DETROIT: Art X Encore

21 Apr

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As Art X Detroit continues its stronghold on the Sugar Hill Arts District we carefully scan the schedule of performances. We coordinate our times and venues and head out for another evening of music and art. We begin with a visit to the Music Box at the Max M Fisher Music Center, Xiao Dong Wei is performing in the 450 seat recital hall. This is our first time in the Music Box, in honor of Xiao lovely orange lanterns hang above the stage, we ascend the stairs about halfway up to find open seats. Born in China and studying the Erhu (2-stringed Chinese violin) since age 5, Xiao is a versatile musician. She plays several instruments in a variety of genres including, traditional Chinese folk tunes, Jazz, Classical and American Bluegrass. She now lives in Detroit and is a 2012 recipient of a Kresge Artist Fellowship. Before long the music begins, Xiao, dressed in an exquisite coral colored qi pao, is accompanied by Yuki Mack, a Japanese born Steinway Roster piano virtuoso, who also just so happens to be an old high school classmate of mine. The melody is distinctly Asian, I have never seen an Erhu being played in person, it is fascinating to watch. Basically a stick with a box on the end and a couple of strings, how can it create such beautiful music? We stay for the first four pieces, at times she was joined by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble, other pieces were done as duets. For us it is an incredible opportunity to experience enchanting music in a fresh environment.

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Next on the schedule, Terry Peake introduces his new band Fireloom at the DIA. We are anxious to check out the performance; the band is termed an instrumental, progressive rock band, they will play in front of a screen where a 1960’s era oil light show will be projected by Jon Hudson, sounds cool!  There’s something special about going to the DIA at night, we climb the front steps, give The Thinker a wave and enter through the stunning glass and wrought iron doors; the lighting inside low and mysterious. It’s difficult not to proceed to the Grand Hall and have a look around, but we have a show to catch…..We arrive at the lecture hall to find every seat taken, there is barely enough room for us to stand at the back of the room, it is very warm, we can only glimpse the screen, after a few songs we decide to move on.

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We continue on foot to the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History ; Ara Topouzian is performing in the General Motors Theater. Born in Detroit, the Armenian-American is a widely recognized kanunist,  someone who plays the Kanun, a 76-stringed lap-top harp. We enter the theater and are relieved to find open seating. Seats surround the stage in a semi-circle, the angle is steep, allowing even the shortest visitor a perfect view of the performers. The music has already begun, we quietly sit down. Four musicians dressed in black are onstage, they play traditional Armenian instruments. The song comes to an end and Ara introduces the next piece; a large screen acts as a backdrop, vintage photos of people and events appear, I am guessing the faces are of family and friends. The music is delightful, it feels happy, celebratory, audience members clap and sway along. When the last note is played we make our exit, a table selling CD’s is set up in the hall, it is Ara’s own label American Recording Productions, we pick one out, anxious to give it a listen later.

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We are back outside walking toward MOCAD, in the distance we see Maccabees at Midtown and decide to stop in for a drink. Inside we take a seat at the bar, the atmosphere is lively, it is Friday night after all. The bar top is a gorgeous white marble, lit from underneath it seems to glow, the hanging light fixtures too are attention-getting. We sip our drinks overlooking Woodward Ave, foot traffic is heavier due to Art X. We don’t sit for long as we have one more show to catch. 

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Over at MOCAD Chris Pottinger will perform Congealed: A Festival of Solo Experimental Sound & Art; this will definitely be the most unusual performance of the evening. Once again the room is packed with people, the lights are low, permitting the original artwork being shown on the screen to stand out. Pottinger is both musician and visual artist, he explores the connection between sight and sound. We watch him, guitar laying flat across his lap, amplifier cranked up, as he strikes the strings with his hands, the sound resonates throughout the building. A smattering of foot pedals are scattered about on the floor, the tone and sound change when a bow passes over the strings. This continues as the scenes behind the artist change, the artwork the inspiration for the sound. I look around, fascination plays upon the faces in the audience, a constant stream of people pass the stage pausing to take a photo. I glance over at Kris and notice we share the same perplexed look, clearly we’re not this musically advanced….but the audience sure enjoyed it! The show wraps up at about 11pm. It has been a full evening; we feel as if we have visited China, Africa and on to Armenia, we have gone from traditional to experimental and we never had to leave Detroit.

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One Response to “DETROIT: Art X Encore”

  1. Barbara Dorda April 22, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Once again you have taken me on a delightful trip. I had never heard of an Erhu before this!

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