Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Former Opera Theater Oregon Artistic Director Katie Taylor rejoins the company

Press Release:
Big changes ahead at Opera Theater Oregon
Portland’s first indie opera company celebrates 10 years, brings back Artistic Director Katie Taylor

Former Artistic Director Katie Taylor has rejoined Opera Theater Oregon, taking back the hot seat from Erica Melton, who replaced Taylor in 2011. Melton will stay on as Music Director, a role she previously held from 2008 to 2011. Jen Wechsler remains with the company as Film Director.

Taylor and company are in the process of redefining what OTO is and how it will work as it moves into its second decade. The company is preparing for a relaunch later this year.

Taylor, Melton and Wechsler collaborated on some of the company’s most memorable productions, including the Baywatch Das Rheingold, Out of Eden (an original adaptation of Jules Massenet’s Werther), Hercules vs. Vampires and the film short Dick’s In Space.

Taylor previously led Opera Theater Oregon as Artistic Director from 2006 to 2011 and was the artistic visionary behind the development of the company’s novel approach to opera, which emphasizes radical accessibility and playful experimentation. 

Melton, leading the company from 2011 to 2014, continued this approach with genre-bending productions that interwove opera with film, dance, cuisine and fashion, including the company's first outdoor production, The Cunning Little Vixen, performed at Wild Goose Farm on Sauvie Island. 

In 2010, Taylor led a coalition of arts and humanities groups and a pro bono architect/engineer team in an ambitious campaign to lease and restore downtown’s Guild Theatre, which would have become home base for OTO. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the effort got the attention of Mike McMenamin, who offered OTO a two-year residency at The Mission Theatre (OTO is now resident at the Hollywood). 

Hercules vs. Vampires, an original OTO production conceptualized by Taylor and Galen Huckins of Filmusik and composed for OTO by Patrick Morganelli, was remounted by LA Opera in April this year.

OTO was founded in 2005 by Angela Niederloh and Amy Russell. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Interview with composer Kenji Bunch

Oregon Music News has just posted my interview with Kenji Bunch. It was supposed to have appeared at the beginning of the month, but that schedule was re-arranged. Better late then never.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Portland Opera offers Free Street Fair and Simulcast of "The Elixir of Love" this Saturday

From the press release:

Portland Opera’s 50th anniversary season concludes with a community-wide celebration featuring a Street Fair and free simulcast on August 1, 2015.

To coincide with its last performance of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love taking place in the Newmark Theatre, Portland Opera is hosting a daylong Street Fair on SW Main Street between the Antoinette Hatfield Hall and the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Festivities will include family-friendly activities, Portland Opera To Go performances, a live band, and a free simulcast. The Elixir of Love will be sung in Italian with supertitles projected in English.

“We saved the best for last,” says Portland Opera’s General Director Christopher Mattaliano of the Street Fair and of Donizetti’s beloved bel canto work, The Elixir of Love. “With this celebration, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all of the volunteers, donors, patrons, artists, board members, and staff–both past and present–who have given so generously to make Portland Opera into one of the leading regional opera companies in the United States.”

Portland Opera’s Street Fair and simulcast are the finale in a year of programs that included five main stage productions, a new bilingual production of The Barber of Seville for the annual Portland Opera To Go education and outreach tour, the 20th anniversary of the Broadway Across America series, the 10th anniversary of the Resident Artist program, the fifth anniversary of the free Open Chorus rehearsal in Director Park, a new film series, workshops, public lectures, and more.

Noon-10:00pm | SW Main St. between the Antoinette Hatfield Hall and the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall | Free
Noon-1 pm
Children’s Activities
Crafts, face painting, and selfies in front of the Wells Fargo stage coach
1-1:50 pm
Opera Improv Performance
Help create a “mini-opera” in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” format. Lively, informative, interactive, unexpected—and most of all—fun!
2-3 pm
Children’s Activities
Crafts, face painting, and selfies in front of the Wells Fargo stage coach
3-3:50 pm
Opera Improv Performance
Help create a “mini-opera” in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” format. Lively, informative, interactive, unexpected—and most of all—fun!
4-5 pm
Children’s Activities
Crafts, face painting, and selfies in front of the Wells Fargo stage coach
5:30-6:45 pm
Live Band: Will West and the Friendly Strangers
In a nod to the Wild West setting of Portland Opera’s production The Elixir of Love, Portland bluegrass band Will West and the Friendly Strangers will set the tone for the night with a performance that will transition the outdoor festivities from Street Fair to simulcast.
The Elixir of Love, Gaetano Donizetti
The cowpoke Nemorino goes from doormat to dreamboat and wins the hand of high-falutin’ Adina, thanks to a double dose of Dr. Dulcamara’s 40-proof love potion. The Elixir of Love will be set in the American Wild West of the 1880s, a delightfully inventive and uniquely appropriate locale for the action.

Thank you to our sponsors
Support for The Elixir of Love is provided by the James F. and Marion L.Miller Foundation, RACC, Work for Art, the Oregon Arts Commission, Meyer Memorial Trust, and the Collins Foundation. The Street Fair
celebration is sponsored by Wells Fargo.

