Thursday, March 31, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Durante (1684-1755)
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Serge Diaghliev (1872-1929)
Clemens Krauss (1893-1954)
John Mitchinson (1932)
Herb Alpert (1935)
Nelly Miricioiu (1952)
Robert Gambill (1955)
Jake Heggie (1961)


and

René Descartes (1596-1650)
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)
Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)
Octavio Paz (1914-1998)
Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)
Marge Piercy (1936)

From the Writer's Almanac:

Oklahoma! opened on Broadway on this date in 1943. It was based on a play called Green Grow the Lilacs (1930), by Lynn Riggs. Though the play, which was about settlers in the Oklahoma Territory, featured some old folk songs, it wasn’t a musical of the Broadway variety. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were both admirers of the play, and they had both independently tried to adapt it to the musical format, but their respective songwriting partners — Lorenz Hart and Jerome Kern — weren’t interested. So Rodgers approached Hammerstein about it. Usually musicals were made up of fairly thin and joke-riddled plotlines that only served to string together the most important element: the songs. But Rodgers and Hammerstein were both committed to making the songs fit the story, rather than the other way around. One of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, as well as one of its most successful partnerships, was born of their collaboration.

Nobody expected the show to do very well, but Oklahoma! was an immediate smash hit, and the first big Broadway blockbuster. It ran for over 2,200 performances. One of its stars, Celeste Holm, was not surprised at its success. A gypsy fortuneteller had told her that someone with the initials “R.R.” would change her life. “She said, ‘I see you surrounded by dancing cowboys,’” Holm later recalled. “It was the silliest thing I ever heard. I didn’t think a thing about it — until opening night, when I looked around and realized, Oh my God, there are the dancing cowboys!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Tommaso Traetta (1727-1779)
Ted Heath (1900-1969)
Sandor Szokolay (1931-2013)
John Eaton (1935-2015)
Eric Clapton (1945)
Maggie Cole (1952)
Margaret Fingerhut (1955)
Sabine Meyer (1959)

and

Francisco Jose de Goya (1746-1828)
Paul Verlaine (1844-1896)
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Sean O'Casey (1880-1964)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Henri Lutz (1864-1928)
Rosina Lhévinne (1880-1976)
Sir William Walton (1902-1983)
E Power Biggs (1906-1977)
Sir Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012)
Guher Pekinel (1953)
Suher Pekinel (1953)

and

Ronald Stuart Thomas (1913-2000) 
Eugene McCarthy (1916-2005)
Judith Guest (1936)

Monday, March 28, 2016

John Evans - former Oregon Bach Festival leader passes

Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc has reported that John Evans, former President of the Oregon Bach Festival (2006-2014) and former Head of Music on BBC's Radio 3, has died at age 62. The cause of death was a heart attack.

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Weigl (1766-1846)
Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951)
Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991)
Jacob Avshalomov (1919-2013)
Robert Ashley (1930-2014)
Martin Neary (1940)
Samuel Ramey (1942)
Richard Stilgoe (1942)

and

Raphael (1483-1520)
Nelson Algren (1909-1981)
Mario Vargas Llosa (1936)
Russell Banks (1940-
Iris Chang (1968-2004)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931)
Patty Smith Hill (1868-1946)
Ferde Grofé (1892-1972)
Anne Ziegler (1910-2003)
Sarah Vaughn (1924-1990)
Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007)
Paul Ruders (1949)
Maria Ewing (1950)
Bernard Labadie (1963)

and

Heinrich Mann (1871-1950)
Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969)
Budd Schulberg (1914-2009)
Louis Simpson (1923-2012)
Julia Alvarez (1950)
John O'Farrell (1962)

From the New Music Box:
On March 27, 1914, 20 year-old Leo Ornstein shocked audiences and critics at his Steinway Hall recital in London during which he performed his revolutionary Three Moods for solo piano and Danse Sauvage. The critic for the London Daily Mail described the event as a "wild outbreak," while another reviewer wrote, "We have never suffered from such insufferable hideousness, expressed in terms of so-called music." However, based on the attention that concert received, Schott published some of Ornstein's music for the first time. Famous as a wunderkind, Ornstein would compose into his 90s and live until 2002 to become the oldest composer in American music history.

From The Writer's Almanac:
It's the birthday of the woman who wrote "Happy Birthday to You," Patty Smith Hill, born in Anchorage, Kentucky (1868). Most of her life was spent as a kindergarten teacher. She began teaching in Louisville, Kentucky, and it was there, in 1893, that Hill first wrote the lyrics to the song. But it was originally meant as a welcome to start the school day and was first called "Good Morning to All." Hill's sister Mildred, an accomplished musician, provided the melody. Hill was only 25 when she wrote the lyrics to the famous song.

It became popularized with the invention of radio and sound films. The song appeared in the Broadway musical "The Band Wagon" (1931), and was used for Western Union's first singing telegram in 1933. A third sister, Jessica Hill, noticed the similarities between "Happy Birthday to You" and the song her sisters wrote, and she was able to prove it in a court of law. The song was copyrighted in 1935 and remains under copyright to this day. According to Forbes magazine, the song produces about $2 million in licensing revenue each year. "Happy Birthday to You" is still one of the most popular songs in the English language, along with "Auld Lang Syne" and "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Josef Slavík (1806-1833)
Wilhelm Backhaus (1884-1969)
André Cluytens (1905-1967)
Harry Rabinowitz (1916) - turns 100 today!
Pierre Boulez (1925-2016)
Kyung Wha Chung (1948)

and

Edward Bellamy (1850-1898)
A. E. Housman (1859-1936)
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
Joseph Campbell (1904–1987)
Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)
Gregory Corso (1930-2001)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783)
Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957)
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Magda Olivero (1910-2014)
Sir Elton John (1947)

and

Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964)
Gloria Steinem (1934)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Frederica von Stade to visit Portland State University

PSU Opera has invited Frederica von Stade for a visit, which will include a master class. Here are the details if you would like to meet her or see her in action.




