Sunday, July 31, 2016

Violin and piano performance by Yu and Hsu blows away Chamber Music Northwest audience

Is there anything that Angelo Xiang Yu cannot play extremely well? I’m sure that was a question that some audience members were left with after hearing the young violinist in a concert with pianist Andrew Hsu at the Alberta Rose Theatre on Wednesday evening (July 27th). Yu amazed everyone not only with his technical prowess but also with emotive and artist abilities, creating a transcendent effect in his playing of works by Mozart, Debussy, Messiaen, and Franck, plus a new piece by Hsu.

Portland audiences are still getting familiar with Yu, whose appearance marked his second year with Chamber Music Northwest. He was born in Mongolia and lived in Shanghai before coming to the United States where he is currently studying at the New England Conservatory. After winning the Wieniawski International Violin Competition in 2006 and the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in 2010, he has embarked on an international career. Hopefully, he will be able to fit another appearance in Portland in the near future.

Of the pieces that Yu played, it seemed a virtual toss up in regards to which one sounded best. He performed Debussy’s Violin Sonata in G Minor, Messiaen’s “Theme and Variations”, and Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major with breathtaking virtuosity and verve and in an inviting way that simply brought listeners in his musical world. Impeccable articulation, superb dynamics, pure lyricism – it was flat out phenomenal. Consequently, Yu drew applause from the audience at the end of every movement in the Debussy. The Messiaen sounded refreshingly spontaneous. The Franck was passionate and stirring. Plus Yu played most of the time (in all three works) with his eyes closed.

But it wasn’t all just Yu. Hsu’s outstanding accompaniment enhanced each piece. It was quite remarkable considering that they had met for the first time just two days to start rehearsals. Their collaboration on Hsu’s “sea meadows,” which he wrote just a couple of years ago, was another highlight of the evening. As Hsu explained to the audience, sea meadows occur in the artic when water freezes faster than the air above it. The freezing causes thousands of little frost flowers to form and cover the sea ice. I have never seen a meadow of frost flowers, but with Yu etching wisps of sounds in the upper register and Hsu adding crystalline splashes, they created a series of abstract impressions that drifted by as if suspended in the air.

Because I got to the concert a little bit late, I heard only the second and third movements of Mozart’s Violin Sonata in B-flat Major (K. 378). Yu and Hsu excelled in delivering the cantabile style of the second and followed it with a bouncy and lively finale (‘Rondeau: Allegro”).

The first of the two encores was a showstopping performance of Vittorio Monti’s "Csárdás" and the second a stirringly beautiful “Adagio” from Bach’s Sonata in G minor. Both were rewarded with thunderous applause and followed by lots of chatter in the audience regarding the outstanding concert and the two young, impressive artists.

Today's Birthdays

Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739)
Robert Planquette (1848-1903)
Norman Del Mar (1919-1994)
Steuart Bedford (1939)
Reinhard Goebel (1952)
Randall Davidson (1953)

and

Primo Levi (1919-1987)
Kim Addonizio (1954)
J. K. Rowling (1965)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Gerald Moore (1899-1987)
Meredith Davies (1922-2005)
Moshe Atzmon (1931)
Buddy Guy (1936)
Paul Anka (1941)
Teresa Cahill (1944)
Alexina Louie (1949)
Christopher Warren-Green (1955)

and

Emily Brontë (1818-1848)
Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)
Henry Moore (1898-1986)
William Gass (1924)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Portland Opera’s wacky, madcap Italian Girl goes off the silly meter charts

Aleksandra Romano as Isabella | Photo by James Daniel
Portland Opera concocted a totally hilarious opening-night performance (July 22nd) of Rossini’s “The Italian girl in Algiers,” giving it an unforgettable screwball comedy treatment. The production, directed by Christian Räth, featured dynamic young professionals who seemed to be having a blast scampering about the stage while creating one wacky situation after another and singing their hearts out. Audience members at the Newmark Theatre could be excused if they were laughing so hard that they forgot to notice the music. The production was definitely the funniest that Portland Opera has ever produced.

You could tell right away that you were in for something special when a gaggle of tourists (choristers) came down a far aisle and ascended the stage, which was covered from end to end by a gigantic, opulent, oriental carpet, which suggested the landscape of Algeria. They were agog as they witnessed the lamentations of Elvira who had just been rejected by her husband Mustafà, the bey of Algiers. He wants to get rid of his wife by pawning her off to his Italian slave Lindoro, and he demands that one of his captains, Haly, to get him smoking hot Italian girl. Shortly afterward, Isabella, who has been searching for her fiancée Lindoro, is washed up on the shore with Taddeo, an older man who is smitten with her, but so is Mustafà . From this point on, the plot becomes more convoluted but the bottom line is that Isabella uses her wits and her sex to outmaneuver everyone so that she can return home with Lindoro.

To be sure, Räth did take a few liberties with the story line, using tourists instead of eunuchs and jettisoning the escape at the end for a feather-flying pillow fight. It all worked incredibly well to update the story into today’s world. Speaking of updates, when Mustafà appeared in full-regalia, he reminded me of photos of Gaddafi. Even the gold lame-like track suit bespoke the Gaddafi style. There were also some highly nuanced props that included Mustafà on the cover of “Gente” magazine, an Italian weekly and Pappatici Pizza boxes. 
Ashraf Sewailam as Mustafa with Lindoro, Taddeo, and Isabella | Photo by James Daniel
On top of the clever props and the inventive costumes of designer Susan Bonde, the entire ensemble camped things up with show stopping antics, including a juke and jive number (kudos to choreographer Anne Egan) that caused laugher to erupt from all corners of the hall. Everything was wonderful lit by designer Connie Yun with the colors of the Italian flag filling in the background.

Comely Aleksandra Romano had a field day as Isabella, enticing the men with a wink and a nod – all the while singing with pinpoint accuracy and emotion. Combining a playboy’s swagger with deft comic timing, Ashraf Sewailam gave Mustafà a cartoonish quality that was almost endearing. His powerful bass-baritone negotiated all of the twists and turns that Rossini threw at him with panache. Jonathan Johnson created a passionate Lindoro, and he sang with surprising power although his transitions from the ultra-high range to the middle were not totally smooth.

Katrina Galka, as Elvira, pouted and frowned with conviction, but it was her crawling and pawing across the stage while hitting one high not after the next that I’ll never forget. Laura Beckel Thoreson’s Zulma rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders in total disbelief as she sought to accommodate Elvira. In the role of Taddeo, Ryan Thorn staggered around wrapped up inside a carpet, but that didn’t stop him from singing up a storm. Even when he was topped with a lampshade on his head, Thorn held forth with Taddeo’s unending bravado that reached its silliest with the competitive “Pappataci” shout-out with Mustafà. Rounding out the cast, Deac Guidi added to the hilarity as Haly, the almost competent captain of the guard.
Katrina Galka as Elvira and Laura Beckel Thoreson as Zulma | Photo by James Daniel

The orchestra, commanded by George Manahan, sounded in fine form. The overture sparkled, but owing to the reduced number of strings that are able to fit into the tiny orchestra pit, their sound was less prominent throughout the evening. Manahan improvised brilliantly on the harpsichord, adding riffs and flourishes that Rossini would have approved. The chorus, prepared by Nicholas Fox, sang with gusto while also playing an active part as tourists and retainers of Mustafà.

Portland Opera's production of Rossini's lunatic comedy runs through August 6th. If you are in need of laughter and want to hear some outstanding singing, I highly recommend that you purchase a ticket right away.

Caveat. I have heard from friends sitting in the upper (second) balcony that it is very difficult to hear the strings. If you get tickets in the upper balcony, see if you can get them in the front rows.

