Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918)
Count (William) Basie (1904-1984)
Tommy Reilly (1919-2000)
Willhelm Killmayer (1927-2017)
Gregg Smith (1931-2016)
Dame Janet Baker (1933)

and

X. J. Kennedy (1929)
Robert Stone (1937-2015)
Ellen Hinsey (1960)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Jacopo Peri (1561-1633)
Mario Bernardi (1930-2013)
Dame Anne Evans (1941)
Maxim Vengerov (1974)

and

Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950)
Paul Tillich (1886-1965)
H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)
Eero Saarinen (1910-1961)
Jacqueline Susann (1918-1974)
Heather McHugh (1948)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Today's Birthdays

William Henry Fry (1881-1864)
Georges Enescu (1881-1955)
Allan Monk (1942)
Gerard Schwarz (1947)
Rebecca Evans (1963)

and

Samuel Richardson (1689-1761)
Ogden Nash (1902-1971)
Frank McCourt (1930-2009)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Antonio Salieri (1750-1825)
Benjamin Godard (1849-1895)
Basil Cameron (1884-1975)
Ernest MacMillan (1893-1973)
Dame Moura Lympany (1916-2005)
Goff Richards (1944)
Tan Dun (1957)

and

Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809)
Margaret Murie (1902 -2003)
Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

Italian-born Viennese composer Antonio Salieri, born in Legnago, in the Republic of Venice (1750). Although he was quite popular in the 18th century, he probably wouldn't be well known today were it not for the movie Amadeus (1984). The movie was based on Peter Shaffer's play by the same name (1979), which was in turn based on a short play by Aleksandr Pushkin, which was called Mozart and Salieri (1830). These stories all present Salieri as a mediocre and uninspired composer who was jealous of Mozart's musical genius; Salieri tried to discredit Mozart at every turn, and some versions of the story even accuse him of poisoning his rival.

But Salieri was a talented and successful composer, writing the scores for several popular operas. He had a happy home life with his wife and eight children. And because he had received free voice and composition lessons from a generous mentor as a young man, he also gave most of his students the benefit of free instruction. Some of his pupils included Beethoven, Franz Liszt, and Franz Schubert. He was the Kapellmeister — the person in charge of music — for the Austrian emperor for 36 years. He and Mozart were competitors, but their rivalry was usually a friendly one; Salieri visited Mozart when he was dying, and was one of the few people to attend his funeral.

After the turn of the 19th century, Salieri's music began to fall out of fashion. "I realized that musical taste was gradually changing in a manner completely contrary to that of my own times," he wrote. "Eccentricity and confusion of genres replaced reasoned and masterful simplicity." He stopped composing operas and began to produce more and more religious pieces. He suffered from dementia late in his life and died in 1825. He had composed his own requiem 20 years earlier, and it was performed for the first time at his funeral.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Henri Tomasi (1901-1971)
Abram Chasins (1903-1987)
George Melly (1926-2007)
T.J. (Thomas Jefferson) Anderson (1928)
Edward Cowie (1943)
Jean-Bernard Pommier (1944)
Heiner Goebbels (1952)
Artur Pizarro (1968)

and

Oliver St. John Gogarty (1878-1957)
Mae West (1893-1980)
Ted Hughes (1930-1998)
V. S. Naipaul (1932-2018)
Ted Hughes (1930-1998)
Jonathan Franzen (1959)

and from the Writer's Almanac:

On this date in 1982, the first compact discs for commercial release were manufactured in Germany. CDs were originally designed to store and play back sound recordings, but later were modified to store data. The first test disc, which was pressed near Hannover, Germany, contained a recording of Richard Strauss's An Alpine Symphony, played by the Berlin Philharmonic. The first CD commercially produced at the new factory and sold on this date was ABBA's 1981 album The Visitors; the first new album to be released on CD was Billy Joel's 52nd Street, which hit the stores in Japan — alongside the new Sony CD player — on October 1. The event is known as the "Big Bang of digital audio."

