Monday, August 31, 2009

Mattaliano to direct New York City Opera's season opener

Congratulations are in order for Portland General Director Chirstopher Mattaliano, who has been chosen to direct Hugo Weisgall's "Esther" for New York City Opera. "Esther" opens New York City Opera's season on November 7th at the newly renovated David H. Koch Theater.

Here's the press release:

Portland Opera General Director Christopher Mattaliano will direct the New York City Opera’s season-opening production of Hugo Weisgall’s Esther, opening November 7, 2009. The production will also mark the reopening of the newly renovated David H. Koch Theater (formerly the NY State Theater) at Lincoln Center.

In 1993 Mr. Mattaliano directed the world premiere of Esther at the New York City Opera, where it earned rave reviews for its intensely expressive music, hard-hitting drama, and striking visuals by designer Jerome Sirlin. The New York Times hailed it a “triumph,” with USA Today calling the production “stunning.”

Announcing the season, his first as New York City Opera General Manager and Artistic Director, George Steel said that he was “thrilled to bring [Esther] back to the stage. It was a complete smash hit in 1993 and there have been cries to revive it ever since.”

“Esther was a key part of the 50th Anniversary Season of New York City Opera. I love the opera, and directing the world premiere was one of the highlights of my career,” Mr. Mattaliano commented. “It’s a great thrill to revive this 20th century masterpiece for New York audiences and to work with Jerry again. It’s a powerful, moving work, and audiences were totally swept away by it in1993. With a cast of over 100 performers, it’s a truly grand opera – the 20th century equivalent of Verdi’s Don Carlos or Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. How wonderful to revive it again for such an important event – the opening of the new theater, and George’s first season at NY City Opera.”

Based on the inspirational biblical tale of the brave heroine who rescues her people from near-destruction, Esther is an epic tale with political and spiritual overtones relevant today.

Mr. Mattaliano has a strong passion for celebrating what he calls “the incredible breadth of the operatic art form,” bringing many new works to the operatic stage. In addition to the 1993 world premier of Esther for New York City Opera, he has directed the world premieres of jazz composer Fred Ho’s Journey Beyond the West for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Peter Westergaard’s The Tempest for the Opera Festival of New Jersey, and the American premieres of Fleischman’s Rothschild’s Violin at the Juilliard Opera Center and Theresienstadt composer Hans Krasa’s Brundinbar for the New Jersey State Opera. Since he became the General Director of Portland Opera, the Company has enjoyed premieres of The Journey to Reims, Street Scene, The Rape of Lucretia, Nixon in China, The Return of Ulysses, Rodelinda, Albert Herring, The Turn of the Screw, and La Calisto. His stage direction has also been enjoyed at the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Washington Opera, the Canadian Opera Company, L’Opera de Montreal, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Minnesota Opera, Dallas Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, among many others. He is currently scheduled to direct The Barber of Seville, the final production of Portland Opera’s 2009/10 season.

Today's Birthdays

Amicare Ponchielli (1834-1886)
Alma Mahler (1879-1964)
Ifor James (1931-2004)
Wieland Kuijken (1938)
Itzak Perlman (1945)
Daniel Harding (1975)

and

Willaim Shawn (1907-1992)
William Saroyan (1908-1981)
Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Today's Birthdays

George Frederick Root (1820-1895)
Buddy Rich (1917-1987)
Regina Resnik (1922)
Simon Bainbridge (1952)
Dimitris Sgouros (1969)
David Schiff (1945)

and

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851)
Molly Ivans (1944-2007)

CD Review: Handel's 'Solomon'


The German label Carus Verlag has released a series of recordings in recent years that together describe a sort of triptych of some of Handel’s great vocal works: they were all recorded by the FestSpiel Orchester Göttingen under the direction of Nicholas McGegan. Unlike the masque Acis und Galatea and the oratorio Samson, the chorus in this recording of Solomon is not the festival choir (the NordDeutschen RundfunkChor) but a guest chorus: the Winchester Cathedral Choir, an all male ensemble featuring boy sopranos and altos.

McGegan is a master at interpreting Handel’s work, and as usual he brings all of his formidable skills to this recording. The orchestra is spectacular and intuitive under McGegan’s hand, and is a pleasure to listen to into its own right. Never merely an accompaniment, it speaks with its own distinctive voice, adding as much to the narrative as any of the soloists.

The Winchester Cathedral Choir sings with a bell-like clarity, which is a great strength of boy’s choirs that yields so much pleasure in the listening. Diction is sometimes an issue with the chorus in this recording. Still, a spectacular blend and glorious sound make it easy to overlook this shortcoming. ‘Throughout the Land’ is an exceptional example; this passionate, delicate fugal chorus is just one of the shining moments to be found. The many uplifting choruses in this lengthy work are uniformly exuberant.

Baritone Roderick Williams proves a noteworthy vocalist. With robust, unforced power, he possesses a timbre which doesn’t demand attention—one simply pays it because of the grace and stature of the sound.

Tim Mead, an alto singing the title role is at times restrained, but not without richness. His delivery on the arias feels more sure and satisfying than the recitatives. A duet with soprano Dominique LaBelle as his Queen provides an intimate, languid look into the soul of the great monarch. A trio with Solomon passing judgment on the possession of the boy child yields a, delightful, nattering argument between the two harlots, sung by LaBelle and soprano Claron McFadden, who later sings the role of the Queen of Sheba. McFadden’s articulate ornamentation and full sound fit well the regal role.

Tenor Michael Slattery sings the role of Zadok the Priest. The first big aria for Zadok, ‘Sacred Raptures cheer my breast,’ is a true bear from a technical standpoint. Slattery renders the dizzying melisma with mixed results. Sometimes it is effluent; other times, especially lower in his register, the delivery is forced and lagging almost behind the beat. Still, this is a live recording, so a few moments lack the polish that would be found in studio release.

This recording is magnificent, and is definitely a worthy rendering of Handel at the peak of his brilliance as an oratorio composer. All of the recordings featuring McGegan with his FestspielOrchester have proven a delight to listen to, and one hopes that more will be forthcoming.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Some technical aspects of Seattle's Ring

Last week I attended a lecture by Seattle Opera's technical director Robert Schaub and found out some interesting information about this production. Schaub said that the original design work began in 1995 - about six years before the the production was presented for the first time in 2001. In comparison, Schaub told us that it usually takes two years to develop an opera from scratch.

The Thomas Lynch design called for hyper-realistic scenery, and Schaub said that it's a lot more difficult than you can imagine to make trees, dirt, water, and stone to look like the real thing. His crew did a lot of experimentation to figure it out. Some of the panels and armature are 25 feet deep, 32 feet wide, and 32 feet tall. The sections with Fafner's Cave and the switchbacks up the hillside weigh 19,000 lbs each. They glued Dacron onto the armature and, for the cave/cliff, glued foam onto that and then carved away. For another comparison, the cost of creating scenery for a typical opera is 10 square feet per hour, but for the Ring is was 1 square foot per hour.

For the 2009 Ring, Seattle Opera bought new computers, gears, motors, and drives. They redid the "skin" of the dragon in silk, because the previous skin (although preserved perfectly) was done in a material (I didn't write it down - but it was probably latex) that is used for Halloween masks, and it basically melted in the shop environment after it was exposed.

