Connect with us

a&e features

Getting to know new Washington Bach Consort conductor Dana Marsh

Organist/singer/conductor brings period music expertise to Washington ensemble

Published

on

Dana Marsh, gay news, Washington Blade

Dana Marsh says he developed an affinity for classical music at an early age. (Photo by David Betts; courtesy Metropolitan Photography)

To say the Washington Bach Consort was sent reeling with the June 2016 death of its founder J. Reilly Lewis is an understatement.

Lewis founded the Consort in 1977 dedicated to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach — arguably the most towering figure in the history of western music — and his contemporaries. Its board opted to use its 2017-2018 40th season as a lengthy audition process for a new artistic director. Dana Marsh, an Eastman-trained singer/conductor/organist, has secured the position and will open the 41st season on Sunday, Sept. 16 with “Handel & Bach: Sing a New Song” at National Presbyterian Church (4101 Nebraska Ave., N.W.; details at bachconsort.org).

Marsh received “very enthusiastic support” from Consort musicians, Charles Reifel, head of the group’s artistic committee and a Consort board member, said in a press release. “We feel very fortunate to have found him.”

He holds a master’s and doctoral degree in historical musicology from the University of Oxford and has been hailed by the Los Angeles Times as an “energetic and persuasive conductor” and dubbed a “powerful and expressive countertenor” by the New York Times. He taught early music history at Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Marsh, 53 and gay, is starting his fifth year as associate professor of music and director of the Historical Performance Institute at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He’ll continue there and commute to Washington to lead the Consort. Marsh spoke to the Blade by phone last week from his Indiana office. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: It sounds like your work at the Historical Performance Institute will dovetail with the Consort’s mission. True?

DANA MARSH: Yes, there’s a great deal of overlap. What I do at Indiana University is considered historical performance where we use period instruments that are different from the versions used in modern orchestras that have been updated hugely. We try to do a bit of period drama and I direct at department at Indiana University that deals with that and the Washington Bach Consort also performs with period instruments.

BLADE: I was reading some liner notes recently that said something to the effect of what was actually likely heard in Bach’s churches at the time is not something we would find pleasant today. Is that true?

MARSH: There may be some truth to that speculation, that it would have sounded very out of tune to our ears. That could be the case but probably isn’t at least as far as the tuning goes. The performance practice itself, the way they made music and expressed text, some of that might have come as a shock to us, but when we start from the first temperament that we know of, they were very strict temperaments and they were probably more in tune than modern equal temperament because there weren’t as many key areas emphasized so it actually means it was very, very in tune.

BLADE: What is the appeal of period instrumentation for you?

MARSH: The idea of all this isn’t to tell people not to play Bach on modern instruments. There are lots of people who play on modern instruments who understand the detail and nuances (of early music) quite well. You can on modern instruments come extremely close to creating the same types of historical effects musically speaking that you can on earlier instruments. … One thing you certainly wouldn’t want to do is play lots of late 18th or 19th century music on tunings that were devised for the early 17th century. We’d think everyone was playing out of tune or incompetent. It has to fit the music it goes with.

BLADE: How did you develop an affinity for historically informed performance?

MARSH: I think it has to do with my really early musical training. Early on in life, when I was a choir boy both in New York and in England, first at the St. Thomas Choir School then at Salisbury Cathedral in England, a lot of the music (we performed) tended to be from the 15th and 16th centuries, so I felt a super strong affinity for those styles. I had a passion to find out in much more detail all I could about early music.

BLADE: Since you encountered it at a young age, is there a nostalgia factor for you with that music the way the Beatles and Motown and stuff like that has for the more general population?

MARSH: Yes, I would say so. I think whatever music we listen to, we tend to associate it with particular times in our lives, an experience, a smell or any sensory type of thing and you know, that automatically speaks to us from the inside in a certain way but there’s an intellectual fascination as well and that can be a great part of it too.

BLADE: Was your family musical?

MARSH: Yes, my dad was first violinist at the time for a well-known string quartet and he was on the road doing 50-60 concerts a year. My mom was an elementary school music teacher so there was no escape. … It was in my blood stream from a very early age.

BLADE: What’s life like in Bloomington, Indiana?

MARSH: Bloomington is an awesome town, right here in the middle of Indiana, this bastion of redness that’s very conservative but Bloomington has always been more liberal even going back to the 1950s. … It’s also aesthetically beautiful and there’s lots going on in the arts. There are over a thousand concerts a year associated with the school of music and seven operas done on a professional scale each year. It’s a surprisingly progressive and culturally rich town.

