Sunday, May 31, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Louise Farrenc (1804-1875)
Billy Mayerl (1902-1959)
Alfred Deller (1912-1979)
Akira Ifukube (1914-2006)
Shirley Verrett (1931)
Peter Yarrow (1938)
Bruce Adolphe (1955)
Marty Ehrlich (1955)

and

Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853)
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bad cinema, original score make for a great evening with 'Plan 9 From Outer Space'



One might be forgiven for getting the feeling that the hottest show in town Friday night was taking place at the Hollywood Theatre. After all, the line still stretched to the end of the block just five minutes before showtime, a throng of latecomers hoping against hope for a ticket to...Ed Wood's 1959 film Plan 9 From Outer Space?

That's correct, the famed Edward D. Wood, Jr., the cross-dressing actor/director/writer/producer who parachuted into the battle of Tarawa wearing a bra and panties, the man later responsible for such Hollywood "classics" as Glen or Glenda? (a sensationalist picture about the world's first gender reassignment surgery), Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls and of course Plan 9.

What made this showing so special wasn't, in fact, the film itself, although the camp value alone makes it worth seeing. What drew such a crowd to this work (by a director who was famously awarded film critic Michael Medved's Golden Turkey Award as the 'Worst Director Ever') was the live soundtrack (string quartet and synthesizers) and the eleven actors who live-dubbed the script as the movie was playing. Filmusik, a group who "promotes live performance over prerecorded media through presenting new venues for musicians and composers" arranged the evening, with help from Classical Revolution Portland, live voice actors from the Willamette Radio Workshop, and composer and local electronica artist Sugar Shortwave, on hand to man synthesizers, keyboards and all manner of other electronic gizmos.

The idea of 'live film' is brilliant, and the audience was visibly excited, applauding loudly all the way through the Filmusik previews and credits. The composition began with an ambient, burbling spacescape which shortly gave way to the opening film credits. An extended segment for strings and synth followed this, eerie and muted (compositionally speaking) . When the voice actors began speaking, even when they were a full phrase or more behind the mouth moving on the screen, the audience went wild. For all that the movie itself is atrocious in so many respects, it was a great labor of love, a true magnum opus of crap, and the live soundtrack and the giant dose of camp imparted by the actors paid sincere homage to this.

The composition itself was very well-done; it's been said the the best way to tell a good film score is if you don't notice it. I don't know about that, but the point is well-taken: if the soundtrack is intrusive or distracts from the film in any way then the music, at least in its relationship to the film, is flawed. There were only a few moments when I noticed this Friday night, but it seemed the problem was more in the mix: whenever the strings were playing at the same time as the actors were speaking, the music was way too loud, sometimes to the point that the voices weren't even audible. In this sense the music did seem intrusive, but given the volume disparity between voices and music it was hard to tell if it was that dynamic or the composition itself that distracted.

The score cut back and dropped out entirely as was called for by the plot of the film. The most enjoyable part of the evening musically was a long, samba-like montage sequence toward the middle of the movie. It captured almost perfectly the over-the-top, self-important mise-en-scene being portrayed onscreen: vampires, aliens, ufos and government conspiracies require deft treatment musically, so hats off to Sugar Shortwave for her imaginative and insightful work. Also fun was the weird, warped, slowed-down big band jazz that served almost as a leitmotif for the domestic scenes in the movie. It imparted an odd, things-look-normal-but-something's-really-not-quite-right flavor that was unexpected and yet very well-suited.

If you are disappointed that you missed out on all the fun never fear: Filmusik is doing another presentation next week at the Hollywood Theatre: Missile to the Moon will be showing on June 3rd and 5th, with another live performance by CRPDX and the Willamette Radio Workshop as they play composer Scott J. Ordway's soundtrack. (Click here to see the trailer.) For sci-fi fans, classic cinephiles and music lovers looking for a new thrill, you won't find anything much more fun than this. I'll be back in those awful, ancient seats at the Hollywood Theatre next Friday night for some more.

President of Vancouver Symphony (WA) leaves post

It looks like there's a job opening at the Vancouver Symphony. Here's the press release that they just sent regarding the resignation of president Celia Gesting.

VANCOUVER SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ANNOUNCES CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra regrets to announce that Celia Gesting has left her position as president to pursue other opportunities. The VSO Board of Directors has appointed Scott Milam to be interim president while it searches for a permanent replacement for Ms. Gesting. The VSO does not anticipate any disruption in the schedule of events during the transition.

Ms. Gesting was the first president of The VSO and has served in that position since July 2007. During her tenure, audiences during the VSO's scheduled season concerts has increased by 15% and season ticket sales have increased by more than 31%. Also, The VSO has greatly expanded its efforts to reach out to the community by providing in-school concerts for over 1,500 students. It also sponsors a Young Artist Competition and Concert for performers 18 years or younger in the Vancouver/Portland metropolitan area.

Mr. Milam has served as a VSO Board member since 2007. He previously had served as a partner and owner of the Cascadia Women’s Clinic and Executive Director of The Salvation Army in Portland. His longest tenure was with NW Natural, for which he worked for twenty years in various positions.

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra was founded and first directed by Walter E. Cleland in 1978 and has been under the musical direction of Maestro Salvador Brotons since 1991. It provides high quality musical programming for the enjoyment of area residents. The VSO is a 70-member professional orchestra presenting outstanding guest artists and varied programs from October through May in a six-concert season.

For information on the 2009-2010 season schedule or other events, call (360) 735-7278 or visit the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra on-line at www.vancouversymphony.org. For information concerning this press release, please contact Renee Newman, Chairman of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, at (360) 759-3512.

Today's Birthdays

Benny Goodman (1909-1986)
George London (1920-1985)
Gustav Leonhardt (1928)
Pauline Oliveros (1932)
Zoltan Kocsis (1952)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Two concerts this Sunday afternoon

This Sunday afternoon, when it might be in the 80s, you can attend a concert of chamber music or an orchestra concert. Both programs contain new music.

Celebration Works: Upbeat/Downtown with the Alder Street Sextet

The Alder Street Sextet (Maria Choban, piano; Janet Bebb, flute; Ann van Bever, oboe; Nanita NcIlhattan, clarinet; Boyd Osgood, bassoon; David Crane, French horn) present an eclectic program of works for winds and piano, including: “Six Bagatells” for wind quintet by Gyorgy Ligeti, an homage to Bartok and Stravinsky; “Miniatures” for flute, oboe and piano by WIlliam Grant Still, inspired by folk songs from around the world; and the world premier of “Chehalem Sketches,” a work for piano and winds by George Fox University composition professor Brent Weaver. “Chehalem Sketches” was written specifically for the Alder Street Sextet and was inspired by the scenery and ethos of the Pacific Northwest.

Violinist Marya Kazmierski, violist Hunter Petty, cellist Betsy Goy and bassist Marc Bescond will join the wind players in two nonets: “Mouvements Perpetuels,” Op. 14 by Poulenc; and “Nonet” by Bohuslav Martinu.

Concert venue: First Presbyterian Church, 1200 S.W. Alder

Tickets are sold at the door. Adults: $10. Students/Seniors: $8. Free parking in underground garage at SW 12th and Morrison. For more information, please contact the church office during normal business hours (503) 228-7331.


PSU SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA - Encounter

Ken Selden, Music Director
Ben Thauland, Assistant Conductor

GOLIJOV ZZ's Dream (West Coast Premiere)
BUSER-MOLATORE Mardilaul (World Premiere)
SAINT-SAENS Cello Concerto No. 1 with Hamilton Cheifetz
MASCAGNI Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana
LISZT Hamlet

May 31 Sun 3PM at St Mary's Academy
1615 SW 5th Ave at Market

ADMISSION:
General $10
Seniors $8
Students $6
Free with PSU ID or St Mary's ID
PSU Box Office 503 725-3307

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Fanciulli (1853-1915)
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)
Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001)
Hellmuth Rilling (1933)
Michael Berkeley (1948)
Linda Esther Gray (1948)
Melissa Etheridge (1961)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

SOS for OBT!

