Saturday, February 25, 2017

Portland Opera kicks of its new winter series with passionate Monteverdi madrigals

Photography by Cory Weaver | Courtesy Portland Opera
Even though his music is 400 years old, Claudio Monteverdi’s madrigals can still strike a chord with contemporary audiences, because they wonderfully explore love with all of its thorns and fragrance. The intimacy of the madrigals made them a good fit for “Songs of Love and War,” which Portland Opera staged at its newly christened Gregory K. and Mary Chomenko Hinckley Studio Theatre on Friday (February 17). The music was evocatively conveyed by members and alumna of Portland Opera Resident Artists program under the direction of Christopher Mattaliano, and the production was the first in the company’s inaugural Vino e Voce series.

From the age of 40 to the end of his life, Monteverdi wrote nine books of madrigals. “Songs of Love and War” featured eighteen selections from Books 7, 8, and 9 plus two songs from his “Scherzi Musicali.” The selections were grouped under an arc of themes, starting with “The Dance of Courtship and Seduction” and ending with “Acceptance with Pleasure – Whatever the Cost.” The three themes in the middle were “Sensual Pleasure and Fantasy,” “Unrequited and Forbidden Love,” and “Lessons Learned or Not.”

Photography by Cory Weaver | Courtesy Portland Opera
Within that framework, each madrigal could be experienced as a separate episode. In “O mio bene” the men longed for love. In “Bel pastor” the women tried to extract a promise of how much the men will love them. There were sensual moments punctuated by statements, such as “Love mixes flame and ice,” that have lost nothing in the last 400 years.

Photography by Cory Weaver | Courtesy Portland Opera
“Still, it was difficult to avoid imagining the characters in a story that had continuity For example, the bass might pursue the mezzo in one song, but he might be involved with someone else in the next, and that would then be followed by something completely different.

All of the action took place on top of and around an extremely large bed, which was placed in the center of the hall surrounded by the audience on all four sides. Sopranos Lindsay Ohse and Antonia Tamer, mezzo Kate Farrar, bass James Harrington, baritone Ryan Thorn, and tenor Aaron Short flirted, frolicked, fumed, and fought with élan. They impeccably expressed the content and emotion of each piece with ardent singing, and their ensemble numbers were remarkably well balanced.

Photography by Cory Weaver | Courtesy Portland Opera
But with the singers running around in satin pajamas and nightgowns for 90 minutes, the production became a bit one-dimensional. Besides the super-large bed, the only other prop was a large satin sheet. Since the text referred once in a while to flowers and food, a bouquet or a picnic basket would have been a nice diversion.

The chamber orchestra, sequestered in one corner of the hall, sounded terrific. It consisted of Dylan Rieck (cello), Hideki Yamaya (theorbo and Baroque guitar), and Nicolas Fox, who conducted the entire enterprise from the harpsichord.

Because most of Portland Opera productions have been moved to the summer, the new Vino e Voce series marks a brave attempt by Mattaliano and company to redefine opera for the winter months. “Songs of Love and War” was a good start.
Photography by Cory Weaver | Courtesy Portland Opera

Today's Birthdays

Armand-Louis Couperin (1727-1789)
Antoine Reicha (1770-1836)
Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)
Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965)
Victor Silvester (1900-1978)
Davide Wilde (1935)
Jesús López-Cobos (1940)
George Harrison (1943-2001)
Lucy Shelton (1944)
Denis O'Neill (1948)
Melinda Wagner (1957)

and

Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
Karl Friedrich May (1842–1874)
Anthony Burgess (1917-1993)
John C. Farrar (1896-1974)

And from the New Music Box:
On February 25, 1924, the first issue of the League of Composers Review was published. Under the editorial leadership of Minna Lederman, this publication—which soon thereafter changed its name to Modern Music (in April 1925)—was the leading journalistic voice for contemporary music in America for over 20 years and featured frequent contributions from important composers of the day including Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, John Cage, Marc Blitzstein, Henry Cowell, Lehman Engel, and Marion Bauer. Its final issue appeared in the Fall of 1946.

And from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1682,Italian composer Alessandro Stradella, age 37, is murdered in Genoa, apparently in retaliation for running off with a Venetian nobleman's mistress.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Preview of Vancouver Symphony concerts with David Shifrin in today's Columbian

David Shifrin will play a couple of clarinet concertos with the Vancouver Symphony this weekend. My preview of the concert, including an interview with Shifrin about the music, is in today's issue of The Columbian newspaper.

