Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Today's Birthdays

François Rebel (1701-1775)
Johann Wenzel Stamitz (1717-1757)
Carl Zeller (1842-1898)
Alfredo Catalani (1854-1893)
Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915)
Guy Lombardo (1902-1977)
Edwin Gerschefski (1909-1988)
Anneliese Rothenberger (1926-2010)
Elmar Oliveira (1950)
Philippe Manoury 1952)

and

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
Pauline Kael (1919-2001)
Tobias Wolff (1945)
Salman Rushdie (1947)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Antonio Maria Bononcini (1677-1726)
Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831)
David Popper (1843-1913)
Sir George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987)
Edward Steuermann (1892-1964)
Manuel Rosenthal (1904-2003)
Eduard Tubin (1905-1982)
Paul McCartney (1942)
Hans Vonk (1942-2004)
Anthony Halstead (1945)
Diana Ambache (1948)
Eva Marton (1948)
Peter Donohoe (1953)

and

Geoffrey Hill (1932)
Gail Godwin (1937)
Jean McGarry (1948)
Chris Van Allsburg (1949)
Amy Bloom (1953)
Richard Powers (1957)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

New production of Faust was thought-provoking yet puzzling

Alfred Walker as Méphistophélès | Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera
Portland Opera presented a new interpretation of Gounod’s “Faust” with mixed success. Some aspects of the production, which received its West Coast premiere at Keller Auditorium on Friday, June 8, connected crystal-clearly while others were downright puzzling.

Co-commissioned by Chicago Lyric Opera, the production was designed by visual artist John Frame with sets and costumes by Victoria “Vita” Tzykun, and projections by David Adam Moore. Under the direction of Kevin Newbury, they placed the opening action in an artist’s studio, where the aged-Faust attempted to make models for the movie industry. Nearby was a moveable sculpture, suggesting a man looking through a telescope made of film canisters, which could point upwards or downwards, depending on the direction of Faust’s thoughts: heavenly or earthly.

When Faust called on the devil for one last chance to experience the pleasures of youth, Méphistophélès didn’t just appear through cloud of dry ice. Instead, projected imagery showed Méphistophélès being carved from a block of wood. That seemed to imply that Méphistophélès sprang from Faust’s imagination. By extension, then Marguerite, Valentin, and the other characters in the story were created by Faust as well. Perhaps that is why Faust’s character as a young man had a surreal, zombie-like quality. He couldn’t believe that he had become young again, that girls were interested in him, that Marguerite would fall in love with him, and that he would kill Valentin.

Méphistophélès was assisted by four goblins, who were on stage almost all the time, whether they were carrying a soldier, rolling a bed for Marguerite and Faust, lurking around Marguerite’s tiny home, or adjusting the telescope sculpture. Most remarkably, they skillfully entered and exited from an undersized opening that sort of looked like a large fireplace. Maybe it was a portal to Faust’s mind.

Another oddity of this version was that Marguerite was a cripple and had to hobble around with a crutch. When she sang the famous “Jewell Song,” she tossed the crutch to the side. But afterwards she had to return to using the crutch. Also, when the soldiers returned from war, they stumbled in, beaten up and blooded. That was a strong anti-war statement because they looked in complete contrast to the text, which emphasizes the glories of fighting for the fatherland.

The most shocking moment in the performance involved Méphistophélès and his goblins forcing a screaming Marguerite into an abortion, and followed it with Méphistophélès carrying the baby away. Another inspired moment came the final scene when Faust puts on gargoyle-like mask over his head and joins the goblins as they follow Méphistophélès off-stage.

Tzykun dressed Faust and Méphistophélès in colorful checked suits that seemed to be right out of the 1960s or 70s, and Marguerite wore a plain white dress that was more conservative. The chorus, however, wore costumes that were inexplicably right out of the Victorian era. Moore’s projection of blooming flowers (to represent the growing attraction between Faust and Margueritte) was the biggest splash across a mostly drab set. Everything was lit impressively by designer Duane Schuler.

With his powerful and lyric voice, Jonathan Boyd created a Faust that fit well with the demands of the production. Angel Blue’s lovely soprano was often too soft, and her singing of the “Jewell Song” glimmered just brightly enough to make everyone forget about the crutches. She saved the best for last, upping the volume to get over and above the rising orchestra.

Alfred Walker has one of the most melodious baritone voices in the nation, but his Méphistophélès needed a tad more sneer. At the beginning of the last act, Mattaliano came to the front of the stage and told the audience that Walker was suffering from a cold. The remarkable thing was that Walker then sang louder and better than he did in the first two acts.

