Monday, March 31, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Serge Diaghliev (1872-1929)
Clemens Krauss (1893-1954)
John Mitchinson (1932)
Nelly Miricioiu (1952)
Robert Gambill (1955)


Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)
Octavio Paz (1914-1998)
Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)

Review: Seattle Opera's young artists present engaging L’enfant and Gianni Schicchi

Photo by Rozarii Lynch

Review by Lorin Wilkerson

The Seattle Opera presented two one-act operas at the intimate Meydenbauer Center Theater in Bellevue, WA on Saturday March 29th. The third installment of Puccini’s famed one-act triptych, Gianni Schicchi followed a whimsical rendition of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges, translated as "The Enchanted Child." This was a presentation of the Seattle Opera’s Young Artists Program, which closes out its run with performances on April 4, 5, and 6.

The productions were nicely balanced, pairing a lesser-known work with a beloved favorite. Director Peter Kazaras chose modern settings for both pieces. L’enfant was the opener, and the plot follows The Child as he throws a tantrum, destroying toys and other objects, and is later confronted with his caprice by the items come-to-life. The child awakens in the garden and is attacked by animals who also resent his behavior. At the end he comes to feel empathy and is then reconciled with Mother.

With this bare-bones plot and character names like The Child, Fire, Squirrel, and Chinese Teacup, it seemed as though Ravel used this work as a chance to revel in a child’s psychotropic dream. This rendition of Ravel’s music featured an orchestral reduction by Didier Puntos, consisting of piano, cello and several flutes that fit perfectly with the stripped-down strangeness of the story.

The evening began with the silhouettes of riders waiting at a transit station as the piano utters an eerie pentatonic perambulation, interrupted here and there by ghostly sul ponticello wails from the cello. A boy wandered through the crowd, laughing and leading a girl who had a giant squirrel’s head perched atop her shoulders. David Korn, a male soprano who sang the title role, did a good job with what had to be a difficult role to act, given the unusual nature of the plot. It required leaping, dancing, falling and being hurled to the floor, and he delivered nicely. His soprano was very pure, even down near the break, which is a difficult place for the male loft-voice to maintain clarity.

For me however, the show was stolen by soprano Ani Maldijan, who did triple duty as Feu (Fire), Princesse, and Rossignol. In her first appearance, as the Fire, Maldijan burst onstage in a magnificent punk ensemble, complete with studded leather jacket and an enormous, fire-engine-red Mohawk. As she berated the terrified Child following his tantrum, explaining her duty to punish and consume those who are wicked or selfish, Maldijan sang an intricate, difficult coloratura aria with precision. Later on she reappeared as the Princess from the Child’s dream of the previous evening, giving a curiously sensuous performance that was subtle and captivating. At this point the Child began to reflect on the consequences of his actions, and Korn sang the haunting aria Toi, le coeur de la rose with sincerity. Also worth noting was tenor Marcus Shelton as the Petit Viellard. He delivered a hilarious aria as the torn math book tormenting the Child with mind-numbing arithmetic.

From the man who leapt across the back of the stage like a gigantic frog to the screaming punk-rock fire spirit and the pair of cats that sang a "meow" duet, L’enfant was a journey into the surreal. There were some problems with the captioning near the beginning, as the translation for the entire arietta sung by the Tasse Chinoise was missing. A number of rapid and imaginative set changes took place seamlessly in full view of the audience, and this moved the story along quickly from one odd scene to the next. My teenage son who attended with me said, ‘It reminds me of something from The Muppet Show—but gone dark.’ I’m not sure I can put it better than that. What could easily have been weird and staid instead came off as quirky and engaging. This piece was all about atmosphere, and both the production staff and performing ensemble understood that keenly.

Gianni Schicchi is a work of high comedy, and Kazaras decided to take it to the slapstick level, which came off marvelously. The audience erupted in sidesplitting laughter all throughout the second half of the evening. I got the sense that having budding young opera singers perform this work added to its light-heartedness; it would be hard for someone who took themselves too seriously to thrive in the goofball atmosphere of this production. There was real chemistry and pinpoint timing between the cast members, all of which added to the overall hilarity.

Despite the modern setting, the Romantic opulence of Buoso Donati’s chamber gave the production a feeling of fin-de-siecle nostalgia. The work opens with povero Buoso on his deathbed, surrounded by his greedy and scheming family. We are treated to several impassioned Latinate family moments, delivered cleverly without dialogue, before Buoso unceremoniously croaks, drops to the floor, and the galloping introduction pours from the orchestra pit. The ceaseless parlando of the first few minutes as the relatives frantically search for Buoso’s will leaves ample room for interaction between the characters, and in this production everything from room-destroying tantrums to lascivious groping to barely-averted brawls marked the opening sequence as the family members came to discover their disinheritance.

Tenor Marcus Shelton shone as Rinuccio, and he brought the house down early with a bold Salvati! Salvati!, sung with unfeigned brashness as a besotted youngster blind to all but his beloved. Soprano Margaret Gawrysiak acted the scowling, matronly Zita to a tee.

When Joshua Jeremiah finally appeared onstage as Gianni Schicchi in his wiseguy tracksuit, black shades and slicked-back hair he elicited peals of laughter, looking more like one of The Sopranos than a Puccini-singing baritone. Ani Maldijan was Rinuccio’s inamorata Lauretta, who attempts to convince her father Schicchi to help her marry her sweetheart. Maldijan rendered the iconic aria O, mio babbino caro with as much breathless, swooning intensity as one could hope for, and yet at the same time took pains to make sure that it sounded light and in keeping with the overall timbre of the presentation.

I couldn’t help but think of Weekend at Bernie’s as poor, deceased Buoso, now in Schicchi’s outfit, sat propped up between his relatives on the couch while Schicchi lay in bed and attempted to convince the notary that he was in fact a living Buoso who needed to change his will. Despite the appropriate silliness of his performance Jeremiah did a convincing job of playing the conniving opportunist Schicchi, and sang with a rich and colorful baritone, which was a pleasure to hear. Bass Michael McGee sang wonderfully as the notary; he and Jeremiah swapped roles throughout this run, and I truly longed to hear more of his voice. Kudos also to Leena Chopra; with her leopard print mini-dress, red tights and stilettos she kept the audience in stitches as a frowsy Ciesca.

Peter Kazaras delivered two great numbers at the Meydenbauer center, and the audience was alive and engaged all evening. I was very impressed with Daniel Urlie’s costume design in both works; they called for imagination and intuition, and he showed both. The singers were sometimes drowned out by the orchestra in Gianni Schicchi, but the playing was impressive otherwise. All in all, it was a night of strange dreams, silliness and rollicking fun, and the one fact which was patently obvious was that everyone was having a blast.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Tommaso Traetta (1727-1779)
Ted Heath (1900-1969)
Sandor Szokolay (1931)
Eric Clapton (1945)
Maggie Cole (1952)
Margaret Fingerhut (1955)
Sabine Meyer (1959)


Francisco Jose de Goya (1746-1828)
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Sean O'Casey (1880-1964)

Review: Tudor Choir reaches for the sublime in concert of early music

The Tudor Choir gave an outstanding concert of sacred music from Tudor England and the Sistine Chapel on Saturday evening at St. Mary’s Cathedral. For this concert, the Tudor Choir, under the direction of Doug Fullington, consisted of eleven singers although some of the pieces required fewer. The Seattle-based ensemble, presented by Portland’s Cappella Romana, made excellent use of the cathedral’s opulent acoustics and held the audience spellbound with their vocal artistry.