Friday, July 24, 2015

CMNW's Summer Festival closes out Beethoven series with the mighty 'Kreutzer' Sonata

Augustin Hadelich
Thursday July 16 saw the finale of Chamber Music Northwest's Summer Fesival's three-concert series of the complete Beethoven violin sonatas. Each concert presented a different pair of musicians, and the sonatas were not presented chronologically. The July 16 program consisted of Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Major Op. 12, No. 1, No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 23, and No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47, the famous 'Kreutzer' Sonata. Violinist Augustin Hadelich and pianist Inon Barnatan were the artists.

Opening with Sonata No. 1, there were some deft exchanges between performers. Of particular interest were the moments when violin and piano briefly shifted roles with Hadelich playing accompaniment to Barnatan. Hadelich especially seemed to relish these moments, holding back and seeming to enjoy being out of the spotlight for a moment. Although Barnatan had a tendency to overpower the violin from time to time, there were deft and perfect call and response passages in this first movement. Hadelin played with a well-rounded tone, rich and full, which was needed with the rather loud piano. In the final movement he employed a bold saltando in some memorable passages that further helped balance the sound. Sonata No. 4 was rather pacific; warm and friendly. However, it felt rather muted at times.

Inon Barnatan
The entire second half consisted of the mighty Kreutzer sonata, immortalized in literature and film as well as in the concert hall since its debut. The opening Adagio Sostenuto - Presto really took flight in the presto portion, with Hadelich's lightning-fast spiccato highlighted by difficult and brilliantly-executed chordal passages from the piano. There were moments of high drama, Beethoven's famous sturm und drang, yet the players were not completely swept up: light, almost comedic moments were delivered with as much gusto as the boldest of storms.  The hopping melodic content of the Andante con variazione Hadelich rendered in a cavalier, almost gentile fashion. There was real transportative beauty here, times when one is caught up and surroundings seem to fade. Not an easy task to accomplish.

There were some instances, mostly in the first half, that felt overly restrained, but this in part may have been due to the violin sometimes being subsumed by the piano, not an ideal situation for a violin sonata needless to say. As a Beethoven lover, though, there was not much to find fault with here. By and large, Hadelich hit this one out of the park.

The CMNW Summer  festival concludes Saturday and Sunday the 25th and 26th with the Concerto Festival Finale.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fantastic singing and acting in Wild West version of Portland Opera’s “The Elixir of Love”

Photo credit: Cory Weaver
“The Elixir of Love” received outstanding performances from a posse of young singers plus one savvy veteran on opening night (July 17) at the Newmark Theatre. They were the centerpieces of Donizetti’s rustic comedy, which Portland Opera set in the Wild West of the 1860s with a new production that was brilliantly designed by Curt Enderle and topped off by the superb directions of Ned Canty.

Because the Newmark has a small orchestra pit, Portland Opera used a new arrangement by Bryan Higgins that required only 26 musicians. The reduction in forces balanced extremely well with the principals, who came primarily from the company’s strong resident artist program.

Soprano Katrina Galka had a field day as Adina, the prosperous landowner/businesswoman who coolly ignores the naïve, young man (Nemorino) who is in love with her until he becomes the hottest number in town. Galka sang with ebullience and vocal purity, articulating numerous runs and thrilling high notes that she tossed off with ease.

In the role of Nemorino, Tenor Matthew Grills gave a stellar performance with ardent singing and acting that was perfectly matched. The fearful and stilted way that he attempted to hand a bouquet to Adina, juxtaposed wonderfully with his bubbling confidence from Dulcamara’s elixir and the adoration of the town’s women later in the story. And if anyone wondered, Grill’s delivery of the famous “Una furtive lagrima” aria was world class.

Looking strikingly like General George Custer, Alexander Elliott’s Belcore preened and posed with convincing self-absorption. His voice was especially effective in the upper register where other baritones would fear to tread. Steven Condy played the quack doctor Dulcamara to the hilt. His deprecating asides elicited buckets of laughter, and his basso voice was nimble and engaging. Valery Saul made the most of her role as Giannetta, the charming gal who was in the know.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver
Transposing a Basque village to a frontier town of the Wild West era, was just plain fun to see. Scenic designer Curt Enderle tucked in all sorts of details with “Wanted” signs and posters that advertised Dulcamara’s medicine show. One of the storefronts, denoted as the M & F Emporium, was a wonderful nod to Portland’s past (Meier and Frank), and emblazoned across the top of Dulcamara’s wagon was “Oregon Indian Medicine Company.”

Nicholas Fox, making his debut as an opera conductor, expertly led the orchestra, played the harpsichord, and prepared the chorus. Lighting designer Don Crossley was especially good at damping the background and drawing a bead on the meditative solos.

The only drawback in this production was the arid acoustic of the Newmark Theatre. If there were an way of getting some warmth and a little smidgen of reverb, that would have brought everything to an even higher level. But right now, it is highly recommended to get a ticket and hear some of the best young voices that you’ll ever hear anywhere. There are just four more performances left: July 23rd, 25th,and 30th and August 1st.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Emerson String Quartet delivers Mozart and Ravel in Chamber Music Northwest concert

Emerson String Quartet with Paul Neubauer | Photo by Tom Emerson
A lot of excitement was in the air on Saturday, July 11th, at Chamber Music Northwest. The vaunted Emerson String Quartet was about to enter and play before a sold out crowd at Kaul Auditorium, which, according to Reed College seats 760. Winners of numerous accolades, including nine Grammys, three Gramophone Awards, the Avery Fisher Prize, and Musical America’s “Ensemble of the Year,” the Emerson String Quartet has earned a big fan base in Portland and drew an SRO audience for its performance on the following evening as well.