Today's Birthdays

Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951)
Charles Farncombe (1919-2006)
Avet Terterian (1929-1994)
Mikis Theodorakis (1925)
Peter Schreier (1935)
Bernd Weikl (1942)
Olga Borodina (1963)

and

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)
Don Marquis (1878-1937)
Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006)
Paul Taylor (1930)
T.J. Stiles (1964)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Chamber Music Northwest's "Piano Concerto Extravaganza" excels

By guest reviewer Phillip Ayers

On a warm and humid, but very pleasant evening Chamber Music Northwest presented a unique concert of piano concertos. This might seem unusual, as these summer concerts don't usually feature solo instruments in concertos with an accompanying orchestra. Three composers - Bach, Stravinsky, and Mozart - won the evening (Tuesday, July 19) at Lincoln Performance Hall with a varied program that included J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto Number 5, Igor Stravinsky's Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, and Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major, K. 414.

Technically, one could say that the Bach work is really a concerto grosso, with a concertino (solo group) consisting of violin, flute (or recorder), and cembalo (often harpsichord, but on Tuesday, performed on piano); and a ripieno ("background," for want of a better term) of a small string orchestra. The orchestra on Tuesday was a string quartet of violin, viola, cello, and contrabass. The feel of a concerto is made evident early on, with the solo piano taking center stage with an extended solo, more than ably performed by Hilda Huang. Actually, all three instruments in the concertino figure prominently and are, with the keyboard, the only instruments in the charming and stately second movement.

Knowing this piece intimately as I do, I thoroughly enjoyed it. One of my first purchases of an LP record as a green 18-year-old freshman was the complete Brandenburg Concerti performed by the Boston Symphony, directed by Charles Munch. In the fifth concerto, Lukas Foss was the piano soloist and I have worn out the record - which I still have. I was hooked forever! I'm a wannabe keyboard player (piano and organ), but I have never, ever attempted the first movement of the Fifth, or even the third, but have had some success with the second movement, as it is mercifully slow in tempo.

It was hard to find fault with last week's performance, but the solo violin, played by Theodore Arm, was not prominent enough in terms of volume. Arm is one of the steady, committed elder statesmen of CMNW; now he is in his 42nd season with CMNW, and in retirement as a professor at the University of Connecticut. The flautist Tara Helen O'Connor, in her sixteenth season with CMNW, was excellent. (O'Connor has an impressive dossier in the biography in the concert program, but I do wonder if "Purchase College," where she teaches, is SUNY Purchase, near New York City?). Pianist Huang was very much "with" the music, although her tempi at times varied overly much, especially in the elegant and difficult solo passage in the first movement. That particular passage in the annals of keyboard literature is always difficult to bring off, and Ms. Huang did a sterling job with it. She is, at a young age (21, if I did the math correctly), an experienced player of Bach and has won two top prizes at European Bach festivals. Simply hearing this movement never ceases to thrill the listener and when the artist is so involved and attentive to the music, it makes the experience even more enjoyable.

The Stravinsky piece is another unique contribution to piano literature and, in the estimation of this reviewer, very much a "concerto." It would be easy to describe it as a two-piano extended (four-movement) sonata. Yes, there is no "accompanying" ensemble, just the two pianos. No, one piano is not accompanying the other. (We know of many transcriptions of piano concerti where one piano is solo, the other plays an orchestral reduction.) Stravinsky wrote this work to play with his son Soulima. Each pianist is a soloist. The program notes explain: "This concerto … draw[s] inspiration from the etymology of the word concertare: to harmonize, but also to compete."

This is another piece that certainly is not easy to play. Nor is it easy to convince an audience that it is a concerto. But the pianists Hilda Huang and Melvin Chen gave it their best. Con moto, with motion, the first movement, is truly with motion and the artists rendered all of it with percussive power. Perhaps a few more hours of rehearsal together would have resulted in a more polished performance, yet hearing this work for the first time, whetted my appetite to listen to it many times on You Tube or seek out other live performances. We have CMNW to thank for introducing this work to many of us, although Stravinsky's Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments is probably better known. The piece comes from the composer's neo-classical era and is clearly not in the same genre as Rite of Spring!

Reading the program notes, it is amazing to learn that these players each have (or shortly will have) degrees in chemistry. Chen possesses a PhD in physics and chemistry (Harvard) but now is the deputy-dean of the Yale School of Music, where he is associate professor of piano and teaches, among others, Huang! This makes us think of those musicians we know, or have known, who also are/were accomplished scientists, thereby not living and working in two separate worlds, but integrating the two: scientific and musical.

The concluding concerto on the program could seemingly be misconstrued as a piano sextet, but it too is actually a concerto, W.A. Mozart's No. 12 in A Major, K. 414, in fact. Chen brought to it a fine, rather understated performance, executing the four cadenzas very tellingly. Some of the players from the Bach Brandenburg concerto returned to the stage for the Mozart and all were very much involved in the music. This concerto, utilizing a small ensemble rather than a full orchestra, was written to be playable both ways. In Mozart's own words: "…[it is] very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, and natural, without being vapid. … there are also occasional passages from which connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction" [program notes].

Mozart's music always delights the ear and mind and one never tires of it. At least, this listener doesn't! Everything musical was given the utmost attention and the players obviously enjoyed making music together the entire evening. They were bodily involved and anything-but-bored. Neither was the audience.

It is always a great treat to hear Hamilton Cheifetz play the violoncello, even if last week he was part of the ripieno (we might say "back-up") in the Bach and a string quintet in the Mozart. This man knows ensemble-playing, we might be bold to say, "like the back of his hand." He is a long-time member of the Floristan Trio at Portland State University and a long-time participant - 30 years - in the summer series of CMNW.

The attractive program book, with full concert notes and biographies of the artists (except I could find nothing about the bassist Curtis Daily, who expertly played with German bow). Lincoln Hall was perfect - I'd not been in it since the remodel, forgive me, please! - except for a glitch with the lighting. The lights "went up" right at a crucial spot in the Stravinsky, but somehow seemed appropriate and not distracting. Some of us tittered and wondered if it was by design?

Hearing and reviewing this concert came at the end of a long and profoundly sad day as I bade farewell, with many others, to one of the modern saints of the Episcopal Church, Edmond Lee Browning, Presiding Bishop from 1985-1997, and a resident of nearby Hood River. I could not help but feel that this concert came at a good time to remember the good bishop and I felt that way particularly in the Bach Brandenburg Five's middle movement, so steady, profound, and yet playful, just like he was. Also, this concert was an excellent foil to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland held that same week: in Lincoln Hall there was no braggadocio, no bullying, no false promises, but the "real deal."

Today's Birthdays

Rudy Vallée (1901-1986)
Frank Loesser (1910-1969)
Kenneth Alwyn (1925)
Riccardo Muti (1941)

and

Ludwig A Feuerbach (1804-1872)
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
Beatrix Potter (1866-1843)
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957)
John Ashbery (1927)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829)
Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
Ernő Dohnanyi (1877-1960)
Igor Markevitch (1912-1983)
Mario del Monaco (1915-1982)
Leonard Rose (1918-1984)
Carol Vaness (1952)

and

Joseph Mitchell (1908-1996)
Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007)
Bharati Mukherjee (1940)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Free simulcast of Italian Girl in Algiers offered by Portland Opera - Wednesday night

From the press release:

What: Portland Opera is offering a free simulcast of The Italian Girl in Algiers on Wednesday, July 27 starting at 7:30 pm. This performance of the colorful, highly creative, and rather sensual interpretation of the 200-year-old madcap comedy masterpiece will be projected on a screen outside the Newmark Theatre. A viewing area between Antoinette Hatfield Hall and the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall will be created by the closure of Main Street between Broadway and Park. Seating will be available in the street, and food and beverage service will be available outside as part of the event.