Singing with great emotion and strength, Edward Parks made a memorable impression as Valenkin. Kate Farrar created a wonderfully impulsive and upright Siébel. Angela Niederloh got the laughs and endured them as well in the role of Marthe, and Shi Lin distinguished himself as Wagner.

George Manahan elicited strong playing from the orchestra, and the Portland Opera Chorus sang with conviction although they were often placed too far to the back of the stage.

Today's Birthdays

John Wesley (1703-1791)
Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Hermann Reutter (1900-1985)
Einar Englund (1916-1999)
Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006)
Sir Edward Downes (1924)
Christian Ferras (1933-1982)
Gérard Grisey (1946-1998)
Derek Lee Ragin (1958)

and

M. C. Escher (1898-1972)
John Hersey (1914-1993)
Ron Padgett (1942)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Niccolò Vito Piccinni (1728-1800)
Helen Traubel (1899-1972)
Willi Boskovsky (1909-1990)
Sergiu Comissiona (1928-2005)
Lucia Dlugoszewski (1931-2000)
Jerry Hadley (1952-2007)
David Owen Norris (1953)

and

Geronimo (1829-1909)
Joyce Carol Oates (1938)

Friday, June 15, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Franz Danzi (1763-1826)
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Ernestine Schumann‑Heink (1861-1936)
Guy Ropartz (1864-1955)
Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981)
Sir Thomas Armstrong (1898-1994)
Otto Luening (1900-1996)
Geoffrey Parsons (1929-1995)
Waylon Jennings (1937-2002)
Harry Nilsson (1941-1994)
Paul Patterson (1947)
Rafael Wallfisch (1953)
Robert Cohen (1959)

and

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827)
Saul Steinberg (1914-1999)
Dava Sobel (1947)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Antonio Sacchini (1730-1786)
Simon Mayr (1763-1845)
Nicolai Rubinstein (1835-1881)
John McCormack (1884-1945)
Heddle Nash (1894-1961)
Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976)
Stanley Black (1913-2002)
Theodore Bloomfield (1923-1998)
Natalia Gutman (1942)
Lang Lang (1982)

and

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
John Bartlett (1820-1905)
Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971)
Ernesto (Che) Guevara de la Serna (1928-1967)
Jonathan Raban (1942)
Mona Simpson (1971)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Anton (Antonín) Wranitzky (1761-1820)
Anton Eberl (1766-1807)
Elisabeth Schumann (1888-1952)
Carlos Chavez (1899-1978)
Alan Civil (1929-1989)
Gwynne Howell (1938)
Sarah Connolly (1963)
Alain Trudel (1966)

and

Frances Burney (1752-1840)
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Mary Antin (1881-1949)
Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957)
William S. Burroughs (1914-1997)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Vanni Marcoux (1877-1962)
Werner Josten (1895-1963)
Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986)
Leon Goossens (1897-1988)
Maurice Ohana (1913-1992)
Ian Partridge (1938)
Chick Corea (1941)
Oliver Knussen (1952)

and

Harriet Martineau (1802-1876)
Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)
Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Djuna Barnes (1892-1982)
Anne Frank (1929-1945)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Recommended concerts for this summer published in The Oregonian

I compiled a list of recommended summertime concerts, and it was published online by The Oregonian here. It will probably appear in Friday's print edition.

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Antonio Bonporti (1672-1749)
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
George Frederick McKay (1899-1970)
Shelly Manne (1920-1984)
Carlisle Floyd (1926)
Antony Rooley (1944)
Douglas Bostock (1955)
Conrad Tao (1994)

and

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
William Styron (1925-2006)
Athol Fugard (1932)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Planets shimmer and young artists shine in orchestral concert

The Vancouver Symphony closed out its 39th season with the spotlight on the winners of its annual young artist competition and an exploratory journey into the celestial sounds of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” The program drew a very large audience to Skyview Concert Hall on the afternoon of Saturday, June 2, and listeners were refreshed by polished performances from the three gold medalists, who looked confident and comfortable at center stage.

First up was Shania Watts (age 18) whose performance of the first movement of William Walton’s Viola Concerto had lovely and resonant tone in the lower register, creating an introspective, soulful quality. In the upper register, she elicited a sweet sound that was equally appealing. With a calm demeanor, she dispatched double stops and glissandos expertly and made the music sing.

Next came Evan Llafet (age 17), who played the first movement of Walton’s Violin Concerto with verve. He deftly commanded the treacherously high sections of the piece, expressing joy and optimism that made the music sparkle. His impeccably delivered series of staccato-infused runs was breathtaking, and followed them with lush, melodic lines before closing out the movement with an elegant, tranquil phrase.

