Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Today's Birthdays

St. Cecilia
Frantisek Benda(1709-1786)
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784)
Conradin Kreutzer (1780-1849)
Edgard Varèse (1883-1965)
Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981)
Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Gunther Schuller (1925-2015)
Jimmy Knepper (1927-2003)
Hans Zender (1936)
Kent Nagano (1951)
Stephen Hough (1961)
Sumi Jo (1962)

and

George Eliot (1819-1880)
André Gide (1869-1951)

And from The Writer's Almanac:

It’s the feast day of Saint Cecilia, who was the patron saint of musicians because she sang to God as she died a martyr’s death. She was born to a noble family in Rome near the end of the second century A.D.

It wasn’t really until the 1400s that people really began to celebrate her widely as the patron saint of music. Then, in the 1500s, people in Normandy held a large musical festival to honor her, and the trend made its way to England in the next century. Henry Purcell composed celebratory odes to honor her, and the painter Raphael created a piece called “The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia.” Chaucer wrote about her in the Second Nonnes Tale, and Handel composed a score for a famous ode to her that John Dryden had written.

Today, Saint Cecilia is often commemorated in paintings and on stained glass windows as sitting at an organ.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909)
Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933)
Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969)
Bernard Lagacé (1930)
Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003)
James DePreist (1936-2013)
Idil Biret (1941)
Vinson Cole (1950)
Kyle Gann (1955)
Stewart Wallace (1960)
Björk (1965)

and

Voltare (1694-1778)
Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944)
Mary Johnston (1870-1936)
René Magritte (1898-1967)
Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991)
Marilyn French (1929-2009)
Tina Howe (1937)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Daniel Gregory Mason (1873-1953)
René Kolo (1937)
Gary Karr (1941)
Meredith Monk (1942)
Phillip Kent Bimstein (1947)
Barbara Hendricks (1948)

and

Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014)
Maya Plisetskaya (1925-2015)
R.W. Apple Jr. (1934-2006)
Don DeLillo, (1936)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1805, Beethoven's opera "Fidelio" (1st version, with the "Leonore" Overture No. 2) was premiered in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (1663-1712)
Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859-1935)
Jean‑Yves Daniel‑Lesur (1908-2002)
Géza Anda (1921-1976)
Maralin Niska (1926-2010)
David Lloyd-Jones (1934)
Agnes Baltsa (1944)
Ross Bauer (1951)

and

Allen Tate (1899-1979)
Sharon Olds (1942)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

On this date in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was four and a half months after the devastating battle, and it was a foggy, cold morning. Lincoln arrived about 10 a.m. Around noon, the sun came out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours. Everett described the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once. When Everett finished, Lincoln spoke.

Now considered one of the greatest speeches in American history, the Gettysburg Address ran for just over two minutes, fewer than 300 words, and only 10 sentences. It was so brief, in fact, that many of the 15,000 people that attended the ceremony didn't even realize that the president had spoken, because a photographer setting up his camera had momentarily distracted them. The next day, Everett told Lincoln, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes."

There are several versions of the speech, and five different manuscript copies; they're all slightly different, so there's some argument about which is the "authentic" version. Lincoln gave copies to both of his private secretaries, and the other three versions were re-written by the president some time after he made the speech. The Bliss Copy, named for Colonel Alexander Bliss, is the only copy that was signed and dated by Lincoln, and it's generally accepted as the official version for that reason.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Todays Birthdays

Jean‑Baptiste Loeillet (1680-1730)
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Sir William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911)
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)
Amelita Galli‑Curci (1882-1963)
Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985)
Lillian Fuchs (1901-1995)
Compay Segundo (1907-2003)
Johnny Mercer (1909-1976)
Don Cherry (1936-1995)
Heinrich Schiff (1951)
Bernard d'Ascoli (1958)

and

Louis Daguerre (1787-1851)
Asa Gray (1810-)
W.S (William Schwenck) Gilbert (1836-1911)
George Gallup (1901-1984)
Margaret Atwood (1939)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1928, Mickey Mouse debuts in "Steamboat Willie," in New York. This was the first animated cartoon with synchronized pre-recorded sound effects and music -- the latter provided by organist and composer Carl Stalling of Kansas City. Stalling would later provide memorial music for many classic Warner Brothers cartoons.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Portland Youth Philharmonic uncorks 94th season with terrific opening concert

Works by Beethoven, Chopin, and Dvořák received polished performances by the Portland Youth Philharmonic, which opened its 94th season on Saturday evening (November 11) to a fairly large audience at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. While the spotlight fell on Natalie Tan, who played Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto with grace and élan, the orchestra under music director David Hattner excelled with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Dvořák’s “Hussite Overture.”

