Poulenc ‘play within a concert’ at RIPO’s Carter Center

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Judith Stillman has written her third “play within a concert,” using the music of great composers while telling their story.

The brilliant musician/composer/pianist/teacher has created a mini masterpiece that deserves a large audience and would make an excellent teaching tool for music students. And, at the same time, it makes for delightful entertainment.

We had a preview of her “April in Paris with Poulenc” this week at Rhode Island College. The full program will be presented this Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Rhode Island Philharmonic’s Carter Center, 667 Waterman Ave. in East Providence. With Stillman at the piano, she is joined by five members of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra: Rachel Braude playing flute, Denise Plaza-Martin on oboe, clarinetist Ian Greitzer, Kevin Owen on French horn, and bassoonist Ronald Haroutunian.

Trinity Rep’s Artistic Director Curt Columbus plays Francis Poulenc, making the French composer come alive, commenting on the works of his contemporaries, music critics, the love of his life, and even reading his own obituary. Poulenc’s music is exciting and very French. Stillman has chosen many excerpts from pieces that use instruments that are not usually front and center in a concert. Included in the program are Trio for Oboe Bassoon and Piano,” Sonata for Flute and Piano, and Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet.”

Columbus is dapper and very funny as the French composer, moving about the stage and chastising the pianist for not using the foot pedal enough. Slides of Poulenc, who died in 1963, and his contemporaries are shown on screen, along with old photos of France.

Hopefully, Ms. Stillman will continue to write these “plays within a concert” and we will learn more about the composers while enjoying their music.

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