Tuesday, January 28, 2014

On meeting Pete Seeger

Jim Collier and Pete Seeger, Madison Square Garden, 1970
Pete Seeger, the great folk singer, died yesterday at the age of 94. There are many tributes to him, including this one in the New York Times. I actually met Seeger once. I was attending the national convention of Lutheran youth (Luther League) at Madison Square Garden in 1970, and Seeger was on the program, and sang for us (15,000 teenagers) with Jim Collier. I found the photo (online here) above, which shows one of the moments of that performance. Somewhere during there performance, Seeger invited everyone to come down to his sloop, the Clearwater, which was docked at a pier on the Hudson side of Manhattan Island. As part of a tour that some of us were given during this convention, we stopped near his dock and had to walk a little ways to get to his boat, but we did get there and, low and behold, Seeger was there, too. He invited us onto the deck of the Clearwater, and I got to shake his hand. He was nice and friendly. I don't recall what he said, but it was a moment that I've never forgotten.

Also, George McGovern, the 1972 presidential candidate and longtime senator from South Dakota, was at the convention and spoke to us. Here's a photo of him at the convention:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Kwak fires off superb Wieniawski / Oregon Symphony at the top of its game in Sibelius 1/ Glanert's "Shoreless River" mesmerizing

Detlev Glanert
Sarah Kwak, the concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony, was outstanding in her debut on January 18th as the featured guest artist with the orchestra, playing Henryk Wieniawski’s Second Violin Concerto to perfection. The orchestra also unleashed a scintillating performance of Jan Sibelius’s First Symphony and also gave its first performance of Detlev Glanert’s “Shoreless River.” It was another superb showing at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall by the orchestra, which continues to play at a top tier level under its music director Carlos Kalmar.

Besides being one of the great violinists of the 19th Century, Wieniawski somehow found time to fit composing into a demanding schedule that involved teaching and performing in Europe and Russia. His Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor is considered the most popular of the two violin concertos that he wrote, and with Kwak, in her performance, gave it a masterful interpretation. She shaded the melodic phrases in all sorts of engaging ways: from sleek and graceful to thicker and more robust. She impeccably fired off passages filled with double-stops and rapid, staccato notes. The gypsy-imbued rhythms and themes were spirited and a real treat to hear.

The orchestra’s rendition of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1 was so outstanding that it practically gleamed. Whether it was an exposed solo, a small ensemble in one section or across sections, or the entire orchestra, it seemed that all of the musicians played at the highest level possible. Starting with principal clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao’s solo that created a sense of longing, floating lines from flutes, a rushing tide of sound by trumpets and horns, a dramatic combo of timpani and pizzicato-ing violins, the first movement was loaded with terrific sonic thrills. Highlights from the second movement included the melancholic lines from the violins, the fleeting and pensive solo by principal cellist Nancy Ives, the playful sound from the woodwinds and the brilliant sound of the brass section. The third movement was accented by furious plucking sound form the cellos, a soulful cry from the horns, and a bold statement from the brass. The entire orchestra created a tragic atmosphere in the fourth that faded out until only the bass violins were carrying the weight of it all. The final calm passage and transition into a stormy and defiant ending was mesmerizing.

The concert began with “Fluss ohne Ufer” (“Shoreless River”), a new work by German composer Detlev Glanert, which received its premiere in 2009. It is a very moody and impressionistic work. Tubular bells followed by extremely quiet sounds from the bass violins and timpani gradually establish a sonic fog. The cellos join with questioning phrases. The rest of the orchestra slowly falls into playing until the music becomes louder and higher. Concertmaster Peter Frajola briefly accented it all with a narrow, but not piercing high note and that was followed by a veritable sonic whirlwind from all forces. The whirlwind transitioned into a complex subterfuge of sorts until it was swept up by a groundswell of sound that burst out and exploded like fireworks with lots of percussion and percussive sounds going off in every direction. Next came a mysterious tone from principal oboist Marty Hebert, followed by flutes that created the sound of lightly rustling leaves. Kyle Mustain’s English horn solo established a wandering line which held forth again a blur from the violins. Somewhere along the way principal violist Joël Belgique prodded everything with the aggressive solo, and he was joined by the violas and brass. After another blast from the orchestra came an ominous passage from the brass, which then fell into a heavy rhythm. Next came yet another blast followed by a discordant cry. Principal timpanist Jonathan Greeney used all six timpani, but then the sound died away until only two harps could be heard. A high-pitched duet by Frajola and Erin Furbee brought in the rest of the orchestra, but that sound faded away until all you could hear in the final measures were the tubular bells that started the piece.

