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As always, stronks has taken events from his life and translated them into work for the stage. "There's lots of restoration on the space, and at the same time, after all the work I did last year, I'm also in a place where I'm trying to restore some of me."
The work is called Restoration Software. Initially stronks thought of it as a piece about water and its cleansing, healing properties. After getting some feedback from viewers, he realized that wasn't it at all. "What I thought was going to be about the state of water...has become a dance about fire. I thought I was making a dance about water, but no, the people who saw it saw a dance about fire. That's good feedback. Did it offend me? No. Did it shock me? Oh, hell, yeah."
One of stronks's recurring stage personas is Miss Understood. "I was telling [a friend] some things that I had been hearing about myself and my work, and she said, 'Wow, you are the most misunderstood man in Houston!' I thought, 'Hey, I can work with that.' So I created Miss Understood in order to be able to stand up in front of people as an androgynous character who's going to stand up there in a dress and sing really pretty but at the same time is going to refuse to be a drag queen for you."
Miss Understood often sings, something stronks, who is a countertenor (also known as a male soprano), stopped doing after he became a dance major in college.
"Miss Understood is actually a piece of armor; I just have to own that I'm misunderstood and then I can do whatever I want because nobody's going to understand it anyway. As long as I stay true to my origin, as long as I am honoring the people who honored me, as long as I don't back down and I'm able to take responsibility for my action, then we're good."
The Apollo Chamber Players
During 2013, the Apollo Chamber Players made their Carnegie Hall debut, commissioned a new work, completed a successful East Coast tour and recorded a new CD that's set to be released later this month. Big steps, agrees Matthew Detrick, violinist, artistic director and co-founder of the group. "But if you're not going to dream big, you may as well go home," he says.
The company's current roster includes Detrick, Anabel Ramirez on violin, Whitney Bullock on viola and Matthew Dudzik on cello (violinist and co-founder Timothy Peters has left the group). And while Houston is awash in chamber music groups, Apollo has managed to set itself apart by focusing on the intersection between classical and folk music.
"There's no doubt classical composers were directly influenced by the folk music of their time and country," says Detrick. Brahms, for example spent lots of time as a child with his father in a local tavern, where he would have heard folk music being played. Mozart used Hungarian dances as the inspiration for some of his work. "You can see it more easily with some composers than others, but they were all influenced by it to one degree or another.
"I feel we have something unique to offer, and not just in the classical music world," Detrick says. "Music is music is music. It all kind of comes from the same place in us. The more that we highlight different cultures, the more amazing it is to me how much the music from different countries or ethnic groups has in common. Folk music from one culture is different from folk music from another culture, but it's the same in a lot of ways, too.
"The city of Houston is so diverse, our mission is to cater to that, to illuminate it to some extent. We could not do Apollo in any other city than Houston because it's such a diverse city and because there's so much support here."
During a recent East Coast tour that included a stop in New York's Carnegie Hall, Apollo performed its recently commissioned piece "Fantasy on Bulgarian Rhythms," written by composer and Rice University professor Karim Al-Zand. Dignitaries from the consulates general of Bulgaria and the Czech Republic in New York attended the concert and heaped praise on the group for its performance and mission. Official accolades aside, it was another moment during the tour that told the Players they were reaching their audience.
"At one show we had some Basque people in the audience, including an older woman who was pumping her fist up in the air," Detrick recalls. "You can tell when somebody responds to music. They appreciate it on a more fundamental level because it represents their culture, their life experience."
Exploring the relationship between classical and folk music is important to all members of the group, but it's especially personal to Detrick, who grew up playing in a family group with a similar repertoire. "I have two younger brothers who play the violin. My mother was a music teacher for 30 years. My dad, who had more of a folk sensibility, played the banjo, harmonica and sang. We would play Mozart pieces and other classical pieces and then, in the same program, transition into some religious folk numbers, fiddle tunes and spirituals. I wish I could take full credit for coming up with this idea, but looking back over the years, I realize I was meant to do this."