Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Gottlieb Muffat (1690-1770)
Ella Fitzgerald (1918-1998)
Astrid Varnay (1918-2006)
Siegfried Palm (1927-2005)
Digby Fairweather (1946)
Truls Mørk (1961)

and

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903)
Howard R. Garis (1873-1962)
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937)
Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965)
David Shepherd (1931)
Ted Kooser (1939)
Padgett Powell (1952)

And from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1841, at a fund-raising concert in Paris for the Beethoven monument to be erected in Bonn, Franz Liszt performs Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto with Berlioz conducting. Richard Wagner reviews the concert for the Dresden Abendzeitung. The following day, Chopin gives one of his rare recitals at the Salle Pleyel, and Liszt writes a long and glowing review for the Parisian Gazette Musicale.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Young soprano totally captivating in PSU Opera's "Suor Angelica" - fun cast makes delightful "Gianni Schicchi"

It’s a rare day when “Suor Angelica” overshadows “Gianni Schicchi,” but that is what happened on opening night (Friday, April 21st) in Lincoln Hall when Portland State University presented both Puccini one-act operas. Because of its serious subject matter and religious underpinnings, “Suor Angelica” is an extremely difficult opera to pull off unless you have a dynamite soprano with an incredibly expressive vocal range, plenty of power, and dramatic chops. Well, guess what, PSU has such a singer. Her name is Saori Erickson, and she delivered such a convincing performance in the title role that the audience was completely drawn into the orbit of her tragedy. “Gianni Schicchi,” a delightful comic opera, had its moments and a splendid cast, but it could not overcome the impression left by Erickson in “Suor Angelica.”

Erickson impressively commanded the stage all by herself at the end of the opera, pushing her voice into fifth gear and reaching a deep level of passion and immediacy. Her voice was absolutely true, never overdriven. It just soared and was especially thrilling when Ken Selden pushed the orchestra to the max. Erickson was equally dramatic in her scene with accuser, the Princess, who was terrifically sung by Grace Skinner. Their confrontation in the courtyard of the cloister was intense and gripping.

The production boasted a bevy of fine singers in supporting roles, including Clair Patton as The Abbess, Kaitlyn Lawrence as The Monitress, Celine Adele Clair as The Mistress of the Novices, and sisters Sarah Hotz, Emily Lucas, Savannah Panah. Director Joshua Miller did an excellent job of shaping the personas of the sisters. They moved well about the stage set, designed by Carey Wong, which featured marble walls and columns, a fountain graced by a statue of the Virgin Mary, and the wild branches of a tree.

Selden and the PSU Orchestra sounded better than ever. The strings were especially radiant and expressive. The ensemble wonderfully expressed the emotive quality of the music and enhanced the drama.

Darian Hutchinson did a marvelous job as the lovable and opportunistic “Gianni Schicchi,” who uses his smarts to outmaneuver a shallow and greedy group of people who want a piece their dead relative’s fortune. The chaotic antics of folks scouring a dead man’s home in search of his well created a lot of hilarious moments. Shainy Manuel’s Zita with her frilly red underwear go the most laughs, but all of the singers delved into their characters with gusto.

Hope McCaffrey sang “O Mio babbino caro” superbly with a lovely tone and high notes that floated effortlessly. But that was just the high point of her performance, which embodied the role of Lauretta perfectly. Alex Trull cut a dashing Rinuccio, but his voice needed more volume to match up McCaffrey’s.

The orchestra seemed less polished in “Gianni Schicchi” and some of the singers could barely be heard. Wong’s set functioned well as the dead man’s home, but it was unfortunate that the bed was so far over to one side of the stage, because some of Hutchinson’s gestures and facial expressions were difficult to see. Of course, the tradeoff was that the big cast had more room to move about.

Back to Erickson – she is only 22 years old and seems to have a big future ahead of her. She sang outstandingly as Rosalinda in PSU Opera’s production of “Die Fledermaus” last year. But she has stepped up her game even further with “Suor Angelica.” If you haven’t seen it, the remaining performances are April 25, 28, 29, and 30.

Morlot to leave Seattle Symphony in 2019

The Seattle Times has reported that Ludovic Morlot will leave his post as its music director in 2019. The orchestra's web site also announced his decision in a press release here. Morlot did not give a particular reason for his decision.