Schaub said that Seattle's Ring involves six to eight stage managers and 50 stage hands. The scenery is packed in 60 trailers and each trailer is 53 feet long. A typical opera uses just a handful of trailers for scenery.

Today's Birthdays

Helge Rosvaenge (1897-1972)
Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
Charlie Parker (1920-1955)
Gilbert Amy (1936)
Anne Collins (1943)
Lucia Valentini Terrani (1946-1998)
Michael Jackson (1958-2009)
Kevin Walczyk (1964)

and

John Locke (1632-1704)
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809-1894)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Umberto Giordano (1867-1948)
Alfred Baldwin Sloane (1872-1925)
Ivor Burney (1890-1937)
Karl Böhm (1894-1981)
Paul Henry Lang (1901-1991)
Richard Tucker (1913-1975)
John Shirley-Quirk (1931)
Imogen Cooper (1949)

and

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
John Betjeman (1906-1984)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979)
Eric Coates (1886-1957)
Lester Young (1909-1959)
Ann Murray (1949)
Sian Edwards (1959)

and

Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945)
William Least Heat-Moon (1939)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Special concert to highlight singers in Portland Opera's La Boheme

This September 10th, you can hear a special concert that features the principal singers in Portland Opera's production of "La Boheme."

Here are the details from the press release:
Portland Opera is pleased to announce AN EVENING WITH THE STARS OF LA BOHÈME, a concert of popular opera arias and ensembles performed by the stars of Portland Opera’s season opener, Puccini’s La Bohème. The event marks the first time Portland Opera audiences will have the chance to hear visiting artists on a second stage, performing a variety of opera favorites, in such an intimate concert setting. “Over the years, many of our patrons have lamented that we get only one chance to enjoy the talented singers of our productions—at the 3,000-seat Keller Auditorium. We’re delighted now to be able to share the immense talents of the La Bohème cast with the public—in a much more intimate setting—before they actually appear at the Keller,” said Portland Opera General Director Christopher Mattaliano. “It will be a great evening of truly wonderful music.”

On the concert stage will be five very exciting singers, all making their Company debuts in Puccini’s La Bohème: Soprano KELLY KADUCE, tenor ARTURO CHACÓN-CRUZ, soprano ALYSON CAMBRIDGE, baritone MICHAEL TODD SIMPSON, and bass GUSTAV ANDREASSON. CHRISTOPHER MATTALIANO will be the master of ceremonies for the evening. Accompanying the artists on piano are Portland Opera’s Chorus Master and Principal Coach ROBERT AINSLEY and Principal Accompanist THOMAS WEBB.

September 10, 2009 | 7:00pm | Scottish Rite Center, 709 SW 15th Ave.

Tickets, priced at $50, can be purchased:

BY PHONE: Portland Opera Box Office, 503-241-1802, Toll-free 866-739-6737, (Mon – Fri, 9:00am – 5:00pm).

IN-PERSON: Portland Opera Box Office, 211 SE Caruthers St. (just south of OMSI, off Water Ave.) Mon – Fri, 9:00am – 5:00pm.

Today's Birthdays

Arthur Loesser (1894-1969)
Wolfgang Sawallisch (1923)
Nicholas Braithwaite (1939)
Sally Beamish (1956)
Branford Marslis (1960)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Götterdämmerung triumphs with Baird’s Brünnhilde leading the way

(Rozarii Lynch photo)

Janice Baird’s Brünnhilde made Seattle Opera’s “Götterdämmerung” a triumph at the performance I heard on Saturday, August 22nd. Baird captivated the audience with her soaring voice and committed acting. She showered sparks all over the stage when Brünnhilde vainly tried to prove that she was Siegfried’s wife. During those moments Baird’s soprano had an edge that cut through the orchestra and connected almost viscerally with the audience.

There were numerous outstanding scenes in this performance by the entire cast, but one of the most effective ones came when Brünnhilde swore on edge of the spear; there was blood all over the palm of her hand and the audience audibly gasped. The use of blood for Brünnhilde contrasted well with bloodless exchange when Siegfried (Stig Andersen) and Gunther (Gordon Hawkins) pledged their oath on a spear. It was as if the guys weren’t men enough to draw blood, but that Brünnhilde was completely fearless.

Another terrific scene in this production involved the Rhine Daughters (Julianne Gearhart, Michèle Losier, and Jennifer Hines) who come to the surface of a pond (or the edge of the Rhine River) and try to get the ring from Siegfried. The mermaids cavorted and sang impressively and constantly moved as if they were bobbing along in the water.

The opera opened with the three Norns (Luretta Bybee, Stephanie Blythe, and Margaret Jane Wray) up against the wall. It was eerie and fascinating to watch them interpret the rope of destiny.

Stephanie Blythe did double duty as a Norn and as Waltraute, the Valkyrie who tried to convince Brünnhilde to give the ring back to the Rhine Maidens. Believe it or not, during the Waltraute- Brünnhilde confrontation, Blythe’s voice seemed to show signs of fatigue. So she is human after all.

Richard Paul Fink’s sneering depiction of Albrech was superb and matched up well with Daniel Sumegi’s disturbing and haunting portrayal of Hagen.

Hawkins’ voice seemed to improve as the opera went along, and Andersen was almost as sterling as he had been in “Siegfried.” Marie Plette was suberp as Gutrune, and the rollicking chorus added wonderfully to scenes at the Gibichung castle.

Expressive playing by the orchestra, under the direction of Robert Spano, contributed greatly to the success of this performance. One of the many highlights came during the emotionally charged music after Siegfried’s death.

So, three operas ago, a story that began with the taking of gold and a building contract negotiated in bad faith concluded with the demise of Valhalla and the return of the gold to its original owners. On many levels this story and its music still speak to us today.

Today's Birthdays

Robert Stolz (1880-1975)
Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972)
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
José Van Dam (1940)
Keith Tippett (1947)
Elvis Costello (1954)

and

Brian Moore (1921-1999)
Martin Amis (1949)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Andersen turns in world-class Siegfried

(Chris Bennion photo)

Although last week, Stig Andersen suffered from a viral infection while performing “Siegfried,” I had the fortune to hear him in tip top shape during the Seattle Opera performance on Thursday, August 20th. Andersen, in the title role, put on a real show for heldentenor fans by offering plenty of volume while maintaining a lyrical tone at the same time. Adding to his vocal fireworks, Andersen expressed the exuberant vigor of a young man who was naïve yet curious about the world. Andersen also did wonders with singing while making a sword the old-fashioned way, slaying a dragon, and going through fire to find Brünnhilde. So, Andersen carried most of the weight that made Seattle Opera’s production of “Siegfried” a hit.

Another big factor for the success of this production was the fine singing of Janice Baird in the role of Brünnhilde. With this performance, Baird demonstrated that she had strongly bounced back from a subpar showing during the first cycle. Her soprano was focused and secure, and her Brünnhilde convincingly accepted Siegfried as the hero who awakened her from her lengthy sleep (surrounded by fire on top of a mountain).

