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Art, Drama, Music and Books
Art, drama, music & books

Bronxvillian Jeff Cooney Is the Brains Behind Current Television Series 'Genius' PDF Print Email

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By Margaret Fuller Hayden


May 3, 2017:  According to '76 Bronxville grad Jeff Cooney, he excelled as an athlete but was a "terrible" high school student. Cooney is now bringing a longtime aspiration to life as an executive producer of the National Geographic series Genius, working alongside Academy Award winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, with Geoffrey Rush playing (the older) Albert Einstein. For someone who claims he once wouldn't have known the difference between E=mcand the Bronxville zip code, he has come a long way. Cooney said that the show actually makes this equation "easy for kids and adults who snoozed through physics to finally understand."

The ten-part series premiered on Tuesday, April 25, on the National Geographic channel. The longer format allows the viewer to "delve pretty deeply into the dramas and relationships," said Cooney, and facilitates taking a nonlinear narrative approach to Einstein's life, set against two world wars, the rise of Nazism, and the Red Scare. "In a movie, you don't have that luxury; you have two and a half hours. You're missing essential parts of his life that only a television format like this can give you." Cooney said that in the making of the series, he and writer Noah Pink had in the back of their minds what is happening in Europe today. "It is a cautionary tale," said Cooney.

Cooney's involvement in the production business goes back to the Mad Men era, as he describes it. Growing up in Bronxville, he was an actor in television commercials at age seven, along with his three siblings. (One of them, Chris, is also an executive producer of Genius.) Their mother, Cynthia, "effectively managed us, taught us how to be pros. All the while, my dad, George, was in production of commercials [found] in the advertising hall of fame." These include the Keep America Beautiful commercial featuring a Native American and the I Love NY commercial featuring the casts of Cats.

At Holy Cross, where he lettered in football as a receiver and majored in English, Cooney started directing local political ads and proceeded to direct commercials for the next 30 years. "It was wonderful and I loved it. I shot everything from Coca-Cola to UPS. But as TV was entering a new gilded age, it was time to move on."

In the midst of devoting his talents to commercial production, Cooney discovered a subject for which he had tremendous passion. It was also something he described as his "way to exit the 60-second storytelling discipline and move to long form." That subject? Albert Einstein.

"There was a book called Einstein's Dreams written from the stream-of-consciousness point of view of what Einstein might have been thinking as he was developing his theories and living in Switzerland. The person next to Einstein thinks he's gazing at the Alps, but he's really looking to space." 

Thus began what Cooney characterized as a Homeric process, which involved acquiring the rights to former Bronxvillian Walter Isaacson's biographical book Einstein: His Life and Universe, upon which Genius is based. The project was ten years in the making. 

Jeff and his brother Chris set about creating an indie boutique studio, "a company that creates premium shows designed to support the artist's vision." Chris went on to run the commercial company EUE/Screengems with their father, while Jeff, along with Noah Pink, partnered with fellow producer Sam Sokolow on EUE/Sokolow Entertainment, which developed the script that would become Genius.  When they took the script to Imagine Entertainment, Ron Howard loved it and wanted to move on it right away. ("He just flipped," Jeff recalled.) Ron's partner, Brian Grazer, thought of the series format, and National Geographic swiftly jumped on board.

All ten episodes were shot in Prague, using set extensions and computer graphics to get around "cheating" Prague for Berlin or Zurich or Munich, Cooney explained. His admiration for Ron Howard couldn't be stronger: "The show will explain everything through dazzling special effects that he's so good at. He is the maestro, an amazing storyteller. His camera placement is uncanny, as well as his ability to work with a huge cast."


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In addition to Geoffrey Rush as (the older) Einstein, the credits boast Emily Watson as Elsa Einstein and Michael McElhatton as German physicist Philipp LenardJohnny Flynn portrays the younger Einstein, which is likely a breakthrough role for the musician/actor. Click here to see actor Johnny Flynn talking about his role in the film.

Although the final two episodes are still in post-production, Cooney can rest on his laurels, at least for a little while. "Genius is the culmination of tremendous energy and hard work. It's gratifying that the reviews have been so very positive."

It will be a tough act to follow, but the next challenge already looms: The series has been renewed for a second season, featuring a different genius to be disclosed in time. 

Pictured here:  Top: Jeff Cooney (L) and Ron Howard on the set of Genius in Prague (photo by Anja Cooney); in text: advertisement for the series Genius (photo courtesy Jeff Cooney).



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Bronxville Middle School to Rock with Musical 'Bye Bye Birdie' Friday and Saturday, May 5 and 6 PDF Print Email

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By Steve Krause, Middle School Parent, Bronxville Middle School


May 3, 2017:  Bronxville Middle School students have been hard at work preparing their spring musical over the last few weeks. They are now almost ready for their upcoming performances of the classic Broadway hit Bye Bye Birdie, a story inspired by the phenomenon of superstar singer Elvis Presley and his draft notice in 1957.