It was interesting to find out that this was the first time that the PYP had performed Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto, one of the most popular in the repertoire. The program notes suggested that the concerto’s heavy emphasis on the piano and its relatively light orchestration might have been the reason for the delay. In any case, Tan, winner of the 2016-2017 PYP Piano Concerto Competition, tossed off numerous runs and beautiful melodies with a keen sense for color and line. In her hands, the keyboard sang with a bel canto flourish, and the mazurka in the finale sparkled. Her artistry, aided by wonderfully sensitive accompaniment from the orchestra, swept up the listeners so much that vigorously applauded at the end of each movement. At least three bouquets were given to Tan after the piece ended.

Hattner and his forces held absolutely nothing back in its performance of Beethoven’s Fifth. They got off to a quick start that featured sharp and pinpoint attacks. Within a few bars, the musicians were rocking and rolling with the piece, and electrified the audience. The strings – including the large cello section – deftly negotiated a number of wickedly fast passages with remarkable panache! A couple of listeners in front of me had never heard the PYP before and just couldn’t believe that a youth orchestra could play so well. They were among the first people to jump out of the seats and applaud and cheer. Although there were some missed notes, the performance was exceptional for its power and energy. Playing by the principal oboist and clarinetist and the French horns highlighted the performance.

With its first-ever performance of Dvořák’s “Hussite Overture,” the orchestra also delivered a committed and thoroughly engaging performance. The stately hymn established by the woodwinds and strings was supported solidly by the French horns. Outstanding dynamic contrasts with crescendos and decrescendos coupled with a crisp series of sforzandos and a quickening pace turned the piece in an exciting Bohemian barnburner.

The concert featured a different timpanist for each piece. Each player had a different style that was fun to watch, and each of them contributed outstandingly. In general, all of the musicians played at the very high level that Hattner demanded, which made the concert a joy to hear.

Today's Birthdays

Ernest Lough (1911-2000)
Hershy Kay (1919-1981)
Leonid Kogan (1924-1982)
Sir Charles Mackerras (1925-2010)
David Amram (1930)
Gene Clark (1941-1991)
Philip Picket (1950)
Philip Grange (1956)

and

Shelby Foote (1916-2006)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831)
Alfred Hill (1869-1960)
W. C. Handy (1873-1958)
Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Burnet Tuthill (1888-1982)
Lawrence Tibbett (1896-1960)
Earl Wild (1915-2010)
David Wilson-Johnson (1950)
Donald Runnicles (1954)

and

George S. Kaufman (1889-1961)
José Saramago (1922-2010)
Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)
Andrea Barrett (1954)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Sir William Herschel (1738-1822)
Annunzio Paolo Mantovani (1905-1980)
Petula Clark (1932)
Peter Dickinson (1934)
Daniel Barenboim (1942)
Pierre Jalbert (1967)

and

Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946)
Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960)
Georgia O'Keefe (1887-1986)
Marianne Moore (1887-1972)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1926, the first broadcast of a music program took place on the NBC radio network, featuring the New York Symphony conducted by Walter Damrosch, the New York Oratorio Society, and the Goldman Band, with vocal soloists Mary Garden and Tito Ruffo, and pianist Harold Bauer.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)
Fanny Hensel (1805-1847)
Rev. John Curwen (1816-1880)
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Leonie Rysanek (1926-1998)
Jorge Bolet (1914-1990)
Narciso Yepes (1927-1997)
Robert Lurtsema (1931-2000)
Peter Katin (1930-2015)
Ellis Marsalis (1934)
William Averitt (1948)

and

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002)
William Steig (1907-2003)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Jan Zach (1699-1773)
Louis Lefébure-Wély (1817-1870)
Brinley Richards (1817-1885)
George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931)
Marguerite Long (1874-1966)
Joonas Kokkoken (1921-1996)
Lothar Zagrosek (1942)
Martin Bresnick (1946)

and

St. Augustine (354-430)
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
George V. Higgins (1939-1999)
Eamon Grennan (1941)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1937, the first "official" radio broadcast by the NBC Symphony Orchestra took place with Pierre Monteux conducting. Arthur Rodzinski had conducted a "dress rehearsal" broadcast on Nov. 2, 1937. Arturo Toscanini's debut broadcast with the NBC Symphony would occur on Christmas Day, 1937

