Monday, June 30, 2008

More positive reviews of Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra

Both of the Chicago papers have published new reviews of Kalmar's work at the Grant Park Festival. He continues to make a fine impression there:

In today's Chicago Tribune.

In yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times.

Today's Birthdays

Lena Horne (1917)
James Loughran (1931)
Giles Swayne (1946)
Stephen Barlow (1954)
Esa-Pekka Salonen (1958)


Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Aarre Merikanto (1893-1958)
Nelson Eddy (1901-1967)
Leroy Anderson (1908-1975)
Frank Loesser (1910-1969)
Bernard Hermann (1911-1975)
Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996)
James Dick (1940)
"Little Eva" Boyd 1945-2003)
Anne-Sophie Mutter (1963)


Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900-1944)
Oriana Fallaci (1929-2006)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Henry Fogel rails against the sacking of newspaper music critics

Henry Fogel, president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, vents his frustration with the current situation in the newspaper trade. In Fogel's blog, On the Record, he asks that newspapers reassert themselves as leaders in the arts. Just this past week, the Miami Herald laid off its classical music critic, Lawrence Johnson.

In the words of Fogel:

"It continues to amaze me that those who are in positions to shape the national agenda do not, in fact, give a damn about shaping anything. Instead of feeling a shred of responsibility to lead the country, to move national discussion beyond the realm of reality shows, sitcoms, and sound-bites, they exercise a stunning degree of follow-ship-putting their collective fingers in the air, sensing the current trends, and running to follow them. That the arts and culture do, in fact, represent among the most significant achievements of any society or civilization--and that for that reason alone they merit discussion in our national media--is irrelevant to those who shape those media. It is a sad commentary, and perhaps more than anything else it is indicative of why newspapers are being eaten up by the internet."

I wholeheartedly agree with Fogel's assessment, and I just don't understand why newspapers are running away from a golden opportunity to use the web as a place where they could build arts journalism hotspots. Instead, they are letting bloggers get the inside track. It's just amazing.

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Joachim (1831-1907)
Richard Rodgers (1902-1979)
Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996)
George Lloyd (1913-1998)
Giselher Klebe (1925)
Philip Fowke (1950)
Thomas Hampson (1955)


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
John Wesley (1703-1791)
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Kalmar/Grant Park Music Festival concert review

Kalmar has been busy in Chicago conducting concerts for the Grant Park Music Festival. Here are two reviews - both very enthusiastic - of the opening concert:

from Chicago Tribune
from the Chicago Sun-Times

From my Chicago friends, I've heard very good reports of Kalmar and the Grant Park Festival Orchestra.

Today's Birthdays

Toti Dal Monte (1893-1975)
Karel Reiner (1910-1979)
Anno Moffo (1932-2006)
Hugh Wood (1932)
Nancy Gustafson (1956)
Magnus Lindberg (1958)
Robert King (1960)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cascade Festival of Music crashes financially

Apparently the Cascade Festival of Music has filed for bankruptcy. David Stabler's blog has the goods on this disaster. The Portland Symphonic Choir was scheduled to sing at the festival at the end of August. With the new influx of money in the Bend area over the past decade or more, it's hard to believe that this festival would have any financial problems at all.

The Bend Bulletin newspaper just published an article about this on Friday morning. At this point the festival is $93,000 in debt.

Talking with David Hattner, new conductor of the Portland Youth Philharmonic

David Hattner is the new music director and conductor of the Portland Youth Philharmonic, making him only the 5th person to hold this position with the nation’s oldest youth orchestra (established in 1924 as the Portland Junior Symphony Association). Hattner beat 111 other applicants for the job in an evaluation process that took eight months to complete.

Hattner has conducted many ensembles, including Oklahoma Chamber Ensemble, the Garden State Philharmonic Orchestra, and Camerata Atlantica, plus multi-media work with ensembles involved in silent films. He is also a professional clarinetist and has held the principal clarinet position with Princeton Symphony Orchestra, Cascade Music Festival Orchestra, New Jersey Opera Theater and Key West Symphony Orchestra.

I spoke to Hattner recently about his new gig with the PYP.

You were in attendance at the final PYP concert of the season and saw that you will be losing most of your woodwind section, which had a lot of seniors who were graduating. I understand that you are auditioning students like crazy.

Hattner: That’s right, only the principal flutist, principal clarinetist, two oboes, and one bassoonist will be returning to the woodwinds. Fortunately, we’ve heard some impressive candidates and are very confident – all the way down to the young string ensemble – about the upcoming season. Some of those who are auditioning are new to us, and some have returned for their second try with the orchestra and they are really committed. It’s exciting.

How many auditions have you heard this week?

Hattner: I think that we heard around 100 so far.

That got to be guelling!

Hattner: We have another four hours tonight, and we’ll be back in August to hear people for another several days, and then we have the seating auditions for the PYP orchestra itself. It’s a great! I’m listening to a lot of young, nervous players. It’s an exciting time.

Do you intend to keep playing the clarinet as well as conducting?

Hattner: I’ve been working too hard at playing clarinet to quit now. I’ve been playing almost 20 years professionally. But my playing will be limited to solo recitals and chamber music. But I am looking forward to meeting new people to collaborate with. I’ll probably teach a little bit – in the master class style. We have a lot of clarinets in the PYP. So, it’ll be fun.

What made you decide to become a conductor?

Hattner: I didn’t make the decision to try conducting until fairly recently. But the genesis started years ago when I first started auditioning as a clarinetist – this was for a job with a town orchestra – and was listening to someone in the room next to me warm up. And what I was hearing sounded like it came from another planet. It was so good. It turned out to be a young man, Ricardo Morales, who is now the principal clarinetist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He was using a new clarinet technique, and I could practice for 100 years and barely get close to what he could do. That’s when I thought there might be things in music beyond playing the clarinet.

Was there a time that you stood on the podium and felt that conducting was just right for you?

Hattner: No, conducting never felt natural. I thought that I was a natural musician or instead of conductor. When I tried conducting as a student, it didn’t feel quite right. But a few years ago I tried conducting some small groups and the feedback was very positive, so I thought that I’d push it more.

Later I went to Aspen to study conducting with David Zinman. And that program was terrific. Those of us in the conducting program got a dedicated, professional-level orchestra to work with.

When you initially start to learn how to conduct, it’s sort of like learning to drive a car. You have to gauge things. Check all the mirrors. Become familiar with all the controls. It’s sort the same thing with the orchestra. Conductors have to figure out what makes things go faster. How to slow them up. Mr. Zinmann would say, “Do you realize what you doing? Go watch yourself in the video tape.” He was a consummate musician and instructor. He can spot all sorts of things. You might be doing something that is getting the wrong result.

Zinman’s philosophy, in my words, was to know the score, conduct the players, and be the music. If you conduct the music but not the players, then they might follow you or not. If you conduct the players and use the right orchestra gestures, every reasonable orchestral musician will be able to follow you. Authoritative conducting and the musical wherewithal to back it up works real well. You don’t have a lot of time in rehearsal, so every second counts. If you start talking, the clock goes very fast.

I was able to attend Aspen’s conducting program three times and it really helped. I worked on the things I learned, and here I am now. And I’m as excited as anyone to lead the PYP orchestra.

Did you plan the upcoming season for the PYP?

Hattner: TI did plan the season myself. I had just done it before my trips to portland for the auditions had started.

I chose the repertoire to give the students and audience a sampling of my taste in repertoire, as well as to challenge the musicians more at each concert.