Barry Johnson of the Oregonian reports that the Oregon Ballet Theatre is in desparate need of $750,000 by June 30th or it may have to shut down altogether. The monetary problems have been caused by a severe loss of donations and a loss of revenue due to the snowy weather during its performances of "The Nutcracker." To help rescue OBT, nationally known dancers from around the nation will come to Portland to perform in a gala on June 12. But as the article points out, that valiant effort may reduce the debt - even cut it in half - but it will take some concerned patrons to step up to the plate and help to save Oregon's flagship ballet company. Other creative ways for OBT to raise money may be through a special fund-raisers at Nike, Adidas, and other local companies that have an interest in artistic, athletic talent. See Charles Noble and Art Scatter for their thoughts on the situation. In the meantime, please help OBT survive!

Today's Birthdays

Thomas Arne (1710-1788)
T-Bone Walker (1910-1975)
Nicola Rescigno (1916-2008)
György Ligeti (1923-2006)
John Culshaw (1924-1980)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925)
Richard Van Allan (1935)
Maki Ishii (1936-2003)
Elena Souliotis (1943-2004)
Levon Chilingirian (1948)

and

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Few tickets left for Pink Martini/Oregon Symphony concert

If you are thinking of attending one of the Pink Martini/Oregon Symphony concerts (May 31- June 2) and don't have a ticket, you'd better act fast!

According to John Kroninger, OSO's director of customer services, here's the latest on what's available:

Sunday May 31st has 14 scattered singles available
Monday June 1st has 39 scattered singles available
Tuesday, June 2nd has around 250 tickets available - still a few good seats and pairs

12 pianists survive first round of Van Cliburn Competition

The first round of the Van Cliburn Competition is over and 12 pianists are left standing. This group includes Haochen Zhang, a blind pianist from China. None of the American competitors made it. I had been hoping that Stephen Beus, who was raised in Othello, Washington would clear the first set of hurdles, but alas.

Click here for a full report on the Van Cliburn Competition.

A group of piano enthusiasts, led by Portland Piano International's Harold Gray is leaving Portland today to hear the second round, which starts tomorrow.

Today's Birthdays

Jacques Halévy (1799-1862)
Claude Champagne (1891-1965)
Ernst Wallfisch (1920-1979)
Thea Musgrave (1928)
Donald Keats (1929)
Elizabeth Harwood (1938-1990)
James Wood (1953)

and

Wild Bill Hickok (1837-1876)
Isadora Duncan (1877-1927)
Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
Rachel Carson (1907-1964)
John Cheever (1912-1982)
John Barth (1930)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

James DePreist to conduct the Seattle Symphony this weekend

James DePreist will conduct the Seattle Symphony this weekend (May 29-31) at Benaroya Hall. The program features Smetana's Overture to "The Bartered Bride," a world premiere of David Stock's Cello Concerto, and Rachmaninov's "Symphonic Dances." Joshua Roman, the Seattle Symphony's former principal cellist, will be the soloist for Stock's Cello Concert.

DePriest, as most of you know, was the artistic director of the Oregon Symphony from 1980 to 2003. He is currently the permanent conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and serves as director of conducting and orchestral studies at The Juilliard School.

Portland Piano Internaional searches for new executive director

There aren't many job opportunities in the arts these days, but Portland Piano Internaitonal has just posted its job description for its executive director position.

Today's Birthdays

Victor Herbert (1859-1924)
Al Jolson (1886-1950)
Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962)
Vlado Perlemuter (1904-2002)
Peggy Lee (1920-2002)
Joseph Horovitz (1926)
Teresa Stratas (1938)
William Bolcom (1938)
Howard Goodall (1958)
Armando Bayolo (1973)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Today Birthday's

Thomas "Blind Tom" Bethune (1849 - 1908)
Miles Davis (1926-1991)
Beverly Sills (1929-2007)
Franco Bonisolli (1937-2003)

and

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)
Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

New updates to the Llewellyn-Twitter-Operaplot-ticket story

Stephen Llewellyn, aka Operaman, has updated his last posting with new information. It looks like Danielle de Niese may be visiting Priscilla Barrow's school and that Barrow may be going to the Met to see de Niese in "The Marriage of Figaro." Then there's also the matter of a dinner for the Barrows with Placido Domingo!

According to Llewellyn, more good things are still to come. Stayed tuned to the further adventures of Operaman!

Today's Birthdays

Paul Paray (1886-1979)
Dame Joan Hammond (1912-1986)
Maurice André (1933)
Bob Dylan (1941)
Fiona Kimm (1952)
Paul McCreesh (1960)

and

William Trevor (1928)
Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Preview of Vancouver Symphony (WA) concert

My preview of this weekend's Vancouver Symphony concert, which features a real Catalonian Cobla ensemble appears appeared in The Columbian newspaper here.

Today's Birthdays

Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986)
Artie Shaw (1910-2004)
Jean Françaix (1912-1997)
Alicia de Larrocha (1923)
Robert Moog (1934-2005)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tienanman Remembered concert - 20 years

Twenty years have passed since the Tienanman Square Massacre. Portland-based composer Jack Gabel was living in Japan when that tragic event occurred and composed a piece entitled "In the Land of Wu" to an evocative poem of Li Po about his longing for home and family. Also on teh program is the world premiere of Gabel's "Farewell to Wang Wei," which he recently composed for the Portland Vocal Consort, especially to mark this 20th Anniversary of the Tienanmen Massacre.

Gabel's worksa plus the String Quartet No. 8 of Dimitri Shostakovich and Derek Healey's "The Silvered Lute: A Wang Wei Song Album" will be performed on June 3, 2009 at 8:00 pm at the First Congregational UCC (1126 SW Park Avenue) in downtown Portland.

Performers are:
- Portland Vocal Consort
- The Dickson String Quartet
- Nancy Wood, soprano and Jeff Winslow, piano

For more information, click here.

Today's Birthdays

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Johann Schrammel (1850-1893)
Minna Keal (1909-1999)
Sun Ra (1914-1993)
George Tintner (1917-1999)
Humphrey Lyttleton (1921)
John Browning (1933-2003)
Peter Nero (1934)

and

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)
Peter Matthiessen (1927)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Benefit for Third Angle



Nel Centro, a new restaurant, is holding its grand opening as a benefit for the Third Angle New Music Ensemble. The wingding takes place on Wednesday, May 27 and includes a performance by Third Angle of Aaron Jay Kernis "The Four Seasons of Futuristic Cusine" with local actress Michele Mariana as the narrator.

Tickets are very reasonably priced at $15/person or $25/couple. RSVP to michelle@nelcentro.com.


FYI: David Machado, Executive Chef who opened Pazzo and South Park and owns Lauro Kitchen and Vindahlo, has opened Nel Centro in the renovated Hotel Modera in downtown Portland.

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Parry (1841-1903)
Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904-1943)
Gina Bachauer (1913-1976)
Heinz Holliger (1939)
Rosalind Plowright (1949)
Linda Bouchard (1957)

and

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989)
Robert Creeley (1926-2005)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Stephen Llewellyn is one cool dude!


Stephen Llewellyn, Portland Opera's official blogger and a lawyer by trade, recently won the #Operplot's twitter contest, claimed the top prize and then gave it to a music teacher he has never met. How cool is that!

Today's Washington Post has the entire scoop, plus quotes from Llewellyn and the Washington D.C. schoolteacher who will receive his prize.

In case you don't have time to read it, here's the outcome as quoted from the article:

"Priscilla Barrow, who has taught music in D.C. public schools for 22 years, learned Monday, out of the blue, that she will be going to the final performance of "Turandot" at the Washington National Opera on June 4 and, the next night, the company's annual Opera Ball at the German Embassy. In a ball gown provided by the opera's costume shop."

Hats off to Llewellyn!

Update: Llewellyn just posted his account of how this all happened. Click here.

Today's Birthdays

Hephzibah Menuhin (1920-1981)
George Hurst (1926)
Karl Anton Rikenbacher (1940)
Joe Cocker (1944)
Sue Knussen (1949-2003)
Jane Parker-Smith (1950)
Emma Johnson (1966)

and

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

CD Review: Daniel Taylor--The Voice of Bach


World-acclaimed Canadian countertenor (and here conductor) Daniel Taylor recently recorded a CD entitled The Voice of Bach with The Choir and Orchestra of the Theatre of Early Music on the Sony BMG label. It is an evocative release with intelligently chosen selections, a sort of ‘Highlights Of…’ compilation by and for those who love and can appreciate the wondrous variety to be found in the music of Bach’s sacred vocal works.