Most impressive was the extremely well-matched quality of the voices in this ensemble. The transition of tone from singer to singer was absolutely seamless. For example, among the sopranos, it was impossible to tell which one was singing unless you actually looked at them. With so few singers, it is usually easy to distinguish one voice from another, because each voice typically has enough unique character to help reveal who is singing what. Yet The Tudor Choir easily made eight voices sound like four whenever two voices were on a part, and that gave their sound an ethereal quality.

Superb also was the purity of the vocal line. Whether separate or together, the ensemble delivered a smooth, pure, and rounded tone with no vibrato. The tone never sounded harsh or sterile, and the overall effect was entrancing. All of the pieces were sung a capella, and there were no pitch problems at all – a remarkable feat when you consider the difficulty of this music.

The first half of the program consisted of music from Tudor England. The first piece was Loquebantur variis linguis (Speaking in different tongues) by Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585), which is a vespers response to the theme of Pentecost. The music imitates the babble of voices with lots of tricky entrances and clashing harmonics. The Tudor Choir handled this number easily and displayed a near-perfect blend between all of the parts.

The high quality of blend and purity of vocal line was exhibited by the ensemble also in Quemadmodum desiderat cervus (As the deer longs for) by John Taverner (c. 1490-1545), Super flumina Babylonis (By the waters of Babylon) by Philippe de Monte (1521-1603), and in three pieces by William Byrd (1539/40-1623): Miserere mei (Have mercy on me), Quomodo cantabimus conticum Domini (How will we sing the Lord’s song), and Laudibus in sanctis (In holy praises). Here and there the sopranos were too dominant, but their tone was so gorgeous that it didn’t matter.

The second half of the concert began with Allegri’s Miserere mei, Deus, one of the most difficult pieces in the choral repertory because of the repeated high C for the soprano in the quartet. Since this piece was written for two ensembles, the Tudor Choir split in half with five voices in front of the audience and four at our backs.

The soprano did very well with the high Cs, which she hit spot on the first three times. She did a big scoop to get the fourth high C, and she climbed three steps to get the last one. These last two variations were apparently done differently as additional ornamentation. They struck me as a bit odd, but the overall effect of the music was tremendously gratifying and the audience responded with sustained applause.

The final pieces on the program were five works by Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) whose work is seen by musicologists as a summation of Renaissance polyphony. The ensemble sang Palestrina’s Tue es Petrus (You are Peter), Sicut cervus desiderat (As the deer longs for), Alma redemptoris mater (Gracious Mother of the Redeemer), his Magnificatfor double choir, and his Nunc Dimittis for double choir. The Tudor Choir performed each of these pieces with grace and clarity. The blend seemed to get better, because the sopranos backed off a little bit and the middle voices came out a little more.

After an extended round of applause, in which it was clear that no one in the audience wanted to leave, The Tudor Choir exquisitely performed Libera Nos, Salva Nos by John Shepherd (1512-1563). Another long round of applause followed, but the listeners were faced with the fact that this splendid concert was finally over. Let’s hope that Tudor Choir makes another visit to Portland in the near future.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Rosina Lhévinne (1880-1976)
Sir William Walton (1902-1983)
E Power Biggs (1906-1977)
Sir Richard Rodney Bennett (1936)
Guher Pekinel (1953)
Suher Pekinel (1953)

Review: Columbia Symphony Orchestra plays Strauss, Beethoven, and Gudaitis

The Columbia Symphony Orchestra welcomed two former Portlanders, Amber Gudaitis and Jennifer Choi, back home in a concert on Friday evening at First United Methodist Church. The program featured the world premier of new music by Gudaitis, who is currently studying composition at Arizona State University. Choi, who has been making a name for herself as a violinist in New York City, performed Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. The orchestra also played Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration.

Music director and conductor Huw Edwards has led several orchestras, including the Portland Youth Philharmonic (from 1995 to 2002), and that is where he probably met Gudaitis. Besides ASU, the twenty-five-year-old Gudaitis has studied music at the University of North Texas and the University of Leeds in England. She completed the Columbia River Narrative in 2007 as a work commissioned by the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, and this piece began the evening’s concert.

The Columbia River Narrative is a tone poem that depicts the dramatic and beautiful scenery of the Columbia Gorge. Three harsh chords near the start of the piece certainly helped to paint a panorama with mountains and rugged terrain. This picture was reinforced by the angular sound of the brass, especially from principal trumpeter Mike Hankins. The strings evoked the churning water of the river while the woodwinds captured the wind in the forest. The piece contained dramatic rumblings and some relaxed sonorities, portraying the river as it widens. At the very end, the music vanished suddenly as does the river into the ocean.

The sudden finish left the audience hanging a bit, but it followed up with a solid round of applause. Gudaitis, a lithe, young woman, came out of the audience and shook hands with Edwards and accepted a bouquet. I would like to hear more of her work in the near future.

Next on the program was Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24 (1889), one of his best tone poems, which he wrote at the age of twenty six. The music, in four seamless movements, describes an old man, near death, who looks back on his life, starting with his childhood and proceeding through all of the struggles that he went through, including unattainable goals. At the conclusion of the piece, the old man dies and is transformed into a higher state that wings its way towards eternity.

Under Edwards’ skillful direction, the orchestra captured the varied moods of this demanding work and its large palette of sound. The musicians settled into a delicate, quiet atmosphere at the end of the Largo (The sick man near death) so successfully, that when the timpani signaled the Allegro molto agitato (The battle between life and death offers no respite to the man), that ka-boom visibly jolted several of the members of the audience sitting near me. The ascension of the old man’s soul in the Moderato (The sought-after transfiguration) bloomed with serenity.

Concertmaster Dawn Carter played her solos with a sweet, silky sound. I also enjoyed the harp, played clearly by Elaine Hesselman. The violins sections delivered a clean sound in sensitive passages in which the upper register is crucial. Overall, the piece was a pleasure to hear.

After intermission, Choi joined the orchestra in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (1806). Choi has done well in the music scene in New York City. She has premiered and recorded numerous works by John Zorn, Christian Wolfe, Lee Hyla, and Randall Woolf and has toured widely with the Fireworks Ensemble, the Susie Ibarra Trio, and the Sirius String Quartet. Choi performs on a 1770 Lorenzo Storioni.

