Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Evan Kuhlmann talks about his compositions


Evan Kuhlmann's arrangement of Richard Strauss' "Don Juan" for eight musicians is one of the featured works in tonight's special concert for donors to the Oregon Symphony. Kuhlmann plays contrabassoon in the orchestra's woodwind section.

I asked him about his composition for this evening's concert, and our email exchange follows:

What led you to arrange a Richard Strauss piece? Do you have a special interest in his music?

Kuhlmann: Partially, I just wanted to see if it would work! I was inspired in part by Franz Hasenohrl's "Till Eulenspiegel Einmal Anders" - which reduces a Strauss tone poem to only five players. But I do have an interest in Strauss' work especially as it has some of the best bassoon and contrabassoon writing in the orchestral repertoire. Strauss orchestrates superbly for winds and brass, and really expanded the scope of wind writing at the time "Don Juan" was written. It was widely considered to be unplayable for years after the premiere. The parts we will be playing are even more difficult than the original, so it's also a showpiece of sorts.

Don Juan a fairly long work. Do you arrange all of it or condense it or just arrange part of it?

Kuhlmann: It's unabridged - for better or for worse. An earlier version of this arrangement was performed with cuts, but I felt that it just didn't work. The structure of the piece is not only very well crafted, but it tells a story too. I hate to abridge programmatic music.

Your arrangement uses 8 instruments. Is there a particular reason for that?

Kuhlmann: It's sort of a variation on the traditional classical "harmonie" ensemble - pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons. Although this ensemble isn't very popular now, it was an instrumentation utilized by composers as popular as Mozart and Beethoven. I first arranged the piece for that instrumentation - but altered it so it could also be performed with the Reinecke 'Octet,' which is a really lovely piece of music. The alteration is to have one flute and one oboe as opposed to two oboes. I felt this also expanded the range of color in the ensemble. The earlier, truncated performance of this arrangement at the "Woodwinds @ Wallowa Lake" camp in Northeastern Oregon used two flutes, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, bass clarinet, french horn and alto saxophone - pretty odd, but that's what we had on hand.

How long did it take you to write this arrangement?

Kuhlmann: About a month, although it took at least that long to proofread the parts/score and prepare everything for printing.

Is this your first composition or arrangement or do you have other pieces?

Kuhlmann: Far from it! I've been writing and arranging for as long as I've been playing music. Bassoon quartet, rock band, large jazz ensemble, a cappella chorus, orchestra... I kind of just go with what I hear. This culminated in receiving a Graduate Diploma in Music Composition from Juilliard last year.

Are you dedicating more time to composition and less to performing?

Kuhlmann: Well, I do have a bit more time on my hands since we hired a new principal bassoonist at the symphony, Carin Miller, who I'm sure you already know is a superb addition to the orchestra. This has allowed me to have a little more time to dedicate to composition. Ideally I would focus on both equally, but because I have a full-time job playing in the orchestra, so that always gets priority at this point.

Who are your composition teachers or influences?

Kuhlmann: Most recently, Robert Beaser at Juilliard. He is an excellent teacher and a brilliant composer. I happen to like his material, which is more of a subjective judgement, but I think that the impeccable skill of his construction is undeniable. I recently purchased my own study score of his piece "Chorale Variations" for orchestra, and every time I listen through it, I learn something new. He was also a teacher who believed in the possibility of a composer-performer, something which was depressingly hard to find at times. There are a few other scores that I feel I am constantly learning from; Sibelius' 5th Symphony, Adams' "Naive and Sentimental Music," and Marc-Andre Dalbavie's "Color" are a few other orchestral scores that I've been studying a bit lately.

Do you have some pieces that will be performed somewhere in the near future?

Kuhlmann:: I have several originals that I'm kicking around, and way too many requests for pieces than I can handle, but have been mostly preoccupied with arrangements lately. Still, there are some very exciting things on the horizon. I can't say too much yet - but I'll keep you posted!

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)

and

René Descartes (1596-1650)
Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)
Octavio Paz (1914-1998)
Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)

Monday, March 30, 2009

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)

and

Francisco Jose de Goya (1746-1828)
Paul Verlaine (1844-1896)
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Sean O'Casey (1880-1964)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Concert going is good for your health

An article in today's New York Times says that research backs up the claim that going to classical music concerts benefits your health. Here's a great quote from the second paragraph of this report:
“Listening to finer music and attending concerts on a consistent basis makes your real age about four years younger,” Dr. Michael F. Roizen — the chief wellness officer of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, said recently. “Whether that’s due to stress relief or other properties, we see decreases in all-cause mortality, reflecting slower aging of arteries as well as cancer-related and environmental factors. Attending sports events like soccer or football offers none of these benefits.”

So, do some good for yourself and attend a concert ASAP!

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: Seattle Opera's Young Artists Program in Britten's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

Rozarii Lynch photo

The Seattle Opera presented Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Saturday, March 28th at the Meydenbauer Center Theatre in Bellevue, WA. Directed by Peter Kazaras, this was a presentation of SO’s Young Artists Program. The emerging singers responded ably to the challenges inherent in Britten’s work, even if on occasion the acting and other aspects of the overall production fell somewhat short of the mark.

The setting was a classroom in a British school, a somewhat vague and visually uninteresting backdrop. Two large white walls with some doors and windows bookended a few pieces of furniture, and aside from a platform at the back of the stage this was the sum of the set. The costumes proved by and large pedestrian as well, the most interesting ones being Helena’s bright blue dress and the ass-head worn by Nick Bottom. A feast for the eyes it certainly was not, and this proved disappointing in that Shakespeare’s work is a fantasy and therefore presents a much greater opportunity for whimsy. Drab school uniforms and khaki suits are somehow out of place in a story about the king and queen of the fairies. Connie Yun’s lighting was imaginative: whether immersing the audience in the soft blues of twilight or simulating the glorious brilliance of an early summer morning exploding through the windows, the lighting took on greater significance in alleviating the monotony of the set.

It seemed to take a while for the principals to warm up to their roles. While the singing was nuanced and thoughtfully delivered from the start, the acting was sometimes stilted and wooden, with the exceptions of Michelle Trovato’s Helena and the merry band of players presenting the ‘play within a play.’ Perhaps this was a result of having to concentrate on the harmonic and rhythmic difficulties of the music. Whatever the reason, about halfway through the second act the facial expressions, interactions, and blocking took on new life, as though the singers suddenly became more comfortable with the non-musical aspects of the production.

Brian Garman’s orchestra played well: always together and very balanced both with each other and with the singers, not easy tasks in challenging music such as this. Soprano Emily Hindrich’s Tytania was languorous, sensual and a bit mysterious: very befitting a fairy queen. She has a powerful voice that tended to dominate too much in the duets with Oberon, sung by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. It would have been easy for Britten to make Oberon a booming baritone (but he didn’t,) and once the ball was rolling Costanzo managed to project an aura of power and vague menace when necessary despite singing in the upper reaches of the male voice. The scene wherein Oberon and Tytania are reconciled and engage in a stately Elizabethan dance was particularly arresting.

Michelle Trovato’s Helena was spot-on and engaging from the start; she was consistently the most animated and interesting of the main characters. Baritone Michael Krzankowski as Demetrius was also warm and persuasive in the latter portion, and there was a gentle, unforced effervescence to his singing. Although they sang well enough, I was never entirely convinced by tenor Bray Wilkins’ Lysander or mezzo Elizabeth Pojanowski’s Hermia.

The group of working men putting on a play about Pyramus and Thisby deserves special mention. To be the comic relief in an otherwise comic production presents a special challenge, and they achieved this without devolving overmuch into slapstick (although it was used to good effect on occasion.) Baritone Jeffrey Madison, who sang the role of Nick Bottom (and the ass) really stole the show, not only with a beautiful, redolent baritone, ringing even at the lowest registers, but also with his fearless bombast and excellent comedic timing. Also worth noting is tenor Alex Mansoori, whose role as Flute (and in drag as Thisby) was warm and charming. While Madison was the principal in this second group, all of the singers portraying the workmen seemed to understand their roles, and delivered with gusto. Puck was a non-singing role, and actor David S. Hogan, über-hip and sporting a faux-hawk, did his job well. With oddly hypnotic physicality and over-the-top impishness, he was a good fellow to play Robin.

Despite some flaws this was a very enjoyable evening, and those who love Shakespeare, Britten or comic opera in general should find it well worth the time. This performance will repeat at the same location on March 29th (matinee) and April 3rd through 5th.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

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)

and

Raphael (1483-1520)
Mario Vargas Llosa (1936)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Oregon Music Educator Association seeks executive director

Job postings in the arts are rare these days, but the OMEA (Oregon Music Educator Association) is currently seeking qualified candidates for OMEA Executive Director. Information on qualifications, job description and procedures for application can be found on the OMEA website, www.oregonmusic.org.