Other very strong performances were turned in by Greer Grimsley as the Wanderer, Richard Paul Fink as Alberich, Dennis Petersen as Mime, Daniel Surmegi (behind the coulisse) as Fafner, and Maria Streijffert as Erda, and Julianne Gearhart (also behind the coulisse) as the Forest Bird. It seemed that Gearhart’s voice was amplified, which distorted it somewhat to my ears. I wished that she could have sung from the orchestra pit. (Note: I've been informed that Gearhart did sing anamplified from the orchestra pit. Still, I thought that her tone sounded odd.) Petersen had the character of Mime down to perfection, and the scene in which Mime revealed his true intentions toward Siegfried was terrific.

Besides creating a supremely diabolical Albrecht, Fink showed some terrific athleticism. At one point, instead of running up the first switchback that goes up the hill, he planted his left hand and vaulted himself perfectly to the next level of the switchback. I also liked how Siegfried threw rocks at Fafner’s tail; that was especially fitting for a young gun.

One of the great things in this production is the use of misdirection. In football, misdirection is employed by the offence to trick the defense into thinking that a play will go a particular direction, but it actually travels in another direction altogether. In this production of “Siegfried,” the audience saw the opening of a large cave and some segments of the Fafner’s tail, But although the tail moved and Siegfried playfully wrestled with the end of Fafner’s tail, the dreadful head and gapping mouth of Fafner appeared from another part of the mountain wall. So first-time audience members were almost ready to scream at Siegfried to warn him of his impending doom.

I really liked the naturalistic look of the big, rock wall, the cave, and the switchback path up the hillside. The lighting, designed by Peter Kaczorowski, was flawless. Again, the stage directions by Stephen Wadsworth seemed to be improved over the 2005 version. And with Andersen as the impetuous and courageous hero, this production of “Siegfried” was a gem.

Seattle Opera's “Die Walküre” smolders and catches fire

(Chris Bennion photo)

The performance of “Die Walküre” on Tuesday night (August 18) got off to a great start from the outset with the orchestra leading the way. The instrumentalists really came alive under the baton of Robert Spano and even got a little wild at times. Their playing may have inspired the singers as well, so that the audience got to experience a stirring performance.

Stuart Skelton superbly conveyed Siegmund as a fugitive and as a man inflamed with passion. Margaret Jane Wray’s Sieglinde convincingly embraced the all-consuming love for Siegmund and total fear of her husband Hunding. Andrea Silvestrelli with his imposing bass-baritone and intimidating demeanor created a truly frightening Hunding.

Greer Grimsley harnessed his voice to his acting to make an outstanding Wotan. There’s over a thousand bars of notes for Wotan in “Die Walküre,” but the amount didn’t seem to faze Grimsley at all. Just as in “Das Rheingold,” Stephanie Blythe was amazing as Wotan’s wife, Fricka. This time she often had to argue some sense into her husband’s head; so Blythe’s voice often had an edge. And her lowest notes were the best of all, because each word she sang seemed drenched with extra meaning.

As Brünnhilde, Janice Baird started out singing cautiously, but she gradually freed up her voice, showing no signs of the vocal distress that apparently plagued her last week. Some of her acting seemed a bit stilted, but she was wonderful as the favored warrior-daughter of Wotan. After her betrayal of Wotan’s command, Brünnhilde made a fervent case for her actions, yet had to submit to his punishment. With Baird lying on the ground between two large stones and Wotan commanding fire to encircle her, the final tableau was striking.

The Valkyries (Brünnhilde and her eight sisters) raised their voices impressively from the mountaintop. Miriam Murphy, Sally Wolf, Luretta Bybee, Jennifer Hines, Marie Plette, Sarah Heltzel, Michèle Losier, and Maria Steijffert seemed to have fun too boot.

Again, the acting in this performance seemed a lot more polished and convincing than in the 2005 version. Wray and Silvestrelli showed great timing when she was mixing the drink for him and had to look down at just the right moment when Silvestrelli turned around. Of course, it was timed to an accented place in the music, but that made it even better. The lighting also was perfect, and Hunding’s house with the intertwined branches of the world ash tree enveloped into its roof was a fantastic creation. The only thing that went wrong happened when Wotan’s spear got clobbered by the swords of Siegmund and Hunding. They ended up bending the end of the spear, and it looked like a piece of it broke off.

Of well, if everything went right, it wouldn’t be live opera.

Today's Birthdays

Alessandro Marcello (1669-1747)
Théodore Dubois (1837-1924)
Richard Meade (1932)
Stephen Paulus (1949)
Carlo Curley (1952)

and

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Das Rheingold glistens in Seattle

(Rozarii Lynch photo)

When the curtain goes up at the beginning of Seattle Opera’s production of “Das Rheingold” after the long orchestral introduction, the audience is plunged into the watery world of the mermaids who swim about in the Rhine River. I experienced this magical moment for the first time during Seattle’s “Ring” in 2005, and – based on the performance I saw on Monday, August 17th - it has not lost any of its luster. The three Rhine maidens, strapped in special harnesses that allowed them to swim in the watery light, dived, did front flips and back flips, and sang at the same time. It was mesmerizing.

Seattle’s Rhine Daughters (Julianne Gearhart, Michele Losier, and Jennifer Hines) sang splendidly and looked like they were having a lot of fun to boot. They used their fins to mercilessly tease Albrech (played by Richard Paul Fink) who in frustration renounces love and steals the pile of gold that mermaids were supposed to protect. Fink uses his voice to snarl and growl in such a way that he practically becomes the personification of evil. I found out from a lecture on the technical aspects of this production that Fink brings his own set of bullwhips which he, as Albrecht, unleashes over the heads of his Niebelungen minions to intimidate them and make them subservient to his will.

In “Das Rheingold,” the gods, led by Wotan, find themselves in crisis, because Wotan acted in bad faith when he negotiated with a pair of giants to build his castle, promising to pay them by giving them his sister-in-law, Freia. Since Frieia tends the golden apples that keep the gods young, the gods start to age and weaken when the giants haul Freia away. Wotan plans to offer them a pile of gold in exchange for Freia, and with the help of his demi-god friend Loge, he tricks Albrecht and steals the gold and an all-powerful ring. Albrecht places a terrible curse on the ring before Wotan gives it up as payment to the giants. Since they don’t know how to share the loot, one giant kills the other, and thus the curse of the ring rolls forward.

Seattle’s Wotan, Greer Grimsley, commanded the stage with his powerful bass-baritone and towering presence. Even when the orchestra roared at its loudest, Grimsley could easily be heard, and his acting worked seamlessly with Stephanie Blythe, who created a forceful Fricka, Wotan’s wife. Blythe is at the top of her game. Her voice could be steely one moment and velvet the next.

Marie Plette conveyed a vulnerable Freia, while Andrea Silvestrelli as Fasolt, and Daniel Sumegi as Fafner were totally domineering as the giants. Jason Collins as Froh and Gordon Hawkins as Donner were sturdy and forthright. Dennis Petersen created a memorable Mime (brother and slave to Albrich), and Maria Streijffert sang the role of Erda very well, although I would’ve liked more heft in her voice. Kobie van Rensburg’s Loge sparkled in the acting department, but his singing was Loge Lite.

I thought that the acting was tighter and done with more conviction by all of the singers than by the singers in the 2005 performance. Kudos to stage director Stephen Wadsworth for making these improvements. They really enhanced the performance and made the story more vibrant than ever.