Review of Sarasota Opera's Verdi Grand Finale concert

The Classical Voice of North America has posted my review of Sarasota Opera's final concert, which celebrated the company's Verdi Cycle - a 28 year effort to perform all of his works, including his operas, choruses, orchestral pieces, songs for voice and piano, and piano pieces. While in Sarasota, I attended a conference that featured Verdi scholars who gave a number of presentations. One of the specialists was Emily Richmond Pollock, who is an Assistant Professor in the Music and Theater Arts Section at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is a native of Beaverton, Oregon and was the principal oboist of the Portland Youth Philhamonic when Huw Edwards was in charge.


As part of the Sarasota celebration, the opera company invited members of the Verdi family. So, here is a photo of the great, great grandchildren of Giuseppe Verdi with Sarasota Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi and Executive Director Richard Russell.

From left to right: Maestro Victor DeRenzi, Manuela Pizzoni, Angiolo Carrara Verdi, Maria Mercedes Carrara Verdi, Massimo Antoni, and Richard Russell

Saratoga Opera’s Young Verdi concert finds nuggets among Verdi’s early works

Digging into the compositions of Verdi’s youth, Sarasota Opera presented a concert of works that Verdi wrote before he completed his first opera, “Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio” in 1839. Consisting of three sinfonias for orchestra, pieces for chorus and orchestra, solos with piano, and some fragmentary works, the Young Verdi program helped Sarasota Opera to fulfill its claim to be the only company in the world to have played all of Verdi’s works (that includes his 27 operas and 6 alternative variations). Although the works on the program showed that Verdi had not found his voice, the music did reveal some Verdi-like tendencies, such as the way that he made some lines sound heavier. All of the pieces were conducted by Sarasota Opera's Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi and featured the young artists of the company as soloists or as part of the chorus.

The choral works were sacred pieces that the chorus sang with vigor, but none left much of an impression. Even the “in convertendo Dominus” (Psalm 125), which featured five excellent soloists from the company’s bevy of young artists, relied on a declamatory style that didn’t match up well with much of the text.

The piano and voice selections dwelt primarily on unrequited love and its laments. All were delivered with ardent fervor by young artists of the company. Soprano Elizabeth Trendent, in particular, excelled in her delivery of “Perduta ho la pace” (“My peace of mind is lost”) and “Deh, pietoso, oh Addolarata” (“O Sorrowful Mary”).

The loveliest gem of the evening was a nocturne for three voices, piano, and flute entitled “Guarda che bianca luna” (“Look, what a bright moon”). It had a sweet lyrical side that was wrapped in a simple melody, revealing a sense of what Verdi would do later whenever he created memorable intimate music.

The first of two fragmentary pieces on the program, simply titled “Piano piece in 6/8,” took listeners on a pleasant journey in the space of eight measures. The other one, “O virtu che provvidente” (“O virtue that wisely”), written for piano and female chorus, offered a lilting melody before stopping suddenly. The piece was taken from an auction catalogue that had displayed only the first page. Apparently the rest of the piece is owned by a private collector who did not intend to reveal the rest of the goods.

All three sinfonias were one-movement works that were influenced by Rossini and perhaps Mozart. Played with verve by the orchestra, they might have been more interesting if the woodwinds could have softened up a bit during the quieter passages so that the strings could have come through better. After enthusiastic applause at the conclusion of the concert, DeRenzi told the audience that he and the orchestra preferred the Sinfonia in C major so they played it as an encore.

Today's Birthdays

Maria Malibran (1808-1836)
Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)
Christiane Eda-Pierre (1932)
Benjamin Luxon (1937)

and

Malcolm Muggeridge (1902-1990)
Dwight Macdonald (1906-1982)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919)
Dario Fo (1926)
Ian Hamilton (1938-2001)
Martin Walser (1927)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Johann Gottfried Walther (1684-1748)
Léon Minkus (1826-1917)
Eugène Gigout (1844-1925)
Franz Schreker (1878-1934)
Josef Locke (1917-1999)
Norman Bailey (1933)
Boris Tishchenko (1939-2010)
Michael Nyman (1944)
David Grisman (1945)

and

Roger Martin du Gard (1881-1958)
Louis Adamic (1898-1951)
Erich Fromm (1900-1980)
Kim Stanley Robinson (1952)
Gary Joseph Whitehead (1965)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Sarasota Opera delivers “Labattaglia di Legnano” in full regalia

Martin Nusspaumer as Arrigo and Todd Thomas as Rolando | Photo by Rod Millington
Judged by the vigorous production of Giuseppi Verdi’s “La battaglia di Legnano” mounted by Sarasota Opera, you’d figure that it would be a staple of many opera houses. Yet this opera remains little known for the most part because of Verdi cranked out so many operas that most companies are kept plenty busy circulating his best ones. So it was truly a special occasion to witness the performance on March 16th at the Sarasota Opera House where the company was completing its cycle of all of Verdi’s works in a monumental effort that began 28 years ago.

