March Means Music In Rim Country

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March is for music lovers in the Rim Country. The Tonto Community Concert Association is bringing two programs to the Payson High School auditorium this month. Plus, Payson's Community Presbyterian Church is the venue for three more performances.

This second weekend is a goldmine of concerts. Starting Friday, March, 7 enjoy jazz at the church as part of its offering for the First Friday Art and Antique Walk along Main Street. Activities start at 5 p.m. Head to the high school auditorium around 6:30 p.m. and see Trio Excelsior! in concert, starting at 7 p.m. The next night, the church will host a performance by the Manhattan Piano Trio at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 8. John Shevlin, one of the Rim Country's jazz artists will be featured in the Jazz in AZ program at 2 p.m., Sunday, March 8 at the church.

Finally, the sounds of Ireland will fill the high school auditorium on March 31 when the TCCA hosts a performance by The Celtic Tenors.

The Tonto Community Concert Association has these two performances and a program in May to close out its 29th season.

About the artists

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Trio Excelsior! brings classics to the Rim Country March 7 at the Payson High auditorium.

Trio Excelsior! began when mutual admiration of each other's artistry brought three internationally acclaimed musicians together in 2003. The group features a pianist, cellist and violinist -- from Finland, Germany and the U.S. respectively. This dexterous and soulful group utilizes the piano trio repertoire to explore not only their relationship to each other, but also how the great composers expressed the essence of human existence through music.

With professional credits and directorships all along the U.S. east coast and abroad; play that has been described as "incredibly moving" and "brilliantly executed," Trio Excelsior! exemplifies the mastery of keeping profound musicianship at the root of passionate intensity and grand style.

The admiration for each other's musicianship and being great friends for more than 15 years led Marja Kaisla, Ulrich Boeckheler, and Gabriel Gordon to form Trio Excelsior! in 2003. Since they knew they shared similar musical tastes and reasons for playing music, they wanted to strengthen and expand on that experience as a piano trio.

Pianist, Marja Kaisla, a native of Finland, received her musical education in Finland, Switzerland, St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, and Philadelphia with Susan Starr. Since moving to the United States in 1987, she has enjoyed an active concert career on stage, radio, television and major motion pictures, while being an advocate for the importance of music education. She is the director of Delaware Valley Conservatory of Music and co-president of the Philadelphia Foundation for World Music and Arts. Kaisla also performs as one of four pianists in Piano4, a unique ensemble of four pianos.

German cellist, Ulrich Boeckheler, a prizewinner in the 1982 Gaspar Cassado International Cello Competition, was the principal cellist of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders in Belgium prior to moving to the United States in 1987. He has since performed at some of the best-known concert venues around the world, including festivals such as the Marlboro, Sarasota and Grand Teton Music Festivals, as well as festivals in France and Mexico. His recordings are released on the Fanfare-Mastersound, Carlton Classics and CRI labels.

Violinist and conductor, Gabriel Gordon, a native New Yorker, graduated from New York's High School of Performing Arts. He studied with members of some of the most distinguished chamber groups in the world, including the Emerson String Quartet and the Beaux Arts Trio. Being one of the founding members of the DaPonte String Quartet, Gordon is also the music director and conductor of numerous youth, community, and professional orchestras on the East Coast. He is an assistant conductor at the Manhattan School of Music, as well as the assistant director of the Strings International Music Festival.

Trio Excelsior! in concert: 7 p.m., Friday, March 7

Tickets: Tonto Community Concert Association season tickets are $80. Since only three concerts have taken place, new TCCA subscribers will be enjoying professional entertainment for only $16 a concert. Members of the association may also request free tickets for children under 18, if the child is to be accompanied at the concerts by a ticketed adult. Additionally subscribers may bring a guest from outside the Payson area for only $15. Individual tickets, if available, will be sold at the door for $30.

To learn more, visit the Web site, tccarim.org or call (928) 474-6115 or (928) 478-4363.

The Manhattan Piano Trio will present the works of Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Mozart, Hayden, Strauss and others when it performs in concert at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 8 at the Community Presbyterian Church, 800 W Main Street, Payson. The program is billed as "Music of the Masters" and showcases captivating music of various styles and periods.

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The Manhattan Piano Trio performs at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 8 at the Community Presbyterian Church, 800 W. Main, Payson. Admission to this special event is $10 per person.

Hailed by critics as the "Grand Departure from the Usual," the group is one of the most prominent, exciting, and active emerging chamber trios today. It was the grand prizewinner of the 2006 Plowman Chamber Music Competition and winner of the 2007 Yellow Springs Chamber Music Competition. It was also the recipient of the 2007 Australian FM Listener's Choice award in Melbourne.