I have to admit that I really enjoyed hearing Glanert’s “Shoreless River.” It seemed to describe things that were close and distant, perhaps inside and outside as well. It was absolutely engaging to hear all of the sonic qualities of this piece. Perhaps the orchestra will be able to record it sometime in the near future.

Before the concert began, Kalmar brought Kathryn Gray to the front of the stage. Gray retired from the orchestra after playing in the violin section for 36 years. She received a very long round of applause from all corners of the hall.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

“Chinglish” – thought provoking comedy at Portland Center Stage

Photo credit: Patrick Weishampel
Making skillful use of projected titles and brilliant acting by an exceptional cast, Portland Center Stage’s production of “Chinglish” effectively used comedy to heighten and expose cultural differences on opening night (January 17th) at the Gerdling Theater. “Chinglish,” written by David Henry Hwang, is a thoughtful comedy about Americans and Chinese, and while the audience on Friday evening laughed heartily at the mangled style of English (aka Chinglish), it also realized that the Americans know basically nothing about Chinese languages and culture, and that this culture can present a strong critique of the American way of doing things. So, as the story about an American who attempted to do business in China unfolded, the humor melted away as serious situations developed over cultural misunderstandings, and the audience was left to reflect on it all.

The play began with the young American businessman who knows that a lot of English signage in China has been done so badly that the phrases are humorous, misleading, and/or meaningless. Take for example, signage in the theater that read the “deformed man’s toilet,” which meant the “handicapped restroom.” The businessman then tries to secure a contract with a government minister who overseas several cultural institutions that are popular with foreign visitors. He quickly discovered one of the central points in the play, “Always bring your own translator.”

As the play progresses, the businessman dumps his translator/consultant and falls in love with a helpful government official who happens to be married to a judge. That leads to complications and revelations on all sides in this intriguing tale. The audience learns a thing or two about the Chinese perspective on love, marriage, and family, and it’s not the “romance above all else” concept, which is part and parcel of the American dream.

Peter O’Connor leads a stellar cast as the clueless but quick to learn American businessman. Tina Chilip is thoroughly enticing as the government official who becomes the businessman’s paramour. She is the one who provides the most opportunity to understand the Chinese mindset. As the translator and nascent middleman, Jeff Locker was terrific and his brief foray into Chinese opera, singing a duet in falsetto with Jian Xin (playing the government minister), was a hoot. Playing two roles each, Lily Tung Crystal, Rachel Lu, and Yuekun Wu were spot on and totally convincing. Kudos should be given to May Adrales for directing a stellar production.

The unique blend of comedy and serious cultural observations in “Chinglish” reminds me of some of George Bernard Shaw’s work. It will be interesting to see how “Chinglish” does down the road. Hwang has received much acclaim as a dramatist for his plays, including the Tony-award-winning “M. Butterfly,” “Golden Child,” Yellow Face,” “FOB,” and “The Dance and the Railroad.” He is also considered one of America’s best librettists, having collaborated with Bright Sheng, Philip Glass, Osvaldo Golijov, Unsuk Chin, and Howard Shore. The San Francisco Opera company has recently announced that it has commissioned Bright Sheng to compose "Dream of the Red Chamber" for a fall 2016 premiere with an English-language libretto by Hwang.