Cost: Free to the public
When: Wednesday, July 27, 2016; 7:30 pm
Where: 1111 SW Broadway, Portland, OR 97205

Chamber Music Northwest’s New@Noon celebrates multimedia music

One thing you can count on whenever you combine music and video in a live performance, is that the audience never coughs. I first experienced this phenomenon at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition where a camera on a boom arm swept silently above the orchestra and soloists during the final rounds, and I’ve witnessed the multimedia combination at many other concerts since. So, when CMNW’s New@Noon series celebrated sound and visual imagery on Friday, July 22nd, at Lincoln Recital Hall, there was no coughing at all from the audience and everyone seemed to be thoroughly engaged in each piece, all of which were new.

The newness kicked off with “Every tendril, a wish” by Bonnie Miksch. Miksch, the chair of the music department at Portland State University, wrote the piece in 2007 for her son who was nine months old. The title refers to a poem that Miksch penned, and she read to the audience before the performance began. Its words painted a picture that could be described as a joyful lullaby. Miksch then sang the poem while accompanied by electroacoustic music and live interactive graphics that were controlled by Christopher Penrose, who sat at a laptop just a few feet from Miksch. Penrose altered the graphical imagery that was projected on a screen just behind Miksch, responding to the dynamics of Miksch’s singing. Using very little vibrato, her soprano voice was attractive and emotive, but most of the text was buried by the loud electronic accompaniment. The projected graphics consisted of geometric patterns that constantly changed. They seemed oddly cool and objective whereas the lyrics were warm and very subjective.

Jaroslaw Kapuschinski’s “Juicy” took a slightly different tack. This piece (written in 2009) interactively related music for piano with a video that was controlled by computer software. The software would react on the fly to the dynamics from the piano, which was played by Melvin Chen. The piece had six movements – all of which were centered on fruit. So the audience enjoyed round red and green floating across the screen in the “Citrus Duet” section. The “Kiwi” movement featured slices of kiwi that slowly rotated. Sometimes the music drifted along in a Satie-like fashion and at other times, it became complete abstract. The “Blueberries” episode was riddled with real gunfire as each blueberry – lined up in rows – was struck and went kersplat. That movement, according to the composer, was meant to bring a bit of reality into the performance. The video, which used stop-motion techniques was created by John Edmark, was mostly tranquil and restive – except for the jolt of gunfire.

The final piece on the program, “Einstein’s Light” offered a more traditional kind of music and film experience except that the music, written by Bruce Adolphe in 2015 for piano and violin, was created first and the video second. The piece, in five movements, showed the love the Einstein had for music, in particular the music of Mozart and Bach. The context of the music was then interpreted visually by Nickolas Barris with images of light beams, galaxies, objects flying through space, vast landscapes, clips of WWI battles (the time when Einstein developed the theory of relativity, famous quotes from Einstein, and images of Einstein. Among the music-related quotes from Einstein, one of the best was “My discoveries are the result of music perception.”

The piano part, played by Adolphe, often had a light, ethereal texture, while the violin part, played by Jennifer Frautschi, seemed more prominent – especially when waxing lyrical. Maybe that was because Einstein enjoyed playing the violin. In any case, the piece as a whole was a lyrical exploration of sorts that gave the audience plenty to think about.

Today's Birthdays

Serge Koussevitsky (1874-1951)
Georges Favre (1905-1993)
Tadeusz Baird (1928-1981)
Alexis Weissenberg (1929-2012)
Anthony Gilbert (1934)
Roger Smalley (1943-2015)
Mick Jagger (1943)
Angela Hewitt (1958)

and

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Carl Jung (1875-1961)
Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973)
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
Jean Shepherd (1921-1999)

From Wikipedia:

Aldous Huxley had been a long-time friend of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who later dedicated his last orchestral composition to Huxley. Stravinsky began Variations in Santa Fé, New Mexico, in July 1963, and completed the composition in Hollywood on 28 October 1964. It was first performed in Chicago on 17 April 1965, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Craft.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Alfredo Casella (1883-1947)
Maureen Forrester (1930-2010)

and

Eric Hoffer (1898-1983)
Elias Canetti (1905-1994)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1788 that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart entered into his catalog the completion of one of his most beloved works, Symphony Number 40 in G Minor (sometimes called “The Great G Minor Symphony”). It was written in the final years of Mozart’s life, when things were not going well. An infant daughter had died a few weeks earlier, he had moved into a cheaper apartment, and he was begging friends and acquaintances for loans. But in the summer of 1788, he wrote his last three symphonies: Symphony Number 39 in E-Flat, Symphony in G Minor, and the Jupiter symphony. It is not known for sure whether Mozart ever heard any of these symphonies performed.

Northern Lights: Scandinavian Gems lives up to its billing

The fruits of composer David Schiff's skills as an arranger were evident on Thursday, July 21st as the Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival continued. Kaul Auditorium was the perfect acoustical space for an evening of Scandinavian composers as the program Northern Lights: Scandinavian Gems took place.

Opening the evening was a brace of works by Carl Nielsen, beginning with Serenata in vano, a work like all the works of the evening for strings and winds. This work began with a rhythmically intense three-quarter time signature dissolving into languid arias for horn and clarinet.  Exciting annunciations from the contrabass came to the forefront as the extremely well-balanced wind section swelled and receded, leaving the air cleared for exciting, razor-accurate doublings between horn and bassoon. Like much of the evening it was redolent with the richness of the Fenno-Scandia folk tradition, and was over too soon.

David Shifrin had another chance to shine as Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto, Op. 57 was next. This brilliant work opened with a crisp fughetta, one which Shifrin infused with electricity, and a rich, throaty sound from the basso register of his instument. The texture was widely varied...at times Shifrin was mysterious and unhurried, other times the strings spun a glorious web upon which Shifrin went spidering along, and there were great moments from William Purvis on the solo horn as well. Shifrin's playing felt like storytelling as he navigated the ever-shifting shoals with his usual grace and dexterity.

After intermission the audience was treated to the ever-popular Peer Gynt Suites, arranged for a 13-piece orchestra by Schiff.   It was an interesting dichotomy to see such a large orchestra (for this festival) on stage as Schiff spoke a bit on the challenges of boiling down these huge orchestral pieces for such (relatively) spare ornamentation. Seven of the eight movements from both suites were on the bill; Peer Gynt's Homecoming presented too large a task for the composer vis-a-vis the need for such radical reductions in the number of instruments he had to work with.

The order of presentation was different as well, so it was fun to hear these movements juxtaposed in an unfamiliar manner. Beginning with the Death of Ase, the theme shifted from primarily winds to the strings, a nice subtle change of color. It retained most of the gravitas of the full orchestral work. For Morning Mood, the sonority of all those winds didn't quite work...at times it felt a bit hokey for Grieg's grand gesture, though it was fun to watch the string players standing in bravely for an entire section. Anitra's Dance featured brilliant solo work from Matt Landry who throughout the work shifted between a number of different saxophones. Theodore Arm's solo work also stood out as particularly fine.

The Abduction of the Bride held a fascinating sonance; the winds constantly uplifting the small string band almost felt like human voices somewhere in the background. The Arabian Dance and Solveig's Song were truly delightful, especially the latter. What a joy it was to hear such necessarily sparse scoring--every single player had to be completely on top of their game or all would have been lost. Percussionist Jonathan Greeney deserves high praise for his performance, which was nothing short of heroic at times. And finishing off with In the Hall of the Mountain King? Well, how could you go wrong? Schiff's arrangement was fascinating, fun and inspired, and was a wonderful new way to hear such beloved old gems.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Talking with George Manahan about "The Italian Girl in Algiers"

Portland Opera’s music director, George Manahan, has been enjoying his stay in The Rose City. He arrived in April to start working on the company’s production of “The Magic Flute,” which was followed by “Sweeney Todd.” Now, he’s back on the podium for “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” the wacky Rossini comedy that is currently running at the Newmark Theatre through August 6th.

