touring Beatles show “In My Life: A Musical Theatre Tribute to the Beatles” featuring renowned tribute band Abbey Road at the Tower Theatre. They’ll join the actors on stage 7:30 p.m. Saturday for three Beatles songs: “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday” and “Imagine.” Congrats to these young players for racking up some professional experience. [Details]



Tonight: the Alexander String Quartet

Here’s a don’t-miss concert for classical music fans: The world-renowned Alexander String Quartet performs 8 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) at Fresno State’s Concert Hall. The event is a special non-subscription offering of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series.

I’ve written about the concert twice in recent days: a roundup story in Friday’s 7 section; and an update in my Sunday Spotlight column (second item) about Andreas Werz, artistic director of Keyboard Concerts, who will join the quartet in a performance of Schumann’s Piano Quintet.

The Alexander String Quartet has lots of fans in Fresno because of the group’s repeated visits to the CSU Summer Arts festival when it was held at Fresno State. I’ve heard them twice, and they really are incredible. Consider them chamber-music gold.

Donald’s weekend picks

I’ve already told you about “Master Class” at the Shaghoian Hall. And don’t forget it’s a big weekend for film fans with the Fresno Film Festival. With that said, I’m going to devote my picks this week exclusively to classical music opportunities, of which there are many!

The ensemble devotes a majority of pieces in its spring program to works written by late 20th-century composers. Among them: a lively original composition by local composer and accompanist Kevin Memley; and the world premiere of a popular Korean folk song arranged by Joungmin Sur, a Fresno State graduate student. Roy Klassen conducts. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, First Congregational Church.

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A reader’s view on Gabriela Montero concert


UPDATE 3/13: Another passionate response has come in from a classical-musical fan in response to Gabriela Montero’s recent concert. Thomas Sawyer writes that “after sitting [through] the first half I had to get out!!!” You can read more on the jump.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Pianist Gabriela Montero packed the house Friday night for the latest installment of the Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State. This accomplished musician — who recently gained fame as a member of the quartet that played a new adaptation of “Simple Gifts” at President Obama’s inauguration — scrapped her announced concert program and opted to play an entirely improvised concert. (She’s become quite well known for her strong improvisational abilities.) Here’s how it worked: Members of the audience volunteered musical themes by singing a tune for her. She then proceeded to play a five-minute-plus piece based upon that theme, totally impromptu.

Sound impressive? It was. (I was there working on a general feature story on Keyboard Concerts and its artistic director, Andreas Werz, and I thought it was remarkable how smooth and fluently Montero conjured her improvisations.) Not everyone was pleased at the change in program, however. Local classical pianist Shirley Kirsten offers this view:

After noting that Montero had originally programmed Baroque and Romantic period works from the mainstream piano repertoire as part one of her concert, I was disappointed that she served our audience only a portion of what was promised. It was an evening of only impromptu offerings and not a complete and satisfying sharing of the artist’s towering talent.

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