The orchestra, conducted by Robert Spano, played well but didn’t take any chances. It seemed to me that the first horn that joined the low strings at the very beginning was a tad flat. I’m not sure why the Seattle production uses an electronic sound for the anvils of the Niebelungens. At least it sounded electronic rather than by the orchestra’s percussion battery.

The set design by Thomas Lynch has held up well and is impressive. The forest setting with the entrance to the cave that leads to Niebelungen-land is evocative of a mythic time and place. The hyper-realism of moss, trees, dirt, and stone are magical and greatly enhance the story telling. Designer Peter Kaczorowski also deserves the highest praise for his evocative lighting. I’ve seen a production in Toronto in which I could not tell who or what was singing at times, and that leads to a lot of confusion and even anger in the audience (when Canadians boo, you know that you’ve hit bottom).

All in all, this performance of Rheingold was great and got me excited about the hearing the next opera in the cycle, “Die Walküre.”

Today's Birthdays

Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925)
Ernst Krenek (1900-1991)
William Primrose (1903-1982)
Constant Lambert (1905-1951)
Carl Dolmetsch (1911-1977)
Mark Russell (1932)
Brad Mehldau (1970)

and

Edgar Lee Masters (1869-1950)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Seattle's Ring Cycle - short update


I have been in Seattle this week to experience the Seattle Opera’s production of Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Niebelungen," which means about 18 hours of music and drama spread over four operas ("Das Rheingold," "Die Walküre," "Siegfried," and "Götterdämmerung") that started on Monday and ends tonight. This weeklong series is the second cycle and there’s one left after tonight. I think that very few tickets are still available for those of you who want to hear any of the remaining performances. Because I was at a music critics conference last weekend, I am just now catching up with my reviews of what I’ve seen and heard here in Seattle. For those who want to know how Stig Andersen is doing. I can report that the viral infection that plagued him last week is gone, and he is singing gloriously as Siegfried. For others who want to know about Janice Baird, the vocal problems she had last week seem to have vanished, and she is creating a remarkable Brünnhilde. Of course, her biggest challenge in that role comes up this evening with Götterdämmerung, and I’m eager to find out if she continues to win over the audience.
More soon.

Today's Birthdays

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
John Lee Hooker (1917-2001)
Ivry Gitlis (1922)
Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007)
Tori Amos (1963)

and

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004)
Ray Bradbury (1920)
Annie Proulx (1935)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918)
Count (William) Basie (1904-1984)
Tommy Reilly (1919-2000)
Gregg Smith (1931)
Dame Janet Baker (1933)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ticciati teams up with Levin and the Age of Enlightenment in all-Mozart concert


Who would’ve thought that there’s an up-and-coming conductor with a mop of Gustavo Dudamel-like hair who is younger than Dudamel himself? Well, the 26-year old Robin Ticciati is just such a fellow. Starting this fall, Ticciati begins his first season as principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Since 2007, he has been the music director of Glyndebourne on Tour and has already conducted several top-tier orchestras in Europe and has become the youngest conductor at La Scala (in 2005) and the Salzburg Festival (in 2006).

At this summer’s Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, Ticciati made his U.S. debut with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, a highly-acclaimed period ensemble, which Ticciati has already conducted. The performance took place on Sunday (August 16) in the afternoon at the newly renovated Alice Tully Hall, and the all-Mozart program featured pianist Robert Levin in the Piano Concerto No. 22 (K.482).

The concert opened with “Les petits riens” (“The little nothings”) (K.a10), which consist of short ballet pieces that Mozart wrote as a 17-year-old. Musicologists have not determined how many of the pieces – other than the overture – were really Mozart’s, but in any case, Ticciati and the orchestra began this 16 minute work with a loud splash of sound. Some of the pieces were tender and slow while others were rambunctious and fast. One of the numbers featured some exceptional flute playing by Lisa Beznosiuk and Neil McLaren. A barnyard-like dance number made its appearance near the end before the piece closed with a piece that sounded much like the overture.

Next on the program came the piano concerto with Levin playing a fortepiano. I learned from Levin’s pre-concert lecture and recital (Mozart’s Sonata in D major, K.576) that the fortepiano was a copy of a Haydn piano that dated back to 1795. This piano uses knee levers instead of pedals and was tuned in unequal temperament.

Levin played the concerto with characteristic precision and excitement, and the orchestra showed plenty of enthusiasm as well. However, due to the lack of volume from the fortepiano, its sound got completely buried by the orchestra whenever they were going at full tilt. Of course, when only parts of the orchestra played or when Levin had an exposed solo section, then the piano could be heard clearly, and it sounded marvelous. I enjoyed the exuberance that Levin brought to this piece, but he is a bit of a ham when he took his bow at the end. Maybe that’s the way that Mozart would’ve done it… or maybe not.

After intermission the orchestra played Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 (K.550). I thought that the Ticciati and the orchestra showed its best hand with the last movement, because they kept the music interesting with lots of interesting pacing and changes in volume. Some of the other movements were not nearly as intriguing. It was as if the orchestra and conductor used most of their rehearsal time to go over the fine points of that fourth movement and sacrificed the earlier ones. I should add that the horns, played by Roger Montgomery and Martin Lawrence, were truly outstanding throughout the piece. The audience (which filled the hall to capacity) rewarded the orchestra and conductor with sustained applause, so the concert was a success or at least mostly a success.

Today's Birthdays

Jacopo Peri (1561-1633)
Mario Bernardi (1930)
Dame Anne Evans (1941)
Maxim Vengerov (1974)

and

Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950)
H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)
Eero Saarinen (1910-1961)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

All-Beethoven program with Vänskä and Sudbin almost catches fire

(Photo of Osmo Vänskä)

It might have been the weather outside Avery Fisher Hall that caused the all-Beethoven concert with Osmo Vänskä and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra to ignite yet not catch fire. New York City was in its first week of 90 degree weather and absolute humidity, and the air conditioning at the concert hall was running at full blast on Saturday evening (August 15). But even without the heat, Vänskä, who is the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, displayed the energy of a conductor half his age with furious stickwork, and the orchestra responded with urgency in a program that consisted of the Overture to “Coriolan” (Op. 62), the Symphony No. 8 (Op. 93), and the Piano Concerto No. 4 (Op. 58) with the dashing Russian guest artists Vevgeny Sudbin. The end result was a “Coriolan” that needed more dynamic contrast between pianissimos and crescendos, a piano concerto in which the orchestra wasn’t as crisp as it should’ve been, and a Beethoven 8 that should’ve got the audience off of its feet, but didn’t .

I’m wondering if the placement of the orchestra was partly too blame. For this concert, the instrumentalists sat on a stage that extended into the hall. As a result, part of the audience could sit in risers on the stage behind the orchestra and to either side of it. So even though I sat midway to the back of the main level of seating (orchestra level), I left the concert wondering if I had missed out on the excitement of the concert. This concert marked Sudbin’s orchestral debut in New York, and he did play very well. In fact, he made the music look easy and never overstated his ability with affected gestures or glances at the audience (a la Lang Lang). I heard bravos and some of the audience did stand for him, but listeners didn’t just jump to their feet. On the other hand, perhaps Sudbin’s publicists didn’t hype him enough.

I would like to hear Sudbin again, and experience Vänskä’s conducting as well. Vänskä seems to garner rave reviews wherever he conducts; so this concert with the festival orchestra struck me as slightly off his mark.