BLADE: How are you going to manage flying back and forth logistically?

MARSH: I checked into those concerns before I applied. The flights from Indiana to Reagan are incredibly efficient. I can leave my house by 6 a.m. and be on the Metro by 9:30. I’ll be in D.C. about half of September and more throughout the fall of course. Many of my colleagues have very full performing careers and are on the road so as long as one can shuffle everything around, the students and the school are totally behind it. It helps maintain their reputation.

BLADE: It sounds like a lot. Are you concerned you might spread yourself too thin?

MARSH: That’s always a possibility but for me things like that are sometimes almost counterintuitive. I find the more I’m in one situation, the more likely I am to get in a rut. If there’s something stimulating happening in the other situation, it helps me stay engaged (in my main work). It energizes me.

BLADE: What do you do at I.U.?

MARSH: I conduct and teach. I sort of have to wear a lot of hats from administrative functions to teaching to performance and then I also coach individual vocalists on performance style and conduct our early music ensembles. We have a bit of a rotation among faculty and with my administrative job, there are two entities. At the Historical Performance Institute is the musical research side of things and then the Historical Performance Department, which is the educational institute, that’s where the school of music deals with the students and faculty and everything that involves.

BLADE: I imagine you had been familiar with the Washington Bach Consort prior to hearing of the position?

MARSH: Absolutely. In fact, a few friends of mine who are professional singers had sung solos for Reilly in the past.

BLADE: Would you say the Consort has an international reputation?

MARSH: I would definitely say national, maybe not so much international and that’s one of the things we want to work on and will be an essential part of our new strategic plan.

BLADE: What is the Consort’s annual operating budget?

MARSH: I believe it’s about $1 million.

BLADE: Bach’s music is so heavily steeped in Christianity. Are you a Christian and do you feel Christians, people of other faiths and atheists can savor Bach equally or does his music tend to have added resonance for Christians?

MARSH: I was brought up in the church and Christianity though from a spiritual standpoint, I would say my horizons have broadened a bit and I would categorize my beliefs in that way now. There’s a lot of great art that came out of Christianity. When you think of all the people designing stained glass or building cathedrals, there had to have been skeptics among them and yet anyone can look at that art and be entirely struck by it. … I don’t think you have to be a believer to fully grasp what the composer means. … There are atheists who write about theology and are fascinated by it. … You can be an atheist and be absolutely struck by, say Bach’s “Mass in B Minor.”

BLADE: How religious does the elite classical music performance world tend to be in your experience?

MARSH: Certainly that community is well represented but I wouldn’t say it’s a majority. I would say it’s more like a long continuum and you have people whose beliefs would overlap with some of the places we perform like the National Cathedral or other outstanding church programs in the D.C. area, but also go exceptionally far beyond that as well.

BLADE: Is Bach really considered early music?

MARSH: The term early music has been something of a moving target. It used to be considered anything before 1750 with the emphasis on medieval and renaissance music but it kept moving forward and now it can be anything up to the end of the 19th century but it’s more about understanding the instruments they had at their disposal and how musical values have changed over time.

BLADE: When did you find out you got the job?

MARSH: I got the news in the middle of May but it wasn’t announced ’til August. I think the board wanted to get as much mileage out of the announcement as they could.

BLADE: What do you have planned for the opening concert?

MARSH: It will be very celebratory. We’re doing one of the Bach cantatas (BWV 190). The translation is “Sing Unto the Lord a New Song.” The second piece is by Handel and it’s his ode to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, a wonderfully rich piece. Then the final piece will be the Bach “Magnificat,” which is probably the best known of the three.

BLADE: How many singers and players are in the Consort?

MARSHThere are three formats: the subscription series at the National Presbyterian; the cantata series (six per year) at Church of the Epiphany and St Peter’s Capitol Hill; and the chamber series is held at the First Congregational FCC at 10th and G Streets. For the subscription series, where we do the larger-scale performances, there’s a choir of 16 and an orchestra of maybe 30 players. For the chamber series, it’s much smaller.

BLADE: So Bach wasn’t working with huge choirs and orchestras then in his day?

MARSH: No. He was always complaining to the town council about it. Sometimes he had just eight singers and proportional orchestras with single instruments except for the two violin parts.

