Invention & Alchemy
Think the symphony orchestra only plays serious classical music composed by dead guys? Think only angels play the harp? THINK AGAIN!!! "Invention & Alchemy" is Indy-Symphonic -- reignites the symphony and brings you the new face of collaboration between symphony, composer, audience and performers. It all starts in the mind of Deborah Henson-Conant - a mind where stories meet music, invention meets alchemy and a whole symphony orchestra can transform from a Mexican street band into a sultry musical harem in a split second. Forget the black penguin-suits of the typical symphony concert. Have you ever seen an 80-piece orchestra dressed in lab coats? Ever seen a conductor leap off the podium, grab an instrument and romance the soloist in front of a few thousand people? If not, then you haven't seen "Invention & Alchemy." This show pulls the lofty orchestra out of the clouds and let's you get up close and personal with it. Henson-Conant plays electric harp, sings and leads this wild adventure like a tour guide of the imagination. She also writes the stories, music, lyrics and orchestrations - and her shows feature orchestra members the way a movie features actors. She's performed with orchestras from the Boston Pops to the Prague Radio Orchestra, but she fell in love with the Grand Rapids Symphony when she first visited as a guest artist in 1999. Now that love affair is captured on DVD & CD. THE CONCERT PROGRAM The eleven segments of the concert program are like a collection of musical short stories that come to life on stage. The orchestra becomes a science lab in "Danger Zone," complete with lab coats and bubbling test tubes. In "996," Lockington transforms into a sultan, leaving the conductor's podium wielding his cello like a scimitar. Henson-Conant marches to the back of the orchestra for a duet with timpanist David Gross in "Catcher in the Rye," sings a haunting lullaby in "The Nightingale," plays the soundtrack for an imaginary movie in "Merceditas" and takes a trip in a time machine in "Baroque Flamenco," all with the help of her talented friends - the 80 members of the Grand Rapids Symphony. SPECIAL BONUS FEATURES! In addition to the 97-minute concert program, the DVD includes the following: BEHIND-THE-SCENES This 18-minute film with interviews, rehearsal footage and concert excerpts is a companion piece to the concert. For six days, videographer Rick DiGregorio followed Deborah, the crew and the musicians, filming everything from the makeup artist to the harp techs to Deborah's one-on-one rehearsals with players, then put it all together in this video backstage pass. WHITE RABBITS 10 interactive video portals by filmmaker Ian Brownell let you peek behind the program as it rolls. In these segments, Deborah and producer Jonathan Wyner tell the stories-behind-the-stories and reveal some of Deborah's performance techniques. HEALING THE WATERS Members of the Grand Rapids Ballet join Henson-Conant, conductor Lockington (on cello) and associate conductor John Varineau (on clarinet) for a tribute to the project's sponsor and champion, Peter Wege. "Healing the Waters" is an intimate pas de deux inspired by Wege's environmental project of the same name, and is an homage to Wege's passion for the arts and environment. ================== WHO IS THIS DEBORAH HENSON-CONANT AND WHAT'S SHE ALL ABOUT??? ================== Deborah Henson-Conant seems to see the world backwards. She treats the elevated harp like a second-hand guitar, strapping it over her back, wailing into the blues and playing it with a fuzzbox. Then she'll go and write a symphonic ode to her garbageman - and get an 80-piece symphony to play it. She seems to see the extraordinary as ordinary - and the ordinary as sublime, and in concert she mixes intimacy with bombast in a way that leaves the audience exhillirated. "Invention & Alchemy" on DVD is a concert-theater presentation of her one-woman show - with a cast of 80 supremely talented musicians, the Grand Rapids Symphony. Set up as a series of musical short-stories, the music in "Invention & Alchemy" plays as many roles as Henson-Conant herself does. At times the playing is front and center, as Henson-Conant takes us into the wilds of the symphonic jungle the way a tour-guide takes us on a safari. Other times, the performance is pure story-telling with music providing the mood and the scenery. "Invention & Alchemy" is the culmination of a decade of performances with symphonies all over the U.S. -- and the debut on film of a completely