untitledA Musical Walk Down Memory Lane

The good people at Video Artists International ( ) just sent us a set of two DVD’s for reviewing: Virtuoso Violinists, Vols. 1 and 2 (VAI DVD #4595 and #4598).

I was impressed by the diversity of the artists represented and baffled by the realization that quality DVD’s or even CD’s of their work are few and difficult to find.

In volumes 1 and 2, Christian Ferras, Yehudi Menuhin, Nathan Milstein, Henryk Szeryng, Mischa Elman, Michael Rabin, David Oistrakh, Ida Haendel, Joseph Suk and Aaron Rosand are seen and heard playing excerpts by Hubay, Sarasate, Mendelssohn, Paganini, Bach, Kreisler, Janáček and Brahms.

On two different tracks, the Istomin-Stern-Rose Trio plays the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Trio in C Minor, Op.1, No. 3, and the Guarnieri String Quartet plays a movement from Beethoven’s “Quartetto Serioso.”

The quality of the video is generally very good especially when considering that some of these clips are black and white reproductions of kinescopes dating back to the 1960’s.

The sound has been subtly enhanced so that the playing of these violinists can be enjoyed without question.

The accompanying artists range from the Orchestre de Radio-Canada to the Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra, to pianists Robert Koenig and Sviatoslav Richter, among others. They all do their job to satisfaction, allowing the spotlight to shine on the soloists.

Isaac Stern, Christiane Ferras, Yehudi Menuhin, Nathan Milstein, Misha Elman, Joseph Szigeti, Zino Francescatti and Michael Rabin were concertizing when many of us were still in school and had neither the money nor the opportunity to hear great artists in person.

Lucky us that we had the Bell Telephone Hour in the 1960’s and we got to hear these artists in our living rooms.

To evaluate in depth the playing of over a dozen artists in 21 selections is well beyond the scope of this review. To single any out would be a fool’s errand. Suffice for me to say that the title of virtuoso given to these artists in the title of the two DVD set is well deserved.

The names of Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin are more than well known and their discographies extensive. On the other hand, Josef Suk, Ida Haendel, Aaron Rosand and several other colleagues of theirs are more familiar to the connoisseur than to the average listener of classical music. This DVD set is for many an initiation into the art of violin playing.

Having these legendary performers back to back on DVD is a musical treat for any one regardless of age. For anyone fortunate enough to have heard any of them in person, this DVD set constitutes a musical walk down memory lane.

VAI is accumulating an extraordinary library of archival CD’s and DVD’s of Opera, song, instrumental music, and Broadway shows. We look forward to more of their one of a kind offerings.

Rafael de Acha
All About Arts.


Mario Diament

Mario Diament: A true citizen of the world, a pragmatist, a disillusioned idealist with a deep love for theatre, life, and the arts.

In 1998, Mario proposed to me to have New Theatre do his The Story of Ruth.

The theme hooked me at once. The story, based on Mario’s own family, several members of which never survived the Holocaust, concerns the story of an old woman who wanders into an attic in search of an object she has misplaced. In the process of looking for whatever it is she has lost, she encounters memory after memory from her past, in the persons of former lovers, long-dead relatives, herself as child, young woman, and adult woman.

It was a bold and irresistible concept, and it caught my interest in no time. We closed the season 1999-2000 with Mario’s newly-titled The Book of Ruth. It was the largest cast we had ever employed to date at New Theatre, with ten actors playing over 20 roles on a set that depicted a cramped attic full of old furniture.

It was a critical and audience success. Most importantly, it cemented an artistic mutual-trust between Mario and I that lasts to this day, not to mention a great friendship.

Over the next six years Mario gave us three more great plays. The four plays of Mario’s we did at New Theatre have enjoyed a healthy life after their Florida premieres. Smithereens, Blind Date, The Book of Ruth, Lost Tango all have received European and Argentine productions. Mario is quite prolific, and more plays will surely be coming out of his fertile imagination, as it has already been the case.

Mario’s writing is a rare amalgam with a very strong dose of Jewish irony, gallows humor, and old-world philosophy. Add to that mix  a sassy Argentine sensibility born not far from the riverside bars where the tango was born. All of that coalesces into a style that changes from play to play according to the dramatic requirements at hand.

Mario is a true citizen of the world, a pragmatist, a disillusioned idealist with a deep love for theatre, life, and the arts.

I never have had a better time directing new plays than with Mario’s. Nor have I had better conversations with any other theatre person. I am so lucky to have him for a friend and to have done his work.