I talked with Manahan at the opera company’s headquarters last Thursday, not long after he had finished a few games of tennis.

I didn’t know that you played tennis. What a terrific way to relieve stress!

Manahan: When I was younger, I was completely immersed in music. But as I got older, I realized that I needed something else. I played tennis as a kid with my family – with my brother and my parents as doubles. It was just recreation. My wife and I tried golf about 10 years ago, but I just don’t have enough weekends free for that lifestyle. I took up tennis again. You just have to move and all you need is a racket. It’s a lot of fun.

Because the orchestra pit in the Newmark is so small, are you using a reduced orchestration for this production?

Manahan: No, we are using the full orchestration, but we do have a reduced string section. Rossini’s orchestration is economical. We have one flute, one piccolo – there is one number, the quintet, that uses two piccolos – two oboes, two clarinets, one bassoon, two horns, and two trumpets, and percussion – no timpani. The Overture to the Barber of Saville has the same orchestration. There are recordings that use trombones and timpani, but they were a Nineteenth Century addition.

How many strings do you have?

Manahan: We have four first violins, four seconds, two violas, two cellos, and two basses. That’s all that will fit in the Newmark. This is my first production to conduct in the Newmark. There’s an intimate quality. The theater reminds me of Glimmerglass. Oh, there’s a harpsichord, too.

Will you be playing it?

Manahan: Yes. I play my own recitatives. It’s fun, and I’m so much more involved.

Do you get to improvise?

Manahan: Constantly. There are a few licks that I keep consistent, because it goes with the staging. But generally, I’m just phrasing. It’s like jazz, because I make it up as I go.

So Rossini didn’t write in everything for you.

Manahan: No, he just gave a figured bass. Here’s a little secret about this opera: Rossini didn’t write the recitatives. He contracted them out to another composer – we don’t know who. Rossini was under the gun to get the opera written as quickly as possible. He also contracted the Haly’s aria to a collaborator. That’s the one where he talks about Italian women. It’s in a spot after the big quintet – just like in “The Barber of Seville.” There’s a huge scene change, but in “The Barber” the maid comes out and sings in front of the curtain while they are changing the set. Haly’s aria does the same thing in this – same formula.

Rossini claims to have written the entire opera in 18 days.

He was noted as a fast worker!

Manahan: Of his three famous comic operas: “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” “The Barber of Seville,” and “La Cenerentola,” this one is my favorite. It is certainly the silliest.

How many times have you conducted “The Italian Girl in Algiers?”

Manahan: At New York City Opera, I did it in the late 90s and then at Glimmerglass – also at Wolf Trap in 1990. It was at Wolf Trap in 1990 when Chris Mattaliano was directing anther Rossini opera “Il viaggio a Reims”, but we’ve been friends since the early 80s.

Your background is in piano?

Manahan: My Bachelors of Music is in piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music.

It seems that with your abilities, you would have gotten involved in period orchestra performances.

Manahan: I’m aware of some gestures and techniques that belong to the historically informed style, but for me, the fun is to take a piece that was written in 1813 and make it urgent for today. It’s interesting to hear brass instruments with no valves but those specialists… I have a nickname for them: Earlier than Thou. They can always out-research you.

Are there any cuts in the Portland Opera production?

Manahan: Yes, there are a few in the recitatives, and the asides are traditionally cut because they are so redundant and don’t push the story along. The director and I decided to do some nipping and tucking – cut this or that line – to make things tighter. But if you make a cut in a recit, that can put things in a different key; so I have to modulate on the keyboard.

There are little inside jokes in this production – like the point where Mustafá is having a nightmare. He’s dreaming, and it’s in a recitative. I had put his aria in a minor key, but that was too subtle. So how I’m using something by Handel – the “Sarabande” – you might recall that it was used in the film “Barry Lyndon,” although I might slip something in from “Eugene Onegin.”

That is very talented!

Manahan: I’ve played enough jazz. I’ll certainly use little quotes from “The Italian Girl in Algiers” Overture. I’ll have to do them in different keys so that it works with the figured bass line.

What is different about conducting Rossini versus other operas?

Manahan: Everything has to be exactly together. With operas from the Romantic era, you can fudge things a little, because the orchestration can over thing up a bit, but with Rossini everything has to be spot on, especially the quick numbers like the quintet at the end of the first act.

So what are you doing after “The Italian Girl” run ends?

Manahan: I’m going to San Francisco. I’ll be directing the world premiere of Bright Sheng’s “Dream of the Red Chamber,” which opens at San Francisco Opera on September 10th.

Wow! That’ll be quite a switch from Rossini!

Manahan: Yes. I’ve directed a lot of new pieces over the years. So I’m looking forward to it.

Today's Birthdays

Adolphe Charles Adam (1803-1856)
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)
Robert Farnon (1917-2005)
Ruggiero Ricci (1918-2012)
Guiseppe de Stefano (1921-2008)
Wilfred Josephs (1927-1997)
Peter Serkin (1947)
Philippe Hurel (1955)

and

Jonathan Newton (1725-1807)
Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?)
Frank Wedekind (1864-1918)
Robert Graves (1895-1985)
John D. McDonald (1916-1986)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Franz Berwald (1796-1868)
Johann Vesque von Püttlingen (1803-1883)
Edouard Colonne (1838-1910)
Francesco Cilea (1866-1950)
Leon Fleisher (1928)
Bernard Roberts (1933-2013)
Maria João Pires (1944)
Susan Graham (1960)

and

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)
Vikram Chandra (1961) 

and from the Writer's Almanac:
It was on this day in 1829 that William Burt received a patent for the "typographer." It was a typewriter that looked more like a record player. It had a swinging arm that picked up ink and then printed a letter, and then the paper was manually adjusted to make space for the next letter.

Friday, July 22, 2016

With perfection, the Emerson String Quartet passes the torch from Haydn to Beethoven

Photo by Tom Emerson
Mining the connections between two giants of classic music, the Emerson String Quartet delivered superb performances of late Haydn and early Beethoven quartets on Saturday, July 16th, at Kaul Auditorium. The concert, presented by Chamber Music Northwest, was the second of three in which the ensemble contrasted pieces from Haydn’s Opus 76 and Beethoven’s Opus 18. As the program notes explained, Haydn stopped writing music for string quartet after critics hailed Beethoven’s first foray, entitled Six Quartets. Scholars have speculated that Haydn may have recognized Beethoven’s genius and simply withdrew from writing in that genre. As shown by the Emerson String Quartet, Haydn did seem to experiment with more emotive turmoil in his late string quartets, and that may have been influenced by Beethoven.

Displaying terrific tonal balance, pinpoint attacks, excellent choices in tempo, and wonderfully coordinated dynamics, the Emerson String Quartet was in complete command throughout the evening. Opening with Haydn’s String Quartet in D Minor (Op. 76, No. 2) (“Quinten”), the ensemble (viollinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Laurence Dutton, and cellist Paul Watkins) excelled in the little nuances without losing sight of the arc of the piece. They nudged notes ahead, diminuendoed and crescendo totally together, created resonant pizzicattos, added a zing or two and quick upwards glissandos for the lively finale.

