Spring brings blossoms of motets and octets and chamber pieces and symphonies to Richmond.
Amid the upcoming bouquet of performances is the two-year-old Seraph Brass, an all female brass quintet, led by Chicago-raised, Naples, Florida–based Richmond Symphony member Mary Bowden. She, with Seraph, will perform at 7 p.m. on April 10 at River Road Church, 8000 River Road, as part of the E. Carl Freeman Concert Series.
Bowden, third child of an electrician father and graphic designer mother, grew up alongside two older brothers who played horn and trombone. “My first teacher would come and stay with us all day and then take us to concerts in Chicago,” Bowden recalls. “I was extremely fortunate in that regard — and it was fun, too.”
Hearing her brothers practice led her along the brass path and an academic career that began her college studies at age 14. This path went to the Curtis Institute of Music and a full scholarship to the Yale School of Music, where she earned a Master of Music degree in 2006. Bowden’s trumpet took her on journeys, leading her to play in professional organizations from Arkansas to Switzerland, Korea to Auckland, New Zealand. Music also led her to Richmond, where she lived from 2006 to 2010.
The idea for a female brass ensemble occurred to her and horn player Katy Ambrose while still at Yale. “There are many brass groups that exist and mainly male,” Bowden says “We were thinking it would be empowering and inspiring to young brass players, to make a statement.”
Seraph possesses a deep musical bench. All the members have traveled extensively with various organizations. They live in separate places and unite for these events which is a common practice for many of these chamber groups. The members are: Ambrose, horn (Professor of Horn at the University of Virginia and Principal Horn of the Charlottesville Symphony); Alexis Smith, trombone (recent Juilliard graduate, performs with the Palm Beach Symphony); Amy McCabe, trumpet (member of the President's Own Marine Band in DC); and Beth McDonald, tuba (Chicago chamber musician, performs in the summer with the Lucerne Academy Orchestra in Switzerland).
They’ve got brass. Seraph (l to r): Beth McDonald, Alexis Smith, Mary Bowden, Amy McCabe, Katy Ambrose. (Photo courtesy TK)
“I work really hard in keeping us organized and getting the word about who we are and what makes us unique,” Bowden said. Like all the members, she was on the phone on her way to a Swarthmore College concert.
Seraph’s first year was one of figuring out the repertoire and solidifying commitments. “Next year’s a big year for us,” she says. “We’ll play 35 dates.” That itinerary includes two tours of the Midwest and residencies in Texas and North Carolina. Seraph received invitation from River Road Baptist’s music director
“People think of groups like the Canadian Brass, for example. But we do modern music and popular music. We want people to know our names and tour the world together.”
Before you see them on River Road on April 8, they’ll appear on WTVR’s “Virginia This Morning.” The concert program will include "The Queen of the Night Aria” from Mozart’s "The Magic Flute," selections from “Porgy and Bess,” and works by contemporary composers Anthony DiLorenzo and Anthony Plog’s “4 Sketches For Brass Quintet.”
Here’s a sampler.
The Musicircus roles into University of Richmond’s Booker Hall around 9 p.m., April 13. Orchestrated by percussionist Brian Jones, it’s a tribute to composer/artist John Cage and started in Richmond more than 10 years ago, inaugurated at the old Chop Suey Books location near VCU, and has moved around to various venues since then.
Musicircus immediately follows a contemporary chamber concert by the MacArthur "Genius Grant" and Grammy award-winning Eighth Blackbird. They're performing with the Matt Ulery Trio; info and tickets are here. You go to both and your hipness tank will remain full for at least a month.
As for Musicircus, basically what happens is that for a solid hour, the entire three floors of Booker Hall will resound with the combinations, accidental and purposeful, from all kinds of musicians -- perhaps more than 50 -- making many kinds of music with a variety of instruments and objects (and sometimes plants). I’ve experienced this several times—even participated through reading -- and it’s intense. Here’s more information about what a Musicircus is, in advance of 2015’s effort.
"Every year, I get a call, 'Hey, why don't we do this again?,'" Jones says. "The pretentious word is to 'curate' the event," and he gives a somewhat weary chuckle. "People seem to like it, so, I guess we'll keep doing it."
And, well, you may see me there, reading from my famous unpublished novel as part of the proceedings.
Here’s video from last year at Chop Suey:
Mozart is back and better than ever Saturday, April 16, 11 a.m to 11 p.m. at various locations throughout Jackson Ward, for the third annual Mozart Festival sponsored by the Classical Revolution RVA.
Full disclosure: I’ll be reading from an adaptation by Kyra Teis of “The Magic Flute” at 1 p.m. at the Atlas, the Art 180 space (114 W. Marshall Street). The performance is prior to a crafts experience at noon, where kids and adults may create recorder instruments from carrots. (A full calendar is here.
Organizer Ellen Cockerham Riccio is a busy performer, and plays second principal violin with the Richmond Symphony, yet she can’t seem to help herself when it comes to Wolfgang Amadeus. But this is about making the music accessible and presenting to audiences who might not even think about actual people through instruments stirring to life the soul of a composer. Which is what this music is capable of.
Ellen Cockerham (photo courtesy of Classical Revolution RVA)
“It’s hard to believe it’s year three,” she says. “But each year, more than a year passes: first one was in March, second in March and now April, so it’s every 13 months.”
The first two events packed every venue used in Carytown even during freezing rain. More than 100 musicians are joining together to present Mozart chamber music, symphonies and operas. All of the events are free and open to all ages.
Various small groups are performing chamber music and art song at Gallery5 and Black Iris Gallery (with a piano of wood and ivory and wire not one you plug in). Food trucks will be parked outside both locations. Black Hand Coffee at Black Iris will be pouring its special “Don Giovanni” blend.
For a bigger, richer Mozart experience, (thanks to the sponsorship of Joe and Caroline Murillo), at Candela Books + Gallery (214 W. Broad St.) at 4 p.m., attend a full orchestra augmented by members of the Richmond Symphony chorus, conducted by the RSO’s new Associate Conductor, Chia-Hsuan Lin, presenting excerpts from Mozart’s symphonies, the Requiem, and his concerto for flute and harp. And, oh, yes, wine and Hardywood beer will be available.
And what would a Richmond Mozart Festival be without burlesque? Exactly. Well, Cockerham & Co. have that covered, or uncovered, 9 p.m. at Gallery5, hosted by the irrepressible Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside – and I wonder just what kind of wig she’ll wear - with members of The Richmond Burlesque Revue (Melody Magpie, Jo'Rie Tigerlily, Zadora Zaftig, and Deepa de Jour), plus a bellydance by Khalima and her dance troupe, Laterna.
The burlesque performance is ticketed.