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Best Virtual Bets: Bach, Cinema Arts, and Fine Wine

Arturo Chacón Cruz as Duke of Mantua surrounded by HGO chorus members in Houston Grand Opera’s 2019-2020 production of Rigoletto.
Arturo Chacón Cruz as Duke of Mantua surrounded by HGO chorus members in Houston Grand Opera’s 2019-2020 production of Rigoletto.
Photo by Lynn Lane

Looking for entertainment, but unwilling to leave the house? Well, we’ve got a film-plus-more festival, legendary composers, a Broadway star, and a stock character put under a new spotlight, all from Houston’s top arts organizations, to keep you happy this coming week. In other words, there are plenty of incentives for you to relax for yet another night in.

Under a celebratory banner of “Urbana,” a theme inspired by the phrase música urbana (a phrase currently under “scrutiny” at the very least), the Houston Cinema Arts Festival will open today, November 12, in an almost entirely virtual format for its twelfth year. Despite the move online, the festival still boasts an impressive lineup of more than 40 films, short film blocks, Q&A’s, live music and DJ sets, dance performances and workshops. Highlights include the festival opener Mogul Mowgli, from Houston’s Bassam Tariq; a screening and conversation around Horton Foote: The Road to Home, co-presented with the Alley; tributes to Selena and hometown favorite DJ Screw; and the Ivory Coast’s official submission to the Oscars, Night of the Kings, which will screen at as the festival’s closing film both virtual and at the non-virtual but socially distanced Houston Ballet Drive-in. The Houston Cinema Arts Festival runs through November 22. Individual tickets or a $50 festival pass can be purchased here.

This Friday, November 13, at 7:30 p.m. Arturo Chacón-Cruz will return to the Wortham Theater stage for the November edition of Live from The Cullen, presented by Houston Grand Opera. Chacón-Cruz was last seen in HGO’s 2019 production of Rigoletto as “a splendid Duke of Mantua” who “tossed off the opera's signature tune, ‘La donna è mobile’ with panache.” The Mexican-born, Miami-based tenor will perform selections from Leonard Cohen, Consuelo Velázquez, Giacomo Puccini, and Werther, the opera that would have brought him back to HGO this season if not for COVID. Regarding the program, Chacón-Cruz told the Houston Press he “decided to go with the theme of hope and peace within yourself," adding “I want it to be something that will encourage you.” The free recital will be available through HGO Digital here.

ROCO’s chamber orchestra goes conductorless this Saturday, November 14, at 5 p.m. during ROCO In Concert: Oceans. The nature-inspired program, the second installment of ROCO’s In Concert series, will stream from the Church of St. John the Divine (sans in-person audience). Anna Clyne’s new work, “Stride,” inspired by Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique, will be featured alongside Beethoven’s own String Quartet Op. 18, No. 4. Also on the program are William Bolcom’s three Ghost Rags, a “charming and a modern take on a beloved art form”; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Nonet, which he composed while still a student; and Marijn Helder’s chamber orchestra arrangement of Claude Debussy's “La Mer,” a more than 100-year-old “work of such imagination that it stands apart from traditions and influences, and its modernity can still be felt today.” Oceans will be free to view on Facebook Live, YouTube Live, or on ROCO’s website.

If CNN is a bit too much for you these days, Tony Award-winner Laura Benanti’s new self-titled album may be what you need. Benanti herself said of the record, featuring songs from Selena Gomez and the Jonas Brothers to Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra, that “it’s mellow and peaceful, so if you get tired of listening to the news, you can put this on and try to relax for a little while.” This Saturday, November 14, at 7 p.m. you can relax with Benanti when Theatre Under the Stars and their nonprofit partners present the second of three virtual concerts in the Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway series. Benanti will tell stories and sing pop songs and show tunes live from New York’s Shubert Virtual Studios. Tickets for the livestream are $30 (with proceeds from the series going to support TUTS) and can be purchased here. Vanessa Williams will conclude the series on Saturday, December 5.

