Arts-Louisville Reviews Final Battle

Lord Poetry (Sam Soto) and Bob Noxious (Nicholas Ward) try to choke one another as Starla (Krista Heckmann) and the Narrator (Alex Kapp) look on.

Lord Poetry (Sam Soto) and Bob Noxious (Nicholas Ward) try to choke one another as Starla (Krista Heckmann) and the Narrator (Alex Kapp) look on.

This review of Final Battle for Love and the other works on Thompson Street Opera’s “Not for the Faint of Heart” program focuses mostly on the singing, but there are some positive things about the show itself such as,

“The pseudo-wrestling scenes alone were, by themselves, almost worth the price of admission.”

Yeah, I’ll take that.

Of course it doesn’t even begin to encapsulate the amazing experience it was to work with Claire DiVisio and Thompson Street Opera Company. Katie Nix’s direction was inspired and she was somehow able to make a small production play as epic. All the singers were well prepared and delivered their lines with absolute conviction. They really embodied their characters. It was a joy to see this piece come to life after so many years.

I’ll have more photos and audio excerpts soon, but yeah. Wow! So refreshing to work with young artists who are all about taking risks and exploring new artistic territory!

A Review of Final Battle—in Rehearsal!

Already some great buzz about Final Battle for Love in this preview of Thompson Street Opera’s season, and they’re still rehearsing!

“Earlier this month in a three-story house in the heart of Louisville’s Russell neighborhood, rehearsal for an opera about wrestling got underway.

As a pianist hammered out dramatic chords, conductor Alex Enyart oversaw the pacing of the score to keep the eight singers on track as they rehearsed for the upcoming world premiere of “The Final Battle for Love.”

In this story – which is just one of five works Thompson Street Opera Company is presenting over the next three weeks – there are no battles over a special ring as in Richard Wagner’s famous trilogy, the “Ring” cycle.

Instead, a wrestling ring marks the setting of this short opera where the fight is brewing between Lord Poetry and Bob Noxious for the love of Darling Donnis.

“Get outta my way, Rockin’ Robbie! Get outta my way!” sang baritone Nicholas Ward as Bob Noxious to another wrestler blocking him from getting at Lord Poetry when he’s down.

Even with the singers sitting in chairs, the tension mounted. And so did the humor in this play by Pittsburgh composer Philip Thompson.”

Just wait till they’re standing up!

Preview of Final Battle in Louisville’s Courier-Journal

Here’s a very nice preview of Thompson Street Opera’s season which opens this weekend. Final Battle for Love is next weekend, June-3-5. Thompson Street Executive and Artistic Director Claire DiVisio talks about about Final Battle beginning at about 8:45.

And be sure to check out the photos in the full article. Several of the photo captions include a phrase like  “Members of the Thompson Street Opera Company rehearse a scene for an upcoming performance about professional wrestling.” I really love that I was able be a part of making that phrase possible!

Final Battle for Love in Louisville, June 3-5

June 3, 2016
8:00 pm
June 4, 2016
8:00 pm
June 5, 2016
2:00 pm

St. John Nulu Theater


So this is a big one. Final Battle for Love, one of the world’s finest baroque-metal professional wrestling operas, will receive its first full production June 3-5 by Thompson Street Opera (no relation) in Louisville. This will be a piano only version, but all the magnificent solo and chorus parts will be there in a fully staged production. As Neil Armstrong said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for professional wrestling opera.”

In a program titled “Not for the Faint of Heart,” the first half of the evening will consist of two mono-operas, A Cup of Tea by Yvonne Freckmann and The Tell Tale Heart  by Adam Levowitz. After the intermission it’s all #professionalwrestlingopera.

If you want learn more, check out my post about the history of Final Battle.

Crown and Covenant Releases I AM: Kids Sing Psalms


I’m very happy to let you know that another recording project I worked on this fall/winter is available now. I Am: Kids Sing Psalms has been released by Crown and Covenant Publicatons, an Imprint of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. This album feats choristers from all the choirs of Pittsburgh School for the Choral Arts singing a cappella Psalm settings. It was a delight to work with Kathryn Barnard and all the young singers as we put this project together with Crown and Covenant’s Lynne Gordon.