With Drucker taking over the first violin role from Setzer, Beethoven’s String Quartet in A Major (Op. 18, No. 5) received an exceptional interpretation with alert, exciting playing from beginning to end. Even the Haydnesque pauses had a delightful bit of tension that made them an integral part of the piece. The variations in the third movement swayed from the refined to the rustic and the fourth was crowned with a nimble and playful attitude.

After intermission, the foursome led off with Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major (Op. 18, No. 1), launching into the first movement with an incredible sense of interplay so that the person who had the leading line could always be heard. First violinist Setzer’s emotive solo in the second movement, “Adagio affettuoso ed appassionato,” was followed by spacious pauses that again seemed to acknowledge Haydn. Setzer’s execution of a blitz of notes highlighted the third movement and the ensemble wrapped it all up in the fourth con brio

The concert concluded with the ensemble (Drucker back at first violin) giving a stellar performance of Haydn’s String quartet in D Major (Op. 76, No. 5). Again the tonal balance was remarkable and always lovely. Tempos were lively and engaging – especially the galloping passages in the last movement, “Finale: Presto,” which also contained an enticing fadeaway before winding things up robustly.

Today's Birthdays

Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962)
Licia Albanese (1913-2014)
George Dreyfus (1928)
Ann Howard Jones (1936)
Nigel Hess (1953)
Eve Beglarian (1958)

and

Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Tom Robbins (1936)
S. E. Hinton (1948)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

New@Noon concert celebrates the music of Hoffman, Bresnick, and Danielpour

Last year, when Chamber Music Northwest uncorked its New@Noon series, the concerts drew enthusiastic but small crowds. Based on what I was last Friday (July 15) at Lincoln Recital Hall, New@Noon is catching on. All of the seats weren’t filled, but the size of the audience seemed to have doubled, filling about 75 percent of the space. That’s good news for contemporary composers, because the concert programs feature only new works. The performance I heard contained works of Joel Hoffman, Martin Bresnick, and Richard Danielpour, three composers who have had a strong relationship with Chamber Music Northwest over the years.

The concert began with “Fantasia Fiorentina,” a free-spirited duet for violin and piano written in 1988 by Canadian composer Joel Hoffman. In a brief introductory remark, the violinist, Benjamin Hoffman, mentioned that piece was written before he, the violinist, was born, so there was extra-intrinsic connection between him and the piece. As for the music itself, the violin part roamed all over the landscape with lots of florid passages. The piano part, sensitively played by Vevgeny Yontov, countered the violin’s constant travelling with soft chords that sounded like bells in the distance.

Next, composer Martin Bresnick came to the stage to introduce his piece “And I Always Thought,” which was commissioned in honor of Anzac Day, an important national occasion in Australia that marks the tragic Gallipoli campaign in WWI. After noting that he has always had reservations about warfare, Bresnick told how he was inspired by two poems of Bertolt Brecht and that he had sought permission to use their texts but to no avail. Consequently, his “And I Always Thought” became a dialogue between the musicians without words. Friday’s noontime performance offered a soulful exchange between clarinetist David Shifrin, violinist AniKavafian, and pianist Lisa Moore (who btw is married to Bresnick).

Starting out in the low register of the clarinet, Shifrin created a solemn statement that was joined by rumblings in the basement of the piano. Somewhere along the way the violin joined the fray but the three instrumentalists seemed to peel off on divergent routes – some of which were jauntily and others angry. I can’t recall which mood won out, but a truce of sorts – in the form of a pause – reset the situation. The next section featured arching lines for the violin and a more harmonious style that included an extended set of trills by all three instrumentalists. The sonic texture acquired a harsh and tragic sentiment before the final measures which were dominated by arpeggios from the keyboard and slightly strident tones from the clarinet and violin.

Richard Danielpour’s Clarinet Quintet, commissioned by Chamber Music Northwest, receive its second-ever performance at this concert. The first performance took place the night before (you can read my colleague Lorin Wilkerson’s review of it here) at Reed College. Before Shifrin and the Dover Quartet (violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, and cellist Camden Shaw) launched into the piece, Danielpour came up front to talk a little about it. Subtitled “The Last Jew in Hamadan,” the music was inspired by the city of Hamadan, Iran, where some of Danielpour’s relatives were born. In the past, Hamadan had a thriving Jewish population, but that is no more.

The Clarinet Quintet had two halves: the first was lively (inspired by Danielpour’s memories of growing up in Iran) and the second a lamentation of what Iran has become. The playing of Shifrin and the Dover Quartet matched the description very well. The first half was bouncy and energetic. Shifrin created a buzzy tone that added a middle-eastern flair and at times, there was an echoing of themes going on between him and the quartet. A transitioning section established a solemn atmosphere with the clarinet sailing above a refined drone from the strings. Emotive solos from the viola and cello were followed by stirring, virtuosic passages. That was followed by a pause and then a duet between the first violinist and Shifrin that was supported by the rest of the ensemble. The music acquired a serious and probing nature with a lovely, searching elegy. Overall, it was a somber and terrific tribute to a troubled part of the world.

Today's Birthdays

Anton Kuerti (1938)
Isaac Stern (1920-2001)
Cat Stevens (1948)
Margaret Ahrens (1950)

and

Hart Crane (1899-1932)
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Tess Gallagher (1943)
Garry Trudeau (1948)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Gaston Carraud (1864-1920)
Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921)
Vilém Tauský (1910-2004)
Michael Gielen (1927)
Nam June Paik (1932-2006)
Hukwe Zawose (1938-2003)
Carlos Santana (1947)
Bob Priest (1951)

and

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374)
Pavel Kohout (1928)
Cormac McCarthy (1933)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Boyd Neel (1905-1981)
Louis Kentner (1905-1987)
Robert Mann (1920)
Gerd Albrecht (1935-2014)
Nicholas Danby (1935-1937)
Dominic Muldowney (1952)
David Robertson (1958)
Carlo Rizzi (1960)
Mark Wigglesworth (1964)
Evelyn Glennie (1965)
Russell Braun (1965)

and

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747)
Pauline Viardot (1821-1910)
Julius Fučík (1872-1916)
Kurt Masur (1927-2015)
Screamin' Jay Hawkins (1929-2000)
R. Murray Schafer (1933)
Ricky Skaggs (1954)
Tobias Picker (1954)

and

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)
Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979)
Harry Levin (1912-1994)
Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933)
Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005)
Elizabeth Gilbert (1969)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Calling all hands to the keyboard at Chamber Music Northwest

Yevgeny Yontov, Gilles Vonsattel, Melvin Chen, and Hilda Huang | Photo by Jonathan Lange
During Medieval times scholars pondered how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but the Chamber Music Northwest concert on Tuesday evening (July 12) made me wonder how many pianists can play difficult music while sharing the same keyboard. That’s because the program featured two pieces with three pianists traversing one Steinway grand – a total of 30 digits on 88 keys. The performances were a ballet of sorts on the ivories, and they fit perfectly with two other works for two pianists seated at two grands. But at the end of the evening, concertgoers were treated to an encore that one-upped the stakes with four pianists at one keyboard – a spectacular way to cap things off.

The first of the two pieces for a threesome was an arrangement by Carl Czerny of the Overture to Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Czerny wrote the piece in an era when parlor piano music was all the rage and people wanted to hear great pieces like Mozart’s in their own homes. Pianists Melvin Chen, Hilda Huang, and Yevgeny Yontov gave Cerny’s arrangement an outstanding interpretation with Chen maneuvering his fingers primarily in the bass register, Huang in the middle, and Yontov on treble. If only there had been a camera on the keyboard with projection to a large screen, then all of the audience would have enjoyed witty finger-ballet even more.

