He's only 17, but organist Felix Hell offered an evening of exciting, undeniable artistry Friday in Slee Hall on UB's North Campus. Saturday, comedian Ana Gasteyer regaled a UB audience with tales of life as a "Saturday Night Live" cast member.
UB's Slee Concert Hall:
Organist Felix Hell
Prodigy and genius are labels often tossed about with critical abandon, rarely finding a proper home; prodigy and genius do not necessarily go hand in hand.
When a prodigy is hailed, it generally means that some youngster has a more than average grasp of an art's technical aspects.
Calling 17-year-old organist Felix Hell a prodigy, especially upon witnessing his undeniable ability to conquer the most formidable challenges, is certainly no problem. His skill level is devastatingly high.
Any member of the packed house who witnessed his performance in Slee Hall on Friday night could probably be forgiven for gifting Hell with the "genius" tag. His undeniable talents and the surprising depth of his interpretive insights augur a bright future.
Hell's program leaned heavily on the German organ canon, with a concentration on works by Johann Sebastian Bach. The musician's young fingers danced over the keyboard as his feet whipped across the pedals with amazing accuracy while playing two of Bach's Prelude and Fugue combinations (BWV 543 and BWV 552), the Toccata in F Major (BWV 540), the Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor (BWV 582), a brief Chorale Prelude and, during the first of Hell's two encores, a snippet from one of the composer's trio sonatas.
The young organist is a speed demon in many ways, but one whose interpretations somehow managed to sound more inspired than hurried.
The churning, exciting Toccata from Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony No. 5 for Organ was the second of Hell's encores and proved to be the perfect capper for an evening of undeniable artistry.
-- Garaud MacTaggart
UB Center for the Performing Arts:
Ana Gasteyer shifts her weight at the podium, about to continue her discussion on the white, male-driven phenomenon called "Saturday Night Live." Note cards are in place, but something has attracted the attention of this kinetic comic.
The youngest member of the audience has just spoken, all four months of her, saluting her mom from the peanut gallery. And while Gasteyer clearly is focused on her talk and the occasional bursts of video sketches, there is no mistaking her primary role.
"Aw, Baby Frances. Listen to her," Gasteyer cooed while directing attention to husband Charles McKitrick and infant daughter.
Only six months post SNL, Gasteyer appeared light-years from the sketch-powered confluence that once defined her life. SNL, she told the student-heavy audience, was a lot like college -- full of late-night cramming sessions and an exam each Wednesday, when the comedy scripts were due.
Remember the topless Martha Stewart bit? It was Gasteyer at her bombastic best. The segment, spoofing Stewart's holiday special, cemented Gasteyer's place on the show and earned her an invitation from the homemaking princess.
"I felt like I was on LSD," Gasteyer said, describing her appearance on Stewart's holiday show.
The party afterwards s where the true Stewart came out. At first Gasteyer was told she could not bring her husband, and when Stewart finally relented, Gasteyer recalled receiving an e-mail from Stewart's assistant, instructing said husband to come with cravat.
Gasteyer was one of three women on a staff of 150 when she started SNL in September 1996. Additionally, there were no gay writers on staff until three years ago. Much of Gasteyer's talk focused on the anatomy of the 28-year show, and how men and women tend to approach comedy differently. A tyranny of slenderness dictates the role of women on television comedy, she said.
"There's so much pressure to remain tiny, and it's gotten worse," she said. "What used to be the norm at size 8 and 10 has scrunched to sizes 2 and 4." What's more, she pointed out: "Ugly women are not successful on television" and, "Pregnant women aren't funny."
The latter statement, she explained, was a factor in her decision not to tell anyone of her maternal way until she was 25 months' pregnant. Even then, she quipped, it may have been an unnecessary disclosure.
"Actors are so narcissistic," she claimed, "no one noticed."
Gasteyer's presentation -- peppered by taped SNL segments -- appeared rough at times as she struggled to regain her train of thought. It was not until the end, during a question-and-answer session, that the 35-year-old entertainer showed her warmth and uncanny ability at improvisation.