Written in 1848, “La battaglia di Legnano” is the fourteenth of Verdi’s operas and grouped with his early works. Like “Il trovatore,” it has the framework of a melodrama but with fewer memorable melodies. Inspired by an actual battle that took place in the Twelfth Century, the story revolves around a Veronese warrior, Arrigo, who had been wounded in battle. Because Arrigo was reported to have been deceased, his beloved, Lida, married his best friend Rolando. Arrigo, however, has not died, and shows up in town where is welcomed by Rolando. Arrigo and Lida still have strong feelings for each other, they are in a terrible bind that is made worse because Lida has had a son by Rolando. Rolando figures things out and locks both of them in a room so that Arrigo cannot get to the field of battle to defend the town, thereby becoming totally dishonored in the eyes of his countrymen. Arrigo overcomes his prison by jumping off the balcony to join the battle. He then becomes the hero of the battle of Legnano but is mortally wounded. Before his expires, he is reconciled with Rolando and Lida.

Sarasota Opera’s production was led by the dashing Martin Nusspaumer who cut a terrifically heroic figure in the role of Arrigo. His voice had a robust resonance from to bottom, but he had problems negotiation the highest notes cleanly. He may have been suffering from a cold or perhaps his problems were an indication of something more serious with his vocal chords. In any case, he finished the opera without relinquishing the role to a cover singer.

Jennifer Black’s strong singing and acting revealed Lida’s conflicted emotions, but it was the Rolando of Todd Thomas that really plumbed the depths of character. His wrath against his wife and his best friend were frightening, and his love for his son had a genuineness that could be felt all the way to the back of the balcony.

Todd Thomas, Jennifer Black, Martin Nusspaumer | Photo by Rod Millington
Young Bok Kim conveyed the steely nerves of Federco Barbarossa with terrific gravitas. Tara Curtis gave a solid performance as Lida’s handmaid Imelda. Eric Lindsey and William Roberts distinguished themselves as consuls of Milan as did Costas Tsourakis in the role of The Posestà of Como.

The soldiers choruses had a robust quality that verged on blood-thirstiness, and the townspeople held nothing back whether they feared becoming consumed by Barbarossa’s troops or celebrating the victory of the Lombardi forces. Chorus Master Roger L. Bingaman deserves plenty of credit for the uniform excellence of his singers.

Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi commanded the orchestra expertly, and their sound was well polished. Even the church bells in the final measure could be heard amidst the rising crescendo of the orchestra and singers. But there were no pianissimos in the production, after an hour of mezzo forte to double forte, more dynamic variation would have been welcome.

If symmetry is a virtue in staging, then this production was of the highest order. Director Martha Collins was amazing consistent in keeping the main characters in the center and everyone else balanced equally from left to right throughout the production. The scenery designed by Jeffrey W. Dean embraced the idea of symmetry wholeheartedly and captured the imagination as well. Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s traditional costumes perfectly complimented the entire effect as did the lighting of Ken Yunker.

Hopefully another opera company in the U. S. will try to produce this opera. It would be a shame to have to wait many years for Sarasota Opera to revive it. For some, it will be worth the wait in any case.


Today's Birthdays

Carl Rosa (1842-1889)
Joseph Samson (1888-1957)
Martha Mödl (1912-2001)
Fanny Waterman (1920)
Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986)
Stephen Sondheim (1930)
Joseph Schwantner (1943)
George Benson (1943)
Alan Opie (1945)
Rivka Golani (1946)
Andrew Lloyd Webber (1948)
Edmund Barham (1950-2008)

and

Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)
Louis L'Amour (1908-1988)
Edith Grossman (1936)
Billy Collins (1941)
James McManus (1951)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Modeste Moussorgsky (1839-1881)
Eddie James "Son" House (1902-1988)
Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949)
Paul Tortelier (1914-1990)
Nigel Rogers (1935)
Owain Arwel Hughes (1942)
Elena Firsova (1950)
Ann MacKay (1956)

and


Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978)
Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) 
Ved Mehta (1934)

From the New Music Box:
On March 21, 17i71, the Massachusetts Gazette published an announcement for a musical program including "select pieces on the forte piano and guitar." It is the earliest known reference to the piano in America.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957)
Lauritz Melchoir (1890-1973)
Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997)
Dame Vera Lynn (1917)
Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970)
Marian McPartland (1918)
Henry Mollicone (1946)

and

Ovid (43 BC - AD 17)
Ned Buntline (1823-1886)
Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Max Reger (1873-1916)
Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
Nancy Evans (1915-2000)
Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950)
Robert Muczynski (1929-2010)
Ornette Coleman (1930-2015)
Myung-Wha Chung (1944)
Carolyn Watkinson (1949)
Mathew Rosenblum (1954)

and

Tobias Smollett (1721-1771)
Nikolay Gogol (1809-1852)
Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890)
Philip Roth (1933)

Friday, March 18, 2016

In Sarasota, Florida

It's a muggy day here in Sarasota, Florida.  I am in Florida's Gulf Coast to sample Sarasota Opera's final blowout of Verdi operas with some reviewer colleagues and Verdi scholars. The company is the only one in the world that has done all 27 of Verdi's operas plus the 6 alternative versions plus all of Verdi's sacred and secular works, including fragments of pieces. So on Wednesday evening I heard "The Battle of Legnano" and last night was a concert of pieces written by Verdi in his youth.