BLADE: Did you ever meet Dr. Lewis?

MARSH: No, I never did but … I feel I met him in a way through his incredible legacy. (The Consort members) are really very nice and care about each other and that’s not always the case in organizations such as these.

BLADE: Do you still play the organ? (Marsh’s undergraduate major was organ performance)

MARSH: I do but not as much as I did. The first four years I was back in the U.S., I played at the Episcopal Cathedral in Indianapolis but since I’ve been at I.U. I haven’t been playing as much. I have some recitals scheduled next year. I’ll be doing one in New York in March and I’ll be playing on some noon recitals as well. There’s always an organ prelude with the cantatas so I’ll be doing a few of those. I’m definitely keeping the fingers moving.

BLADE: Would you say you’re a conductor first and foremost?

MARSH: At the moment, I’m doing more conducting than singing or playing. I’m doing the least amount of singing but sometimes, truth be told, I miss it.

BLADE: What’s it like conducting a choir of professional singers? Do you have to remind them of cutoffs and do they go flat and all the stuff that comes up in church volunteer choir or not so much?

MARSH: A lot of the same issues come up but in a different way. … You end up going more deeply into the details metaphorically of how you want to achieve certain effects but in a way that everyone can relate to. It’s important to identify as quickly as possible some common principles that can apply to as many people as possible that require the least amount of adjustment as possible for the biggest possible change or results.

BLADE: (Concert organist) Cameron Carpenter said at a recital I was at a few months ago that Bach was not someone anybody today would want to be around. I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said Bach was someone you’d avoid if you saw him on the Metro, a fundamentalist religious zealot. Do you agree?

MARSH: By today’s standards he probably would be considered a religious zealot but those kinds of things change over time. For his day, he might have been very middle of the road. I wouldn’t argue with what Cameron said and yeah, there’s definitely documentary evidence that he could be extremely cantankerous but it tended to be with the authorities because he felt he was under supported. The guy had a family of nearly two dozen kids and was responsible for all the music in the town so I’m sure there was a lot of pressure. … I’m sure he had a gentler side as well but only a time machine would tell us that.

BLADE: LGBT issues seem kind of murky in classical music. On one hand, it’s treated as a non-issue as long as your performance is solid. On the other hand it can be so staid that the downplaying of one’s sexuality on the stage can feel disingenuous in its own right. What’s your take on all that?

MARSH: There does tend to be a way of casting aside certain social issues in deference to the music. There’s been a great deal more written in the last 40 years about how some of the great composers might have been gay. There has been a whole branch of musicology devoted to this. Philip Brett, one of the founders of that scholarship, was a mentor of mine. His edited book of 25 years ago, “Queering the Pitch: the new Gay and Lesbian Musicology,” made the first strides in this area. Handel, Schubert and Tchaikovsky, among others, are figures for whom a good deal of scholarly research has been undertaken with consensus pointing toward their being gay. A great deal more ground has been covered since. And now the whole idea of non-binary gender issues opens wider horizons as well so it’s not an either-or thing, it’s one of those long continuums that people can be situated at many different places along it. We’re seeing more trans singers now and one I know, a student at I.U., is absolutely one of the best I’ve ever heard and has an incredibly bright future ahead. I think we can all be kind of surprised by the discoveries we’ll continue to make in this area and how relevant they truly can be.

BLADE: How does it help us today to know that?

MARSHAlthough attitudes toward sexuality have changed substantially over time during different centuries, same-sex attraction is something that can’t be whitewashed away from history. Of course, most of the evidence that survives has to be documentary, or iconographic, and can only capture so much of a layer of social behavior that is ultimately ephemeral.

BLADE: How long have you been out professionally?

MARSH: I was kind of late. I didn’t come out ’til I was in my 30s. I had been open to some friends sooner. I almost got married to a woman once … and I identified as a little more bisexual at the time I guess. I don’t really know how to put that. But now that I look back, I think things worked out as they should have.

BLADE: Did coming out have any impact on your musical career?

MARSH: Not in the least. Nobody batted an eyelash really.

BLADE: Are you in a relationship now?

MARSH: Yes, he moved in with me last December. He’s in an entirely different field and I find that refreshing. He’s the most special person I’ve ever met and I just feel lucky every day.

BLADE: How long have you been together?

MARSH: We first started hanging out four years ago.

BLADE: What’s your vision for the Consort?

