Saturday, February 28, 2015

Violinist Jackiw thrills with performances of Lutoslawski and Dvořák

Stefan Jackiw
Stefan Jackiw has become one of my favorite violinists. He always plays with high energy and intelligence and is acutely attuned to the orchestra. I heard him give an immaculate and incredibly fast interpretation of Mozart’s 5th Violin Concerto at the Grant Park Orchestra in June when his fingers outraced an impending thunderstorm. This past weekend, Jackiw was in town to perform with the Oregon Symphony, which marked his third engagement with the orchestra (previous appearances were in 2009 and 2012). I heard him on Monday evening (February 23) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in a program in which he played Witold Lutoslawski’s “Partita for Violin and Orchestra” and Antonin Dvořák’s “Romance in F minor for Violin and Orchestra.” Jackiw delivered two superb performances of these wonderfully contrasting pieces, collaborating seamlessly with the orchestra under guest conductor Christoph König.

As Jackiw mentioned to the audience in a brief introductory statement, Lutoslawski’s “Partita” is a five movement work with two movements (both titled Ad libitum) that contain aleatory or chance music. For those movements, he explained that he would be playing in a tempo that was in his head and that orchestra and piano (which has a prominent part) would play in another. I have to admit that by the time the ad lib movements arrived, I forgot all about the chance aspect but mesmerized by how the music moved between a pensive quality and a freed up feeling. Jackiw created some very quick passages that pianist Carol Rich seemed to echo at times. In another section, Jackiw marvelously played tones that seemed almost hollow, and later he commanded a dizzy array of notes that gave the piece a mercurial sense.

After finishing Lutoslawski’s edgy “Partita,” Jackiw returned to the stage to perform Dvořák’s “Romance in F minor,” which he played with such grace and understanding that it became a sublime experience. Throughout the piece, he consistently projected a beguiling sound above the orchestra. That demonstrated that his musicality includes listening to the orchestra and gauging the dynamics correctly (which is not always an easy thing in the Schnitz). The audience loved it all with applause that called him back to the stage several times.

The concert began with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s supremely moody “Isle of the Dead. After a plaintive call from the French horn (John Cox), the lower strings and harp (Jennifer Craig) established a shroud of fog and the orchestra painted the picture of a boat moving deliberately across a still lake. Highlights from the orchestra included lovely solos by flutist Alicia DiDonato Paulson, a swelling brass passage, an expansive melody from the violins, a terrific gnawing passage from the violas, a silky solo by concertmaster Sarah Kwak, a beautiful, fading phrase from clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao, and a sense of subsiding waves from the cellos and basses.

The concert ended with a lively and energetic performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. König led the orchestra with a brisk pace, and that gave the piece a fresh and alive feeling. Kudos to oboist Karen Wagner, flutist DiDonato Paulson, bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood, and hornist Joseph Berger for their outstanding solos. König used a combination of sweeping and almost dance-like motions and sharper, decisive gestures. I think that the performance took only 25 or so minutes, and even at that blitzing pace, Beethoven's Fifth still packs a solid knockout punch.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Seattle Opera's all-new production of "Semele" wows in every way

Alek Shrader (left) as Jupiter and soprano Brenda Rae (right) as the title character in Semele.
  © Elise Bakketun
Wow! You might think that watching a Baroque opera with its endless da capo arias would be akin to watching paint dry, but Seattle Opera’s all-new production of Handel’s “Semele” tosses that notion out the window. This “Semele” has everything going for it: terrific singers anchored by the Stephanie Blythe, spirited conducting by Gary Thor Wedow, spot-on directions by Tomer Zvulun, evocative costumes by Vita Tzykun, inventive projections and sets by Erhard Rom, and wizardly lighting by Robert Wierzel. It all caused the audience to go bananas when the curtain came down on the final scene at McCaw Hall on opening night (February 21).

Right from start during the overture, this production grabbed the audience’s attention by introducing the main characters as if they were in a movie or TV show. If the singer had a role as a god or goddess, then an image of that character was projected upon the scrim across the front of the stage. If the singer had the role of a mortal, then a spotlight shone on him or her from behind the scrim. For those singers who did two roles (for example, Blythe as Juno and as Ion), the deity was shown first.

Handel’s libretto was adapted from an earlier version by the great Restoration writer William Congreve. The story takes place in ancient times. Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, the King of Thebes, has been promised in marriage to Athamas, but Jupiter has been smitten with Semele’s beauty and she longs for him. After Jupiter carries Semele away to a pleasure-palace, Jupiter’s wife, Juno, becomes incensed, and takes revenge. With the help of Somnus, the god of sleep, Juno immobilizes Semele’s sister Ino and then takes on Ino’s likeness. She then convinces Semele that she can become acquire immortality if Jupiter will reveal his divine form to her. Semele falls for Juno’s line of thinking, and it results in Semele’s death.

Amanda Forsythe (left) as Iris and Stephanie Blythe (right) as Juno in Handel's Semele.  © Elise Bakketun
Brenda Rae created a radiant and comely Semele with superb singing that included at least two arias with stratospheric notes. After receiving a mirror and becoming totally infatuated with herself, Rae delivered a thrilling “Myself I shall adore,” which was one of the high points of the evening. Alek Shrader’s Jupiter displayed an equally compelling voice, commanding all of the florid lines with a natural and engaging tone that was smooth and golden at the top – even during his rage arias. Shrader’s sublime singing of “Where’er you walk” was another memorable moment, and he also wonderfully sang the role of Apollo.