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Alexander Borodin (1833-1887
Jean Papineau-Couture (1916-2000)
Michael Langdon (1920-1991)
Lucia Popp (1939-1993)
Neil Young (1945)

and

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Roland Barthes (1915-1980)
Michael Ende (1929-1995)
Tracy Kidder (1945)
Katherine Weber (1955)

From the New Music Box:

On November 12, 1925, cornetist Louis Armstrong made the first recordings with a group under his own name for Okeh Records in Chicago, Illinois. The group, called Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, recorded his original compositions, "Gut Bucket Blues" and "Yes! I'm In The Barrel" (Okeh 8261) as well as "My Heart" composed by his wife Lil Hardin who was the pianist in the band. (The flipside of the 78rpm record on which the latter was issued, Okeh 8320, was "Armstrong's composition "Cornet Chop Suey" recorded three months later on February 26, 1926.) Armstrong's Hot Five and subsequent Hot Seven recordings are widely considered to be the earliest masterpieces of recorded jazz.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Musica Maestrale features the Schneiderman- Yamaya duo playing Beethoven on guitar

Hideki Yamaya and John Schneiderman
From Musica Maestrale:

Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017; 7:30PM

Beethoven for Two Guitars

John Schneiderman, terz guitar
Hideki Yamaya, Romantic guitar, terz guitar, Milanese mandolin



MM welcomes back guitar virtuoso John Schneiderman for a program of all Beethoven for two guitars! The Schneiderman - Yamaya Duo just released a CD of arrangements of Beethoven for two guitars by the German label hänssler CLASSIC, which was reviewed very favorably by Classic Guitar Magazine (you can read it here).  The duo is presenting this same program at the prestigious Yale Collection of Musical Instruments in December.  Also included in the program is Beethoven's lesser known works for mandolin and piano, arranged for mandolin and terz guitar. Here's a look at us rehearsing the Sonatine for mandolin and piano (arranged by me for mandolin and terz guitar): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d9eP3XHW_0&feature=youtu.be

First Christian Church
1314 Park Ave.
Portland, OR 97201

Admission:
In advance: $18 general; $16 senior; $8 student
At the door: $20 general; $18 senior; $10 student
Tickets: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3094209

Today's Birthdays

Bernhard Romberg (1767-1841)
Frederick Stock (1872-1942)
Ernest Ansermet (1883-1969)
Jan Simons (1925-2006)
Arthur Cunningham (1928-1997)
Vernon Handley (1930-2008)
Harry Bramma (1936)
Jennifer Bate (1944)
Fang Man (1977)

and

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)
Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012)
Mary Gaitskill (1955)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1898, shortly after it was finished, the painting “Nevermore” by Gaugin is purchased by the English composer Frederick Delius. The painting was inspired by Poe’s famous poem and is now in the collection of London’s Cortland Gallery.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Martin Luther (1483-1546)
François Couperin (1668-1733)
John Phillips Marquand (1873-1949)
Ennio Morricone (1928)
Graham Clark (1941)
Sir Tim Rice (1944)
Andreas Scholl (1967)

and

Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774)
Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)
Vachel Lindsey (1879-1931) John Phillips Marquand (1893-1960)
and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1900, Russian pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch makes his Carnegie Hall debut in New York City during his first American tour. In 1909 he married contralto Clara Clemens, the daughter of the American writer Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Toradze elevates Vancouver Symphony concert with stellar playing

Salvador Brotons, Alexander Toradze, and Dimitri Zhgenti
Playing the piano quietly and with intense emotion and depth, Alexander Toradze had the audience at Skyview Concert Hall on Sunday evening (November 5) so focused on every note that you could have heard a pin drop. That happened while Toradze performed Scarlatti’s Sonata No 32 in D minor in honor of the victims of the massacre that had happened earlier in the day at a church in Texas. The impromptu gesture from Toradze struck a chord with listeners, and it was followed by his brilliant playing of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto.

Toradze’s mastery of the Prokofiev allowed him to sculpt each tone so that the piece sounded totally new and unique. His playing was ingeniously filled with all sorts of nuances. He would lean into a series of notes or sometimes even one note in a way that made a phrase sound more interesting. On the big screen, it was fun to watch his hands move together up and down the keyboard. Using his incredible artistry, he found something deeper in the music and brought it out. His accellerandos were lightning fast and the lyrical passages were golden.