MARSH: Kind of circling back to what we were saying about raising its profile on an international basis but also continuing, through recordings and tours, to do outreach work. We see about 3,000 students a year in a project called Bach to School. That is important since music education has been so heavily written out of schools. We have a real job to do in helping expose these kids to music.

BLADE: Sometimes it feels like society is getting overall kind of dumbed down. I could point to many challenges various classical music organizations are facing. Does finding an audience and continuing to perform feel like an uphill battle?

MARSH: No, not at all. I think performing musicians have always had to balance these forces of creative autonomy with economic reality. That’s been a challenge going back 300 years. Being able to balance those and find ways to deal with them entrepreneurally betters the art for everyone.

BLADE: But is there a danger in spending time thinking like an entrepreneur and spending time doing outreach in schools and so on, that the music itself may suffer?

MARSH Not at all. I think over the long haul it has the opposite effect. A lot of the obstacles we’re facing now deal with perspectives that have already had their time so maybe now it’s time to create new ones. This whole idea that you go to a concert and have a very passive audience that is shushed … these are conventions we’ve created in the last century that weren’t around before and we’ve clung to them and they’ve created some of our biggest challenges today. But there are organizations that manage to keep tradition and overcome these challenges like the L.A. Philharmonic or the Handel and Haydn Society or the Bach Consort. … There are opportunities there when you start thinking far outside the box.

Dana Marsh says challenges in classical music often stem from an over-reliance on outdated concert practices. (Photo by David Betts; courtesy Metropolitan Photography)

Continue Reading
Advertisement

a&e features

Melissa Etheridge shares Q&A in advance of April 26 Tysons tour stop

Rock pioneer finds inspiration in the past — from revisiting old demos to reconnecting with celeb pals like Ellen

Published

on

Melissa Etheridge brings her ‘One Way Out Tour’ to the D.C. region next week with a show at the new Capital One Hall in Tysons. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

Melissa Etheridge
‘One Way Out Tour’
Tuesday, April 26
Capital One Hall
7750 Capital One Tower Rd.
Tysons, VA
7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $55
ticketmaster.com
capitalonehall.com
melissaetheridge.com

We caught up with rock legend Melissa Etheridge on April 8 by phone from Snoqualmie, Wash. — it’s about 26 miles east of Seattle —where she was playing the Snoqualmie Casino on her “One Way Out Tour,” which plays our region on Tuesday, April 26. 

It’s named after her latest album, released last fall, which found Etheridge, who’s been out since ’93, revisiting demos from early in her career.

Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: “One Way Out” sounds like such a cool project. Was it all re-recorded stuff of old songs or were some of those vintage takes on the record as well?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: The last two songs, the live songs, were from where? From 2002? OK, but the other songs were newly recorded. 

BLADE: And how many of them did you remember?

ETHERIDGE: You know, when I found them again, they all came back very clearly. And I was like, “Oh, this is — why did I throw that away? That’s weird.” And I really enjoyed, you know, hearing them, they were just old demos. I’d never done full-blown recordings. So I thought, “This is great, I want to do these songs.”

BLADE: We have a relatively new venue you’re going to be playing, Capital One Hall. I’ve only been there once. You excited?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s always fun. I love the D.C.-area crowd. It’s just really, really nice.

BLADE: And how do you decide where you’ll be? Or do you have any say in it? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, it’s not necessarily me. I do have a say in it, in what I want the whole tour to look like. But it is really up to William Morris, my agent, to find the right venue that understands what we need and the kind of atmosphere we’re looking for that and the amount of people and, you know, that sort of thing.

BLADE: Tell me about Etheridge TV. I just wonder, when we were in that acute phase of the pandemic, wasn’t it even remotely tempting to you to just take a break?

ETHERIDGE: No, because since I was 12 years old, I sang all the time for people, like five days a week and it’s just been what I do. And so when it was like, I was looking at a massive, cavernous amount of time that I was going to be home, I still needed a way to pay the bills, so we put our heads together — I’ve got one of the greatest television minds with me, you know, my wife (TV producer Linda Wallem), so I had the space and I had the equipment, and I was like, “Let’s do it.” And it was really fun to learn new things. It was fun to learn about computers and sound and streaming and lights and cameras and all these things that I didn’t know. … I feel a little smarter.

BLADE: When did you start back on the road?