In the meantime, I highly recommend that you experience the Portland Center Stage production of “Chinglish,” which runs through February 9th.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)
Rutland Boughton (1878-1960)
Django Reinhardt (1910-1953)
Milton Adolphus (1913-1988)
Eli Goren (1923-2000)
Cécile Ousset (1936)
Teresa Zylis-Gara (1936)
John Luther Adams (1953)
Mason Bates (1977)

and

Stendhal (1783-1842)
Edouard Manet (1832-1883)
Derek Walcott (1930)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Charles Tournemire (1870-1939)
Rosa Ponselle (1897-1981)
Henri Dutilleux (1916)
William Warfield (1920-2002)
Aurèle Nicolet (1926)
Uto Ughi (1944)
Myung-whun Chung (1953)

and

Francis Bacon (1561–1626)
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781)
Lord Byron (1788-1824)
August Strindberg (1849-1912)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
Huddie 'Leadbelly' Ledbetter (1885-1949)
Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977)
Webster Booth (1902-1984)
Placido Domingo (1941)
Richie Havens (1941)
Edwin Starr (1942-2003)
Suzanne Mentzer (1957)
Frank Ticheli (1958)

and

Louis Menand (1952)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
Józef Hofmann (1876-1957)
Walter Piston (1894-1976)
Eva Jessye(1895-1992)
Yvonne Loriod (1924-2010)
David Tudor (1926-1996)
Antonio de Almeida (1928-1997)
Iván Fischer (1951)

and

Alexandra Danilova (1903-1997)
Edward Hirsch (1950)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Fritz Reiner (1885-1963)
Erwin Nyíregyházi (1903-1987)
Edith Piaf (1915-1963)
Dalton Baldwin (1931)
Elliott Schwartz (1936)
Phil Ochs (1940-1976)
William Christie (1944)
Marianne Faithfull (1946)
Olaf Bär (1957)

and

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Italo Svevo (1861-1928)
Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943)
Julian Barnes (1946)
Edwidge Danticat (1969)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Today's Birthdays

César Cui (1835-1918)
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)
John Laurence Seymour (1893-1986)
Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996)
Anthony Galla-Rini (1904-2006)
John O'Conor (1947)
Anthony Pople (1955-2003)
Christoph Prégardien (1956)

and

Rubén Darío (1867-1916)
A. A. Milne (1882-1956)

Ax and Oregon Symphony play Bach and Strauss with panache



Emmanuel Ax, one of the most popular pianists with Portland audiences over the years, returned to the stage at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall to play J.S. Bach’s D minor Concerto and Richard Strauss’s “Burleske” with the Oregon Symphony. The performances I heard on Monday night (January 13) were polished and a delight to hear. The program, conducted by Carlos Kalmar, included Beethoven’s “Grosse Fuge” and Eighth Symphony.

Ax, the Grammy-award winning pianist and promoter of new music, decided to go retro for this concert with pieces by Bach and Strauss. His Bach was river-flowing-smooth, and he never lingered in a self-indulgent way on any of the notes. His performance was a conversational and virtuosic conversation between him and the instrumentalists of the chamber ensemble-sized, orchestra, which Kalmar guided meticulously without a baton.

Strauss wrote Burleske in 1885 and 1886 when he was only 21 years old, and it contains a lot of showy, virtuosic flourishes, which Ax played with élan. Ax handled the florid scales with ease and created all sorts of bright colors, making fast sections of the piece gleam and sparkle. The slow section featured an outstanding duet in which principal timpanist Jonathan Greeney perfectly matched the light touches that Ax played. In the lighter passages, the orchestra applied brushes of sound and in the stronger statements they turned up the heat – all of which enhanced the performance. As an interesting aside, it was Ax who last played it with the orchestra in 1989.

Trimmed down to a strings-only chamber music ensemble, the Oregon Symphony opened the concert with a scintillating performance of Beethoven’s “Grosse Fuge.” Since the piece was originally written for string quartet, it was long after Beethoven’s dead that Felix Weingartner made an orchestral arrangement. Basically, as Kalmar pointed out in his prefatory remarks, Weingartner added bass violins to the piece and didn’t touch much else. To my ears, his scheme worked exceptionally well. The strident, leaping, and edgy lines that mark the main theme jumped out and gripped the audience by the lapels. The harshness of that theme contrasted well with the soft and almost lush theme and the lighthearted, jokey theme that came later. One of the most intriguing points in the piece was the series of five pauses, each interspersed with a brief passages. It was as if Beethoven were switching train tracks in his head.