Finally, I noticed that the concertmaster of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra was Kyu-Young Kim. Kim is a member of the Daedalus Quartet, which played at Chamber Music Northwest a few weeks ago.

Today's Birthdays

Georges Enescu (1881-1955)
Allan Monk (1942)
Gerard Schwarz (1947)
Rebecca Evans (1963)

and

Samuel Richardson (1689–1761)
Ogden Nash (1902-1971)
Frank McCourt (1930-2009)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Adams’ A Flowering Tree blossoms at Lincoln Center


One of the loudest splashes at this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival (now in its 43rd year) was made with “A Flowering Tree,” an opera written by John Adams as a commission in 2006 by Lincoln Center for the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Originally premiered at the New Crowned Hope festival in Vienna, Austria, this production of “A Flowering Tree” took place at the Rose Theater (in the Time Warner Center). I attended the performance on Friday, August 14th and was very impressed with the engaging new music that Adams created and the exciting performances by the principals and the chorus.

Drawing on a story from India that dates back at least 2000 years, “A Flowering Tree” tells how a young woman , Kumudha, wants to support her mother and sister because they are facing financial hardship. The Kumdha does this by using a certain ritual that transforms her every night into a flowering tree. Her sister harvests the petals from the tree and then helps to transform the tree into Kumudha again. The family sells the petals at the market every day, and all goes well until a young prince see the transformation process. A love story ensues, but not without misunderstanding, envy, and hardship – all of which cause the prince and Kumudha a lot of suffering until they are reunited at the end of the story.

The narrator, sung superbly by baritone Sanford Sylvan, of this tale plays a very important role, because “A Flowering Tree” only has two other principal singers plus a chorus that takes on multiple roles. The warmth and empathy in Sylvan’s voice enhanced the storytelling and complimented the top-tier performances of soprano Jessica Rivera as Kumudha and tenor Russell Thomas in the role of the Prince. Rivera’s singing conquered a very wide range of notes and emotions with conviction, depth, and passion. Thomas sang with the urgency and fervor of a young man who is deeply in love.

Other stars in this production were the members of Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, which conveyed several roles in the story, such as the prince’s sister. This chorus, singing some passages in English and others in Spanish, displayed a thrilling sound. Adams threw a lot of shifting meters and rhythmic complexities at them, but they made it all look completely natural. Almost astounding was an extended section when they sang on off beats. It was as if the entire chorus had Tourette's syndrome, yet it wasn’t improvised. Rather it was all carefully scripted by Adams.

Part of the story was related by three dancers: Rusini Sidi, Eko Supriyanto, and Astri Kusuma Wardani, which worked very well for the most part. They represented different characters in the tale, and helped to move the narrative forward. In the second act, there was a point in which the Prince sang to one of the dancers who represented Kumudha even though Kumudha was standing next to the dancer. That seemed confusing to me – or I misread the situation altogether.

Adams skillfully conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s , which played with utter conviction. Much of the orchestral score was only for the strings; so extended period of the opera sounded more like a chamber opera. I was happy not to hear any electronic music or amplification of the kind that Adams had used in “Dr. Atomic.” He has plenty of great ideas in his music to communicate with the audience.

The stage direction by Peter Sellars gave the characters lots of movement and helped to tell the story fairly clearly. The costume design by Gabriel Berry was very colorful for the chorus and the narrator, but why did the prince and Kumudha wear blue jeans? At least Kumudha got to switch to more traditional Indian garb in the second half. The lighting seemed fine, but I missed the splashes of color on the floor of the stage (two elevated platforms) because of my seating.

It was also a relief to find out that none of the characters in this opera preached to the audience about how people ought to live (a message that plagued “Dr. Atomic”). In “A Flowering Tree,” the audience gets to ponder over the events of the story, and that’s part of the reason that this opera is one of Adams’ best.

Today's Birthdays

Antonio Saleri (1750-1825)
Basil Cameron (1884-1975)
Ernest MacMillan (1893-1973)
Dame Moura Lympany (1916-2005)
Goff Richards (1944)
Tan Dun (1957)

and

Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Henri Tomasi (1901-1971)
George Melly (1926)
Edward Cowie (1943)
Jean-Bernard Pommier (1944)
Heiner Goebbels (1952)
Artur Pizarro (1968)

and

Ted Hughes (1930-1998)
V. S. Naipaul (1932)
Jonathan Franzen (1959)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861)
Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937)
Jacinto Guerrero (1895-1951)
Ralph Downes (1904-1993)
Bill Evans (1929-1980)
Sarah Brightman (1959)
Franz Welser-Möst (1960)

and

William Maxwell (1908-2000)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Subway bassoonist

A bassoonist from Juilliard was playing a Vivaldi piece in the subway at 79th and Broadway.

video

BTW: It was over 80 degrees in the subway, so this fellow was working hard to get a few bucks and some practice. The subway trains are airconditioned, but the platform areas are pretty toasty.

Photos from MCANA panels

Yesterday, Frank Oteri, aka Mr. New Music Box, led a discussion with special guest John Adams. Here's a photo:



And in the afternoon, another panel discussed thinking outside the box:



Panels members in the photo from left to right are New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini, general director of the Met Peter Gelb, muisc director of Le Poisson Rouge Ronen Givony, and New Yorker music critic Alex Ross.

Today's Birthdays

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912)
Albert Spalding (1888-1953)
Jaques Ibert (1890-1952)
Leon Theremin (1896-1993)
Lukas Foss (1922-2009)
Aldo Ciccolini (1925)
Oscar Peterson (1925)
Rita Hunter (1933-2001)
Anne Marie Owens (1955)
James O'Donnell (1961)

and

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859)
T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935)
Julia Child (1912-2004)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Brief update from the music critics conference at Lincoln Center

Since arriving in NYC this morning, I've met with Charlie Seidenburg, the PR guy at the Metropolitan Opera, taken a tour (with my MCANA colleagues) of Lincoln Center with Betsy Vorce, the PR lady at Lincoln Center, and the project manager (I didn't get his full name). Alice Tully Hall and a lot of other parts of Lincoln Center have undergone or are still undergoing renovation to the tune of 1.6 billion smackers (if I heard that correctly).

The tour was followed by a facinating lunch conversation with composer John Adams, and that meeting was followed by another interesting discussion with Peter Gelb, general director of the Metropolitan Opera,Ronen Givony, music director of Le Poisson Rouge, Anthony Tommasini,chief music critic of the New York Times,and Alex Ross,classical music critic of the New Yorker.

Now I'm off to experience Adams' new opera "A Flowering Tree."

Tomorrow morning, I'll be part of a panel that will discuss blogging about classical music.

I'll have a more thorough report of the above meetings later.