ETHERIDGE: We went out last fall. We went out September, October, right around there. And you know, it was a little different, Now things are things are loosening up … but some places still require masks. But people are starting to get back out and it feels good. It’s not the overwhelming thing that it was a few months ago.

BLADE: And what was it like being on ‘Ellen’ again for her final season?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, I love her. She’s such an old friend. You know, I say that about myself, too. (chuckles) But, you know, she’s just a relationship in my life that I have treasured. We’ve watched each other grow and the changes we’ve made and the successes and what we’ve gone through and I love that she had me on and just it was just a really — she’s a dear friend. And she showed an old photo there, and we both said, “Oh, that was before we were so busy.”

BLADE: Do you talk to her often?

ETHERIDGE: I would say we see each other socially once or twice a year. It just seemed like once we started having children, all my friends from my 20s and 30s when we were not as busy — it just gets harder to stay in touch and life got crazy. 

BLADE: So when you were hanging out back in the day with Ellen and Rosie and everybody, how was it that Brad Pitt was in that group too? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, my girlfriend (Julie Cypher) had been married to Lou Diamond Phillips and we were all very good friends with Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener and Catherine Keener did a movie with Brad, like a movie nobody saw, like Johnny Dangerously or something (1991’s “Johnny Suede”), some really weird movie. So I met Brad before he was terribly famous. He was a part of that group. There was a whole group of all of us that just hung out, and we were all totally different. We were just like young, hungry Hollywood and we’d talk about, “Oh, I had this audition,” or “I went and did this,” and we were just all trying to make it in that town. So we’d get together and have fun. 

BLADE: I was so terribly sorry to hear about Beckett (Etheridge’s son, who died in 2020 at age 21 after struggling with opioid addiction). How are you and the rest of the family, especially (Beckett’s twin) Bailey, dealing with it now?

ETHERIDGE: There are many, many families like us that deal with a loss like that. It just blows a family sideways. But we have a deep love and connection, all of us. We all knew he had a problem and it’s a problem that starts way before he actually passes, so it was not a surprise. So now we’re just living with the missing aspect. You try not to think about what could have been and you try to think about him in a happier place and that he’s out of pain, so that helps us.

BLADE: Had he and Bailey been as close in recent years?

ETHERIDGE: They were very close, but in the last couple of years as he made worse and worse choices, we couldn’t support that, so they were less close, but of course in her heart, it was her brother, he was very dear to her. 

BLADE: Did you watch the Grammys?  Was there anybody you were particularly rooting for?

ETHERIDGE: I watched bits and pieces of it. I had a show that night, so I didn’t get to see the main thing, but I have seen pieces and I just love the crazy diversity and you know, the TikTok people winning stuff, it’s like, “Wow, this is so not the Grammys I remember from the ’80s,” but that was what, 30 years ago? So it’s all good.

BLADE: You were such a perennial favorite back in the day in the best rock female category. Were you pissed when they eliminated it? 

ETHERIDGE: It’s sad because I felt like the criteria they were using to judge what is female rock, they just really dropped the ball. I still think there are some amazing musicians that could be considered, you know, rock, but it feels like we’re having a hard time even defining what rock and roll is now anyway. There’s a whole bunch of strong women out there playing, rocking, you know, playing guitar, being excellent musicians and songwriters. If you can’t call it best rock female, OK, call it something else. 

BLADE: I remember so vividly when you were on the Grammys in 2005, in the midst of chemo, when you sang “Piece of My Heart.” I remember you saying you were wondering how people would react to seeing you bald. Having been through that, any thoughts on the Will/Jada Oscars situation since her baldness, too, was due to a medical condition? 

ETHERIDGE: You know, it’s funny, I did feel a little remembrance of (thinking), “I just hope people don’t make fun of me.” That was kind of the first thing because to go out there bald, that was so different for me as an artist whose hair had kind of defined her. I was thinking, “How am I gonna rock without my hair?” I thought people might make fun of me, but I got over that. I just thought, “Well, if somebody makes fun of me, that just makes them look bad.” So I just walked through it. And you know, it’s hard to draw the line between what’s funny and what’s painful and how to look at something. I feel for all parties involved. 

BLADE: When you go on these cruises, do fans give you some space or do they swarm around the minute you walk out? Is it even enjoyable for you? 