Evelyn Nagel Donor Appreciation Concert

The Oregon Symphony is putting a new twist on its annual Evelyn Nagel Donor Appreciation Concert. This concert was created to celebrate the legacy of super fundraiser Evelyn Nagel and as a way to say thank you to the Symphony's donors. Usually, the entire orchestra would play several full-scale works at the Schitz. This year, however, the concert has been moved to the Newmark Theatre and will feature the orchestra's players in works for chamber ensembles. Plus the last piece in the program is an arrangement of Richard Strauss' "Don Juan" for eight musicians.

Anyway, I think that this will be the most exiting donor concert in many years, and it will be terrific to hear these musicians up close. If you haven't made a donation to the orchestra then you might want to consider doing so, because that's the only way to get a ticket to this concert.

Here's the program:

Britten: Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury
Jeffrey Work , David Bamonte , Micah Wilkinson

Mozart: Adagio and Fugue
Shin-young Kwon , Fumino Ando , Charles Noble, Heather Blackburn (Arnica Quartet)

Chen Yi: Yangko
Ron Blessinger , Niel DePonte , Joël Belgique

Villa-Lobos: Assobio a Jato (“The Jet Whistle”)
Alicia DiDonato Paulsen, Nancy Ives

Mendelssohn: Octet for strings (Movements 3 & 4)
Jun Iwasaki , Erin Furbee , Inés Voglar, Keiko Araki ,Joël Belgique , Charles Noble , Heather Blackburn , Justin Kagan

Intermission

Stravinsky: Octet for winds (Movements 1, 2 & 3)
Alicia DiDonato Paulsen, Mark Dubac, Carin Miller , Evan Kuhlmann , Jeffrey Work , Micah Wilkinson, Aaron LaVere , Charles Reneau

Daryl Runswick: “Suite and Low” (Movements 1 & 2)
II. Strauss in the Doghouse
III. American Basses

Jason Schooler , Jeffrey Johnson , Tommy Thompson, JáTtik Clark

Villa-Lobos: Duo for oboe and bassoon (Movement 1)
Karen Wagner , Evan Kuhlmann

Paquito D’Rivera: Aires Tropicales (Movements 1, 2, 4, 6 & 7)
Alicia DiDonato Paulsen, Martin Hebert, Mark Dubac, Carin Miller, Alicia Waite (Nubi Quintet)

R. Strauss/ Don Juan
Arr. Evan Kuhlmann
Alicia DiDonato Paulsen, Martin Hebert , Todd Kuhns ,Mark Dubac, Carin Miller , Evan Kuhlmann , Graham Kingsbury , Mary Grant

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)

and

Heinrich Mann (1871-1950)
Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969)
Budd Schulberg (1914)
Julia Alvarez (1950)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vancouver (BC) chorale ensemble searches for tenors

In an unusual move to broadcast its need for more tenors, the Jubilate Chamber Choir placed some of its tuxedo-clad members on the streets with placards. The Vancouver Sun has an interesting account of this effort. Hey! Maybe that would be a great way to advertize a concert.

Today's Birthdays

Josef Slavík (1806-1833)
Wilhelm Backhaus (1884-1969)
André Cluytens (1905-1967)
Harry Rabinowitz (1916)
Pierre Boulez (1925)
Kyung Wha Chung (1948)

and

Edward Bellamy (1850-1898)
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
Joseph Campbell (1904–1987)
Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reporting from the Van Cliburn Competition in June

Design: Ivan Chermayeff
Incorporating Treble Clefs by Josef Albers, 1932

I've been selected to go to a writer's institute at the Van Cliburn Competition during its final round (June 4 through 7). This institute is being sponsored by the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) and the Van Cliburn folks. It is one of the few critics workshops that the MCANA has been able to offer over the past few years, and I'm looking forward to the experience. Yee Haw!

Today's Birthdays

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

and

Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964)
Gloria Steinem (1934)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gregory Vajda conducts on new Péter Eötvös recording


The new release of "As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams" by Péter Eötvös features Oregon Symphony's resident conductor Gregory Vajda, who directs the UMZE Chamber Ensemble. The music is inspired by a Japanese classic that was written a thousand years ago by Lady Sarashina and contains her reflections on a woman's life. To read more about this new BMC recording, click here.

Paavo Jarvi charged with drunk driving

Paavo Jarvi, conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was charged with drunk driving last week. Here's the initial report in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Yesterday, Jarvi pleaded not guilty. It's too bad that Jarvi didn't take a taxi or have someone else drive.

Today's Birthdays

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

and

Malcolm Muggeridge (1902-1990)
Dwight Macdonald (1906-1982)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919)
Dario Fo (1926)
Martin Walser (1927)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Today's Birthdays

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

and

Erich Fromm (1900-1980)

Singing Mozart's Requiem: Impressions from the Choir Loft

I have long wanted to sing Mozart's Requiem. I became familiar with this work (as I suspect did many, many other people) through the delightful, grossly inaccurate film Amadeus. For me this was years ago as a teenager. Having grown up playing the piano, I had always loved Mozart, but I was in the incipient stages of discovering his great symphonic works when I watched this film. The scene where the dying Wolfy dictates his music to Salieri, and the haunting strains of the Lacrimosa and the Confutatis come to the fore, and from the first time I saw it this scene (and of course the attendant score) never left my consciousness.

Joining the Portland Symphonic Choir several years ago gave me the opportunity to do a number of incredibly important things. On a personal level, it galvanized my desire to improve my musicianship, to re-embark on the process of making great music with other talented musicians, an endeavor which had been long gone from my life at that point. It also allowed me the privilege of 'preaching the gospel' of classical music, so to speak. To put it out there for the world to see, to say 'this is the music I love, my ability to make music is the talent of which I am most proud, and I hope that whatever small contribution I make will help allow you to discover and enjoy this music for yourself.' Along with a great number of smaller gems that I have sung with the choir over the last few years, I have had the privilege of singing some of what our director Stephen Zopfi has called 'the great utterances of the human spirit.' Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Orff's Carmina Burana. Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music. And just last Friday night, we sang the Requiem.

For those who have never experienced the grueling rehearsal schedule of concert week for a major symphonic and/or choral work, let's just say the process can be exhausting. Hour after hour, for two, sometimes three or four nights before the concert, the entire focus must be on the music. Everything else is subsumed: personal life, work life, rest, even the most basic functions: meals hastily wolfed down in the few minutes between the end of work and the start of practice are the norm, and if ya gotta go during rehearsal, too bad: just hold it. We are forced to live our lives in the view of our compatriots. Talk to the kids, the spouse, the significant other on the cell phone; stretch out on the floor and catch a few winks during the ten minutes of break time allotted at practice. Even if there is an evening of rest somewhere in that crazy week, everything else that has been shuffled to the background in the temporarily neglected parts of our lives must be dealt with, so usually it's not much of a rest at all.

Occasionally I get tired of the music. Around about 9 oclock at Thursday night's rehearsal, I can honestly say that I was sick of the Requiem. I wanted to go out and have a drink with friends, not listen to more notes about our singing. I was tired; sleep had been a precious and rare commodity during the past week (I had also sung in a concert with the Bach Cantata Choir, and then played harpsichord and helped set up and tear down for a late night show with Classical Revolution Portland, both of those on Sunday, not to mention getting ready for the helter-skelter performance of the 4th movement of Beethoven's Ninth at the 24/7 concert on the 22nd.) Like most of the other musicians in the groups I perform with, this music making is on top of working a full time job and balancing family and personal life. So, yes, Thursday night I was just a little weary of the Hostias and the Dies Irae.

All that changes on performance day. Whatever exhaustion exists, whatever sacrifices have been made in the previous week, a curious and difficult-to-describe energy pervades the day. Work seems to rush by as you think about all the things that still have to happen before the show starts. Set up, sound check, a final hasty rehearsal, getting dressed, finding time to grab a bite to eat, all in the two or so precious hours between the end of work and the opening notes of the concert. My alma mater (PSU) was in the Big Dance (The NCAA Basketball Tournament or March Madness for the non-sports fans reading this.) Little ol' PSU under the bright lights, playing with the big boys. Can't think about that though; no time to watch the game (a thumping by Xavier) or get too bummed out about the Vikings' loss. Just one more thing that takes a back seat during concert week.

A snafu with the tickets, and the show starts almost a half hour late. By the time the first notes of the Kyrie sound, all of that fades into the background. Ideally one is raptly focused on the music. All the things you've worked on in the past week: the diction, the entrances and cut-offs, the articulation and dynamics, phrasing and blend, these are what should be foremost in the mind. And for the most part they are; there's nothing like a wandering mind (or many wandering minds) for fouling up a show. But there are invariably resting points, and during these my focus sometimes shifts from the minutiae of the performance and expands outward to take in the bigger picture.