For the first half of its concert, the Emerson String Quartet played two Mozart works, leading off with the String Quartet No. 14 in G Major (K. 387) and finishing with the String Quintet in E-flat Major for Viola and String Quartet (K. 614). The String Quartet No 14 (aka the “Spring” quartet) was one of Mozart’s early quartets and part of a group of six that he dedicated Haydn.

Because he may have wanted to impress Papa Haydn, Mozart, who was only 26 when he wrote the Spring quartet, threw in some inventive ideas. The most memorable of these was the accenting of notes on the off-beat during a climbing phrase (played wonderfully by violinist Philip Setzer) in the second movement. That surely would’ve tickled Haydn who was noted for injecting humor into some of his works. The Emerson String Quartet delved into the many nuances of the piece, feathering diminuendos the end of phrases, maintaining a terrific balance of sound while letting the leading voice come through, and creating a sprightly and fun ending.

The only odd thing that happened was that they had to retune before beginning the second movement. This may have been due to the capacity audience, which can affect the temperature of the hall even with the air conditioning running at full blast. They had apparently tuned their instruments before coming out to play.

Violist Paul Neubauer joined the Emerson String Quartet to play Mozart’s String Quintet in E-flat Major (K. 614), which was the last chamber music that Mozart wrote. He finished it eight months before he died in 1791. Violinist Eugene Drucker led the ensemble with nimble playing, making all of the fast runs and trills sound like the easiest think in the world. Robust hunting horn sounds from the violas (Lawrence Dutton and Neubauer), the dance-like tunes, the poignant pauses, and the galloping finale were played with panache. Overall, the lovely voice of Paul Watkins’s cello didn’t come through strongly enough.

The second half of the program featured Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major, which took the audience on a different music journey. Played brilliantly by the Emerson String Quartet, the piece (written in 1903) established an entirely different atmosphere right away. The first movement established wonderfully eerie, enchanted, nighttime music. The second continued the mood with a bit more of an edgy sound. The third created a slow, lyrical, and melancholic feeling before ending at an ethereal precipice. The fourth went wild with evocative jagged lines that seemed to dash off in different directions. It was a sensuous and inspired performance, and the electrifying end of the journey brought the audience to its feet, sending the Emerson String Quartet out into the night with thunderous applause.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Second New@Noon concert an experimental hodgepodge

Tara Helen O'Connor and Daniel Phillilps | Photo by Tom Emerson
Chamber Music Northwest's second New@Noon performance was a mishmash of experimental works that explored purely instrumental pieces for one or two players as well as world premiere arrangements of songs for voice, clarinet, and piano. The concert took place before an appreciative and polite audience in Lincoln Hall on the campus of Portland State University on Friday, July 10th.

Flutist Tara Helen O’Connor made a lasting impression with an inspired performance of “Zoom Tube.” In less than five minutes, she explored a huge array of sounds with flusters, loud whispers, rhythmic puffs, loosey goosey tones, speaking (sort of) into the mouthpiece and playing at the same time. At one point, she held a note and went up the scale on another note at the same time (if I heard that right), and just before the end of the piece, she let out an affirmative “Yo!”

With her husband, violinist Daniel Phillips, O’Connor played Chris Rogerson’s “Quiet Song,” which began in a gently lyrical way and finished with a degree of tonal angularity that reminded me of Copland. This was followed by a long, dissonant piece called “Fantasy Etude” for solo violin that was written by Eugene Phillips, the father of Daniel Phillips. Because the score had an unwieldy 16 staves, it Phillips read it from an ipad, transitioning from page to page by hovering his foot over a pedal on the floor. But despite Phillips’s silky playing the piece just didn’t go anywhere in particular.

Next came two sets of improvisations by cellists Fred Sherry and Jay Campbell. Their playing took on a conversational style especially when one musician reacted to the playing of the other. Overall, the conversation was mostly pleasant, but it took an argumentative streak when Sherry stirred things up, grumbling from the lower register of his cello. That was fun to hear.

The last half of the program was devoted to five songs inspired by the poetry of Lucy Miller Murray, who is the founder of a successful chamber music series in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania called Market Square Concerts. Each piece was written by a different composer: Jeremy Gill, Richard Wilson, Michael Brown, Paul Moravec, and Jake Heggie. They originally wrote their songs for mezzo-soprano and piano, and later added an obbligato for clarinet in a special arrangement for this concert. Miller Murray, Gill, and Wilson were in attendance and spoke a few words before the performance began.

The length of the introduction might have caused most singers to reach for a water bottle, but Canadian mezzo-soprano Evanna Chiew has steely nerves to go along with her lovely voice. She sang each number with passion and with a big sound that was a little too much for the confines of Room 175. I would have liked to have heard some pianissimos from her, but maybe all of the pieces she sang were written for mezzo-forte to double forte. Perhaps that was due the serious nature of the texts. Chiew’s singing was skillfully accompanied by pianist Yevgeny Yontov and clarinetist David Shifrin.

