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Once he was just flamenco and now Cigala is a whole lot more

Diego el Cigala sings various genres of music at The Music Center of Strathmore. COURTESY PHOTODiego el Cigala sings various genres of music at The Music Center of Strathmore.  COURTESY PHOTO  Ask people the key component in flamenco, and they’ll likely say, dance. Experts will reply that dance is only one of five elements – and singing is another.

One who illustrates the centrality of singing in flamenco is Diego el Cigala, who will appear at The Music Center of Strathmore, under the co-sponsorship of Strathmore and Washington Performing Arts.

Becoming a flamenco singer was a foregone conclusion.

“It was never a conscious decision,” el Cigala said. “I am a flamenco singer since I can remember. I won my first contest at 11 or 12 years old and started to work really early, so there was never a moment where I said: ‘Now I am going to be a singer.’”

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Nonprofit promotes folk and acoustic in County and beyond

Jason Rafalak (left) often plays in duo with Brad Yoder. COURTESY PHOTO Jason Rafalak (left) often plays in duo with Brad Yoder. COURTESY PHOTO If Scott Moore has his way, Montgomery County will grow increasingly rich in folk and other acoustic music.

Moore is president of FocusMusic, which local singer/songwriter Steve Rey founded 15 years ago as a nonprofit under the auspices of the Folk Alliance 501(c)(3) umbrella.

Acoustic music venues in the area were scarce and tended to come and go, said Moore.

FocusMusic draws inspiration from places like Caffe Lena in New York City, which dates to the 1960s and featured Bob Dylan early in his career.

FocusMusic provides an intimate, “up-close” musical experience and the opportunity to discover high-quality new artists,” Moore said. “Our concerts offer personal contact with performers, a sense of belonging to a community of music-loving friends, and time to socialize.”

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Israel’s Idan Raichel in ‘stripped-down’ show sings and plays piano

Idan Raichel, on solo tour, has since shed his turban and dreadlocks.  COURTESY PHOTOIdan Raichel, on solo tour, has since shed his turban and dreadlocks. COURTESY PHOTOIsraeli world-music superstar Idan Raichel has undergone a transformation.

Gone are his signature dreadlocks and black turban. At least for a while, The Raichel Project he founded – incorporating performers and sounds from many different backgrounds – has taken a backseat.

Instead Raichel has gone on tour, performing a “stripped-down” show of songs and personal stories, jumping from acoustic to electric piano and percussion instruments.

One stop on the tour is The Music Center at Strathmore, where he appears Thursday, Feb. 22.

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Strathmore CEO announces retirement

Eliot PfanstiehlEliot Pfanstiehl Courtesy PhotoWhen Eliot Pfanstiehl was first hired in 1981 to convert the Mansion at Strathmore in Bethesda into an arts center, he heard the same thing over and over again: “Why bother?”

After all, the Kennedy Center was the place to perform for artists and productions visiting the Washington, D.C. area, and with a population of roughly 500,000, and Montgomery County was considered nothing more than a bedroom community for people working in the District. As far as the arts were concerned, Pfanstiehl said, the area was “prehistoric.”

37 years later, however, the County’s population has surpassed 1 million, and the Strathmore, with its concert hall and education center, hosts 160 concerts each year, of which most, he said, draw audiences large enough to fill 80 to 85 percent of Strathmore’s 1,976 seats. Both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the National Philharmonic call the Mansion their local home, and the eclectic concerts staged at Strathmore are as varied, culturally speaking, as the residents of Montgomery County are, he said.

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Local band Aerial View launches East Coast tour in Takoma Park

Aerial View PhotoAerial View performing at the Takoma Park VFW post. PHOTO BY MATT HOOKEFriday night’s “Hibernation Station” concert at Takoma Parks VFW Post was anything but sleepyThe show,organized by the Twin Moon Arts Collective and local band Aerial View, displayed a wide variety of local talent, ranging from comedians, indie rock, and metal.

For the Silver Spring-based Aerial View the show commemorated the launch of their first-ever tour. The band will be playing six shows around the Northeast, hitting cities such as Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston.

“To see people who don’t live here, to play with various bands,a road trip is just fun.” said Aerial ViewfrontmanKjell Hansen, on the reasons for the tour.

