Festival review by Chalda Maloff
The 2005 Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival took place in Boulder, Colorado, less than a block from the location of the first festival in 1992. The mood was one of exuberance tempered with a good dose of wistfulness, this being perhaps the final fest. Jack Rummel was the perfect host, with an obvious devotion to the music, the performers, and the festival. His informative bits and anecdotes enhanced the fest experience, and his relaxed and intimate style made us feel like every one of us was his personal friend.
Scott Kirby set the tone for his performance and for the festival when he introduced his Charbonneau, saying it may be the last time he performed it before an audience for a long time. The moment was ripe to savor with this magnetically eerie, difficult to classify, piece.
Frank French interpreted Nazareth's Ouro Sobre Azul with polish and eloquence. He did not know the composer's reference in the title, which translates as "Gold Over Blue," but the shimmering quality of the music suggested the possibility that sun over the ocean was the inspiration. Sophie Rivard, graciously filling in for the ailing Chops Polonias, joined Frank for his Charmante Danseuse.
Joshua Rifkin's expressive interpretation of Joplin's Solace was a striking highlight of the weekend. His Bethena was dramatic and poignant, with commanding dynamics. I had last heard this piece live in Texarkana in 2003, played by Scott Kirby with tenderness and passion, rich in understated detail. Scott has often mentioned that some people claim all Ragtime sounds the same. This notion could be summarily dispelled with these two superb and starkly disparate interpretations of the identical work.
David Thomas Roberts performed his exquisite Discovery meticulously, with a new emotion around each bend. He interpreted a number of his earlier compositions, such as Kreole and Madison Heights Girl, with greater vivacity and life-affirmation than in previous renditions. In particular, two works from his New Orleans Streets had a more optimistic edge than when I last heard them live, in 2003 when he played the entire suite in one magical sitting.
A tribute to Jack Rummel's music by several performers showed the breadth and achievement of this composer. Highlights were Lone Jack to Knob Noster, my favorite dance-around-in-my-pj's piece (okay, that's more than you needed to know), and his Western Ragtime Trilogy, played by Brian Keenan. Jack and Sophie Rivard later gave us a piano and violin interpretation of the appealing waltz from this suite, When the Work is Done, I'll Dance, dedicated to the women who settled the West.
Brian Keenan played a number of his own compositions, including an affecting interpretation of the beautiful North Star and a joyful, rhythmic The Wagon Wheel, inspired by fond memories of a family restaurant. His performance of White Squall, composed while watching a snowfall out the window, transported us to the midst of a blizzard despite the ambient triple digit temperatures.
Scott Kirby and Sophie Rivard graced us with Nazareth's Favorito, a strongly melodic tango. In this captivating arrangement by Scott, the violin and piano seemed to melt together in flawless accord. Scott and Sophie also performed his Carousel, composed for his younger daughter, a complex yet accessible piece that had me humming it until people told me to stop.
David Thomas Roberts' symposium on Romanticism went beyond the musical. It examined this genre as a philosophy, a mindset, an approach to life that is as valid and meaningful today as in the nineteenth century.
Adam Yarian, just eighteen, showed impressive musical accomplishment, good stage presence, and a self-effacing sense of humor. His interpretation of Joplin's Weeping Willow was confident, creative, and more than held its own with renditions by seasoned performers. I look forward to watching his career unfold.
Sarah Roth Vanegas, another young performer, chose some technically challenging pieces and delivered them with a strong feeling for the spirit of the music. Her Odeon by Nazareth was especially well-executed. I had seen her perform on previous occasions and enjoyed observing her increased comfort and intimacy with the music.
Paul Asaro, unflappable despite a recent bout of altitude sickness, treated us to many of the festival's most spirited moments. With his musical facility and his fun, offhand attitude, he seemed especially at home in the casual Saturday afternoon cabaret. His spontaneous duets with Adam Yarian were impressive, all the more so when the "rehearsal" seemed to be a quick exchanged whisper and a couple of nods. In the humorous piece Aloyisius, Do the Dishes, Paul revealed a deceivingly cultivated voice, with skilled ethnic and cultural intonations, wit, and a dollop of pathos.
Ed Berlin's "Echoes of Ragtime" symposium was an enriching historical colloquium, examining this genre's relevance in broader contexts. The Rockyfest, with its treatment of Ragtime as a living musical form, is probably one of the very few places that many of us could have access to this level of intellectual discussion.
Jeff and Anne Barnhart played an eclectic selection of music on piano and flute, intermixed with jestful husband-and-wife banter. Their adaptations often had the flute take up the foreground passages that are usually played on piano, making for some innovative dialogs between the two instruments. Their moving interpretation of Gershwin's Summertime was especially popular with the audience. In an engagingly in-character solo piece, Jeff played and sang Cellophane from the musical "Chicago".
Frank French's rhythm symposium illustrated the natural integration of Ragtime with complex layered Latin and Caribbean beats. I gained a new appreciation for the challenge of playing some simple-looking percussion instruments, as Frank repeatedly corrected members of his makeshift rhythm ensemble and eventually threw up his arms and handed walking papers to the likes of Hal Isbitz.
Scott Kirby unveiled his interesting new art work, which like his music, focuses on Americana. His jewel-toned colors, curved fish-eye distortions, and exaggerated spatial perspective come together in a distinctive personal style. Check out his art website at www.scottkirby.net. (If you type in .com instead of .net you'll think he put on weight and took up guitar.)
The Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra delighted us with a marvelously well-crafted musical accompaniment to an old silent film, elevating to high art a genre which is often given scant notice.
The final evening held a personal treat for me, when Frank French and Sophie Rivard played a piece I had wanted to hear again since the 2002 Rockyfest. Their stirringly nostalgic interpretation of Josť White's La Bella Cubana was all I remembered it to be.
Frank French once described the enormous amount of work that goes into organizing the Rockyfest, fairly transparent to those of us who swoop in for a long weekend and head home afterwards. Thus I felt admiration and appreciation on the last evening, when Jack Rummel introduced a number of the people who had labored tirelessly on this festival for years, often with little mention.
Frank French's powerful and emotional interpretation of Gottschalk's El Cocoyé was the final musical piece. It would be hard to imagine a more fitting conclusion to this wonderful event.
I prefer to view life as a series of beginnings rather than endings. Earlier in the fest I was privy to a glimpse of some photos taken at the very first Rockyfest, the performers giddy with the excitement of a fresh undertaking. I anticipate that, in its turn, the 2005 fest will sow the seeds for new ventures.
Warm regards to my fellow TVSers,