Today's Birthdays

Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876)
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892-1988)
Ferruccio Tagliavini (1913-1995)
Georges Prêtre (1924)
Yuri Kholopov (1932-2003)
Cecilia Gasdia (1960)

and

John Galsworthy (1867-1933)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Sir George Grove (1820-1900)
John Ireland (1879-1962)
George Shearing (1919)
Louis Frémaux (1921)
Don Ho (1930-2007)
Sheila Armstrong (1942)
Kathleen Battle (1948)

and

Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Heinrich Biber (1644-1704)
Buck Owens (1929-2006)
Huguette Tourangeau (1940)
David Munrow (1942-1976)
Pat Metheny (1954)
Stuart MacRae (1976)

and

Robert Southey (1773-1843)
Edith Hamilton (1867–1963)
William Goldman (1931)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Music critics to meet in NYC

I'll be in New York City to attend the annual meeting of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA), hear some panel on topics pertinent to critics, and listen to some great concerts. One of the panels will have the eminent critic Alex Ross on it, and one of the lunch sessions will feature opera composer John Adams. Concert-wise, I'll hear John Adam's latest opera, "A Flowering Tree," a concert by Osmo Vanska and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and a concert by the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment.

For details about the MCANA conference, see the mcana.org web site.

Today's Birthdays

J. Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954)
Ginette Neveu (1919-1949)
Raymond Leppard (1927)
Alun Hoddinott (1929)
Tamás Vásáry (1933)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936)
Douglas Moore (1893-1969)
Leo Fender (1909-1991)
Marie-Claire Alain (1926)
Edwin Carr (1926-2003)
John Aldis (1929)
Alexander Goehr (1932)
Giya Kancheli (1935)
Bobby Hatfield (1940-2003)
Dmitri Alexeev (1947)
Eliot Fisk (1958)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Music of Arvo Pärt rings true in Cappella Romana’s Odes of Repentance concert


Few contemporary composers have discovered a new style that has depth, presents challenges for the performers, and has garnered a measure of popularity among listeners, but Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has accomplished all these things. Pärt’s distinct musical style, called tintinnabulation, was put on vocal display in a concert by Cappella Romana on Friday (August 7) evening at St. Philip Neri Church.

The concert program, entitled “Arvo Pärt: Odes of Repentance,” consisted of selections from Pärt’s Orthodox works arranged in the form of a “service of supplication.” This service, sung Church Slavonic by the Cappella Romana without instrumental accompaniment featured odes from Pärt’s “Kanon Pokajanen” (“Kanon of Repentance”), as well as his “The Woman with the Alabaster Box, and selections from his “Triodion.”

In tintinnabulation, the notes of a triad are maintained in slow arpeggios or drones while other voices unfold melodies on the notes of the scale. Because Pärt writes most of his music to religious texts, some critics refer to tintinnabulation as “holy minimalism.” Yet even though Pärt works with a sparse number of notes, the total effect – with the voices of a high-caliber ensemble like Cappella Romana – much larger, thicker, and ultimately mesmerizing.

This was a very demanding concert: over an hour’s worth of singing by an ensemble of seven men and seven women who did not take a break to drink some water. Conducted by artistic director Alexander Lingas, the ensemble used a straight tone (no vibrato), kept the blend in equal proportions, and built terrific crescendos. The singers created moments that pulsated and others that conveyed utter calm and restfulness. Sometimes the men had the drone and at other times the women had it. The basses executed notes that sounded almost subterranean at times (like on the word “burial” in “The Woman with the Alabaster Box.”). The sopranos soared to the highest peaks several times, including a fitting “that our souls may be saved” in “Ode 3” near the end of the concert. I think that I heard a wobbly note here and there, but, all in all, this was an outstanding performance.

At the beginning of the concert, when Cappella Romana’s executive director (and one of the ensemble’s baritones) Mark Powell introduced the concert program, I thought that the nave of St. Philip Neri would have far too much reverberation, but because the ensemble stood very close to the front row of listeners and the amount of hang time for each tone was absolutely perfect. The church was filled to capacity, and after the last note died away and Lingas lowered his hands, the ensemble received long, sustained applause from an audience that seemed to appreciate every note as well as the words of repentance.

Seattle Opera will do Tristan und Isolde next summer

Seattle Opera has announced that they will produce Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" in the summer of 2010. This production will be conducted by Asher Fisch, and it will feature stage direction by Peter Kazaras, sets and costumes by Robert Israel, and lighting by Duane Schuler. Principal singers include Annalena Persson in her Seattle Opera Debut as Isolde, Clifton Forbes as Tristan, Margaret Jane Wray as Brangäne, Stephen Milling as King Marke, and Greer Grimsley as Kurvenal.

Here is additional information from Seattle Opera's press release:

With thousands of Wagner enthusiasts from around the world arriving in Seattle for a nearly sold-out Ring cycle which opens today, General Director Speight Jenkins announced that Seattle Opera will present Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde July 31 through August 21, 2010, continuing its dedication to presenting the works of Richard Wagner. The company last staged Tristan in August 1998.

The new production of Tristan will be directed by Peter Kazaras, who is staging his first production of the opera, with costumes and sets designed by Robert Israel. This is the first collaboration for the pair. Maestro Asher Fisch, principal guest conductor at Seattle Opera, will lead the production.

“Over the last few years, director Peter Kazaras and designer Robert Israel have separately given Seattle Opera some of our most exciting evenings in the theater,” Jenkins said. “No opera offers more of a theatrical challenge then Tristan und Isolde. The imagination of these two artists will give Seattle a Tristan to conjure with.”

An opera whose score influenced subsequent composers positively and negatively more than any other ever composed, Tristan und Isolde tells a tale of longing. The two lovers, Tristan and Isolde, seek constantly to consummate their love, united finally only in death.

Swedish soprano Annalena Persson will make her United States debut as Isolde, with tenor Clifton Forbis singing Tristan. Forbis was last seen at Seattle Opera as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca in 2001, and has subsequently sung Tristan with many of the world’s major opera companies. Several veterans of Seattle Opera’s renowned Ring des Nibelungen production will return to Seattle for next summer’s Tristan. Soprano Margaret Jane Wray, currently performing Sieglinde and the Third Norn, will return to sing Brangäne, Isolde’s handmaiden. Greer Grimsley, currently singing Wotan in this summer’s Ring, will sing Kurwenal, a role he sang in the company’s last Tristan production, in 1998. Danish bass Stephen Milling, who sang Fasolt and Hunding in the 2001 and 2005 Ring productions, returns to the company to sing King Marke.

Maestro Asher Fisch has conducted Wagner’s Parsifal, Lohengrin, and Der fliegende Höllander for Seattle Opera. He won a 2007 Seattle Opera Artist of the Year award for conducting Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier and the 2006 International Wagner Competition.

Director Peter Kazaras, the artistic director of Seattle Opera’s Young Artists Program, has directed several Young Artists productions, as well as Bellini’s Norma and Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro on Seattle Opera’s mainstage. He will return to stage Verdi’s Falstaff in February and March 2010. Kazaras has a long history with Seattle Opera as a singer as well as director, performing in such roles as Loge in Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen. He is also a professor and Director of Opera Studio at UCLA.

Designer Robert Israel made his Seattle Opera debut with Die Walküre in 1985, and went on to design sets and costumes for the Ring production that was performed through 1995, as well as sets for Catán’s Florencia in the Amazon and Verdi’s Macbeth. He also designed both sets and costumes for the production of Wagner’s Parsifal.

Today's Birthdays

Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
Solomon Cutner (1902-1988)

and

Izaak Walton (1593-1683)
John Dryden (1631-1700)
Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Two reviews in Opera magazine

The August issue of Opera magazine (UK) features my reviews of Portland Opera's "The Turn of the Screw" and "La Calisto." I'm not sure that this magazine is sold at any magazine shop in Portland, but it is available at the Central Library.