new style of concert-theater performance. WHERE DOES DHC FIT IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS: Deborah Henson-Conant rocked onto the jazz charts in the late 1980's as one of the few women on the GRP Jazz label. Since leaving GRP in '91, she's established her own record label and pioneered a performance genre that mixes theater, Flamenco, Blues, Celtic, Folk-Pop, Spoken Word and Alternative-Symphonic playing. WHAT INSTRUMENT DOES SHE PLAY? Deborah plays a new instrument that combines harp-like structure with electric guitar technology. The instrument was custom-built for her in the mid-90's by the CAMAC firm in France and was the first of it's kind. She also sings and sometimes plays an electric concert harp or keyboards. She arranges all her own music, whether it's for a solo performance or for an 80-piece orchestra. If you listen to her discography in order from the early years, you can trace the development of her work from a straight-ahead jazz player to an artist who combines music, theater, humor, story and improvisation in a cross between music-theatre, standup comedy and concert. WHAT DOES SHE ACTUALLY DO ON STAGE OR ON RECORDING? Henson-Conant performs solo in venues from small music and comedy joints to 3,000-seat concert halls. Sometimes she performs completely solo, sometimes she works together with percussion, bass or guitar -- sometimes all three; sometimes she works with alternative-ensembles (musicians who play classical instruments in non-classical ways) and brings the "Alternative-Symphonic" concept to full symphony orchestra in her DVD "Invention & Alchemy." WHO HAS SHE PLAYED WITH? WHAT'S SHE DONE? She's jammed on stage, and off, with the likes of Steven Tyler, Bobby McFerrin, Rufus Reid, Keith Lockhart, Marvin Hamlisch. She's opened for Ray Charles, starred in a PBS Special, lectured at the Paris Conservatory, and been featured on BBC, CBS,CNN, BET, and PBS and countless other stations. She's toured all over Europe and the US, headlined at theatre festivals like the Edinburgh Fringe, Jazz Festivals like the Montreal Jazz Festival, and Idea Festivals like the Chicago Humanities Festival and the Boston Globe "Ideas" conference. WHO IS DHC-THE-PERSON? Deborah Henson-Conant is a composer, playwrite, harpist, singer, songwriter, author, cartoonist, entertainer, and comedian. This combination is part of what makes Deborah and her performances eccentric and unforgettable. Using her voice, her creativity, and her one-of-a-kind electric instrument, Deborah Henson-Conant sculpts sound and story into a alternative combination of music and theatre. WHAT DOES THE PRESS SAY ABOUT HER? New York Times: "reshaping the serenely Olympian harp into a jazz instrument by warping it closer to the blues" Boston Globe: "A combination of Leonard Bernstein, Steven Tyler and Xena, the Warrior Princess." NPR's Scott Simon: "Imagine the talented love-child of Andre Previn and Lucille Ball." Edinburgh Fringe (Metro): "... it's her dazzling range and depth of technique, combined with a warmly energetic stage manner, that ultimately makes this such a memorable show ... Effortlessly traversing genre boundaries from blues to folk, jazz to world music, she's conjuring entire sound of a traditional Mexican street band one minute, laying into a ferocious Hendrix-inspired rock workout the next, all with equally unerring flair and finesse, while her bright-toned muscular singing proves equally adept at switching between styles. As she weaves one number into the next via whimsical takes of her childhood and snippets of ancient harp lore, you soon see why the Boston Globe couldn't decide whether to send a drama or a music critic to review her show - they ended up sending both." WHY IS THIS DVD CALLED "INVENTION & ALCHEMY"? "Invention is the creative power of an individual mind," says Henson-Conant. "Alchemy is a magical chemistry that brings inventions to life. I live and work in both worlds: the world of individual invention where I compose these pieces alone in my little attic studio - and the world of alchemy, where the come alive on stage through the magical chemistry of collaboration - right before my eyes. This DVD shows both the invention and the alchemy." WHAT ABOUT THE TECHNICAL SPECS OF THE DVD: It's a full-length concert program, a multi-camera, surround-sound disc, shot in hi-definition. It has an Emmy-winning director, a Grammy-winning sound engineer and a program of symphonic music theater that brings Deborah's show closer than the front row.