The expansiveness and warmth of Taylor’s voice is marvelous to hear. Accompanied by an almost breathlessly sensitive and expert group of players, his seemingly effortless range and bottomless palette shine while remaining a part of the integral whole. It is not just Taylor who comes to the fore though; included are instrumental interludes, such as three delightful introductory sinfonia from different cantatas, as well as a chorale and the lushly accompanied Motet No. 4, O Jesu Christ, mein’s Lebens Licht. Arias from the Passions and the Weihnachtsoratorium are included, and soprano Agnes Zsigovics’ sprightly coloration is a welcome addition as she joins for a pair of duets from the cantatas. These performers certainly know their business, a fact that is abundantly clear on this highly polished release.

Watch the Van Cliburn Competition on your computer


The Van Cliburn Competition (May 22 - June 7) will broadcast its entire competition to your computer screen free of charge. There's also a voting option that will allow you to vote after each round is completed. Click here to load the player. Even before the competition starts, you can watch the two gold medalists of the 2001 competition, Olga Kern and Stanislav Ioudenitch, perform during their final round with the Fort Worth Symphony under James Conlon.

I will be at the Van Cliburn Competiiton in a couple of weeks as part of a critics institue to cover the final round.

Today's Birthdays

Dame Nellie Melba (1859-1931)
Kerstin Thorborg (1896-1970)
Sandy Wilson (1924)
Pete Townshend (1945)
Stephen Varcoe (1949)

and

Nora Ephron (1941)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Portland Symphonic Choir sings spirited Rachmaninov Vespers


The Portland Symphonic Choir gave a sumptuous performance of Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Verpers” on Sunday afternoon (May 17). Standing in the apse of St. Mary’s Cathedral , the 120-vloice choir, under the direction of Steven Zopfi, created waves of warm, rich sounds with excellent tonal blend. Impressive especially were crescendos that reached massive proportions and the many passages in which the basses reached notes that came from the subterranean levels of the Russian soul.

Highlights also included the bell-like sounds from the sopranos and tenors in Movement 7 (“Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will among men”) and the exposed notes held by various sections of the choir in Movement 9 (“Blessed art thou, O Lord”). Mezzo-soprano Sherry Olson sounded terrific during her solo in Movement 2 (“Bless the Lord, O my soul”), but the vibrato in tenor soloist Scott Tuomi’s voice seemed way out of control.

The choir sang the entire 15-movement, hour-long, a cappella piece in Russian with a break between movements 8 and 9 for intermission. I think that the singers were starting to run out of steam in the last movement, because their sound started to lose some of the best colors. Yet before singing the final notes they gathered their artistic might and ended the concert gloriously. The audience responded enthusiastically with a standing ovation and sustained applause.

This concert repeats at St. Mary's Parish Church in Mt. Angel (575 E. College St.) on Sunday, May 31 at 4 pm.

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Caveat emptor: I have sung with this choir for many years, but I've taken my critic's oath to not let that experience affect my objectivity in this review.

Today's Birthday

Karl Goldmark (1830-1915)
Ezio Pinza (1892-1947)
Meredith Willson (1902-1984)
Sir Clifford Curzon (1907-1982)
Perry Como (1912-2001)
Boris Christoff (1914-1993)
Mikko Heiniö (1948)

and

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Walter Gropius (1883-1969)
Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stamina Awards


In recognition of performing music beyond the call of duty, this week's Stamina Awards go to violinist Ron Blessinger and violist Brian Quincey. Blessinger and Quincey played in the Third Angle concert on Friday and both musicians are playing the Mendelssohn and the Bruckner works as members of the Oregon Symphony.

Bell’s Mendelssohn shimmers/Oregon Symphony scales heights and depths of Bruckner’s 7th


Joshua Bell, one of the hottest names in classical music, maxed out the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and garnered a standing room only crowd at the Oregon Symphony’s concert on Saturday evening (May 16), but it was the orchestra’s playing of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 that soared and brought listeners to something in the neighborhood of heaven.

Bell, one of the few classical superstars in the US, opened the concert with an impeccable and seamless performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Strangely enough, though, Bell’s playing came across as gloss and polish but lacked depth and soul. He hit all the right notes with impeccable virtuosity, but it was flash and dash. The stunning effect didn’t’ deter the audience, which rewarded him with thunderous applause, which brought him back to the stage four times after which he played a real show stopper, a solo arrangement of an 1844 Henri Vieuxtemps’ novelty, “Souvenir d'Amérique," a series of "burlesque" variations “Yankee Doodle.” At the end of this bon mot Bell played the tune crystal clear at the highest point of the violin’s range. One slight mistake would crash the whole enterprise like… well… like the recent debacle on Wall Street. Bell, with a technical precision that borders on immaculate, didn’t slip a micro-millimeter and the entire effect was magical.

The second half of the program was devoted to one of Bruckner’s great symphonic works, and the Oregon Symphony delved into its intense emotional content with verve and veracity. Bruckner was one of the finest organists that the world has ever known, and his symphonic music treats the instrumentalists of the orchestra as if they were his keyboard, stops, pedals, and bellows. With Kalmar leading the way, the orchestra built tower upon tower of sound and the entire result was magnificent. The superimposed themes and the complex chromaticism were achingly beautiful. Also impressive was when the massive sonic thrust suddenly stopped and all that was left was a flute piping away (kudos to principal flutist David Buck). The four Wagner tubas were terrific also. Their mournful cry in the second movement was moving. The brass, woodwinds, and string sections all had moments of glory. All of the principals played extremely well. The orchestra made great music. If there are any tickets left for the remaining performances of this piece (I understand that the concert is Salem on Tuesday evening is completely sold out) then please get a ticket and hear a masterwork played at its best.

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As some of you may know, Bruckner was buried below his favorite organ at the St. Florian monastery church in St. Florian, Austria. I found this photo on the web:

Today's Birthdays

Erik Satie (1866-1925)
Sandor Vegh (1905-1997)
Birgit Nilsson (1918-2005)
Dennis Brain (1921-1957)
Taj Mahal (1942)
Paul Crossley (1944)
Brian Rayner Cook (1945)
Bill Bruford (1949)
Ivor Bolton (1958)

and

Alfonso Reyes (1889-1959)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Third Angle creates upbeat concert of music by Jennifer Higdon


It has got to be a little nerve-wracking to play the music of living composers when they are in the audience, but the stakes are even higher when a two-time Grammy winning composer is sitting in the front row, alert as a robin in spring time. Yet members of the Third Angle New Music Ensemble stepped up and played their hearts out last night (May 15) at the Old Church in a concert that primarily featured the music of Jennifer Higdon.

Things started off sort of like a rock concert when the audience (which almost filled the hall to capacity) enthusiastically greeted the performers as they walked onto the stage even though their appearance was somewhat tardy. In a short preparatory remark, Higdon told how the first number on the program, “Celestial Hymns” had been played at the Angel Fire, New Mexico, which is at a very high elevation, and that she had worried that the ensemble there might pass out because of the demands of the music. I got a sense of what she was referring to because clarinetist Todd Kuhns had to breathe life into a note that he sustained for a very long time right at the beginning of the piece. Supported by crisp playing from his comrades, violinist Ron Blessinger, violist Brian Quincey, cellist Hamilton Cheifetz, and pianist Susan Smith, Kuhns used superior breath control to get the most out of this evocative work, and together the ensemble took us to a higher plain that was soothing and satisfying.

The second piece, “Rhyme,” was written by one of Higdon’s students, Zhou Tian, for solo cello. The music sounded and looked extremely challenging, but, fortunately, Cheifetz conquered its virtuosic demands with élan. Cheifetz’s ability to play two notes at and pluck another at the same time was a delight to the ears and eyes. And in the third movement, he had to pizzicato like a madman running down the street blindfolded. The wild glissando that ended the piece wrapped it all up with a stunning statement. Still, I wonder what kind of rhyme the composer was thinking of… maybe one that got away.