The community is invited to the Bronxville School auditorium for a rollicking good time at 7:00 pm on both Friday and Saturday, May 5 and 6. If you haven't yet seen a show in the new auditorium, it is a beautiful venue--and this show makes great use of the space!

Bye Bye Birdie was originally a 1960–1961 Tony Award-winning Broadway production with a book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse. It led to a London production and several major revivals, a sequel, a 1963 film, and a 1995 television production. Now this play has been adapted for school use and set in 1963. It is presented through an arrangement with TAMS-WITMARK Music Library, Inc.

Nearly 60 Bronxville sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders are part of the cast and crew for this spectacular production, which is directed by Bronxville Middle School (and High School) Choral Director Pamela Simpson. With the help of a supportive group of parents and faculty, these energetic kids bring the story of rock star Conrad Birdie, the "Elvis" of this show, to life.

The show brings us back to 1963, when the U.S. Army still had a draft. Conrad's manager, Albert Peterson, panics at the thought of losing Conrad to the Army. Albert's longtime girlfriend and secretary, Rosie Alvarez, helps him plan a last publicity stunt for Conrad. The plan is for Conrad to kiss a teenage fan on TV before heading off to the Army. They choose Sweet Apple, Ohio, for the big event. Then the story gets more complicated by a jealous boyfriend and all the other Sweet Apple teenagers. These cast and crew are excitedly putting the final touches on their show.

The show will appeal to theater lovers of all ages.

We all hope you will join us this weekend. Tickets are available for Friday and Saturday, May 5 and 6. Curtain is at 7:00 pm both nights. Tickets are available for purchase online through Eventbrite, where you can select specific seats in advance, or at the door on the night of the show. To purchase tickets: Friday: http://tinyurl.com/BxvBBBirdieFri; Saturday: http://tinyurl.com/BxvBBBirdieSat.

Pictured here:  Bronxville Middle School students rehearsing Bye, Bye Birdie.

Photo by David Fenner

 
Bach Festival to Be Held Saturday and Sunday, May 6 and 7, at The Reformed Church of Bronxville PDF Print Email

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By Dr. Sándor Szabó, Music Director and Organist, The Reformed Church of Bronxville


May 3, 2017:   The Reformed Church of Bronxville will present a two-day music festival on Saturday and Sunday, May 6 and May 7, featuring the exquisite works of J.S. Bach (1685-1750).

Felix Mendelssohn proclaimed the works of J.S. Bach to be "the greatest music in the world," and audiences will have the opportunity to hear compositions written for a variety of instruments and choirs under the direction of Dr. Sándor Szabó.

On Saturday, May 6, at 3:00 pm, the festival will commence with a two-hour Bach marathon featuring world-class musicians performing on historic instruments. The program will offer solos, duets, and trios. Performing will be Helga Bartus, organ, Nurit Pacht, violin, Sandra Miller, baroque flute, Anneke Schaul-Yoder, baroque cello, and Sándor Szabó, harpsichord and organ.

On Sunday, May 7, at 3:00 pm, the festival will culminate with a spectacular gala concert featuring the Reformed Church of Bronxville's Chancel Choir, Kirksingers, and Chapel Choir and members of Siren Baroque Orchestra.

The program will include Bach's Reformation Cantata No. 79, "Lord God, Our Sun and Shield," as well as the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 and the Orchestral Suite No. 2 for flute and orchestra performed by renowned baroque flute player Sandra Miller, professor in Juilliard's Historical Performance Department.

Audience members will be invited to sing Bach's chorales.

Admission to the two-day event is free; a reception will follow. For more information, call 914-337-6776 or email CLOAKING .

Pictured here:  Dr. Sándor Szabó playing the organ at The Reformed Church of Bronxville. 

Photo courtesy The Reformed Church of Bronxville

 
Emerson String Quartet to Perform in the Hoch Chamber Music Series Finale Concert at Concordia College Friday, May 12 PDF Print Email

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By Kathleen Suss, Executive Director, Concordia Conservatory


May 3, 2017:  Concordia Conservatory will present the Emerson String Quartet as part of the Hoch Chamber Music Series' 15th season finale concert on May 12 at 8:00 pm. The program consists of Mozart's String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K. 465 ("Dissonance"); Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 4 in D major, Op. 83; and Dvorak's String Quartet No. 11 in C Major, Op. 61. The concert is part of the Concordia College–New York commencement events.