Dance of Asian America will present the Contemporary World Festival on Saturday, November 14, at 7 p.m. as the Miller Outdoor Theater continues their season of virtual, audience-less performances this weekend. The showcase will feature dancers from Dance of Asian America, which celebrates Chinese culture through Chinese dance, as well as dance companies such as former Houston Ballet Soloist Nao Kusuzaki’s Creative Minds Collaborative; NobleMotion Dance, a Houston Press favorite; Randall Flinn’s professional modern and contemporary dance company, Ad Deum; the Stafford-based Revolve Dance Company; Texas Ballet Theater, currently gearing up for their virtual gala in December, A Masked Ball; the Bollywood dance specialists of Infused Performing Arts; and the students of Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA). The festival is free to watch on the Miller Outdoor Theatre website, their YouTube channel, and Facebook page.

Violinist Hilary Hahn returns to the Bayou City on Saturday, November 14, at 8 p.m. to lend her Grammy-winning talent to the Houston Symphony for a performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5. Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto was his last and is “considered the richest and most innovative of Mozart’s violin concertos.” Also on the program is Keyla Orozco's “tense little exercise” from 1997, “PerpetuumM,” and Joseph Haydn’s “wacky symphony,” Symphony No. 60, which he based on “the incidental music he had written for a farce about an absent-minded man.” As such, Haydn “wanders into weird key areas; he throws in fanfares where you would least expect them; he extracts folk tunes from disparate cultures; and he even seems to forget what symphony he is in at one point.” Tickets to Saturday night’s livestream are $20 and can be purchased here.

Nina in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. Miranda in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Molly Ringwald in all of her John Hughes movies. They are all ingénues, and while we’re used to these wide-eyed young women characters, this Sunday, November 15, Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company will shine a light of new perspective on them during Fine Wine. Curated by Leighza F. Walker, Fine Wine is a collection of short monologues, all written for ingénues by great playwrights like Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Euripides and more, will be performed by more than a dozen local actresses in their 40’s and older. The digital offering will be available through Wednesday, November 25. Tickets are free, with donations appreciated, and you can register here.

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This summer the Dance Theatre of Harlem caught the internet’s attention with Dancing Through Harlem, an almost-six-minute-long balletic romp through Harlem set to Bach and choreographed by DTH resident choreographer Robert Garland. On Sunday, November 15, at 2 p.m. Houston’s own Ensemble Theatre will collaborate with the Dance Theatre of Harlem for their first virtual Sunday Matinée. Ensemble artists Teacake Ferguson (Simply Simone) and Derrick Brent II (Fetch Clay, Make Man) will join a lineup that includes performances by DTH, the Oakland-based Axis Dance Company, singer-songwriter Bes, and poet Cherrye Davis. Tickets for the Zoom-based program, which will be immediately followed by an artist discussion, are available here for $7.

All Bach, all the time continues in Ars Lyrica’s second all-Bach program of the season, Bach 2 Bach, this Sunday, November 15, at 5 p.m. Baroque violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock will join Ars Lyrica founder Matthew Dirst for the virtual program, co-presented with Music at St. Philip, for two of Johann Sebastian Bach’s six sonatas for violin and harpsichord. Blumenstock and Dirst will also take turns playing pieces composed for each other’s instrument, with Blumenstock taking on Excerpts from the “Goldberg” Variations, BWV 988, and Dirst trying his hand at Adagio & Fugue for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1001, on the new John Phillips harpsichord that he showed off during the season opener. Single event passes for the Bach 2 Bach premiere, which will be broadcast on YouTube, are available here for $10. Post-performance, viewers will be sent a replay link to enjoy the program all season long.

An “extraordinary palace” once stood in Mari, an ancient Mesopotamian city located in present-day Syria and second only to Babylon during the Bronze Age. Morton Feldman, an American composer known for creating music that “suspends our sense of time” (which resulted in some long, long – like five-hours-long – works) named his last piano composition, written just one year before his death, after that palace at Mari. On Tuesday, November 17, at 7 p.m. DACAMERA will continue their virtual series at the Menil with the premiere of The Departing Landscape. The free, filmed performance will feature DACAMERA artistic director and pianist Sarah Rothenberg playing Feldman’s Palais de Mari amidst the Menil’s collection of ancient objects that date back to the age of Mari (2800 B.C.E.). Post-premiere, Rothenberg will join the Menil’s Paul Davis and Joseph Newland, on Zoom for a virtual discussion. You can register here for both the link to watch and the link for the talkback.

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