The first half of the program closed with Blessinger and Smith performing Higdon’s “String Poetic.” This five moment work took us through five arresting moods. I liked the “Jagged Climb” and the “Climb Jagged” the most. Blessinger and Smith performed these them with a rhythmic intensity that electrified the atmosphere and left the audience in a buzz.

After intermission, Kuhns and Smith played “Four Autumn Landscapes” by Chirs Rogerson, who is one of Higdon’s students and was in attendance. Rogerson’s piece depicted stunningly clear pictures of “A Cold Clear Dawn,” “Maple Creek,” “Scattered Leaves,” and “December Woods.” The music sounded neo-romantic and wistful at times, and Kuhns and Smith performed it all exquisitely.

The next work on the program was Daniel Kellogg’s “Momentum,” for solo piano. Smith tackled the virtosic rigor of this piece with vigor. Yet its music is very complex and left me wanting to hear it again so that I can get a better grasp of it.

As a grand finale, fluist GeorgeAnne Ries and percussionist Gordon Rencher joined Kuhns, Blessinger, Cheifetz and Smith to deliver a rousing performance of Higdon’s “Zaka.” I loved the joy of this music and the energy that the ensemble gave it. Its pulsating rhythms, wild sounds, and feistiness gave it a fun factor that put smiles on everyone’s faces. It was great to watch Blessinger and Cheifetz tap their instruments with crochet hooks, Smith reach inside the piano to strum it with a guitar pick, Kuhns remove the mouthpiece of his clarinet and thump his hand on barrel end, Ries overblow her flute, and Rencher dance back and forth between various percussion instruments. The rambunctious sounds of this piece caused listeners to respond with resounding applause and a standing ovation.

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For photos of the concert, check out paparazzo Charles Noble’s blog here.

Today's Birthdays

Richard Tauber (1891-1948)
Ivan Vishnegradsy (1893-1979)
Jan Kiepura (1902-1966)
Woody Herman (1913-1987)
Liberace (1919-1987)
Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000)
Betty Carter (1930-1998)
Donald Martino (1931-2005)
Robert Fripp (1946)
Monica Huggett (1953)
Andrew Litton (1959)

and

Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866)
Louis "Studs" Terkel (1912-2008)
Adrienne Rich (1929)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Portland Youth Philharmonic Plays final concert of the season

David Hattner will lead the Portland Youth Philharmonic in its graduation concert this Sunday, May 17th at 4pm at Lewis & Clark College - Evans Auditorium. This concert consists of highlights from the 2008-2009 season. And the concert is free!

Here's the program:

Rossini: "Passo a Sei"
Verdi: Overture to "Nabucco"
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 “Finale”
Beethoven: Overture to "Fidelio"
Grieg: Peer Gynt “Arabian Dance”
Dvorak: Symphony No. 6 “Scherzo”
Anderson: "Plink, Plank, Plunk"
New music - Brahms: "Academic Festival Overture"

Today's Birthdays

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Michael William Balfe (1808-1870)
Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986)
Arthur Berger (1912-2003)
John Lanchbery (1923-2003)
Ted Perry (1931-2003)
Brian Eno (1948)

and

Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931)
Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980)
Peter Shaffer (1926)
Jasper Johns (1930)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Portland Symphonic Choir to perform Rachmaninov's "Vespers"



The Portland Symphonic Choir will sing Rachmaninov’s wonderful "Vespers" under the direciton of Steven Zopfi this weekend at St. Marys Cathedral and at the end of the month at St. Mary's Parish in Mount Angel. The "Vespers" contains 70 minutes of continuous unaccompanied singing—in Russian—will test the mettle of any choir.

Written in 1915, Rachmaninov's "Vespers" has been praised as "the greatest musical achievement of the Russian Orthodox Church;" and it certainly held a special place in Rachmaninov’s heart, as he asked for the fifth movement to be sung at his funeral. It also marks the end of an era, in that the Revolution of 1917 led to a ban on all religious music which caused Rachmaninov to flee Russia with his family, never to return.

St. Mary's Cathedral, NW 18th and Davis in Portland
Sat. May 16 - 7:30 pm or Sun. May 17 - 2:30 pm

Mt. Angel, Oregon - St. Mary's Parish Church, 575 E. College St.
Sun. May 31, 4 pm

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PS: I won't be singing in this concert, but fellow Northwest Reverb blogger Lorin Wilkerson will.

Today's Birthdays

Otto Klemperer (1885-1973)
Sidney Bechet (1897-1959)
Lou Harrison (1917-2003)
Aloys Kontarsky (1931)
Peter Skellern (1947)
Maria de La Pau (1950)
Helen Field (1951)
David Byrne (1952)

and

Mary Morris (1947)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jennifer Higdon chats about life as a composer


The Third Angle New Music Ensemble will play several works by Jennifer Higdon in its upcoming concert this Friday at 7:30 pm at the Old Church. Higdon’s music has been much in demand by vocal and instrumental ensembles, and she has garnered a couple of Grammys as well. I talked with Higdon last week about her life and work.

You have done many residencies over the past few years; so where do you call home?

Higdon: I’ve lived in Philadelphia for the past 22 years; so I think of it as my home base. This is the first year in a while that I haven’t been in residence with an orchestra. I couldn’t squeeze it into my schedule.

Are you getting ready to travel anywhere besides Portland?

Higdon: Portland is part of a one month trip for me. First I’m going to Washington DC for a premiere with the President’s Marine Band, then to Minnesota for a violin concerto with chorus and orchestra, then to the Royal Liverpool for my other violin concerto – a recording with Hilary Hahn, then to Baltimore where Hahn will play that violin concerto. It’s busy. I won’t be back home until the 8th of June. I usually try to squeeze in some composing time, but this trip is going to be busy. Recording sessions, in particular, take a lot of time. But for the live performances, I do the pre-concert talks and meet with donors. But when I’m in Portland, I’m going to Powell’s bookstore. It would be terrible to visit Portland and not go to Powell’s.

Have you been to Portland before?

Higdon: Yes, many times. My dad lives in Portland. And my professional start was with the Oregon Symphony under James DePreist – around 1995. Actually, I hold them responsible for my career! They were the first orchestra to premiere on of my pieces. And that premiere led to a major commission from the Philadelphia Orchestra and that piece was premiered in front of all of the orchestra managers who attended the American League of Orchestras conference.

What gets you into the composing mood? Do you have four cups of strong coffee?

Higdon: I try to write every day from 4 to 6 hours. So writing music is a full-time job for me. But I have to have some Diet Coke before I start.

Deadlines are a real help, too. Deadlines create panic, which is an awe-inspiring thing.

Do you become inspired by the environment around you – in the city or in the country – or do you wake up with lots of musical ideas?

Higdon: Actually, both of those things. I’ve set some of my pieces at walking tempo, because of all of the walking around I’ve done in Philadelphia. But when I wake up in the morning, I’m usually ready to roll. I’m a morning person and like to compose in the morning. But I used to be a night person – when I was teaching.

I just picked up a copy of a recording called "Summer Shimmers" at Classical Millennium so that I can hear your music.

Higdon: Great! When I come to Portland, I always go to Classical Millennium . I love Classical Millennium. It’s one of the few real record stores left in the US.

I was listening to your piece “Zaka,” which starts out one way and then changes mood near the middle of the piece.

Higdon: Yes, sometimes my pieces do contain shift. I like doing that. I wrote the slow section of “Zaka” while in a hotel room. I can still remember the view out the window.

Do you use software for your compositions?

Higdon: Yes, I use Finale. I’ve been using it so long that I’ve never switched. I still start each composition by hand. What happens is that once I get going the ideas come so fast that I have to move to the computer, because it takes me so long to get write it all out by hand.

"String Poetic" has a lot of nature images – which are the names of the movements. I like to think of the Jagged Climb and Climb Jagged movements as bionic rock climbing. I have a lot of vivid imagery. I think that it was because I grew up around the visual arts. My dad is a fine artist.

Is this the first time that you’ve worked with Third Angle?

Higdon: Yes, but I think that they’ve done my music before. I think that they’ve done “Celestial Hymns” a few years ago.

What’s coming up for you in the future?