The Emerson String Quartet has amassed an unparalleled list of achievements over four decades: more than thirty acclaimed recordings, nine Grammys® (including two for Best Classical Album), three Gramophone Awards, the Avery Fisher Prize, Musical America's "Ensemble of the Year," and collaborations with many of the greatest artists of our time. The quartet members are Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violins; Lawrence Dutton, viola; and Paul Watkins, cello.

The 2016-17 season marks the Emerson Quartet's 40th anniversary, and highlights of this milestone year reflect all aspects of the quartet's venerable artistry, with high-profile projects and collaborations, as well as commissions and recordings.

Universal Music Group has reissued its entire Deutsche Grammophon discography in a 52-CD boxed set.

After recent engagements together at the Kennedy Center and Tanglewood, illustrious soprano Renée Fleming joined the Emerson at Walt Disney Concert Hall in October, performing works by Alban Berg and Egon Wellesz from their first collaborative recording, released by Decca in fall of 2015.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center programmed celebratory concerts at Alice Tully Hall, as well as in Chicago and Purchase, NY, in October: the Calidore Quartet teamed up with the Emerson for the Mendelssohn Octet; the Emerson gave the New York premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Shroud (co-commissioned by CMS); and former Emerson cellist David Finckel appeared as a special guest for Schubert's Quintet in C Major.

In May of 2017, legendary pianist Maurizio Pollini will join the quartet for a performance of the Brahms Quintet at Carnegie Hall. Additional highlights of the season include a concert with clarinetist David Shifrin as part of the quartet's season-long residency at Chamber Music Northwest in Portland, Oregon, this summer, as well as a collaboration with cellist Clive Greensmith this past October for the Schubert Quintet at the Soka Performing Arts Center in California.

The Emerson continues its series at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., for its 38th season, and the quartet members have been selected as artistic advisors for Wolf Trap's Chamber Music at The Barns in Virginia, curating the series in celebration of its 20th season.

The 2016-17 season also includes multiple tours of Europe, including performances in Austria, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Mexico for the Festival Internacional Cervantino.

Lawrence Dutton has served as the artistic director of the Hoch Chamber Music Series for 15 years, transforming the series into a world-class chamber music series with an eclectic mix of repertoire and artists.

Conservatory faculty will give a pre-concert lecture titled "More than Music," which will be a detailed study of the chamber music featured in the concert, at 7:00 pm in Stein Hall.

Tickets for the concert are $36 for adults and $18 for seniors and children. Tickets for the pre-concert lecture are $12.

For more information, call the Concordia Conservatory office at 914-395-4507 or order tickets online at www.concordiaconservatory.org.

Pictured here:  The Emerson String Quartet.

Photo courtesy Kathleen Suss, Executive Director, Concordia Conservatory

 
Bronxville High School Senior Composes Original Italian-Language Operetta 'Don Trump' PDF Print Email

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By Plamena Quintavalla, Bronxville School Reporter for Syntax


Apr. 26, 2017:  Drawing inspiration from the political process and the national election, Bronxville High School senior Sam Arcano composed an original Italian-language operetta titled Don Trump. The production, which was staged in the Bronxville School auditorium on April 3, featured members of the high school orchestra, student performers, and a professional singer. 

The two-act satirical operetta tells the story of a man's battles with his opponents and his own delusions. It is told from the perspective of Don Trump, who sets off in his ego-driven quest to become president and defeat the evil witch Hilaria.

"It all started with my confusion about the election or not understanding how this could be going on," said Arcano, whose project combined his passions for politics, music, and the Italian language. "Simultaneously being scared and thinking it's hilarious, I had the thought of portraying that. Then I pictured all these politicians singing opera in Italian and it was a really funny idea, so I went from there."

Arcano, who started writing the libretto and composing the music for his operetta in February of 2016, premiered the first act last spring at the Spring Innovation Expo, a family-school partnership event that celebrated the creative spirit across the Bronxville School community, to receive feedback. The overture came from a sonata he had previously written for strings and reused for a full orchestra. He finished the second act in early March of this year.

Music teacher Dr. Denise Lutter, who mentors the talented student as part of a music composition independent study, said that staging an opera is incredibly difficult, but Arcano had done it with ease. He was involved in all aspects of the operetta, from the musical composition for each instrument and voice to the orchestral conducting and theatrical staging.

"He's truly passionate about what he does," Lutter said. "He's making sense of the world and creating his own path and that's really quite impressive for a high school student. This had been a game-changing political season and through his art, Sam has asked people to think about it in different ways."

Arcano, who has been playing the guitar for years but learned how to write and read music only when he took an Advanced Placement music theory class with Dr. Lutter last year, said he never pictured staging his own operetta.

"Seeing my own music in full performance is a wonderful experience because it goes from something I wrote on a page in February last year to being a fully staged performance in front of a huge audience," he said."

Pictured here:  Sam Arcano.

Photo courtesy The Bronxville School

 
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