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it is. You know, we did our last one, now we’re doing Etheridge Island, we now have a destination in Mexico, outside of Cancun, it’s just this island that we’re going to that is really fantastic. But I do I make myself available, I don’t run away. When I have to be somewhere, I have a great company we work with called Sixthman that knows how to get me from point A to point B without being bogged down. But I do my make myself available. Everyone gets a picture with me. It’s my work, but I love it. I try to make myself available but also have some time just for myself too.

Melissa Etheridge says slowing down wasn’t an option for her when the pandemic hit. She’s glad to be back on the road now, she says. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

BLADE: You Tweeted a few nights ago about having a tight curfew of just 90 minutes at a casino but then it worked out and you got to do a full set. Why are the curfews so tight at casinos?  

ETHERIDGE: Why do you think? They want people at the tables. Like for tonight, we we settled on 100 minutes. They’re giving me 10 extra minutes. I don’t like it, but in some areas, the only really good venue is a casino, so if you want to reach your folks there, you kind of have to meet them half way. 

BLADE: Yeah, but it seems like in concert halls, the curfews can sometimes be really tight too. Even Madonna got her lights shut off a couple years ago. Of course, she’s notoriously late, but why are they so strict with these things nowadays? 

ETHERIDGE: There are all different situations — concert halls often have union crews that will absolutely shut you down if you go one second over. There are also sound curfews, noise curfews, mostly with outdoor venues, but sometimes indoor as well. They have an agreement with the neighborhood. So you have people in the neighborhood standing by with their phones ready to pounce the minute it goes over one minute, they’re gonna call the police. As a performer, you just realize, “OK, it’s not just about me.” When I don’t have a curfew, I usually land at about two hours and some change. That seems comfortable to everyone. Any longer and I think I’m wearing my audience out. When I’m at a place with a shorter show, I just do my best. 

BLADE: I know you’re a big Chiefs fan. Did you watch that game back in January all the way to the end? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, at the end of it, I was on the floor. My wife was like, “Honey, honey, there’s still 13 seconds,” and I was moaning and sort of getting my feet on the floor and, you know, laying down and throwing a fit. And she’s like, “No, there’s still 13 seconds.” I dragged myself back to the television. And I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wait a minute. Did we just win?” You know, just really crazy, really crazy stuff. … When you’re a fan like that, it’s a ride you can’t fully explain.

BLADE: Are you in a cordial or good place with your exes? Does it get easier when the kids are starting to grow up?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And you realize that it’s best for the kids if you can really get along and that any sort of conflict that can’t get resolved, that gets emotional, does no good for anyone. And absolutely, I have, I’ve gotten better at that as the years have gone by.

BLADE: Do you have the slightest inkling yet what the next studio album might be like?

ETHERIDGE: Well, I’ve got some interesting projects that I’m not ready to talk about just yet. But they have to do with my life story. There’s a lot of digging up of my past and really telling the story. So I imagine the next series of music you’ll get from me is going to be very focused on my journey. 

Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade
Melissa Etheridge (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)
Continue Reading

a&e features

New Cranes sommelier brings spirit to wine and sake program

Stewart-Woodruff curates eclectic list for Michelin-starred restaurant

Published

on

‘I bring my whole self to work,’ says Eric Stewart-Woodruff. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Outfitted in a blue damask dinner jacket with satin lapels and an energetic smile, Eric Stewart-Woodruff carves an impressive figure when chatting about his favorite vintages. Stewart-Woodruff, who’s gay, is the new sommelier at Michelin-starred Cranes in Penn Quarter.

Stewart-Woodruff curates an eclectic wine – and sake – program focusing on pairings with celebrated Chef Pepe Moncayo’s innovative, global flavors. Cranes, which explores intersections of Spanish and Japanese cuisine, opened just before the pandemic, and received a coveted Michelin star in 2021.

Stewart-Woodruff did not start off in the wine industry. In fact, he does not have any formal training in wine. Instead, after a career as a professional photographer, he pivoted to the restaurant industry, where he developed his love of wine. While working for a distributor, he connected with D.C.’s own District Winery. This opportunity allowed him to express his truest self, as a lead tour guide, wine ambassador and sommelier. He credits his identity and personality as his reason for thriving.

“I bring my whole self to work,” he says, “offering a level of humanity and approachability.” 

After the pandemic temporarily shuttered District Winery, Stewart-Woodruff found himself interviewing at Cranes, enamored with Moncayo’s “creative vision,” he says – and was sold. He began in late summer of 2021.