Higdon: I’ve got to write an opera for San Francisco opera. My librettist and I are working on finding a story right now. So I don’t have anything to tell you. We are trying to find out what story would work well for their main stage. It’s scheduled for the fall of 2013. The librettist is Gene Scheer, who has done a few opera libretti.

Do you try every instrument in an orchestra before writing for them?

Higdon: If there’s an instrument that I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll go in to Curtis, here in Philadelphia, pop in to a practice room and ask a player to if they can do this on your instrument or is there a better way. I learn a lot by studying other people’s scores and listening, but I also take a lot of chances and a lot of guesses. I love to check out the sounds that people can make. So a healthy curiosity is helpful.

What got you to be a composer in the first place?

Higdon: My flute teacher, during a flute performance master class, wanted me to write something. I didn’t know where to start. So my teacher showed me a six-tone row. So my first piece was a six-tone row piece for flute and piano. I loved writing music so much that I kept on doing it despite finishing a degree in flute performance. It was the joy of creativity. There’s something about creating something that’s extremely satisfying.

What about your second piece?

Higdon: That was a flute choir piece. We had a big flute ensemble at the university; so I wrote a piece that they played, and I conducted it. That was an amazing experience. I think that I’ve lost the first piece I wrote, but the second piece, for flute choir, gets played all the time.

We are looking forward to your concert out here.

Higdon: Thanks! See you soon!

PS: Congratulations to Third Angle for getting grant money and donations. See the Third Angle blog for details.

Today's Birthdays

Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)
Constantin Silverstri (1913-1969)
Gareth Morris (1920)
Jane Glover (1949)
Stevie Wonder (1950)
David Hill (1957)
Tasmin Little (1965)

and

Bruce Chatwin (1940–1989)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tenor Brendan Tuohy to give vocal recital


Tenor Brendan Tuohy will sing works by Mozart, Franz, Schubert, Dvořák, Hugo Wolf and Ralph Vaughan Williams this evening at Sherman Clay Pianos (131 NW 13th Ave.) at 7 pm. Tuohy is a member of the Portland Opera Studio program and he will be accompanied by Robert Ainsley, who is the Portland Opera chorus master and assistant conductor. The concert is free but donations are accepted.

Tuohy is one of the finest young tenors I have ever heard in Portland, and he will be moving to Houston to sing in the young artists program at Houston Grand Opera. That's where local diva Angela Niederloh also studied and got to sing with Renée Fleming. So, we will keep an eye on Tuohy's career and wish him the best of luck!

Outstanding piano recital by Arnaldo Cohen brings Portland Piano International series to a close


Displaying his technical prowess and interpretive skills to the utmost, Arnaldo Cohen delivered a superb piano recital on Monday evening (May 11) at the Newmark Theatre. In a program that consisted of demanding works by Beethoven, Schumann, and Liszt, Cohen’s depth and understanding allowed the musical emotion of each piece to come alive. This concert was the last one in Portland Piano International’s series for this season, and it was a harbinger of great things to come when Cohen returns to Portland next year to play all of the Beethoven piano concertos with the Oregon Symphony.

The concert opened with Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor, Opus 13 (“Pathétique”), which sounded exceptionally well-balanced in Cohen’s hands. Cohen never overstated the many themes in this piece, such as the noble one in the slow second movement, to achieve an artificial effect. Instead, his interpretation gave the music a natural and genuine feel.

But Cohen took the audience to higher level with an absolutely incredible performance of Beethoven’s Sonata in C Major, Opus 53 (“Waldstein”). It was as if dark clouds lifted and a bright, sunny clarity emerged – all without the aid of Aspirin, Tylenol, or Ibuprofen. I would normally hesitate to say that a piano performance can be a life-enhancing event, but that’s what Cohen achieved with the "Waldstein."

At intermission, I could’ve gone home and been totally happy about this concert, but, of course, I wanted to hear what Cohen would do in the second half. His played the first piece, Schumann’s “Arabesque” in C Major, Opus 18, impeccably well, and its light atmosphere provided a nice contrast to the heavy-duty lifting that is needed for Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, one of the biggest and most difficult pieces in the piano solo repertoire. Cohen conquered this knuckle-crunching piece with a great sense of trajectory – from its disturbing grumble at the beginning to the single, lonely bass note at the end. But in the midst of the big chords and thrilling arpeggios, there were passages that spoke of tenderness and compassion. It all added up to a wonderful journey, and Cohen received a standing ovation that was long and heartfelt.

Today's Birthdays

Giovanni Viotti (1744-1824)
Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989)
Burt Bacharach (1928)
Dalmacio Gonzalez (1945)
Doris Soffel (1948)

and

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Karina Gauvin sings Barber and Mahler with Oregon Symphony


The Oregon Symphony under the direction of Carlos Kalmar continues to make some amazing music. On Saturday evening (May 9) the ensemble created a seamless transition from the placid atmosphere of Eric Satie’s “Gymnopédies” through the idyllic soundscape of Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” and ending in the jumbletron of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. The Barber and Mahler piece also featured Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin, who last sang with the orchestra in 2006 in Mozart’s Requiem.

Gauvin possesses a soprano voice that is absolutely golden, but in a venue like the Schnitz, she needed to project with a bit more volume for Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” I know that the mood of this piece speaks to lazy days with family and friends in a comfy neighborhood, and I loved how Gauvin’s silky smooth voice matched the tone of the orchestra, but it needed to be a tad louder. Without supertitles, I had to resort to reading the text (a poem by James Agee) in my program. Yet the text is in pretty small print and the house lights were down. I still managed to read the text and follow along, but it wasn’t fun. Either the text should be larger or the house lights should be left up. Or Gauvin should sing a little louder. Then we could all relax into the Barber’s Knoxville.

The combination of Gauvin and the orchestra went a lot better in Mahler’s 4th Symphony, and that might be due to the fact that Mahler can be loud and Gauvin upped her volume accordingly. She only had to sing the fourth movement in which Mahler’s music describes a child’s view of heaven. But amidst the feathery music, there’s plenty of wild stuff that erupts periodically because the angels are cooking, feasting, and having a great party.

The orchestra glowed throughout the Mahler. During the first movement I had a feeling that Mahler was walking down a side street or an alley in Vienna and observing how other people lived. Over the next two movements the music moves to an interior dialogue and in the fourth, Mahler muses about the afterlife. Well, all of this speculation may be wrongheaded, but it shows how stimulating Mahler’s music is. Kalmar led the orchestra through a dizzying amount of changes in tempo and volume. It seemed that the orchestra watched him like a hawk, and I even noticed that some orchestra members were enjoying their musical trip immensely.

Principal trumpeter Jeffrey Work, principal oboist Martin Hebert, concertmaster Jun Iwasaki (on two violins tune differently), the bassoons and the clarinet section deserve kudos for outstanding contributions. I also loved the horn, oboe, and English horn trio in the third movement as well as the pillowy pizzicato passages from the cellos and basses and the rumble from the contrabassoon whenever it was called into action.

The concert ended on a restful, sublime note, which linked nicely back to the Satie piece at the very beginning. The orchestra played “Gymnopédies” with absolute clarity and no vibrato, evoking the balletic movement of athletes at a festival in ancient Sparta, which was the image that inspired Satie.

All is well, in ancient Greece, Knoxville, and in heaven.

Today's Birthdays

Alma Gluck (1884-1938)
Irving Berlin (1888-1939)
William Grant Still (1895-1978)
Ross Pople (1945)
Judith Weir (1954)
Cecile Licad (1961)

and

Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Portland Opera's Rigoletto heightens mellodrama

Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

The combo of Mark Rucker and Sarah Coburn added an extra layer of emotion that made the Portland Opera production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” a dynamic and satisfying experience on opening night (Friday, May 8). Rucker, in the title role as the hunch-backed jester, blustered, cried, and raged magnificently, and Colburn completely embodied his love-smitten, totally sincere daughter, Gilda.

Coburn’s beautiful soprano tone blended purity, conviction, vulnerability, and energy in intoxicating amounts. Her “Caro nome” (“Sweet name”) aria at the end of the first act was riveting. Another highlight came at the very end of the opera when the ethereal father/daughter duet “Ah, ch’io taccia! (“Let me be silent!”) took the audience to new heights before plunging it into darkness with the death of Gilda in the arms of a utterly devastated Rigoletto.