Blythe switched seamlessly between the two characters. As Juno on her throne, she whiled away her time with bon bons until photographic proof of her philandering husband spurred to into action, The flinty wrath of her anger, which descended into the basement of Blythe’s range, torched the stage and caused an eruption of cheers from the audience. Later, as Ino, Blythe and Rae’s duet, “Prepare then, ye immortal choir,” ended so spectacularly that the audience responded with thunderous applause, which, in turn, drowned out the first few measures of the ensuing chorus.

Amanda Forsythe sparkled in the role of Iris, singing impeccably and with carefree abandon. She complimented it all with excellent comic timing, shoes that lit up, and gloves that threw beams of green laser light all over the place. John Del Carlo projected a depth charge of basso profundo that gave weight to the grief of Cadmus and to the drowsy Somnus.
From right: Stephanie Blythe (Juno), John Del Carlo (Somnus) and Amanda Forsythe (Iris) in Semele
© Avi Loud
Counter tenor Randall Scotting created an ardent Athamas, but his voice was overshadowed by Blythe’s when they sang together. The Seattle Opera Chorus was thoroughly prepared by John Keene. Conductor Gary Thor Wedow guided the 37-piece chamber orchestra with élan while playing a virginal (a Baroque keyboard instrument). Overall, the music-making was of the highest caliber.

Tomar Zvulun’s witty directions enhanced the production, and kept it from tipping over into the land of slapstick comedy, which would have trivialized the sensuous and poignant moments. The projections and sets, designed by Erhard Rom, had a modern flair yet evoked foreground of an ancient temple and lofty mountain heights. Humorous touches included huge selfies of Semele that adorned the pleasure-palace and Somnus draped over a sofa in the lair of his nightclub. Costume designer Vita Tzkun gave the gods and goddesses lavish outfits to match their outsized personalities, including an extended cape for Somnus, which gave him a Fafner-like presence. The flashiest garb was worn by Iris, whose gloves emitted laser lights and winged shoes lit up the floor. Imaginative lighting by Robert Wierzel put just the right glow on everything.

Much more could be stated about this amazing production, which has to rank as one of Seattle Opera’s best ever, There are four performances left to choose from: February 28, March 4, 6, and 7. Go see it, by Jupiter, go!
Brenda Rae (Semele) and the Seattle Opera Chorus in Handel's masterpiece Semele.
© Avi Loud

Monday, February 23, 2015

Terrific Liszt rendered by Cohen - Brotons’ Sixth Symphony receives searing performance by the Vancouver Symphony

It was Oscar night on TV, but that didn’t deter a sizeable audience from attending the Vancouver Symphony concert on Sunday evening (March 22nd) at Skyview Concert Hall. They were treated to outstanding performances by Arnaldo Cohen of Franz Liszt’s Piano Concertos No. 1 and No 2 and a spirited world premiere of the Sixth Symphony (“Concise”) of Salvador Brotons.

Cohen, a multi-talented pianist who maintains an active international performing career while teaching at a prestigious conservatory and leading Portland Piano International, is no stranger to Liszt, having made five recordings of his music, including the concertos on the VSO program. Yet despite the familiarity, Cohen’s playing was infused with energy and intelligence, and he electrified the audience with highly charged and impeccable interpretations. From the keyboard of the Steinway grand, he delivered thundering octaves, smooth arpeggios, terrific staccato lines, sudden sforzandos, and quiet, contemplative lines with nuanced phrasing. Cohen expressed the music wonderfully, without straying into any kind of excess.

On the whole, the orchestra accompanied him very well. A couple of times in the first concerto, Brotons did quite get the orchestra to cut off with Cohen at exactly the same time. Orchestral highlights included shimmering phrases from the violins and expressive solos by principal trombonist Greg Scholl, and principal oboist Karen Strand. In the second concerto, principal cellist Justin Kagan played several lovely solos, but one of them got a little covered up by the orchestra. The orchestra also overshadowed principal flutist Darren Cook’s solo a bit too much. Again, principal oboist Strand played her solos with distinction.

Thunderous applause followed Cohen’s performances, and he responded to the volleys of bravos with a solo, which he told the audience was “Liszt, only different.”

Brotons originally wrote his Sixth Symphony in 2011 as a work for symphonic band, and it has been recorded by the Barcelona Symphonic Band on the Naxos label. Over the past summer, he rearranged the work for orchestra, and the Vancouver Symphony gave its world premiere at this concert (and the previous afternoon’s concert).

“Concise” is an apt name for this symphony, because in five compact movements, the music covers a lot of ground. The first movement (“Frontal”) had a dramatic opening, featuring salvos from principal timpanist Florian Conzetti and the percussion battery, transitioned to a busy theme that had only the briefest of lulls before the orchestra (agitated by the double basses) took off to the races again. Another transition brought the ensemble into a floating, dreamy space before it was summoned with attacks from all sides and wrapped up by the percussion in a rat-tat-tat ,sharp, crisp ending.

The next movement (“Courtship”) started with a slow, steady beat, which gave way to a lighter segment with solos for trombone (Scholl), bassoon (Margaret McShea), and cello (Kagan). The wandering nature of the music segued to a majestic section that became ominous with an almost queasy brass sound, lots of tension and an unresolved finish.

