Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Young Musicians to Compete Nationally

Three of Portland's very best young musicians will be competing next week at the National Solo Competition in Detroit. The three are violinist Becky Anderson, violist Matthew Cohen, and harpist Alexis Colner. The competition is sponsored by the American String Teacher's Association (ASTA) .

If you know these three musicians, please wish them well!

Monday, February 26, 2007

March Music - new concert series

A new concert series with free admission is starting in March at the new OHSU Center for Health and Healing (aka the Tram building at South Waterfront). Here are the particulars:
  • March 7 at 7 pm - Jessica Black, piano & Sarah Tiedemann, flute
  • March 14 at 7 pm - Arnica String Quartet
  • March 21 at 7 pm - Janet Coleman, piano & Adam Lamotte, violin

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Friday, February 23, 2007

Angela Hewitt - at one wtih the piano

Last Sunday, Angela Hewitt breezed into town and gave a terrific recital of music by Bach, Beethoven, Rameau, and Chabrier. Sponsored by Portland Piano International, Hewitt played with sparkling intelligence and inspired artistry before a capacity audience at Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland. She also performed on a Faziolli piano (which is the brand that she favors) that sounded fantastic!

Hewitt began her program with Bach's French Suite No. 4 in E-flat Major. She seemed to shape each passage with elegance and charm. Sometimes she would make the sound in the bass line a little louder than the sound in the treble. Then she would seamlessly bring out the treble line. The music was crystalline but not brittle. It had warmth and elegance, but it was never cold and elitist.

Next came a wonderful interpretation of Beethoven's Sonata No. 3 in C Major. Again, Hewitt's playing was immaculate. I loved the way that she could kick a note with one of her fingers. Her transitions from soft, dreamy passages to stormy ones were effortless and completely natural. She didn't overstate the music in some wild way, but it had plenty of drama and beauty.

After intermission, Hewitt played Rameau's Suite in A minor in a way that made the piano sound like a harpsichord. The intricate closeness of the notes and the delicacy of the music made me think of someone who was braiding hair made of silk. Hewitt's subtle changing of tempi and the colors of sound made this piece fascinating.

The concert ended with two pieces by Chabrier. The first was "Trois Pieces pittoresques" and the second "Bourree fantasque." Again, Hewitt delivered a magnificent interpretation with stunning clarity and joyous lyricism. Her music-making takes you to a higher level, one that leaves you feeling that your life has just been enhanced.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Preview of the upcoming Vancouver Symphony concert

If you are interested in the Vancouver Symphony concert with guest conductor Mark Gibson (who teaches at the University of Cincinnati's Conservatory of Music) this weekend, check my preview in The Columbian.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Vajda steps in for Kalmar and hits a home run!

Gregory Vajda, resident conductor of the Oregon Symphony stepped in for music director Carlos Kalmar last Saturday and did some terrific conducting. Apparently, Kalmar was under the weather, so Vajda directed the challenging program that included Leonard Bernstein's Overture to Candide, Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins, Aaron Copland's Music for the Theatre, and George Gershwin's An American in Paris.

The concert began with the playing of the Nimrod movement from Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations as a memorial to the two young musicians who recently died in a car accident. I got the impression that Vajda started out with a case of nerves because he rushed as he read from a piece of paper and and asked the audience to refrain from applauding. But once he started conducting the piece, it was unhurried and smooth and full of melancholy. This is a piece that works well for Vadja because he directs without a baton and the calming effect of his hands seemed to make the playing very gentle.

Vadja displayed some energetic conducting when he launched into Candide, and the orchestra responded very well. I think that the softer passages could've been quieter and perhaps there could've been more variation in the tempi, but all in all, this was a real success.

When Vadja gave his talk to the audience about the remaining pieces, he was very funny, and I couldn't help but to recall Murry Sidlin, the former resident conductor of the orchestra. Vadja has a real knack for humor, his comic timing is innate, and he can quickly win the audience to his point of view. I only wished that he had told us who the guest concertmaster was. Perhaps we will find out later.

Vadja then led the orchestra in Weill's masterpiece, which skillfully combines irony and longing with a dash of humor. Soprano Lisa Vroman in the Anna, the woman with a double-sided personality, sang wonderfully throughout, and her German diction was terrific. The men who represented Anna's family sang music that evoked a sort of corrupted barbershop quartet. Bass baritone Richard Zeller, in particular, stood out as the "mother" and wore a French maid's apron over his tuxedo to boot. It seemed to me that when tenors David Gustafson and John Kolbet and baritone Kenneth Smithfield were miked when they sang their solo passages, but I wasn't sure.
Many members of the orchestra got a chance to show off their talents in Copland's Music for the Theatre. I loved Jeffrey Work and David Bamonte's trumpeting, Martin Hebert's elegant oboe passages, Todd Kuhns' woody clarinet, and the sassy brass sections.