Today's Birthdays

Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944)
Adolf Busch (1891-1952)
André Jolivet (1905-1974)
Benny Carter (1907-2003)
Josef Suk (1929)
Jacques Hétu (1938)

and

Elizabeth Tallent (1954)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg talks about her new album with the New Century Chamber Orchestra


Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is known internationally known for her dynamic and virtuosic performances, but over the past few years she has successfully launched her own record label (NSS Music) and just last year she became the music director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra, a top-tier ensemble that is based in San Francisco. On August 11th, Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra are releasing their first album (on the NSS label) called “Together.”

“Together” contains the world premiere recording of “Impressions: Suide for Chamber Orchestra,” by Clarice Assad, “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla, “Romanian Folk Dances” by Béla Bartók, and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” by George Gershwin. In this album, Salerno-Sonnenberg performs as concertmaster and soloist, and you can tell right away that she has inspired her colleagues in the New Century Chamber Orchestra to give each piece everything they’ve got.

Last week, I talked to Salerno-Sonnenberg over the phone about her endeavors and her new collaborative recording.

Now you’re a triple threat as soloist, music director, and record producer. You must have a hectic schedule?

Salerno-Sonnenberg: It’s awful!

That’s a lot on your plate!


Salerno-Sonnenberg: I don’t know what I’m doing! What was I thinking!

I’ve been a soloist all my life, and it wasn’t until recently that I thought of exploring the business end of the music industry. I started my own label, and after that I signed a contract with New Century to become its music director. So now I seem to spend all of my time either on the computer or on the phone. I scramble to find time to practice!

How did you select the pieces for the album?

Salerno-Sonnenberg: Clarice Assad wrote the “Impressions” for New Century. “It’s a great work that begins with a theme and variations and reflects Assad’s impressions of the orchestra and me. This piece has been an instant success for us, and we decided to kick off the album with it.

When I first performed with New Century as a guest artist, I was learning Piazzola’s “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.” It was the perfect piece for me, and our performance went so well that I thought we’ll have to do it again! After I became music director of the group, we opened our first concert series with it and; so it became obvious that we should record it as well.

The Piazolla work that we perform is actually an orchestration by Leonid Desyatnikov that links the Piazolla’s music with the Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Desyatnikov put in the quotes from Vivaldi and made the piece really wild.

In regards to the album, we thought that we could give it thematic shape. We had the Brazilian dance movement in the Assad and Piazolla’s tango; so we thought that we’d add Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances. Basically, we loosely based the album on dances and added the Gershwin as an encore.

Are the solos in the Assad piece improvised?


Salerno-Sonnenberg: They aren’t improvised, but she can write music so that it sounds that way. She has a terrific gift for that.

Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances is a good change of pace.

Salerno-Sonnenberg: There aren’t many recordings of Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances in the string orchestra version. I’ve wanted to do this piece with my orchestra and put our own in spin on it. I changed the arrangement somewhat so that I could spread the solos around the orchestra. I think that this piece fits perfectly with the Piazolla, which is so wild. I mean, you don’t want to hear a Tchaikovsky serenade after that.

It’s obvious from your playing that you love Gershwin’s “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.”

Salerno-Sonnenberg: Yes, I’ve played that piece my whole life. This is an arrangement by Jascha Heifetz, and he arranged almost everything from “Porgy and Bess” and tons of other Gershwin numbers. I played these “Porgy and Bess” selections from the time that I was real young because of my mother. She had heard Heifetz play some of them, and she got them – for violin and piano – for me. A friend of mind, David Rimelis, transcribed the piano part to the strings, and I’ve been playing that piece as an encore with orchestras for quite a few years.

So now that you are juggling three demanding careers when do you sleep?

Salerno-Sonnenberg: [Laughs!} Yeah, well a couple of hours a night. I sleep on planes. I’m blessed with very good health and a lot of energy. I’m lucky genetically to have that. It’s all working well for me, and I figure that while I have the energy, interest, and desire to do these things, I’m going to do them.

From the start, the chemistry between me and the New Century Chamber Orchestra was so natural and so obvious that it literally changed my life. It’s like all of a sudden you find out that you’re going to have a baby. So you change your life because it’s important to you. You find the time. New Century is an orchestra deserves world-wide recognition because of the outstanding music that they make. I’m going to help them to accomplish their goals as long as I can.

My focus is on being unique and to stand apart. For me, as concertmaster of the ensemble, I have to lead, but I have to blend as well. That’s a lot different than what I’m used to when I stand in front of an orchestra and play the solo. But I hate to mark in the bowings for everything.

I hope to see you with New Century some day soon.


Salerno-Sonnenberg: We are going to go on tour – not this season – but in the following season. I can’t say where we will tour right now, but I know that it’s being worked on.

Today's Birthdays

Henry Litolff (1818-1891)
Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946)
Karel Husa (1921)
Felice Bryant (1925-2003)
Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1936-1977)
Garrison Keillor (1942)
Ian Hobson (1952)
Christian Altenburger (1957)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cappella Romana sings Arvo Pärt

Tomorrow (Friday), Cappella Romana will sing a concert of Arvo Pärt's music at 8 pm at St. Philip Neri Church. The program includes:

- Triodion
- The Woman with the Alabaster Box
- The Kanon of Repentance (excerpts)
- Ode 6, Kontakion, Oikos, Ode 8, Ode 9, Prayer after the Kanon

For more information, click here.

William Byrd Festival starts this weekend

Lovers of English Renaissance music will get a complete meal with the William Byrd Festival which starts this weekend and runs until August 23rd. The festival offers two concerts, several lectures, and five liturgical services. For more information, click here.

Free La Traviata performance with Richard Zeller at Washington Park

Portland SummerFest will present a free performance of La Traviata at Washington Park at 6 pm tomorrow (Friday) at the Washington Park Amphitheater. Portland's own Richard Zeller, who has sung many times at the Metropolitan Opera and with Portland Opera will sing the role of Germont pere. Amy Hansen creates the role of Violetta, Mark T. Panuccio will sing Alfredo, and Anna Jablonski will be Flora.

In secondary roles, you will hear Stacey Murdock as The Marquis, Jeffrey Larkin as Gastone, Jonathan Picht as Baron Douphol, Sarah Kim as Annina, and Scott Ingham as Doctor Grenvil. Kieth Clark conducts. For more information, click here.

Today's Birthdays

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677)
Mary Carr Moore (1873-1957)
Karl Ulrich Schnabel (1909-2001)

and

Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

With Chan - new Chinese music sounds great at the Chinese Garden

(Photo by Stephen Llewellyn)

It would be difficult to find a better setting for the new Chinese pieces that pianist Susan Chan performed on Tuesday evening at the Chinese Classical Garden in Portland. The lush foliage, still waters of the big pond, and graciously curved rooftops of the traditional buildings in the Garden seemed to enhance the pieces that Chan chose for the second half of her program. She played very atmospheric works by Doming Lam, Somei Satoh, Alexina Louie, and Tan Dun, and it was easy to go along with the impressionistic sounds of each piece. Chan's sensitive playing of these works were interrupted by noises from airplanes, trucks, trains, fire engines, and loud pedestrians. But none of these sounds derailed Chan's performance at all. In fact, it seemed that she was enjoying them as a sort of accompaniment.