The Music Critics Association of North America (yes, there is a passel of music critics) arranged for this excursion to the Gulf Coast side of Florida, courtesy of Visit Sarasota County, which is sponsoring us.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Christoph Vogel (1756-1788)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Paul Le Flem (1881-1984)
Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973)
Willem van Hoogstraten (1884-1964)
Nobuko Imai (1943)
James Conlon (1950)
Jan-Hendrik Rootering (1950)
Courtney Pine (1964)

and

Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898)
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
George Plimpton (1927-2003)
Christa Wolf (1929-2011)
John Updike (1932-2009) 
Franz Wright (1953-2015)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729)
Manuel García II (1805-1906)
Joseph Rheinberger (1839-1901)
Giuseppe Borgatti (1871-1950)
Brian Boydell (1917-2000)
Nat "King" Cole (1917-1965)
Stephen Dodgson (1924-2013)
Betty Allen (1927-2009)
John Lill (1944)
Michael Finnissy (1946)
Patrick Burgan (1960)

and

Edmund Kean (1787-1833)
Frank B. Gilbreth (1911-2001)
Penelope Lively (1933)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Enrico Tamberlik (1820-1889)
Henny Youngman (1906-1998)
Christa Ludwig (1928)
Sir Roger Norrington (1934)
Teresa Berganza (1935)
David Del Tredici (1937)
Claus Peter Flor (1953)

and

James Madison (1751-1836)
Maxim Gorky (1868-1936)
César Vallejo (1892-1938)
Alice Hoffman (1952)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Kwak marvelous in Bloch’s Violin Concerto – OSO superb in Debussy, Copland, and Bartók

Sara Kwak’s top notch performance of Ernest Bloch’s Violin Concerto put an impressive stamp on an evening of Twentieth Century music at the Oregon Symphony’s concert on Saturday evening (March 12) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Her performance was the highlight of a program that put the spotlight on the orchestra ensemble, who excelled in playing Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City” with featured soloists Jeffrey Work (trumpet) and Kyle Mustain (English horn), Claude Debussy’s Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun,” and Béla Bartók’s Suite from “The Miraculous Mandarin.”

Bloch’s Violin Concerto is a rare number on most orchestral programs, but Kwak, who is in her fourth year as the orchestra’s concertmaster, made a strong case for it to be reconsidered. She beguiled the audience with arabesque-like figures above the orchestra and executed the animated passages with panache. Her cadenza in the first movement seemed to dwindle down to nothing before climbing out of the depths and then finishing off with the orchestra in full bravura fashion. One of the highlights of the second movement came when she suspended a bewitching ultra-high yet soft tone that quietly grew into a lovely melody. Her exchanges with the orchestra in the third had a playful echoing effect.

The orchestra accompanied Kwak deftly – including some marvelous fanfare-like passages – and made the piece breathe. There were sections that seemed to have a repetitive pattern that suggested a Native American influence, but, overall, the music-making by Kwak and her colleagues connected with listeners very well, and she received an enthusiastic standing ovation that brought her back to the stage four times.

In Copland’s “Quiet City,” the orchestra laid down a carpet of pure calm and solitude that was sprinkled with enigmatic mutterings from soloists Work and Mustain. Copland wrote the piece as incidental music for a play by Irwin Shaw in which a young trumpeter expresses his frustration with his situation one evening. The sounds that Work emitted had a slightly nervous quality that perfectly reflected the tenuous thoughts of that character. Mustain’s plaintive passages seemed to counter Work’s in a way that was complimentary.

From the Copland, the orchestra segued without pause to Bartók’s Suite from “The Miraculous Mandarin.” Starting with a wild cacophony of strings and brass followed by a gritty and lowdown line from the violas, everyone in the hall knew that they were in for something extraordinary even though the storyline – as reflected in the supertitles – was not particularly uplifting. The idea of an orchestra depicting the squalid life of three thugs using a girl to entrap men and then fleece them is not something that sounds inviting. But the superb musicianship of this orchestra – guided by Kalmar – really brought out the Tarantino-Pulp-Fiction-eque dimensions of the piece, making them heart-stoppingly visceral. Principal Clarinetist Louis DeMartino, Bass Clarinetist Todd Kuhns aided, and bassoons – abetted by the strings – laid down a line of tension and entrapment that teased the mind unmercifully. It was easy to picture the enticing girl by the window and the old rake (snarly trombones) and the young lad (oboe and English horn) and the ensuing violence after the thugs found out that they had not money. The situation ratcheted up a notched when the girl seduced the wealthy yet frightening Mandarin and the chaos after she tries to escape his clutches and the thugs finally seize their prey. The orchestra went full tilt in a furious frenzy though the final measures – and as the applause from the audience started up – you could see string players tearing the frayed horse-hairs from their bows.

To open the evening, Kalmar and company created wonderfully unhurried, pastoral scenes in their performance of Debussy’s Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun.” Superb playing by Principal Flutist Martha Long as well as the horns, woodwinds, harp, and strings evoked the idyllic and elusive reverie of the faun with invitingly warm colors. In the brief span of this piece, time just seemed to melt away and with it the cares of the world.

Today's Birthdays

Eduard Strauss (1835-1916)
Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935)
Colin McPhee (1900-1964)
Ben Johnston (1926)
Nicolas Flagello (1928-1994)
Cecil Taylor (1929)
Jean Rudolphe Kars (1947)
Isabel Buchanan (1954)

and

Richard Ellmann (1918-1987)
Ben Okri (1959)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Peter Maxwell Davies passes

The BBC, the Telegraph, and many other publications have reported the death of British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. He was 81 years old and had suffered for the past several years from leukemia.