The programs have an extremely high level of difficulty. I know that I have the freedom to program almost anything for future seasons. But I keep in mind the need to program different styles and eras and appropriate levels of challenge based on the different parts of the season.

Like other orchestras, youth orchestras have an incredible learning curve from the first concert of the season to the last concert in May. They are much better in May than November. The goal is to have each succeeding season is to start a little stronger than the year before.

Since most students in PYP play in the orchestra for about three years, I’ll try to program a wide spectrum for them. They are a disciplined, motivated group, and they are very open to be challenged.

I like the student blog on the PYP web site. Will you be adding your comments there, too?

Hattner: For the web site I’ve written some thoughts for the students – about practicing their scales. Based on my playing experience, I thought that I would talk about playing scales. What’s important is the way you practice them, and the way to make it better.

And I made a Youtube video that talks about all this. It’s in three parts, but the first part contains an explanation and an example of my playing. People can check it out and see if I make any mistakes or not.

Have you been to Portland before?

Hattner: Last October I was in Portland, conducting music for the silent film “Brand upon the Brain.” It was shown at Cinema 21. It’s a recently made film by Canadian.director Guy Maddin. It’s a quirky production with live sound effects and live music. We had a narrator, Karen Black of “Five Easy Pieces” and “Easy Rider” fame.

Previous to that I had been the principal clarinetist for Murry Sidlin at the Cascade Music Festival. I came to Portland in February for a week during my audition. Many of my New York friends would love to come here. Portland is great!

What kind of orchestral music do you like?

Hattner: I love all types, but I have a real fondness for American music, especially some of the pieces that have been ignored. In the first concert of the season, we’ll perform Samuel Barber’s “Music for a Scene from Shelley” and Henry Cowell’s “Ancient Desert Drone,” Cowell wrote 900 pieces but no one seems to play him much anymore. Then there’s a favorite like Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid.” I’d love to do Grant Still’s Second Symphony sometime.

What are you doing this summer?

Hattner: I’ll be playing principal clarinet for the New Jersey Opera during the month of July.

Good luck with your future with the PYP.

Hattner: Thanks! It’s going to be great. The orchestra is impressive. It’s a strong organization that is very well run. The alumni are very attached. Some of my former colleagues are from the PYP, and they think that it’s terrific that I’m here. I’m looking forward to making music!

Today's Birthdays

Hugues Cuénod (1902)
Wolfgang Windgassen (1914-1974)
Giuseppe Taddei (1916)
Syd Lawrence (1923-1998)
Jacob Druckman (1928-1996)
Claudio Abbado (1933)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Gustave Charpentier (1860-1956)
Arthur Tracy (1899-1997)
Bill Russo (1928-2003)
Kurt Schwertsik (1935)


Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926)
George Orwell (1903-1950)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Harry Partch (1901-1974)
Pierre Fournier (1906-1986)
Milton Katims (1909-2006)
Denis Dowling (1910-1984)
Terry Riley (1935)


Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

Jason Ogan and Ralph Wells remembered

Two deaths in the Portland music community.

Tenor and opera company founder Jason Ogan recently committed suicide. I sang with Jason in the Portland Symphonic Choir for a year or so, and I wrote about him and his fledgling Oregon Lyric Opera Association for PSU magazine in 2004. Ogan had a beautiful tenor voice. I heard him in PSU operas and in a special PSU orchestra concert of Beethoven's 9th in which he was featured in the solo parts with other professional PSU alumns: Kelly Nassief, Angela Niederloh, and Clayton Brainerd. I also saw Ogan perform very well as an actor a couple of years ago in a production of "Our Town" in Gresham.

Stephen Marc Beaudoin in his blog writes a fine tribute to Ogan here. Memorial service information is at the end of the posting.

David Stabler writes about Ogan in his blog here. In that posting, Stabler also tells of the death of Ralph Wells, professional baritone and founder of Willamette Concert Opera. Wells died because of a brain tumor and stroke.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Choir singing is all the rage in England

Believe it or not, singing in a chorus has become a popular pastime in England. You can read about it here.

But despite their boasting, they might have to work hard to catch up to the enthusiasm of the Estonians for choral singing.

Today's Birthdays

Carl Reinecke (1824-1910)
Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993)
George Russell (1923)
Adam Faith (1940-2003)
James Levine (1943)
Nigel Osborne (1948)
Nicholas Cleobury (1950)
Sylvia McNair (1956)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chamber Music Northwest's Summer Festival begins tomorrow

Every summer for the past 35 years, Chamber Music Northwest has offered one of the nation's very best music festivals. This year's selection of concerts looks terrific - with a lot of outstanding musicians and a lot of variety. Tomorrow night and Tuesday as well, you can catch the opening concert, which offers some wonderful favorites in terms of music and instrumentalists.

Here's the stellar lineup of musicians for that concert:

Elmar Oliveira, violin
Theodore Arm, violin
Scott Lee, viola
Paul Neubauer, viola
Ronald Thomas, cello
Peter Wiley, cello
Anne-Marie McDermott, piano
David Shifrin, clarinet

And here's their program:

Franz Joseph Haydn
Trio in G Major for Piano and Strings ("Gypsy Rondo")

Carl Maria von Weber
Quintet in B-Flat Major for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 34

Johannes Brahms
String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111

But that's just a tidbit of what Chamber Music Northwest has in store. Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach) is in town and will talk about humor in music during his lecture on Wednesday evening. Then on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday you can laugh your head off in watching Schickele and members of Chamber Music Northwest present some of his funniest chamber works. On Sunday afternoon Schickele will lead the musicians in a children's concert, the beloved "Carnival of the Animals."

Then more concerts follow as the music progress through four more weeks of music-making.

You can read all about it on Chamber Music Northwest's website.

Today's Birthdays

Frank Heino Damrosch (1859-1937)
Jennie Tourel (1900-1973)
Walter Leigh (1905-1942)
Sir Peter Pears (1910-1986)
Hans-Hubert Schönzeler (1925-1997)
Libor Pešek (1933)
Pierre Amoyal (1949)
Christopher Norton (1953)


Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970)
Joseph Papp (1921-1991)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795)
Harry Newstone (1921-2006)
Lalo Schifrin (1932)
Diego Masson (1935)
Judith Bingham (1952)
Jennifer Larmore (1958)


Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1972)
Mary McCarthy (1912-1989)

Friday, June 20, 2008

More innovative marketing at the Met

I just bumped into this interesting piece at Sequenza21, an excellent online arts journal. It delves into how the Metropolitan Opera marketed Philip Glass’s opera “Satyagraha.” Subscribers were bailing from the opera like crazy, switching their seats to other operas that they were familiar with. So the marketing arm of the Met went into overdrive and came up with some creative solutions in appealing to a new audience for this opera and arriving at a lot of success.

The Sequenza21 posting also points to a longer and more involved posting by Ben Rosen, former Board Member of the Met. Rosen's posting is fascinating and shows graphs about subscription information and provides details on how the marketing department came up with creative solutions besides the simulcasts to movie theaters. It seems to me that marketing departments at many arts organizations can learn a lot from this.

Quoting from Rosen, here's what the marketing department at the Met did to help sell "Satyagraha" in face of declining sales and a potential disaster:

"So a marketing task force was put together. For a modest budget, aided by contributions from a board member, the team was able to create dozens of different marketing initiatives designed to attract specialized audiences. New-age magazines yoga groups, anti-apartheid organizations, India groups, South African organizations, et al.

