April 7 2010 12:00 AM

New Chamber series wraps up first season


Flutist Richard Sherman barely got his lips on a falafel sandwich at Sultan’s last week when a stranger walked up to him.

As principal stick man for the Lansing Symphony, Sherman is a conspicuous presence — look for the silver glint and heaving shoulders — but the subject of this encounter was Absolute Music, the star-studded classical concert series Sherman launched last fall in Old Town’s Absolute Gallery.

The final entry of the season, featuring Sherman’s flute-piano-violin trio Icarus, is set for Friday.

The man at Sultan’s told Sherman he was grateful not to have to go to Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor to hear an intimate, creatively programmed and superbly executed chamber series.

“That encapsulated what I hoped this series would do for chamber music in East Lansing,” Sherman said.

The project was a gamble, but the first five concerts in the series filled the main gallery. The chance to hear the area’s top musicians, up close, playing music they clearly relish, proved to be a strong draw.

“It’s the kind of music that if I were going to a concert, I would like to hear,” Sherman said. “I’ve been wanting to shoot the moon like this for a long time.”

On Oct. 23, soprano Melanie Helton turned the gallery into Manhattan's Cafe Carlyle as she ran through a spellbinding set of songs, from Gershwin to Schubert to Hoagy Carmichael, talking informally between series.

"I didn't realize what the synergy between the performers and community would be until I got to sit down and listen to some of the concerts," Sherman said.

A tribute to French composer Francis Poulenc Feb. 5 was full of great moments, including heavyweight pianist Sergei Kvitko doggedly digging into "Babar the Elephant" under the three-martini charm of Ken Beachler's narration. (Check it out on YouTube; a recording is forthcoming.)

Two concerts - the multi-woodwind opener Sept. 25 and a duo piano recital with Ralph and Albertine Votapek March 5 — had overflow listeners standing in the neighboring space, craning their necks.

There’s usually a nice hang afterwards, thanks in part to a buffet spread (Mumbai has catered past concerts; Noodles and Company will furnish the food this week) and that decadent icon of Absolute Music, the festive punch fountain.

For Friday's season finale, Sherman brings Icarus, the high-octane trio he formed this year with Robert DeMaine, principal cellist of the Detroit Symphony, and pianist James Wilhemesen, director of the Clarkston Conservatory of Music.

The trio performed Nov. 13 at Absolute Gallery under the name Trio con Brio, but Sherman switched to Icarus because he felt more like "flying".

"It's so high-energy and intense that we feel like we leave the ground sometimes," Sherman said.

DeMaine, despite his busy Detroit Symphony slate is gung ho for the project, in part because they only play music they love - not the quotidian lot of a cellist in a big-city orchestra. This Friday they'll perform virtuosic and tuneful stuff from Johann Hummel, Camille Saint-Saens and American composer Norman Dello Joio.

The trip plans to record a CD at the Wharton Center May 17.

Six dates are already planned for next year’s Absolute Music, but Sherman hopes to find a corporate or institutional sponsor first. This year’s cheap $10 tickets covered general expenses, but it’s been a labor of love for the musicians.

Music (and caffeine) is Sherman’s element, but now he’s thinking of barging into banks and brokerages, like any fine arts rainmaker, and waving his silver stick at the suits. On the whole, he’d rather play Hummel, but the series is his baby and he’d like to see it grow.

“I’m flying by the seat of my pants here,” he said. “I’m not used to being an impresario.”

Absolute Music: Icarus Trio

(Richard Sherman, Robert DeMaine, James Wilhelmsen)

8 p.m. Friday, April 9

Absolute Gallery

301 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing


(517) 482-8845