Choi got off to an excellent start in the Beethoven work. She negotiated all of the tricky, fast passages with verve, the double-stop chords and the treacherous cadenza came across very well. Her playing in the second movement was more assured but needed more nuance. But when Choi jumped to the high note at the start of the third movement, she missed it and had to do a quick recovery. She then settled into some fine playing that was marred here and there with some intonation problems. The sound from the orchestra overwhelmed her a couple of times during the last movement, and the exuberance of the music remained bottled up.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Weigl (1766-1846)
Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951)
Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991)
Jacob Avshalomov (1919)
Martin Neary (1940)
Samuel Ramey (1942)
Richard Stilgoe (1942)


Raphael (1483-1520)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931)
Ferde Grofé (1892-1972)
Anne Ziegler (1910-2003)
Sarah Vaughn (1924-1990)
Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007)
Paul Ruders (1949)
Maria Ewing (1950)
Bernard Labadie (1963)


Heinrich Mann (1871-1950)
Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969)

Local talent in the Grand Teton Music Festival

If you are cruising through Jackson Hole, Wyoming on your way to the Grand Tetons or Yellowstone, you might want to check out the Grand Teton Music Festival. Several musicians from the Oregon Symphony have been playing there for the past few years. This year's GTMF orchestra roster includes violinists Julie Coleman and Gregory Ewer, violist Joel Belgique, bassist Don Hermanns, and tubist JTtik Clark.

Kathryn Lucktenberg, concertmaster of the Eugene Symphony and professor at the U of O is playing in her 24th season with the festival orchestra, and cellist Steven Pologe, who also teaches at the U of O and plays with the Oregon String Quartet and Trio Pacifica, will be marking his 26th season at the festival.

Carlos Kalmar directed at the festival last year. Donald Runnicles has been the music director of the festival since 2006. The season runs from July 1 to August 16.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Wilhelm Backhaus (1884-1969)
André Cluytens (1905-1967)
Harry Rabinowitz (1916)
Pierre Boulez (1925)
Kyung Wha Chung (1948)


Edward Bellamy (1850-1898)
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)

Local talent in Chamber Music Northwest's Summer Festival

Chamber Music Northwest is famous for bringing many of the biggest names in chamber music making to Portland every summer. But it's fun to look at the roster and take note of the local musicians who will join in the fun. This year's brochure lists violinist and Oregon Symphony concertmaster Jun Iwasaki, cellists Hamilton Cheifetz, Nancy Ives, and Dorothy Lewis, the French hornist John Cox, and percussionist Niel DePonte.

DePonte will be playing in the Peter Schickele program on June 26 and 27.

Cheifetz, Ives, and Lewis will appear in the Holiday Hit Parade: Music of the Americas on July 3 and 4. This concert includes Villa-Lobos' Bachiani Brasileira No 5 for soprano and eight cellos.

Cox will play a Rossini sonata on July 7 and 8.

Iwasaki is featured in the Baroque Concerto Night program on July 10 and 11.

I had originally posted that Matt Haimovitz lived here, but I made a false assumption. According to his bio on Oxingale records, Haimovitz "lives in Montréal, Quebec with his wife, composer Luna Pearl Woolf, their daughter, and their Tibetan spaniel, Shoko." Thanks for fellow blogger and violist Charles Noble for pointing out my error. In any case, Haimowitz will be part of the Mark O'Connor Quartet, which performs on July 5. Haimovitz will also play in Holiday Hit Parade program on July 3 and 4.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Auturo Toscanini (1867-1957)
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Sir Elton John (1947)


Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964)

Benefit performance at Community Music Center

The Dubay brothers, Jonathan and Gregory, are teaming up with pianist Cary Lewis to present music by Brahms this Thursday, March 20, at the Community Music Center (3350 SE Francis St.). They will play Brahms' Trio for Piano and Strings in B Major, Opus 8, the Cello Sonata in E Minor, Opus 38, and the Violin Sonata in A Major, Opus 100.

Cary Lewis is an acclaimed pianist who specializes in chamber music. He is a member of the Lanier Trio, which includes William Preucil (concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra) and cellist Dorothy Lewis.

Jonathan Dubay is a violinist in the Oregon Symphony and teaches violin at the University of Oregon.

Gregory Dubay is the Executive Director of the Community Music Center and former principal cellist of the Honolulu Symphony.

Admission is free will donation, with a suggested minimum of $20 for adults and $10 for youth, proceeds to benefit the schools programs for low-income families. Tickets are on sale at the door only. The players are donating their performance as a fundraiser for the Center.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Maria Malibran (1808-1836)
Christiane Eda-Pierre (1932)
Benjamin Luxon (1937)


Dario Fo (1926)
Martin Walser (1927)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Léon Minkus (1826-1917)
Franz Schreker (1878-1934)
Josef Locke (1917-1999)
Norman Bailey (1933)
Boris Tishchenko (1939)
Michael Nyman (1944)


Erich Fromm (1900-1980)

Two reviews in Opera magazine

Opera magazine (based in London) published my reviews of Portland Opera's Cinderella and Carmen in the February issue. The magazine is available at Portland's Central Library in the magazine and newspaper room. On the cover of the magazine is Plácido Domingo as Oreste in the Met production of Iphigénie en Tauride. This was the production that originated in Seattle and then moved to the Met with Domingo and Susan Graham as the two biggest names. Reviewing for Opera, Martin Bernheimer stated that "The ensemble in New York was more stellar, possibly less well integrated, than that in Seattle."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Carl Rosa (1842-1889)
Martha Mödl (1912-2001)
Fanny Waterman (1920)
Stephen Sondheim (1930)
Alan Opie (1945)
Rivka Golani (1946)
Lord (Andrew) Lloyd Webber (1948)
Edmund Barham (1950)


Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Next weekend's Oregon Symphony concert - $10 special

Check out the $10 ticket offer from the Oregon Symphony for next weekend's concerts. Go to Charles Noble's blog for the details.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Modeste Moussorgsky (1839-1881)
Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949)
Paul Tortelier (1914-1990)
Nigel Rogers (1935)
Owain Arwel Hughes (1942)
Elena Firsova (1950)
Ann MacKay (1956)


Eddie James "Son" House (1902-1988)

Where you can hear Gil Shaham, Joshua Bell, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Orion Weiss in free concerts

If you travel to Sun Valley, Idaho this summer you can hear Gil Shaham, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Orion Weiss play with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony for free. Yes, that's gratis! The Sun Valley Summer Symphony has offered free concerts for the past 23 years. So, they have some excellent sources for funding. This year the festival will take place under a new special tent (similar to the one in Aspen) called the Pavilion that will seat 1500!

The festival season begins with a chamber music series on July 28th and moves to the orchestra series on August 3rd. That's when Shaham performs the Brahms Violin Concerto. Thibaudet plays Ravel's Piano Concerto on August 7. Weiss plays Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 on August on August 11th, and Bell performs Ravel's Tzigane and Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso on August 16. Eric Kunzel conducts a pops program on August 15th. Music Director Alasdair Neale leads the orchestra of Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben on August 18th. Those are just some of the highlights.

A special benefit concert featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Denyce Graves takes place on August 9. That's the only concert that requires the purchase of a ticket.