Today's Birthdays

Antoine Boësset (1587-1643)
Samuel Wesley (1766-1837)
Arrigo Boito (1842-1918)
Luigi Denza (1846-1922)
Arnold Dolmetsch (1858-1940)
Michel Legrand (1932)
Renato Scotto (1934)
Jiří Bělohlávek (1946)

and

Wilhelm (Carl) Grimm (1786-1859)
Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
George Augustus Moore (1852-1933)
Mary Ellen Chase (1887-1973)
Weldon Kees (1914-1955)
Jane Hirshfield (1953)
Judith Butler (1956)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1955, Carlisle Floyd's opera "Susannah" received its premiere at Florida State University in Tallahassee. According to Opera America, this is one of the most frequently-produced American operas during the past decade.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Portland Symphony Choir on the hunt for a new Artistic Director

From the choir's web site:

For over 70 years, Portland Symphonic Choir has been creating beautiful music under the direction of just five artistic directors. Dr. Steven Zopfi joined Portland Symphonic Choir as artistic director in 2003 and we have enjoyed 14 great years under his baton, performing choral masterworks both old and new. As Carlos Kalmar of the Oregon Symphony once said of Dr. Zopfi, “…the Choir has made remarkable progress under your artistic leadership; it is a pleasure to collaborate with you.”

In addition to his work with PSC, Dr. Zopfi is an accomplished Director of Choral Activities at the University of Puget Sound (located 150 miles north of Portland). Recently, the university completed a major rescheduling effort which resulted in an unresolvable scheduling conflict with PSC’s rehearsal needs. While the university-wide change is being made for good reasons, it unfortunately will prevent Dr. Zopfi from continuing his position with PSC after this season. With this in mind, we are now activating our search for the next artistic director of Portland Symphonic Choir.

The Board of Directors is working diligently to ensure a successful search and transition process. As the great Robert Shaw once said, “as soon as we find each other, we invite the miracle to begin”—this sentiment will be at the heart of our search.
Click HERE to view the job posting.

Today's Birthdays

John Blow (1649-1708)
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Sir Hugh Roberton (1874-1952)
Albert Sammons (1886-1957)
Dave Apollon (1897-1972)
Elinor Remick Warren (1905-1991)
Martindale Sidwell (1916-1998)
Hall Overton (1920-1972)
Régine Crespin (1927-2007)

and

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) - blogger of the 17th Century
W. E  B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
Karl Jaspers (1883-1969)
William L. Shirer (1904-1993)
John Camp (1944)

Tidbit from the New York Times obit: In the early 1930s, Shirer and his wife shared a house with the guitarist Andres Segovia.

From The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1940 that Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to “This Land Is Your Land."

The melody is to an old Baptist hymn. Guthrie wrote the song in response to the grandiose “God Bless America,” written by Irving Berlin and sung by Kate Smith. Guthrie didn’t think that the anthem represented his own or many other Americans’ experience with America. So he wrote a folk song as a response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” a song that was often accompanied by an orchestra. At first, Guthrie titled his own song “God Blessed America” — past tense. Later, he changed the title to “This Land Is Your Land,” which is the first line of the song.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Niels Wilhelm Gade (1817-1890)
York Bowen (1884-1961)
Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963)
Joseph Kerman (1924-2014)
George Zukerman (1927)
Steven Lubin (1942)
Lowell Liebermann (1961)
Rolando Villazón (1972)

and

George Washington (1732-1799) Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
Edward Gorey (1925-2000)
Gerald Stern (1925)
Ishmael Reed (1938)
Terry Eagleton (1943)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Gould Piano Trio and clarinetist Robert plane to perform at Grace Memorial Episcopal

From the press release:

The Gould Piano Trio and Robert Plane (clarinet) will give a concert at Grace Memorial Episcopal Church on Thursday March 30 at 7:30. They have soloed individually with orchestras all over the world, have 25 CDs as a trio, the pianist has made 17 solo recordings, and collectively they are pretty impressive.

They will play:

• Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations, op 121A (1824)
• Zemlinski’s Clarinet trio (1896)
• Bartok’s Contrasts for Clarinet, Violin and piano Sz. BB 116 (1938)
• Brahms Piano trio No 2 op 87 in C Major (1880)

Violinist Lucy Gould plays a Guanerius filius from 1703, and cellist Alice Neary an Alessandro Gagliano from 1710. Pianist Ben Frith, “achieved international recognition by sharing top prize in the 1986 Busoni International Piano Competition, and 1st prize in the 1989 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Masters Competition, making his debut at the Edinburgh Festival in 1992 with Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.”

Plane's recording of Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto won Classic CD Magazine’s ‘Best Concerto Recording’ Award and was selected as BBC Radio 3’s recommended version in ‘Building a Library’, whilst his recording of Bax Sonatas was shortlisted for a Gramophone Award. His recording of Messiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’ with the Gould Trio was praised by BBC Music Magazine as the ‘best modern account’ of this monumental work.

The Gould Piano Trio is brilliant - played Wigmore Hall London, England (the UK’s chamber hall equivalent of Carnegie Hall)in February, and Portland in March!

Tickets, which are selling briskly, go for $30. You can get them online at Grace Memorial.