The second number for finger-ballet-trio took the audience in a less eloquent, yet equally fun direction. That’s because the same ensemble (with Yontov on bass, Huang in the middle, and Chen on treble) performed Alfred Schnittke’s “Homage to Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich,” which had a rough and tumble bass line, rhythmic drive, and dissonant, crunchy chords that obliterated everything in periodic joyful outbursts. The performers looked like they were having a blast playing the piece, even though some in the audience were scratching their heads.
Gilles Vonsattel and Hilda Huang | Photo by Jonathan Lange

In the duo piano/pianists part of the program, Huang and Gilles Vonsattel gave an exquisite performance of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K. 448). Their springy, light touch matched the sentiment of the first movement (“Allegro con spirit”) to perfection. For in the second (“Andante”), they elicited an impeccably balanced, cantabile sound and played the third (“Allegro molto”) with a spry and refined spirit.

Yontov and Vonsattel teamed up to deliver a stunning performance of Rachmaninoff’s Suite for Two Pianos No. 2 in C Major (Op. 17). Besides a con brio opening with some bombastic chords and lots of propulsive energy, the duo alternated back and forth between a quick waltz and a sumptuous melody plus a couple of transitions that included tricky pauses. The “Tarantella: Presto” of the final movement seemed to be a real knuckle-buster that was punctuated with sudden accents – all of which was handled with aplomb by Yontov and Vonsattel.

All four pianists came on stage, rearranged the piano benches and played Albert Lavignac’s “Galop Marche,” one of the best party pieces ever written for one piano, eight hands. Yep, 40 fingers on 88 keys. They tempo was brisk, and the piece sparkled with humor and fun. After the concert, I found a version of this piece on YouTube that features 12 pianists on one keyboard at a concert in Alexandria, Egypt. In that version, four of the pianists are on the floor below the keyboard and reaching up and the others crowd around. So, now I am expecting Chamber Music Northwest to bring this version of the piece to Portland some day in the future.

The Dover Quartet and David Shifrin deliver in an outstanding CMNW program

Richard Danielpour
Thursday July 14 at the Kaul Auditorium saw the kind of performance one expects from Chamber Music Northwest's Summer Festival: poised, professional, and artistically sublime. Featuring the Dover Quartet and David Shifrin on clarinet, and including a world premier by renowned composer Richard Danielpour, the program was varied and delightful.

The evening opened with Beethoven's String Quartet in E-flat Major ("Harp") Op. 74 with just the string quartet: Joel Link and Bryan Lee on violin, Milena Pajaro-van-de-Stadt viola, and Camden Shaw, cello. Immediately apparent was a rich and wonderful uniformity of pitch, timbre, and timing, highlighted by a marvelously deft 'code-switching' (to borrow a linguistic term) between the numerous pizzicato and arco motives as they were handed off between instruments. With a soaring sense of purpose, the young players achieved as fulsome a sound as one could hope to hear.

Moving into the Adagio the music became a seamless pulse, an ebb and flow like an earth tide almost imperceptibly shifting the ground beneath your feet. The group exhibited a justified self-assurance--the notes were so spot on and well-executed that all technical considerations were second-nature, and all could be devoted to a deeply thoughtful rendering of the spirit of the work. Shaw played the brief, ubiquitious half-measure-or-so exposed cello coda of the Allegretto sublimely, with the cooperation of the rest of the players who graciously stepped aside time and again so the charming subito pianissimo motive could be heard. Pajaro-van-de-Stadt's viola solo was affecting and direct, and the smooth handing off of pedal points between all four voices was great fun to hear.  I found myself given to involuntary smiles and chuckles for sheer delight, gloriously basking in this wonderful sea of sound.

Shifrin joined the group for the world premiere of Richard Danielpour's Clarinet Quintet, mysteriously subtitled by the composer "The Last Jew in Hamadan." The composer was on hand for the performance, and explained that his father was born in Hamadan, Iran, a city that once had a vibrant Jewish community (indeed it is reputed to be the burial place of the biblical Queen Esther) but was predicted by one writer to have only one Jew left in the city by the year 2020.

It opened with a sparking, culturally rich clarinet theme that cut through a charging agitato from the strings (Agitato con energia was the marking for the movement) with its rapid-fire melody and occasional squawks and honks. It was suggestive of a bustling, hurried life--perhaps unquiet but fascinating and lovely. Short, expressive phrases kept popping out here and there, Shifrin playing masterfully as always this ceaseless, frothing soundscape.

The Adagietto e triste began with a plaintive dirge from the clarinet over a hurdy-gurdy sound from the strings. Sinuous and melancholy--but somehow hopeful, not defeatist--it wound its way toward a fascinating tutti on one pitch, with the clarinet adding a daring color to the whole effect. Haunting doublings and dramatic seizures were hallmarks of the movement. It was a fine, original piece, and well worth a world premier at such a great festival.

The second half of the evening consisted entirely of the Clarinet Quintet in B-flat Major, Op. 34, by Carl Maria von Weber.  A liquid descending scale from the clarinet kicked it off.  There was a hilarious squawking high note delivered with what can only be described as comedic timing by Shifrin. A somewhat ungainly but not wholly unlovable first movement--what dramatic and contrasting stuff.

As the work moved on the group was able to make the most out of a work full of emotional moments but with a dearth of narrative cohesion--this would've been dull in lesser hands, but the skill of the musicians was such that they molded it into something worth hearing--a fine showcase for Shifrin that was capped off by a truly virtuosic finale.

Today''s Birthdays

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Sir Donald F. Tovey (1875-1940)
Eleanor Steber (1914-1990)
Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976)
Peter Schickele (1935)
Michael Roll (1946)
Dauwn Upshaw (1960)

and

Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970)
Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946)
Erle Stanley Gardner (1899-1970)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Antoine François Marmontel (1816-1898)
Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931)
Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003)
Bella Davidovich (1928)
Bryden Thomson (1928-1991)
Pinchas Zukerman (1948)
Richard Margison (1954)
Joanna MacGregor (1959)
James MacMillan (1959)
Helmut Oehring (1961)

and

Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)
Roald Amundsen (1872-1928)
Ginger Rogers (1911-1995)
Tony Kushner (1956)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Ronald Binge (1910-1979)
Jack Beeson (1921-2010)
Julian Bream (1933)
Sir Harrison Birtwistle (1934)
Geoffrey Burgon (1941-2010)
Linda Ronstadt (1946)
John Casken (1949)
Gérard Lesne (1956)

and

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
Thomas Bulfinch (1796-1867)
Walter Benjamin (1892-1940)
Iris Murdoch (1919-1999)
Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
Arianna Huffington (1950)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)
Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)
Piero Bellugi (1924-2012)
Unsuk Chin (1961)

and

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Owen Wister (1860-1938)
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)
Frank Raymond Leavis (1895-1978)
Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991)
Irving Stone (1903-1989)


And from The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Woodrow Wilson — aka "Woody" — Guthrie, born in Okemah, Oklahoma (1912). Woody Guthrie never finished high school, but he spent his spare time reading books at the local public library. He took occasional jobs as a sign painter and started playing music on a guitar he found in the street. During the Dust Bowl in the mid-1930s, Guthrie followed workers who were moving to California. They taught him traditional folk and blues songs, and Guthrie went on to write thousands of his own, including "This Train Is Bound for Glory." In 1940, he wrote the folk classic "This Land Is Your Land" because he was growing sick of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."