I was most impressed with Gill’s “Words” which had a wide, dramatic range for such a short poem. Wilson’s “On the Death of Juan Gelman” and Brown’s “Ambiguous Angel” struck me with their declamatory and strident tone. Unfortunately, I didn’t recover in time to focus on Moravec’s “Oh, Poor Words.” The last song in the set, Heggie’s “Would That I Were Edna St. Vincent Millay” had an infectious, cheeky piano part. But the vocal part, oddly, ended with a demonstrative tone. It was too bad that there wasn’t a least one more lighter, humorous piece to follow it.
Shifrin, Yontov, and Chiew | Photo by Tom Emerson

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sing Haydn with members of the Portland Symphonic Choir

When: Wednesday, July 15, from 7 pm to 9:30 pm

Where: PCC Cascade-Moriarty Arts Auditorium (N Killingsworth and Albina)

Join a large chorus of singers under Portland Symphonic Choir Assistant Director Kathryn Lehmann as she leads you through the Haydn's "Mass in Time of War," and Oregonian Morton Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna." The seating is very comfortable and the space air conditioned!

Whether you sing in a church choir, a school choir, or a choir for one in the shower, Summer Sings is open to you and to all who love choral singing. Join singers of all ages and abilities as you sing great choral works with members of the Portland Symphonic Choir led by some of the finest conductors in the Pacific Northwest.

Affordable at $10 per person. (Oregon Trail Card holders $5). We provide the scores, you provide the enthusiasm!

Nicholas Fox talks about his upcoming conducting debut in Portland Opera's "The Elixir of Love"

Nicholas Fox is finishing his second season as chorus master at Portland Opera. He is also the company’s assistant conductor and he works with the resident artists. Originally from Southern California, Fox delved heavily into piano and composing before earning a degree in orchestral conducting from Mannes College of Music where he received the Milani Memorial Conducting Fellowship in his final year of study. He worked on the staff of New York City Opera and the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s training program for young opera singers before coming to Portland Opera.This Friday, Fox will make his conducting debut in the Portland Opera production of Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love," which will be performed at the Newmark Theatre on July 17, 19, 23, 25, 30, and August 1st.

I met with Fox recently at the Portland Opera offices. Here is part of our conversation:

You are a pianist, but do you have training as a singer also?

Fox: I do not have a naturally beautiful voice. By working with singers for so much of my career, I understand a lot about the voice. But I don’t pretend to be a voice teacher. If I talk to singers about technique, it’s never as a voice teacher telling them what to do physically. I also wouldn’t tell an oboist how to make their reeds.

With your degree in orchestral conducting, how did you get into conducting opera choruses?

Fox: To pay the bills, while I was a poor, starving student at Mannes in New York City, I played piano for voice teachers. There’s a huge pool of voice teachers there, and I just played their lessons. Through the people I met in that world, I was hired by New York City Opera. Career-wise, things just happened that way for me.

Do you have absolute pitch?

Fox: Yes, I do.

Wow! That has its good points, but I suspect that it can be hard on you.

Fox: The most difficult thing is when something is not played in the right key... when something is transposed. Certain songs I will identify with the key they were written in. But some singers will transpose them to another key, because the original might be too high or low for them. That drives me crazy.

Is there much difference between conducting opera orchestras and symphonic orchestras?

Fox: I don’t see any difference between orchestral and opera conducting. Music is music, and conducting is conducting.

Do you have an affinity for Donizetti’s music?

Fox: Of the three so-called Bel Canto composers – Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti – Donizetti is the one that I have the most performance history with. I would say that he has been the easiest for me to unlock. Rossini has always been a bit of a mystery for me. Rossini has a different take on drama than Donizetti does. It more of detached and ironic – sort of God viewing the mortals. Bellini is almost porcelain-like. There is something hauntingly beautiful about him.

Donizetti is just direct. There is no ironical detachment. He sympathizes with all of his characters including the less than savory ones. The music has a sweetness and beauty that is just wonderful.

Are there any difficulties in conducting this music?

Fox: There’s a paradox to it. If you look at the score of an opera like “Wozzeck,” it looks really difficult because it has a lot of meter changes, the harmonies are advanced, and so on. Then you open a score of a Donizetti opera, and nothing could look simpler. Yet that simplicity fosters the artists involved to take lots of unwritten freedom. That freedom, the moments of moving forward, the moments of pulling back, which are not on the page, makes conducting a Donizetti opera difficult. If you conduct exactly what is on the page, you could get a metronome to do it. But to make it come to life, it is everything that is not on the page. So that is what is difficult. It’s difficult in a different way than conducting Stravinsky is difficult. With Donizetti, it is the constant give and take that you have with the singers. To make it simple rather than simplistic is what is difficult about it.

How long have you been preparing for your debut?

Fox: Portland Opera asked me to conduct this about a year and a half ago. In terms of preparation, it’s merely studying the score – nothing more elaborate than that. I’ve been doing that intensely for the past two months.

This is my first time as the conductor, but I have worked on “The Elixir of Love” twice before. I worked on it at New York City Opera when I was on the staff there. I helped to prepare the chorus and assisted musically. I did the same thing when I was at the Martina Arroyo’s summer program in New York.

Since this production will take place in the Newmark Theatre, which has a smaller pit. How will that affect the orchestra?

Fox: We will be using a reduction of the score. The reduction is an arrangement for a smaller orchestra. The string part is exactly the same as that for full orchestra, except that there fewer string players are required. The winds and brass have been modified slightly for fewer players. For instance, instead of three trombones, there’s one trombone. Instead of two trumpets, there’s one trumpet.

