Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: RSO gives reason to celebrate with 'Happy Birthday, Amadeus!'

There'll be a birthday celebration in Berks County on Saturday for someone we know all so well. The Reading Symphony Orchestra's "Happy Birthday, Amadeus!" will celebrate Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 262nd birthday at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in West Reading. The event will begin at 7:30 p.m., with a program featuring one of the most sought-after soloists in his generation of young American musicians, pianist Orion Weiss, in Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 21."

Weiss is stepping in for soloist Boris Slutsky, who needed to withdraw from the performance due to illness, the RSO announced Thursday.

Weiss, the recipient of numerous awards, has performed with major American orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and New York Philharmonic.

Saturday's all-Mozart concert also will feature the dramatic Overture to the famed opera, "Don Giovanni," and "Symphony No. 39," one of Mozart's final three symphonies.

The RSO season will continue with "Soaring Strings" on March 3 at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, welcoming two of its own violinists, Christopher Collins Lee and Eliezer Gutman; "Glorious Gershwin" on April 14, in a tribute to American composer George Gershwin with bass-baritone Kevin Deas and soprano Julie-Ann Green, and pianist Simon Mulligan; and "Picture This!" on May 5, with artist Michele Byrne creating during Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," and also pianist Ilya Yakushev. The latter two concerts will be held at the Santander Performing Arts Center in downtown Reading.

RSO music director is Andrew Constantine.

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The winter snows may have brought us down a bit, but now it's time for a good laugh or two with the fifth annual SteelStacks Improv Comedy Festival on Friday and Saturday at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. There'll be plenty of improvisation with an improvised action movie, interactive one-man show, puppets, live comic book creation, and teams from the acclaimed UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) Theatre in New York. The action kicks off Friday from 6 p.m. to midnight and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Headliners are the Hip-Hop improv troupe, North Coast, and The Law Firm with Sue Galloway, "30 Rock" alum and "SNL" freelance writer. Galloway appeared in "Sisters"alongside Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and HBO's "Girls."

Members of The Law Firm, which performs weekly at the UCB Theatre, have starred in and written for "Broad City," "Best Week Ever," and "Late Night with Seth Meyers," to name some. The Law Firm performs Friday at 9:35 p.m.

Hip-Hop improv group, North Coast, performs Saturday at 9:30 p.m., with a cast of improv comedy veterans from UCB, the Peoples Improv Theater and The Magnet theaters in New York City.

Also at the festival will be 50 other improv comedy groups from New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and San Francisco. Lehigh Valley improv comedy groups will include Yard Sale, GOOSEMAN, Staycation, The Associated Mess, Giggle *Tux, Be Determined, Hobo Army, UiP Muhlenberg, VanDamage, Synced Up, Yo JP!, The Fourtets, #Bestof, Family Laundry, Dream Carnival, The Flumplenarfs, Cranks & Pulleys, Cat Sweaters, and #News.

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Award-winning guest company, Happenstance Theater from Washington, D.C., kicks off the 2018 season for Touchstone Theatre in Bethlehem, February 1-4, with an absurdist romp titled "BrouHaHa."
The existential escapade of the show follows a troupe of six clowns walking the precipice at the end of the world with pathos and levity. Along the way, they sing, tumble, serve drinks, and find moments of connection.

The original show, devised by Happenstance actors, was inspired partly from the dark comedy of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett ("Waiting for Godot"), and from Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini's late Neorealist-derived film about circus performers, "La Strada," as well as Greek mythology, images of fleeing refugees, and Victorian-inspired aesthetics.

There will be a brief post-performance talkback with the performers.

Happenstance Theater is rooted in the traditions of commedia dell’arte, clowning, circus, and vaudeville and is committed to creating original theatrical work that celebrates the moment of exchange between performers and audience.


Touchstone Theatre presents a concert fundraiser, "Jakopa’s Punch Bowl," on February 9 from 7 to 10 p.m., at the Charles A. Brown Ice House in Bethlehem. The Mardi-Gras-themed event will feature eclectic music by three local bands: The Bastard Sons of Burt Sugarman; Mike Roi and Carter Lansing, and The Charts Funk Band comprised of students from the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts.

Last year in Bethlehem, Jakopa's Punch played a score of original music in the outdoor, summer puppet spectacular, "The Jakopa's Punch Processional." This year, the group will accompany Touchstone's spring production, "Dictators for Dummies," a musical satire penned by Touchstone ensemble member and Jakopa’s Punch instrumentalist, Christopher Shorr.

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Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra will present its "Winter Vivaldi" concert on Sunday at 3 p.m., at Wesley Church, 2540 Center Street, Bethlehem, featuring Father Sean Brett Duggan, pianist and frequent soloist with the group. Father Duggan will perform Johann Sebastian Bach's "Piano Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1051."

A monk at Saint Joseph Abbey in Louisiana, Duggan specializes in the works of Bach.

Winter Vivaldi has a repertoire for chamber ensemble, rather than full orchestra, and features principal instrumentalists of the Sinfonia. In Sunday's program, trumpet oboe and bassoon will take center stage in turns, supported by strings and harpsichord.

Founder and music director of the Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra is Dr. Allan Birney.

Sunday's program also will feature Sinfonia principal trumpeter Lawrence Wright in a work by Georg Telemann. The ensemble will perform work by Antonio Vivaldi and Jan Dismas Zelenka. 

There will be a post-concert reception with the musicians.

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NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) Jazz Master Charles Lloyd and his band, The Marvels, will open the 2018 season at the Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette College in Easton on Saturday at 8 p.m. The legendary saxophonist Lloyd is recognized for injecting influences from around the world into his layered improvisations.

Young Norwegian trumpet player, Tine Thing Helseth, will make her debut with the Grammy Award-winning Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on Feb. 2 at 8 p.m., with works by Bach and Albinoni. The conductor-less orchestra also will perform works by Rossini, Haydn, and Mozart.

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Women are the focus at the Allentown Art Museum in Allentown on Sunday, with the opening of the exhibition, "Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment," which runs through April 8. The exhibition features 100 photographs by 11 award-winning and influential female photojournalists, including moving depictions of far-flung cultures, compelling illustrations of conceptual topics such as memory and teenage brain chemistry and arresting images of social issues like child marriage and 21st century slavery.

The exhibition is organized and traveled by the National Geographic Society and underscores National Geographic’s history of documenting the world through photography and its ongoing commitment to supporting photographers as important and innovative storytellers who can make a difference with their work. Curator is former National Geographic senior photo editor, Elizabeth Krist.

Photographers in the exhibition are: Lynsey Addario; Kitra Cahana; Jodi Cobb; Diane Cook; Carolyn Drake; Lynn Johnson; Beverly Joubert; Erika Larsen; Stephanie Sinclair; Maggie Steber, and Amy Toensing.

Photographer and pilot Marilyn Bridges will open the exhibition on Sunday at 1 p.m., with a presentation about her own sky photography of landscapes below, currently on display in the museum's Fuller Gallery.

Over the next 10 weeks, the museum will be the staging point for the conversation and discourse that the photographs ignite. Events include a teen photography workshop series, visual dialogues series, a day-long symposium of women artists and speakers, guided tours, and panel discussions.

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