Someone in the audience sneezed loudly three times at the end of the Interlude movement right when English Hornist Harris Orem played a delicate solo passage. After the movement finished, Vadja turned around and shouted "Bless you!" What a great response!

The performance of Gershwin's An American in Paris went very well, but it seemed that the slower passages could've been a little bit slower and most of the piece was medium loud to very loud.

All in all, I think that what Vadja accomplished was exceptional, and it's great to know that the Oregon Symphony can call upon him at the last moment to fill some big shoes.

Friday, February 16, 2007

In Memory of Two Musicians

As most of you probably know, two members of the Eugene Symphony, Kjersten Oquist, the orchestra's principal violist, and Angela Svendsen, the principal second violinist, were killed by a drunk driver just a few days ago. Both musicians were tenderly remembered in the Eugene Symphony's concert last night. You can read about this concert in the Eugene Register-Guard and in David Stabler's blog.

In his blog, daily observations, Charles Noble points out that being a freelance musician is very, very difficult and at times dangerous.

Ah, if we could just take some of the funding away from terrible things like the war effort in Iraq or the many private organizations that are benefiting from that war, and give that money to artistic purposes, life would be much better.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Another Profile

In the winter issue of the Portland State Magazine (the alumni magazine for PSU) I wrote a brief profile of Dawn Carter, the concertmaster of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. I wish that I had had more space to write about her. She is a real dynamo who can juggle family (four kids), students, and a concert schedule. What a treasure!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Choices!

If I could only be two places at the same time! On Saturday evening, I attended Portland Opera's production of "Norma," but I had to miss the Astoria Festival Chamber Players concert because it also took place on Saturday evening. If only I could've detached one of my ears (like Mr. Potato Head) and placed it in concert hall at the Scottish Rite Temple while at the same time attending the opera at Keller Auditorium! Fortunately, I got to hear a terrific "Norma" with the incredible Brenda Harris in the lead roll as the conflicted Druid priestess. Unfortunately, I missed listening to William Preucil, concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, Amy Schwartz Moretti, Joel Belgique, and the other top notch musicians in a special fund-raising concert for the Astoria Music Festival.

Since I write reviews of Portland Opera performances for Opera magazine, I had to witness the tragedy of Druid nation unfold at the Keller. But dang! To miss Preucil in a rare Portland appearance is practically a tragedy for those of us who are addicted to great music.

In the meantime, I found out from Fumino Ando, Oregon Symphony violinist, that her colleagues violist Jennifer Arnold and principal tubist JaTtik Clark have been in Detroit to play with the Sphinx Competition Orchestra. That's wonderful!

Back to Portland Opera -- if you want to hear a great rendition of Bellini's bel canto masterpiece, don't hesitate to purchase tickets to the two remaining performances.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Two more profiles of Oregon Symphony musicians

You can read about Oregon Symphony musicians Jennifer Arnold and JaTtik Clark on the cover of today's issue of The Portland Observer. This is an article that I submitted in December, but it didn't get published until today. I hope that you can find a copy. If not, you can find the article online at the Portland Observer website (www.portlandobserver.com). Just click Features and then Living Black History.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Itzhak Perlman and the Oregon Symphony

It was wonderful to step into the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall yesterday evening and see it completely filled with concert-goers who were keenly anticipating the Oregon Symphony concert. I've attended too many concerts in which the house seemed to be 2/3rd full, and it just makes me want to rip the remaining hair out of my head because this orchestra under the direction of its music director, Carlos Kalmar, has been playing at an extremely high level. The prior concert, which featured waltzes by the Strauss family, Stravinsky's "Card Game," and Offenbach's Overture to "Orpheus in the Underworld," was exquisite.

For this concert (Sunday, February 4th) Itzhak Perlman, the great violinist, was the major draw in a program consisting of two Beethoven Romances , Tchaikovsky's Serenade in C major for Strings, and Dvorak's Symphony No. 8. Beginning the performance with the Romances, Perlman sat as a member of the orchestra and as a conductor, taking a position to the right of concertmaster Amy Schwartz-Moretti as a sort of ueber-concertmaster and soloist. The rich, sweet sound of Perlman's violin rose above the orchestra in a completely natural way, putting a creamy texture on top of the orchestra's accompaniment. It was sort of like adding schlag-obers to a steamy cup of coffee in a cafe in Vienna on a Sunday afternoon and admiring a group of beautiful women who are window shopping or are on their way to a destination that might be ruinous to a fellow's credit card account.