Today's Birthdays

Giovanni Martini (1706-1784)
Charles O'Connell (1900-1962)
Violet Archer (1913-2000)
John Williams (1941) - guitarist
Barbara Streisand (1942)
Norma Burrowes (1944)
Ole Edvard Antonsen (1962)
Augusta Read Thomas (1964)
Catrin Finch (1980)

and

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)
Willem De Kooning (1904-1997)
Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989)
Stanley Kauffmann (1916-2013)
Sue Grafton (1940)
Clare Boylan (1948-2006)
Eric Bogosian (1953)
Judy Budnitz (1973)

From the Writer's Almanac:
On this day in 1800, the Library of Congress was established. In a bill that provided for the transfer of the nation's capital from Philadelphia to Washington, Congress included a provision for a reference library containing "such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress — and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein ..." The library was housed in the Capitol building, until British troops burned and pillaged it in 1814. Thomas Jefferson offered as a replacement his own personal library: nearly 6,500 books, the result of 50 years' worth of "putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science."

First opened to the public in 1897, the Library of Congress is now the largest library in the world. It houses more than 144 million items, including 33 million catalogued books in 460 languages; more than 63 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world's largest collection of films, legal materials, maps, sheet music, and sound recordings.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Oregon Symphony Delivers Marine Sound Feast Centered around Debussy's La Mer

Fingal's Cave
Thomas Moran, 1884 oil on canvas
Saturday the 22nd at the Schnitz the Oregon Symphony played a concert that was largely marine in theme, with works by Mendelssohn, Debussy, and an American premier by Toshio Hosokawa. The lone exception was the Violin Concerto by Benjamin Britten, featuring soloist Simone Lamsma and directed by the excellent Jun Markl.

The opening work was Mendelssohn's The Hebrides (Fingal's Cave).The famous see-sawing, sighing opening theme immediately giving the evening a nautical footing, and the orchestra transitioned nicely to the stormy motive and back again, conveying a sense of disquiet, and a restless sea.

Simone Lamsma returned to the stage for OSO for the first time since her smashing performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto last year. She plays strongly, insistent yet not without delicacy. She clearly has something to say, and makes that plain from the start. Her technique is spectacular and wide-ranging: a fierce chordal spiccato, intensive sawing in the low range yielding to nimble, dance-like moments further up. The many tragical moments of the work were not yet drowned in sorrow--her instrument sang with a voice that could not be repressed, nor yet weighted down by sadness. Other sections demanded a fierce, saucy pizzicato, reveling in two-note dissonances.

In the Vivace there were terrifying glissandi, and she handed off the haunting harmonic passages seamlessly to the piccoli, a difficult transition with a memorable effect. The cadenza was completely mesmerizing, including a difficult trick of bowing some strings while simultaneously plucking others with the left hand. The fantastically difficult chromatic runs of the finale she handled with ease, yielding to a meditative exhalation. Truly a spectacular performance.

The second half opened with the American premier of Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa's Circulating Ocean, a programmatic piece also meant to suggest the cycle of human life from nothingess, to existence, then a return to non-existence. De niente, winds began to sound from an aspirated alto flute and other winds as gentle tinkling from tiny Japanese wind bells broke through the breathy atmosphere. A very evocative feeling of crawling mist grew, with the brass gurgling up, muffled as if from a great depth. Surrounding all was a ceaseless susurration from the strings.

This was a fantastically imaginative work early on for percussion: tam tams and bowed celesta, Japanese temple bowls and the wind bells and an antique cymbal featured among the instruments.  There was next to nothing by way of true melody early on: snatches here and there from celesta but later there were bits of half-themes and short motives from flute, bassoon and strings. It was really more of a great sound-picture, a reflection on impermanence. This was a work of stunning imagination, and this surely will not be the last time it is heard in the U.S.

Debussy's great symphonic work La Mer closed out the evening. The intro and moments later in the third felt almost rusty--what should at times have been mellifluous instead came off as stilted. All the pieces were there, just not perfectly fit together.  The second movement, the Jeu de vagues, really pulled together well. Much more effortless; the stunning, giant crescendo and fortissimo arrival was incredibly evocative and breathtaking.   The movement continued frenetic and moody, with wonderful work from strings--violins appropriately sentimental at times, and with grandiose yet subdued work from the cellos.

The entire evening was really incredible stuff--there was some fantastic noise being made that night, in the best sense of the term. This concert repeats tonight and tomorrow night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Today's Birthdays

Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521)
Andrea Luchesi (1741-1801)
Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1857-1919)
Arthur Farwell (1872-1952)
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986)
Artie Shaw (1910-2004)
Jean Françaix (1912-1997)
Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009)
Robert Moog (1934-2005)
Roy Orbison (1936-1988)
Joel Feigin (1951)

and

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
James Patrick (J. P.) Donleavy (1926)
Coleman Barks (1937)
Barry Hannah (1942-2010)
Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)

From The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Roy Orbison (1936), born in Vernon, Texas. One day, during a songwriting session with his partner Bill Dees, Orbison asked his wife, Claudette Frady Orbison, if she needed any money for her upcoming trip to Nashville. Dees remarked, “Pretty woman never needs any money.” Forty minutes later, Orbison’s most famous hit, “Oh, Pretty Woman,” had been written.

