By STEVE PFARRER
Like so many other arts venues, the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts had to resort to online productions during the worst of the pandemic. As FAC Director Jamilla Deria told the Gazette at the time, planning for the 2020-2021 season, already well into the works, had to be completely scrapped and reconfigured for remote audiences once COVID-19 came on the scene.
But in the last couple of years, the FAC has made a big return to live events, while also offering some online programming. And for the 2023-2024 season, the arts center is again offering a range of music, dance, theater and circus-style performances.
Also on tap is a “Codemakers” series that’s built around artist-activists who will host discussions about their work, with some performing as well.
Following a few productions this month, here’s a look at some of the key artists and groups who will be coming to campus in October.
Nano Stern, Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m., Bowker Auditorium — This month marks the 50th anniversary of a grim anniversary: the 1973 coup d’état in Chile that ousted popularly elected socialist president Salvador Allende and installed Augusto Pinochet as the head of a military dictatorship that ruled the country with an iron fist for the next 17 years.
Stern, a Chilean singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist, offers not just an antidote to that period but a reckoning with its dark history, as he’s considered one of the country’s leading musicians of the last two decades as well as a key political voice within that music.
His influences include jazz, rock, folk and fusion, and on his most recent album, “Nano Stern Canta a Victor Jara,” he revisits the work of Victor Jara, a Chilean singer-singer, poet, and political activist who was tortured and murdered by the Pinochet regime.
In this debut of the season’s “Codemaker” series at the FAC, Stern will perform some of this music and conduct a question and answer session with audience members. He’ll also introduce and screen “We’ll Be Singing by September,” a documentary film he’s co-produced and directed that explores Chilean music during President Allende’s tenure.
According to production notes, the film examines the importance of Nueva canción, a left-wing social movement and musical genre in Latin America, through a series of interviews with some of the movement’s most prominent figures.
Branford Marsalis Quartet, Oct. 5, 7:30 p.m., Frederick C. Tillis Performance Hall — Kicking off the FAC’s 2023-2024 jazz series is a man who needs little introduction, but it’s worth noting just a few highlights.
Branford Marsalis is a three-time Grammy Award winner, a NEA Jazz Master, and an Emmy and Tony award nominee. He’s composed acclaimed music for both stage and screen, including “Children of a Lesser God,” “Fences,” and Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues.”
As a saxophonist, composer, bandleader, and educator, Marsalis has also covered a lot of ground, not just in jazz but as a highly sought soloist with classical orchestras and in collaborations with The Grateful Dead, Sting, and other pop music figures.
And in what’s a pretty unusual scenario in the jazz world, his quartet, which includes piano, bass and drums, has been playing for over 30 years with minimal lineup changes, earning plaudits for its range, dexterity and cohesiveness.
As Marsalis said in 2019 after recording “The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul,” his most recent album with the quartet, “Staying together allows us to play adventurous, sophisticated music and sound good … I like playing sophisticated music, and I couldn’t create this music with people I don’t know.”
Stephanie Poetri, Oct. 11, 8 p.m., Frederick C. Tillis Performance Hall — Indie-pop singer and composer Stephanie Poetri, who grew up in Indonesia and now lives in Los Angeles, has built up a huge online following in the last four years, particularly through her viral single “I Love You 3000,” which racked up 425 million streams on varied platforms.
She’s now connected with 88rising, a California music company that’s become a particular platform for Asian American and Asian artists who release music in the U.S. And with that new affiliation, Poetri says she’s looking to bring new sounds into her music so that she’s not pegged just as a singer-songwriter
As FAC publicity notes put it, she wants “to make songs that have a little bit of an edge. I want to put some more femininity into indie rock.”
FAC staff say their Asian and Asian American Arts and Culture Program partnered with 88rising last year to bring another emerging pop star, NIKI, to Amherst, which resulted in “the first sellout crowd of the post-pandemic era” in Tillis Hall — hence the decision to have Poetri visit here this fall.
Emmet Cohen Trio, Oct. 19, 7:30 p.m., Bowker Auditorium — At 33, Emmet Cohen has already made a considerable mark as a pianist, bandleader and composer.
For one thing, he won first place in the 2019 American Pianists Awards, a prestigious contest that netted him a $50,000 prize. He also recorded and self-released his first album, “In the Element,” while still in college.
As an educator, the FAC says, Cohen also believes deeply in artists passing their knowledge and tradition down to the next generation, so he’ll spend much of the week before his show working with UMass students as this year’s Billy Taylor Jazz Resident.
Cohen has gigged in the area before — he played a solo show at the Northampton Jazz Festival a few years ago — and when he comes to UMass he’ll be joined by Philip Norris on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. Farnsworth, a South Hadley native, plays the Northampton Jazz Festival Sept. 30 in a concert honoring legendary drummer Max Roach.
“Alice” by MOMIX, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m., Frederick C. Tillis Performance Hall — Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is well known for its strange characters, flights of whimsy, and surreal touches. So how do you bring it to the stage?
One suggestion: Call MOMIX, the Connecticut company that combines acrobatics, dance, mime, imaginative costumes, props, and film to create an immersive theatrical experience.
The company’s latest production, “Alice,” draws on Carroll’s timeless story for new work, devised by choreographer/director Moses Pendleton, who founded MOMIX in 1981.
“I don’t intend to retell the whole Alice story,” Pendleton says, “but to use it as a taking-off point for invention.”
According to production notes, the “dancer-illusionists” of MOMIX bring to life a number of the notable characters from Wonderland, including the “undulating Caterpillar,” the Lobster Quadrille, the “frenzied” White Rabbits, and the mad Queen of Hearts (and Alice, of course).
“MOMIX’s Alice fills the stage with a marvelously dizzying flow of physical activities and illusions amid expansive, artful projections,” writes The Wall Street Journal.
For more information on the FAC’s new season, visit https://fac.umass.edu/Online/default.asp.
Steve Pfarrer can be reached at email@example.com.