The arranger, Bryan Higgins, has done a very skillful modification, reducing a full-size orchestra down twenty or so. I will be playing the harpsichord. It should all work well. Pat of my job is to make sure that everything on the stage and everything in the pit is telling the same story. It’s a wonderful challenge!

So you have your own score of the reduction?

Fox: Yes, I have that score. So I know exactly what the orchestra is playing. But I have about seven “Elixir” scores in all.

That should cover all of the bases. Toi, toi, toi!

Fox: Thanks!
Portland Opera's "The Elixir of Love | Photo credit: Cory Weaver

Sunday, July 12, 2015

New music by Bunch creates chuckles at CMNW concert – along with music by Lang and Mozart

Tara Helen O'Connor, Yekwon Sunwoo, Kenji Bunch, David Shifrin, and Fred Sherry | Photo by Tom Emerson
Chamber music (heck, classical music in general) needs a little levity now and then. So, it was refreshing be at Kaul Auditorium on Monday (July 6) and hear a brand new piece, Ralph’s Old Records,” that was lighthearted from the get go. Written for “Pierrot” ensemble by Portland-based composer Kenji Bunch, “Ralph’s Old Records” was inspired by the popular tunes that Bunch’s father, Ralph Bunch, enjoyed, such as the popular jazz music of Hoagy Carmichael and Spike Jones. As a kid, Kenji Bunch also enjoyed listening to his dad’s favorites, and his “Ralph’s Old Records,” commissioned by Chamber Music Northwest, channeled those memories.

The first number, “Chi-Chi Hotcha Watchee Stomp” was a loosey-goosey, bouncy affair that featured a wild solo by clarinetist David Shifrin. In the second piece, “Celestial Debris,” pianist Yekwon Sunwoo sprinkled chords a la “Stardust” while Shifrin’s clarinet wandered about in a breezy aimless fashion. Next came “I Didn’t Hear Nobody Pray” with fiddle-style passages from violist Bunch, pips from the flute/piccolo of Tara Helen O’Connor, wails from Shifrin, a wheezy tone from cellist Fred Sherry, and punctuation marks from Sunwoo. “When I Grew Too Old to Dream, Dream, Dream, One More Dream Came True” was stocked with shenanigans that included kazoo, penny whistle, store counter bell, and Shifrin making fun noises with his clarinet mouthpiece. In “Off to the Foxes," Shifrin created some Benny Goodman-like licks while Sunwoon added Liberace-esque flourishes from the keyboard, and the entire ensemble came together perfectly for the slow stuttering fortes that created a lot of suspense in the last few measures of the piece. A rip-roaring standing ovation ensued.

The program included the West coast premiere of Lang’s “almost all the time” (yes, a lowercase title), which refers to his quest to us a 10-note strand as the musical DNA of that piece. Because he came close to getting the kernel of musical DNA into each and every phrase of the piece, he entitled it “almost all the time.”

The piece, played marvelously by the Jasper String Quartet, began with mix of glass harmonica-like sounds that transitioned through a series of microtonal adjustments. It seemed that the viola (Sam Quintal) was the first instrument to break away from the musical scrum. He played three rising notes, which grew to four, and gradually to five. It gave me the feeling of someone who wanted to break free. Various members of the quartet followed that with another series of rising tones. At some point, cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel got ahold of the line and played a series of 20 ascending tones (if I counted correctly). Violinists J. Freivogel and Sae Chonabayashi pushed things higher and higher before the concoction settled down into a sequence that seemed random and unconnected. I have to admit that I lost the thread of the piece at that point. There was not windup or grand finale. The piece just stopped. It was an intriguing number that I would like to hear again.

Mozart was known to be a party animal, and his music often floats along in a way that causes one to smile on the inside. That was part of the takeaway that I felt while listening to Mozart’s Flute Quartet No. 1 in D Major (K. 285). Flutist O’Connor, violinist Nikki Chooi, violist Paul Neubauer, and cellist Sherry gave a masterful performance. With O’Connor demonstrating astonishing breath control, the ensemble modulated effortlessly between elegant and smooth passages and effervescent ones that were perky and playful.

The probing opening commentary of the cello, the seamless exchange of phrases between ensemble members, and an excellent blend of instrumental voices were hallmarks of the performance Mozart’s String Quintet No. 5 in D Major (K. 593), which closed the concert. Violinists Daniel Phillips and Chooi, violists Neubauer and Bunch, and cellist Sherry dug into the piece, delivering the loveliest sections with dulcet tones and scampering across the animated passages with élan. A bauble or two and some slight intonation problems were the only flaws in their performance, which was enthusiastically embraced by the audience.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Warmth and massive sounds aplenty from organist Paul Jacobs in Oregon Bach Festival at Trinity Cathedral

Guest review by Phillip Ayers

On Tuesday evening (July 7) at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, the young and prodigious organist Paul Jacobs performed on the Rosales Organ (called by him one of the best in the country) a program of Bach, Brahms and Max Reger for an audience attempting to keep calm and cool due to the summer heatwave. Before the concert, fans were running in the rear of the church (the windows there are of the non-opening variety), then switched off before the artist entered. The background noise from the fans would probably have been distracting, but we in the audience did our level best to cool ourselves with waving programs, "psychological cooling," or attentiveness to the excellent music that came our way.