Woody Guthrie once said: "I hate a song that makes you think that you're not any good. [...] Songs that run you down or songs that poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or your hard traveling. I am out to fight those kinds of songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Portland Opera’s “Eugene Onegin” goes soviet with exciting young cast

Tatiana (Jennifer Forni) and Onegin (Alexander Elliott) | photo by Cory Weaver


The fancy ball gowns and colorful military uniforms that ornament traditional performances of “Eugene Onegin” were gone from Portland Opera’s newest production, which opened Friday night (July 8th) at the Newmark Theatre. Instead, the company put a new spin on Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, placing it in the Soviet Union of the 1980s and early 1990s (for the final scene). This interpretation, directed by Kevin Newbury and designed by Daniel Meeker for Portland Opera, offered an interesting mix of realism that worked well with an outstanding cast – led by Jennifer Forni (Tatiana), Alexander Elliott (Onegin), Aaron Short (Lensky), and Abigal Dock (Olga) – all of whom are members or graduates of the company’s resident artist program.

All of the scenes of the first act were set in a playground in front of a large tenement building, presenting a humble space for the widowed Madame Larina and her two daughters, Olga and Tatiana, to interact with their neighbors and Lensky and Onegin, who arrived on bicycles. Props that added an 80s touch included the cassette tape player that Tatiana used to record her letter to Onegin and the boom box that Monsieur Triquet brought for the party. The costumes, designed by Allison Heryer, reflected the harsh times when goods were scarce.

In the second act, the duel between Lensky and Oneigin took place in an abandoned area next to a parked car that could have passed for a Lada. Moving ahead five years, the next scene occurred at an upscale art gallery and the final scene at a place defined only by a park bench.

Newbury wisely scrapped the peasant chorus (where gifts were brought to the wealthy landowning Larina family), since it didn’t fit the time period and circumstances. However, some lights in the windows of the tenement building should have gone out for the evening while Tatiana slept on the merry-go-round and dreamt of Onegin. Also, the line of women who showed their ration cards to an officer in the playground seemed out of place, since no food was offered there.
Tatiana (Jennifer Forni) | Photo by Cory Weaver

Forni conveyed a passionate Tatiana whose dizzy emotional highs inflamed the Letter Scene. She seared the stage in that last scene, superbly revealing Tatiana’s turmoil when Onegin pulled out all of the stops in his attempt to woo her away from her husband. Elliott also left everything on the stage, singing with a rich and powerful voice that wonderfully conveyed arrogance, eloquence, and desperation.

Lensky (Aaron Short), Olga (Abigal Dock), and Onegin (Alexander Elliot) | photo by Cory Weaver
Aaron Short exuded the poetic soul of Lensky, and his ardent farewell before the duel with Onegin was a highlight of the evening. Dock gave Olga a beguiling presence that made her flirtation with Onegin convincing.

Allison Swensen-Mitchell created an upright yet caring Madame Larina. Andrea Compton wonderfully portrayed the devoted nurse Filipievna. Konstantin Kvach injected a healthy dose of poignant honesty in his portrayal of Prince Gremin.

David Warner, bedecked a la Elton John in an orange outfit and sunglasses, camped up his role as Monsieur Triquet to the hilt, striking one ridiculous pose after the next while cavorting and sing on the playground equipment. Erik Hundtoft gave Zaretsky an imposing presence, peering down on others through his long, greasy hair that seemed inspired by Meat Loaf. Anders J. Tobiason easily marshalled everyone about in the role of a captain. An ensemble of fourteen nicely filled out the big choral numbers.

Because of the Newmark’s small orchestra pit, the production went with a chamber arrangement by Jonathan Lyness. The instrumentalists were paced well by conductor Nicholas Fox, but intonation problems among the strings marred the music.

The references to villages, matchmakers, a prince, and the nanny in the supertitles didn’t fit all that well with the 1980s Soviet Union. Since most of the audience probably didn’t know the Russian, the projected text could have gotten away with a slightly different translation for those instances and the singers could have sung the original words anyway.

Bottom line: Portland Opera’s production of “Eugene Onegin” is different but worth experiencing unless you are hung up on grand opera in a traditional historic context. The remaining shows will take place on July 14, 15 17, 23 and 26.
Onegin (Alexander Elliott) and Tatiana (Jennifer Forni) | photo by Cory Weaver

Today's Birthdays

Sir Reginald Goodall (1905-1990)
Carlo Bergonzi (1924-2014)
Jeanne Loriod (1928-2001)
Per Nørgård (1932)
Albert Ayler (1936-1970)
Jennifer Smith (1945)

and

John Clare (1793-1864)
Isaak Babel (1894-1941)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Review of Oregon Bach Festival in CVNA magazine

My review of the Oregon Bach Festival's concerts that featured the world premiere of James MacMillan's "A European Requiem" and Robert Levin with the Berwick Academy has been posted in the Classical Voice North America magazine (sponsored by MCANA). It has a fancier title than I had cooked up.


Today's Birthdays

Anton Arensky (1861-1906)
George Butterworth (1885-19116)
Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962)
Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960)
Van Cliburn (1934-2013)
Richard Stolzman (1942)
Roger Vignoles (1943)

and

Julius Caesar (100 BC - 44 BC)
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
George Eastman (1854-1932)
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Antônio Carlos Gomes (1836-1896)
Liza Lehmann (1862-1918)
Nicolai Gedda (1925)
Herbert Blomstedt (1927)
Hermann Prey (1929-1998)
Francis Bayer (1938-2004)
Liona Boyd (1949)
Suzanne Vega (1960)

and

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
E. B. White (1899-1985)
Harold Bloom (1930)
Jhumpa Lahiri (1967)

and

From the New Music Box:
On July 11, 1922, German conductor Alfred Hertz lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the first concert performed at the Hollywood Bowl, an open-air auditorium built in a natural canyon.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Henri Weiniawski (1835-1880)
Carl Orff (1895-1982)
Ljuba Welitsch (193-1996)
Ian Wallace (1919-2009)
Josephine Veasey (1930)
Jerry Herman (1931)
Arlo Guthrie (1947)
Graham Johnson (1950)
Béla Fleck (1958)

and

John Calvin (1509-1564)
Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
Saul Bellow (1915-2005)
Alice Munro (1931)

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)
Dame Elizabeth Lutyens (1906-1983)
David Diamond (1915-2005)
David Zinman (1936)
Paul Chihara (1938)
John Mark Ainsley (1963)

and

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)
Dean Koontz (1945)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Director Kevin Newbury talks about the new Portland Opera production of "Eugene Onegin"

Fresh from his acclaimed directing of “Fellow Travelers” at Cincinnati Opera, Kevin Newbury arrived in Portland about a month ago for Portland Opera’s brand new production of “Eugene Onegin,”which opens tonight at the Newmark Theatre. I met him in the lobby of the Newmark to find out more. Here is part of our conversation.

How many operas have you directed for here?

Newbury: This is my fourth project with Portland Opera. I remounted Jim Robinson’s production of “Nixon in China” ten years ago. I did Philip Glass’s “Galileo Galilei” in 2006 and Argento’s “Postcard from Morocco” a couple of years ago.

You are setting this tragic love story in different period of time.

Newbury: It’s still a tragic love story, and in some ways a more tragic time period. We are setting it in the USSR during the 1980s and the last act takes place after the fall of the Berlin Wall; so it’s 1991. We see the changes that the country has gone through, and that raises the stakes.

What made you think of that time period?

Newbury: When I grew up, I loved Russian literature. I loved Pushkin and 80s pop music. I’ve always been obsessed with Russian and Soviet culture. Everything in the 80s on the news was about the Cold War, the space race, and the arms race. So once we cut the peasants chorus from the first act in this chamber version of the opera, you can set the story anywhere.

I love investigating canonical pieces in a new way – not just to bring in new audiences, but, frankly, to entertain myself and to put on a show that I would buy a ticket to see. It works quite well to have Onegin show up on a bicycle and give Tatiana a bootleg opera tape, and they listen to it on their Walkman together. No wonder she thinks that he’s falling in love with her.