The third movement (“Scherzo”) was light and bouncy, like a dance. Sporadic entrances and exits dotted the mood until it all suddenly ended. The fourth movement (“Passacaglia”) was quite solemn and serious, starting in the lower strings. The feeling of heaviness sprang forward via the flute (Cook) and gradually acquired an elegiac mood before breaking into a beautiful melody that was shared by the entire orchestra. The melody travelled to the brass and woodwinds, and then it slowed down to a dramatic ending that was filled with sonic blasts from the timpani and percussion, building loads of tension, which spilled into the fifth movement (“Finale”) where a lighter state of being took over. Surging melodies emerged and dynamic twists and turns took place until the big theme swelled to the top and all was crown with a bombastic conclusion.

Overall, the strong emotional content of the Sixth Symphony seemed to reflect Brotons’ personality. It had lots of highs and lows, more fortes perhaps than pianos, and always and unrelenting drive. I don’t know if the piece will be played a hundred years from now, but I hope so, because it is lively work that is fun to hear and reflective of the human experience.

The concert opened with the Overture to Dmitri Kabalevsky’s opera “Colas Breugnon.” The orchestra played it with gusto, and it struck a harmonious chord with the audience.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Experience bold Byzantine Chant with Cappella Romana's newest recording, "Good Friday in Jerusalem"

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to hear music from the 8th and 9th centuries, then you should listen to Cappella Romana’s latest album “Good Friday in Jerusalem.” In this recording, the men of Cappella Romana sing Byzantine Chant from the “Service of the Holy Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ” as done at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Byzantine Chant refers to a style of liturgical chant that was developed during the Byzantine Empire (approximately 330 to 1453) and into the 16th century.

The 17 selections in Cappella Romana’s recording start with a procession to the Mount of Olives and continue to other stations such as Golgotha, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and the Chapel of the Holy Custody. The pace is deliberate and bold. In most of the selection, one or more group of men chant the text (for example, a Psalm) and they are supported by a drone of baritone and basses. Some of the chants feature a slight wiggle in some of the tones. At other times, the chanter’s voice might slide between tones, giving the music a Middle Eastern flavor.

It’s fascinating to hear the shifts in tone because the chant and the drone move absolutely together. No one takes a back seat here. Both the chanter(s) and the droning chorus are equally strong. Most of the chanting is sung in the baritone range, except one section when the singers admonish “Impious and lawless people” who “meditate vain things." That’s when the tenor range is in full bloom.

The expertly researched liner notes from Cappella Romana’s artistic director Alexander Lingas provides plenty of background material for this music, and the texts are printed in Greek and English. Unless you understand ancient Greek, one of the few words that is recognizable is “Christus” (Christ).

With its arresting, beautiful music and testament to faith, “Good Friday in Jerusalem,” recorded at the Stanford Memorial Chapel in 2013, is another feather in Cappella Romana’s cap. The ensemble has released over 20 albums, and they have a long ways to go, because, if you consider that the Byzantine Empire lasted a thousand years, there a lot of Byzantine Chant still waiting to be discovered.
PS: "Good Friday in Jerusalem" is currently number 8 on Billboard classical chart.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Warmth, color, texture in treble clef – the voices of In Mulieribus in "Live 2"

If you would like to experience women’s voices making warm, ethereal music, then you should hear the singing of In Mulieribus in its new album, “Live 2.” Released just a couple of months ago, “Live 2” is the fourth recording of In Mulieribus, a Portland-based female vocal ensemble. It contains ten selections from programs that the ensemble performed from 2009 to 2014.

The selections feature sacred music from the Middle Ages and a couple of pieces by contemporary composers Craig Kingsbury and Ivan Moody, which are inspired by Early Music. Unified vowels, pure intonation, and just a hint of vibrato from the eight voices of In Mulieribus create a warmth and depth that is an absolute pleasure to hear, starting with the “Venite omens cristicole” of the “Codes calixtinus,” which dates by to the 12th century. The “Ave verum corpus” of Josquin Des Préz, has a very low passage for altos that may come as a surprise. The lively “From Virgin’s Womb” by Renaissance composer William Byrd contains a lovely solo by Hannah Penn. “Thys endere nyght” contains lilting singing by Penn and soprano Catherine van der Salm depicting an exchange between the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. The “Hodie Christus natus est” of Portland-based composer Kingsbury and the “Cum natus esset Iesus” of British composer Moody, convey the tranquil and timelessness of the Christmas story. The ensemble is equally impressive in its singing of “Mervele noght, Joseph” from the 15th Century Ritson Manscript and in works by French composers Elzéar Genet Carpentras and Antoine Brumel.

Several years ago, I purchased a CD recording of the acclaimed women’s quartet Anonymous 4 and was struck by their pristine sound. That quartet is seen as the gold standard for Early Music performance by women’s vocal ensembles. Yet the group’s recording left me with a feeling of coldness and thinness. It seemed that accuracy trumped emotion. I wasn’t expecting anything operatic, but every piece seemed cut and dried. There wasn’t all that much intensity. In any case, I became disinterested in hearing women’s ensembles that do Early Music (and music in the style of early music). With this new recording of In Mulieribus, I have changed my mind. This group generates much warmth and vibrancy, which can be felt from the recording. I strongly suggest that you give “Live 2” a listen.