Stephen's notes before the program stuck in my head; the death of such a young genius as Mozart, the tragedy of being buried in a pauper's grave, the true location unknown. This man Mozart, whose music is of such staggering beauty and titanic genius that it moved me to name my own son after him, what more would we have had from him had he lived to a ripe old age like Haydn? How would this piece have sounded had he finished it in his own hand, and not, almost as though fulfilling a dire prophecy of his own doom, died before he finished it?

I grew up in a religion that believed in a literal corporeal resurrection, so as a boy and young man I had always expected to speak to my musical idols one day, to sit down with Bach and Mozart and play music, to while away the long hours of eternity learning at the feet of the masters. I envisioned conversations that we would have, music that we would listen to from the time after their deaths, and songs that were meaningful to me from my own time. What would Mozart think of Debussy? Would Bach like Stravinsky? What about The Beatles or R.E.M.? My belief structure has since shifted to where I no longer think that will happen, but still the seeds that were planted, the desire and hope to actually meet these great men, do not die easily. What would I say to Mozart, had I the chance? I understand many musicias have similar imaginary conversations with their favorite composers. Would it be possible to explain to him how his name has become synonymous with musical genius, with ethereal beauty and the tragedy of dying young? How could anyone describe what the fruits of his tireless labor have meant to the world?

As a writer it is my task to put difficult concepts into words and phrases that will convey to the reader something of the true nature of that which I seek to describe. I'd like to think sometimes I succeed; other times I'm sure I don't. I frankly don't have the desire to try to explain precisely what Mozart's music, and the opportunity to perform it, mean to me. Some things can only be felt and experienced. Music is a completely different language, one that transcends, one that evades entirely the limitations of words and speaks the true thoughts of the heart. I said everything I have to say about it Friday night at the Schnitz, I and the more than one hundred other musicians who took this incredible journey with me.

I hope the audience enjoyed listening as much as we did singing and playing. If they did, that is a great victory for the arts and nothing short of a miracle for the soul.

Washington Master Chorale going out of business

The Washington Post reports that the ciy's Master Chorale will give it's last concert in May. Click here for the story.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

24/7 Beethoven finale the coolest thing

I've just returned from singing in the final concert of the 24/7 event at the Weiden + Kennedy headquarters. That was a terrific event! The audience was packed in like sardines from the rafters to the concert floor, the orchestra played at full throttle, the soloists sang as if it was their last chance ever, conductor David Hattner had extra mojo in his baton, and the choir left everything on the floor! To top it off, this performance occurred at the tail end of 24 hours of continuous music making by a wonderful blend of Portlanders. Bill Crane, Thomas Lauderdale, and Howie Bagadonutz Bierbaum put this event together with about two weeks notice. But due to the spontaneity of it all, there's even more talent in Portland that went untapped. It is certainly possible that Portland could present a week of continuous music without breaking a sweat. The 24/7 performances really makes this town unique. I hope that we can rally again to do an event like this someday in the future, because it elevates people and music in a positive way.

Kudos to soloists Lisa Mooyman, Angela Niederloh, Carl Halverson, and Richard Zeller, members of the orchestra (mostly from Oregon Symphony), and chorus (mostly from the Portland Symphonic Choir).

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.

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

Mozart's Requiem with the Portland Symphonic Choir - one singer's viewpoint

I sang Mozart's "Requiem" on Friday evening at the Schnitz at part of the tenor section of the Portland Symphonic Choir. It looks like over 1600 people turned out to hear us; so this was probably the largest audience we have had for a show that PSC produced on its own in many, many years. I think that it would be safe to say that the last time we sang to a larger audience was when the choir did Handel's "Messiah" at the Civic Auditorium (now the Keller Auditorium). That's when PSC did sold-out shows to an audience that had not heard the Baroque performances that are preferred in Portland nowadays. I sang in a couple of the PSC "Messiah" concerts before I moved to Europe, but that seems like eons ago.
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Correction - courtesy of Mark Petersen, PSC's general manager: The last big turn-out that we had was the Schnitzer production of Brubeck's choral work. It was Feb. 8, 1999, under Bruce's direction. The first half of the concert was just Brubeck's quartet and the second half was his composition, "The Gates of Justice" for quartet and choir. We had over 2,000 in the hall.
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I've sung Mozart's "Requiem" several times - both the Franz Xaver Süssmayr compilation and the Robert Levin edition - and I always find the experience rewarding. The choir, at least from my side of the Schnitz, sounded fantastic.

I'll be singing the Beethoven's 9th (last movement only) with many of my cohorts this afternoon at the 14/7 show at Weiden Kennedy. If you don't know about this musical anti-war protest and extravaganza, click here.

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)

and

Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)
Edith Grossman (1936)
Billy Collins (1941)
James McManus (1951)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Modeste Moussorgsky (1839-1881)
Eddie James "Son" House (1902-1988)
Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949)
Paul Tortelier (1914-1990)
Nigel Rogers (1935)
Owain Arwel Hughes (1942)
Elena Firsova (1950)
Ann MacKay (1956)

and

Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Some tickets sales immune to recession

I've been checking the sports page and have noticed that the resurgent Portland Trail Blazers have been selling out the Rose Garden at 20,000+ tickets for every home game. Also sold out are the games at this weekends' NCAA Basketball Regional at the Rose Garden. People will dig deeper to pony up the bucks for these (mostly expensive) tickets. Therefore, it seems if you have a winning team (the Trail Blazers are poised to get reach the NBA playoffs for the first time in years) or a top-tier semi-pro college team, then fans will turn out in droves and are more than willing to pay a lot more to watch them play... the recession be damned.

Today's Birthdays

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

and

Ovid (43 BC - AD 17)
Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Extra Pink Martini/Oregon Symphony concert

From the press release:
Because of overwhelming demand from ticket-buyers, the Oregon Symphony and Pink Martini, Portland’s globe-trotting salon orchestra, have added a third performance to their two previously announced joint concerts scheduled for May and June at downtown Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The newly added concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 2. It follows two previously announced performances scheduled for Sunday, May 31, and Monday, June 1. All three concerts will be recorded for Pink Martini’s first live album.

Tickets for the added performance will go on sale at noon Thursday, Mar. 19, and are expected to sell quickly. Ticket availability is very limited for the two previously announced concerts, with only a small number of seats – mostly singles – remaining for the May 31 performance.

Tickets for all three performances are $25 to $150 and available at the Oregon Symphony Ticket Office, 923 SW Washington St., in downtown Portland. Ticket office hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Tickets may also be purchased by phone at (503) 228-1353 or (800) 228-7343 during the same hours, or online at any time from the orchestra’s web site, orsymphony.org. Tickets are also available through ticketmaster.com or by calling (503)790-ARTS.

David Hattner joins Oberlin Trio in concert at the CMC

David Hattner, the conductor of the Portland Youth Philharmonic, will play his clarinet with the Oberlin Trio in a concert this Friday (7:30 pm) at the Community Music Center. Hattner will perform Stravinsky's L’Histoire du Soldat (Trio Version)
for Violin, Clarinet and Piano.

Also on the program is Brahms' Trio #2 in C Major Op. 87 for Violin, Cello and Piano, Janácek's "Pohádka" for Cello and Piano, and Mendelssohn's "Variations Concertantes" Op. 17 for Cello and Piano.

The CMC is located at 3350 SE Francis in Portland. There's a suggested donation of $5 for this concert.

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)

and

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

24/7 - 24 free classical concerts for a nation at war

From the press release of organist and concert organizer Bill Crane:

By mid-March, the United States will have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq for seven years, yet one hardly hears that fact mentioned. To mark this important, if tragic, anniversary, over 150 of the Portland area's best classical musicians are uniting to make a giant musical gift to the city and region. Event curators Bill Crane and Thomas Lauderdale have recruited an amazing roster of performers. The public is invited.

Titled simply "24/7," it will be a series of 24 dramatic concerts, each starting upon the hour, from 7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 21, and continuing through to 7:00 p.m., Sunday, March 22.

All 24 concerts are free and will take place in the auditorium of the Wieden+Kennedy building, 224 Northwest 13th Avenue, between Davis and Everett Streets, in Portland's Pearl District. Wieden+Kennedy join the performing artists to invite sincerely all area residents of good will to these concerts. No tickets are required.

The following schedule is subject to change.