Jacobs has made appearances in Portland before, and with the Oregon Bach Festival. It was delightful and a pleasure to welcome him back to Portland this year, as most of the concerts of the festival are held in Eugene. Apparently low audience support in Portland contributed to the decision to limit Portland performances. I cannot speak for every other member of the audience, but the heat and the disappointment that more of the OBF was not on our "turf," were more than offset by this excellent organist and the music he served up in a rich stew of contrasts and profundity.

Jacobs, at 38, is the Chair of the Organ department at Julliard and is a concert artist of wide and broad experience. One has only to have a brief glance at his website to ask "How does he do this?" He performs all over the world and his repertoire is inclusive of everything from the Baroque to Stephen Paulus. He is energetic, and regales his audience with commentary that is at once informative, enchanting, and humorous. Doffing his jacket after the first piece, it amazed this reviewer that Jacobs "kept his cool," playing everything from memory and even offering a concluding encore.

Jacobs reminded us that Reger was known for saying that J. S. Bach is the "Alpha and the Omega" of the organ, thus the program opened with an "alpha:" Bach's arrangement of an original solo violin partita that morphed into the Sinfonia of his cantata "Wir danken dir, Gott," BWV 29. Jacobs proved his boundless energy and concentration in offering a concluding encore, the fugue from "Prelude and Fugue in A Minor" as the "omega." After some brief and engaging commentary, Jacobs went on to play, without interruption, three pieces for organ by Johannes Brahms: two chorale preludes, "O wie selig," and "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen" that "sandwiched" (Jacobs' term) Brahms' muscular "Prelude and Fugue" in G Minor. Interestingly, it was emphasized that Brahms, perfectionist that he was, wanted his earlier works for organ destroyed, but was dissuaded by Clara Schumann. The "Prelude and Fugue" dates from that time. The chorale preludes, eleven of them in number, were reflective and meditative gems composed around the time that Clara Schumann died, and include the last music he composed in his lifetime. I imagine that anyone who has played the chorale preludes, as I have, reveled in the interpretation given by Mr. Jacobs: especially in "Es ist ein Ros'", when the melody, so familiar to us at Christmastide, is hidden in the rich texture, but brought out with skillful registration.

The rest of the program, some 48 minutes worth before and after a nice, cool intermission outside in the courtyard of the Cathedral, consisted of two large works by Reger: his "Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H" and the massive, lengthy, "Introduction, Variations, and Fugue on an Original Theme." It has been said, of Reger's music, "Why did he not 'prune' or edit his work?" There's no handy answer to that question, other than putting Reger in his context of late 19th century Germany with models like Liszt to go by. And the result is thickly-textured harmony (even an amateur organist can derive great joy from Reger's harmonization of chorale tunes), sometimes bombastic, complex sounds, producing what Jacobs called a "glorious edifice of sound." That comment referred to Reger's work based on four notes "B-A-C-H" (German notation: for us, it is B-flat, A, C, and B-natural). Franz Liszt composed a similar work but Reger's possesses a richness about it that is incomparable and invites the listener not only to hear the four-note theme through the work but to enjoy the craftsmanship of the rich, sonic tapestry.

Making the evening more engaging for the concert-goer was the screen upon which was shown the organ console with the artist's hands and feet flying all over the keyboards. To see Jacobs' hands deftly handling the registrations (just a few odd flaws occurred when a reed stop inadvertently played on the pedal) so skillfully was sheer delight.

Before playing the massive, 30-minute-long, "Introduction, Variations and Fugue" by Reger, Jacobs spent a good deal of time inviting us into this work. He said that he "had to become the music," in order to possess its soul, and he bade us: "Be willing to go into its world." The artist spent a minute or so playing the theme, a tender bit of gorgeous music; rather than trying to find this theme throughout the work, I simply "psyched" myself into sheer enjoyment of it and tried my best to "go into [the music's] world," despite the heat. Having the lighting on "low setting" helped. The variations alternated between the jaunty, jagged, reflective and declamatory; that part of the piece is 20 minutes in duration, with the introduction (theme) and fugue each only five minutes in length.

As Jacobs pointed out, his hero Reger had a terrific sense of humor, corroborated by some historical evidence this reviewer saw online. When a music critic gave some of Reger's music an unfavorable review, he wrote to the reviewer: "I have your review before me in the smallest room of my house, and very soon it will be behind me." This reviewer would, I hope, be on Reger's "good side," as he thoroughly involved me in the richness of his music. It is to be hoped that Reger's music will undergo something of a revival in the 21st century. Already there is a "Max Reger Society" and a "Max Reger Festival," centered at the University of Indiana to help that occur.

New@Noon kicks off with Svoboda, Schoenfeld, and the new kid on the block: Rogerson

Chris Rogerson
The inaugural concert of Chamber Music Northwest’s New@Noon series made a strong statement for new music by devoting an entire program to works by living composers. The concert, which took place on Friday afternoon (July 3) in Room 175 of Lincoln Hall, featured a piece by Tomas Svoboda, the West coast premiere of a work by Paul Schoenfeld, and three pieces by newcomer Chris Rogerson including a world premiere.