The concert concluded with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8. The first movement alternated between punchiness and gracefulness. Sometimes they seemed to mash together at the same time. The dynamic contrasts were strongly conveyed throughout the piece. One of the highlights was the wonderful trio between the horns, principal clarinetist, and principal cellist in the second movement. Principal bassoonist Evan Kuhlmann’s many solos were lovely, but they need to be a little strong to cut over the orchestra. The horns seemed run a little rough here and there, but the speedy last movement was a treat for all in the hall.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Johann Gottfried Müthel (1728-1788)
François‑Joseph Gossec (1734-1829)
Oscar Morawetz (1917-2007)
Annie Delorie (1925)
Jean Barraqué (1928-1973)
Dame Gillian Weir (1941)
Anne Queffélec (1948)
Augustin Dumay (1949)
Nancy Argenta (1957)
Gérard Pesson (1958)

and

William Stafford (1914-1993)
Benjamin Franklin (1906-1790)

Gerard Schwarz to conduct the Vancouver Symphony (WA)

My preview of this weekend's Vancouver Symphony concerts appeared in The Columbian newspaper today. The big news is that former Seattle Symphony music director Gerard Schwarz will conduct the concerts (Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening). It's a historic occasion for the orchestra, and I'll bet that they will sound better than ever.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Daisy Kennedy (1893-1981)
Roger Wagner (1914-1992)
Ernesto Bonino (1922-2008)
Pilar Lorengar (1928-1996)
Marilyn Horne (1934)
Richard Wernick (1934)
Gavin Bryars (1943)
Brian Ferneyhough (1943)
Katia Ricciarelli (1946)

and

Anthony Hecht (1923-2004)
William Kennedy (1928)
Susan Sontag (1933-2004)

Seattle Opera's Rigoletto fits Mussolini era like a glove


Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto
  © Elise Bakketun photo

Putting the action squarely in the Italy during the reign of Mussolini, the Seattle Opera production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” didn’t miss a beat with solid singing and acting at McCaw Hall on opening night, January 11th. This “Rigoletto,” with sets designed by Robert Dahlstrom, costumes by Marie Anne Chiment, and directions by Linda Brovsky, was a remounting of the production that Seattle Opera premiered in 2004. It has since seen successful runs at the opera houses in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati; so it was high time that Seattle audiences got to experience it again with a different cast.
Originally taken from a play by Victor Hugo, “Rigoletto” is a melodrama in which a hunchbacked but quick witted jester (Rigoletto) tries in vain to sequester his teenage daughter (Gilda) from the clutches of his employer, the Duke of Mantua.  Rigoletto is duped into helping the Duke’s men abduct Gilda, and, in the end, she sacrifices herself so that the Duke isn’t killed by the assassin (Sparafucile), who Rigoletto hired. Despite the story’s flaws, Verdi’s evocative music hits the emotional content straight on and heightens the tragedy. That’s why this opera has always been one of the most popular in the repertoire.
Baritone Marco Vratogna embodied the title role with changing from one moment to the next to express gravitas, pride, pathos, suspiciousness, self-loathing, and vengeance. As the opera progressed, his voice seemed weighted down by a sense of doom. Nadine Sierra was the real deal as Gilda. She had sweetness, power, agility – just plain gorgeous singing. She could narrow her voice and bring it down to a hush or open it up so that it could soar over the quartet ensembles and orchestra.
Francesco Demuro had a natural swagger as the Duke and his voice rang out, but it never seemed free at the top. He started out well with a robust “Questa o quella” but his “La donna é mobile” felt forced. Then again, sometimes I think that our ears are jaded by the many superb recordings, and perhaps we expect way too much.
Andrea Silvestrelli’s Sparafucile was absolutely awesome. The first few words that came from him were so spooky and resonant that they set everyone’s ears on edge. From that point onward, the audience followed everything that he sang and did like a hawk.
Another attention getter was Sarah Larsen’s sultry Maddalena, who sang beautifully while being pawed by the Duke. Donovan Singletary distinguished himself in the role of Monterone, the count who is pistol whipped by the Duke’s men.  Wonderful contributions by Doug Jones, Carissa  Castaldo, Glenn Guhr, Barry Johnson, Emily Clubb, and Michael Dunlap rounded out the strong cast.
Act II featured the most striking scenery of the opera. It depicted a grand room in the Duke’s palace with huge portraits of the Trojan Horse and conquering Greeks in the background. The foreground was dominated by a large portrait of the Duke, reclining in opulence with a sense of self-satisfaction.   
Linda Brovsky’s directions made the story quite clear, and some of the added touches were very effective, like the fascistic salute of the Duke’s men when they mocked Rigoletto. But it was odd when – in the scene where they left the room after Gilda was reunited with her father – one of the men demonstrably placed his pistol on a table. None of the men of that ilk would ever leave a weapon behind unless they were dead drunk. Rigoletto, crazed with vengeance picked up the gun. I thought that he might take aim at the Duke’s portrait but instead he aimed it briefly at Gilda. That worked dramatically, but it still seemed weird.
Conductor Riccardo Frizza led the Seattle Opera Orchestra with a keen sense of dynamics. The singers were always heard above the orchestra, even when all were going full tilt.  It would be difficult to find another orchestra that could play this music any better.
Overall, this interpretation by Seattle Opera of Verdi’s timeless melodrama fit the Italy of “Il Duce” like a glove. Perhaps someone will update it next time to “bunga bunga” era of Silvio Berlusconi.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Ivor Novello (1883-1951)
Elie Siegmeister (1909-1991)
Malcolm Frager (1935-1991)
Don "Captain Beefheart" Van Vliet (1941-2010)
Aaron Jay Kernis (1960)