The audience responded with thunderous applause and the orchestra joined in enthusiastically. Toradze didn’t want to take all of it for himself; so after he went backstage he put his arm around music director Salvador Brotons and dragged him to the front of the stage. Then Toradze decided to give an encore, the pulsating and exciting “Precipitato” from Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7. That electrified the audience once again and more applause erupted from all over the hall.

The orchestra led off the second half of the program with a fine performance of the Divertimento from Stravinsky’s ballet “The Fairy’s Kiss.” Individual members of the orchestra negotiated the tricky passages very well. The principal trombonist and the principal horn player, in particular, gave standout performances, and the principals in the strings and woodwinds had several shining moments as well. Highlights in the fourth movement included a lovely clarinet, cello, and harp combination and the solo by principal flutist Rachel Rencher.

The Suite from Stravinsky’s ballet “The Firebird” also received an outstanding performance from the orchestra. From the ominous sounds of King Kaschei and his cohorts to the majestic glory of the magical Firebird and the final triumphant dance of the prince and princess, the orchestra wonderfully recreated the storyline of the ballet. The playing of principal oboist Alan Jurza was particularly evocative, and the woodwinds and strings, in general, were excellent throughout the piece. Brotons conducted the entire piece from memory, which was an outstanding accomplishment in itself. There are few conductors anywhere who would attempt such a thing, because Stravinsky loved to change meters all over the place.

The concert began with the “Dance of the Persian Slaves” from Mussorgsky’s opera “Khovantschina.” Kris Klavik played the English horn especially well, which may have helped the orchestra to develop a lush and full sound that embraced the lightly exotic music. I noticed that Brotons had rearranged the cellos and violas with the cellos on the outside. We will see if he keeps this arrangement in future concerts.

I spoke with Toradze during intermission, and he asked me to let readers know that he was very upset with the massacre of churchgoers in Texas. He could not fathom how such an event could happen, and the tragic event caused him to ask Brotons if he could play something before the Prokofiev Concerto began. He was very appreciative of Brotons’s willingness to let him do that. The photo at the beginning of this review was given to me by pianist and VSO board member Dimitri Zhgenti, who studied with Toradze. The following photo is also from Zhgenti, showing his students, who came to the performance on Saturday afternoon.

Today's Birthdays

Burrill Phillips (1907-1988)
Pierrette Alarie (1921-2011)
Piero Cappuccilli (1929-2005)
Ivan Moravec (1930-2015)
William Thomas McKinley (1938-2015)
Thomas Quasthoff (1959)
Bryn Terfel (1965)

and

Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)
Hugh Leonard (1926-2009)
Anne Sexton (1928-1974)
Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Oregon Symphony explores theme of "Home" with evocative new play and music

Dipika Guha’s play “Azaan” nearly stole the show at the Oregon Symphony concert on Saturday evening (November 4). Guha’s story about an immigrant who turns up in a small American town but is unable to speak or communicate much of anything with the police was absolutely spellbinding. Probing the issues of what is “home,” “Azaan” fit in seamlessly with the piano concertos of Schoenberg and Gershwin, which were outstandingly performed by Kirill Gerstein.

Accompanied by original music by Chris Rogerson, “Azaan” was a unique world premiere that expanded the boundaries of what to expect at classical music concerts. Bernard White gave a near-visceral portrayal of The Stranger who had survived a horrific attack of mustard gas on his village in an unnamed homeland. His inability to talk frustrated the local policeman (C. J. Wilson) and the interpreter (Babak Tafti), but the policeman’s wife (Anna Belknap), who had lost a son, found a way to hear the thoughts of The Stranger. Rogerson gave the thoughts an memories an evocative outlet through the orchestra with musical lines that darted and drifted into the horizon. Guha’s words combined humor and tragedy to great effect, and the stage directions of Elena Araoz were spot on.

Gerstein delivered an exceptional performance of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto. He didn’t take any chances, though, relying on an iPad or tablet that was placed inside the piano for the score. His playing brought out the lyrical aspects of the 12-tone piece as much as possible even though much of it seemed fragmentary and even fidgety.