The oldest piece on the program was Svoboda’s Viola Sonata, which he wrote in 1961 when he was 22 years old and a student at the Prague Conservatory. Played by violist Steven Tenenbom and pianist Julia Hsu, the Viola Sonata had a delightful mixture of serious and humorous moods. Some of the warmest phrases in the piece came from Tenenbom while many of the lightest were created by Hsu. The third movement, “Allegro con humore” ended the piece on a playful upswing, which the audience responded to enthusiastically, cheering the performers and Svoboda, a dean of Pacific Northwest composers, who was in attendance.

In introducing Paul Schoenfeld “Sonatina No. 2 for Klezmer Clarinet and Piano” CMNW artistic director and clarinetist David Shifrin pointed out that Schoenfeld performed many years at festival. He also mentioned that Schoenfeld’s piece, completed last year, was commissioned by a consortium of almost fifty clarinetists and surely Schifrin was one of them.

In the hands of Shrifrin and pianist Yevgeny Yontov (who made his CMNW debut with this piece), “Sonatina No. 2” started out with an abstract feel. A sudden crescendo and a soaring high note by Shifrin shook things up a bit and the music became more immediate. After a dramatic pause, a klezmer tune broke into the mix and Yontov got to show off some flashy licks. Shifrin got in some wonderful riffs, also, and the piece closed out with a bang, which the audience absolutely loved.

Born in 1988, Rogerson has racked up some impressive academic credentials having studied at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Yale School of Music. Over the last few years, he has garnered many commissions and performances from orchestras, including the Atlanta Symphony, the Kansas City Symphony, and the Buffalo Philharmonic. He has already received a Theodore Presser Career Grant, the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, and the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The New@Noon concert opened with Rogerson’s “Lullaby: no bad dreams,” which was inspired by a bedtime ritual that Rogerson when growing up used to prevent nightmares. The playing of violinist Ida Kavafian and pianist Yekwon Sunwoo exquisitely draped the audience with the lyricism of drifting into sleep before becoming animated with disturbing dreams and then relaxing into gentle sleep once more. This was a lovely piece that was very appealing and easy to digest.

Rogerson’s String Quartet No. 1, performed by the Jasper String Quartet, also offered a marvelous blend of ideas. The first of three movements, “Duel,” grabbed everyone’s attention right off the bat with a series of slashing, accented notes. That transitioned to a hard driving sequence that slowed down a bit before picking up speed with the two violins against a pulsating cello and viola. “Hymn” featured poignant lines, a sweeping surge by the ensemble, and a settling down into the depths. Highlights from “Dance” included its fanfare beginning, a large section of virtuosic, fast playing, and a bright ending. Overall, the String Quartet No. 1 sounded wonderfully fresh and different yet sort of familiar – a terrific piece.

The concert ended with the world premiere of Rogerson’s “Constellations,” a three-movement work that was inspired by earlier composers. The first movement, “Ara” channeled Beethoven in a languid, mysterious and abstract way. The second, “Pavo,” drew on Mozart with short bursts by the viola (Tenenbom) and a soaring clarinet line (Shifrin) with light piano accompaniment (Sunwoo). The third, “Cygnus,” quoted from the “Adagio” of Haydn’s Sonata in D Major with the piano often in the lead. That left me with the impression of the composer staring at the stars on a summer evening in a meditative way. It was pleasant music but a tad dull.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Kernis’s “River” runs through Chamber Music Northwest concert with Brahms and Bach

Jasper String Quartet | photo credit: Jonathan Lange
This year, Chamber Music Northwest has extended its reach into contemporary music more than ever before. Featured in this year’s summer festival are many new works, including several pieces that were either commissioned exclusively by CMNW or commissioned by CMNW in cahoots with other music organizations. Aaron Jay Kernis’s String Quartet No. 3 (“River”) fell into the latter camp, being commissioned by CMNW and six other entities. I heard the “River’s” West coast premiere on Tuesday (June 30th) at Lincoln Hall. Before it was performed, Kernis came to the stage and told the audience that he hoped that the music would convey the “flow of water, energy, speed, flux, change.” The Jasper String Quartet, for whom it was written, followed his words with an incisive performance of the piece, which has five movements: “Source,” “Flow/Surge,” “Mirrored Surface – Flux – Reflections,” “Cavatina,” and” Mouth/Estuary.”

Cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel introduced “Source” with brief, rising phrases that suggested a spring bubbling forth. Soon violinists J. Freivogel and Sae Chonabayashi plus violist Sam Quintal accompanied her with pizzicatos that began sporadically before gushing forth. The second movement featured a lovely duet between the cello and viola with the leading line passing to the second violin and later with the first violin joining in. An accelerando into quick, virtuosic fingerwork by the entire ensemble signaled surging waters and a torrent shooting over a mountain side, but the movement ended with a series of phrases that climbed higher and higher. I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to signify something or if Kernis just decided to go in another direction. The music in the third movement did seem to create a shiny surface and a series of downward glissandos suggested flux, but I never caught the waves of reflection. The fourth movement travelled from a sense of yearning with high notes that vanished to bird-like songs to a state of nervous energy to half-tones and snapping sounds from the cello and finally a state of calm. The last movement began with a slow and sad emotion. A couple of evocative cello solos led to a searching solo by the first violinist (J. Freivogel). The flow of the music then picked up speed and several intriguing combinations, such as pizzicatoing violins against low strumming from the cello ensured until the sound flatted out a bit. Perhaps the music arrived at the “Mouth/Estuary.” I couldn’t quite tell, because a lot of astonishing, virtuosic playing by the Jasper Quartet dazzled along the way. Overall, the piece contained huge helpings of emotion but the complexity of the music got in the way and that made me lose track, at times, of where the “River” was going.