In complete contrast, the opening Ducal-court-gone-wild scene was replete with courtiers worthy of a frat house. Encouraging the drinking, laughter, and lascivious behavior, Richard Troxell displayed gestures and bearing that easily captured the hedonistic arrogance of the Duke of Mantua. Yet his voice sounded a little tight and needed more expansiveness in order to give his character more of a thrill factor.

Peter Volpe created a striking Sparafucile, the hit man who offered to fulfill Rigoletto’s desire for vengeance on the Duke but ended up murdering Gilda instead. Vople has a resonant bass and after describing his services hit a low F that lingered well after he exited the stage. Jossie Pérez made an alluring Maddalena, Sparafucile’s sister and his accomplice. Of particular note was the way that Pérez convincingly changed from initial defiance to completely caving in to the Duke’s good looks.

Keith Miller, as the wrongly condemned Count Monterone, leveled a curse on Rigoletto with such force that it would’ve stripped the chrome off of a ’57 Chevy. Speaking of curses, in ancient times it was believed that a curse carried the spirit of a human being. Therefore, if the curse was directed at you then it was best if you could avoid it by falling to the ground or dodging it somehow. Even today, though we, at least from an objective, scientific perspective, think that a curse has no real bearing whatsoever, in our guts, we feel that strong words hit hard. If you have ever had anyone direct something like the words “you will amount to nothing” at you, then you know of the staying power of that language. And, so in this opera, the character of Rigoletto reminds us more than once that he has been stained.

Others in the cast who distinguished themselves in minor roles were Brendan Tuohy as Matteo Borsa, Sharin Apostolou as the Countess Ceprano, Jonathan Kimple as Count Ceprano, and Hannah S. Penna Giovanna.

Conductor George Manahan led the orchestral forces superbly. Flutists GeorgeAnne Ries and Rachel Anderson deserve high praise for their evocative playing. Another terrific point in the opera came when the orchestra and the singers (Troxell, Pérez, Rucker, and Colburn) delivered “Bella figlia dell’amore” (“Fairest daughter of love”) at full-throttle with urgency and passion.

Stage direction by Christopher Mattaliano gave the story focus and momentum. The costumes by Susan Memmott-Allred for Utah Symphony and opera were traditional.

The scenery, designed by Sarah J. Conly and J. Michael Deegan for The Atlanta Opera, set the action squarely in a stone-secure palace of the 1500s. With some adjustments the palace became the part of town where Rigoletto lived. Yet the final scene, which takes place at a rundown inn, has a wall that seemed to obstruct the view of audience members who were seated near the front and to the extreme left side.

“Rigoletto” has two more performances: May 14 and 16.

Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

Today's Birthdays

Max Steiner (1888-1971)
Dmitri Tiokin (1894-1979)
Artie Shaw (1910-2004)
Richard Lewis (1914-1990)
Milton Babbit (1916)
Maxim Shostakovich (1938)
Lori Dobbins (1958)

and

Karl Barth (1886-1968)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)
Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005)
Nigel Douglas (1929)
Billy Joel (1949)
Michel Beroff (1950)
Linda Finnie (1952)
Anne Sofie von Otter (1955)
Alison Hagley (1961)

and

James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937)
Charles Simic (1938)
Joy Harjo (1951)

Review: John Paul's 'City Girl' Score wows at Oregon Sesquicentennial Film Festival

The James Ivory Theater at Marylhurst University was full to capacity Friday night, May 8, for a special presentation of the Oregon Sesquicentennial Film Festival. The film was famed director F.W. Murnau's 1930 silent opus City Girl, accompanied by a brand-new original score by composer John Paul, head of Marylhurst's music department. Paul directed clarinettist Barbara Heilmair Tanret, violinist Julie Coleman, violist Joël Belgique and cellist Justin Kagan.

The film tells the story of beautiful Kate, a tough, hard-working Chicagoan who works at a bustling lunch counter constantly patronized by a horde of leering, demanding goons, and Lem, a naive Minnesota farm boy who is sent to the city by his father with the all-important task of selling the family's wheat crop for that year. Subsequently they fall in love and get married, much to Lem's family's chagrin, and Kate follows Lem back to the wheatfields of Minnesota (actually filmed in 1928 outside Athena in Eastern Oregon) trying to gain acceptance from Lem's family and adjust to life on the farm.

Murnau originally wanted to call this film 'Our Daily Bread,' so in honor (it would seem) of the director's vision Paul entitled the prelude 'Give Us This Day.' The prelude and score for the title screen reminded one of Copland's rendering of Americana: stately and dignified, the music painted visions of the heartland with broad brushstrokes, harmonically uncluttered and straightforward, complementing rather than competing with Murnau's pastoral cinematography.

Paul's composition showed a wide range of textural variation throughout; having only four instrumentalists, he made maximum use of the many timbres available to these skilled players. There were light-hearted moments, such as the moto perpetuo theme depicting a train ride to the city. There were strange pizzicato motifs tossed about between the strings, bearing uncertain tonal relationships to the underlying texture; this represented the Farm Board, and young Lem's attempt to sell the wheat for the price his father demanded. There was true pathos in Paul's scoring of the family's benediction--we never hear the words of the prayer, but both the film and the score leave no doubt as to the dire consequences should Lem fail in his task.

Kate's workplace occupies a large part of the early film, and Paul used a spiky, mechanistic leitmotif driven by the clarinet (an instrument often used for Kate herself) to depict the hustle and bustle of the lunch counter. A menacing, sawing cello theme represented Lem's angry, glowering father, who is very, almost violently suspicious of his new daughter-in-law. Frightening, fortissimo chord sequences accompanied the confrontations between Lem's father and Kate, Lem and his father, and also heralded the arrival of a hailstorm that threatens to ruin the crop before it can be harvested; Paul used these moments judiciously, and therefore to a heightened emotional effect.

The mechanics of conducting this type of presentation seemed daunting. Paul was constantly looking between the screen, the score, and the players, and for the most part everything was synchronized amazingly well, given the difficult logistical nature of the undertaking. In the moments when things didn't quite align, Paul called out bar numbers and, aside from one or two instances, the players segued to the appropriate measure seamlessly. All of the musicians deserve high praise for the skill and subtlety of their delivery. It seemed as though everyone shared a similar vision, from an artistic and a technical standpoint, and great dexterity was required to pull this off.

Before the show Paul informed the audience that during the days before 'talkies,' a pianist or organist would often improvise and/or play various well-known classics or pop-tunes to fit the film. In homage to that, Paul mentioned in the program notes that Berg, Weill, Bartok and Copland (I also fancied (much to my delight)that I heard tiny snippets of Danny Elfmanesque harmonic progressions) were all inspirations for his composition.

The audience went wild afterward: foot-stomping, whistling, cheering, clapping and a hearty chorus of huzzahs greeted the composer after the lights came back on. All in all the entire project was a fascinating and worthwhile experience. Murnau's film was incredibly powerful, the actors (especially Mary Duncan as Kate) were intense, so Paul had his work cut out for him. To his credit, he embraced the melodrama of the film rather than using his composition to critique it: in no way did the 'soundtrack' betray self-aggrandizement on the part of the composer, but rather it showed a deference to Murnau's artistic vision.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bloggers at Portland Opera's Rigoletto

Here's a very short video that I made during intermission at Portland Opera's Rigoletto:

video

Today's Birthdays

Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869)
Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981)
Heather Harper (1930)
Carlo Cossutta (1932-2000)
Keith Jarrett (1945)
Felicity Lott (1947)

and

Edmund Wilson (1895-1972)
Gary Snyder (1930)
Thomas Pynchon (1937)
Roddy Doyle (1958)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Arts Advocacy

President Obama released his proposed funding for the NEA and other arts-related organizations today. The details are in this missive from the Americans for the Arts organization:

President Obama today released the final details of his FY 2010 budget request to Congress which includes the nation’s cultural agencies and programs, including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS), and the Department of Education’s Arts in Education program. Write your members of Congress and tell them to support funding for these cultural agencies.