Friday, August 16, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861)
Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937)
Jacinto Guerrero (1895-1951)
Ralph Downes (1904-1993)
Bill Evans (1929-1980)
Sarah Brightman (1959)
Franz Welser-Möst (1960)

and

Catharine Trotter Cockburn (1679-1749)
William Maxwell (1908-2000)
Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Portland Opera's "In the Penal Colony" kills it

Sean Doran as The Condemned Man, Martin Bakari as the Visitor, and Nathan H.G. as The Soldier in Portland Opera's new production of Philip Glass's In the Penal colony. Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.
Bleak, harrowing, and painful to watch, Portland Opera’s production of Philip Glass’s In the Penal Colony was a compelling glimpse into hell. Based on a short story of the same name by Franz Kafka, In the Penal Colony is a macabre tale set in a prison where a horrific machine is scheduled to kill an inmate. Directed by Jerry Mouawad and presented in the Studio Theatre in the Hampton Opera Center on August 3rd, Portland Opera’s performance made me squirm and want to look away, because it was as if I were viewing an execution.

Ryan Thorn as The Officer | Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.
The intimate confines of the Studio Theatre put the audience uncomfortably close to the action in which a high-level visitor interacts with an officer at a penal colony somewhere in the tropics. The officer is proud of the execution machine, which can gradually kill a condemned prisoner, who has no idea of what he is guilty of. However, the machine malfunctions, and the prisoner is set free. Then the crazed officer takes his place and is killed. The libretto, by Rudolph Wurlitzer, was expertly to the point.

Written for a string quintet, Glass’s minimalist music and repetitive style expressed the story very well. Gnawing lines conveyed harshness and brutality. Edgy and motoric sounds suggested the machine. The multitude of dissonant tones aptly described the unjust spectrum of the situation. All was played with icy resolve by violinists Margaret Bichteler and Nelly Kovalev, violist Hillary Oseas, cellist Dkylan Rieck, and bassist David Parmeter under the baton of Nicholas Fox.

Martin Bakari deftly created the cautious and analytical role of The Visitor. Bakari’s lyrical tenor embraced his character’s curiosity and passiveness as when he declared that he opposed “the procedure” yet would not interfere. Ryan Thorn’s imposing baritone amplified The Officer’s conviction that he was fulfilling his commander’s orders. One of the most impressive moments when Thorn sang with steady conviction while his hands shook violently, imitating the harrowing teeth of machine.

In non-singing roles, Sean Doran excelled as The Condemned Man, and there was a collective sigh of relief in the hall when he ran off to freedom. Nathan H. G. was equally convincing as The Soldier, who must carry out orders even though he might not like them.
Ryan Thorn as The Officer and Martin Bakari as The Visitor | Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.
In addition to directing, Mouawad designed the set, effectively using just a few props. A huge canvas cloth covered the floor. Suspended from the ceiling was another canvas cloth, decked with drawings to represent how the machine works. A large plexiglass window was lowered over a blood-soaked bed to give the sense of tattooing teeth.

Delivered in one act, In the Penal Colony was gripping and worthy of Kafka. But in the end, despite the terrific performance and the relevancy of the many serious topics touched on, I didn’t have the feeling that I would like to hear this opera again. That is interesting in light of the Glass’s statement (in the program notes) that “it’s the most performed opera that I’ve written.” There must be something innate that draws people to public executions.

Today's Birthdays

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912)
Albert Spalding (1888-1953)
Jaques Ibert (1890-1952)
Leon Theremin (1896-1993)
Lukas Foss (1922-2009)
Aldo Ciccolini (1925-2015)
Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)
Rita Hunter (1933-2001)
Anne Marie Owens (1955)
James O'Donnell (1961)

The Woodstock music festival began on this day in 1969.

and

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832
Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859)
Edna Ferber (1885-1968)
T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935)
Julia Child (1912-2004)
Benedict Kiely (1919-2007)
Denise Chávez (1948)
Stieg Larsson (1954)

and from the Composers Datebook:

Today Johannes Nepomuk Maelzel (1772-1848), German inventor credited with the creation of the metronome, was born in Regensburg. For a time he was the friend of Beethoven and collaborated with him on various projects.