The program started with Brahms “Selections from 11 Choral Preludes” (Op 122) in an arrangement for one piano and four hands by Peter Serkin. The selections were performed by Serkin (on the lower portion of the keyboard) and Julia Hsu (on the upper portion). Their playing was immaculate and finely balanced. The selections traded between stately and solemn to tenderly lyrical. It was wonderful to see how the two pianists worked together on pieces (for example, No. 5 “Schmücke dich, o Liebe Seele”) that required Hsu to delicately reach over with one hand and play between Serkin’s hands. It was grace and poetry in motion.

After intermission, violinist Ida Kavafian, violist Steven Tenenbom, and cellist Peter Wiley performed Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” in a beguiling arrangement by Dmitry Sitkovetsky. With tremendous agility and sensitivity the trio created timbers and textures that marvelously added to the enjoyment of the work, which Bach wrote for the keyboard. Once in a while the musicians allowed a slight smile to form on their lips, revealing how much they enjoyed playing Bach’s masterpiece on their instruments. Smile or no smile, there were many transcendent moments during the performance, and it would be great to hear it again on a CMNW program in the near future.
Ida Kavafian, Peter Wiley, and Steven Tenebom | photo credit: Tom Emerson

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Exhilarating concert performance of “Maria Stuarda” – even with a disjointed ending – closes out the Astoria Music Festival on a high note

Led by soprano Angela Meade in the title role, the Astoria Music Festival lit up a houseful of vocal fireworks with an ardent, concert-style performance of Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda” (“Mary Stuart”) at the Liberty Theater on Sunday (June 28th). Mesmerizing the audience with a gorgeous tone and emotional intensity, Meade conveyed the complexity of a character who, in the end, realized that she brought about her own downfall. It wasn’t all Meade, though. She was joined by an excellent cast of principals that included Canadian soprano Alexandra Deshorties, tenor Aaron Blake, mezzo-soprano Angela Niederloh, and baritones Richard Zeller and Matthew Hayward. With Keith Clark conducting the festival orchestra, the performance was positively electrifying until the last few measures when some kind of miscommunication put a damper on things.

“Maria Stuarda,” inspired by the execution of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, veers away from actual historical events. It fashions a power play between Mary and Queen Elizabeth due to their rivalry over the Earl of Leicester, and the two queens meet, which in life, they didn’t. But this is opera, and the meeting, as sung by Meade and Deshorties (Queen Elizabeth) scorched everything in sight. 
Alexandra Deshorties | photo by  Dwight Caswell
Dishing out huge helpings of disdain and contempt for Mary, Deshorties’s Elizabeth displayed the power of the royal throne forcefully and persuasively. Meade, gave it all back and topped it off with an extra flourish, but that sealed her character’s fate. The exchange riveted the audience, which let out an audible gasp.
Deshorties and Meade | photo by  Dwight Caswell
As the Earl of Leicester, Aaron Blake’s singing was absolutely thrilling. His voice balanced well in duets and impressively cut through the ensemble passages. Richard Zeller was a perfect match for the compassionate role of George Talbot. In the role William Cecil, Matthew Hayward eagerly urged Queen Elizabeth to dispose of Mary asap. Angela Niederloh created a steadfast and compassionate Anna (Mary’s lady-in-waiting).
Deshorites and Aaron Blake | photo by  Dwight Caswell

The orchestra sounded a little ragged at the outset with the exception of David Hattner’s plaintive clarinet solo, but the ensemble caught fire after the soloists appeared and played with more consistency. The chorus sounded a little tentative at time, but they had to sing from a raised platform in the back of the stage only had a few numbers to contribute.
Clark, Meade, and Richard Zeller | photo by  Dwight Caswell
The ending got a bit jumbled. There was a cut that seemed to have caught some of the singers by surprise. They kept singing for a few measures then quieted as they realized that the orchestra had transitioned to the end. Fortunately, Meade knew what to do (or figured it out), and she hit the final high note with a little room to spare and then lowered her music stand to signal that all was done. The result was a bit anti-climactic, and it made me wonder if she had called an audible. One more rehearsal would have certainly fixed things.

Fortunately, the singing up to that point was so stellar that the audience erupted into cheers and bravos, which went on for quite a while with several curtain calls for the soloists. The Astoria Music Festival and Keith Clark can be rightly proud of putting together a barnburner for its grand finale.
PS: I've been informed that the final cut was not as major as I had thought, So I removed the word "major" from that sentence, which now reads "There was a cut that seemed...."

Principal flute position open at the Oregon Symphony

According to the audition page on the OSO website, the principal flute position is open at the Oregon Symphony. I've been wondering what has happened to Jessica Sindell (who has been the orchestra's principal flutist since January of 2012), because she didn't play any of the concerts from late January to the close of the season. I was told by the OSO administration that she was on leave of absence. I decided to check her facebook page and have found out that she is at the Shepherd School of Music (Rice University). I don't know anything more about why she left the orchestra. I really enjoyed her playing while she was here, and I wish her the best.