Monday, February 16, 2015

“Humble River” flows over melodic Mozart to spare and angular Mackey in Third Angle concert

Photo credit: Sarah Tiedemann
Musicologists and critics often wonder what music or composer may have inspired another piece of music or composer. With Steven Mackey’s “Humble River” there is no question because Mackey's piece openly uses movements from Mozart’s flute quartets as a reference point. That is, “Humble River” is a flute quartet with music by Mozart and Mackey. To clarify this a little further, except for the Prelude that Mackey wrote to introduce “Humble River,” a movement from one of Mozart’s flute quartet is followed by a movement by Mackey, and this continues for four movements (or parts). I heard this unique construct, played with the utmost integrity by The Third Angle New Music Ensemble on Friday evening (February 13) in the intimate confines of Zoomtopia, and I came away from the hour-long expierence with the feeling that Mackey’s inventions had a more of an intellectual appeal than an emotional one, and contrasted with the comfort-food-like appeal of Mozart’s music pretty well.

The program notes explained that in “Humble River, Mackey’s “approach was to write a single, continuous piece, which would flow through the evening: a ‘river’ with Mozart ‘islands.’” Also, the program notes explain that while Mackey’s music doesn’t contain any direct quotes from Mozart’s flute quartets, he does made idiosyncratic and abstract references to Mozart’s music.

If I understood what was going on, it seemed that the flow of Mozart’s music (from the four movements from the four flute quartets) started out pleasantly with an elegant and refined style, and ended up in a fast-moving current. Mackey’s music started out as a few droplets and a very faint, whistling wind. The droplets became very angular, but together they seemed to create a trickle and gradually gathered to form rivulets and a stream that made its way past rocks and boulders, tree roots and hard shoulders of clay, and by the end of the piece, the flow of sound became a rollicking river – Tumble River, I suppose.

I realize that my interpretation is not in line with Mackey’s program notes about “broken toys.” But if I used that metaphor, then in the last movement, he was throwing toys all over the place. Okay, well maybe that is what it was all about.

Much of the angular and spare sounds were created by violinist Ron Blessinger (who is also the artistic director of Third Angle) and violist Charles Noble. Cellist Marilyn de Oliverira added depth to the undertaking and flutist Zachariah Galatis contributed with a wide variety of sounds, such as whistling, breathy tones, and fluttering tones.

The final section was very rolling, slightly jazzy at times, with a number of glissando-like passages for all of the strings. Galatis punctuated it with some piercing notes and breathy blasts. I felt a little sorry for anyone who sat in the front row, because they got nailed with several shrieking tones.

After the concert, I took a look at Mackey’s flute score and his score for the violin. Many of the notes were written extremely high – in the stratospheric range. I am not sure how the musicians figured it out. It looked absolutely impossible.

It was obvious that each member of the quartet was carefully listening to each other. Blessinger and Noble were attentive to each others playing, especially during passages that featured only the two of them. It seemed, overall, a Herculean effort, and the musicians left it all on the stage floor.
Photo credit: Sarah Tiedemann

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Oregon Symphony juxtaposes introverted Strauss with extroverted Orff

As music director Carlos Kalmar pointed out in his introductory remarks at the Oregon Symphony concert on Saturday evening (February 7), the pairing of Richard Strauss’s “Metamorphosen” (“Metamorphoses”) and Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” is a study of contrasts. While “Metamorphosen” is a slow, introspective piece for a chamber orchestra of 23 strings, “Carmina Burana” is a heavily rhythmic, “in your face” number for a full-sized orchestra, chorus, and soloists. Both pieces were incisively performed at the concert, but “Carmina Burana” needed more volume in order to make the maximum dramatic impact. I’m not talking about volume from the orchestra. The instrumentalists were plenty loud. I’m referring to fortes from the Portland Symphonic Choir. They needed to be a lot louder so that the combined visceral effect of text and music could come crushing into the audience. I’ve sung this piece many times in the very same hall (the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall) with the very same group, and I know for certain that the members of the PSC projected their voices like crazy whenever a forte was demanded. But as an audience member sitting in the lower balcony, I have to admit that I became perplexed that only half of the sound got out. It was a good thing that the Pacific Youth Chorus was amplified, and it seems that the PSC should have been amplified, too. The problem with the Schnitz is that the stage area for the choir and most of the orchestra is in a different room than the room where the audience sits. And since the Schnitz is a historical building, that situation will never change, because the change would involve cutting out the proscenium arch.

The soloists, on the other hand, sang from the extend stage area, which expands over the first few rows on the main floor. They did sound like they were in the same room with the audience. Laura Claycomb’s lovely soprano delivered all of the goods in her solos, including an exquisite D above high C at the apex the “Dulcissime” section. Baritone Tim Mix was a bit of a puzzle. He sang “Omnia sol temperat” and “Estuans interius” accurately but without much expression, then he became more animated in “Ego sum abbas,” but his falsetto blipped during “Dies nox et omnia.” The fellow who almost stole the show was tenor Marc Molomot. He turned his one solo, “Olim lacus colueram” (the swan who is being roasted on a spit), which is normally done as a lament, into a self-deprecating, humorous event that included terrific interaction with the men of the choir.

Speaking of the choir, it was expertly prepared by Steven Zopfi. The balance, intonation, pianissimos, and diction were superb. One of the most difficult sections in the “Carmina” to sing is the “In taberna quando sumus” segment that has a lot words that fly by very swiftly, especially during the toe-tapping “Bibit hera, bibit herus” section. The men did it all exceedingly well. I just wish that the final “Ios” would have erupted louder!

The concert opened with the “Metamorphosen,” which Strauss wrote as a response to the bombing of the Munich opera house in the fall of 1943. The sound from the 23 strings – with each musician on an individual part – was solemn but not sentimental. The threading of phrases, including a five note theme that was transferred among several players, was complex and intense. The culmination of the piece with a fragment from the funeral march in Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony added an extra dollop of gravitas.

