Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Conversation with Yaacov Bergman about the upcoming Portland Chamber Orchestra concert

This coming Saturday, the Portland Chamber Orchestra will play the music of William Walton, Leonard Bernstein, and Joseph Haydn in a program that combines playfulness and philosophy. The featured work is William Walton’s “Façade,” which uses the puppetry of the Tears of Joy Theatre, two actors, and a chamber ensemble to convey the whimsical poetry of Edith Sitwell. The program also includes Bernstein’s “Serenade” with the young and talented violinist Tai Murray as the soloist and Haydn’s Symphony No. 22 (aka “The Philosopher”).

This should be a very engaging program, so I talked with PCO's conductor and music director Yaacov Bergman about it.

Tell us more about Walton’s “Façade.”

Bergman: “It’s a wonderful piece in which Sitwell’s poetry is part of the musical text. In other words, the music rhythmically reflects Sitwell’s poetry. Walton started writing the music when he was just 21 years old. It’s a tricky piece – to articulate the poetry with the music.

The piece requires only 16 instrumentalists – a chamber orchestra kind of piece - and the poems are read while the music plays. Walton wrote the music with a jazzy approach. Sitwell herself was interested in jazz and worked with rhythm in her poetry.

We’ll be working with two actors, Mary McDonald Lewis and KBPS’s Edmund Stone, who will recite the poetry. They are terrific people

The titles of each poem seem to be whimsical.

Bergman: “Yes, they are quite meaningless. There is no story thread from point A to point B. It’s all very abstract. The main challenge is balance. We have to make sure that everyone can be heard correctly. We are using additional monitors in the audience area. Audience has to hear everything clearly.

And we are collaborating with the Tears of Joy Theatre for this piece. This is a new thing. We will build a little extension in front of the stage to bring the puppetry to the audience.

“Façade” is a fantastic work that provides for artistic expression of sophisticated ideas. It has many moods and is very abstract. We can use an imaginative approach that fits the mission of the Portland Chamber Orchestra. We are trying to bring the arts together with music. The future of classical music may have a departure a little bit from the traditional way of presenting classical music. Today there is so much new technology to present music and with which to compose music. It’s an exciting time.”

Tell us about Bernstein’s Serenade

Bergman: “Bernstein’s “Serenade” is a very difficult piece. It has five movements each with its own personality and based on Plato’s “Symposium.” The dialogues in “The Symposium” deal with the nature and meaning of love so the music explores those same themes.”

In some ways “Serenade” is like a tone poem. This piece is very tricky for the soloist and the orchestra, good rhythm and jazz, too.”

What about violin soloist Tai Murray?

Bergman: “Tai Murray is a brilliant young American violinist from Chicago. She has performed this piece with the Chicago Symphony in Atlanta. She has an artist diploma in music performance from Indiana University and is currently studying on scholarship at Juilliard in New York City.”

The concert concludes with Haydn’s “Philosopher.”

Bergman: “Haydn is always wonderful, and this is a delightful piece. Haydn’s works are more classical in structure. He gives us a sense of balance. The title links us back to Plato, and it was given to this piece because of the distinctive character of the first movement. You can see the philosopher in front of you.

The Portland Chamber Orchestra is cutting edge, futuristic. With every concert we are collaborating with other groups in town. It’s a vision that will help to keep classical music alive.

In May we will do Beethoven’s "Creatures of Prometheus" with an all new multimedia look so stay tuned!

Portland Chamber Orchestra plays the music of Walton, Bernstein, and Haydn in a program entitled “Rhymes and Rhythms,” which takes place this Saturday (January 19th) at 7:30 pm at Kaul Auditorium (located on the campus of Reed College).

For tickets call 503-771-3250 or buy online at www.portlandchamberorchestra.org. You can also purchase tickets at the door. If you have the promotion card, you can get $5 off the price of admission.

PS: Congratulations to Bergman for his work fine work with the Walla Walla Symphony. This was noted by Henry Fogel, President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, in his blog "On the Record."

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