Through his work in hospitality, Stewart-Woodruff notes that the industry can be hetero-male dominated. He has been able to break through by not holding back on his identity.

“I tend to play with expectations of what a sommelier may look or act like,” he says. “I move away from what one may stereotypically look like, but still present like one.”

For him, that means talking about wine and wine education “as if it were gossip,” he says. “I like to view wine like we are at brunch. Wine has personality, it’s performative, and it has stereotypes.” He is seeking to break molds of specific likes and dislikes, exploring the depth that wine has to offer, in the context of the Spanish-Japanese Cranes menu. In fact, he says, Moncayo is supportive of his innovative, certification-less angle. “I become more relatable,” he says.

He also presents original events. He paired with local guest sommelier Andrew Stover (also a gay man) on Tuesday, March 29 for a springtime showcase of specialty rosé wines paired with Moncayo’s dishes. The duo poured tastes of specialty, small-batch wines from Brazil, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Maryland.

Leaning into the innovative spirit, the wine-by-glass list is not split by color. Instead, it is divided into evocative categories. For example, both a chardonnay and a pinot noir fall into the “Elegant, round, and mellow” category.

As a Spanish-Japanese restaurant, Cranes not only possesses an extensive wine cellar, but has consistently expanded its sake program. Sakes by the glass are split into the same exact categories. The very same “Elegant, round, and mellow” list includes Ginjo Nama Genshu and junmai daiginjo.

Stewart-Woodruff explains that wine and sake should be attended to similarly. “Sake is something you can think about like a beer in terms of production but treat like a wine,” he says. Sake is a fermented polished-rice beverage, dating back more than two millennia in Japan.

“Sake has aromatics, texture, body, and finish.” He takes pride in discussing customers’ palate preferences, and turning them onto a specific sake, for their qualities of earthiness, acidity, or others.

“Many people don’t experience sake outside of college or bars. Now, I can be a sommelier for sake, and for the marriage of Eastern and Western cuisine and beverage.” He expresses excitement at being innovative in his sake beverage pairings, occupying a niche space. When discussing both wine and sake, he aims to bring an artistic flair and tour-guide enthusiasm to the table.

Woodruff credits his identity and background for his success. He aims to bring a level of humanity and approachability to what has been a formal, stuffy area. He has high ambitions to portray sake as sophisticated as wine in the customer’s mind, “but it pairs well with Moncayo’s conceptually ambitious menu,” he says.

“Wine and sake are as eclectic as humanity. I want people to accept experiencing wine like the world has accepted me.”

Continue Reading

a&e features

Legalization trend continues as Nat’l Cannabis Festival kicks off

D.C.’s 420 Week runs April 16-24

Published

on

National Cannabis Festival (Photo by Doug Van Sant; courtesy NCF)

The sixth annual National Cannabis Festival kicks off in D.C. on April 16 as the nation continues to see advances in legalizing cannabis, particularly for medical uses. 

Just this week, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed HB 933 and SB 671, to provide numerous operational improvements to the state’s medical cannabis program, including eliminating the requirement that patients register with the Board of Pharmacy after receiving their written certification from a registered practitioner. 

“These legislative improvements will bring great relief to the thousands of Virginians waiting to access the medical cannabis program,” said JM Pedini, NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML. “We hear from dozens of Virginians each week who are struggling with the registration process and frustrated by the 60-day wait to receive their approval from the Board of Pharmacy,” Pedini added.

There are more than 47,000 program registrants, with an estimated 8,000 applicants still awaiting approval. 

The new laws will take effect July 1. Until that time, patients will still be required to register with the Board of Pharmacy in order to shop at one of the state’s ten operational dispensaries. After July 1, patients who would like to receive a physical card will still have the option to request one by registering with the Board of Pharmacy.

The changes in Virginia law reflect growing support nationwide for reforming marijuana laws. Most Americans favor the enactment of a broad array of legal reforms specific to marijuana policy, according to new nationwide polling data provided by YouGov.com.

Specifically, six-in-10 Americans say that “marijuana should be made legal in the United States.” Majorities of Democrats (72 percent) and independents (60 percent) back legalization, while most Republicans (46 percent) do not.

Last week, members of the United States House of Representatives voted 220 to 204 in favor of The MORE Act, which removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act thereby allowing states to legalize cannabis markets free from federal interference. Most Democrats (217) voted for the bill while all but three Republicans voted against it.