It worked. By the end of its run, Satyagraha had sold out its run. (By the way, it was a terrific production. I like to quip that Satyagraha is now my favorite Sanskrit opera.) Next year, the same team will have an opportunity to apply its narrow-focus marketing techniques to selling the John Adams opera, Doctor Atomic -- a contemporary work about the creation of the atomic bomb."

Today's Birthdays

Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)
Wilfred) Pelletier (1896-1982)
Ingrid Haebler (1926)
Eric Dolphy (1928-1964)
Arne Nordheim (1931)
Mickie Most (1938-2003)
Anne Murray (1945)
André Watts (1946)
Lionel Richie (1949)


Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Astoria Music Festival is about to open

Tomorrow night the Astoria Music Festival opens with some wonderful concerts. Conductor Keith Clark leads the orchestra in a performance of the Overture to "Candide" by Bernstein. Pianist Alexandre Dossin, who teaches at the U of O, plays Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 and there's also Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and his Fantasia for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra.

Then on Saturday evening is a concert version performance of Verdi's "Rigoletto" with Richard Zeller in the title role, Amy Hanson as Gilda, Jon Garrison as the Duke, and Konstantin Kvach as Sparafucile.

On Sunday afternoon at 4pm, you can hear chamber music with pianist Cary Lewis, violinist Inés Voglar, violist Joël Belgíque, cellist Dorothy Lewis, and flutist Molly Barth.

Then on Tuesday afternoon is the unusual performance. It's Beta Collide and painter Roger Hayes who interact on some kind of music and visual art extravaganza. Beta Collide is a new music ensemble based in Oregon. Directed by Grammy-Award winning flutist Molly Alicia Barth (formerly of eighth blackbird) and trumpeter Brian McWhorter (of Meridian Arts Ensemble), this ensemble will take the arts to a new level.

These are just a few of the initial events of the festival, which runs through June 29th.

See the Astoria Music Festival website for more information.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Wenzel Stamitz (1717-1757)
Carl Zeller (1842-1898)
Alfredo Catalani (1854-1893)
Guy Lombardo (1902-1977)
Anneliese Rothenberger (1926)
Elmar Oliveira (1950)


Tobias Wolff (1945)
Sir Salman Rushdie (1947)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Review: Opera Colorado's Nixon in China

(Photo by Matthew Staver)

Richard Nixon’s trip to China in 1972 was an event of historic proportions, especially for a politician who was thoroughly opposed to communism right down to the blood cells of his bone marrow. The opera “Nixon in China,” written by John Adams, retells the story of Nixon’s trip to China, mixing the public aspects of the trip with introspective musings by some of the main players in the event.

Opera Colorado gave an inspired performance of "Nixon in China," which I saw (June 13) as part of the classical music critics conference in Denver. This was a co-production with Opera Theater of St. Louis, Minnesota Opera, Portland Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, and Houston Grand Opera. I saw this production in Portland during its 2005-2006 season, and it continues to hold up very well.

Of course, any production that features Robert Orth as Richard Nixon is in for a treat. With his hands in his pockets and hunched shoulders, Orth has developed an uncanny ability of mimic Nixon in every which way. The arrival scene and the dinner celebration with the cordial and thoughtful Chou En-lia, sung wonderfully by Chen-Ye Yuan is fascinating.

Marc Heller's old yet energetic Mao Tse-tung would forcefully spout off at anything that Nixon said (for example, "We no longer need Confucius. Let him rot."). Maria Kanyova created a compassionate Pat Nixon. Tracy Dahl as Madame Mao (Chiang Ch'ing) could scare the bejesus out of you. Thomas Hammons was outstanding as the somewhat bumbling Henry Kissinger and as the bad guy in the communist ballet. (Hammons sangs the Kissinger part in the Nonesuch recording.)

Conduct Marin Alsop made sure that the pace went well. The three secretaries and the chorus went off-track briefly in the second act, so I'm not sure if they were waiting for a cue from Alsop or if they counted incorrectly. The meter in this opera changes constantly, so confusion can arise at almost any given point.

The love-duet portion of the ballet always surprises me because of the melodic detour into the land of Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde." I also enjoyed the ballroom dance inspired music in the third act, but, unfortunately, the characters have few interesting things to say.

The use of television sets and documentary footage of the actual trip in 1972 added context. Directions by James Robinson and choreographer Sean Curran were excellent.

The Ellie Caulkins Opera House is a beautiful venue. I sat in the mezzanine level and was just under the balcony above me, and that seemed to have cut back some of the sound. The biggest problem of the evening was getting the audience seated. Lots and lots of people were seated well after the first act began, and the same thing happened again after the second act began. I hope that this was just an aberration.

Today's Birthdays

Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831)
Sir George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987)
Manuel Rosenthal (1904-2003)
Sir Paul McCartney (1942)
Hans Vonk (1942-2004)
Anthony Halstead (1945)
Diana Ambache (1948)
Eva Marton (1948)
Peter Donohoe (1953)

Music and dance critic Paul Horsley let go from Kansas City Star

Horsley has just informed his fellow MCANA (Music Critics Association of North America) members that his position at the Kansas City Star has been eliminated. The Kansas City Star is part of the McClatchy newspaper chain. To read about the layoffs, click here. Horsley is on the board of the MCANA.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Einar Englund (1916-1999)
Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006)
Sir Edward Downes (1924)
Gérard Grisey (1946-1998)
Derek Lee Ragin (1958)

More fun with critics… or not

At the classical music critics conference in Denver last week, I heard an interesting panel discussion of “what happens when a critic is perceived to have an agenda, negative or positive; how that critic is perceived by performers, presenters, press representatives; and questions of tone, responsibility and fairness.” The panelists were Mary Lou Falcone of M.L. Falcone, Jessica Lustig of 21C Media, Susan Elliott of, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra president Fred Bronstein, St. Louis Post-Dispatch music Critic Sara Bryan Miller, and New York Times classical music and dance editor Jim Oestreich.

I didn’t take many notes at this meeting but I recall moderator Susan Elliott created a scenario with a hypothetical city with a major orchestra and opera company and one major newspaper with one music critic, and that critic was perceived by the arts organization as giving a series of unfair reviews. Fred Bronstein suggested calling the arts editor of the newspaper and invite him/her to a performance to see if he agreed with the critic. Jim Oestreich said that he would certainly attend a performance to see what he would perceive, if he had received such a phone call. Oestreich said that, over the years at the Times, he has talked with reviewers on such occasions, but his main concern was if a reviewer had a “mean streak.”

Mary Lou Falcone and Jessica Lustig talked of ways to work behind the scenes, but their perspectives come from working a big city and didn’t apply all that much to most cities in which a major touring artist only stops by every two or five years.

Sara Bryan Miller told about her negative criticism of a prominent instrumentalist in St. Louis and how the arts organization involved – over time – agreed with her and moved that person off its roster. She also described how careful she has to be in a city like St. Louis, where she sings in a church choir and knows a lot of people who are involved in the arts.

The discussion covered situations in which a critic was perceived as unnecessarily positive in his/her reviews, but the entire conversation gradually shifted to blogging. It turns out that Falcone does not recognize bloggers at all as legitimate arts critics (unless it is Alex Ross or a blog associated with a newspaper). She feels that blogging is still in its infancy and will take time to figure out who is responsible/accountable/etc. In fact, Falcone described arts blogging as the Wild West.

Lustig does send PR information to some classical music bloggers. She said that she reads the blogs in order to determine which blogs are worth the effort.