Today's Birthdays

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Pierre-Louis Couperin (1755-1789)
Johann Strauss Sr. (1804-1849)
Lawrance Collingwood (1887-1982)
Witold Rudziński (1913-2004)
Quincy Jones (1933)
Phillip Joll (1954)

and

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Sylvia Beach (1887-1962)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Michael Blavet (1700-1768)
Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Alec Rowley (1892-1958)
Irène Joachim (1913-2001)
Jane Rhodes (1929-2011)
Alberto Ponce (1935)
Lionel Friend (1945)
Julia Migenes (1949
Wolfgang Rihm (1952)
Anthony Powers (1953)
Moses Hogan (1957-2003)
Terence Blanchard (1962)

and

Janet Flanner (1892-1978)
George Seferis (1900-1971)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Thomas Arne (1710-1778)
Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911)
Hans Knappertsbusch (1888-1965)
Ralph Shapey (1921-2002)
Norbert Brainin (1923-2005)
Philip Jones (1928-2000)
Helga Pilarczyk (1935-2011)
Liza Minnelli (1946)
James Taylor (1948)

and

George Berkeley (1685-1753)
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916)
Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950)
Edward Albee (1928)
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
Virginia Hamilton (1934-2002)
Carl Hiaasen (1953)
David Eggers (1970)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Carl Ruggles (1876-1971)
Henry Cowell (1897-1965)
Xavier Montsalvage (1912-2002)
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
Sarah Walker (1943)
Tristan Murail (1947)
Bobby McFerrin (1950)
Katia Labèque (1950)

and

Torquato Tasso (1544-1495)
Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983)
 Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838)
Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908)
Arthur Honnegger (1892-1955)
Dame Eva Turner (1892-1990)
Bix Biederbecke (1903-1931)
Sir Charles Groves (1915-1992)
William Blezard (1921-2003)
Andrew Parrott (1947)
Stephen Oliver (1950-1992)

and

Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933)
Zelda Fitzgerald (1900-1948)
Heywood Hale Broun (1918-2001)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

National Youth Orchestra to include PYP co-concertmaster

Congratulations are in order for Portland Youth Philharmonic's co-concertmaster Fumika Mizuno, who has been selected to join the National Youth Orchestra, which is part of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. The 109-member orchestra will receive a two-week training residency this coming June on the campus of SUNY Purchase. They will perform in Carnegie Hall under Christoph Eschenbach and then embark on a tour of Europe to play concerts led by Valery Gergiev.  For more information on the NYO-USA (including a listing of all orchestra members and their hometowns), click here.

PS: I just found out that this is the second time that Mizuno has been selected for the NYO-USA orchestra. She was one of the co-concertmasters last year in the "Symphonie Fantastique" concert under Charles Dutoit.

PYP excels with rediscovered Marion Bauer work, Vaughan Williams oboe concerto, and Rachmaninoff’s Third

The Portland Youth Philharmonic scored major points last Saturday (March 5) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall by playing Marion Bauer’s “Sun Splendor,” a short, one-movement work that was last heard in 1947 when the New York Philharmonic performed it under Leopold Stokowski. Bauer, who was born in Walla Walla, lived in Portland for a decade or so before moving to New York and studying music for a while in Europe. She wrote “Sun Splendor” for piano in 1926 and orchestrated it during the 1940s. It would have been interesting if Bauer’s piece had sparked other performances, but “Sun Splendor” quickly faded quickly into obscurity. So, it was a stroke of luck that PYP’s music director David Hattner heard it and decided to program it on the orchestra’s Winter Concert, which also featured the Concerto for Oboe and Strings by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3.

Guided by Hattner, the PYP demonstrated an impressive dynamic range in its performance of “Sun Splendor,” creating exquisitely hushed moments that contrasted sharply with the bombastically loud ones. The piece had the quality of a tone poem in which one could easily imagine a storm followed by drifting clouds that were pierced and burnt off by the sun. Near the end of the piece, very high notes from the violins and rousing volleys from the trumpets were followed by massive chords that beamed an emphatically positive statement. Overall, the piece had enough fine qualities to make me wonder if the PYP will venture to play her one and only symphony. Hmm...

Following the Bauer opener, Anna Larson, the winner of the orchestra’s annual concerto competition, gave an outstanding performance of Vaughan Williams’s Concerto for Oboe and Strings. Larson, an 18-year-old senior at Sam Barlow High School, mastered the fluid lines of this piece with a secure and warm tone, supported with great sensitivity by the string chamber ensemble . Her beguiling languid phrases created an atmosphere of gentle, rolling hills as if she were trekking through England’s pastoral countryside. The fast passages had a light and nimble flair, and she topped everything off with an exclamatory high note at the end. The parade of bouquets that she received was well deserved.

After intermission, all of the forces of the PYP returned to the stage to deliver a vivid interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony. Excelling with dynamic contrasts and evocative sonic textures, the orchestra delved into the music with an emotive and polished performance. Lush strings that could turn edgy with the flick of Hattner’s baton, brilliant brass, plaintive woodwinds, and a sharp percussion battery contributed impressively. The contrapuntal passage in the third movement was superbly executed, and made me wish that Rachmaninoff had extended it further. Outstanding playing by the principals in their solos included concertmaster Fumika Mizuno, cellist Richard Lu, flutist Annabel MacDonald, oboist Courtney Stump, clarinetist Talia Dugan, bassoonist Rose Rogers, hornist Elise Morgan, harpist Siena Mirasol, and keyboardist Raley Schweinfurth at the celeste. Clayton Wahlstrom (bass clarinet) and Emma Barbee (English horn) plus the trumpets were spot on.