One of the intriguing things about “Metamorphosen” is that – for most of the piece – not all of the musicians played at the same time. So it was fun to see which instrumentalist had a few bars of rest. Another element of interest was the various solo passages. It appeared that almost every musician got at least one exposed solo. Concertmaster Sarah Kwak had most, and she expressed each one with conviction.


Postscript: The OSO hasn’t scheduled the PSC for any work next season. Given the choir’s long standing relationship with the orchestra over many, many years, and its excellent musicianship under Steven Zopfi, I think that this is a mistake.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Piques Eddy creates mesmerizing Carmen in Portland Opera’s production

Sandra Piques Eddy - ©Photo by Cory Weaver 
On Friday night (February 6) at Keller Auditorium, Sandra Piques Eddy gave one of the best performances of Carmen that anyone can possibly imagine. She captivated the audience with a tantalizing combination of emotions that made Carmen absolutely bewitching. One moment, she could be playful and enticing and then sullen and calculating and then mean and derisive. Piques Eddy embodied it all with her beguiling mezzo and nuanced acting, which included flicking the ashes from her cigarette into the waiting palms of some poor schmuck.

In the role of Don José, Chad Shelton’s voice started out a little tight, but it became more expansive as his character became more and more desperate to win Carmen’s love. He convincingly went berserk in the final scene, escalating from stalker to threatener to slasher.

Eric Greene’s Escamillo flaunted his bull fighting stature with gusto but his voice sounded bottled up at times. One of his best moves came in the tavern scene when he jumped from a table and landed on the floor like a cat on the prowl.

Jennifer Forni created a superb Micaëla, singing with tenderness and beauty when conveying the letter from Don José’s mother to him and making her pitch for marriage. Later her voice supported Micaëla's steely nerves as she followed the gypsies to their mountain campsite.

Jeffrey G. Beruan commanded the stage as the serious and overly confident Zuniga, and José Rubio’s Morales lightened things up a bit with his dalliances with available women. Alexander Elliott and Ian José Ramirez created two swaggering smugglers. Katrina Galka and Angela Niederloh were flirty and energetic gypsy girls in the roles of Frasquita and Mercédès. Their voices blended perfectly in the quintet, “Quand il s’agit” with Elliott, Ramirez, and Pasques Eddy in the tavern scene.

The opera chorus sang lustily and the orchestra, conducted by George Manahan, played ardently.

Erick Einhorn’s directions had a lot going on. The children, for example, gleefully tromped about and lightly mocked the soldiers. A lot of pistols and rifles were used in this production. They seemed to come out of nowhere whenever the gypsies felt threatened. It underscored Einhorn’s vision of the violent culture of the gypsies as did their harsh treatment of Zuniga. Carmen’s rope-a-dope reversal on Don José’ was flawless.

Two flamenco dancers, Glenda Sol Koeraus and Antonio Granjero, cut up a storm, but the brief sequence on top of the table in the tavern unfortunately drummed out the singing of Pasques Eddy.

The production, from Opera Omaha with scenery created by Paul Shortt originally for New York City Opera, was traditional, but the mountain scenery was the most striking with its iron-grey cliff and sky, cold campfires, and tall archway with a broken cross or wheel of fate at the apex. It created a sense of impending doom that led to the final tragic sequence between Carmen and Don José.

"Carmen" continues for three more performances: Tuesday, February 10th, Thursday, February 12th and Saturday, February 14th. It has great music and an excellent cast anchored by the stellar Piques Eddy in the title role.

Here are more photos from the production:

Jeffrey G. Beruan  - ©Photo by Cory Weaver

Sandra Piques Eddy - ©Photo by Cory Weaver
Eric Greene - ©Photo by Cory Weaver
Alexander Elliott and Ian Jose Ramirez - ©Photo by Cory Weaver
Katrina Galka, Sandra Piques Eddy, and Angela Niederloh - ©Photo by Cory Weaver
Chad Shelton and Sandra Piques Eddy - ©Photo by Cory Weaver

Friday, February 6, 2015

Oregon Symphony Brings out Portland's Trekkers with Star Trek (2009)

On Friday night, January 31 the Oregon Symphony shared with Portland a project that is of special significance to a great number of folks around the world. J.J. Abrams' Star Trek  (2009) caused an instantaneous rift amongst Trekkers (or Trekkies, if one prefers the old term) when it first came out. Some saw it as an abomination, its one unforgivable crime being that it had the audacity to have an entire set of new, younger actors take over the beloved roles from the Original Series and its follow up films. Or maybe it was that it altered the original Trek timeline that led to the events portrayed in the Original Series. Or maybe it was that the style of the genre itself was rebooted--this was a sci-fi action film first and foremost. So there were a number of unforgivable crimes depending upon whom you ask. Or there were none (count me in this category of fan.) The one inarguable fact is that it re-enervated, in the general public's mind, a moribund franchise which had had no TV or motion picture presence for over 5 years--yet before that had had an unbroken string of 10 films since 1979 and 4 TV shows since 1987 (and that's not including the Original Series and an animated series in the 60s and early 70s)--almost inarguably the largest footprint of any Sci-Fi franchise in history.