This is a continuaton of the postings regarding the classical music critics conference that I attended last week. The first posting was on June 10th.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Helen Traubel (1899-1972)
Willi Boskovsky (1909-1990)
Sergiu Comissiona (1928-2005)
Jerry Hadley (1952-2007)
David Owen Norris (1953)


Joyce Carol Oates (1938)

Review: The Rape of Lucretia at Central City Opera

The thought ‘I am right and you are wrong’ is a motivating factor in human deeds and misdeeds from the earliest of times, and in “The Rape of Lucretia,” a powerful opera by Benjamin Britten, the misdeed prevails and wreaks terrible havoc. The opera retells a piece of history dating back to ancient Rome in which the virtuous wife of a Roman general was violated by an Etruscan prince, who wanted to win a bet at all costs. Presented by Central City Opera (Colorado), “The Rape of Lucretia” speaks well to modern audiences even though some may not be familiar with the Christian message that Britten wrapped around the story.

I heard the Central City Opera production on Thursday evening (June 12th) as part of the music critics conference in Denver. The opera company used busses to transport the critics and other participants in the National Performing Arts Convention to Central City, which is located at 8,000 feet above sea level. The Victorian era mining town has a beautifully restored theater, the Central City Opera House, which seats 500 people for its productions that run during the summer.

A strong performance by Phyllis Pancella as Lucretia made the tragedy come alive with poignancy and depth. Pancella excelled at displaying a wide range of emotions that included pure love and trust, defiance, anger, anguish, confusion, and derangement. As Tarquinius, Brian Mulligan sang well but was limited in his emotional reach as a man who insanely resolves to force himself on his friend’s wife. His face seemed to be strangely wooden most of the time.

In the role of the male chorus, Vale Rideout’s ringing tenor was superb but often too loud. Melina Pyron performed very well as the female chorus. When they first appeared, carrying books, I thought that they were reading from scores, but it gradually became apparent that they were relating the story as if it were in printed in the books.

Maria Zifchak as the servant Bianca and Sarah Jane McMahon as the servant Lucia were outstanding. McMahon’s sparkly aria that greeted the dawn of a new day contrasted powerfully with the atmosphere created by the rape the evening before.

Joshua Hopkins gave Roman general Junius a brash character and Arthur Woodley made a compassionate Collatinus.

The orchestra was aptly conducted by British conductor Damian Iorio, who made his United States debut with this production.

Stage direction by Paul Curran had many good points mixed in with the less effective. For example, I didn’t understand why the male and female chorus had to be present in every scene, especially when they had large sections in which they didn’t sing. Their presence in those parts of the opera seemed distracting.

This production was set in the years following WWII with a rough-hewn room serving as the setting initially as barracks of the military men and later as the bedroom in the home of Lucretia and Collatinus. The pool of water near the front of the stage was a brilliant touch, especially as a symbol of making oneself pure.

The undercurrent of rebellion (for example, when the Roman people sang “Down with the Etruscans” and other messages of protest) took place offstage, which unfortunately reduced the impact of why the rape became a major point in Roman history. That is, general outrage broke out after the rape became known, and the Roman people successfully threw off the yoke of the Etruscans.

The Roman generals wore the plainest of uniforms and Tarquinius looked more like a private than a prince. His military clothing needed some distinguishing ornamentation, such as medals.

Overall, Central City Opera’s production of this thought-provoking opera was successful, making us ponder what our reaction would be to a terrible thing like rape, and what it all means in the greater scope of things.

For more information about Central City Opera's "The Rape of Lucretia," click here.

For more information about the classical music critics conference, see the posting on June 10th.

Article up at Primer Magazine

Primer Magazine, a brand-new online magazine that covers a wide variety of topics, ran my first (of hopefully many) articles, entitled "How to Talk about Classical Music." It's structured as an introduction for those who might be new to the genre, and was a lot of fun to write.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Sir Thomas Armstrong (1898-1994)
Geoffrey Parsons (1929-1995)
Waylon Jennings(1937-2002)
Harry Nilsson (1941-1994)
Paul Patterson (1947)
Rafael Wallfisch (1953)
Robert Cohen (1959)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Today's Birthdays

John McCormack (1884-1945)
Heddle Nash (1894-1961)
Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976)
Stanley Black (1913-2002)
Natalia Gutman (1942)
Lang Lang (1982)


Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
John Bartlett (1820-1905)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Elisabeth Schumann (1888-1952)
Carlos Chavez (1899-1978)
Alan Civil (1929-1989)
Gwynne Howell (1938)
Sarah Connolly (1963)
Alain Trudel (1966)


William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Marin Alsop talks to the critics

For lunch yesterday, the critics got a "Munch with Marin" session. Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony and conductor of Opera Colorado's production of "Nixon in China," graciously answered all sorts of questions from the critics for an hour or so. She came across as a thoughtful person with a bit of dry wit and a good sense of irony. The format was question and answer, but I'll just relate some of the information in a straight narrative.

Alsop mentioned that during her time as the music director of the Colorado Symphony the budget grew from $2 million to $11 million, and she has fond memories of conducting in Denver.

Her time with the BSO didn't start out so smoothly. Some in the orchestra didn't want her there. Before signing the contract with the BSO, she decided to go to the orchestra members and talk to them and make her case. She wanted to bring honesty, genuineness, and success to the orchestra. They changed their minds, and decided to give her a chance. She still has conversations with the orchestra and some of its subcommittees to make sure that everyone is on the same page. She felt that the musicians, in the past, had been left out of the process and were very frustrated. She feels that things are going very well.

Alsop said that the BSO had a $16 million deficit when she arrived and that in the past year the orchestra operated in the black.

A large corporation, PNC, underwrote the $25 ticket offer last year with a $1 million donation and received such good press from their generosity that other corporations stepped up this year to do the underwriting. The renewal rate this year at the BSO is very high (she thought that it's 87%, but she wasn't sure).

Alsop mentioned that studies have been done about why orchestras have had problems with their audiences. The problems don't have to do with the music. The problems center on parking, getting a drink during intermission (including the double skinny, soy lattes), box office, and other things not related to music at all.

She is excited about a new education program that will appeal to youth. The BSO is drawing from the success that Venezuela has had and using that as a model.

Alsop reflected a bit on her time with Leonard Bernstein at Tangelwood. She was very impressed with Bernstein and has come to think that Bernstein so heavily identified himself with Mahler that he may have actually thought he was Mahler. Apparently, Bernstein held a lot of the same superstitions as Mahler, and their lives have some parallels.

For more information about the classical music critics conference, see the posting on June 10th.

Newspaper critics talk fearfully about blogging

Yesterday morning's panel at the MCANA critics conference had the topic of "Bogging: Blah blah or Brilliance? The panel consisted of Peter W. Goodman (Hofstra University -- and formerly at Newsday), Andrew Druckenbrod (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox), and Doug McLennan (ArtsJournal).

Since the MCANA is still dominated by print journalist - most of whom have started blogs within the confines of their newspapers' websites - the discussion quickly revealed that these critics are fearing the end of their jobs, and they don't see blogging as an answer to earning a livelihood for their families. Editors at newspapers don't understand and/or are not interested in classical music, so everyone is waiting for the axe to fall.

Nobody knows about the future, but it seems to be pointing to blogging in some form or another. Therefore, as McLennan pointed out, you've got to give it your best shot as a critic and develop an audience that will want to follow you. He also said that with so much being written in the blogsphere, the critic will become even more important because people will need to find those critics who have something meaningful to say.