and

Molière (1622-1673)
Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872)
Andreas William Heinesen (1900-1991)
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

Feltsman recital sublime and intimate

Photo credit: Jim Leisy
Guest review by Ruta Kuzmickas

Portland Piano International welcomed acclaimed pianist Vladimir Feltsman to the stage of Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall last Monday night (January 13th). Having presented a dazzling program of large-scale works by Bach, Liszt, and Scriabin the night before to a sold-out audience, Feltsman brought to the piano a collected, focused, and powerful energy throughout Monday evening’s performance of Haydn, Schubert, and Schumann.

The program kicked off with Joseph Haydn’s Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, masterfully crafted by Feltsman with a bright, crisp, and articulate touch. After a vigorous first movement, the intricately felt suspensions and intimate dialogue between the songful voices of the second movement carried the audience into a transcendental, trance-like state. His full, clear tone and brilliantly robust virtuosity returned in the sonata’s playful finale movement. Feltsman would later announce that he had sent his program in a year ago and hadn’t double-checked it since (the program had listed Haydn’s Sonata in C Minor). Even if it was the “wrong Haydn sonata”, the mix-up was a happy accident in its purest, most vividly imaginative form - a truly pleasant surprise.

Feltsman brought the first half to a close with Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, drawing out sublime tones and textures from both the upper and lower registers of the instrument. These features of his artistry were especially prevalent in the second half of the performance. Schumann’s “Arabeske” was exquisitely sensitive and patient. Feltsman illustrated Schumann’s “Carnaval," a monumental work which demands the greatest technical skill and profound imagination to bring Schumann’s character portraits to life. Each character made an appearance with brilliant bursts of color and a stunning array of personality: vivid, grand, touching.

Monday evening’s performance radiated intimacy - the type of intimacy that few artists manage to bring to the concert hall. Feltsman emitted the sort of aura to be found only within the finest balance of intelligence and human sensitivity, which shone through an encore of Schumann's "Bunte Blätter" ("Colored Leaves") - a perfect closure to an evening of truly personal music-making.
----
Ruta Kuzmickas is a 17 year old pianist and studies with Dr. Jean-David Coen. Ruta has appeared as a soloist on NPR's From the Top and is a recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award. She was featured by the Aspen Music Festival in a performance at Harris Concert Hall in 2013 alongside distinguished pianist Ann Schein. Ruta is also a two-time winner of MetroArt's Young Artists Debut: The Van Buren Concerto Concert and was named a 2014 Winner by the YoungArts Foundation.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Ludwig von Köchel (1800-1877)
Jean de Reszke (1850-1925)
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)
Louis Quilico (1925-2000)
Zuzana Ruzickova (1927)
Siegmund Nimsgern (1940)
Mariss Jansons (1943)
Kees Bakels (1945)
Nicholas McGegan (1950)
Ben Heppner (1956)
Andrew Manze (1965)