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Singers link Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday in Strathmore concert

Catherine Russell 16 Print 1 copyCatherine Russell, jazz singer to perform with John Pizzarelli. COURTESY PHOTOFor Grammy Award-nominated jazz singer Catherine Russell, juxtaposing the music of Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday in her upcoming Strathmore concert was a given, as was performing with jazz guitarist and bandleader and vocalist John Pizzarelli.

It is to Pizzarelli who Russell attributes the idea of blending those world-class vocalists in one program. 

 “It's a natural fit since Sinatra was a great admirer of Billie Holiday and her unique singing style,” said Russell. “Both singers came up working as vocalists during the Swing Era, with big bands, before leading their own groups.”

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Local student enters national voice competition

amandagallerymain RRAcademy of the Holy Cross senior and aspiring opera singer Amanda Primosch will compete in January at the 37th annual National YoungArts Week in Miami. COURTESY PHOTOBETHESDA — A Montgomery County student is one of 21 finalists who will perform in a national art competition next month. 

Amanda Primosch, an aspiring opera singer and senior at the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington, will compete at the 37th annual National YoungArts Week, held in Miami Jan. 7 through Jan. 14. The competition is put on by the National YoungArts Foundation, which presents awards to high school students around the country in a variety of creative and performing arts disciplines. 

“I actually used to be terrified to sing in front of other people,” said Primosch, who serves as president of AHC's Madrigal Singers, as she explained how her sister – who is four years older– was the reason she got into singing.

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Local singer-songwriter releases debut of ‘Prototype’ in Takoma Park show

Ronnita Freeman Photo by Sam PascalRonnita Freeman performing at the Electric Maid in Takoma Park. COURTESY PHOTO BY SAM PASCALTAKOMA PARK — Singer-songwriter Ronnita Freeman’s set at the Electric Maid in Takoma Park last Friday started out with only two things; her voice and her guitar. Her minimalist approach soon transformed into a bombastic display of energy with her and her three-piece backing band, creating tremendous musical peaks and valleys.

The performance marked two firsts for Freeman: the debut of her first record “Prototype,” and her first performance with her backing band. Her songwriting on the five-track extended play CD features R&B tinged confessionals, sounding like a blend of Frank Ocean and Fleetwood Mac. 

“I finished the songs a year ago. The theme is of things I needed to say that were overdue,” said Freeman. “Songwriting got me reflecting on my relationships and other people’s stories.”

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Renowned pianist Andre Watts to perform with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Andre Watts credit Steve J. Sherman copyAndre Watts performs with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore and Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore. COURTESY PHOTO BY STEVE J. SHERMAN  The beginning of pianist Andre Watts’s career was like a sunburst, introduced as a teenager onto the national stage to play with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.

Now, with a music career that has spanned more than 50 years, Watts is returning to an orchestra with whom he has played many times – the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore as well as Meyerhoff  Hall in Baltimore on the weekend of Nov. 17 through Nov. 19.

“Mr. Watts has had a long and very popular association with the BSO, having first performed with the orchestra in 1973,” said Miryam Yardumian, interim artistic administrator. “He has appeared with the BSO a dozen times since.”

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Strathmore concert highlights diversity in Jewish music

Yasmin Levy 3 1 copyLadino singer Yasmin Levy collaborates with Klezmatics at Strathmore.   COURTESY PHOTO  The concert series currently playing out at the Music Center of Strathmore is celebrating global music and divergent cultures.

“The thematic thread through Strathmore’s 2017-2018 season is ‘Windows,’ concerts in which international artists share the sonic riches of their heritage and homeland,” said Joi Brown, vice president of programming. “This is our effort to showcase music that reflects different perspectives, places, cultures, and eras.”

However, the Nov. 7 concert highlights the musical diversity within one culture alone.

It pairs Israeli singer Yasmin Levy, who performs primarily in Ladino – Judeo-Spanish language – with the Klezmatics, an ensemble that sings classical klezmer music from Eastern Europe.

“I started to sing songs in Ladino, then modern, Spanish and flamenco and moved to Turkish and Persian songs and Brazilian tango,” said the Jerusalem-born Levy.

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