It looked as if around 200 people attended the concert, which featured almost an hour's worth of pieces from Western composers in the first half. Chan played works by César Franck (arranged by Harold Bauer), Frederic Chopin, and Franz Liszt. I sat behind and to one side of the piano for this part of the program, and I'm sure that I didn't get the full measure of Chan's performance. The numbers by Bauer and Chopin became a little too soft, and the Liszt needed more fire. But I think I didn't receive the full sonic effect of what Chan was playing. So, after the first half ended, I moved to a much better location that took advantage of some speakers. That's why I left the Garden with a wonderful impression of the Chinese pieces.

Chan has released two albums of music on the MSR Classics label and has established a reputation for interpreting music from the Orient and the Occident. If you get a chance, you should hear Chan on these recordings. To replicate the experience of hearing Chan in the Chinese Garden, you just have to get the music on your iPod and visit the Garden at your leisure.

Today's Birthdays

Leonardo Leo (1694-1744)
Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896)
Hans Gál (1890-1987)
Erich Kleiber (1890-1956)
Stoika Milanova (1945)
Mark O'Connor (1961)

and

Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)
Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jennifer Larmore plumbs the depths of royal tragedies in brilliant recording


Jennifer Larmore has a gorgeous voice that she displays to wonderful effect in “Royal Mezzo,” an album released last year by Cedille Records. Containing secular cantatas by Barber, Berlioz, Ravel, and Britten, this recording is a treasure trove for Larmore, who soars to highest peaks and dives to the uttermost depths in each piece. In this musical journey, Larmore gives us insightful performances of privileged women who find themselves (with one exception) in tragic circumstances. In other words, there are no light-weight, frilly pieces in “Royal Mezzo.” This album is the stuff of grief and resonance. And Larmore, singing with the Grant Park Orchestra under the direction of Carlos Kalmar, combines rich timbre and urgency to get to the heart of each work.

The recording begins with “Andromache’s Farewell” by Barber. This cantata tells how Hector’s wife says goodbye to her son. After the Fall of Troy, the conquering Greeks wanted to make sure that Hector, the mightiest Trojan warrior, would have no prodigy to avenge his death. So they intend to cast the young boy off the walls of the city. Larmore sings passionately of Andromache’s frustration, anger, and ultimately her shame at not being able to help her son out of this predicament. Taken together with superb playing by the orchestra, Larmore delivers a performance that transcends time and place.

In Berlioz’s “La mort de Cléopâtre” (“The death of Cleopatra”) Larmore compellingly channels the defiance of the Queen of the Nile, who, though once the favored lover of Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony, has fallen into the hands of Octavian and cannot bear his disdain. Through Larmore, we can easily hear Cléopâtre summon all of her mental and physical strength before she relinquishes herself to her fate. The orchestral part often reminds me of the “Symphonie Fantastique,” and the overall effect of the music is grandiose and ultimately tragic.

Larmore and the orchestra create an elusive, dreamlike state with their performance of Ravel’s “Shéhérazade.” The music swims about in waves that rock gently back and forth, and the text describes fantastic images in distant shores. Lamore shapes her words with graceful sensitivity until the final notes dissolve and the imagery subsides and disappears.

To my ears, Britten’s “Phaedra” is the most challenging and interesting of the works on this album. Here is the dilemma of a woman who has fallen in love with her stepson. Yet the stepson does not feel the same way towards her. She consequently banishes him, and he is killed by a sea monster. In her remorse, Phaedra commits suicide by taking poison.

One of the most remarkable points in “Phaedra” comes when Larmore’s sings in her lowest register “I love you. Fool! I love you.” It’s the sound of a depraved woman who knows that she is trapped and cannot escape. But how can an almost guttural sound become the most haunting phrase of a tremendous piece of music? Well, with Larmore’s astounding singing, that happens. Give Larmore a tierra and a standing ovation.

Today's Birthdays

Henry Berger (1844-1929)
Albert W. Ketèlbey (1875-1959)
Louie "Satchmo" Armstrong (1901-1971)
William Schuman (1910-1992)
Arthur Butterworth (1923)
Jess Thomas (1927-1993)
David Bedford (1937)
Simon Preston (1938)
Deborah Voigt (1960)
Olga Neuwirth (1968)

and

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Raoul Wallenberg (1912-1947?)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Seattle Opera's Ring video series

Seattle Opera has produced five videos that serve as a great way to get a behind the scenes look at what it takes to create Wagner's Ring Cycle. General director Speight Jenkins hosts the series, and in the first video, he talks to many of the singers about their preparation and viewpoints. But the video also includes some great rehearsal footage as well:



For all five videos (Rehearsal, Costumes, Sets & Props, Effects, and Music) click here.

Today's Birthdays

Louis Gruenberg (1884-1964)
Antonio Lauro (1917-1986)
James Tyler (1940)
Simon Keenlyside (1959)

and

P. D. James (1920)
Hayden Carruth (1921-2008)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975)
Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963)
Marvin David Levy (1932)
Anthony Payne (1936)
Gundula Janowitz (1937)
Richard Einhorn (1952)
Angel Lam (1978)

and

Irving Babbitt (1865-1933)
Isabel Allende (1942)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Portland Festival Symphony starts this weekend

Lajos Balogh will conduct the Portland Festival Symphony in a series of free summer concerts. All of the concerts begin at 6 pm.

Here's the schedule:

Saturday, August 1st, Cathedral Park
Haydn: Symphony No. 104
Haydn: Horn Concerto - Bill Stalnaker, Soloist
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)
Haydn: Toy Symphony (with children participation)

Sunday, August 2nd, Washington Park
Souza: Stars & Stripes For Ever
Haydn: Symphony No. 88
Mendelssohn: Nocturne (Midsummer Night's Dream)
P.D.Q. Bach: Octoot
Haydn: Trumpet Concerto - Fred Sautter, Soloist
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)
Haydn: Toy Symphony (with children participation)

Saturday, August 8th, U.S. Grant Park
Haydn: Symphony No. 104
Haydn: Cello Concerto - Andrew Dunn, Soloist
Haydn: String Quartet Op.1, No.3 – Lyric Arts String Quartet
Mendelssohn: Nocturne
Beethoven: Symphony No.3 (Eroica)
Haydn: Toy Symphony (with children participation)

Sunday, August 9th, Peninsula Park
Haydn: Symphony N0. 88
Parry: An English Suite
P.D.Q. Bach: Octoot
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)
Haydn: Toy Symphony (with children participation)

Saturday, August 15th, Laurelhurst Park
Haydn: Symphony No. 104
Mendelssohn: Nocturne
Haydn: String Quartet Op.1, No.3 -Lyric Arts String Quartet
Beethoven: Symphony No.3 (Eroica)
Haydn: Toy Symphony (with children participation)

RAIN Date for any of the concerts: Monday, August 17th, Washington Park

For my interview with Balogh last year, click here.

Today's Birthdays

Francis Scott Key (1779-1843)
Morris Stoloff (1898-1980)
William Steinberg (1899-1978)
Lionel Bart (1930-1999)
Ramblin' Jack Elliott (1931)
André Gagnon (1942)
Jerry Garcia (1942-1995)

and

Herman Melville (1819-1891)
Ernst Jandl (1925-2000)
Madison Smartt Bell (1957)