and

John Dos Passos (1896-1970
Mary Robison (1949)
Maureen Dowd (1952)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Christoph Graupner (1683-1760)
Vassili Kalinnikov (1866-1901)
Richard Addinsell (1904-1977)
Daniil Shafran (1923-1997)
Renato Bruson (1936)
Paavo Heininen (1938)
William Duckworth (1943)
Richard Blackford (1954)
Wayne Marshall (1961)
Juan Diego Flórez (1973)

and

Horatio Alger (1832-1899)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Reinhard Keiser (1674-1739)
Jacques Duphly (1715-1789)
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948)
Pierre Bernac (1899-1979)
William Pleeth (1916-1999)
Morton Feldman (1926-1987)
Salvatore Martirano (1927-1995)
Anne Howells (1941)
Viktoria Postnikova (1944)
Lori Laitman (1955)

and

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
Jack London (1876-1916)
Haruki Murakami (1949)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Christian Sinding (1856-1941)
Reihold Glière (1875-1956)
Maurice Duruflé(1902-1986)
Mark DeVoto (1940)
York Höller (1944)
Drew Minter (1955)
Alex Shapiro (1962)

and

William James (1842-1910)
Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)
Alan Paton (1903-1988)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Jean Martinon (1910-1976)
Sidney Griller (1911-1993)
Dean Dixon (1915-1976)
Max Roach (1924-2007)
Sherrill Milnes (1935)
Rod Stewart (1945)
James Morris (1947)
Mischa Maisky (1948)
Rockwell Blake (1951)
Charles Norman Mason (1955)

and

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)
Philip Levine (1928)
Stephen E. Ambrose (1936-2002)

St. Lawrence String Quatet goes the extra mile in performance of Haydn, Martinú, and Dvořák



It’s all in the timing. I’ll bet that some of the members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet were thinking that thought to themselves when they arrived in Portland earlier this week for a couple of concerts. Here in P-town, it was a balmy 45 degrees while the upper northeast portion of the United States – as well as most of all of Canada – was frozen over with record cold temperatures.  Speaking of warmth, the last time that I had the opportunity of hearing the SLSQ was in Charleston, South Carolina at the Spoleto Festival USA back in June of 2007, and I’ve never forgotten the ensemble’s sound and the extra-animated playing style of first violinist Geoff Nuttall. So, it was with some heightened anticipation that I went to Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University on Tuesday, January 7th to listen to the SLSQ perform the second of two concerts that were sponsored by the Friends of Chamber Music.  In playing a program of works by Haydn, Martinú, and Dvořák, the SLSQ drew from a large sonic palate and created a sumptuous sonic experience.
The SQSL left no note unturned in its performance of Haydn’s Quartet in C Major (aka “Emperor”), one of the most famous pieces in the repertoire. The foursome (violinists Nuttall and Mark Fewer, violist Lesley Robertson, and cellist Christopher Costanza) constantly mined its lovely passages, creating exquisitely matched tones, taking the noble themes at an unhurried pace, and achieving lift-off in the presto-finale.
Martinú’s Quartet No. 5, a dense, emotional roller-coaster of a piece, received an incisive interpretation by the SLSQ. Quavering high melodic lines were projected by Nuttall over a rough tonal surface created by his colleagues. There were moments when the ensemble collectively descended into the depths of despair and then climbed out to a high place that had a glimmer of hope. This plunge into darkness and then ascent into something a little lighter but not explicitly joyful gave a piece a sense of unfulfilled relief.
The program ended with a thoroughly engaging performance of Dvořák’s Quartet in C Major with its melodically-charged lines. From the spring-like opening movement (evoking flower, birds, and sunshine) through the graceful melodies of the second to the conversational third and finally the vivacious and wild fourth movement, the SLSQ entertained the audience with superb playing. It was plain fun to hear the quartet go all out with musical guns a-blazing.
The sustained applause brought the ensemble out for several bows, and they responded by performing the gypsy-like minuet from Haydn’s Opus 20. But before they played it, Nuttall challenged the audience to try to find the three-beat rhythm of the piece. Popa Haydn had a habit of messing with the listeners and the quartet’s playing proved that to be true once again.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Rudolf Bing (1902-1997)
Herva Nelli (1909-1994)
Henriette Puig‑Roget (1910-1992)
Pierre Pierlot (1921-2007)
Joan Baez (1941)
Scott Walker (1944)
Jimmy Page (1944)
Waltraud Meier (1956)
Hillevi Martinpelto (1958)
Nicholas Daniel (1962)
Svitlana Azarova (1976)