Today's Birthdays

Archie Camden (1888-1979)
Dame Isobel Baillie (1895-1983)
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Ornette Coleman (1930-2015)
David Matthews (1943)
Kalevi Aho (1949)
Howard Shelley (1950)

and

Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512)
Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)
Mickey Spillane (1918-2006)
David Pogue (1963)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613)
Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000)
Dick Hyman (1927)
Christian Wolff (1934)
Robert Tear (1939-2011)
Barthold Kuijken (1949)
Simon Halsey (1958)

and

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)
Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932)
Leslie Fiedler (1917-2003)
Neil Postman (1921)
John McPhee (1933)

Monday, March 7, 2016

45th Parallel musicians deliver intense music of obsession

Music can be the language of obsession in more ways than one as 45th Parallel concertgoers found out on Friday evening (March 4) at The Old Church. Whether fixated on the music of Bach, or on music as an outgrowth of unrequited love, or on music as a purely unrelenting series of sounds, members of 45th Parallel played the concert program as if possessed, delivering intense interpretations of works by J. S. Bach, Eugène Ysaÿe, Leoš Janáček, and Johannes Brahms.

To kick things off, violinist Gregory Ewer gave a commanding performance of the “Preludio” from Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E major (BWV 1006). He handled the phrasing of its seemingly endless series of sixteenth notes and the various voices with panache and shaped the music with agile dynamics. The warm acoustic of The Old Church enhanced the flashy piece, making it sort of well…. inviting.

The Bach was paired with the “Obsession; Prelude” from Ysaÿe’s Sonata for Solo Violin, No.2, which starts with a quote from the “Preluido.” Sharply played by Adam LaMotte, the piece also has rows of sixteenth notes that alternated between inspired fragments from Bach and fragments of the “Dies Irae” from the Catholic mass for the dead. Deft fingerwork and bowing by LaMotte made the virtuosic piece look easy peasy.

Ewer then came back on stage to bring the house down with a scintillating performance from memory of the “Chaconne” from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor (BWV 1004). Ewer shaped the piece well, letting the slower sections unwind naturally before unreeling some shockingly fast runs. When he created two voices – an upper one against a lower one, it was as if he were fashioning an extended conversation between two people. After finishing, Ewer’s superb performance drew ovations from the enthusiastic audience.

Leoš Janáček’s String Quartet No. 1 (“Kreutzer Sonata”) was inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s novella “Kreutzer Sonata” in which a husband suspects his wife of having an affair with her music partner. The story culminates in a fit of jealous rage in which the husband stabs his wife with a dagger after she plays Beethoven’s “Kreutzer Sonata” with the violinist. The other intriguing background in regards to the piece was Janacek’s own obsession with a married woman and the numerous unsolicited letters that he wrote to her.

For the 45th Parallel concert, Janáček’s quartet was performed in a slightly unusual way – with actor Beth Thompson reading sections of Tolstoy’s story before each movement was played. Thompson’s reading was incisive (except for her pronunciation of “Kreutzer”) and inspired, and it was easy to feel how the story related to the music. Violinists Ewer and LaMotte, violist Charles Noble, and cellist Justin Kagan played with verve and intensity, creating an edge-of-the-seat experience. Grumblings from the cello, nervous chattering from the upper strings, and visceral, snarly eruptions from all sides signaled the doubt and fear plagued the mind of the story’s protagonist. Even when the mood relaxed a bit, it seemed that an ominous mood was always in the background. The musicians created tension that knifed about and finally exploded with a series of darting phrases in the final movement followed by an accelerated heartbeat that raced to the end of the piece.

Brahms’s long term, unrequited love for Clara Schumann was perhaps crystallized to the greatest degree in his Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, which he finished in 1875 after putting it aside for 20 years. The piece received an emotive performance by pianist Janet Coleman, violinist LaMotte, violist Noble, and cellist Kagan. I only wished that the piano had a brighter tone, but Coleman made the most of it with sensitive playing that balanced extremely well with the strings. While the first movement seemed to need a bit more shape, the three remaining ones were extremely satisfying. The thrilling finish on the second movement, the lovely, lyrical melody by the cello and piano at the beginning of the third, and the violin and piano duet at the start of the fourth were some of the highlights that made this performance memorable.

Today's Birthdays

John Wilbye (1574-1638)
Tomaso Antonio Vitali (1663-1745)
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Christopher Seaman (1942)
Uri Segal (1944)
Townes Van Zandt (1944-1997)
Nicholas Kraemer (1945)
Clive Gillinson (1946)
Okko Kamu (1946)
Montserrat Figueras (1948-2011)
Michael Chance (1955)

and

William York Tindall (1903-1981)
William Boyd (1952)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt passes

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, a conductor who helped to define early music performances and influenced modern orchestral interpretations and opera, has died at the age of 86 at his home in St. Georgen in Attergau, a village located west of Salzburg, Austria. You can read his obituary in The New York Times and The Guardian newspapers.