And from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1993, Morten Lauridsen's "Les Chanson des Roses"(five French poems by Rilke) for mixed chorus and piano was premiered by the Choral Cross-Ties ensemble of Portland, Ore., Bruce Browne conducting.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709)
Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)
Eric Fenby (1906-1997)
Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953)
Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999)
Charles Mingus 1922-1979)
Michael Colgrass (1932)
Jaroslav Krcek (1939)
Joshua Rifkin (1944)
Peter Frampton (1950)
Jukka-Pekka Saraste (1956)

and

Henry Fielding (1707-1754)
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)
Louise Glück (1943)

And from the Composers Datebook:

On this date in 2001, the Philharmonic Hungarica gives its final concert in Düsseldorf. The orchestra was founded by Hungarian musicians who fled to West Germany after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. For London/Decca Records the Philharmonic Hungarica made the first complete set of all of Haydn's symphonies under the baton of its honorary president, the Hungarian-American conductor Antal Dorati.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Preview of upcoming Vancouver Symphony's Young Artists concert in The Columbian

My article that previews this weekend's Vancouver Symphony concert is in today's edition of The Columbian newspaper. The concert will feature three talented teenagers who won the orchestra's annual Young Artist competition.

Today's Birthdays

Randall Thompson (1899-1984)
Leonard Warren (1911-1960)
Bruno Maderna (1920-1973)
Locksley Wellington 'Slide' Hampton (1932)
Easley Blackwood (1933) Lionel Rogg (1936)
John McCabe (1939-2015)
Iggy Pop (1947)
Richard Bernas (1950)
Melissa Hui (1966)

and

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)
John Muir (1838-1914)
Elaine May (1932)
Nell Freudenberger (1975)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1937, Copland's play-opera for high school "The Second Hurricane," was premiered at the Grand Street Playhouse in New York City, with soloists from the Professional Children's School, members of the Henry Street Settlement adult chorus, and the Seward High School student chorus, with Lehman Engle conducting and Orson Welles directing the staged production. One professional adult actor, Joseph Cotten, also participated (He was paid $10).

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Nikolai Miaskovsky (1881-1950)
Lionel Hampton (1908-2002)
Christopher Robinson (1936)
John Eliot Gardiner (1943)
Robert Kyr (1952)

and

Pietro Aretino (1492-1556)
Harold Lloyd (1893-1971)
Joan Miró (1893-1983) 
Sebastian Faulks (1953)  

From the Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1939 that Billie Holiday recorded the song "Strange Fruit," which describes the lynching of a black man in the South. The song began as a poem written not by Holiday, but by a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx named Abel Meeropol (using the pseudonym Lewis Allan) who was deeply disturbed by a picture he saw of a lynching. Meeropol set the song to music with his wife, Laura, and performed it at venues in New York City. (Meeropol and his wife are also noteworthy for adopting the orphaned Rosenberg children, Robert and Michael, after their parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were executed for espionage.) 

Holiday met Meeropol through a connection at a nightclub in Greenwich Village. She wanted to record the song, but her record label refused to produce something so graphic and she was forced to record it on an alternative jazz label.

And from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1928, in Paris, the first public demonstration of an electronic instrument invented by Maurice Martenot called the "Ondes musicales" took place. The instrument later came to be called the "Ondes Martenot," and was included in scores by Milhaud, Messiaen, Jolivet, Ibert, Honegger, Florent Schmitt and other 20th century composers.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Alexandre Pierre François Boëly (1785-1858)
Max von Schillings (1868-1933)
Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983)
Ruben Gonzalez (1919-2003)
Dudley Moore (1935-2002)
Bernhard Klee (1936)
Kenneth Riegel (1938)
Jonathan Tunick (1938)
David Fanshawe (1942-2010)
Murray Perahia (1947)
Yan-Pascal Tortelier (1947)
Natalie Dessay (1965)

and

Sarah Kemble Knight (1666-1727)
Etheridge Knight (1931-1991)
Sharon Pollock (1936)
Stanley Fish (1938)

and from the New Music Box:

On April 19, 1775, William Billings and Supply Belcher, two of the earliest American composers who at the time were serving as Minutemen (militia members in the American Revolutionary War who had undertaken to turn out for service at a minute's notice), marched to Cambridge immediately after receiving an alarm from Lexington about an impending armed engagement with the British.