Saturday, March 21
7:00 p.m. - Program 1

Portland Brass Quintet and Friends
Jeff Snyder, Fil Ovando, and Steve Conrow, trumpets
Jen Harrison, Jill Torberson, and Alan Stromquist, French horns; Greg Scholl and Ken Biggs, trombones
John Walling, tuba; Dean Hinkley, percussion
Aaron Copland: “Fanfare for the Common Man”
and music of Gabrieli, Richard Strauss, and Handel

8:00 p.m. - Program 2

Rosa Li, pianist
Johann Sebastian Bach: "Prelude and Fugue in D Major",
"Well-tempered Clavier, Book I"
Ludwig van Beethoven: "Sonata Opus 2, No. 3"
Frederic Chopin: "Ballade No. 4"
Robert Muczynski: "Desparate Measures"

9:00 p.m. - Program 3

The Portland Gay Men's Chorus
Bob Mensel, music director and conductor Robert Seeley, “Brave Souls and Dreamers” (on a libretto of Robert Espindola), a dramatic cantata that explores the repercussion of war on the human experience, with special soloists Jennifer Gill, mezzo-soprano,
Steve Fulmer, bass, Derek Becker, tenor, and Brian Robertson, baritone.

10:00 p.m. - Program 4

Peggie Schwarz, mezzo-soprano
Cycle of Love, a sassy but poignant set of cabaret songs by Aaron Copland, John Adams, and Kurt Weill.

Les Green, tenor
Wonderful French chansons.

11:00 p.m. - Program 5

Fear No Music, Inés Voglar, artistic dir.
Joe Waters: "Flamehead"
Reza Vali: "Folk Dance for String Quartet"
Robert McBride: "Jilted"

Sunday, March 22
12:00 midnight - Program 6

Melegari Chamber Players,
Paloma Griffin, artistic director
Pete Townsend: "Love Reign Over Me"
(arr. David Gerow)
David Gerow, mandolin
Paloma Griffin, violin
Joel Belgique, viola
Nancy Ives, cello

Mozart: Oboe Quartet, K370
Karen Wagner, oboe
Paloma Griffin, violin
Jennifer Arnold, viola
Justin Kagan, cello

J.M. LeClaire: "Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 3, No. 2"
Gregory Ewer, Paloma Griffin, violins

John Lennon (arr. Evan Kuhlmann with Pink Martini):
"Real Love"
Timothy Nishimoto (vocalist), Melegari String Quartet (Paloma Griffin, Inés Voglar, violins, Joel Belgique, viola, Nancy Ives, cello), and The Flash Choir led by Pat Janowski and Sarah Dougher.

Franz Bibel (arr. Aaron LaVere):
"Ave Maria for 8 Trombones"
Edgar Meyer (arr. Evan Kuhlmann):
"First Impressions"
Nicholas Crosa, violin
Paloma Griffin, violin
Thomas Lauderdale, piano

1:00 a.m. - Program 7

Third Angle, Ron Blessinger, artistic dir.
Chen Yi: "Sprout and Burning"
George Crumb: "Black Angels"

2:00 a.m. - Program 8

Michele Mariana, jazz vocalist with
Reece Marshburn, piano

3:00 a.m. - Program 9

Portland Cello Project,
Doug Jenkins, artistic director

4:00 a.m. - Program 10

Thomas Lauderdale program or
ChadHeltzel, pianist, TBA

5:00 a.m. - Program 11

Chad Heltzel, pianist or
Thomas Lauderdale program, TBA

6:00 a.m. - Program 12

Ron Potts, pianist
Domenico Scarlatti: "Sonata"
Robert Schumann: "Arabesque"
Sergei Rachmaninoff: "Two Preludes"
Maurice Ravel: "Le tombeau de Couperin"
Bela Bartok: "Suite, Opus 14"

7:00 a.m. - Program 13

Drumming and Brahms
Obo Addy, master drummer
Gregory Dubay, cello, Bill Crane, piano
Brahms: "Sonata for Cello and Piano in e-minor"

8:00 a.m. - Program 14

Tamara Still
Johann Sebastian Bach: "Goldberg Variations"

9:00 a.m. - Program 15

Jass Two Plus One, "Hot and Swing Jazz
of the 1920's and 30's"

10:00 a.m. - Program 16

The music of Johannes Brahms
Justin Kagan, cellist
Bill Crane, pianist

11:00 a.m. - Program 17

Jeffrey Payne, piano
Olivier Messiaen: "Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jesus" (selections)

12:00 noon - Program 18

Marie Fiorillo, soprano, Carol Lucas, pianist, Sara Watts, violinist, Irving Levin, cellist, and violin students of Carol Sindell

1:00 p.m. - Program 19

Lisa Mooyman, soprano, Sherry Olson, mezzo-soprano, David Hattner, clarinet Music of Claudio Monteverdi and Franz Schubert's famous"Shepherd on the Rock"

2:00 p.m. - Program 20

Michael and Elizabeth Strickland, piano. A wide-ranging program by a father and daughter team!

3:00 p.m. - Program 21

Ida Rae Cahana, soprano, Abby Mages,
flute, Jerry Deckelbaum and Bill Crane, piano
Music from the historic Sephardim
Claude Debussy: "Syrincx"
Francis Poulenc: "Sonata for Flute and Piano"
Gabriel Faure: "Dolly Suite" for piano, four hands

4:00 p.m. - Program 22

Angela Niederloh, alto; Julie Coleman, violin;
Janet Coleman, piano

5:00 p.m. - Program 23

Carol Sindell, violin; Janet Guggenheim, piano
Cesar Franck: "Sonata for violin and piano"
Claude Debussy: "Sonata for Violin and Piano"

6:00 p.m. - Program 24

Company (All 24/7 artists and other invited musicians: David Hattner, the new music director of the Portland
Youth Philharmonic, will conduct the assembled forces, including many singers from the Portland Symphonic Choir and instrumentalists from the Oregon Symphony and other ensembles)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 9, finale
("Ode to Joy")

To check the final schedule of all 24 concerts, please consult www.wk.com/radio.

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)

and

George Plimpton (1927)
Christa Wolf (1929)
John Updike (1932-2009)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Alan Pierce plays Barnacle Bill with the North Coast Symphonic Band

Alan Pierce, former bass trombonist with the Oregon Symphony, recently appeared as a soloist with the North Coast Symphonic Band in Astoria. The conductor is Lee Stromquist, and the piece is "Barnacle Bill, the Sailor" by Carson Robison and Frank Luther, freely adapted and arranged by Steven Frank.

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)
Betty Allen (1927-2009)
John Lill (1944)
Michael Finnissy (1946)

and

Edmund Kean (1787-1833)
Frank B. Gilbreth (1911-2001)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Today's Birthdays

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

and

James Madison (1751-1836)
Maxim Gorky (1868-1936)
Alice Hoffman(1952)

Cascadia Composers expand Portland's new music scene

By guest reviewer Aaron Berenbach

If the inaugural concert of the Cascadia Composers group is a sign of things to come, fans of the new music scene in Portland have much to look forward to. Friday’s concert featured a well-rounded selection of composing styles and instrumentation choices. From the shrill, phasing timbres of piccolo and orchestra bells, to the surprisingly pleasant blend of solo violin and xylophone, to the warm, rich sound of a string quartet, each composer stood distinct in his choice of instruments and styles.

Starting the concert with a series of duets, Dan Senn’s Cartwheels displayed the acrobatic skills of both piccolo and orchestra bells as the two instruments vaulted around, and sometimes through the other. Ultramodern, sometimes painful, the differing attacks of each musician would dissolve into an overlapping resonance that echoed in the ear long after the final note had decayed.

Jeff Winslow’s Aftermath displayed Janice Johnson’s soprano voice most favorably as the skilled piano work of Jeffrey Payne shifted, flowed, and wound its way around the words. The fierce, emotional declamation of the text and the surging, wavelike motion of the piano accompaniment brought to life the desperation of the protagonist, trapped between the raging ocean and the catastrophe being fled.

Thomas Svoboda’s Elusive Canon for Violin and Xylophone was a playful duet, engaging the performers in a musical dialogue that displays a sense of humor and whimsy sometimes sadly lacking in modern music. An interesting combination of instruments that lent itself to the tongue-in-cheek atmosphere of the piece.

David Bernstein’s Late Autumn Moods and Images expanded the palette of instruments to three, and the extended form of his piece made great use of that effect. Borrowing material for the first two of three movements, Bernstein wove together the familiar with his own intuitive senses, creating an aural experience that reached far beyond the original material. The third movement displayed a grasp of compositional techniques that brought together disparate musical ideas into a colorful whole.

This being Portland, land of the weird and wonderful, no one thought it amiss that the second half of the concert opened with an oratory. It was only after a few moments of garbled speech that it began to dawn on the audience that this performance art was not planned. Nevertheless the mysterious stranger who seized the spotlight received a warm round of applause. Hooray for Portland.

Without missing a beat, the concert rolled on with Gary Noland’s Schmaltz Fantasy (sorry, that’s Waltz Fantasy). Like an André Rieu opium dream, Noland’s waltz slowly emerged from a morass of sound, solidified into a lush, decadent, Viennese waltz before dissolving and reforming again and again. Like Bernstein, Noland made great use of the familiar, in this case the easily recognized waltz form, but made it personal, unique, and extremely interesting in his interpretation.