Today's Birthdays

Julius Rudel (1921-2014)
Sarah Caldwell (1924-2006)
Wes Montgomery (1925-1968)
Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015)
Lorin Maazel (1930-2014)
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (1944)
Stephen Schwartz (1948)
Marielle Labèque (1952)
Mark Gresham (1956)
Yannick Nézet-Séguin (1975)

and

Michelangelo (1475-1564)
Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
Ring Lardner (1885-1933)
Gabriel García Márquez (1928-2014)
Willie Mays (1931)
Dick Fosbury (1947)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Alphonse Hasselmans (1845-1912)
Pauline Donalda (1882-1970)
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
Anthony Hedges (1931)
Barry Tuckwell (1931)
Sheila Nelson (1936)
Richard Hickox (1948)

and

Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594)
Frank Norris (1870-1902)
Leslie Marmon Silko (1948)

From The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1750 that the first Shakespearean play was presented in America. Richard III was performed by the actors of Walter Murray and William Kean’s troupe from Philadelphia. Theater was still new in the colonies. And though it was popular in Philadelphia, that city still preferred to pride itself on its scientific and literary achievements, so Murray and Kean set out for New York City.

Through the 1700s, New York’s primary form of entertainment was drinking. By the time Murray and Kean arrived in February of 1750, there were 10,000 city residents and over 150 taverns. Murray and Kean set up shop in a two-story wooden structure on Nassau Street, slightly east of Broadway.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Conversation with Hyung-ki Joo about upcoming comedy+music show with Oregon Symphony


Igudesman & Joo will be performing with the Oregon Symphony this Sunday evening at the Arlene Schnizter Concert Hall. The duo consists of classical musicians Aleksey Igudesman and Richard Hyung-ki Joo, whose shows combine comedy with classical music and popular culture, including country western, rap, and jazz. They are hilarious and at the same time top notch musicians. I talked with Joo over the phone while he was getting ready to rehearse one of their shows in Seattle. Here is part of our conversation.

How long have been performing as a music/comedy duo?

Joo:  Officially as a duo, we are 12 years old. That’s ironic, because we met when we were 12 years old, and mentally we are still 12 years old.

I read that you met each other while studying at the Yehudi Menuhin School in London.

Joo:  Yes, that’s where we met when we were 12 and the madness all started. It was a very small school with a maximum of 50 students. We were very lucky that Menuhin was still around in those days. His inspiration definitely rubbed off on us. Besides being one of the world’s greatest violinists, Menuhin was a humanitarian, a very open-minded person. He was probably the first serious classical musician to cross over and play with musicians like Stéphane Grappelli, Ravi Shankar, and Duke Ellington. He also had a wonderful sense of humor. He practiced yoga until his last day, and he could stand on his head. He directed the Berlin Philharmonic a couple of times while standing on his head and waving his legs. We think that had he lived a little longer and seen our show, he would have liked it.

So your humorous skits started while you were in school?

Joo:  We developed some things while we were still in school, experimenting with ideas. We wanted to create a concert that we would want to go to ourselves. We found classical concerts an alienating experience even for ourselves as passionate, idealistic students. We found ourselves getting uninspired and the whole ceremony pretentious, stuffy, and off-putting. We decided that we would make our own concerts according to what we desired. We went to a lot of theater and plays – especially Chekov, Wilde, and Shakespeare. We both grew up Monty Python. So, we thought that we would try to combine all of these elements in to one concert. Many years later we looked into our history books and realized that what we are doing is quite retro.

Victor Borge, Peter Schickele, Anna Russell and others paved the way for performing musical humor.

Joo:  Yes, and although Schickele is still creating pieces, he and the others you mentioned come from a time when classical references were more of a part of daily culture. Sadly, today we are less cultured in the area of classical music. I mean, in the 50s, 60s, and 70s Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts were televised. Nowadays, even if something like that were to occur, it wouldn’t be televised. Back then, many homes still had a piano – even the lower and middle classes – but that all changed with the radio, TV, and the popularization of culture.

So what we do is challenging for us, but it’s a lot of fun. We have to not alienate audience by being too clever and by having too many musical jokes that only connoisseurs would get. We are serious musicians who have performed concerti and won competitions. Orchestras like to appear on stage with us because they realize that we are genuine musicians and not just clowns. For us, music is the most important thing and humor is secondary.

Is your show “BIG Nightmare Music” scripted so to speak?

Joo:  Everything is written out, but within that framework there are many moments for surprise and spontaneity. We encourage the orchestra in rehearsal to surprise us during the show. We tell them “Look if you have anything crazy that you would like to try and always wanted to do, do it! Don’t ask us for permission as long as it doesn’t sabotage the show and ruin the music. Just be our guest.

Once you give an orchestra permission to tap into their inner pranky child, the results are wonderful – especially for the audience. They see their local orchestra being human and having fun, and that is a connection on a much larger level.

Can you give us an example of something that happened at one of your concerts that really surprised you?

Joo:  One of the numbers that we’ll do with the Oregon Symphony is a number that we call “Rachmaninoff by Himself.” In this number, I start singing to the words of “All by Myself,” and I start to get so upset that I start crying. This crying becomes so infectious that the whole orchestra starts crying as well. All sorts of things have happened when we have done this number with orchestras. So when we did this with one orchestra, that orchestra had a very timid, sweet, quiet harpist in rehearsal, but during the concert, she walked in front part of the stage and got down on her knees, wailing, and thumping the floor with her hands. It was just nuts, and she totally amazed the orchestra.

We have had a number called “Dancing Violinists” where we have had all of the violinists do an Irish step dance while playing their instruments. One fellow in the orchestra had this outfit on where a woman came from behind him – between his legs – and it looked like she was going to grab his crotch – then she just pulled his trousers off – they were Velcroed – to reveal him in a tiny little kilt.

Judging by the Portlandia series, we are hoping the members of the orchestra will come up with some weird stuff.