The oddity the Schoenberg was followed by “Rhapsody in Blue,” which put the audience at ease. The cool thing about Gerstein is that even though he grew up in the former Soviet Union, he has always studied classical and jazz. Taking the piece at an electrifyingly fast pace, Gerstein added little jazz-inflected embellishments here and there. He even improvised a bit during one of the cadenzas, putting his own stamp on the piece and having a lot of fun with it.

The life-stories of Schoenberg and Gershwin fit the concert program’s theme of “what is home” perfectly. Schoenberg immigrated to America because of the Nazi repression and made a home in Los Angeles. Gershwin, the son of Jewish immigrants, developed a love for jazz that influenced his works, many of which are the most popular “classical” pieces ever created in America.

Stretching things just a bit further, the orchestra, under its music director Carlos Kalmar (himself an immigrant by way of Uruguay and Austria) gave a wonderful performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Overture on Hebrew Themes.” Prokofiev wrote the piece for the Zimro Ensemble in 1919 and premiered it with them in New York City a year later, then followed it up with an orchestral version in 1934. The Oregon Symphony’s principal clarinetist James Shields shaded his playing in wonderfully nuanced ways with woody and edgy sounds that put the audience in a club in New York City with a lively bunch of Jewish musicians.

Today's Birthdays

Friedrich Witt (1770-1836)
Sir Arnold Bax (1883-19530
Lamberto Gardelli (1915-1938)
Jerome Hines (1921-2003)
Richard Stoker (1938)
Simon Standage (1941)
Judith Zaimont (1945)
Tadaaki Otaka (1947)
Elizabeth Gale (1948)
Bonnie Raitt (1949)
Ana Vidović (1980)

and

Dorothy Day (1897-1980)
Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)
Raja Rao (1908-2006)
Kazuo Ishiguro (1954)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Ferenc (Franz) Erkel (1810-1893)
Efrem Kurtz (1900-1995)
William Alwyn (1905-1985)
Al Hirt (1922-1999)
Dame Joan Sutherland (1926-2010)
Dame Gwyneth Jones (1937)
Joni Mitchell (1943)
Judith Forst (1943)
Christina Viola Oorebeek (1944)

and

Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Albert Camus (1913-1960)
Benny Andersen (1929)
Stephen Greenblatt (1943)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Adolphe Sax (1814-1894)
John Philip Sousa (1854-1932)
Don Lusher (1923-2006)
James Bowman (1941)
Arturo Sandoval (1949)
Daniele Gatti (1961)

and

Robert Musil (1880-1942)
Harold Ross (1892-1951)
Ann Porter (1911-2011)
James Jones (1921-1977)
Michael Cunningham (1952)

From The Writer's Almanac:

It’s the birthday of the March King, John Philip Sousa, born in Washington, D.C. (1854). His father was a U.S. Marine Band trombonist, and he signed John up as an apprentice to the band after the boy tried to run away from home to join the circus. By the time he was 13 years old, Sousa could play violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone, trombone, and was a pretty good singer too. At 26, he was leading the Marine Band and writing the first of his 136 marches, including “Semper Fidelis,” which became the official march of the Corps, and “The Washington Post March.” In addition to those marches, he wrote nearly a dozen light operas, and as many waltzes too; and he wrote three novels. But he’s best known for “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Today's Birthday

Hans Sachs (1494-1576)
Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961)
Walter Gieselking (1895-1956)
Claus Adam (1917-1983)
György Cziffra (1921-1994)
Nicholas Maw (1935-2009)
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (1940-2010)
Art Garfunkel (1941)
Gram Parsons (1946-1973)

and

Ida M. Tarbell (1867-1944)
Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918)
Thomas Flanagan (1923-2002)
Sam Shephard (1943)
Vandana Shiva (1952)
Diana Abu-Jabar (1960)

and from the Composers Datebook

On this day in 1903, the first concert by a 50-member Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (the current Minnesota Orchestra), was conducted by Emil Oberhoffer, with Metropolitan Opera soprano Marcella Sembrich as guest soloist.

On this day in 1955, Karl Böhm conducts a performance of Beethoven's "Fidelio" at the gala re-opening of Vienna Opera House (damaged by Allied bombs on March 12, 1945). During the rebuilding of the Opera House, performances had continued in two nearby Viennese halls: the Theatre and der Wien and the Volksoper.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Muehleisen oratorio expertly sung yet an unsatisfying pastiche of musical sytles

Last Sunday (October 29), the Portland Symphonic Choir declared a passionate plea for empathy and peace with its performance of John Muehleisen’s “Pietá,” a hybrid oratorio. The 120-voice choir created some massive fortes that may have been heard outside the walls of First United Methodist Church and there were many touching moments in the 90-minute work in the series of exchanges between the choir, small vocal ensembles, and the fine soloists, soprano Arwen Meyers and tenor Branden Tuohy.