Whenever the discussion of the Star Trek reboot films (this one and 2013's Star Trek: Into Darkness) comes up  there is invariably controversy, but amongst Trekkers I know, no one was complaining about this opportunity to see the OSO perform Michael Giacchino's thrilling score live, accompanying a screening of the 2009 film. Upon first hearing I was immediately excited that the Oregon Symphony chose to take on this production; I remember being glued to my chair at 6 years old in the late 70s, riveted by a TV show that took my imagination to places no other show could touch. I have seen every single Star Trek film in the theater since the first in 1979 when I was 7; that's 12 films over 34 years), and have watched hundreds upon hundreds of TV episodes over the years. So it was very personally thrilling to have the chance to support both OSO and Trek, two organizations that have brought so much joy to my life.

And many, many others share this view; there were Star Fleet officers scattered throughout the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and while I was disappointed that I spotted no Klingons or Borgs in full battle array (I hope they were there and I just somehow missed them), it was fun to see so many enthusiastic Trekkers filling the hall. The orchestra was in the spirit as well: right before tuning up there came from somewhere deep within the woodwinds on the darkened stage the iconic, 4-note prelude to the Original Series theme song, bringing an eruption of laughter from players and audience alike.

Hearing a soundtrack performed live while watching a film is a thrilling experience. The OSO grasped this and imparted a sensation of the music being more immediate--more intense, menacing, pathetic, whatever the particular emotion of the scene. The difficulty lies in not drowning out the sound effects and dialogue, and with a group the OSO's size it's not an easy task. Still, for the most part the blend they achieved was just right, and the Pacific Youth Choir did an admirable job in their role.

It also takes a special conductor. While in opera or other staged musicals the actors/singers are (ostensibly) watching the conductor, there is no such collaboration with a film, so the director must be exacting and extremely precise--missing a cue by a fraction of a second could turn a scene into a confusing dud. Conductor Erik Ochsner has a tremendous amount of experience in these types of productions, and it really showed. The ability of the orchestra to segue in and out so seamlessly was such that at times, when engrossed in the film, it was easy to forget that all the music was being performed live. The OSO played up to its usual high caliber; in Giacchino's score there was tremendous work for the low brass, and the audience ate every bit of it up.

It's always fun to see the OSO step outside the bounds of what we think of a classical symphony orchestra doing, and especially so for this Trekker last Friday night. I'm a big fan of live to projection music; a local group Filmusik has been doing this on a smaller scale here for years and I've reviewed them many times, so it was great to hear a group like OSO tackle this project.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oregon Symphony introduces 2015-16 lineup

From the orchestra's press release:

Music Director Carlos Kalmar and President Scott Showalter have announced the details of the Company’s 2015/16 season. It will be Kalmar’s 13th season at the artistic helm, Showalter’s second season as President, and the Oregon Symphony’s 120th year.
The new season, which opens September 12, 2015 and closes May 23, 2016, includes—at press time—40 performances of 16 Classical subscription concerts, 8 performances of 4 Pops subscription concerts and 3 performances of 3 Kids subscription concerts, for a total of 51 performances of 23 different subscription concerts.
Discussing the season, Music Director Carlos Kalmar commented: “At the level the Oregon Symphony is now playing, many things are possible. We can play favorite works in fresh ways. We can share previously unplayed works from familiar composers in ways that will delight our audiences. And, of course, we can—and will—treat our audiences to some new surprises.”
Two renowned classical performers will join the Symphony for two additional Special Concerts. Guitarist Pablo Villegas, who performed before standing-room-only audiences last October, returns this September. And the popular pianist Lang Lang takes the stage in October.
Each season, the Symphony performs between 20 and 30 concerts outside of its subscription series. These Special Concerts span a wide spectrum of musical offerings. Patrons can expect the full slate of these Special Concerts to be announced in May.
The 2015/16 season will include Colin Currie as the Oregon Symphony’s new Artist in Residence, a position that involves performing onstage as well as working around the community. Currie deploys an array of percussion instruments, including his own body, to perform and teach.