Jennifer Teisinger is the Executive Director of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony. For two years, she served as the president of the Vancouver Symphony (WA).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957)
Loritz Melchoir (1890-1973)
Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997)
Dame Vera Lynn (1917)
Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970)


Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Max Reger (1873-1916)
Dame Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
Nancy Evans (1915-2000)
Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950)
Ornette Coleman (1930)
Myung-Wha Chung (1944)
Carolyn Watkinson (1949)


Tobias Smollett (1721-1771)
Philip Roth (1933)

Carlos Kalmar on YouTube

Kalmar directs the Lahti Symphony (Finland) in a rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet by Berlioz. The segment looks like a cut from an arts and culture TV program. After a brief intro, which takes place in the lobby of Sibelius Hall, Kalmar discusses the music.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973)
Willem van Hoogstraten (1884-1964)
Nobuko Imai (1943)
James Conlong (1950)
Jan-Hendrik Rootering (1950)
Courtney Pine (1964)


Christa Wolf (1929)
John Updike (1932)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Guest Review: Friends of Rain concert

Elizabeth Dyson, a molecular biologist who plays piano and cello and is studying composition at Marylhurst wrote this review of new music.

The Friends of Rain, an ensemble of musicians from the faculty of Lewis & Clark College, put on an exciting performance of contemporary music Saturday evening (March 15) in Evans Auditorium. They performed five diverse and challenging pieces for a variety of ensembles. The concert opened with the newest piece, Summer Rhapsody (2008), which is a brass quintet by Michael Johansen. This cheerful work, inspired by the arrival of summer sun to the Pacific Northwest, gave each of the instruments a chance to shine. It was dedicated to tuba player John Richards, a long-time member of the Lewis and Clark faculty, who was in attendance.

Next, two pianists and two percussionists, each surrounded by a multitude of instruments, played two movements of George Crumb’s Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III, 1974). The piece featured a tremendous variety of sounds from the eerie whine of a bass bow on a cymbal to the rapping of temple blocks and the sparkling ring of crotales. The pianists not only played the keyboard and the pedals, but also plucked and tapped the strings, and at times placed objects on them.

My son, Christopher, who participates in Fear No Music's Young Composers' Workshop, accompanied me and said this was his favorite piece in the concert because he had heard it before. He also mentioned that he could understand it better after hearing it a second time. I think he had a good point. I often feel, after hearing a complex piece of contemporary music, such as the Crumb, that I would get a lot more out of it if I could hear it a second time.

The biggest marimba that I have ever seen was wheeled on to the stage for the next piece, Un ser encantado, agues salidas y piedras infinitas (An enchanted being, salty waters and infinite stones, 1997) by Illeana Perez-Vasquez. Also scored for two pianos and two percussionists, this work incorporated many of the same piano and percussion special effects as Music for a Summer Evening but was more lyrical and included rhythms inspired by Cuban music. The composer was present and gave a short lecture about her music before the concert.

Elisa Maattanen-Boynton skillfully negotiated long phrases of double stops in Arioso interrotto (1979) for solo violin by Einar Englund. Sustained melodic lines at the beginning and end of the piece, were interrupted by a more abrupt middle section with many short phrases and pizzicatos.

The concert ended with the largest ensemble of the evening (nine musicians) playing Sparkle (1992) by Chen Yi. The music was energetic, full of trills and glissandos and contained lots of vigorous work for the three percussionists.

I found the concert fun to watch as well as to hear. The performers, although they were clearly working hard, appeared to enjoy it too. If I heard these pieces performed again, I would enjoy them more even more.

Today's Birthdays

Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729)
Joseph Rheinberger (1839-1901)
Brian Boydell (1917-2000)
Nat "King" Cole (1917-1965)
Stephen Dodgson (1924)
John Lill (1944)
Michael Finnissy (1946)


Edmund Kean (1787-1833)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Portland Opera Studio’s Albert Herring a smashing success

Photo by Cory Weaver

If you have ever been beholden to a cadre of willful, narrow-minded people, then you will have an instinctual understanding of the situation at the outset of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring. This comedy, albeit a serious one, depicts the struggle of a young man as he finds his way out of the smothering grip of his widowed mother and the expectations of the uptight, upright community. With three acts that run about three hours (including two intermissions), a cast of 14 characters (including important roles for children), a 13-member chamber orchestra, and complex music, Albert Herring is the most challenging opera to have been undertaken at the Hampton Opera Center. No matter. On opening night (March 14th), Portland Opera Studio Theater held everyone spellbound with a smashing performance.

Impressive were the young artists in the Portland Opera Studio program and the handful of seasoned pros that augmented the cast. Topmost in the lineup of young artists was Brendan Tuohy in the title role. Tuohy’s voice has all of the qualities that other tenors would give their right lung for. He can sigh, groan, ring it out, do whatever he wants, make it look effortless, and maintain beautiful tone.

Terrific also was Thomas Prislac as Sid, the assistant at the butcher’s shop, showing a remarkably strong and flexible baritone. At one point he eased into a high falsetto seamlessly – like butter melting on toast. Christopher Clayton created a memorable Mr. Gedge, with a golden baritone that any vicar would display proudly.

Mezzo-soprano Hannah Penn in the role of Nancy and soprano Sharin Apostolou as Miss Wordsworth sang outstandingly. Jeffrey Beruan’s forceful bass gave Superintendent Budd plenty of heft.

Brenda Harris sang the part of Lady Billows with an internalized sense of authority and up righteousness. Alexis Hamilton’s voice captured the forceful nature of Mrs. Herring with spot-on artistry. Jon Kolbet delightfully interpreted Mr. Upfold, the major of Loxford. Andrea Compton Sanchez, in the role housekeeper Florence Pike, echoed the pronouncements of Lady Billows in a forthright, decisive manner.

In the children’s roles, Amy Cole as Emmie, Colleen Heidebrecht as Maggie, Brice Todd as Harry, and Madison Wray as Cis were outstanding with their singing and acting. I loved they way that the girls boosted Harry over the shop door and prodded him to steal some apples. But there were numerous moments in which they shined.

All of the principals acted with panache as well. Tuohy created a despondent and frustrated Albert. Harris, as Lady Billows, dominated the town as an imposing autocrat. Apostolou, Clayton, Kolbet, and Beruan expertly portrayed townsfolk who followed in her wake. Hamilton, as Mrs. Herring, threatened her son with a firm hand or a paddle when needed. Prislac, as Sid, dared everyone with a cavalier attitude. Penn wonderfully revealed Nancy’s troubled conscience after she understood how Sid’s reckless action may have endangered Albert.

The highest vocal point of the opera came during the nine-part threnody in Act III. Harris, Apostolou, Clayton, Kolbet, Beruan, Prislac, Hamilton, Penn, and Compton Sanchez went full-tilt in a declamation of loss and suffering. In an intimate space like the Hampton Opera Center, everyone was absolutely drenched in the sound of the singers.

Robert Ainsley conducted with a graceful and skillful style that elicited an excellent sound from the orchestra and singers. Christopher Mattaliano provided clear and crisp stage directions that seemed very natural and kept the audience engaged. There were many, many small nuances that contributed to the actions of each character and are necessary for theater in which the audience sits only a few feet from the singers.

Susan Bonde designed well-crafted, traditional Victorian costumes for all of the characters, including the children. The sets, designed by Curt Enderle, displayed a large, opulent room in the home of Lady Billows, the Herring’s grocery, and the outdoor setting for the May Festival. The cast carried each piece on and off, and the grocery store setting was the most evocative of all – with fruits and vegetables piled high and beckoning to be sampled. Lighting designer Don Crossley accented each set expertly.