Finally expanding to a full string quartet, Jack Gabel’s That Old Song And Dance took the audience by surprise as the obligatory tuning period of four musicians flowed seamlessly into the written piece. What at first appeared a musical game of two-on-two solidified and moved smoothly through ancient song and dance forms. As with all the composers working with borrowed material, Gabel displayed an understanding of traditional forms but brought them fully into the present with imagination and flair. Devolving back into the chaos of musicians tuning at cross-purposes, this piece in particular seemed to delight the audience with its sense of completeness.

Bringing the concert to a close, Greg A. Steinke’s Expressions on the Paintings of Edvard Munch had the definitive final say in the Cascadia Composer’s inaugural concert. A hard act to follow, Steinke explored his personal reactions to three of Munch’s famous paintings and managed to bring those images to life quite forcefully with his compositional style. The first movement brought to mind George Crumb’s Black Angels, particularly the movement, Night of The Electric Insects. More personally, it reminded this reviewer of almost every horror scene that has plagued his nightmares. Surprising, mesmerizing, and engaging, the entire piece seemed to draw the performers in as much as the audience. Both the freedom and the form of this composition was a powerful way to end the concert.

As usual, the work of the fEARnoMUSIC performers was professional, honest, and a delight to experience. It was heartening to see such a large crowd as well as an ever-growing number of younger listeners in the audience. The Cascadia Composers are a welcome addition to the Portland new music scene with a healthy blend of compositional styles and individual takes on musical forms. Future concerts are presumably being planned, so stayed tuned.

-----

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

Oregon Symphony delivers full brunt of Svoboda's Vortex


Whether we sank into an abyss or blew up the debris of our ruined nation, the final notes of Tomas Svoboda’s “Vortex,” signaled the end of a wild ride that grabbed everyone’s attention at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday (March 14). Svoboda wrote his latest work for orchestra as a reaction to the economic and social turmoil that has dominated our country recently, and “Vortex” received a stunning world premiere by the Oregon Symphony under the baton of Carlos Kalmar in a program that included scintillating performances of Brahms Symphony No. 3 and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with guest artist Freddy Kempf.

Svoboda’s music took us on a journey that began with light pizzicatos in the strings, which created a pleasant mood. But the wiggle-waggle sounds from a group of “meckering” horns commented on situation with growing discontent, and within a short period of time the entire orchestra was caught up in a mass of tones that seemed to swirl out of control. Soon the whole sonic enterprise collapsed on itself until all that remained was the sad wailing, played evocatively by principal cellist Nancy Ives. The musical forces, supported by the lower strings, gathered themselves once more and a beautiful brass and woodwind choir seemed to emerge and then march into the distance. Ives played a second melancholy passage and gradually other voices of the orchestra stirred but with a bit of harshness. The xylophone, played crisply by principal percussionist Niel DePonte, commented on the circumstances with seemly random notes that began to fall into a recognizable pattern when the cello cried out once again. This gave way to the plucking of strings, which was then taken over by a restlessness (signaled by pulsating trumpets), and a descent into the final vortex was underway.

The audience responded to this work with genuine enthusiasm, and Svoboda out on the stage to receive loud applause and a standing ovation. Although the current times are tough, it would be great to see the Oregon Symphony record “Vortex” sometime in the near future, because it is such a superb work.

And Svoboda’s orchestral piece was just one part of a concert in which the orchestra delivered two other outstanding performances. Before intermission, the orchestra collaborated with Kempf to create a vibrant interpretation of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. Kempf adds a lot excitement in the way that he pounces on the keyboard and takes off like a purebred racehorse at the Kentucky Derby. The music has a debonair, catch me if you can, quality, but Kalmar and the orchestra are right with Kempf, accenting notes together, and creating some of the most thrilling music in the repertoire. Kempf and the orchestra also excelled in the slow, languid passages, which helped to release all of the pent up energy and let our minds drift aimlessly. The tonal colors that they concocted added to the overall enjoyment of this piece, and the bravos that broke out after it concluded were full of joy and amazement.

The evening began with Brahms’ Third Symphony, which is not nearly as well known as his other symphonies probably because he did not end it in a grand way. As Kalmar noted to the audience before the symphony began, this work reflects “Brahms looking inside himself,” yet even this inward reflection was given a terrific performance by the orchestra. Kalmar and his forces dug into every nook and cranny of this piece. I loved how the music would surge ahead and then fall back in the first movement. Highlights from the second movement included the sonic blend from the bassoon, clarinet, and horns with supportive commentary from the lower strings. The elegant theme of the third movement and the horn solo by principal John Cox were delicious to the ears, and the full-bodied sound of the fourth glistened. I loved the way that the strings eagerly delved into this music and also how principal Yoshinori Nakao coaxed velvety soft sounds out his clarinet.

The Oregon Symphony plays the music of Svoboda, Prokofiev, and Brahms this evening, and I heartily recommend that you experience it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Portland Opera's La Calisto swings for the stars


Portland Opera hit a home run into the celestial skies with its new production of “La Calisto,” an opera written by the Venetian composer Francesco Cavalli in 1651. Exquisite singing by the entire cast (most of whom belong to the Studio Artists program), stellar playing by the Portland Baroque Orchestra under conductor Robert Ainsley, and an evocative set, designed by Curt Enderle, combined to make this “La Calisto” a charming experience. The near capacity audience at the Newmark Theatre on opening night (Friday, March 13) enthusiastically embraced this fanciful retelling of two myths (Calisto and Giove plus Diana and Endimione) that came from ancient Greece and Rome.

Sharin Aposolou sparkled in the role of Calisto, a young follower of the goddess Diana. Her clear and supple soprano was thrilling, especially in the way that she impeccably dashed off numerous runs as if they were the easiest things in the world. Apostolou conveyed the naiveté of Calisto with spot-on acting as well.

Jonathan Kimple created a convincing Giove, using his resonant bass to underscore his stature as the king of the gods. His seduction of Calisto was tempered at the end of the story when he promised her and her son a place in the heavens (hence Ursa Major and Ursa Minor). Baritone José Rubio artfully greased the wheels of Giove’s intentions as Giove’s sidekick Mecurio.

Mezzo Hannah S. Penn embodied two characters so convincingly that she could consider a second career as a double agent in the secret service. In the role of Diana, goddess of the moon and the hunt, Penn created a young woman who was torn between her pledge to chastity and her desire to love Endimione, a young shepherd. In the role of Giove disguised as Diana, Penn marvelously captured the swagger and chauvinistic pride of the top god in his pursuit of Calisto.

Gerald Thompson in the role of Endimione displayed his countertenor to stunning effect, dispatching all sorts of tricky passages with breathtaking control. Yet his tender duet with Penn was one of the many high points in this production.

Wearing a gown hemmed with the image of peacock feathers, mezzo Angela Niederloh as Giunone (the wife of Giove) strutted around the raked stage in high heels as if she owned it. The flinty wrath of her voice and the fire in her eyes could’ve torched the landscape a second time (it had already been burnt to a crisp when the story began).

Mezzo Kendra Herrington’s Linfea, a zealous follower of Diana, provided additional comic relief when she revealed her desire for a lover. Laughter reached an apex after the eager young satyr, Satirino, sung by soprano Anne Mckee Reed, impulsively kissed the astonished Linfea.

Tenor Brendan Tuohy sang superbly and reaped plenty of laughter as Pane, the god of the shepherds, who can’t really carry out any dastardly deeds no matter how much he threatens to do so. Baritone Bobby Jackson’s Silvano, a young satyr and cohort in Pane’s posse was terrific also.

Ainsley conducted a period orchestra of Baroque specialists with élan, shaping the music with sensitivity and purpose. A unique collaboration with Portland Baroque Orchestra helped to assemble these instrumentalists (playing violin, viola da gamba, lirone, theorbo, lute, guitar, recorder, dulcian, cornetto, harpisichord, and organ) and created a musical experience that would have been very similar to what Venetians heard 350 years ago.

Stage director Ned Canty made the story easy to follow. The minimalist set design by Curt Enderele and the lighting by Don Crossley enhanced the opera perfectly. Sue Bonde’s colorful costumes added wonderfully to the mix.

All in all, Portland Opera’s production of “La Calisto” is a knock out. I encourage you to get a ticket if any are available. Two remaining shows run on March 19 and 21.

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)

and

Richard Ellmann (1918-1987)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

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)

and

Albert Einstein (1879-1955
Sylvia Beach (1887-1962)

Friday, March 13, 2009

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)

and

Janet Flanner (1892-1978)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Salieri recommends Mozart concert with Portland Symphonic Choir

Antonio Salieri, if he were alive today, would heartily recommend the upcoming performance of Mozart's Requiem on March 20th at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The Portland Symphonic Choir, under the direction of artistic director Stephen Zopfi, will sing this great work. Northwest Reverbers Lorin Wilkerson (in the bass section) and yours truly (in the tenor section) will be part of the action.