Do you have a chorus in this production?

Newbury: Yes, we have a chorus of 14. All of the chorus music is intact except for that peasant chorus. That scene is the only anachronism of the opera. It’s a beautiful, fun group dance, but it doesn’t grow the story at all.

When Lensky and Onegin meet at the ball, how do you deal with that setting?

Newbury: The text says “What! I didn’t expect such music. What a fun party!” So instead of a boring waltz number we have Onegin putting a tape in the boom box and everyone dancing to 80s music – your still hearing Tchaikovsky of course – but I think that this makes perfect sense.

For me, it’s important that directors never cheat. I don’t change the text that you are reading. It’s just that we look at the story through a different context. The best example is Tatiana’s letter scene – this big 12-minute episode where she writes a letter to Onegin. She starts out writing a letter, but then she decides to record it on tape. She gives Onegin the tape. He listens to it, and he turns her down. It’s still a letter, but done 1980s style.

What a refreshing take!

Newbury: Thanks! It raises the stakes in the story. The Soviet Union in the 80s was a desperate time for most people. Money was scarce. People didn’t have access to culture and music. So when this debonair guy, Onegin, shows up with a cassette tape collection and a Michael Jackson poster for your birthday, he really rocks Tatiana’s world. I think that it makes more sense than seeing them very formally in a field of wheat.

When Lensky gives Olga a leather jacket in the first scene, her reaction is “You can’t afford this.” He had to sell his moped to get that jacket. So it really raises the stakes. The duel scene takes place in a parking lot with a car on stage and snow.

It sounds like excellent ideas for the young artists in the cast.

Newbury: It’s a really young cast. It’s great to have singers who are in their mid-twenties. That opens things up in a brand new way! A 25-year-old playing an 18-year-old seems much more believable than what you usually get in opera houses. And they are all such good actors!

Speaking of acting, how do you work with the singers? Do you have a preconceived idea of how things should go?

Newbury: I have a very strong philosophy that the best idea wins. It’s about establishing an atmosphere of collaboration where everyone feels free to share his or her ideas. My job is to guide the ship and to edit and recognize the best idea when I see it. Sometimes that’s my idea, sometimes it’s the singer’s or the designer’s. My favorite opening night is when I lose track of what came from where. That has been the case here for this production.

I like to set up a paradigm, a vocabulary, and rules of the world, and then let the singers find their way within that. Of course, I make lots of suggestions and edits, but I try to give the singers freedom to explore, too.

Is the set design a collaborative experience?

Newbury: Yes, we share images and ideas. I rely in my designers to bring it all to life, but we knew that we wanted to set this production in the playground of a Russian tenement, the duel would be a parking lot with a car, and the last scene would take place in an art gallery where the posters that you would see on billboards during the communist years are now being sold as art – like pieces of the Berlin Wall that were collected. The artwork of Soviet posters – as terrifying as it is – are beautifully done. So the remnants of people’s childhoods are for sale. But Tatiana is not.

So you searched through the internet and old magazines for images?

Newbury: We shared lots of visuals. The set designer, Dan Meeker, did computer renderings. Our costume designer Alison Heryer brought in photos from the 80s. Onegin has a haircut like John Cusack. Tatiana looks like Madonna in her early years. One of the chorus girls has Tina Turner hair. We’re aren’t literally copying those hair styles, but we were all doing that sort of thing in the 80s. I was born in ’77, and in ’85 I was dressing up like George Michael and Madonna actually.

Where did you grow up?

Newbury: Auburn, Maine – not far from Portland… Maine. I went to New York when I was 22 and have been there ever since. I was always interested in directing theater, and when I moved to New York, I got a job at New York City Opera in the artistic office. That’s when they were doing a hundred performance every year. I got into opera – fell in love with it, and began assisting. I was at the right place at the right time. I love all of it. I love music. I love directing rock and roll concerts. I did an opera with Courtney Love.

What was your big break?

Newbury: My big break was to assist Jim Robinson in his production of “Nixon in China” in St. Louis. He became so busy that he gave me “Nixon in China” to remount in many cities around the country, including Portland. All of those companies invited me back to do my own show. Now I’m very busy.

What’s next on your schedule?

Newbury: I’m making a short film in August. Then I’m doing a “Norma” with Sondra Radvanosky in Toronto.

I didn’t know that you did film.

Newbury: I always say that I direct film like an opera and opera like a film. They really inform each other in interesting ways.

Today's Birthdays

Percy Grainger (1882-1961)
George Antheil (1900-1959)
Billy Eckstine (1914-1993)
Susan Chilcott (1963-2003)
Raffi Cavoukian (1948)
Zhou Long (1953)

and

Philip Johnson (1906-2005)
J. F. Powers (1917-1999)
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004)
Anna Quindlen (1953)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Chamber Music Northwest expands concerts for its 2016-2017 season

From the press release:


Artistic  Director  David Shifrin announces CMNW's return to year-round programming with  the 2016-17 season.


SEASON HIGHLIGHTS
Nine-time Grammy winners EMERSON STRING QUARTET;
Incredible ensembles
MIRO QUARTET,  MONTROSE  TRIO, AKROPOLIS REED QUINTET,  and DOVER QUARTET;
M-Prize winners and 2017 Protege Project ensemble CALIDORE STRING QUARTET;
Grammy winner, composer, and bassist EDGAR MEYER;
Esteemed cello and piano duo  DAVID  FINCKEL & WU HAN;
Supersta
r mandolinist AVI AVITAL  and the  riveting BLACK VIOLIN

Chamber Music  Northwest (CMNW), one  of America's top chamber music organizations, is pleased to announce its exciting  2016-17 Season of more  than  a dozen  special presentations by world-renowned artists from September 2016 through April 2017. Under the direction of acclaimed clarinetist DAVID SHIFRIN, CMNW will present thirteen concerts, a number in partnership with  Portland's Centers for the Arts, and including four concerts in their  4th   Winter Festival.

"We are so excited to now be able to offer Portland audiences a chance to hear amazing chamber music all year long," said Chamber Music  Northwest Executive Director  Peter  Bilotta. "The line-up of concerts is outstanding- with  world-class musicians and exciting varied repertoire, it's going to be an incredible year! Plus, we're elated  to be able to continue our relationship with  Portland's Centers for the Arts by presenting many of the performances together."



The 2016-17 season also heralds the arrival of CMNW's first-ever year-long Artists-in-Residence, the acclaimed Grammy winners, Emerson String  Quartet. The quartet will perform in four amazingly diverse concerts - two in the fall of 2016 and two in the spring of 2017. On September 30 and October 1 audiences can hear the Emerson String Quartet perform works by Ravel, Grieg, Debussy, Shostakovich, and more!


The 2017 Winter Festival,  Passion in Winter, will see world-renowned musicians David Finckel and Wu Han, the Miro Quartet, and  the Montrose Trio performing some of the greatest Romantic masterpieces ever  composed in four  concerts January 26-29, 2017. These  concerts will take place in Reed College's Kaul Auditorium and  Portland State University's Lincoln  Hall.
 

The rest of the 2016-2017 season will include performances by CMNW's 2015 and 2016 Protege Project ensemble, the Akropolis  Reed Quintet; world  renowned bassist and composer, Edgar Meyer;  the renowned Dover Quartet; a sneak  peek at CMNW's  2017  Protege  Project ensemble and  winners of the M-Prize award, the Calidore String  Quartet; superstar mandolinist Avi Avital;  and the genre-shattering fusion music of Black Violin! Plus, to wrap  up the season CMNW will present their 48th Summer Festival in June and  July of 2017. It's a whole year of extraordinary chamber music.