Extra credit note: According to The New Penguin Opera Guide, Britten wrote Albert Herring as “a companion piece to The Rape of Lucretia for performance by the same vocal and instrumental forces of the English Opera Group.” Since Portland Opera under Mattaliano opened the Hampton Opera Center with The Rape of Lucretia two years ago, he and the company have followed the same path.

Today's Birthdays

Christa Ludwig (1928)
Sir Roger Norrington (1934)
Teresa Berganza (1935)
David Del Tredici 1937)
Claus Peter Flor (1953)


James Madison (1751-1836)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Eduard Strauss (1835-1916)
Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935)
Colin McPhee (1900-1964)
Cecil Taylor (1929)
Jean Rudolphe Kars (1947)
Lynda Russell (1952)
Isabel Buchanan (1954)


Richard Ellmann (1918-1987)

Alessandrini leads the Portland Baroque Orchestra in exhilarating Italian concert

Guest Review by Lorin Wilkerson

Maestro Rinaldo Alessandrini of the award-winning Concerto Italiano made his Portland debut, leading the Portland Baroque Orchestra in a flawless all-strings concert entitled “The Italian in Europe.” The program – presented Friday evening at the First Baptist Church – featured works by by Georg Muffat, George Fridric Handel , František Tuma, Gaetano Pugnani, and Michele Mascitti.

During the pre-concert lecture, Linda Hathaway Bunza of the Columbia Research Institute for the Arts and Humanities referred to the five composers represented on the evening’s bill as “musical Johnny Appleseeds,” spreading the Italian concerto grosso style throughout the continent. A fascinating commonality linking all of the pieces, is that each composer either met, performed with, was taught by, or otherwise directly influenced by Arcangelo Corelli, the violin impresario and godfather of the concerto style that was heard throughout the evening.

The PBO was in rare form even for a group from which we are used to expecting much. Much of the credit was due to the virtuoso direction of maestro Alessandrini, who was quite obviously in his element. In a Thursday interview with Krista Wessel on KBPS 89.9 he spoke of “the variety of attitudes” on display in the Italian-style concerto, referring to its mission of “giving sound to extreme passion.”

He certainly lived up to his word. He conducted without a baton, leaving both hands free for his extremely physical and idiomatic style. He employed his hands and even fingers to great effect, drawing out succinct yet subtle phrasing from the orchestra, here gently imploring them to draw out a tender motif, there issuing an abrupt command that left no doubt as to how and when to finish a particular declamation. He squatted, leapt, and swooned to such an extent that at times it looked like he cradled an invisible dance partner to his bosom. His arms swooped and soared as if tracing sigils in the air, and the talented PBO players responded in immaculate fashion.

The first piece of the evening was a concerto entitled Dulce Somnium by Muffat, (1653-1704) a Frenchman of Scottish descent whose family had fled to Paris during anti-Catholic persecution in Scotland. The opening movement, labeled Sonata: Grave, was very much in the Lullian style of the court music of Louis XIV; languid, almost detached with long, drawn out suspensions, and dissonances held for as long as possible to render maximum effect. By the fifth movement, a Borea, the piece was definitely in Italian territory and could’ve easily been mistaken for Corelli.

The opening half closed with No. 4 of the Op. 6 Concerti Grossi by Handel, a piece that again showed the polyglot pattern that was the featured sound of the evening. The PBO knows how to play Handel, and it was the most highly polished work in a sterling evening. The opening Larghetto affetuoso couldn’t have been more aptly named; slow yet never stalling. It showed the violin’s Italian singing qualities that Alessandrini is known to favor. The Allegro of the second movement was a four-voice fugue that possessed a quintessentially Teutonic flavor. The metronomic precision of tempo and complete clarity of voicing that the maestro and orchestra combined to display was nothing less than a pure, delicious treasure to be savored.

The second half opened with the more forward-looking works of Tuma, (1704-1774) a peripatetic Bohemian theorbo player and viola da gambist who studied with Corelli, and Pugnani (1731-1798) another wanderer, who according to Bunza is considered the “grandfather of the modern violin playing style.” Tuma’s Partita a 4 in D minor was beautiful. In it one could hear the end days of Baroque exorbitance coupled with the exciting, earthy harmonic structure of the style galante. A particular gem in this piece was the Arietta: Andante, which reminded one of an operatic aria, only this time sung by the viola in a surprising switch from the violin as principal concertina instrument.

The String Symphony in B flat major by Pugnani was the most modern of the works on the program. It sounded just like a nascent Viennese symphony, looking ahead to the sinfonia concertante more than the concerto grosso of days past. The first movement, a long, sighing Adagio, was positively Mozartian in character: noble, cantabile, straightforward, and harmonically uncluttered.

The final work of the evening, a concerto grosso by Michele Mascitti, (1663-1760) returned us to the days of the high Baroque. The orchestra consisted of 8 violins, 2 cellos, 2 violas, theorbo and harpsichord. This allowed for a throaty, full-voiced sound from the violin section that was put to judicious use in the dense Larghetto of this work.

The concert was a smash from start to finish – quite literally in a couple of instances. Before the opening downbeat, the theorbo player came crashing to the floor and knocked over the music stand belonging to the contrabass player. No one was hurt, but apparently the bass player’s music became jumbled and out of order. He didn’t realize this and began the second work of the evening with his music in disarray.

Everyone recovered professionally. I didn’t notice a thing and only knew what had happened after overhearing the scuttlebutt during intermission. During the second half, Alessandrini got caught up in a passionate moment, nearly knocked the first violist’s music stand right off the stage, but disaster was averted due to the quick hands of the violist. Overall, this performance was resplendent and glorious, and it was a pleasure to watch Alessandrini draw out the full potential of this immensely talented group.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Oregon Composers Guild underway

Composer David Bernstein is organizing a guild for composers who reside in Oregon. The mission statement of the OCG states:

"The Oregon Composers Guild is a nonprofit, tax exempt corporation formed to promote the composition and performance of music by composers from the State of Oregon; to stimulate regional, national and international awareness of contemporary classical music from Oregon; and, to gather composers in a mutually supportive atmosphere to share and disseminate pertinent information to its members and the community.

It is dedicated to providing an environment that encourages the creation and presentation of new and adventuresome work by its members through an annual series of concerts, collaborations with regional organizations, residencies, workshops and an annual Student Composers Contest. OCG events will be concentrated state wide but extend, through composer exchanges, to national and international venues."

Bernstein has contacted 30 Oregon-based composers and hopes to elect leaders in the organization at their next meeting tomorrow, Saturday, March 15th at Lewis & Clark College. If you are interested in attending, contact Bernstein at, and he'll give you the particulars.

PS: Bernstein moved to the Portland area about a year and a half ago. He taught composition and theory at the University of Akron's School of Music for 28 years and was active in the Cleveland Composers Guild. You can find out more about his work at

Today's Birthdays

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Pierre-Louis Couperin (1755-1789)
Johann Strauss I (1804-1849)
Lawrance Collingwood (1887-1982)
Witold Rudziński (1913-2004)
Philip Joll (1954)


Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

PDQ Bach concert - what a hoot!