As Americans for the Arts President & CEO Robert Lynch noted in a press statement, "The president's proposed funding of $161 million would take the NEA to its highest funding level in 15 years and will help continue the upward trend of budgetary growth that Congress established several years ago. In contrast to the previous administration, this year's budget includes funding for the Arts in Education program at the Department of Education at $38.16 million. We hope that Congress will build on these initial budget requests to secure even higher funding levels to address the needs of the arts and arts education community."

On Arts Advocacy Day, artists Wynton Marsalis, Linda Ronstadt and Josh Groban joined Americans for the Arts and over 550 arts advocates from around the country to testify on Capitol Hill and to meet with congressional leaders to request $200 million for the NEA and $53 million for arts education. These requests are just some of the legislative priorities for the nonprofit arts community in 2009.

A breakdown of the President’s budget request is as follows:

Today's Birthdays

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Elisabeth Soderstrom (1927)
Philip Land (1950)
Robert Spano (1961)

and

Robert Browning (1812-1889)
Archibald MacLeish (1892-1962)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cappella Romana to sing Kyr piece at UNESCO conference

This coming Sunday (May 8), Cappella Romana will perform Robert Kyr's "A Time for Life" at the UNESCO conference, which is being held in Eugene. The concert starts at 7 pm and the cost is only $10 ($8 for students). For more information about the conference, including a schedule of events (many of which are free of charge) click here. I heard Cappella Romana perform this piece last year and can recommend it highly.

Today's Birthdays

Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973)
Godfrey Ridout (1918-1984)
Murry Sidlin (1940)
Ghena Dimitrova (1941-2005)

and

Robert Peary (1856-1920)
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Randall Jarrell (1914-1965)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Opera novices will blog about Rigoletto


This Friday at Portland Opera's "Rigoletto," six bloggers will record their thoughts about Verdi's famous melodrama. They have been invited by Portland Opera to participate in this first ever Blogger Night @ The Opera. Six local bloggers will receive a back stage tour, attend the opening night performance of "Rigoletto," and then blog about their experience from the Keller Auditorium lobby before, during intermission and after the show. (Vancouver Opera recently tried this idea and, from the online postings, it looked like a successful endevor.)

Each blogger’s individual posts will appear on their own websites
simultaneously. The bloggers are:

- Julie Grauert, host of KPTV's Good Day Oregon (http://www.kptv.com/newsteam/14246159/detail.html)
- Mike Russell of CulturePulp (culturepulp.typepad.com)
- Dieselboi of OurPDXNetwork (ourpdx.com)
- Brandon Hartley of another portland blog (anotherportlandblog.com)
- Geoff Kleinman of On Portland (onpdx.com)
- Someone from BikePortland.org - which already has a great posting about oprea singers on bicycles

The links to each blog will also be available at the Portland Opera website (portlandopera.org).

Today's Birthdays

Hans Pfizner (1869-1947)
Maria Caniglia (1905-1979)
Kurt Böhme (1908-1989)
Charles Rosen (1927)
Mark Ermler (1932)
Tammy Wynette (1942-1998)

and

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Nellie Bly (1864-1922)
James Beard (1903-1985)
Kaye Gibbons (1960)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Seattle Opera delights with well-balanced Figaro

Rozarii Lynch photo

A fine sense of teamwork helped to create a funny and rewarding performance of Mozart's “The Marriage of Figaro” at Seattle Opera on opening night (Saturday, May 2) at McCaw Hall. The high-spirited and complex plot of this comedy creates many opportunities for something to go awry, yet the principals collaborated with expert timing to make all of the shenanigans work without a hitch and the audience loved every minute of it.

In the role of Figaro, Oren Gradus combined a supple and resonant baritone with outstanding acting to enhance the story with warmth, good humor, and occasional furry (like when he suspects his fiancé of a dalliance with the Count). Christine Brandes created a sensational Susanna, displaying a beautiful soprano tone and having fun throughout the entire opera. The scene in which she uses her feminine wiles to arouse the Count was just one of many that captured the attention of the audience as well.

As Count Almaviva, Mariusz Kwiecien swaggered with virility. And with the penitent plea at the end of the story, when he asks for forgiveness from his wife, Kwiecien gave the Count some genuineness that effectively countered the impression that he made as sensuous, worldly, and utterly vain nobleman. Twyla Robinson’s Countess Almaviva was dignified and aptly conveyed the suffering of a wife who wanted the affections of her husband.

Daniela Sindram embodied the fidgety and amorous Cherubino with aplomb. She conveyed love-struck teenager to such a degree that she could, while seated, make her knee nervously bob up and down and sing at the same time. Sindram’s “Voi che sapete che cosa è amor” (“You who know what love is”) was one of the many highlights of the evening.

The minor roles were excellent as well. Joyce Castle’s elderly Marcellina and Arthur Woodley’s Dr. Bartolo blustered about with excellent timing Ted Schmitz played music master Don Basilio and a wheelchair-ridden notary Don Curzio with a gleeful smirk. Barry Johnson got lots of laughs as the alcoholic gardener Antonio, and Leena Chopra created a delightfully lithe Barbarina.

Conductor Dean Williamson and orchestra had many fine moments, starting with the overture which chirped happily. Williamson also played the harpsichord with a flourish that added sparkle to this production. Yet all was not completely flawless. A few notes were missed, and the singers got out of sync with the conductor, albeit briefly.

Clear stage directions by Peter Kazaras kept the plot from becoming confusing. The audience always knew which letter was being discussed, who was serenading whom, and who could hear but could not see what was happening.

Jonathan Dean deserves praise for his succinct English supertitles, but sometimes they seemed too minimalist. There was a sense that too much text was flying without translation. Even a couple of “Oh Heavens” for “O cielo” would’ve been nice.

The scenery, constructed by the Banff Centre, evoked the interior of a mansion in the French style of the late 18th century. The pastel greens and nudes on the interior walls suggested nature and aptly pointed toward the final scene in the garden where all of the humorous assignations took place. Deborah Trout’s costumes, executed by Seattle Opera, were traditional yet colorful. Lighting designer Connie Yun accented the production superbly.

Rozarii Lynch photo

Today's Birthday

Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731)
Mátyás Seiber (1905-1960)
Tatiana Nikolayeva (1924-1993)
Roberta Peters (1930)
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (1931)
Marisa Robles (1937)
Enrique Batiz (1942)

and

Horace Mann (1796-1859)
Frederick Church (1826-1900)
David Guterson (1956)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cappella Romana sings “Byzantium in Rome”

By guest reviewer Aaron Berenbach

The performance of Cappella Romana’s “Byzantium in Rome” was an intriguing glimpse into the history of sacred music at a point where civilizations from the Greek East and Latin West were meeting and combining. The cultural and political context of the Greek peninsula reflected the competing influences of not only east and west, but also of the encroaching Arab influence spreading its way through that portion of the world. Celebrating the millennial anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of Grottaferrata, Friday’s concert emphasized the differing aspects of that monastery’s musical heritage as well as its founder, St. Neilos the New.

Led by scholar, performer, and artistic director, Dr. Alexander Lingas, Cappella Romana presented the audience with the medieval forbears of the modern chant repertory heard today in Greek Orthodox churches. An act of both artistry and interpretation, the performance as a whole can be considered a great success.

In the warm confines of St. Mary’s cathedral, with the evening light diffusing through the stain glass windows, the haunting melodies and harmonies of Cappella Romana’s nine current performers filled the air with a rich, enveloping sound, prompting a mood both contemplative and reverent. As the first few pieces ended, the audience was reluctant to even applaud, afraid to break the spell woven by a combination of deep, resonant drone sounds overlaid with sweeping melismas.

Anyone familiar with the sacred musics of the religions that sprang from the Mediterranean region would have recognized elements in Friday night’s performance. This music came from the synthesis between the Palestinian Christian cycle of prayer and that of Constantinople. (FYI: Both were in place before Islam even existed - so there was no Islamic influence.) The low, slowly changing notes of the bass singers combined beautifully with the cantillations of the melody putting this reviewer in mind of both the call to prayer heard from Islamic Mosques as well as the voice of the Cantor at a Jewish synagogue. A concert such as this does much to remind one of the shared cultural and musical history that ties together much of the modern world.