For more information about this concert, click here.

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)

and

George Berkeley (1685-1753)
Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950)
Edward Albee (1928)
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
Carl Hiaasen (1953)
David Eggers (1970)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cascadia Composers inaugural concert with Fear No Music

The Fear No Music ensemble, guest pianist Alexandre Dossin, and several other guest artists will present a concert of chamber music by composers who belong to the newly formed Casicadia Composers group. The concert takes place at The Old Church this Friday at 8 pm. Here's the program:

Late Autumn Moods and Images by David S. Bernstein

- Inés Voglar, violin
- Nancy Ives, cello
- Alexandre Dossin, piano

Cartwheels by Dan Senn
(world premiere)

- David Buck, piccolo
- Joel Bluestone, bells

That Old Song and Dance by Jack Gabel

- Inés Voglar, violin
- Paloma Griffin, violin
- Joël Belgique, viola
- Nancy Ives, cello

Waltz Fantasy by Gary Noland
(world premiere)

- Inés Voglar, violin
- Jeff Payne, piano

Aftermath by Jeff Winslow

- Janice Johnson, soprano
- Jeff Payne, piano

Elusive Canon for Violin and Xylophone by Tomas Svoboda
(world premiere)

- Inés Voglar, violin
- Joel Bluestone, xylophone

Expressions on the Paintings of Edvard Munch by Greg A. Steink

- Inés Voglar, violin
- Paloma Griffin, violin
- Joël Belgique, viola
- Nancy Ives, cello

A-WOL Dance Collective stays on the ground part of the time in 3-6-9 show

Guest review by Michelle Johnson

What a show! It has 9 choreographers, 6 minute pieces, with 3 dancers in each dance. Each work was choreographed and danced by exceptional artists who draw you into their fusion of dance styles with intricate dancer interplay and wit. Although A-WOL dance collective is known for its acrobatic movements that suspend the artists in the air, this show had just a bit of above-ground movement in a few pieces. Guest performer Keph Sherin suspended his body upwards on his hands in turns and contortions and balances which amazed the audience. He choreographed his own dances because no one else can do what he does. He said “Hand Dancing is European” and the A-WOL Aerial Without Limits philosophy accepted and highlighted his dance passion.

A-WOL’s performers make every detail of their performance clear, precise and intricate. They use classical dance lines, but you need to look quick because they morph into emotive body movements between human beings pushing someone away or turning someone aside or frantically twisting aground. The costumes are simple and effective for showing the A-WOL style and professional abilities of all of the dancers.

Many of the dancers are also choreographers. Co-Director and performer Brandy Guthery says they will have in house choreographers this summer. The company will be performing its amazing feats in upcoming shows including “Art in the Dark V - Left of Center” in the trees at Mary S. Young Park on August 28th and 29th at 8pm.

---

Michelle Johnson is a classically trained dancer who dances and teaches at the Laurelhurst Studio.

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)

and

Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

CRPDX presents Bach's Coffee Cantata, other works this Sunday

Press Release from Classical Revolution Portland:

Remember how last winter's "winter blast" ruined everything fun you had planned for two weeks straight? We certainly do, especially the cancellation of Bachxing day, which actually turned into "Vlaxing Day" due to the hardcore nature of the violists in the group. Now that it's March, we are certain this gorgeous weather won't prevent anyone from getting to our show. (well, gorgeous in comparison?)

I digress... It's time to celebrate Bach, just in time for his birthday! Classical Revolution is pleased to present Bachxing Day version 2.1 at the Someday Lounge on 3/15 at 9pm.

Members of Classical Revolution PDX will perform their own interpretations of (but not limited to) Bach concertos, cello suites, harpsichord solos, and we're especially excited about our dramatic performance of his coffee cantata. "If I can't drink my bowl of coffee three times daily, then in my torment, I will shrivel up like a piece of roast goat" - an actual line from the libretto, I'm not making this up!

Audience can join in on the fun by creating ridiculous Bach names, puns and haikus to win prizes generously donated by Classical Millennium.

Sunday, March 15th
The Someday Lounge
125 NW 5th AvePortland, OR 97209
$5 cover. 9pm start time

For more information please visit somedaylounge.com or call 503.248.1030

Happy Bachxing Day!!

Mattie-- Mattie Kaiser

"Viva la Revolution!!"
http://www.classicalrevolutionpdx.org/

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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)

Bach Cantata Choir to give Lenten concert this Sunday

Press Release from the Bach Cantata Choir:


The Bach Cantata Choir will present a Lenten concert featuring two cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach on Sunday, March 15 from 2:00pm-3:00pm at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church, 1907 NE 45th Ave in Portland, Oregon. The concert, under the direction of conductor Ralph Nelson, will feature a performance of Bach’s Cantata #12, “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen”, Cantata #131 “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich”, and “Herzlich lieb hab ich dich” -- a rarely heard motet for double choir by the German composer Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612). The concert is free and open to the public. A free-will offering will be taken. Doors open at 1:30pm.

Featured in major solos in the Bach cantatas will be alto Irene Weldon, tenor Byron Wright and baritone Jacob Herbert. Also singing smaller roles in Cantata #131 will be soprano Elise Groves, alto Elizabeth Farquhar, tenor Mark Woodward, and bass Uwe Haefker. The works will be accompanied by a small chamber orchestra. John Vergin will provide the organ continuo. This concert features the Bach Cantata Choir – a choir of 50 professional or semi-professional voices, drawn from many of Portland’s finest choirs.

Bach’s sacred cantatas were written to be performed as part of the Lutheran Church liturgy. Cantata #12, “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen” (“Weeping, Wailing, Fretting, Fearing”) dates from 1714 and, though written originally for the 3rd Sunday after Easter, is closely associated with Lent. In 1747, Bach reworked the first movement of this cantata – it became the famous “Crucifixus” in his Mass in B Minor.

Bach’s Cantata #131, “Aus der Tiefen ruhe ich” (“Out of the Depths I Cry to Thee”) is a setting of Psalm 130 and is considered by scholars to be the first cantata that Bach wrote -- written in 1707 when Bach was 22 years old and working as organist in the small town of Mühlhausen. Although not particularly tied to any one Sunday in the church year, scholars believe it may have been written for a service following a devastating fire.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Talking with Sharin Apostolou about Portland Opera's La Calisto


Portland Opera is reaching way back into the past to bring something new to Portland, mounting a production of “La Calisto” a Venetian-Baroque opera that was written by Francesco Cavalli in 1651. For this production, Portland Opera is collaborating with Portland Baroque Orchestra to create an ensemble of 17th Century instrument specialists, including cornetto virtuoso Bruce Dickey who is based in Venice, Italy, to give you a real Baroque experience.

Most of the singing in La Calisto will be provided by members of the Portland Opera Studio Artists program, including Sharin Apostolou, the vivacious soprano who, last season, did an amazing job of stepping in at the last minute to sing the title role in Portland Opera’s “Rhodelinda.” This time, Apostolou will sing the title role in “La Calisto,” and I recently talked with her at Portland Opera’s offices.

How long have you been studying for your part in La Calisto?

Apostolou: I started studying La Calisto during The Turn of the Screw; so it was the middle of January. That wasn’t an ideal situation, because all of the Studio Opera singers have had a very busy season.

What is the vocal range for your part in this opera?

Apostolou: The top is a high B-flat, and it’s an ornament. It’s not written in the score. Middle Cs are the lowest notes. That’s usually not where my voice likes to live, but I love singing this work. It has a speech-like quality to it.

What is Calisto’s character like?

Apostolou: She goes through quite a change in the opera. First of all she is daughter of King Lykaon who served Jove a meal of human flesh. So Calisto ran away from her family and became a follower of the Diana, the goddess of the hunt.

Calisto is very strong willed but very naïve. She is a chaste follower of Diana, but then she meets Jove and everything gets turned on its head. She can’t tell the difference between the real Diana and the Jove-Diana, and they treat her in polar opposite ways. Then Jove’s wife, Juno, finds out what’s going on, and Calisto doesn’t realize who she is and spills the beans, and gets turned into a bear. Such is the way of the gods.

This opera has comedy and tragedy in it. Do you prefer one over the other?

Apostolou: I like both comedy and tragedy. My voice sort of leans towards comedy – to the girls who get married at the end, more than the girls who die at the end. There’s a joke among sopranos that you know that you’ve grown up when you go from the girls who marry to the girls who die.

Tell us more about the demands of this opera.