and

Karel Čapek (1890-1938)
Kurt Tucholsky (1890-1935)
Brian Friel (1929)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Jean Gilles (1668-1705)
Hans von Bülow (1830-1894)
Jaromir Weinberger (1896-1967)
Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
Giorgio Tozzi (1923)
Robert Starer (1924-2001)
Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)
Elvis Presley (1935-1977)
Zdeněk Mácal (1936)
Evgeny Nesterenko (1938)
Elijah Moshinsky (1946)
Paul Dresher (1951)
Vladimir Feltsman (1952)

and

Bronislava Nijinska (1891-1972)
Stephen Hawking (1942)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Clara Haskil (1895-1960)
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
John Brownlee (1900-1969)
Nicanor Zabaleta (1907-1993)
Günter Wand (1912-2002)
Ulysses Kay (1917-1995)
John Lanigan (1921-1996)
Jean-Pierre Rampal (1922-2000)
Tommy Johnson (1935-2006)
Iona Brown (1941-2004)
Richard Armstrong (1943)

and

Hugh Kenner (1923-2003)
Nicholson Baker (1957)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Max Bruch (1838-1920)
Georges Martin Witkowski (1867-1943)
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)
Karl Straube (1873-1950)
Earl Kim (1920-1998)
Alexander Baillie (1956)

and

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
E.L. Doctorow (1931)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Constanza Mozart (1762-1842)
Frederick Converse (1871-1940)
Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951)
Reginald Smith-Brindle (1917-2003)
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995)
Laszlo Heltay (1930)
Alfred Brendel (1931)
Maurizio Pollini (1942)

and

Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990)
W. D. Snodgrass (1926-2009)
Umberto Eco (1932)
Charlie Rose (1942)

From the New Music Box:

On January 5, 1939, the voder (later called the vocoder), a machine that synthesizes the human voice, was demonstrated publicly for the first time at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia by Homer Dudley. On that same day, the Philadelphia La Scala Opera mounted a production of Horus, an opera in 4 acts by Hungarian-American composer Gabriel Von Wayditch (1888-1969), who composed a total of 14 operas including one that is 8 1/2 hours-long and is cited as the longest opera ever composed in the Guiness Book of World Records. The performance of Horus, conducted by Gustav Mahler's nephew Fritz, turned out to be the only one ever of one of Wayditch's operas performed in his lifetime

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Ensemble delivers exquisite concert of 20th and 21st Century music for Christmas



