What Happens in Vegas...




In this Perspective, Gwen Grastorf (actor) and Erik Higgins (contrabass) talk about their 2017 performance of The Last Contrabass in Las Vegas, an intriguing mix of theater and musical bravura, by Eugene Kurtz. Kurtz structures a delightful dialogue between experienced bassist and an ultra-reserved narrator, who gradually feels herself overcome by the sheer passion and variety of this all-too-overlooked musical instrument.







Gwen Grastorf is a performer and actor in the DC area, where she performs with Happenstance Theater. As a permanent company member, she creates devised physical theater with Happenstance throughout the year, touring in Baltimore, New York, and beyond. Gwen has worked additionally with Constellation Theatre, Faction of Fools, Taffety Punk, We Happy Few, Rorschach Theatre, the Kennedy Center Page to Stage Festival, the Capital Fringe Festival, and the Source Festival. Raised in Frederick, Maryland, Gwen has a strong background in dance and music and loves working on physical, ensemble-based shows. She holds a B.A. in Theatre Performance from the University of Maryland, College Park.  



Erik Higgins, double bass, is a musician known for his versatility and fluency in many different styles and musical languages. After graduating from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in 2007, he moved to Germany where he completed a post-graduate training program at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra Academy. In 2009, Erik became a tenured member of the Hamburg State Opera Company as well as an active Baroque and Chamber Musician throughout northern Germany. In 2013, he relocated to Boston where he joined A Far Cry Chamber Orchestra and plays regularly with Handel & Haydn Society and several other Boston Groups. 




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VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Eugene Kurtz's The Last Contrabass in Las Vegas 

Some people are deeply moved by instrumental music! In this funny and unique work, actor Gwen Grastorf partners with bassist Erik Higgins in a lively account of all that the contrabass can do. Staged at Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton in 2017.




VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire (excerpts)

Happenstance Theater actor Gwen Grastorf returned to SMF in 2018 to provide visual artistry, developed by Mark Jaster, for this performance of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. A modernist landmark composition expertly performed by soprano Megan Chartrand and festival colleagues.




VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Hasenohrl's Till Eulenspiegel Einmal Anders! after R. Strauss 

The otherwise unknown composer Franz Hasenöhrl made this stunning arrangement of Strauss' famous Till Eulenspiegel for chamber ensemble. Bassist Erik Higgins is joined by Antti Tikkanen (violin), Igor Begelman (clarinet), Larisa Gelman (bassoon), and Ian Zook (horn).  




VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Dave Anderson's Seven Double Bass Duets

If Kurtz's The Lass Contrabass in Las Vegas shows anything, it is the astonishing range of the double bass. In this performance from 2014, Anthony Manzo and Robert Nairn team up to take the story even further with seven jazz-inspired duets by American composer Dave Anderson.




VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Mauricio Kagel's Match for two cellos and percussion

In the same vein as Kurtz's theatrical Last Contrabass, Kagel's Match is part concert performance, part Dadist spectacle. Percussionist I-Jen Fang referees this imagined tennis match between cellists Michael Unterman and Jan Mueller-Szeraws.  Game on!