Regina Hackett, an art critic for the Seattle P-I, was held up as a critic who has successfully become an arts blogger. To read her go here.

After the panel ended, I spoke briefly with McLennan. He gets up at 5 am and begins to read through blogs in order to figure out what he will post on He said that he goes through 1,000 blogs a day. Wow!

I think that the newspapers are really missing an opportunity with their online presence. Instead of just giving one critic a blog, they should give their freelancers blogs as well. They could even open to other freelancers that they feel are qualified to extend their coverage into concerts, shows, and all sorts of cultural things that are currently ignored. They would then dominate the cultural news and readers would go to their website to get the latest culture news.

I tried this idea on several people, including McLennan, and all acknowledged that that is a great way to go for newspapers to stay viable - at least online. However, they said that newspapers won't do this because of inherent problems in the way that newspapers are structured.

For more information about the classical music critics conference, see the posting on June 10th.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Vanni Marcoux (1877-1962)
Leon Goossens (1897-1988)
Maurice Ohana (1913-1992)
Ian Partridge (1938)
Chick Corea (1941)
Oliver Knussen (1952)


Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Anne Frank (1929-1945)

Mile High Music

Last night (Wednesday the 11th) - as part of the music critics package - I got to hear the Colorado Symphony Orchestra play at their homebase, Boettcher Concert Hall, in downtown Denver. The hall is part of a performing arts complex that spans several blocks, and you can walk under a magnificent glass roof that spans these buildings. Boettcher was built in 1978 as a concert in the round - sort of like the concert hall where the Berlin Philharmonic plays. The only big problem with the Boettcher is that the acoustics are poor, and there has been talk (I understand from a local critic) of gutting the entire structure and starting all over again.

The program I heard consisted of Bernstein's Overture to "Candide" and his "Chichester Psalms" for chorus and orchestra, plus John Corigliano's Piano Concerto, and Giya Kancheli's "Styx" for viola, chorus, and orchestra. "Candide," the Piano Concerto, and "Styx" were conducted by the CSO's music director Jeffrey Kahne. Duain Wolfe, director of the CSO Chorus conducted the "Chichester Psalms."

The concert began with the Overture to "Candide," which the orchestra played with plenty of splash. I would've liked more contrast in volume, but that judgment perhaps was influenced by where I was sitting (just above the violin section).

In the next work, the "Chichester Psalms," a chorus of 200 sang with fervor. But I know this piece well (having sung it several times) and could tell right away that diction in Boettcher Concert Hall is a problem. I could see the chorus enunciating the Hebrew text, but I could barely distinguish any consonants. Also, the tenor section (which was across from me) was lacked presence. I found out later that people who sat on the side of the hall that the tenors faced heard plenty of tenor. In any case, the boy soprano, Benjamin Tooke, sang very, very well. The pacing by Wolfe was very good also.

Guest artists Natasha Paremski joined the orchestra for Corigliano's Piano Concerto. This challenging work has lots of meter changes that seemed to demand a lot of Kahane's concentration. I could see his face, and it never seemed to relax. Paremski played the piano very cleanly, but perhaps more expression would've made the music come more alive. The piece has a wide array of arresting moods that were wonderful. Paremski, by the way is only 20 years old, so you'll be hearing more from her, I hope.

After intermision, the orchestra, chorus, and Basil Vendryes, principal violist of the CSO, performed Kancheli's "Styx." This was only the third time that this piece has been done in North America and Kahane is one of its champions. The piece was enjoyable, but I'm not sure that it really conveyed the idea (from ancient Greece mythology) of Charon ferrying the dead to the underworld. Maybe if I hear it again someday.

Also, after intermission, Henry Fogel, president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, presented the League's Emerging Music Director Award to Alondra de la Parra and to James Gaffigan. De la Parra is the music director of the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas (only three years old and wildly successful). Gaffigan is the music director of CityMusic Cleveland. It was commentd that both de la Parra dn Gaffigan are getting married this summer - but not to each other.

And Dana Gioia, Chairman of the national Endowment for the Arts awarded the Gold Baton to America's youth orchestras (in general), and it was accepted on their behalf by Louis Scaglione, chair f the League's Youth Orchestra Division.

Extra note: Elaine Calder of the Oregon Symphony wrote a comment (posted in the Today's Birthdays) that " of the Emerging Conductors - James Gaffigan - will appear with the Oregon Symphony and guitarist Eduardo Fernandez next February."

For more information about the classical music critics conference, see the posting on June 10th.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Carlisle Floyd (1926)
Antony Rooley (1944)
Douglas Bostock (1955)


Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
William Styron (1925-2006)
Athol Fugard (1932)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Classical music critics meeting in Denver

Tomorrow I'll be on my way to a meeting for classical music critics. I'm a card-carrying member of the Music Critics Association of North America (see and the annual conference usually has some interesting panels and a chance to hobnob with other critics. Denver is hosting the National Performing Arts Convention at the same time, so I hope to take in a bunch of interesting panels on a variety of topics (see I'll post to this blog on some of the events/topics/discussions -- especially if the critics start criticizing one another.

Today's Birthdays

Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900)
Frederick Loewe (1904-1988)
Ralph Kirkpatrick (1911-1984)
Bruno Bartoletti (1925)
Mark-Anthony Turnage (1960)


Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)
Maurice Sendak (1928)

Monday, June 9, 2008

In Mulieribus Entrances Yet Again

The exceptional acoustics and spare architecture at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church proved the perfect backdrop for the final concert of In Mulieribus' inaugural season last Sunday. This group has received high accolades for such a new ensemble, as seen by being featured on NPR's Performance Today in January of 2008, and the selection of their first (and hopefully not last) CD Notre Dame de Grace as one of the four classical CD recommendations in the Oregonian's "Wired Gift Guide" last year.

Before last Sunday's concert, I had a chance to interview Anna Song, and I wrote briefly about my great respect for this group on my blog Musical Oozings. Medieval music, for me, always has a certain haunting quality to it. I hear uncertainty, apprehension and a quivering acceptance of a world whose nature is not fully comprehended. This was a world in which the supernatural manifest itself in daily life, in every conceivable manner. There is so much longing, such deep and pervading devotion, that I am always instantly smitten by the first notes. The purity of tone, the ancient languages; everything speaks unmistakably of an aesthetic from a time long since past.

There was a respectable crowd for a gorgeous, sunny afternoon, and minutes before these women took the stage the audience settled into a hushed silence, pregnant with expectation. The first pieces were ancient indeed: they came from the Montpellier Codex, which according to Song is "the single largest source of 13th century French polyphony." From the first moments the music was otherworldly, and even without understanding the languid Occitane language in which it was written, the meaning was clear. The longing and deep devotion I spoke of, often of a religious nature, was this time directed towards a corporeal object, although the terms used in the sometimes tragic, always deeply sincere texts spoke to an almost spiritual elevation of the object of love.

It has been a long time since I have seen my sweetheart. It grieved me greatly when I had to leave, for I love and desire her. I become distraught indeed when I languish for want of serving her, I cannot help it...I can neither enjoy it God, nor repent of it, so I must suffer pains of which I cannot be cured.

This was sung in the enchanting langue d'Oc (Occitane, a rarely-spoken language now, was as prevalent in the middle ages as the langue d'Oil, which evolved in to French as we know it.) Below this there was a perpetual, droning high-pitched pedal tone, never wanting for intensity. Its clarity and candor was such that the only way I could tell that it was sung by real, vibrant singers, as opposed to being an extant, inexplicable sound in the surrounding ether, was the occasional, ever-so-subtle shift in harmonic overtones, or the minutest fluctuation in volume as one singer or another drew breath to continue this pedal point.