I had a blast at the PDQ Plays PDX concert last night at the Schnitz. It was great to be a part of a performance that caused so much laughter -- waves of laughter. Peter Schickele was in superb form. Even though he is 72 years old, he gives 150 percent - whether he plays strange instruments, sings, or slings jokes. He's just amazing.

The choir got a kick out of defying concert conventions. We wore cowboy/cowgirl outfits for "Oedipus Tex." We continued our full-frontal assault by doninng bathrobes for "The Seasonings." As a result, both of our entrances generated a lot of laughter and applause. Our gestapo sitting and standing technique received laughs each time we did it. And the lights-out fall-asleep gag helped to knock them out.

Instrumental highlights in "The Seasonings" included the zestful tromboon playing of Mark Eubanks. Kelly Gronli and Kristen Halay (I think I have the right person) played the slide whistles with relish. Ralph Nelson and Jerry Nelson garnished the piece with spot-on kazooing. Peter Moore flavored the musical stew with terrific playing on the Shower Hose. Schickele threw in generous helpings of Windbreaker and Slide Windbreaker.

Bill Stalnaker was outstanding with his fragmented horn in "Oedipus Text" Schickele did double duty by singing the role of Ed and playing a big mouth-harp-mini-organ device.

Irene Weldon was outstanding as Madam Peep in "Oedipus Text" and the alto soloist in "The Seasonings." Paul Elison got a ton of laughs for his terrific bass aria "Open sesame seeds" in "The Seasonings." Gary Shannon cried wonderfully in the choral number, "By the Leeks of Babylon." The audience howled with delight.

I also enjoyed the singing of soprano Michele Eaton. The voice of tenor David Dusing is a schtick unto itself. You have to hear it to believe it.

PSC's artistic director, Steven Zophi led the two choral pieces on the program and did incredibly well. Schickele conducted his "Uptown Hoedown," which mixes numerous quotes from other famous works in an ear-clashing yet delightful way.

Today's Birthdays

Michael Blavet (1700-1768)
Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Alec Rowley (1892-1958)
Lionel Friend (1945)
Julia Migenes (1949(
Wolfgang Rihm (1952)
Anthony Powers (1953)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Thomas Arne (1710-1778)
Hans Knappertsbusch (1888-1965)
Norbert Brainin (1923-2005)
Philip Jones (1928-2000)
Helga Pilarczyk (1935)
Liza Minnelli (1946)


George Berkeley (1685-1753)
Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950)
Gustav Kirchhoff (1824-1887)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

PDQ Bach Urtext

Tom Hard, one of the basses in the Portland Symphony Choir and board member, attended the second PDQ Bach show that Peter Schickele presented back in 1965. It took place at Lincoln Center.

Here is the program from the show, complete with a humorous PDQ original manuscript that Schickele "discovered."

Today's Birthdays

Carl Ruggles (1876-1971)
Henry Cowell (1897-1965)
Xavier Montsalvage (1912-2002)
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
Sarah Walker (1943)
Tristan Murail (1947)
Bobby McFerrin (1950)

Finnish invasion at the Oregon Symphony propels music by Sibelius, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky

Two young Finnish musicians, conductor Pietari Inkinen and violinist Pekka Kuusisto, highlighted last weekend’s Oregon Symphony concert with spirited performances of works by Jean Sibelius, Igor Stravinsky, and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. I attended the concert on Sunday, and the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall was fairly full, a pleasant surprise for two guest artists who are not well-known in the United States. Inkinen is the newly appointed music director of the New Zealand Symphony and Kuusisto won the Sibelius Violin Competition in 1995 at the age of 19.

The concert began with the Sibelius tone poem “En Saga,” which was last performed by the orchestra in 1933. This piece offers a striking variety of moods and shifting sonic scenery. Inkinen and the orchestra brought out every last drop of music. One of the earlier passages evoke the sound of wings and even looked that way as the violin and viola sections bowed in opposite directions. That was cool.

I also enjoyed the organic groundswell of sound that erupted at one point before dwindling down to a small sound from just a few players in the bass and second violins. Principal John Cox played a memorable solo horn passage that was muffled and sorrowful at the same time. Arresting pairings between the oboes and violins, a plaintive solo by principal clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao, and stirring strumming by the cellos were just some of the most intriguing and expressive parts of this performance.

Guest artist Kuusisto played Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto with verve. The first movement has a light, circus-like sound. The second took a serious turn with sudden shifts that suggested turmoil. A declamatory statement at the beginning of the third movement was followed by a slight, lyrical theme. At one point, two flutes, the double bass section, and the soloist shared a sonic fling that was oddly satisfying. The final movement featured nimble articulation by the Kuusisto and a quick duet for him and principal bassoonist Evan Kuhlmann.

It seemed the orchestra was too loud in the first movement, but overall, the Stravinsky piece seemed to be very transitory. The music never soared in any particular direction. But perhaps it wasn’t meant to do so. In any case, the audience gave Kuusisto and the orchestra a long round of warm applause. Kuusisto responded with an encore, a virtuosic piece by a Lithuanian composer whose name I didn’t catch. It was a very tricky, almost surreal number that caused him to shed a lot of horsehair on his bow. I would’ve liked to have heard it a second time.

After intermission, the orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, a very popular work that worked like comfort food for the ears after hearing the Stravinsky piece even though the music is weighted with a "fate" theme. Inkinen led the orchestra in a full-blooded interpretation that had some interesting nuances. The first movement showed some very slow pacing that contrasted well with the faster tempi at the end. The woodwinds in the second movement traded around the ascending and descending passages adroitly. However, earlier in that same movement, I had expected the orchestra to make a diminuendo that is always exciting to hear, but Inkinen didn’t ask for it. The pizzicato strings in the third movement were terrific. The fourth movement ended in a blaze that kicked off enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Still, I was more impressed with the orchestra's rendition of the Sibelius piece. Hopefully, it won't have to wait another 75 years to be played by this orchestra.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838)
Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908)
Arthur Honnegger (1892-1955)
Dame Eva Turner (1892-1990)
Bix Biederbecke (1903-1931)
Sir Charles Groves (1915-1992)
William Blezard (1921-2003)
Andrew Parrott (1947)
Stephen Oliver (1950-1992)

Opera diva Pamela South on the Oedipus Tex recording

I picked up the CD of Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamities at Classical Millennium and found that soprano Pamela South was the original Billy Jo Casta at the first performance and for the recording. The recording won a Grammy in 1990 for Musical Comedy.

South makes her home in Portland where she teaches at Portland State University. I talked with her earlier today. (The Portland Symphonic Choir is singing PDQ Bach's Oedipus Tex and The Seasonings on Wednesday evening at the Schnitz.)

Tell us about your Oedipus Tex experience.

South: We did the live show at Carnegie Hall. I had to keep a straight face, and it was the best acting job I've ever done.

We did the recording later in Atlanta for Telarc. We had a great time.

How did you get the job? I mean, you're an opera singer.