2015/16 Season Highlights
On the Classical side of things:
Themed as “Just for You,” the season approach focuses on the all-important experience of the audience as they enjoy music curated, rehearsed and performed just for them.
That audience will enjoy many classical favorites like Handel’s Messiah, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, Holst’s The Planets, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”), Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Strauss’ Don Quixote, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and many others.
In addition to those favorites, the season is spiced with 14 Oregon Symphony debut pieces, including Strauss’ Oboe Concerto, Bloch’s Violin Concerto, Portland composer David Schiff’s Infernal, Ginastera’s Harp Concerto, Gubaidulina’s Offertorium: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, and Adés’ Violin Concert (“Concentric Paths”), among others.
The 2015/16 season sees the return of some of the world’s best-known classical stars as well as performers who have won favored status among Portland audiences, including violinists Joshua Bell, Simone Lamsma, Augustin Hadelich, and Vadim Gluzman; pianists Lang Lang, Kirill Gerstein, Natasha Paremski, and Garrick Ohlsson; percussionist Colin Currie; and guitarist Pablo Villegas.
Guest artists making their Oregon Symphony debuts include oboist François Leleux, harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, pianists Francesco Piemontesi and Benjamin Grosvenor, and cellist Christian Poltera.
In addition to the many performers who join us as soloists, Oregon Symphony Concertmaster Sarah Kwak steps back into the solo spotlight playing Bloch’s Violin Concerto; she will be joined by trumpet Jeff Work and English horn Kyle Mustain playing Copland’s Quiet City in March.
In addition to Music Director Carlos Kalmar and Resident Conductor Paul Ghun Kim on the podium, conductors Matthew Halls (Artistic Director, Oregon Bach Festival), Tomáš Netopil, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Robert Spano, and Yan Pascal Tortelier make their Oregon Symphony debuts.
From a Pops perspective:
The popular Jeff Tyzik continues his eighth year as Principal Pops Conductor, curating and conducting the Pops Series. The 2015/16 Pops season includes eight performances of four separate Pops concerts, spanning the musical spectrum.
Broadway stars Lisa Vroman and Ron Raines join the Symphony for Broadway Classics in October, followed by Holiday Pops in November, a Return to the Cotton Club with trumpeter Byron Stripling in February, and showman vocalist Curtis Stigers makes his debut in The Sinatra Century, a tribute to the Chairman of the Board in honor of the centennial of his birth.
For the younger audience:
Young audiences are an important part of the Oregon Symphony family. They’ll be dazzled by three concerts, designed especially for the young and the young at heart: Blast Off! celebrates space and the solar system in November; the Musical Zoo is a musical depiction of creatures great and small in January; and kids can get their wiggle on with Dance Party in April.
Education and Community Engagement:
Beyond the concert hall, the Oregon Symphony continues its work in the community, bringing musical experiences to over 50,000 additional people in schools, libraries, hospitals, correctional facilities and public gathering spaces throughout our region.
During the 2015/16 season, 24 Symphony Storytimes are scheduled in local libraries in three counties for preschoolers, 36 Kinderkonzerts, representing all four sections of the orchestra, will be held in three area host schools for K-2nd graders. Four Young People’s Concerts will be offered at the concert hall on three school days for the 3-8th grade students in spring 2016.
The musicians of the Oregon Symphony will return to work with the students in the David Douglas School School District, through the Oregon Community Foundation’s Studio to School Grant. This will be the second in a five-year residency aimed at educating, recruiting and training the musicians of the future.
Prior to all 2015/16 classical concerts, early arrivers can enjoy lively discussions about the concert selections between conductors, musicians and the engaging All Classical Portland hosts. More than 40 musical performances in the lobby will be presented by local school and community groups prior to most concerts through the very popular Prelude Performance series.
A complete list of 2015/16 concerts can be viewed at:
A 2015/16 Season Brochure can be viewed at:
Subscription Details

Oregon Symphony subscribers will receive their renewal packages beginning today and have until March 30 to renew their seats or request seating changes. New subscribers may purchase their season ticket packages beginning immediately.
Tickets to the Pablo Villegas and Lang Lang Specials are available at this time only to patrons renewing their subscriptions and patrons purchasing new subscriptions. Subscribers not only have access to these shows but receive, as a subscriber benefit, a discount of up to 10% on those Special Concert tickets.
Tickets to all Oregon Symphony Series concerts will go on sale to the general public in August.
Classical Series season tickets are priced as follows:
14-concert series, beginning at $280
12-concert series, beginning at $240
7-concert series, beginning at $147
5-concert series, beginning at $105
Pops Series season tickets begin as low as $84 for the 4-concert package.
Kids Concert Series begin as low as $27 for the 3-concert series.
Subscriptions may be renewed or purchased online at; by phone at 503-228-1353; or in person/by mail at 923 SW Washington, Portland.
For more information, go to or call the Ticket Office at 503-228-1353.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Eric Einhorn talks about directing Portland Opera's "Carmen" and more

Eric Einhorn
Eric Einhorn is an award-winning stage director who is directing Portland Opera’s production of “Carmen," which opens this Friday at the Keller Auditorium. Einforn has directed productions on stages throughout the nation and has been a Metropolitan Opera staff stage director since 2005. When he is not on the road, he lives in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, with his wife and two kids. According to Einhorn, Ho-Ho-Kus is the only town in America that officially has two hyphens.

When did you first direct “Carmen?”

Einhorn: In high school – the very first thing I ever directed was a 30-minute adaptation of “Carmen.”

Holy smokes! Sexy “Carmen” in high school!

Einhorn: I think that if I looked back at it, it would be incredibly G-rated. It was a really fun experience. I started an opera club in high school, because I knew that I wanted to be an opera singer. I had the dream of going to a music conservatory and becoming a singer, but there were no opportunities in high school to experience opera. So I started the opera club. So we did “Carmen” as a vehicle so that I could be Escamillo and sing the Toreador song.

The next year we did an Offenbach one act. I found out that directing came to me much more easily than singing. Singing was much more challenging, and I wanted to do it, even if it killed me. So, I went to Oberlin Conservatory – all set to be a singer. But during the course of my studies, I rediscovered directing. After graduating I started assisting and the directing bug sort of hit me.

Did directing appeal to you because you wanted to command everybody around?

Einhorn: It hit me from necessity, because when I started the club in high school, I didn’t want to direct, but no one else wanted to do it either. So I did it. I must have been all of 16 or 17 years old when I directed “Carmen” in the high school production, and I yelled the whole time. I didn’t have my rehearsal technique down! All of my friends endured it, and they remained my friends! But I quickly found out that that is not how you make art!

You must have directed something at Oberlin.

Einhorn: I went there as a voice major. Oberlin has a great design-you-own-major program. So I was able to do a directing major alongside a voice major. I directed some scenes early on and did a junior and senior thesis. For my junior thesis I directed “Starbird” by Henry Mollicone. The opera department was doing one of his full-length operas, “Coyote Tales” at that time, and he agreed to come back and conduct my production. It was great to my first show – right off the bat – conducted by the composer. For my senior year, I directed “Emperor of Atlantis,” by Viktor Ullmann, the composer who died in a concentration camp during World War II. It’s an amazing opera.