Many of these songs represented an early, experimental form of polyphony in which multiple, completely independent texts were sung simultaneously one right on top of another, which occasionally resulted in a thick layering that was as independent textually as later polyphonic music would prove to be melodically. Song noted that "the idea of composing vertically was centuries away," as this compelling melange clearly illustrated.

Although the harmonies this group is capable of are stunning, one of my favorite moments of the afternoon came when alto Tuesday Rupp sang solo for A Chantar m'er, a lamentation by Beatrice, Countess of Dia. This music is the only example of a song by a female troubadour for which the complete music and text survive. Rupp's throaty, impassioned voice was plaintive and powerful all at once; she sang with rhythmic fluidity and near-perfect diction, with a haunting sadness that imparted in no uncertain terms the poetry's themes of rejection and loss. The first half closed with music by Adam de la Halle, and five pieces by Guillaume de Machaut, works whose music and text were infused with a subtle though undeniable eroticism, as were many of the works presented in this concert.

The second half opened with Ecco la Primavera from the Ballate of Francesco Landini. For this exuberant piece Song kept time on a primitive drum that reminded me of an Irish bodhran. After this the program switched to the early Renaissance, and although Landini and Dufay's lives may have even overlapped by a few months, the distinction in the music was clear. The vertical aspect that Song wrote about became immediately audible, and it was an invigorating change of pace. There was one piece in English by Thomas Morley, which took the form of a duet sung by sopranos Kari Ferguson and Ann Wetherell, whose crisp enunciation and metric rhythmic accents were delightful to hear.

The concert closed with a set of pieces by Claudio Monteverdi, songs whose rich polyphony hinted at being right on the cusp of the high Renaissance and the earliest intimations of the Baroque, so in a sense In Mulieribus presented us with a chronological perspective on the treatment of courtly love in European vocal music throughout the first half of the last millenium. This group displays a deep and thorough scholasticism coupled with musicianship of the highest caliber, and I can't wait to hear more of their music in the future.

Concert Review—Portland State University Symphony Orchestra

By Bob Kingston

A large and enthusiastic crowd attended Sunday afternoon’s Portland State University Symphony Orchestra concert in the soon to be renovated Lincoln Hall. The program included Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (with PSU professor Susan Chan and Momoko Muramatsu), Antonin Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony, and the world premiere performances of two short pieces by the winners of this year’s Composition Competition. Since this was my first opportunity to hear the orchestra under its new conductor and music director, Ken Selden, I really had no context for evaluating the group’s overall level of proficiency. All in all, I’d say that there were some very encouraging signs, but there’s always room to grow and improve.

To kick things off, Benjamin Thauland and the Portland State University New Music Ensemble presented a pair of works by Gavi de Tarr and Sarah Jarvinen, winners of the 2008 PSU Composition Competition. De Tarr’s "Far and Away" was essentially a series of quick vignettes, each one flowing effortlessly into the next one through subtle manipulations of rhythm and timbre. De Tarr, a student of Brad Hansen, listed Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Hindemith as significant influences, though I detected Copland and a little Martinu standing on the sidelines. He also informed me that while there may be some programmatic elements to this composition, the title is actually a bit of a pun, as it’s either "far and away" the best—or worst—piece he’s ever written.

Sarah Jarvinen’s "Caprice," which originally started out life in 2000 as a sonata for clarinet and piano, provided an interesting contrast to "Far and Away." Here, the music floated along as if in a dream state, with little of the forward momentum of de Tarr’s more extroverted work. The piano added momentary splashes of color—very much in the style of Messiaen—but otherwise seemed to have no independent function within the instrumental texture. "Caprice" was simply too brief to make much of a lasting impression, though some of the ideas might have fared better had Jarvinen been able to develop them more, perhaps with an even more expanded role for the keyboard.

(As an aside, I’m wondering why there was absolutely no background information in the program itself on either of the two student composers and their compositions, or on the details of the competition they won. It seems to me that the audience could have benefited from finding out about the thought process behind these works, and given the relatively informal nature of the event, it certainly wouldn’t have been inappropriate to have de Tarr and Jarvinen say a few words on their own behalf.)

Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra offers listeners a wealth of wonderfully incompatible musical elements: a clattering, percussive pianism; a cheeky music hall can-can; expressive lyricism bathed in rich, Ravel-like chords; and a shameless parody of a Mozart slow movement, all mixed together with equal parts vulgarity and elegance. What Sunday’s performance, which featured PSU professor Susan Chan and New York-based pianist Momoko Muramatsu, lacked in grace and charm, it more than made up for in fire and passion. Those who prefer a lighter, frothier approach to Poulenc might well have been disappointed. Given the not inconsiderable amount of musical back and forth that occurs between the soloists in this piece, I was struck by how infrequently Chan and Muramatsu interacted with, or even acknowledged, each other. Both appeared to be perfectly content in their own world, and as a result, the piano parts in the first minute or so of the concerto was not precisely coordinated.

After the intermission, members of the Clackamas High School Orchestra joined their PSU colleagues onstage for the Symphony No. 8 in G major by Antonin Dvorak. The Eighth is certainly Dvorak’s most idyllic symphony—in recent years it has been referred to informally as his "Pastoral"—a work in which the natural beauties of the Czech countryside and the rustic simplicities of everyday life are richly evoked. But it is also a work of great dramatic intensity, and the best performances manage to draw out both the bucolic and the turbulent in more or less equal measure. While maestro Selden’s reading tended to emphasize the latter at the expense of the former, there were moments when, thanks to some very fine solo and ensemble playing from the woodwinds in the second movement, the charming folk-like character of the symphony assumed pride of place. Unfortunately though, as can happen, the strings failed to hold up their end of the bargain, musically speaking, and consequently their sound was occasionally thin and wiry, or in the case of the cellos in the final movement, just plain underpowered. Special mention should go to the brass section, and in particular the horns and trombones.

Sunday’s was the last Portland State University Symphony Orchestra concert in Lincoln Hall until after the structure undergoes a much-needed seismic and cosmetic overhaul. Over the next two years, the group will perform in St. Mary’s Hall, during which time I’m sure maestro Selden will continue to build on what he’s accomplished so far.

Bob Kingston is a Portland-based musicologist who writes and lectures frequently about classical music.

Great news at the box office for the Oregon Symphony

The Oregon Symphony has just released its attendance numbers for the 2007-2008 season and they are way, way up! This is good news for the orchestra, which has been limping somewhat over the past few years. The latest press release from the orchestra states that in the just concluded season "... the Oregon Symphony sold $5.64 million in tickets, 15.6 percent more than the prior season." and "It was the orchestra’s best year at the box office since 2001-02 and the first time it exceeded $5 million in ticket sales since the final days of the 2003-04 concert season."

Here's another summary statement that provides more details: "Over the course of the season, the orchestra sold 7,878 more tickets than it did the year before. But because the orchestra presented 79 performances at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall this season – six fewer than last year – that translates to a 14.2 percent increase in average paid attendance. At a typical performance, there were 215 more paying patrons in attendance, with an average paid attendance of 1,727 people." (Note that the Schnitz has 2,780 seats.)

The most popular concerts were the Van Cliburn opening gala that sold 98.5 percent of the concert hall's capacity, the Norman Leyden concerts at 96.2 percent, and the season ending "Carmina Burana" performances at 94.3 percent. Also of note was the final "Inside the Score" concert with Gregory Vajda at the helm, which sold 86.9 percent of the house.