Rafael de Acha,

All About The Arts



Playwrights Who Matter: JT Rogers

JT’s writing came to my attention by way of an unsolicited submission from his agent – John Buzzetti – who sent me a copy of White People . The writing immediately appealed to me: politically-charged, muscular, straightforward and ruthlessly honest. In spite of the difficult structure of the play: three separate monologues by three characters using direct-address interconnecting thematically but almost never dramatically, the play and its characters fly off the page, begging to be staged. The character of the woman achieves tragic stature as a victim-come-to-collect from her victimizers. The men – one an unredeemed racist, the other an East Coast liberal college professor – are equally-memorable creations: tragically flawed, conflicted, contradictory.

In Madagascar, oblique intimations of incest and familial betrayal coexist with elegant talk about Roman antiquity and travel, all couched in a dense, complex, uncannily theatrical language. In The Overwhelming, the theme of the Holocaust of an African nation is taken on unflinchingly, along with an insightful examination of our American culpability and the cruel, clueless crass attitude towards the debacle of the contemporary third world that permeating our think tanks.

JT has the courage to write about the unpalatable. His courage pays off in the long run, as witness his Madagascar, which won the coveted Osborne Prize from the American Theatre Critics Association, and his The Overwhelming, picked up for a production and a tour of Great Britain by the National Theatre, no less.

Most recently, JT won the Tony Award for Best Play for Oslo, which has gone on to pre-production and casting at the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain.

JT’s day is here, finally. With a young family to support, this could not happen to a more deserving, more valiant man of the theatre.

Rafael de Acha

Rafael Music NotesAll About the Arts



isabelle-eberhardt-portraitsIsabelle Eberhardt, Swiss-born explorer, world traveler, cross-dresser, Sufi Muslim….

Song from the Uproar is a joint effort between the Cincinnati Opera and concert:nova on stage at the Aronoff from the 17th through the 21st of this month.

With music by Missy Mazzoli and libretto by Royce Vavrek, mezzo-soprano Abigail Fisher in the title role, an ensemble that encompasses singers Melissa Harvey, Emma Sorenson, Benjamin Lee and Olusola Fadiran and concert:nova instrumentalists Ron Aufmann, Randy Bowman, Ric Hordinski, Julie Spangler, and Matt Zory, led by Keitaro Hirada, this promises to be an important musical event.

The music-theatre piece tells in a series of vignettes the life story and exploits of the mysterious Swiss woman Isabelle Eberhardt.


Rafael de Acha


boyd meets girl

In their latest CD, Rupert Boyd pairs up his guitar to the cello of Laura Metcalf. It is a musical match made in Heaven.

Reflexões No. 6 by Bolivian-born composer Jaime Zenamon is a three-part miniature for cello and guitar that announces its South American provenance in the first few bars of its first movement. Boyd and Metcalf play it with gusto and flair. Gabriel Faure’s Pavane. Op. 50 is next and played elegantly:

Boyd and Metcalf are purposeful musicians ideally equipped to tackle the severe intricacies of J.S. Bach’s two-part inventions, nos. 6, 8, 10 and 13. Originally written for the keyboard, the inventions are here divided up (left hand to the guitar, right hand to the cello) with unexpectedly felicitous sonorities.

Aratura Arioso, a work adapted by Australian composer Ross Edwards from his own concerto for guitar, is a a calmly evocative piece, sensitively delivered here by the Boyd-Metcalf duo.

A lively South American composition, Allegretto Comodo, by Brazilian composer, Radames Gnattali again evidences the artists’ penchant for the music of the Southern Hemisphere. It is later followed on the CD by Cafe 1930, a plangently moody piece by Astor Piazzolla.

I have heard the Siete Canciones Populares Españolas by Manuel de Falla played by any number of instrumental combinations in quite a variety of arrangements, and I was sure I was not going to like once more the absence of the lyrics De Falla assigned to what is essentially a set of folk songs.

But, as I listened to Boyd and Metcalf, I was won over by their way with the music and ended up immensely enjoying the seven songs that make up the little cycle.

Arvo Pärt ‘s Spiegel im Spiegel takes the duo far afield from their largely Romantic recital. It is a deceivingly simple composition based on a series of ascending and descending figures taken up by the solo cello while the guitar accompanies it with arpeggio chords. The overall effect is hauntingly hypnotic.

The album ends with Michael Jackson’s Human Nature. It is not the sort of composition one would expect to keep company with Bach, de Falla et al, but he Boyd-Metcalf duo accords it the same impeccable treatment that it gives to the rest of the music in the album.

The album (SONO LUMINUS DSL-92217) has been neatly packaged, accompanied by insightful notes by both the artists, and flawlessly engineered by Daniel Shores.