After the Beethoven numbers, Perlman returned to the stage to conduct Tchaikovsky's Serenade. Perlman showed a vigorous and animated conducting style, especially with the way he used the fingers in his left hand, extending some, curling others. And the strings (I counted 26 violins, 10 violas, 8 cellos, and 7 basses) responded incredibly well to each subtle gesture that he gave. The Waltz movement glided; the Elegy contained an alchemy of melancholy and nobility that was soothing; and the Finale lifted everyone's spirits.

After intermission, Perlman led the orchestra in a wonderful rendition of Dvorak's great symphony. This piece did seem to point out that Perlman is much, much more of a conductor of strings than he is of the brass. When the brass sounded out, Perlman sort of fell back limply on his chair rather than give it any kind of direction. The result of doing this, however, didn't diminish the overall sound and emotion of the piece. Terrific playing by flutist David Buck, oboist Martin Hebert, clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao, trumpeter Jeffrey Work, and the other members of the woodwinds and brass sections put a lot of polish on this work. At the end of the rousing fourth movement, the audience responded with an immediate standing ovation, and I'm sure that many listeners hoped that Perlman might treat them to an encore, but that didn't happen.

It was great to see many smiles on the faces of the orchestra members. I think that they enjoyed this concert as much as we did.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Portland's Bach Cantata Choir sings a Super-Bach concert

I have just returned from the Super-Bach Concert by the Bach Cantata Choir at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church. Led by Ralph Nelson, the forty-voice chorus performed two cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach and a cantata by Johan Kuhnau with a small chamber orchestra and organ. This semi-professional choir is in its second season and intends to sing all of Bach's 200+ cantatas over a 20 year span. I found the concert delightful in many ways -- first and foremost, in the audacity to program it during the same afternoon as the Super Bowl (Indianapolis vs. Chicago). More than 150 people showed up to hear the choir and make a donation to its cause.

Note: I have sung with Ralph and many of the members of this choir while I was a member of the Portland Symphonic Choir.

On the program were Bach's Cantata #144 "Nimm, was dien is, und gehe hin" (Take what is thine and go away) BWV 144, Bach's Cantata #158 "Der Friede sie mit dir" (Peace be unto you) BWV 158, and Kuhnau's "Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern" (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star). I heard some fine singing from soloists Nan Haemer (soprano), Irene Weldon (alto), and Jacob William Herbert (bass), but the highlight was tenor Byron Wright's performance in Cantata #144 and Kuhnau's cantata. Wright's voice soared with beauty, clarity, emotion, and excellent diction. He is a gem that we need to hear a lot more often.

The program notes included printed music for the audience to join in (in English) in movements 3 and 6 of Bach's Cantata #144 and in the final chorale of Kuhnau's cantata. It seemed to me that a majority of the audience was able to muster a goodly amount of sound to augment the choir and they enjoyed the chance to participate. Because the Bach Cantata Choir asks only for free-will donations, I think that they provide some of the best opportunities for Portlanders to hear quality performances. Be sure to check them out for their upcoming concerts.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Profiles of four Oregon Symphony musicians in NE neighborhood newspaper

Every day we read about all of the heroes and heroines involved with sports on an amateur and professional level, but we rarely read about folks in the world of classical music. I love sports, and I like to exercise, and I don't object to articles about the athletically gifted. But we've got dedicated musicians who are just as worthy of coverage. So, last December I interviewed four members of the Oregon Symphony for The Hollywood Star, a newspaper that covers NE Portland. It's one of the better neighborhood newspapers, and each issue has a circulation of 25,000 copies. Now, the February issue of the Star just came out with my profiles of violist Jennifer Arnold, violinists Erin Furbee and Fumino Ando, and cellist Trevor Fitzpatrick on the cover.

The libraries and some businesses in NE Portland (especially in the Hollywood district) carry the Star. It's a free publication.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

First Reverberation

Portland, Oregon is a wonderful place to live because there's so much great classical music being made throughout the year. The trouble is, not enough has been said about this. Too many concerts and recitals are not being previewed or reviewed. Too many singers and musicians go unnoticed.

I'm starting this blog to record some of my thoughts about classical music. For the past ten years I've published many articles on this topic in many magazines and newspapers. Most of what I hear takes place in the Pacific Northwest, but I do get to listen to concerts all over the nation and the world. I recently reviewed a Cleveland Orchestra concert that took place in Asheville, North Carolina. You can find this review at http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2007/012007/ClevelandOrch.html.

I'll be posting more thoughts soon.