Apostolou: Baroque is not necessarily a different way of singing, but a different mind-set. Robert Ainsley, our conductor, has been a tremendous help. He is an absolute expert in this style of music. He has taught us how to learn the music. In Mozart and Handel, there’s a lot of give and take. Baroque doesn’t allow for you to play with the notes on the page. But you don’t have to. Monteverdi, Cavalli, and their contemporaries wrote the rhythms exactly how they wanted the speech to sound. So you can play with the tempi, but the music just sings itself. When you try it, you find that it does really work that way.

The Venetian-Baroque style has a lot of recitative. I have more arias than most of the characters in La Calisto. But it’s not like the way we normally think of arias, not like Mozart or even Handel. This opera is very speech driven. You don’t use ten measures to sing a sentence, you sing it in three. So the plot is constantly being pushed along.

My character has small moments of reflection, and it’s usually before something big happens. My last aria is about a page and a half of repose, taking everything that has been going on and processing it, and that’s when Juno comes in with the furies and turns me into a bear.

You won the Met competition in Oregon and did pretty well at the regional in Seattle as well. Congratulations!

Apostolou: Thanks! I won the encouragement award in Seattle, and it was a lot of fun. It was on my birthday, too. The singing there was amazing. We just went out there and did our best.

Are you planning to enter more competitions?

Apostolou: Yes, I plan to do more, like the Giulio Gari competition in New York City in May. Competitions can be a good way to get your name out there. Being a finalist helps to make people take notice.

After you appear in Portland Opera’s Rigoletto, your time with the Studio Artists program comes to an end. So what are your next steps?

Apostolou: This summer, I’ll sing in two productions at the Green Mountain Opera festival in Vermont. I’m Barbarina in Nozze de Figaro and Andina in the Elixir of Love.

How did you choose to become an opera singer? Did you grow up singing a lot?

Apostolou: I started off dancing. I was a very energetic child. My parents enrolled me in dance class. I loved it and got into theater doing dance and musicals. Everybody did choir. The public schools in New Jersey had a very strong music program. Then I went to high school, a private school, and they took all everyone involved in the music program to see the dress rehearsals at the Met. That’s when I fell in love with opera and became obsessed with it. The Magic Flute was the first opera that I had ever seen – I was just 14 - and I came back home and told my parents that I was going to become and opera singer. And they said, okay! Go ahead and try and see what happens. I applied to music schools and went to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, they have an excellent drama and music programs in the country. Then I got my masters from the Manhattan School of Music.

I was a Central City Opera for two summers and in the outreach program at Tulsa Opera before coming to Portland.

You’re a die hard!

Apostolou: (Laughs) Yes, we just keep pressing on. After Vermont, I’m moving to New York and will audition and see what happens.

Good luck with everything!

Apostolou: Thanks! See you at the opera!

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)

and

Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512)
Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Portland Youth Philharmonic – These kids can play!

A large crowd assembled at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday evening to hear the Portland Youth Philharmonic’s winter concert and to acknowledge the contributions of one of its former conductors, Jacob Avshalomov, who had become somewhat estranged from the orchestra since his retirement in 1995. The orchestra gave Avshalomov (who will turn 90 on March 28th) its lifetime achievement award and performed the world premiere of his “Season’s Greetings. The program also included works by Modest Mussorgsky, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Samuel Barber, whose Concerto for Violin and Orchestra was given an incredible performance by the PYP’s 15 year-old concertmaster Brandon Garbot.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic, founded in 1924, happens to be the oldest youth orchestra in the nation and has always maintained a high level of playing. Under its new conductor, David Hattner, the orchestra showed its sensitive side with its handling of Mussorgsky’s Prelude to “Khovantchina,” which evokes the dawn rising over Moscow.

Garbot excelled in every moment of in the Barber Violin Concerto. In particular, his lyricism in the first movement soared and the exacting, fast, pace of the third movement was like butter in his hands. He played with impeccable tone throughout. It was a breathtaking performance and truly memorable. The orchestra, for its part, supported his playing extremely well.

Avshalomov’s “Season’s Greetings” seemed to be a pastiche of different ideas that were inspired by the poetry of his wife, Doris. Over five movements, dissonant and harmonic sounds careened throughout the orchestra. The references to Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” added a dash of warmth, and piece concluded charmingly with a wink rather than a grandiose chords.

The concert ended with a Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which the orchestra played with passion. I loved the enthusiasm of the musicians, especially in the strings, who clearly enjoyed digging into this masterpiece. The brass and wind sections had many fine moments. Hattner encouraged his orchestra effectively, and together, they demonstrated a commitment to the music that would’ve made Tchaikovsky proud.

------

Extra note:

One of the appealing things about a PYP concert is the program booklet, because the program notes are written by the musicians. The booklet also contains advertisements from universities, conservatories, and music summer camps. It’s wonderful to see that these schools offer a future for young musicians in Portland.

Today's Birthdays

Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000)
Dick Hyman (1927)
Robert Tear (1939)
Barthold Kuijken (1949)
Simon Halsey (1958)

and

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)
John McPhee (1933)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

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)

and

William York Tindall (1903-1981)
William Boyd (1952)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Oregon Cultural Distrust

Just in case you haven't heard the Oregon State Legislature has gone ahead and approved the looting of the Oregon Cultural Trust to the tune of $1.8 million to help out the budget. I know that they are trying the spread the burden, but the Trust was set up in order to be helpful to the arts in difficult times exactly like this one. Oregon has always been one of the most feeble states in the Union in terms of supporting the arts. This action should shove us to the bottom of the barrel.

If you want to read more, Bob Hicks of Art Scatter provides a definitive assessment of the situation here.

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)

and

Michelangelo (1475-1564)
Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655)
Gabriel García Márquez (1928)
Willie Mays (1931)
Dick Fosbury (1947)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Today's Birthdays

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

and

Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dawn Upshaw mesmerizes audience with intimate, pure artistry


A great artist can give a concert for a thousand people yet make it seem as if she is performing just for you. Such is the artistry of Dawn Upshaw, who appeared yesterday (Tuesday, March 3) evening at the Newmark Theatre in a concert sponsored by the Friends of Chamber Music. Upshaw showed an incredible ability to connect with the audience in spite of singing music that was relatively unknown. In a program that included works by Charles Ives, Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Olivier Messiaen, Osvaldo Golijov, and George Crumb, it would have been easy for Upshaw to just park and bark – make some beautiful tones and take some bows. But she expressed the music not just with her voice but with every gesture, facial expression, and the way she stood. And the total effect was amazing because Upshaw did all of this in a hall that is very dry (no reverberation whatsoever) and in which it is difficult to create a warm tone (the Newmark has lots of carpeting and was made for plays rather than for music).

Upshaw, and her accompanist Gilbert Kalish, drew the audience into an impressionist soundscape that began with a selection of songs by Ives. This selection transitioned from songs that had a more traditional, harmonic sound (like “Songs My Mother Taught Me” and “Two little flowers”) to some that were somewhat dissonant yet intimate (like “Rather Sad” and “Tom Sails Away”). Kalish supported each piece perfectly with a subtle touch that always added to the words and the atmosphere.

With the aide of a microphone, Kalish mentioned that Ives wrote 140 songs and had a fierce independent streak. His remarks served as an introduction to “The Alcotts” movement from Ives’s “Concord Sonata.” Kalish used a light touch to evoke the parlor room and everyday atmosphere of the Alcott home in his playing of this gem.

Next, Upshaw sang a several songs by French composers, and since the house lights were turned almost all the way down, it was impossible to follow the translation. Yet, that didn’t matter at all, because Upshaw has a way of drawing you into the world of the music that she sings. I think that in both of the Messiaen’s pieces, “Le collier” (“The necklace”) and “Prière exaucée” (“Fulfilled prayer”), she pulled some high notes out of no where and then expanded on them in an exquisite way that was absolutely thrilling.

After intermission, Kalish performed a movement from Abel Decaux’s “Clairs de lune.” Kalish’s light touch on the keyboard nicely matched the slow-moving sounds of this piece, making it easy to imagine a moon hanging over a cloudless night or another nighttime tableau.

As a preface to the next piece, Golijov’s “Lúa Descorlorida” (“Moon, Colorless”), Upshaw explained that Golijov wrote it for Kalish and her and that it is the piece that she has performed the most often at her concerts. Although the text of the music is sad, telling about a woman who wants to be removed from the earth, the music has an improvised feel and is not a downer. Upshaw really captured the full range of emotion in this song, and, for me, it was the highlight of the evening.

The program closed with the six songs from Crumb’s “Apparition.” For this music, the piano top was removed so that Kalish could strum and pluck the piano strings and rap the inside of the piano with his knuckles. Some of the text required Upshaw to use a Sprechstimme (speaking voice) and at other times she sang non-sense syllables. There was real text to be sung also, but it seemed secondary. The songs dealt with silence and death and serious matters, and the music was sort of other-worldly.