South: I had sung Country Western stuff before, so I know the style very well. When Schickele was getting ready to find someone for the part, he contacted my agent, who recommended me. I was singing at the Kennedy Center at that time. So I sat down in the kitchen of the place where I was staying and made a tape of some Country Western songs. Peter liked them so I got a call little later, and he hired me.

We did some radio interviews together. He and I would talk and sing a little bit and laugh a lot. He is one of the funniest people I've ever met.

I hope that you can come to hear us!

South: Sure as shootin.

South was the Rodeo Queen in her home town of Salmon, Idaho. She went to the University of Montana where her vocal abilities were discovered.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Archie Camden (1888-1979)
Dame Isobel Baillie (1895-1983)
Samuel Barber 1910-1981)
David Matthews (1943)
Kalevi Aho (1949)
Howard Shelley (1950)


Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Alan Hovhannes (1911-2000)
Robert Tear (1939)
Barthold Kuijken (1949)
Simon Halsey (1958)

Review: Fear No Music conquers the new stuff

The intrepid members of Fear No Music explored new soundscapes in a concert on Friday evening at the Old Church. Well over a hundred people heard a program that featured music by American composers Matthew Burtner, John Corigliano, William Bolcom, and Steven Ricks. In addition, Bob Priest arranged excerpts of a piece by Karlheinz Stockhausen to whose memory the concert was dedicated.

The program began with “Tierkreis” (“Animalcircle” or “Zodiac”) by Stockhausen (1928-2007), which he wrote for music boxes. Priest arranged three (“Pisces,” “Libra,” and “Leo”) of the twelve melodies for violin, viola, and cell to correspond to the signs of players: Inés Voglar, Joël Belgique, Adam Esbensen, respectively. Mika Sunago played the "Virgo" selection on a toy piano, which closely mimicked the original music box sound.

Despite the thin melody, all of the pieces had a cerebral and random quality. The second piece, “Libra,” struck me as the most interesting with angular, somewhat strained tones coming from either the violin or the viola. It was like drinking wine through your teeth, odd yet satisfying.

The next work on the program was Burtner’s “Fragments from Cold,” which he wrote in 2006. Esbensen displayed some unusual techniques with his bow, sliding it on the side of the body of the cello and whispering it across the strings. I heard a lot of clear, glass-like tones, and I could easily envision the sound coming from a glass harmonica. The end of the piece faded away like drifting snow.

The first half of the concert ended with Corigliano’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (1962-1963). This four movement work was played by violinist Erin Furbee and pianist Sunago. The piece opened with a pulsating bass line in the piano and a lot of drive by for both violin and piano. The agitated ending of the first movement elicited applause. The second movement mixed lyricism and intriguing rhythms, and the third veered into a tragic and closed on a menacing note with the violin in the upper attic and the piano in the basement. The fourth movement was frothy and fast, but the piano seemed to overwhelm the violin at times.

After intermission, Voglar and Esbensen performed Bolcom’s “Suite for Violin and Violoncello (1997), which Bolcom had written for violinist Sergiu Luca, the founder of Chamber Music Northwest. From the get-go Volgar and Esbenson made this piece sparkle, varying the tempi and dynamics in mesmerizing way. Even when Esbenson’s bow hit the stand at the end of the first movement, that didn’t break the spell. The wild fling of sound in the fifth movement and the extended pizzicato for both instruments in the sixth were exhilarating. The audience rang it up with tumultuous applause.

The concert concluded with the world premiere of Rick’s “Anthology” for string quartet, piano, and percussion. Performed by Voglar, Furbee, Belgique, Esbensen, Sunago, and percussionist Joel Bluestone, this piece reflects the composer’s admitted obsession with four rock bands: Talking Heads, Pixies, Kate Bush, and Radiohead.

The piece began with Belgique walking down the center aisle and carrying a boombox on his shoulder. He put a CD in the box, loosened up his shirttails and with mock-rock-star flair laid some tricky and serious licks on his viola. Bluestone add wood to the sound, and Sunago put the piano into motion. Soon everyone was into the act, but everyone had to play on the off-beat – or so it seemed to me. I could never figure out the meter even with heads bobbing up and down.

The fourth movement had a stuttering quality that seemed exceedingly tricky. The fifth movement, entitled “Gigantic Wave of Bossanova” did give us some big, honky waves of sound, including a knucklecrunching chord on the piano. Bluestone put the finishing touches on the sixth, and last, movement by rapping his sticks on an interesting collection of objects that included a pipe and a large glass globe. After the last note faded away, the audience responded with sustained enthusiasm.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Christopher Seaman (1942)
Uri Segal (1944)
Nicholas Kraemer (1945)
Clive Gillinson (1946)
Okko Kamu (1946)
Michael Chance (1955)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Julius Rudel (1921)
Sarah Caldwell (1924-2006)
Ronald Stevenson (1928)
Lorin Maazel (1930)
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (1944)
Marielle Labèque (1952)
Yannick Nézet-Séguin (1975)


Michelangelo (1475-1564)
Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655)
Willie Mays (1931)
Dick Fosbury (1947)

Concert reviews in the American Record Guide

The current issue of the American Record Guide (March/April 2008) contains reviews I wrote of concerts by the Portland Baroque Orchestra and Cappella Romana that took place at the end of last year. (The long lag time is due to the time needed to put a bi-monthly magazine like ARG.)

In Portland, you can get copies at Classical Millennium. This issue has over 525 reviews in all, although the vast majority are of recordings. At $8 per copy, the ARG is a pretty good bargain.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Pauline Donalda (1882-1970)
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
Anthony Hedges (1931)
Barry Tuckwell (1931)
Sheila Nelson (1936)
Richard Hickox (1948)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Conversation with Peter Schickele / PDQ Bach

Photo by Peter Schaaf

Because Peter Schickele is coming to Portland next week to do a concert with the Portland Symphonic Choir, I thought that I'd give him a phone call and talk to him about PDQ Bach.

What inspired you to create PDQ Bach?

Schickele: I’ve always been a fan of comedy. When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of Spike Jones who had a top-notch comedy band in the 40s and 50s. His best stuff was very funny. When I was a teenager, my friends and I had been listening to Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Coffee Cantata,” which is one of his few humorous works. One day, there were just three of us, my brother, me, and a guy named Ernie Lloyd, and Ernie was interested in technical things.. he later became a ham radio operator. He was interested in overdubbing with two tape records, which in 1953 or 52, was not as easy as now. You had to hook up two machines and match up several things. So the three of us got together and recorded the first movement of Bach’s second “Brandenburg Concerto,” doing all of the parts by ourselves. For me that meant doing the high parts – the high trumpet, the oboe, and the solo violin – on the bassoon… a couple of octaves lower. That sounds fairly gross, but it was pretty fun to do.

Then we got together the next week to do something else, but I showed up with a piece called “The Sanka Cantata.” It didn’t have a composer or anything, but we recorded it. Then we decided to make that tape in the form on a radio broadcast, but we needed a composer for the piece. We all knew about Bach’s famous sons like J. C. Bach and C. P. E. Bach. One of us suggested PDQ Bach.

