Twenty-four years ago, longtime bay area singer, songwriter and rock ‘n’ roll guy Robert Wegmann traveled to Moscow, during one of the coldest winters in recent Russian memory, to visit a friend and check out the other side of the globe.
He fell in love with a musician named Nina Slyusar; within the year they were married and living in Tampa, Wegmann’s hometown.
Nina Wegmann, PhD is in her 19th year as Music Director at the all-boys Jesuit High School, where she teaches band, woodwinds with strings, classical guitar and drum ensemble, among other things.
At St. Petersburg College, where she is an adjunct professor, Nina teaches accordion. As a musician, it is her primary instrument.
Together, the Wegmanns – she on accordion, he playing standup bass and guitar – will perform Friday (Jan. 17) at thestudio@620.
Music Around the World centers around Russia-born vocalist Elona Krasavtseva, who sings in English, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Ukrainian, Polish and Yiddish.
“We’ve played with Elona now for a couple of years,” says Robert. “And when we play with her, she’s the organizer, essentially – although she gave us equal billing, this is really her show. She put it together.
“Essentially, we’ll be doing pieces from different continents. From Brazil, from Spain, from Russia. And of course, I’ll do two Beatles songs, so I’ll represent the English Isles.”
The trio will be joined by dancer Svetlana Datseva, a veteran of the State Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia, and a professor of ballet at Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center for Performing Arts.
“She’s a beautiful dancer, she’s the real deal,” Nina enthuses. “And we are not bad either. So together we build up the show.”
And Krasavtseva, she says, “is a superstar in the Russian community. I became a good connection between the Russian community and the American community because I play instrumental music, and it works on every level. Because instrumental music doesn’t need translation.”
Since the ascension, in American culture, of Lawrence Welk and polka star Myron Floren, the notion of accordion as a classical music instrument has been largely forgotten.
In Europe – and, to be sure, in Russia – it is still considered much more than a vessel for folk, or polka, or other “people’s” music.
“In the part of the world when I come from, it’s part of classical academic music education,” Nina explains.
“Especially in the American South, there are really no schools to teach this instrument. It’s pretty complicated. So I’m one of those people who represent the instrument on an academic, high level.
“And each time the Florida Orchestra needs an accordion player, because it’s such an exotic instrument, they always call me.”
According to Robert, he and his wife, with their couldn’t-be-more-different musical backgrounds, complement one another.
Onstage for a show like this one, he explains, “Nina moves too, but everybody’s very academic. And I’m up there jumping around like a python on a hot plate.”
Robert, who’s also an artist and designer, has been a fixture in Tampa Bay musics for more than three decades. To date, he’s released seven solo albums.
“For me, the upright bass was a challenge because it’s completely alien,” he says. “It’s so physical and so big. I’m an electric bass player, and I’m good at it … but the upright bass is very demanding. You can’t riff! You can’t hide behind riffs. You have to be a solid player.
“But my rock ‘n’ roll thing kinda helps. I bring a certain danger to the performance that might not have been there. ‘Cause I am a street musician, essentially.”
Tickets and info here.
Jazz saxophone great Branford Marsalis and his quartet are at the Central Park Performing Arts Center in Largo Saturday night. A TV fixture in the 1990s, as the bandleader on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, Marsalis has a weighty resume that includes gigs with everyone from Sting, the Grateful Dead and Stevie Wonder to Miles Davis, Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie.
And yes, of course, he is a member of the First Family of Jazz, the Marsalis family of Louisiana.
For the 2020 Grammy Awards, which will be announced on Jan. 26, he and the band have two nominations: Best Jazz Instrumental Album (The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul) and Best Improvised Jazz Solo (Marsalis himself for “The Windup”). He has two Grammys already.
Tickets and info here.
St. Petersburg Opera Company’s next big production, Rigoletto, happens next week (Jan. 24-28) at the Palladium. This Saturday, however, most of the cast – including the four principals – will participate in Broadway Cabaret at the group’s Opera Central home, 2145 1st Avenue South.
This is a let-their-hair-down tradition for the visiting young professionals in SPO shows. They get to choose their favorite musical theater tunes and sing them, no frills, for a “club” audience (cabaret-style tables). Saturday’s program runs the Great White Gamut from Les Miserables and Sweeney Todd to Man of La Mancha and South Pacific. Tickets and info here.
And now, this
The Florida Orchestra’s ambitious weekend concerts (Friday at the Straz Center, Saturday and Sunday at the Mahaffey Theater) include collaborations with Tampa City Ballet, the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg and Artist-in-Residence Geff Strik. We wrote about it in detail here.
Theater season 2020 is starting to flower, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream opening this weekend at Jobsite (although all the opening weekend shows are already sold out), and Marie and Rosetta – the story of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe and her musical protégé, Marie Knight – bowing at freeFall. And it’s the final weekend for the dynamically dramatic A Shayna Maidel from Innovocative Theater, on the Stageworks stage.
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