But I am still puzzled by the composer’s reworking of various musical styles. Instead of developing his own musical style, Muehleisen employed a pastiche of earlier music. For a small ensemble of men, he wrote a series of chants that were a blend of Byzantine and Russian Orthodox styles. The chorale sections were drawn right from Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and some of the instrumental music from the “St. John Passion.” One of Tuohy’s solos, “Just before the battle, Mother” was a popular song from the American Civil War. The final piece was the hymn “O God of Love, O King of Peace,” in which the listeners joined in. Where was Muehleisen’s own style in all this? It seemed that the work was basically a very skilled arrangement.

Perhaps I got off to a negative start, because Muehleisen introduced his work with a 15-minute lecture that repeated most of the content of the program notes which he had written. I think it was terrific to have the composer speak about his work, but five minutes would have been plenty. In any case, the piece consisted of six scenes (or movements) that were shaped very symmetrically with a prologue and epilogue on the outside, two movements dealing with a son (John Kipling) who dies in a war (WWI) and the sorrow of his mother followed by two movements that retell the passion of Jesus, including the resurrection.

A core group of men sang a number of chants sections convincingly with one of the men singing and conducting the group. Guest conductor Erick Lichte guided the rest of the forces, which included some fine playing by Kelly Gronlin and Alan Juza (oboe and English horn), Jeff Peyton (timpani and percussion), Grian Gardiner (percussion), and Doug Schneider (chimes and organ). Twice during the piece, an ensemble of women from the choir moved to the right side of the stage area and fashioned an pure sound with zero vibrato that was absolutely angelic.

Arwen Myers sang her solos with passion and commitment, her vibrant soprano rising above the choir in a wail of anguish during “The Passion of the Mother.” Tuohy was equally effective, using his lyrical yet powerful tenor with terrific expertise. It would be great to hear them again in another PSC program sometime in the near future.

The climatic message of the piece, “Believe in a love that conquers all – even death,” was augmented by spoken text from Martin Luther King Jr. and cemented by a series of joyous alleluias from the choir. Yet it seemed odd that the Muehleisen chose not to write a new hymn for congregational to sing at the end. To me, that could have taken his “Pietá” up a notch.

Preveiw of this weekend's Vancouver Symphony concert with Alexander Toradze

The Columbian newspaper published my preview of the Vancouver Symphony concert with pianist Alexander Toradze. He will play Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, which is one of his specialties. Salvador Brotons will conduct

Today's Birthdays

Carl Tausig (1841-1871)
Arnold Cooke (1906-2005)
Elgar Howarth (1935)
Joan Rodgers (1956)
Elena Kats-Chernin (1957)
Daron Hagen (1961)

and

Will Rogers (1879-1935)
C. K. Williams (1936-2015)
Charles Frazier (1950)

Friday, November 3, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654)
Vincenzio Bellini (1801-1835)
Vladimir Ussachevsky (1911-1990)

and

Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571)
William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878)
Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901)
Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879-1962)
Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Terrence McNally (1939)
Martin Cruz Smith (1942)
Joe Queenan (1950)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer (1692-1766)
Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799)
Count Andrey Razumovsky (1752-1836)
John Foulds (1880-1939)
Luchino Visconti (1906-1976)
Douglas Lilburn (1915-2001)
Harold Farberman (1929)
Guiseppe Sinopoli (1946-2001)
Jeremy Menuhin (1951)
Marie McLaughlin (1954)
Paul Moravec (1957)

and

George Boole (1815-1864)
C.K. Williams (1936-2015)
Thomas Mallon (1951)

and

From the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1979, Peter Shaffer's drama "Amadeus" premieres at the National Theatre in London, directed by Peter Hall, starring Simon Callow as Mozart and Paul Scofield as Salieri. The British composer Harrison Birtwistle acted as Music Director for this production.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Eclectic Turnage piece - scintilating Barber and Mozart highlight Oregon Symphony concert

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s newest work had a lot of snap, crackle, and pop, but to what end? I couldn’t figure it out after listening to the world premiere of his “Symphonic Movements”, which was played with vigor and precision as far as I could tell, by the Oregon Symphony at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on October 28. The 57-year old English composer already has written over 50 works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, choral ensembles, and solo vocalists, and is well known for his witty and sometimes jazz-inflected pieces. The piece that he wrote on commission for the Oregon Symphony, titled “Symphonic Movements,” was dedicated to the memory of English composer and pianist Richard Rodney Bennett, who died in 2012. But Turnage’s music had the barest of elegiac sentiment and was fairly celebratory in spirit.

