Arts

Arts and culture

It's that time of year when we start hearing admonitions to think about the true meaning of the season. And composer and librettist Mark Adamo is down with that. Best known for his acclaimed operatic adaptations of Little Women and Lysistrata, his latest is Becoming Santa Claus, a family-friendly Christmas work produced by Dallas Opera.

Amid the ubiquitous din of annual chestnuts like "Jingle Bells" and "Let it Snow," you may be surprised to learn that people are actually writing new holiday songs. And as it turns out, some of them are pretty great.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

It may not look like a “winter wonderland” in northern Illinois right now, but it will SOUND like one this weekend in downtown Rockford. That’s because J.R. Sullivan’s 20th production of his “Hometown Holiday” variety show hits the stage at the Nordlof Center. 

One of the themes this time around is an unhappy Santa: he's tired of night-flying in his sleigh, he's sick of gluten-free cookies, and he's just not feeling the magic any more. Not so for Hometown Holiday founder J.R. Sullivan, who is still feeling the spirit more than two decades after he put together the first show. 

When you think of Cuban music, contemporary classical most likely isn't the first — or possibly even fifth — genre that springs to mind. But a group of American composers and musicians couldn't resist an opportunity to travel to the island to present their own music and seek out their Cuban colleagues' work — and frankly, neither could I. We traveled together last month to the Havana Festival of Contemporary Music, for the event's 28th edition.

Jean Sibelius, born 150 years ago on Dec. 8, 1865, was the first Finnish composer to reach an international audience, but his popularity began at home. In the late 1890s, Finland was a part of the Russian empire and its people were striving for independence.

Two writers meet in a bar called The Jesuit in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The older one is struggling to finish the final book in his contract. The younger one hopes to repeat his one publishing success.

They only met the day before; but the older man, Nigel Moon, proposes a deal:

"What Moon would like the other writer to do is ghost-write this final book for him," says Craig Hart, author of the novel Becoming Moon, our first Winter Book Series selection for this season.

Cameron Carpenter plays the organ in a way you'll rarely hear in church. He travels with his instrument on a huge truck, and it takes a small team to set it up in concert halls around the world. A virtuoso composer and performer who plays everything from Bach to pop, not to mention the first organist ever to be Grammy-nominated for a solo album, Carpenter says his connection to the instrument goes back even further than his interest in music.

In the new movie Youth, an elderly, retired composer-conductor is called upon to conduct for the first time in years. He's an Englishman named Fred Ballinger — and the request is from Queen Elizabeth II. It seems Ballinger's composition Simple Songs, written when he was a much younger man, is the only thing the Queen's husband, Prince Phillip, will listen to.

NIU School of Theatre & Dance

The NIU School of Theatre & Dance presents a work that didn’t exist a few months ago.  And it doesn’t have an author in the traditional sense.   “Women In To the Light”* is what is called a ‘devised’ play. 

A “devised” theater piece is defined as one without an author, or script, as usually understood.  Instead, it is the result of a process of collaboration and improvisation by the performers.

If we're relying on the younger generation to help boost interest in classical music, look no further than Teddy Abrams.

Pages