Actively touring all over the world, the 2007-08 season marks MPT's first overseas tour of South Africa and Germany that include recitals and orchestral collaborations. This is in addition to 70 concerts at many celebrated concerts in every part of the United States.

These three musicians met, literally, on the front steps of The Juilliard School during the summer of 2004. Each one had, in common, a desire that their music evoke in listeners a range of pure human emotions, through musical harmony, collaboration and creative programming, using piano, violin and cello as their individual instruments of expression.

It is the hope that listeners will not only experience the passion and joy in their playing, but also feel that same harmony in their own lives.

Members of the trio are Milana Strezeva, piano; Dmitry Lukin, violin; and Dmitry Kouzov, cello. The "Dmitrys" are from St. Petersburg, Russia and Milana is a Moldovan-born American.

Individually, the trio members are all award-winning soloists and have performed at many leading concert halls in the world.

Milana is a 1996 Arts Recognition and Talent Search awardee. She is winner of the Yamaha Piano competition and Young Artist Competition in Florida as well as IBLA International Competition in Italy.

Dmitry Kouzov is the first prizewinner at the International Beethoven Cello Competition in the Czech Republic, a two-time laureate of the "Virtuosi of the Year 2000" Festival Competition in Russia, winner of the 2005 Juilliard Cello Concerto Competition and recipient of the 2006 New York Cello Society's Rising Star award.

Dmitry Lukin is a second prizewinner at 2005 International Violin Competition of Sion-Valais in Switzerland, where he was also the recipient of the "Audience Choice" award. He is also a laureate of Mravinsky International Music Competition in Russia and Takasaki International Competition in Japan.

The group has been invited and featured on the esteemed Rising Artists Series by Ravinia Music Festival, Illinois, Merkin Concert Hall, New York City and Kravis Performing Arts Center, West Palm Beach, Fla.

To reach out to new, un-attuned and receptive audiences, the group occasionally performs in towns often bypassed by major classical groups. They have helped establish numerous concert series catering to the community and enabled the trio to introduce chamber music to a new audience. As part of their outreach and gift to the community, MPT was also one of the first chamber groups to perform in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

In addition to their demanding concert and recording schedule, the trio is committed to music education, giving concerts, master-classes and special children's shows. This is also one of the primary goals of the ensemble.

Admission to the performance is $10. For ticket and seating information contact the Community Presbyterian Church at (928) 474-2059, or atcpcgen@localnet.com.

"We are grateful to Pastor Charles Proudfoot at Community Presbyterian Church for collaborating with us to help promote chamber music to the community," says Reggie Bahl, the New York City based classical music manager of Manhattan Piano Trio. "I know that music lovers in and around Payson would immensely share my enthusiasm for this award winning group."

Payson Friends of Jazz and The Community Presbyterian Church will present John Shevlin Jazz Piano Quartet from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 9. The concert is at the Community Presbyterian Church, 800 W. Main Street, Payson.

"One may search the world to find a treasure of talent, only to find the finest of gems in one's own back yard. The Rim Country has such a gem in John Shevlin, a local jazz piano player," says Gerry Reynolds, who coordinates the Payson Friends of Jazz series.

Shevlin has been playing piano, off and on, since he was 7 years old.

He concedes that some time has passed since (he was that 7-year-old), and while he isn't internationally famous, he has had the opportunity to practice and hone his distinctive style -- and to experience some of the great musicians of his era.

A modest person, Shevlin says he never performed with jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra, but around the middle of the last century, he did sit in "a few" times at Barnaby Conrad's Matador in San Francisco, spelling the famous Horton Cooper. It appears some of that may have rubbed off on him, Reynolds said.

"In 1955 more must have rubbed off as he sat right next to the almost-blind Art Tatum, arguably one of the greatest jazz piano players ever, during a time when Shevlin made frequent trips to the famous Blackhawk supper club. He plays those marvelous runs up and down the keyboard, so reminiscent of Tatum's distinctive style and ability." Reynolds says.

Saying he plays with his eyes shut, Shevlin admits this may be the factor for missing a few notes. However, as he plays so much more from the heart than from the printed page, his performances are truly remarkable, again bringing to mind the magnificence of Cooper and Tatum, Reynolds said.

"John said he doesn't have a degree in anything except body temperature. But I haven't heard a hotter person than John when it comes to knowing how real jazz piano should be played. You don't get what John has from school, you get it only from lots of practicing, playing and an ear tuned to the jazz greats," Reynolds said.