Rich tones, elegant phrasings, heightened dynamics…  you name it, The Ensemble, delivered it outstandingly in a concert of sophisticated  20th and 21st Century Christmas music on Sunday afternoon (December 29) at St. Stephen Catholic Church. You might have thought that some of the pieces would be austere, distant, and very dry, but it was nothing of the sort with many of the works inspired by texts and the music of the Renaissance. The program, assembled by The Ensemble’s artistic director Patrick McDonough, drew from a mixture of well-known and obscure composers, including Benjamin Britten, Stephen Paulus, Jake Runestad, Kenneth Leighton, Hugo Distler, Niels La Cour, John Tavener, Craig Carnahan, Herbert Howells, Peter Warlock, and Abbie Betinis.  All of the pieces were sung expertly and a cappella by nine singers – three men and six women. With most ensembles this would’ve caused balance issues, but two key factors kept the balance exceptional were McDonough’s leadership and the singers’ keen ability to listen to each other. They also exploited the lively acoustic of St. Stephen to tremendous advantage so that some phrases were louder than others and the soloists, almost always, could easily be heard.
Exquisite phrasing was evident right away with the lightened touch at the end of the Alleluyas in Britten’s “A Boy Was Born,” and with the climatic buildup at the very center of that  piece with the words “He let himself, a servant be, that all mankind He might set free.” Britten’s “Chorale after an Old French Carol” also received impeccable treatment, complete with resplendently odd dissonant tones, so that the piece had a direction and an arc that was easy to understand and experience.
“Splendid Jewel” by Stephen Paulus boasted a lively vocal fanfare-like refrain that contrasted well with the straighter sounds in the verses. “Sleep, Little Baby, Sleep,” by Jake Runestad featured beautifully shaped and soothing lines that made this lullaby a gem.  In Kenneth Leighton’s “Of a rose is all my song” the choir held down an anchor of sound while soloist Catherine van der Salm let her soprano voice soar into the vaulted ceiling of the church.
Hugo Distler’s “Choral Variantions on “Es ist ein’ ros’ entsprungen” was engagingly sung by the choir, but the real highlight was Laura Thoreson’s radiant solo (as the voice of Mary in Variation Three). It was strong, colorful, expressive, and absolutely golden – one of the very best mezzo voices that I’ve ever heard in Portland.
John Tavener’s “The Lamb” used unison and harmonic wanderings to effectively underscore the famous text by William Blake.  This was followed by the second-ever performance of Craig Carnahan’s “And the Angels Sang.” The first performance took place two weeks earlier by the Tampa Bay Master Chorale, a huge choir. It turns out that McDonough is a friend of Carnahan and secured the right to present it in the stripped down version that The Ensemble did – with a few adjustments after the premiere in Los Angeles.  So the newly adjust version was a premiere of sorts. It was engagingly harmonic but it had a bit of dissonance when the words “That all my praise and glorify” were sung, and it ended with glorious high notes for the sopranos: “Gloria in excelsis Deo.”
The Ensemble also sang “Here is the Little Door” and “A Spotless Rose” by Herbert Howells. Baritone Erik Hundtoft sang the lilting solo in the latter. This was followed by Peter Warlock’s haunting “Bethlehem Down.”
The concert ended with three pieces by Abbie Betinis: “In This Tyme of Chrystmas,” “Dormi, Jesu,” and “The Babe of Bethlehem.”  Diction may have suffered a bit at the end of the first piece, but he harmonics were complex and lovely. The polyphonic “Dormi Jesu” had a slow and warm effect and juxtaposed well with “The Babe of Bethlehem,” which had a much faster tempo and strong melodic lines. Some of the solos by soprano Mel Downie Robinson, alto Kristen Buhler, and tenor Cahen Taylor got a little lost in the wash of sound, but the joyful nature of the piece turned the atmosphere from one of contemplation to praise and the audience responded with long, heartfelt applause.

Today's Birthdays

Giovanni Pergolesi (1710-1736)
Josef Suk (1874-1935)
Frank Wess (1922)
Grace Bumbry (1937)
Joseph Turrin (1947)
Margaret Marshall (1949)
Ronald Corp (1951)
Peter Seiffert (1954)
Boris Berezovsky (1969)

and

Sir Issac Newton (1642-1727)
Jacob Grimm (1785-1863)
Louis Braille (1809-1852)
Augustus John (1878-1961)
Doris Kearns Goodwin (1943)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Victor Borge (1909-2000)
Ronald Smith (1922-2004)
Sir George Martin (1926)
HK Gruber (1943)
David Atherton (1944)

and

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Mily Balakirev (1837-1910)
Michael Tippett (1905-1998)
Barbara Pentland (1912-2000)
Alberto Zedda (1928)
Peter Eötvös (1944)
Janet Hilton (1945)
Vladimir Ovchinnikov (1958)
Tzimon Barto (1963)
Robert Fertitta (1970)
Eric Whitacre (1970)

and

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)
Christopher Durang (1949)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Today's Birthdays

Charles Racquet (1598 - 1664)
Frederick William Gaisberg (1873-1951)
Artur Rodzinski (1892-1958)
Erich Schmid (1907-2001)
Trude Rittmann (1908-2005)
Richard Verreau (1926-2005)
Maurice Béjart (1927 - 2007)

and

E. M. Forster (1879-1970)
J. D. Salinger (1919-2010)