The performers themselves seemed personally connected to the music, often closing their eyes and smiling to relish a particularly pleasing bit of harmony. At times they seemed to almost forget themselves as the nine voices wove together into one large sound, filling the cathedral with the spiritual music of another age. The audience too was caught in the wash of resonance, forgetting momentarily the hot, still air and the crowded presence of the other attendees. It seemed as if the first half of the concert passed in a moment, leaving a hushed silence in it’s wake, which quickly gave way to appreciative applause. The second half, featuring the music of the feast of the Pentecost, passed equally quickly, capturing the same joyful yet deliberative character.

The history of sacred music is a long tale full of interesting stories and asides. Presented in such an alluring and well-performed manner, the snippet of history that is offered for consideration by “Byzantium in Rome” is well worth exploration. Looking back to a time where monks devoted their entire lives to study and worship, much beauty can be found in the fruits of their labor. Regardless of religious intent, the effort to express the sacred through the human voice is effectively and tastefully communicated through the works of Cappella Romana.

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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.

Today's Birthdays

Richard D'Oyly Carte (1844-1901)
Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Bing Crosby (1903-1977)
Sir William Glock (1908-2000)
Léopold Simoneau (1916-2006)
Pete Seeger (1919)
Jonathan Harvey (1939)

and

Niccol Machiavelli (1469-1527)
May Sarton (1912-1995)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)
Alan Rawstorned (1905-1971)
Philippe Herreweghe (1947)
Valery Gergiev (1953)

and

Jerome K Jerome (1859-1927)

McDuffie-Dutton-Kirshbaum Trio play Chamber Music Northwest

Thursday night, Chamber Music Northwest featured the McDuffie-Dutton-Kirshbaum Trio in the last CMNW concert before the summer festival. Kaul Auditorium at Reed College was packed despite competition from the Blazers playoff game versus Houston, a fact which prompted wry jokes from the stage throughout the evening.

In a program featuring duos and trios by Beethoven, Schubert and Ravel, violinist Robert McDuffie, violist Lawrence Dutton, and cellist Ralph Kirshbaum demonstrated individual virtuosity and near-perfect synchronicity as an ensemble. The only performer to play in all four of the evening's offerings, Kirshbaum especially impressed; he is without a doubt one of the most gifted cellists I have ever heard.

The unfinished Triosatz in B-Flat Major (D. 471) by Schubert opened the performance. The sighing, murmuring cello, the viola see-sawing a soft pedal point staccato and the singing of the violin seemed to ebb and flow organically, like a serenade to the glorious evening sunshine fading behind the green outside. It was particularly delightful--Schubert at his high-classical best. It felt almost cruel when the music suddenly softened and died without warning.

Up next was the Ravel Sonata for Violin and Cello (1920-22.) To call Ravel’s weltering sonic dreamscape ‘difficult’ would be a gross understatement. Musicologist Bob Kingston related an anecdote in which Helene Jourdan-Morhange, the violinist who premiered the work, spoke about the frustrations of practicing it in front of the composer. “It must be fun to write such difficult stuff,” she said to Ravel, “but no one’s going to play it but virtuosi.” “Good,” he replied, “at least I won’t be assassinated by amateurs.”

Playing this piece at the level it demands required the utmost concentration and artistry from even these top-caliber performers. McDuffie and Kirshbaum had everything they could do simply fulfilling the technical requirements of this work, and yet they also managed a deft and nuanced interpretation. Harmonically speaking the piece wove in and out of atonality and polytonality; the pair’s ability to seamlessly weave together a murderous array of syncopated melodic motives, navigate a menacing forest of thorny pizzicato chords that flashed back and forth to con arco with blinding speed and still play with such precision was exciting. Hearing two such performers display this sheer unanimity of purpose was nothing short of remarkable. The audience seemed overwhelmed and almost aghast—whether at the audacity of the composition, the brilliance of the performance or both was not quite discernible.

The all-Beethoven second half opened with the Duo in E-Flat Major “Eyeglass” (WoO 32.) Despite a clever, recurring sight gag focusing on eyeglasses, this piece for viola and cello didn’t always display the degree of polish that was present in the others. Some misalignment between players, bobbled notes and lackluster phrasing occasionally plagued this work.

The grand finale was the Trio in G Major (Op. 9, No. 1). Both of the Beethoven works preceded the turn of the 19th century, and so highlighted the grand, noble classicism of his earlier oeuvre. Presenting a full-throated wall of sound that seemed almost impossible coming from only three instruments, they at turns played in a glorious cantabile even when the work demanded rapid, sparkling brilliance. The dynamics swelled and receded resplendently, and for all its technical demands it managed to come off sounding light and easy. The Presto finale was taken at a truly furious tempo, and the trio’s phrasing included an electric, moody martellato that paid homage to the brilliance of the piece.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Free trial offer of Met Player this weekend


You can bring the Metropolitan Opera to your computer screen for free this weekend by trying out its Met Player. This offer extends from today until Sunday. Met Player will stream the operas that you select, and there are 200 to chose from, including a number in High Definition format.

Here's more info from the Metropolitan Opera's press release:

he Metropolitan Opera will offer a free weekend of unlimited access to Met Player, the subscription service that makes much of the company’s extensive video and audio catalog of full-length performances available to the public online, in exceptional, state-of-the-art quality. The free preview begins at 5pm ET on Friday, May 1, and runs through midnight on Sunday, May 3. During this time, users logging into Met Player will have access to the entire collection of more than 200 audio and video performances, including 20 of the company’s acclaimed HD productions from the first three seasons of The Met: Live in HD series. HD titles recently added to the Met Player catalog include this season’s transmissions of Massenet’s Thaïs starring Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson, Puccini’s La Rondine featuring Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna, and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala. Met Player also features the wide range of Music Director James Levine’s work, from Mozart’s comic masterpiece Cosi fan Tutte to Wagner’s epic Ring cycle.

Recent upgrades to Met Player include the addition of multi-language subtitles (French, German, and Spanish) to the current season’s HD titles; English subtitles are available for all videos (but can be turned off if preferred).

Met Player offers a wealth of video performances to choose from, including Puccini’s La Bohème with Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti (1977), Plácido Domingo in Verdi’s Otello (1995), and Verdi’s La Forza del Destino with Leontyne Price (1984), as well as the recent HD live shows from the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, including Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez in Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment. Some of the initial offerings have never been seen since their original television broadcasts: Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci with Tatiana Troyanos, Teresa Stratas, and Domingo (1978); Price’s legendary farewell performance in Verdi’s Aida (1985); and Tschaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades with Galina Gorchakova and Domingo (1999).

The legendary audio performances include Bizet’s Carmen starring Rosa Ponselle (1937), as well as other Met radio performances from such celebrated artists as Carlo Bergonzi, Jussi Bjoerling, Maria Callas, Franco Corelli, Mario del Monaco, Lauritz Melchior, Zinka Milanov, Birgit Nilsson, Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi, and Richard Tucker.

In order to register for the free weekend of Met Player, users must have an active username and password for the Met website. New users can set this up by visiting the “Register” page at metopera.org and providing basic contact information. No credit card will be required. Additional information will be available on the Met website during this free period to assist customers.

Subscription fees are priced at $14.99 per month or $149.99 for a yearly plan. As a special benefit for Met members who contribute at the $125 level or above, a six-month introductory package is available for $49.99. Individual purchases will cost $4.99 for HD videos and $3.99 for an audio performance or non-HD video; these individual purchases may be played in a six-hour period within 30 days. Met Player will provide a free downloadable audio and video website player with any rental or subscription order. A one week free trial subscription will be available to anyone after registration.

Review of Conrad Tao's concert in American Record Guide

My review of Conrad Tao's concert for the Portland Piano Recital series is in the current issue (May/June) of the American Record Guide on page 33. Tao, who is only 14 years old, gave an incredible concert. Although you can't read the guide online, you can purchase a copy at Classical Millennium.

Today's Birthdays

Sophia Dussek (1775-1831)
Walter Susskind (1913-1980)
Gary Bertini (1927-2005)
Judy Collins (1939)

and

Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)
Joseph Heller (1923-1999)