Saturday, March 20, 2010

Women Musicians Network 13th Annual Concert at the Berklee Performance Center March 4, 2010

Women Musicians Network 13th Annual Concert
at the Berklee Performance Center
March 4, 2010

Directed by Lucy Holstedt & Christiane Karam

By Reza Tokaloo

As a drummer and a music fan, I have been looking forward to this evening—and writing about it. I arrive at the event at 8:00 pm, 15 minutes before the opening act. My wife and I find two seats in the rapidly filling BPC. Looking around as the starting time approaches, the venue appears close to sold out.

At 8:15 Lucy Holstedt—our main emcee for the evening—walks onto the stage, along with fellow Berklee faculty member Christine Karam and student leader Arielle Schwalm. Lucy welcomes the audience, gives a brief overview of the W.M.N. group, and then the concert is off to a rousing start with a vibrant Brazilian act. Vocalist Tais Alvarenga and her Samba band have a hip-swaying intensity that fills the performance center.

This is just the first of 12 acts. Lucy Holstedt explained to me several days before that the W.M.N. “listening committee” received over 120 submissions last fall; this meant a long weekend of deciding which dozen would create the best, most diverse musical “set.” (Space constraints will prevent me from commenting on all the acts, but every one was first-rate—as evidenced by the applause that erupted frequently from the audience.)

Pianist Sonia Belousova, from St. Petersburg, Russia, is one of the crowd’s favorites. Her original “contemporary classical” piece Humouresque is an amazing demonstration of creativity, fun, passion and solo technical virtuosity.

Soon after, a rousing performance is turned in by Nadia Washington and her all-male band. Nadia mesmerizes the crowd with her composition When You Fall. Nadia’s silky voice has an amazing range. And what a great improvised segment between Nadia and her drummer! Great scat-vocalizing and stage presence make for a powerful song, and an equally strong crowd response.

Hanna Barakat’s Cycle takes us on a multi-faceted journey through her Lebanese identity, exploring both inner (personal) and outer (regional, Israeli-Palestinian) motifs in a piece that combines Middle Eastern rhythms and modern rock. Hanna’s group includes oud and quanun players, plus two backup singers. There is a strong peace message.

As the next act prepares to take the stage, Lucy announces that a special award is being given to Nabil and Joseph Sater, the “creative visionaries” responsible for the famous Middle East restaurants and nightclubs in Cambridge, as well as the extensive Center for Arts at the Armory, in Somerville.

A quick note on the history and mission of the W.M.N.: this student group, co-founded by Lucy Holstedt (also its faculty advisor) was created in response to a request by female students: as a minority at Berklee College of Music, they wanted a greater opportunity to perform. As the percentage of female students has increased, this annual concert has expanded to include a significant number of male performers. Still, the focus is on Berklee women—as composers, band leaders, bass players, lead guitarists, producers, and in other roles more often associated with men.

You don’t see lots of female drummers, for example, but Ayeisha Mathis is tremendous. I enjoy watching her as part of a group from City Music, the Berklee music education program that gives opportunities to public school students in the city. The group, Voices of Mercy, performs a gospel/spoken word piece inspired by the situation in Darfur (Sudan).

Another unique treat is the duo of Julgi Kang (violin) and Evan Veenstra (electric bass). Julgi and Evan playfully converse musically in the aptly titled Funky Caprice No. 24, Ms. Kang’s arrangement of a work by Paganini. Julgi’s violin takes on the serious voice, and Evan uses a slap bass technique in their quirky, virtuosic exchange.

Vocalist and songwriter Jill Peacock gives the evening some lyrical humor with her piece Embrace Technology, in which it quickly becomes clear that technology is the last thing she wishes to embrace. She has arranged a witty and well- written jazz study, with all members of her group giving very solid performances.

Indie-rock group Mrs. Danvers, led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Ann Driscoll, has gathered a solid cult following in the area after being together only about a year, and it sounds like a large number of their followers has turned out tonight. Mrs. Danvers presents solid instrumental chops and lots of classic rock moments in Driscoll’s What Did I Do.

The finale begins with Ayumi Ueda and her group Women of the World onstage, performing—with bassist Karien DeWaal—a song written by Karien and co-arranged with Ayumi. As Life Has a Cycle unfolds, two lines of Berklee women make their way down the aisles through the crowd and then up on stage to joining the others, forming an extended chorus. A very percussive piece, Cycle finally builds into the crescendo of the night, as all the evening’s prior performers come out and join in.

The Women Musicians Network 13th Annual Concert was a great event for Berklee and a treat for the surrounding community. The evening flowed extremely well and all of the acts moved steadily into each other with “tuning time” or other (typical) technical issues all but invisible. And it’s difficult to imagine a broader range of the musical spectrum being fit into an evening that lasted less than two hours.

You can get on the W.M.N. mailing list by going to They may have more events before the next annual concert, which is always held in March.

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