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-- Dave McKenna
Anyone who has ever run a finger around the rim of a half-full wine glass has played a glass armonica. But Benjamin Franklin's 1761 invention goes way beyond simplicity: dozens of nested glass bowls in graduated sizes, strung on a horizontal skewer and spun using a flywheel operated by a foot treadle. It looks very much like an old-fashioned sewing machine.
Dean Shostak claims to be one of only eight glass armonica players in the world, and on Sunday he brought his novelty to the National Gallery of Art.
Wet fingertips caressing the rims of revolving glass bowls results in bell-like tones similar to the high notes on an organ -- a thin, ethereal sound. Both the instrument and the player have their limitations: Notes don't always speak fully, the very highest ones resemble electronic feedback and it's not usually possible to execute dazzling technical feats.
Though the glass armonica fell out of favor after the 1820s -- a commonly held belief was that the lead in the crystal promoted severe ill effects -- it was quite popular in its heyday. Mozart wrote a beautifully haunting adagio, Beethoven used it in an effective interlude in a play and Saint-Saens included it in the original "Carnival of the Animals" score, all of which were adeptly played by Shostak. Schubert's "Ave Maria" enjoyed an extra shot of spirituality in Shostak's arrangement and performance.
Kelly Kennedy joined in on several numbers, lending her clear, cool soprano voice to a Thomas Arne song and some traditional tunes, and adding appropriately restrained piano accompaniment to several other pieces.
Shostak's informative commentary was as much a part of the show as the music.
-- Gail Wein
The Wedding Present
During its first run, the Wedding Present moved restlessly from strummy pop to harder, more Americanized rock to the somewhat slicker sound of its 1992 project to release a single every month for a year. Singer-guitarist David Gedge put the British quartet on ice in 1997 and began to record under the name Cinerama. Now Gedge (without any other original members) is again the Wedding Present, rediscovering his own back catalogue. The band's show Sunday at the Black Cat included several songs from its new album, "Take Fountain," as well as a few Cinerama numbers, but also reached back to its origins for such sprightly romps as "Once More" and "My Favorite Dress."
Although his latter-day material is more erotically explicit than the early stuff, Gedge still specializes in accounts of failed, unrequited or illusory romance. Two essential musical ingredients play against the lyrics' adolescent regret: Gedge's incongruous baritone and guitars that storm valiantly ahead of the vocal melodies. Simon Cleave, who plays what can only be described as lead rhythm guitar, is a worthy successor to original hyper-strummer Peter Solowka. His six-string churn was a rising tide that lifted all plaints.
When Gedge delivered a joke about his youthfulness, it bombed, but his bruised reaction to that dud proved his point. The singer is essentially unchanged: charming and petulant, eager to please but only on his own terms.
"We don't play encores, and we never will," he announced before embarking on the evening's final vamp. But of course the entire performance was an encore.
-- Mark Jenkins