PDQ was an expression in the 1920s when my mother was young meaning Pretty Damn Quick. It was used the way ASAP is used now. So, we made the tape just for friends, and it lay dormant for several years until 1959 when Jorge Mester, the conductor, and I and other friends put on a concert at Juilliard. We were students there. It was just a humorous concert, and it became an annual affair, but by the second year, I realized that these pieces I was coming up with needed to be by the same composer. So, PDQ Bach floated back to the surface of my mind.

So we did these concerts annually for about six years, and in 1965 a friend and I rented Town Hall in New York City. We got the money to hire the orchestra and put on the first public concert. My friend had taken the tapes that we had from Aspen and Juilliard around to various record labels, and Vanguard took the bait and recorded that first public concert.

Even then I thought that all this might last five years or so. I had no idea that it would end up a career. By the mid 70s it was pretty much paying my bills and then some. And the rest, as they say, has been travesty.

Now we just did the 42nd PDQ Bach concert in New York, and there are now something like 17 PDQ Bach albums. The latest album just came out. It’s called PDQ Bach/The Jekyll and Hyde Tour.

The career has been a hoot, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

Has anyone tried to imitate you?

Schickele: Yes, I hear about them from time to time, and some of them send me their pieces. There are places that do annual PDQ Bach concerts, sometimes with stuff mixed in that others have written. A lot of the PDQ Bach concert has a big visual aspect as well. So it’s all over the map. I remember one place where on the very last chord of “The Seasonings” hundreds of balloons were released in the auditorium. So, all sorts of good stuff happens. But I don’t have any protégées. I haven’t encouraged anyone to do this.

Someone suggested once that a couple of centuries from now, a musicologist will write a paper with the thesis that there was this twentieth century composer named PDQ Bach who had this alter ego by the name of Peter Schickele.

If I remember correctly, you started your musical training as a bassoonist.

Schickele: That’s right. I played bassoon during high school and college in the Fargo-Moorehead Symphony Orchestra and then in the orchestra at Swarthmore College. But when I got to Juilliard, there were real bassoonist around. They knew how to make reeds and everything. So, I gave it up. I had never even owned an instrument. I had never intended to be a bassoonist. I just wanted to play in an orchestra. At Juilliard I was a composition major.

How did you come to create “Oedipus Tex?”

Schickele: That one was commissioned by a chorus in Dallas for a big anniversary in Texas. Just that fact led me to thinking about Texas stories and the title “Oedipus Tex” set me off in a certain direction like PDQ Bach’s one act opera “Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice.” Once you get a title like that, you just run with it.

How about “The Seasonings"... was that a commission?”

Schickele: No, “The Seasonings” was an independent discovery. It’s older than “Oedipus Tex.” The first public concert of PDQ Bach material happened in 1965, but for the second concert the next year, we needed new material. For that concert, we got a chorus together and an orchestra. So, “The Seasonings” was done for a New York concert with Jorge Mester conducting.

So how do you get the creative juices flowing?

Schickele: It’s an automatic thing. I have music going in my head – original stuff and ideas – running through my head all the time. PDQ Bach and Peter Schickele, the two composers, I can work on them simultaneously. There’s no particular difference in the composition process, except that the PDQ Bach pieces are actually funny.

What about PDQ's orchestral piece “Uptown Hoedown?”

Schickele: It’s a great little opener. A long line of pieces that I’ve done that consists entirely of quotes. There’s not a single original theme in the piece. Composers usually don’t brag about that, but I do. It combines a lot of country and square dance tunes with classical tunes. The piece has shape so it’s pleasing.

Will you bring back the Schickele Mix?

Schickele: The syndicators took it off the air last July 1st. But the weird thing is that it had been running for the previous nine years as reruns. My producer and I actually ran out of money for the show in 1998. So, the last nine years have been reruns. There were about 175 shows in all.

I’m hoping in the future to make it available on CDs or streaming something or other. But I can’t do that for a few years after it stopped broadcasting, because the rights remain with PRI – Public Radio International - and then after that the rights revert to me. After I get control of them again, I’ll see if I can make that happen.

What is your role in the upcoming concert with the Portland Symphonic Choir?

Schickele: I always appear as Professor Schickele, talking about the pieces I’ve discovered and then they are performed. I heard that someone somewhere thought I was going to appear in Portland as PDQ Bach, but that’s against the law and can get you into trouble. I’ll introduce the pieces and the instruments. One of the instruments is the tromboon, which I discovered in junior high school, and I was fooling around in a typically chaotic class. I had taken up the bassoon and found that the bocal, the mouthpiece part of a bassoon, could fix into a trombone in place of a trombone mouthpiece. The tromboon produces a sick cow sound, but you can control it, and it has a certain weird range. It’s been one of my best standbys and most popular instruments.

We’ll see you here in Portland soon!

Schickele: I’m looking forward to it!

Wacky choir concert coming up

On Wednesday, March 12th, the Portland Symphonic Choir will present PDQ plays PDX, a concert featuring the inimitable music of PDQ Bach (aka Peter Schickele). Since I am a member of the choir, I can't divulge what's in store, but I can tell you that we won't be wearing the usual concert garb. Schickele, himself, will be there in person, and you'll be laughing a lot. Hopefully, the choir will get through all of the numbers without without cracking up too much.

For more information on the concert see the Portland Symphonic Choir's website or Ticketmaster.

I've interviewed Peter Schickele and will be posting it very soon.

Today's Birthdays

Antonia Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Cecil Aronowitz (1916-1978)
Bernard Haitnik (1929)
Aribert Reimann (1936)
Ralph Kirshbaum (1946)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tenor Giuseppe di Stefano dies, age 86

The BBC has just reported that the great tenor Giuseppe di Stefano has died. I have a couple of cherished recordings of his singing with Maria Callas. What a terrific voice he had.

Today's Birthdays

Henry Wood (1869-1944)
Frank Wigglesworth (1918)
Martin Lovett (1927)
Florence Quivar (1944)
Roberta Alexander (1949)
Katia Labèque (1050)

Classical in Seattle changes name and website address

The blog Classical In Seattle has just changed its name to The Gathering Note, and it has changed its address as well. In order to cover more music, Philippa Kiraly, who has written about music for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will contribute to The Gathering Note, and so will I.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884)
Kurt Weill (1900-1950)
Marc Blitzstein (1905-1965)
John Gardner (1917)
Robert Simpson (1921-1997)
Bernard Rands(1935)
Robert Lloyd (1940)


Mikhail S Gorbachev (1931)
Tom Wolfe (1931)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960)
Glenn Miller (1904-1944)
Leo Brouwer (1939)
Moray Welsh (1947)
Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson (1954-2006)
Galina Gorchakova (1962)
Thomas Adès (1971)

Oskar Kokoschka (1866-1980)
Ralph Ellison (1913-1994)
Richard Wilbur (1921)

A new opera opens in Vancouver, BC

"The Dream Healer," an all Canadian opera will receive its world premiere tomorrow at The Chan Centre for Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia. Composer Lloyd Burritt based his opera on the novel "Pilgrim" by fellow Canadian Timothy Findley. The Toronto Globe and Mail previews the opera. The opera's website provides this summary: "Focused on Carl Jung at the Burghölzli Clinic in Zürich, it is a story about disintegration of the psyche."