As a result of this successful year, the orchestra is selling a lot more tickets for next season. According to the press release, "... with total ticket sales for the 2008-09 concert season recently passing $3.4 million, a substantial increase over sales figures from the same time last year."

Today's Birthdays

Otto Nicolai (1810-1849)
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Cole Porter (1891-1964)
Dame Gracie Fields (1898-1979)
Les Paul (1915)
Franco Donatoni (1927-2000)
Charles Wuorinen (1938)
Ileana Cotrubas (1939)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Pirates of Penzance full of sea foam and mirth

Mock’s Crest Theatre’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” delivered a silly yet heart-warming performance on Saturday evening at the Mago Hunt Theatre. The cast was outstanding as actors, but several principals needed more heft as singers. The newly renovated and expanded stage area seemed to challenge voices that didn’t project well, and perhaps some body microphones could have equalized the situation. Still, the frothy humor in this story about zany pirates, prim maidens, and inept bobbies always bubbled to the top and kept the audience in stitches.

Beth Madsen Bradford created a superb motherly nurse and her beautiful and robust mezzo easily filled the hall. Morgan Mallory convincingly portrayed the pirate apprentice Frederic, yet his light voice often didn’t match up well with the other principals. Corey Brunish as the dashing pirate chief had the charm and stage presence, but his singing. though pleasant, could barely be heard above the orchestra. In the role of the pirate lieutenant, Sammuel Hawkins displayed plenty of volume and really helped to boost some of the ensemble pieces. As the beautiful, young maiden Mabel, Tsipa Swan soubrette soprano could always be heard, but a little more weight in the voice and more volume would have helped.

John Vergin had oodles of fun in the role of Major General Stanley and his voice had enough power to be heard adequately. I really admired Vergin’s diction in the famous patter song, “I am the very model of at modern major general,” but, strangely enough, he kept getting out of sync with the orchestra. Russ Cowan made a fine sergeant of police, but needed more volume.

The pirates, maidens, and bobbies did a splendid job. The pirates, in particular, sang with zest and zeal, creating a lovable band that could never harm an orphan yet be quick to draw their swords at the slightest offence. The bonneted maidens were prim and proper to a tea and dutifully proud of their father, the ridiculous Major General. The bobbies put on their best keystone cops imitation, charming the audience with their ineptness.

Stage director Greg Tamblyn made good use of the enlarged stage, moving the story forward. Choreographer John Szerszen also created plenty of lively movement that worked very well. I liked the simple set of rocks that scenic designer Jeri Swatosh created for the sets. The traditional costumes by Darrin J. Pufall were spot on.

Conductor Roger O. Doyle paced the production well. The orchestra did a credible job although some intonation went awry here and there.

All in all, despite some vocal shortcomings, Mock Crest’s “Pirates of Penzance” is fine show and a great way to kick off the summer.


Mock's Crest's "Pirates of Penzance" runs Thursday through Sunday through June 29th.
For details click here.

Today's Birthdays

Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1750)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942)
Reginald Kell (1906-1981)
Emanuel Ax (1949)


Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Leopold von Auer (1845-1930)
George Szell (1897-1970)
Ilse Wolf (1921-1999)
Philippe Entremont (1934)
Neeme Järvi 1937)
Sir Tom Jones (1940)
Jaime Laredo (1941)
Roberto Alagna (1963)
Olli Mustonen (1967)


Paul Gaugin (1848-1903)
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)
Nikki Giovanni (1943)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978)
Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987)
Iain Hamilton (1922-2000)
Klaus Tennstedt (1926-1998)
Louis Andriessen (1939)


Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)

Update on Audrey Elizabeth Luna

I've just received a kind email from Audrey Elizabeth Luna that points out that she wasn't the Audrey Luna who was featured in the Mahler 4th concert that I mentioned on May 7th. There happens to be two young, up and comping Audrey Lunas, and Audrey Elizabeth Luna is the PSU grad who is making her way into the professional ranks. Luna has already had a number of successful appearances with Pittsburgh Opera and other opera companies, such as Hawaii Opera Theatre. On May 22n Luna was named a 2008 grant winner in the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation Vocal Competition. You can read more about Luna here.

My apologies to Audrey Elizabeth Luna and Audrey Luna for confusing them.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Pirates of Penzance at Mock's Crest

Mock's Crest Productions will launch The Pirates of Penzance this weekend at the Mago Hunt Theatre (on the campus of the University of Portland). The Pirates rank as one of Gilbert and Sullivan's best shows, and heaps of silliness will hold forth. The first show takes place on Friday, June 6th and runs through the 29th from Thursday through Sunday. The shows start at 7:30 pm Thursday through Saturday and at 2pm on Sundays). Roger O. Doyle conducts.

Here's the main cast:

- John Vergin as Major General Stanley
- Beth Madsen Bradford as Ruth
- Corey Brunish as The Pirate King
- Tsipa Swan as Mabel
- Morgan Mallory as Frederic
- Sammuel Hawkins as Samuel
- Russ Cowan as Sergeant of Police
- Jasmine Presson as Edith
- Elizabeth Bacon as Kate
- Audrey Voon as Isabel

Adults: $25
Seniors/Students: $23
Groups (10 or more): $21

For more information click here.

Today's Birthdays

Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937)
Sir Robert Mayer (1879-1985)
Peter Schat (1935-2003)
Anna Reynolds (1936)
Martha Argerich (1941)
Bill Hopkins (1943-1981)


John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)
Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936)
Alfred Kazin (1915–1998)
Sir David Hare (1947)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Evgeny Mravinsky (1903-1988)
Robert Merrill (1917-2004)
Irwin Bazelon (1922-1995)
Cecilia Bartoli (1966)


Josef Sittard (1846-1903)
Karl Valentin (1882-1948)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Portland State University Orchestra concert this Sunday

The PSU Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ken Selden, will present one of the last concerts in Lincoln Hall on the PSU campus this Sunday afternoon before the building undergoes renovation (I think for seismic upgrades). One of the highlights of the concert should be Susan Chan (PSU professor) teaming up with Momoko Muramatsu (pianist based in New York City) to play Poulenc's "Concerto for Two Pianos." Also of note are two world premieres: "Caprice" by Sarah Jarvinen and "Far and Away" by Gavi de Tarr. Jarvinen and de Tarr are the winners of the inaugural PSU Symphony Composition Competition. To round off the concert, the orchestra will play Dvork's 8th Symphony.

Where: Lincoln Performance Hall, Rm. 175
When: Sunday, June 8 at 3 pm
Cost: $10 for general/ $8 for non-PSU students / $6 for seniors

Today's Birthdays

Jan Peerce (1904-1984)
Valerie Masterson (1937)
Lynne Dawson (1956)


Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

Anna Song talks about "Fins Amours: Songs of Courtly Love"

In Mulieribus, Portland's all-women early vocal music ensemble, will present the final concert of their '07-'08 season this Sunday at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Portland. I've heard this incredibly talented group perform live before, and have since wanted to speak with them about their music. Anna Song, the group's Artistic Director (far right in the above photo of In Mulieribus), took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions via email about the offerings in their season finale.

The upcoming concert is entitled "Fins Amours: Medieval Songs of Courtly Love." Could you tell us what 'Fins Amours' translates as, and how the conceptof courtly love was dealt with by the composers inyour program?

Anna: Fins Amours translates to "fine" or "refined" love, and refers to the concept of courtly love which originated in late 11th century France. First expressed in the lyric poetry of the troubadors and trouveres, various musical forms emerged along side the poetic forms as composers sought a means of expressing the various facets of this idealized love. The composers featured on our program such as Machaut, Landini and Dufay developed new ideas and compositional styles through their settings of courtly love poems, and were inspired to reflect this poetry through musical ideas.

I think a lot of us have some sort of a vague notion of the concept of 'courtly love,' but what do you think it meant to, say, Machaut for instance?

Anna: I'm not sure I can speak confidently regarding what courtly love might have personally meant to Machaut. What I have read is that he may have believed, along with others of his day, that the experience of loving another with great passion and fervor had the potential power to purify and elevate the the this way, his poetry and music was a means of expressing hope.

What time periods are represented in this concert, and what are some of the stylistic differences that we should listen for from work to work?

Anna: The repertoire for this concert spans the 12th through the 16th centuries. Everything from monophonic songs with just one tune to motets with three different texts and melodies will be featured. I also hope the audience will experience a bit of what it must have been like to hear when composers first used the sweeter intervals of thirds and sixths, after hearing music dominated by the perfect intervals of fifths and octaves. Dufay's Adieu m'amour, presented towards the end of the program, beautifully exemplifies this development.

What are some challenges specific to singing medieval music, both in terms of the individual singer's voice and from the ensemble perspective?

Anna: The main challenge in singing the music for this concert has been dealing with text! We've never had to work on so much of it in one concert before, especially given that much what we're singing this time is in Occitan French. Add to that the fact that double motets have different texts in each voice, and it has taken us longer than usual to work out pronunciation and matching vowels. The other challenge we generally face is finding and singing music that fits into the tessitura of our group -- with all women it's a bit tricky, and when we do find music, we transpose it quite far from what's "written".

Do you write out the transpositions, or is it something that is done on the fly by the singers as you practice and perform?

Anna: I don't transpose the works out for the singers -- I simply tell them ahead of time what the transposition will be and then we go from there.

Do you have a particular favorite from this concert set? If so, which one, and what is it that endears this piece to you?

Anna: It's difficult to name one favorite, but if I could name two, I'd include Riches d'amour by Machaut and Adieu m'amour by Dufay. The melody of the first piece touched me the first moment I sang through it as I searched for music. The first phrase is so expressive and heartwrenching. The Dufay piece is also particularly beautiful -- it's worth noting that I have a passion for Renaissance polyphony and perhaps explains why I'm drawn to it. Its melodies truly exemplify the new direction that polyphonic music began to take, and Dufay's flowing melodies are not only fun to sing but they transmit the emotions depicted in the text.

So is this piece by Dufay an example of the beginning of this transition away from dominance by the perfect intervals, or is it a fully mature work of the newer style?

Anna: Dufay's work is considered quite sophisticated, so I'd say it is a mature work relative to his generation and his overall output. It's not the earliest example of the beginning of a move toward the use of other consonant intervals relative to music history, as it exhibits the influence of the English style, e.g. Dunstable, where such intervals had become more common.

Thanks Anna!

Anna: Thank you so much for doing this interview and previewing the concert...we appreciate it very much!

Henry Fogel compliments Eugene's music community

In his blog, On the Record, Henry Fogel writes a concise posting about the success that Eugene's music organizations have shown in creating a vibrant and financially sound community for professional musicians and in fostering talent. Fogel is the president of the and CEO of the League of American Orchestras and former president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Despite $300 mil, acoustics at the Philadelphia's Verizon Hall acknowledged to be subpar

Six and a half years ago, 300 million smackers were spent on the Verizon Hall, to create a world-class venue for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Peter Dobrin of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the administrators of the hall now acknowledged that the acoustics are awful and that they might have to spend a lot more money to fix things. So, Verizon Hall will probably join Avery Fisher Hall and Davies Hall in the pantheon of very, very expensively corrected music venues.

Portland Symphonic Choir members kick butt to leap over big financial chasm

At the Portland Symphonic Choir's annual meeting (held this evening) the big news was that the choir members successfully faced down a six-figure deficit by raising the money themselves in a period of two months. Half of the $105,000 was contributed by members and friends of the choir and that amount was matched by fellow choir and board member Tom Hard.

The yawning deficit came about because of concerts that lost a lot of money despite their high artistic merit. Next season promises to be much brighter with the choir presenting works that are well-known and beloved. After singing Vaughn Williams "Serenade to Music" and Beethoven's 9th Symphony with the Oregon Symphony, the Portland Symphonic Choir will sing Wintersong! in December, the Mozart Requiem in March, and the sublime "Vespers" of Sergei Rachmaninov in May.

Addendum: Mark Petersen, general manager of the PSC, asked that the following clarification be added: "That yawning shortfall was a result of half a decade of deficits, followed by two years of balanced budgets, followed by a year of trial and error in programming that resulted in another shortfall. The main point that I'd like to see made is that there has been a history of coming up short and we just pulled things even again. We're pleased as punch that we have done that too!"

Today's Birthdays

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Marvin Hamlisch (1944)
Mark Elder (1947)
Neil Shicoff (1949)
Michel Dalberto (1955)


Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bach's Cafe Cantata plays well in coffeeland

It's refreshing to know that JS Bach had enough humor in his Germanic bones to write "The Coffee Cantata" -- in which a father complains mightily about his daughter's addiction to that caffeinated drug of choice. I heard the Bach Cantata Choir present this delightful cantata as a short opera this afternoon at the Rose City Park Presbyterian Church with Jacob William Herbert as the father (Schlendrian), Nan Haemer as the coffee obsessed daughter, Lieschen, and Byron Writer as the narrator. Herbert and Haemer camped up the father/daughter conflict very well, and Haemer scored lots of chuckles by rolling her eyes and doing all sorts of little gestures and motions that accented her excellent comic talent. All three principals sang well, but I came away most impressed with Herbert who has a robust and beautiful baritone voice that keeps getting better and better.

Entertaining, yet less successful with the first opera of sorts, Georg Philipp Telemann's "Der Schulmeister" ("The Schoolmaster"), which was performed by baritone Uwe Haefker in the title role and the soprano section of the Bach Cantata Choir - plus a couple of children. Haefker's singing was fine except that he lost his place in the last aria and had to restart it.

That same problem also inflicted Byron Wright during his aria in Telemann's "Tirsis am Scheidewege" ("Tirsis' Choice"). Fortunately, the Bach Cantata Choir didn't suffer such lapses in its singing of Victor Hely-Hutchinson's "Old Mother Hubbard" in the style of Handel and Adriano Banchieri's "Contraponto bestiala alla mente," which humorously combined the sounds of birds, cats, and dogs. PDQ Bach's "My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth" was a little ragged yet funny enough to generate lots of laughter in the audience.

This concert took place in the fellowship hall of the church where choir members recreated the atmosphere of Zimmermann's Coffee House (where Bach and his colleague used to meet). The coffee, cakes, and fruit tortes were ausgezeichnet (excellent)! Also, interestingly enough, the acoustics were much better than in the sanctuary (upstairs).

Today's Birthdays

Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)
Percy Whitlock (1903-1946)
Nelson Riddle (1921-1985)
Edo de Waart (1941)
Richard Goode (1943)
Frederica von Stade (1945)
Just wanted to post a quick invitation to my new blog, Musical Oozings. I hope to have some pix up from my recent trip to the Sasquatch Music Festival in the next couple days. Come take a look! Thanks!