Tell us a little about the upcoming “Carmen” at Portland Opera, and how you work with the cast.

Einhorn: We have an outstanding cast. Everyone is unbelievably solid all the way through. The production is big. We have two flamenco dancers, many soloists, a children’s chorus, adult chorus, supernumeraries – everything but animals in this show.

With any show that I direct, the thing that I don’t want to be is fussy: worrying about the buttons, place settings, and things like that. For me, opera is about people: these characters, their relationships to one another, and what they are doing. I remember preparing for “Carmen” the first time for a full production. I was digging into the piece and had only seen it once. So I had very little baggage. When I read it, it gave me the same feeling as I had when I read “Oedipus Rex. I immediately wondered if everyone understood the greatness of this opera. It not only has outstanding music, but what makes it so great is the perfect storm of music, drama, storytelling, and text – and it all comes from a place of real humanity. We intend to get beyond the typical stereotyping of these characters: Carmen the vamp, Micaëla the nice girl from the country, Don José the victim of Carmen the seductress. I maintain that these are real people going through real emotions and such and like anyone in a real life conflict, it’s not loss, or love. I think that Carmen is an incredibly vulnerable person. She presents herself in a certain way because of her life experience. She’s been hurt before. She’s been through a lot. The gypsy culture that she comes from is transient and sometimes violent. So she comes from a rough upbringing. She has become who she is because of that. Don José – we know from the novella – there’s some dialogue in the opera but most of it is cut for modern audiences – he is from a small village, he dropped out of seminary, he can’t hold a job, and he killed a man over a game that he lost. So he had to run away and join the military. So, he’s a guy with a violent past and an explosive temper.

Carmen is one of the most performed operas in the repertoire. How do you make it fresh?

Einhorn: When you look at an autograph of a Mozart score, you hardly get any stage directions except for something like “he enters.” But often when you come to Puccini and Bizet, we stop asking questions, because their operas have specific direction, and we start to think that’s just how it is. But if you treat this kind of opera as a Handel or a Mozart opera, then that perspective opens up new opportunities. You can give life to these characters in a new and engaging way that will not jar you out of what you believe “Carmen” to be.

A theater director once told me that if you accomplish 70 percent of what is in your head for a production, then you’ve had a good day. As a director, I come in with a plan. I have thoughts on everything about the show. It’s my job to have those thoughts. But I tell singers that I don’t have all of the answers and I’m perfectly okay with being wrong. That’s what makes rehearsals so exciting. You come with a starting point, but you have to leave your ego at the door. To achieve the best possible performance, you might start at A but arrive at somewhere completely different. You might arrive at something that works for the production and the performers through the dialogue of collaboration. I feel very strongly about the power of the performer to make choices and help in the collaborative process. At the end of the day, it is the performers who are up on the stage, and they have to be comfortable with what they are doing.

Do you use some kind of software or sketch out where the chorus moves?

Einhorn: I diagram the choruses. Because I have less time with them, I always have a distinct game plan. If you don’t have that, then I’m wasting everyone’s time. I give them a framework and encourage them to create their own stories within that framework. When Carmen comes onstage, you want the people around her to react to her individually: some may love her, some hate her, some may want to sleep with her, some people are indifferent. That’s the way it would be in life.

Can you talk about the lighting and how you work with the lighting designer?

Einhorn: I want to take some inspiration from Goya for the lighting. Oftentimes, “Carmen” can be too squeaky clean like a perfect day in Seville. One of the factors in the first act is the oppressive heat. It’s so hot that it’s hazy. We are at that intersection of heat and temper. At the stifling hot cigarette factory where the women are working long hours, someone makes a snide comment and that causes another person who just can’t take it anymore to take a knife and cut a co-worker. So I’ve talked with Shawn Kaufman, the lighting designer, about how to create this impression: hazy around the edges, charcoal and a little rought-hewn, chiaroscuro effects, playing with light and dark effects that mold this world into a more three-dimensional place.

There are 500 hundred lights being hung for this production. Shawn and I have worked together on shows for 10 years. We have a real shared experience and vocabulary. He knows how I like to tell stories. So he and I can work very quickly. I can show him a couple of research images, and he knows what the means in terms of how we work together. The lighting designer is often in a precarious position: he is the last one to get into the process of creating the show, and he has the shortest amount of time to do the most amount of work. But because Shawn and I have worked together so much, we have a good way of getting things done efficiently.

You are the artistic director of the On Site Opera company. What is that?

Einhorn: About three years ago, a colleague and I started a site-specific opera company. It was born out of a desire to see what else is possible. We didn’t pioneer the idea, but we are the only opera company that relies solely on site-specific productions. And we are interest in venue-relevance in terms of connecting the venue with the opera. So we did Rameau’s “Pygmalion” at Madame Tussauds s wax museum in New York City and Gershwin’s “Blue Monday” at The Cotton Club in Harlem. We pioneered the idea of Google-glass for supertitles for one of our productions. Overall, it’s all going very well!

Where do you go after “Carmen” is done?

Einhorn: I fly directly to Chicago. I’ve adapted a new opera for Lyric Opera for their outreach program. It’s called “The Property” and it’s from a graphic novel by Rutu Modan. It’s a companion piece to “The Passenger,” which is a holocaust story that was done for the main stage. We think that “The Property” is the first Klezmer opera.

Wow! All of this work sounds terrific. Good luck!

Einhorn: Thanks!