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Best Virtual Bets: Seven Limbs, Two Sonatas, and the Rebirth of a Nation

Pianist Howard Watkins and bass-baritone Timothy Jones will join ROCO for a streaming celebration of Margaret Bonds.EXPAND
Pianist Howard Watkins and bass-baritone Timothy Jones will join ROCO for a streaming celebration of Margaret Bonds.
Photo by Blueprint Film Co
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February 4 is National Thank a Mail Carrier Day. So before you settle in on the couch, or at a desk, or lounging in bed, for this week’s best virtual bets, be sure to thank your mail carrier or Amazon delivery person for a job well done.

First, a number of theater productions are closing this week, including the Mildred’s Umbrella release of The Drowning Girls (through February 6), the Alley Theatre’s production of The Stronger (through February 7), 4th Wall Theatre Company’s presentation of Random Acts (through February 7), and Ann at Stages (also through February 7). Be sure to catch them before it’s too late.

Though “perhaps near the top of the very short list of African-American female composers,” Margaret Bonds has largely been forgotten, due in no small part to the fact that much of her music was lost after her death in 1972. In 2018, an MFAH librarian discovered an unknown recording of Bonds right here in our own backyard, and in celebration, this Thursday, February 4, at 7 p.m. ROCO will be joined by pianist Howard Watkins and bass-baritone Timothy Jones to present works from Bonds and those who influenced and were influenced by her, such as Florence Price and Robert Owens. You can view the livestreamed chamber concert, ROCO Connections: Celebration of Margaret Bonds, performed straight from the galleries of Rienzi, here and on Facebook Live.

The show, in this case the opera, will go on as Houston Grand Opera went virtual for the first time to find the nine finalists for their Concert of Arias, the 33rd Annual Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers. HGO’s Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers, HGO Artistic Advisor Ana María Martínez and OPERA San Antonio General Director E. Loren Meeker will decide which of the two sopranos, two mezzo-sopranos, countertenor, baritone, and three tenors will take home up to $10,000 in cash prizes. Also, you at home can text in your choice for the Audience Choice Award. This year’s Concert of Arias, hosted by soprano Tamara Wilson, will be streamed live from the Wortham Theater Center on Friday, February 5, at 7 p.m. on HGO’s social platforms.

Houston-based ensemble Aperio will present “Seven Limbs” on Friday, February 5, at 7:30 p.m. The new evening-length work from Douglas J. Cuomo is written for string quartet and guitar and will feature the Aizuri Quartet and Nels Cline, whose name you may recognize as the lead guitarist for Wilco. Cline plays the electric and acoustic guitar on the piece’s seven movements, or “limbs,” which are based on the Tibetan Buddhist practice of purification with “limbs” such as offering, confession, and dedication. This virtual event will be streamed live and you can purchase a $10 ticket to view here.

In 2013, The New Yorker ran a story proclaiming the worst thing about The Birth of a Nation, “D. W. Griffith’s disgustingly racist yet titanically original 1915 feature,” was how good it is. On Saturday, February 6, at 7:30 p.m. Society for the Performing Arts will present DJ Spooky’s Rebirth of a Nation, where Paul D. Miller, the “sometime turntablist and electronic musician” known as DJ Spooky, remixes the film and pairs it with a score brought to life by Kronos Quartet. DJ Spooky once explained that “in a certain sense what I'm doing is portraying the film as [Griffith] intended it," adding “it's not letting him off the hook so much as presenting the film and actually having it fall in on itself." Tickets can be purchased here for $20.

Fabien Gabel will return to the Houston Symphony this weekend to present an all-French program.
Fabien Gabel will return to the Houston Symphony this weekend to present an all-French program.
Photo by Steìphane Bourgeois

French conductor Fabien Gabel returns to the Bayou City this weekend to lead the Houston Symphony in Fabien Gabel Conducts French Masterworks. The program will feature new work from Camille Pépin and Henri Tomasi’s Fanfares liturgiques, but the highlight of the evening will be Francis Poulenc’s Sinfonietta. The closest Poulenc ever got to composing a symphony, it’s been said that “one might call this delightful piece a parody on the classical symphonic forms of Mozart and Haydn,” one “full of Poulenc’s trademark charm and wit” and a “gem of mid-century French music.” The concert will be livestreamed on Saturday, February 6, at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here for $20, and ticket holders can also attend a Prelude discussion with Musical Ambassador Carlos Andrés Botero before the show to learn more about the program.

Honor Black History Month with the Ensemble Theatre’s online, streaming production of I, Too, Am America. Written by the Founder and Executive Director of Hattiloo Theatre, Ekundayo Bandele, and directed by Ensemble Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris, the play traces the journey of African Americans through important historical events and reenactments of scenes from seminal works, like August Wilson’s Fences. Along the way, expect to hear plenty of recognizable music in this regional premiere and an original song composed by Melanie Bivens. I, Too, Am America will begin streaming Sunday, February 7, and continue through Sunday, February 28. The $25 ticket will purchase you a 48-hour rental.

This Tuesday, February 9, at 7 p.m. DACAMERA will present two of Sergei Prokofiev’s three “War Sonatas,” Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 and Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major, Op. 84, during Solzhenitsyn and Prokofiev: The War Years. Pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn will perform these works from the Menil Collection, and following the concert, you can join DACAMERA Artistic Director Sarah Rothenberg in conversation with Solzhenitsyn to learn more about Prokofiev and the pianist’s own father, the Nobel laureate who authored One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Both the concert and post-concert conversation are free to view, but registration is required.

If you’re a fan of Theatre Under the Stars, then you already know that the second season of the TUTS Spotlight is well underway. If you didn’t know, you can still catch the season-opening conversation with Vanessa Williams and last week’s episode, the first TUTS Spotlight in Spanish, while you wait for the third episode featuring Jennifer Holliday. The owner of two Grammys and a Tony will join TUTS Artistic Director Dan Knechtges on Wednesday, February 10, at 7 p.m. in conversation, one that will likely span her Broadway debut in 1979 to the role she’s still synonymous with, Effie White in Dreamgirls, and much more.

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