A majority of Americans also support amending federal law so that banks and other financial institutions can explicitly partner with state-licensed marijuana businesses. Support for the policy change is strongest among Democrats (66 percent) and weakest among Republicans (38 percent).

Under existing federal law, financial institutions are discouraged from partnering with state-licensed cannabis businesses. According to the most recent financial information provided by the US Treasury Department, only about ten percent of all banks and only about four percent of all credit unions provide services to licensed cannabis-related businesses.

House members have voted on six separate occasions to pass federal legislation (The SAFE Banking Act) to reform this policy, but Senators have never taken any action to advance it in the Upper Chamber. Most recently, House members voted in February to include SAFE Banking provisions in HR 4521: the America COMPETES Act. Senators failed to include similar language in their version of the bill. (Courtesy NORML)

420 Week arrives in D.C.

D.C. is gearing up for a blazing 420 Week, featuring several days of exciting panels, art and community-building events and parties culminating in the National Cannabis Festival on April 23, featuring Wiz Khalifa, Lettuce, Ghostface Killah, Backyard Band, DuPont Brass, Shamans of Sound, Cramer, and more. 

This year, the sixth annual National Cannabis Festival, which celebrates progress on cannabis legalization, is expanding to a full weekend of epic cannabis-related events, including the National Cannabis Policy Summit April 22 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center and the National Cannabis Championship, presented by Gentleman Toker and slated for April 24 at Echostage with Slick Rick. The weekend is the capstone of 420 Week, hosted by the National Cannabis Festival organizers in partnership with the Eaton Hotel and DC Brau. The week kicks off on Saturday, April 16, with movie screenings, evening parties, a beer launch and more. Read on for the week’s highlights, courtesy of Festival organizers:
 

420 Week

Saturday, April 16 – Sunday, April 24 

Eaton Hotel + DC Brau

From the Hemp and Hops Panel and launch of NCF Legalize It! Lager at DC Brau (3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE) on April 16 to the 4/20 Kickback Party featuring Khalifa Kush and panel with artists discussing cannabis’s role in their practice at the Eaton Hotel (1201 K St, NW), 420 Week promises something for everyone with an interest in cannabis culture. Take a tour with Luckie Chucky tours, participate in a “Plantwave Soundbath” and more. Nearly all events are free; RSVP required. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com for details. 
 

National Cannabis Policy Summit

Friday, April 22, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Join a who’s who of activists, industry pioneers, government leaders, journalists and more for an electric and illuminating day looking at the era’s most pressing cannabis policy challenges and opportunities. U.S. Senate candidate and Civil Rights activist Gary Chambers; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; Portland Cannabis Program Manager Dasheeda Dawson; Aamra Ahmad, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and many others will be on hand to discuss environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation, banking legislation, decriminalization and more. Afterward, stay for a reception sponsored by Weedmaps. All events are free; registration is strongly recommended. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/ncf-policy-summit for details. 
      

National Cannabis Festival

Saturday, April 23, 12 p.m. 

RFK Festival Grounds

2400 East Capitol St., NE, Lot 8

 The highlight of 420 Week events is the East Coast’s largest ticketed cannabis gathering, which returns to Washington’s RFK Campus with performances from Wiz Khalifa Lettuce, Ghostface Killah and many others. Also on tap: a wide range of exhibitors, five pavilions on topics from wellness to agriculture to education, and a brand-new culinary pavilion featuring top chefs from Maydan, Maketto, Moon Rabbit, as well as the Munchies Zone, with 75 of the region’s most popular food trucks including Peruvian Brothers, Jerk at Nite, Reba’s Funnel Cakes and more. (Note: No THC infused foods are permitted to be sold or sampled at NCF; festival-goers must be 21 and up.) Tickets range from $75-$375 for one or two-day admission to the festival and National Cannabis Championship. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets
 

National Cannabis Championship Presented by Gentleman Toker

Sunday, April 24, 12 p.m.

2135 Queens Chapel Rd., NE

Slick Rick and DJ Footwerk are giving festival-goers a sendoff to remember on the final day of 420 Week and the festival weekend, at the National Cannabis Championship at Echostage, new this year. Presented by Gentleman Toker, this awards show and bash celebrates the incredible cannabis cultivation taking place in the Washington area and across the Mid-Atlantic. Expect exhibitors, comedy, munchies, drinks and a chance to chill with some of the biggest names and brands in cannabis cultivation. Tickets are $55. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular