Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review of Portland Columbia Symphony renovation celebration concert

By Aaron Berenbach

For a relatively small city, Portland is rife with opportunities to experience quality musical experiences and the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra’s “Renovation Celebration” at the First United Methodist Church was yet another example of the benefit of living in such an arts-oriented community. Last Friday’s concert featured a pleasing selection of pieces, and talented soloists that made the evening a definite success.

Opening with the “Spring” Concerto from Antonio Vivaldi’s "The Four Seasons," the orchestra’s string section was delightfully responsive to Conductor Huw Edwards. The solo violin work of Rebecca Anderson was sensitive, emotional, and helped breathe life into one of Vivaldi’s most famous works. If the young Ms. Anderson chooses to continue her musical career, she should have great success. In all, it was both an auspicious way to open the concert and to welcome the onset of Spring.

Taking advantage of the First United Methodist Church’s recently renovated pipe organ, the orchestra next performed the lesser known Organ Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 177 by Josef Rheinberger. Under the skilled fingers of soloist Jonas Nordwall, the organ as a solo instrument is used to great effect, playing above, below, and with the rest of the orchestra. Again, the responsiveness of the orchestra to the direction of Huw Edwards showed the dedication and talent of its members as the concerto wound its way through an interesting series of moods and timbral combinations. It was a delightful performance by both soloist and orchestra and a perfect way to reintroduce the renovated organ.

Rounding out the evening, the Chancel Choir of the First United Methodist Church and the Chamber Choir of the First Unitarian Church combined forces with the orchestra to perform Joseph Haydn’s Mass in D minor, also known as the "Lord Nelson Mass" (in celebration of Admiral Nelson's victory over Napoleon's fleet at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798). Featuring the solo voices of Deborah Benke, Carol Young, Mark Woodward, and Sojourn Breneiser, the mass is an impressive undertaking that, due to the artistry of the performers and the warm acoustics of the building, surrounded the listener with a nearly operatic performance that represents one of Haydn’s most singular mass settings. Both martial and full of joy, the entire piece was performed with an intensity of purpose that reminds one why Haydn’s works have never fallen out of the classical repertoire since they were first performed. The blend of choir, orchestra, and soloists made this an engrossing and engaging performance.

The concert as a whole brought together three pieces that most favorably showed off the talents of the performers and presented an alluring diversity of music that appealed to the entirety of the audience. The Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra offers an intriguing view into the sometimes forbidding world of classical music with its easily accessible and well performed repertoire, and represents another quality choice of the many cultural opportunities found in Portland.


Aaron Berenbach is studying music composition with Bob Priest at Marylhurst University and pursuing a career as a singer/songwriter/composer/teacher.

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