Today's Birthdays

Carl Czerny (1791-1857)
Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
Charles Marie Widor (1844-1945)
Kenneth Alford (1881-1945)
Nina Simone (1933-2003)
Elena Duran (1949)
Simon Holt (1948)

and

Anaïs Nin (1903-1977)
W. H. Auden (1907-1973)
Erma Bombeck (1927-1996)
Ha Jin (1956)
Chuck Palahniuk (1962)
David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Final concert of Arvo Pärt Festival sounds the search for the eternal

Although the fast pace of modern life and technology has made many people addicted to anything short and shocking, there are still those who search for things that are slower and deeper. They stuffed Kaul Auditorium to the brim last Sunday (February 12) for the final concert of the Arvo Pärt Festival and were rewarded with superb performances by Cappella Romana and the Third Angle New Music Ensemble. The program, led by Alexander Lingas, featured music by Pärt, James MacMillan, and John Tavener that drew inspiration from ancient hymns. Even the secular piece by Thanos Mikroutsikos shared a meditative sentiment that fit naturally with the others. It is too bad that Kaul Auditorium does not have some reverberation. A little bit of reverb would have warmed up the sound even more and added the extra bit of awe.

The twenty-five singers of Cappella Romana filled the hall with a gorgeous sound, starting with “Da pacem Domine” (“Give peace, Lord”), which Pärt wrote in response to the train bombings in Madrid in March of 2004. Divided into four parts, the men and women delivered the somber text with well-balanced, resonating, sustained yet bell-like tones (including some subterranean notes for the basses) that placed everyone in a meditative spell alongside the feeling of unending expansiveness.

Another hypnotic piece was MacMillan’s “Who are these angels?” Apparently, MacMilan wrote some of the music when he was 17 years old and then refashioned it in 2009. The men sang a Latin text attributed to Augustine that probes mankind’s mortality with a series of questions. The women responded with the refrain “Who are these angels and how shall I know them?,” singing with a purity of tone and zero vibrato that was absolutely ethereal and tranquil. The string quartet fluttered about, ascending to some very high notes and delicate, free-range glissandi that suggested an angelic response. An additional highlight was a brief, yet beautiful solo by violist Adam LaMotte.

Pärt’s“Alleluia-Tropus” (2008) received its U.S. premiere at this concert. Sung in Church Slavonic, the music featured a joyful refrain of “Alleluias.” Written as a dismissal hymn for St. Nicholas, the final “Alleluia” created a sense of suspension because it was sustained for a long time.

“Funeral Canticle,” composed by Tavener in 1996 in memory of his father, was used in Terrance Malick’s film “The Tree of Life.” The solos, sung in Byzantine Greek by John Boyer, featured microtonal adjustments that sounded very Middle Eastern. Each verse that the choir sang started with a simple melody that morphed into harmonically intertwined passages. Overall, the text gave me the sense of someone climbing stairs that went higher and higher.

Slowly descending and ascending lines were also expressed in Mikroutsikos “Slow Motion,” an orchestra-only piece. The music paralleled the austere and plaintive call of the other pieces on the program but without the religious context.

The final piece on the program, Pärt’s “Te Deum” (“Thee, O God, we praise”), began with an otherworldly drone from the wind harp, played from a recording. The choir sounded magnificent with excellent dynamics, including impressive double-fortes, for example, with the words “pleni sunt caeli et terra maiestatis gloriae tuae” (“Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory”). Other highlights of the piece included crystalline lines from the women and a lovely solo by soprano Catherine van der Salm. The final “Sanctus” was light and feathery. The singers were supported with sensitively by the orchestra, which included the big chords from the prepared piano (Susan DeWitt Smith) that punctuated the end of a couple of passages.

For those who missed the concert, the good news is that the a cappella pieces from the program will be part of a new recording by Cappella Romana. Kudos to the ensemble and to producer Mark Powell for bringing such powerful music to Portland.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Peter Salomon (1749-1815)
Charles‑Auguste de Bériot (1802-1870)
Mary Garden (1874-1967)
Robert McBride (1911-2007)
Ruth Gipps (1921-1999)
Christoph Eschenbach (1940)
Barry Wordsworth (1948)
Cindy McTee (1953)
Riccardo Chailly (1953)
Chris Thile (1981)

and

Russel Crouse (1893-1966)
Louis Kahn (1901-1974)
Ansel Adams (1902-1984)
Robert Altman (1925-2006)
Richard Matheson (1926-2013)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
Louis Aubert (1877-1968)
Arthur Shepherd (1880-1958)
Grace Williams (1906-1977)
Stan Kenton (1912-1979)
Timothy Moore (1922-2003)
George Guest (1924-2002)
György Kurtág (1926)
Michael Kennedy (1926-2014)
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (1932-1988)
Smokey Robinson (1940)
Penelope Walmsley-Clark (1949)
Darryl Kubian (1966)

and

André Breton (1896-1966)
Carson McCullers (1917-1967)
Amy Tan (1952)
Siri Hustvedt (1955)
Jonathan Lethem (1964)