You can purchase I Am: Kids Sing Psalms at the PSCA online store. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Cityscapes: A Look Into Virgil Cantini’s Public Work

April 14, 2016
12:00 pm

Salk Hall Auditorium, University of Pittsburgh

UPDATE: Team Cantini at Salk Hall

Will, Isabelle, and me after Isabelle's outstanding talk.

Will, Isabelle, and me in front of Aerial Scape after Isabelle’s outstanding talk.

Science and Mankind Horiz

Cantini’s Science and Mankind-photo by Will Zavala

In 2015, the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine inaugurated a new addition to Salk Hall and installed in its lobby a large enamel mural by Pittsburgh artist Virgil Cantini (1919-2009). Aerial Scape, created in 1970, was originally located in the Oliver Building until its acquisition by the University in 2009. Cantini was faculty in
the Fine Arts department and founded the Studio Arts department at Pitt. Many of his other work around campus — such as Man on the façade of Parran
Hall, Enlightment and Joy in Posvar Hall, or Science and Mankind in the
Chevron Science Building — seek to represent humanity’s continuous quest to
advance intellectual growth and knowledge.

Isabelle Chartier, curator of the University Art Gallery, will present an overview of Cantini’s pieces around various buildings on campus and examine how they might connect with people working in various disciplines. The lecture will include a special screening of Will Zavala’s Virgil Cantini: The Artist in Public, with music composed by Philip Thompson. This short film offers exclusive footage inside the artist¹s studio, as well as the dismantling of Aerial Scape from downtown Pittsburgh.

This screening of Virgil Cantini the Artist in Public will mark the first time the film has been shown with the new studio recording of Thompson’s score which will be included on Separate Self, an album of his chamber music performed by IonSound Project. Separate Self is set to be released on July 8, 2016 on the Ravello label.

Boom II: Son of Boom

Wanted to be sure to share with you that I received a generous Artist Opportunity Grant from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council to help with the mastering phase of the forthcoming album. Thanks, GPAC! And I’m happy to say that grant has been put to good use as the album is finshed! I’m extremely pleased with how everything sounds as is the production team at PARMA. I think you will be too. More to come soon!

Andrew Kohn and Pitt’s Orchestra Perform Finney’s Prayer

March 2, 2016
8:00 pm

Bellefield Hall AuditoriumFree

Bassist Andrew Kohn will givAndy_Kohne a reprise performance of my double bass concerto Finney’s Prayer  with the University of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday, March 2nd at Pitt’s Bellefield Hall Auditorium. Andy premiered the piece back in (gasp!) 1998 when I composed it as my MA thesis composition. In addition, Andy has written a companion concerto for trombone and chamber orchestra titled Finney’s Birthplace. Kevin McManus will perform the trombone solo.

I’d like to tell you that our pieces are the featured works of the evening, but I’m not going to kid you. The remarkable Geri Allen is going to perform Mary Lou William’s Zodiac Suite, and the whole evening will be kicked off with Berlioz’ Carnival Overture. 

More About Finney’s Prayer

Charles Finney occupies a fascinating place in 19th century American history as a leading revivalist, abolitionist, and the first president of Oberlin College. The concept for Finney’s Prayer comes from a a passage in his memoirs in which he describes the spiritual crisis which led to his conversion.

“I went to my dinner and found no appetite to eat. I went to the office and found that squire W___ had gone to dinner. I took down my bass-viol, and as I was accustomed to do, began to play and sing some pieces of sacred music. But as soon as I began to sing those sacred words, I began to weep. It seemed as if my heart was all liquid; and my feelings were in such a state that I could not hear my own voice in singing without causing my sensibility to overflow…”

Finney goes on to describe a mystical vision of Christ which filled him with such awe that he,

“cried out, ‘I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.’”

Finney’s Prayer (1998) portrays the contour of this experience from crisis to epiphany, peace to awe, and finally, relief. In developing this composition as a narrative structure, I have sought consciously to reference portrayals of transcendence as they are found in works by such composers as Messiaen, Tavener, and Pärt, with hopefully a strong dose of Flannery O’Connor’s insight that grace is, among other things, unsettling.

Sing On! CD Released


OK, I’m really proud of this one. For two days in June I set up my recording rig in the sanctuary at Shadyside Presbyterian Church and the extraordinarily talented girls of Pittsburgh School for the Choral Art’s Concentio and Chamber Choirs gave hour after hour of amazing performances to make this recording a reality.

Order Sing On! now at the new PSCA Online store.