Completing the quartet performing with Shevlin at the concert March 9 will be John Darst on guitar, John Willis on bass, and Reynolds on drums.

Darst resides in Snowflake and is employed by Northland Pioneer College. Willis frequently performs in the Valley and is employed by Fender Guitar Company. Reynolds performs locally and in the Valley in addition to organizing the jazz performances at the church.

While the event is free and open to the public, a $5 donation will help to defray program expenses.

To assist in organizing this event, please contact Reynolds at (480) 785-1278, or e-mail him at gerryr@cox.net if you plan to attend.

The Celtic Tenors help keep the Irish of March up with a concert at 7 p.m., Monday, March 31 at the Payson High School auditorium. The Tonto Community Concert Association hosts the performance.

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Keep your Irish up in March with The Celtic Tenors, who perform for the Tonto Community Concert Association March 31.

The Celtic Tenors were signed on the spot to an international record deal, following an impromptu audition in London in 2000, an event so unprecedented that it soon became the talk of the music industry.

The group's debut album went immediately to No. 2 in the UK classical charts, only to be held off the top by Russell Watson. It went to No. 1 in Ireland and Germany -- where it was two times platinum -- and won the Echo Award (the German Grammy) for Best Classical Crossover Album in 2002.

The boys' full-length television special "Ein Grosse Irischer Abend (A Great Irish Evening)," filmed in front of a capacity crowd in Hamburg, was shown to millions of viewers on network TV in Germany regularly for more than two years. Then, it was released on PBS, showing on more than 260 channels from Hawaii to Alaska and everywhere in between.

Overnight, The Celtic Tenors became one of the most successful classical crossover acts in 2002, with a top ten Billboard album in the US. Their second album, "So Strong," was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and produced by the legendary Mike Moran. The Tenors' most recent album, released in March 2005, features guests such as Samantha Mumba "You Raise Me Up", Brian Kennedy "We Are Not Islands" and an epic version of All Out of Love, featuring Air Supply, recorded at their private studios in Utah.

The Celtic Tenors were invited to sing for former President Bill Clinton when he visited Dublin Castle for funding-raising event for the Northern Ireland Peace Fund. Clinton said their version of his favorite song, "Danny Boy," is the best he has ever heard. More recently, they had the special honor of singing in a private audience for former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, during a trip to Ireland.

The Celtic Tenors have appeared on numerous compilation albums, including the Official Rugby World Cup Album 2003, "True Colours;" the official classical album for the Olympic Games 2004, "Harmony;" and the huge selling debut album by Liam Lawton, "Another World."

Total album sales worldwide, including compilations, are now at more than one million, making them the biggest classical crossover artists ever to come out of Ireland.

"They are re-inventing the whole Tenor idiom," says Phil Coulter, Ireland's legendary songwriter whose ballad "My Boy" was a huge hit for Elvis in the 1970s. The impact of The Celtic Tenors was so inspiring to Coulter that he wrote the unforgettable piece, entitled "Remember Me, Recuérdame," for the trio after hearing them in concert.

Graham Russell, composer for the 1980s group Air Supply had this to say about The Celtic Tenors: "‘All Out Of Love' was our biggest hit... I wanted to re-record it and I heard The Celtic Tenors on a visit to Ireland, and I knew immediately that we just had to duet with these guys."

The Celtic Tenors have the rare ability to appeal to virtually every sector of music lover.

Future concerts

The Payson Friends of Jazz are planning the following concerts:

April 13 - Guitarist Ted Goddard Trio

May 11 - Vocalist Renee Patrick Quartet

June 8 - Pianist Jacob Koller Trio

Regular Rim Country jazz performances are presented every Saturday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the lounge of the Strawberry Lodge in "downtown" Strawberry. Keyboardist Bob Smolenski, guitarists Howard Brown and Joe Drummond, and drummer Gerry Reynolds set the stage for other players by performing the standards of jazz, popularized by the legendary bands like Count Basie, and vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald. Vocalists, horn and string players are welcome to sit in with the band, but please contact Bob Smolenski at (928) 474-4293 beforehand.

The final program of the Tonto Community Concert Association's 2007-2008 season will the musical revue "On Broadway!" at 7 p.m., Monday, May 12.

It features show-stopping moments from the Broadway stage. Dazzling choreography, dynamic music arrangements and a virtual parade of costumes fill the "Grand Staircase," which is the centerpiece of a colorful stage. The live musicians support eight energetic singers and dancers as they present delightful memories in song and dance.

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