Today's Birthdays

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Cecil Aronowitz (1916-1978)
Samuel Adler (1928)
Bernard Haitink (1929)
Aribert Reimann (1936)
Ralph Kirshbaum (1946)
Leanna Primiani (1968)

and

Khaled Hosseini (1965)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Eugen d'Albert (1864-1932)
Henry Wood (1869-1944)
Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)
Frank Wigglesworth (1918-1996)
Doc Watson (1923-2012)
Martin Lovett (1927)
Florence Quivar (1944)
Roberta Alexander (1949)
Katia Labèque (1950)

and

James Merrill (1926-1995)

From the Writer's Almanac:
Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata was published on this date in 1802. Its real name is the slightly less evocative “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, Opus 27, No. 2,” and its Italian subtitle is translated as “almost a fantasy.” In 1832, five years after Beethoven’s death, a German critic compared the sonata to the effect of moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne, and the interpretation became so popular that, by the end of the century, the piece was universally known as the “Moonlight Sonata.” Beethoven himself had attributed the emotion of the piece to sitting at the bedside of a friend who had suffered an untimely death.

It was on this day in 1875 that the opera Carmen appeared on stage for the first time at the Opéra-Comique in France. When it premiered, the audience was shocked by the characters of Carmen, a gypsy girl, and her lover, Don José. The opera ran for 37 performances even though it came out late in the season, and it came back the next season, too.

Nietzsche heard Carmen 20 different times, and thought of it as a musical masterpiece. Tchaikovsky first heard Carmen in 1880. Bizet died of a heart attack just three months after the opera's debut.

It was on this day in 1931 that "The Star-Spangled Banner" became the official national anthem of the United States.

The lyrics come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key more than a century before, "Defence of Fort McHenry." He'd spent a night toward the end of the War of 1812 hearing the British navy bombard Baltimore, Maryland. The bombardment lasted 25 hours — and in the dawn's early light, Francis Scott Key emerged to see the U.S. flag still waving over Fort McHenry. He jotted the poem "Defence of Fort McHenry" on the back of an envelope. Then he went to his hotel and made another copy, which was printed in the Baltimore American a week later.

The tune for the Star-Spangled Banner comes from an old British drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven," which was very popular at men's social clubs in London during the 1700s. Francis Scott Key himself did the pairing of the tune to his poem. It was a big hit.

For the next century, a few different anthems were used at official U.S. ceremonies, including "My Country Tis of Thee" and "Hail Columbia." The U.S. Navy adopted "The Star-Spangled Banner" for its officialdom in 1889, and the presidency did in 1916. But it wasn't until this day in 1931 — just 80 years ago — that Congress passed a resolution and Hoover signed into law the decree that "The Star-Spangled Banner" was the official national anthem of the United States of America.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Georg Friedrich Haas und Frau compose unusual bond

This New York Times article delves into the life of Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas and how his S&M dynamic with his wife has fueled his creativity. Interesting...

Today's Birthdays

Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884)
Tom Burke (1890-1969)
Kurt Weill (1900-1950)
Marc Blitzstein (1905-1965)
John Gardner (1917-2011)
Robert Simpson (1921-1997)
Bernard Rands (1934)
Robert Lloyd (1940)
Lou Reed (1942)

and

Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) (1904-1991)
Mikhail S Gorbachev (1931)
Tom Wolfe (1931)
John Irving (1942)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Pacific Youth Choir AD Mia Hall Miller wins Schnitzer Wonder Award

Congratulations are in order for Mia Hall Miller, winner of the 2016 Schnitzer Wonder Award and its $10,000 monetary prize.  Here's the details from the press release:


OREGON SYMPHONY NAMES
2016 SCHNITZER WONDER AWARD WINNER

President Scott Showalter today announced that the Symphony’s 2016 Schnitzer Wonder Award will go to Mia Hall Miller, founder and artistic director of the Pacific Youth Choir. The award will be presented at the Symphony’s annual fundraising gala on April 16.
 
The Schnitzer Wonder Award was created in 2015 by Jordan Schnitzer to honor his parents, Harold and Arlene Schnitzer, and their commitment to philanthropy, fairness, opportunity, education and creativity as the heart of a strong and vibrant community. The award honors an individual or organization that directly works to build community through the next generation of artists and/or student musicians. This award comes with a $10,000 monetary prize, intended to help further the honoree’s work.
 
“Mia has been our strong partner for many years.” Showalter said. “Through her work with the Pacific Youth Choir, she has enriched the lives of thousands of her students and our patrons.”
 
Miller founded the Pacific Youth Choir 13 years ago to enrich children’s lives by developing their artistry in a joyful, caring, and nurturing environment. Now with over 290 singers in 10 choirs, the Pacific Youth Choir has gained critical acclaim, performing frequently with the Oregon Symphony and numerous other organizations. During the 2015/16 season alone, her choirs perform with the Symphony on a movie program, three kids programs, a pops program, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. 
 
Miller is the second recipient of the Schnitzer Wonder Award, following last year’s inaugural honoree, Bonnie Reagan, founder of BRAVO Youth Orchestras.

Today's Birthdays

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960)
Glenn Miller (1904-1944)
Leo Brouwer (1939)
Moray Welsh (1947)
Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson (1954-2006)
Galina Gorchakova (1962)
Thomas Adès (1971)

and

Oskar Kokoschka (1866-1980)
Ralph Ellison (1913-1994)
Robert Lowell (1917-1977)
Richard Wilbur (1921)