Divided into five movements designated by beats per minute (quarter note = 69, 76, 96, 72, and 120), “Symphonic Movements” used the orchestra primarily as a percussion instrument. The music was sophisticated, often rhythmically propulsive, and frequently accented by slaps, whaps, and blats even during its few restive moments. In the fourth movement, one of the percussionists played an odd device called the lion’s roar harp. It created a sound that was ostensibly like a roar of a big cat, but if I hadn’t read the program notes for the instrumentation, it sounded for the world to me as if someone had a terrible case of flatulence.

Much more elegiac, at least in the traditional sense, was the “Andante” from Schubert’s Symphony No. 10 in the arrangement by Peter Gülke, the music director of the Brandenburg Symphony. The music was slightly sad, gentle, and noble at the same time. One can only wonder what Schubert would have done with that fragmentary work had he lived longer.

Pianist Garrick Ohlsson has been a frequent guest with the Oregon Symphony over the past 40 years. When his large frame settles in behind the keyboard, I am almost tempted to feel sorry for the piano, yet this bear of a man has one of the gentlest touches that any pianist could wish for. His playing of Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto was finely chiseled with impeccable technique from beginning to end. He articulated the opening phrases with verve, but they were never overstated. He captured the lyrical second movement, “Canzone,” deftly, giving it a sense of longing and elegance. The final movement veered wonderfully in the opposite direction with a wildly pulsating, spikey, and scattershot array of pyrotechnics.

The audience called Ohlsson to the stage several times and he obliged them with an encore, Alexander Scriabin’s “Poem” Opus 32, No. 1. The sound was lush and lovely, as if sculpting a poem of flowers.

The orchestra under the baton of music director Carlos Kalmar gave Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 (“Jupiter”) a crisp and energetic performance that was filled with dynamic contrast and nuance. Switching his baton to his left hand and guiding the musicians with his right, the orchestra created a delicious sense of weightlessness in the third movement. The fugue statement in the fourth with its five interwoven motifs wrapped up the piece gloriously.

P.S. The actual world premiere of the Turnage piece took place the night before in Salem. However, Turnage asked for a slight change afterwords; so the audience in Portland heard a revision of the world premiere.

MTT announces his final season with the SFO

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the 1919-2020 season will be the final one for Michael Tilson Thomas at the helm of the San Francisco Symphony.

From the SFO press release:

SAN FRANCISCO, October 31, 2017 — Michael Tilson Thomas today announced plans to conclude his distinguished tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in June 2020. The 2019–2020 Season will mark both his 75th birthday and his 25th year leading the Symphony in what is widely considered one of the most productive musical partnerships in the orchestral world. Tilson Thomas’ legacy with the SF Symphony began in 1974 with his debut at age 29, conducting Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, and was solidified by his commencement as the Orchestra’s 11th Music Director in September 1995. Following the 2019–2020 Season, Michael Tilson Thomas will assume the title of Music Director Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony, and will continue to conduct the Orchestra for a minimum of four weeks each season in addition to other special projects. In anticipation of the celebratory 25th anniversary season of the MTT/SFS partnership, the next two years will feature signature recording projects, festivals, commissioning of new ­­works, staged productions, a two-week tour of the United States in 2018–2019, and a three-week European tour in 2019–2020.


Today's Birthdays

Roger Quilter (1877-1953)
Eugen Jochum (1902-1987)
Bruno Bjelinski (1909-1992)
Victoria de Los Angeles (1923-2005)
William Mathias (1934-1992)
Lyle Lovett (1957)

and

Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
Grantland Rice (1880-1954)
A. R. Gurney (1930-2017)
Edward Said (1935-2003)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1830, Chopin’s friends in Warsaw throw a festival “bon voyage” dinner for the composer-pianist on the eve of his departure for Paris. As it turned out, he would never return to his native land.