The audience soaked up this unusual piece and responded with long-lasting applause. Kalish and Upshaw returned to sing two encores. Both were William Bolcom cabaret songs: “Watin” and “Black Max,” and the latter really lightened up the evening and put everyone in a good mood for the journey home.

Inside Chamber Music with Hamilton Cheifetz

For the past several years, cellist and professor Hamilton Cheifetz teaches a class on chamber music. A neighbor of mine took the class a couple of years ago and highly recommends it. For $100 you get eight informative classes taught by Cheifetz, in-class performances by Cheifetz, Janet Guggenheim, Carol Sindell, and other top-tier musicians, and discounted tickets to chamber music concerts.

The classes run from Marc 30 to May 18 and take place on Mondays from 5:30 to 7 pm in room 183 of the Extended Studies Building (1633 SW Park Ave.) on the campus of Portland State University. For more information, click here.

Today's Birthdays

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

and

Khaled Hosseini (1965)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Oregon legistlature still intent on raiding Cultural Trust funds

The folks at Art Scatter and Culture Shock have been monitoring how our representatives in Salem intend to divert funds from the Oregon Cultural Trust to bridge the budget gap. Please take a look at these blogs and protest this action, which is coming up for a vote on Friday.

Today's Birthdays

Henry Wood (1869-1944)
Frank Wigglesworth (1918)
Martin Lovett (1927)
Florence Quivar (1944)
Roberta Alexander (1949)
Katia Labèque (1950)

and

James Merrill (1926-1995)

Monday, March 2, 2009

CD Review: Handel's Acis und Galatea (version by Mendelssohn Bartholdy)



In 2005, a music antiquarian discovered an arrangement by Mendelssohn Bartholdy of Handel’s masque Acis and Galatea. While other Handel arrangements by Mendelssohn are known, it is believed that this was the first time this particular music had seen the light of day since its London run in 1869.

The Handel festival in Göttingen immediately acquired the music and approached renowned Handel interpreter Nicholas McGegan, and they presented the first modern performance of this work in May of last year. The Norddeutschen Rundfunk Chor and the FestspielOrchester Göttingen teamed up with McGegan to produce this CD, released on the Carus-Verlag label.
McGegan approaches the work with brisk baroque bombast; Handel's more spare orchestration has been fleshed out with timpani, horns, clarinets and other instruments. McGegan’s irascible personality and ebullient conducting style are readily apparent on this disc. Bright, lively tempos abound; he seems to revel in the glory of the somewhat cliche pastoral idyll presented in the opening chorus and indeed the rest of the work. The clear German diction is a pleasure to hear from a native-speaking choir. Most of the soloists are not specifically baroque specialists, which makes good sense considering the interesting idiom of baroque music filtered through the lens of early 19th-century orchestration. Soprano Julia Kleiter particularly stands out with her warm, inviting Galatea. This CD should appeal to those who love Handel, Mendelssohn and/or McGegan.

Perlman has the goods, but doesn’t know where to go with them in concert with the Oregon Symphony


World-famous violinists typically draw big crowds and buckets of adulation, and that was case when Itzhak Perlman stepped on stage to perform with the Oregon Symphony on Saturday (February 28). A standing ovation greeted Perlman, who had appeared in the national broadcast at President Obama’s inauguration just a month ago, but his performance as violinist and conductor with the Oregon Symphony, though it had some fine moments, didn’t have enough shape and verve to make the evening memorable.

The program featured Bach’s Concerto No 1 for violin and string orchestra, Schubert’s Symphony No 3, and Brahms Symphony No. 2. A first-rate conductor would bring out all sorts of nuances in each work and place a personal stamp on it, but Perlman seemed not to have a clue about what he wanted the music to say. The volume for each piece was medium loud, most movements, once underway, cruised along at the same speed that they started with, and, outside of a soaring horn solo by John Cox in the Brahms – which almost startled the audience out of the doldrums – the entire affair was boring.

As a result, the standing ovations that Perlman and the orchestra received were perfunctory. It was sort of like, hey, we’ve got this great artist in our midst and we’re really happy that he stopped by our little town, so let’s shower him with affection. If anyone should receive extra helpings of applause, it should be concertmaster Jun Iwasaki, who used his entire body to help keep the violins together. There were times, especially in the Brahms, when the violins laid down a silky smooth and golden sound that is just pure pleasure, but these pieces needed more than just some beautiful phrases. Even the Bach Violin Concerto, with Perlman sitting on a raised platform where the concertmaster usually sits, didn’t go anywhere in particular despite the gorgeous tones from his Strad. When the ensemble reached the last note, the piece just ended, but nobody was elevated.

One little interesting point in the performance of the Bach was hearing Janet Guggenheim play the harpsichord. Guggenheim was Perlman’s accompanist for many years, but even her presence didn’t alter the final score, so to speak.

Several years ago, Oregon Symphony violinist and Third Angle director Ron Blessinger (who wasn’t playing in the Perlman concert series) told me (and I’m paraphrasing here) that it’s always best when a conductor comes to the orchestra with good ideas for the music, but a conductor with bad ideas is better than a conductor with no ideas, because a conductor with no ideas makes the concert dull as hell.

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)

and

Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) (1904-1991)
Mikhail S Gorbachev (1931)
Tom Wolfe (1931)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Concord Ensemble Excels in Portland Debut

Saturday Night, February 28th, marked the Portland debut of the renowned Concord Ensemble, a vocal group loosely based out of Los Angeles. Concord baritone Aaron Cain, a recent transplant to Portland, would be to familiar to local early music and choral concertgoers, as he has been performing with Cappella Romana (the sponsor of this concert) since coming to Portland.

The sanctuary at St. Philip Neri Church in SE Portland was the backdrop for a concert entitled "The Palm Tree, the Crossbar: Music for Holy Week from the New World." The concert had originally been subtitled "The Passion According to St. Mark." This must have been changed since the complete passion presented was actually after St. Matthew. In both the program and a flier there was reference made to New World music of Indian (Native American) and African origin, so it was a bit confusing that there was no music bearing discernible earmarks of either culture to be found anywhere in the performance. That said, the music presented was spectacular.

From the opening, the Concord Ensemble displayed a blend that bordered on the miraculous. One of the pieces presented was a Lamentatio Hieremiae Prophetae by Mexican-born composer Francisco Lopez y Capillas (1605-1674). The ensemble's ability to switch back and forth from the perfect unison intonation in Gregorian style to the lush Renaissance polyphony without skipping a beat was a pleasure to hear. The lag time between European and New World compositional style was often a couple of decades, as the program noted, so the style was not of the middle Baroque as one might expect to hear from a European composer working in this time period. The anachronistic style of the American composers was one of the hallmarks of the concert.


The Concord Ensemble did not provide any fanciness or frills; there was no undue showing off of individual vocal talents. The ability of this group to get out of the way of the music and allow it to speak for itself even while performing is a difficult skill to master, and CE was flawless in that respect: the works were thereby presented as a radiant whole whose meaning was clear. They sang these motets and other works of dizzying complexity with a degree of polish so as to make it sound effortless.

A number of motets and hymns were presented in the first half, but the heart of the program, the Pasion segun San Mateo by an anonymous Mexican composer, was the central feature of the second half.

The structure was as follows: a narrator (tenor Pablo Cora) sung in plainchant all the narrative from the Passion reading. The rest of the group (except for Cain) formed the Synagoga who sang all words except those of Jesus. The baritone role of Jesus was sung by Cain.

Cain's delivery was straightforward and arresting. Richly resonant without being overdone, he provided the perfect voice for this role. While some of the music behind Jesus' words was somewhat static, Cain used every opportunity available to bring out key phrases. The powerful Paters in which Jesus addresses his father were particularly memorable.

In addition to singing the words of Caiaphas, Peter, the scribes and Pharisees, Pontius Pilate and the various other actors in the Passion, the Synagoga provided the aural halo for the words of Jesus, an intriguing and awe-inspiring effect. In some ways this group had the most interesting singing musically, and they gave an animated performance that broke up the sometimes monotonous Narrator-Jesus repartee.

Cora as the narrator was presented with perhaps the most difficult task: the plainchant form taken by the narration made the driest baroque recitativo secco seem infinitely variable by comparison. He sang very ably, using subtle shifts in timbre and dramatic pauses, and highlighting the little pitch variation there was to inject what color and shading he could. After the Passion ended, Cora quipped that he was "excited that I get to sing another note now." They closed with another Vexilla Regis, this one by Spanish master Tomas Luis de Victoria.

It was indeed a pleasure to hear such an accomplished group singing music that must surely be unfamiliar to many concertgoers. One hopes, since one of their members now sings with Cappella Romana, that this first Portland concert by the Concord Ensemble will not be the last.

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)

and

Oskar Kokoschka (1866-1980)
Ralph Ellison (1913-1994)
Robert Lowell (1917-1977)
Richard Wilbur (1921)