Christopher Yoon (age 18) had a field day with Franz List’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Yoon easily handled its wide dynamic and emotional range that would surge back and forth like waves in ocean. The opening statement cascaded and splashed, slower passages moved along tenderly, ornamental phrases trilled brilliantly, and the demonstrative sections had plenty of weight. Yoon played it all with panache that got the audience out of it seats.

After intermission, the orchestra played Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” accompanied by a video (“Voyage of Discovery 2”) of animated imagery of each planet, based on NASA’s space explorations. Although the music received an inspired performance, the animations seemed dated, and technical glitches prevented the segments for Venus and Uranus from displaying.

Glitches aside, the orchestra got off to a rousing start, pounding out the martial music in the “Mars, the Bringer of War” movement. Urged onward by music director Salvador Brotons, the musicians unleashed several crescendos and the ominous atmosphere gripped the hall. The next movement, “Venus, the Bringer of Peace,” effectively countered that opening statement with its gentle and lyrical melodies. “Mercury, the Winged Messenger” was playful but a bit muddy here and there. Eva Richey’s solos wiggled gracefully and Michael Liu (from the synthesizer keyboard) sprinkled just the right amount of celestial glitter. Lively horn announced “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity,” with gusto but their sound got a tad honky at times. The ensemble excelled with the hymn-like theme, which painted an English scene onto the planet’s landscape. The slow tic toc of time acquired a ponderous and heavy presence that made “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age,” very effective. A quiet spell was briefly interrupted by a cell phone in the audience, but the orchestra took care of that with a terrific crescendo. “Uranus, the Magician” had a wonderfully lopsided sound against a pulsing rhythm that caused Brotons to hop about on the podium. The suspended chords also had a magical effect. “Neptune, the Mystic” shimmered with lovely contribution from the harp and the celeste. The women of the Vancouver USA Singers (expertly trained by Jana Hart) added to the ethereal sonic texture with their lovely voices from offstage and the music drifted delightfully into the far reaches of the hall.

Today's Birthdays

Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900)
Frederick Loewe (1904-1988)
Ralph Kirkpatrick (1911-1984)
Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007)
Bruno Bartoletti (1925-2013)
Mark-Anthony Turnage (1960)

and

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)
Terence Rattigan (1911-1977)
Saul Bellow (1915-2005)
James Salter (1925-2015)
Maurice Sendak (1928-2012)

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Otto Nicolai (1810-1849)
Alberic Magnard (1865-1914)
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Cole Porter (1891-1964)
Dame Gracie Fields (1898-1979)
Ingolf Dahl (1912-1970)
Les Paul (1915-2009)
Franco Donatoni (1927-2000)
Charles Wuorinen (1938)
Ileana Cotrubas (1939)

and

Baroness Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914)
George Axelrod (1922-2003)
Patricia Cornwell (1956)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1840, Franz Liszt gives a solo performance at the Hanover Square Rooms in London billed as "Recitals." This was the first time the term "recital" was used to describe a public musical performance, and it caused much discussion and debate at the time. Liszt is credited with both inventing and naming the now-common solo piano "recital."

Friday, June 8, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1750)
Nicolas Dalayrac (1753-1809)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942)
Reginald Kell (1906-1981)
Emanuel Ax (1949)

and

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
John W Campbell (1910-1970)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1912, Ravel's ballet, "Daphnis et Chloé" was premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, by Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe, Pierre Monteux conducting.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Leopold Auer (1845-1930)
George Szell (1897-1970)
Ilse Wolf (1921-1999)
Philippe Entremont (1934)
Neeme Järvi (1937)
Sir Tom Jones (1940)
Jaime Laredo (1941)
Prince (1958-2015)
Roberto Alagna (1963)
Olli Mustonen (1967)

and

Paul Gaugin (1848-1903)
Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973)
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)
Nikki Giovanni (1943)
Orham Pamuk (1952)
Louise Erdrich (1954)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Sir John Stainer (1840-1901)
Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930)
Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978)
Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987)
Iain Hamilton (1922-2000)
Serge Nigg (1924-2008)
Klaus Tennstedt (1926-1998)
Louis Andriessen (1939)

and

Pierre Corneille (1606-1684)
Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)
Thomas Mann (1875-1955)
Maxine Kumin (1925-2014)
Robert Pirsig (1928-2017)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1931, Henry Cowell's "Synchrony" received its premiere in Paris, at the first of two concerts of modern American music with the Orchestre Straram conducted by Nicholas Slonimsky and funded anonymously by Charles Ives. On the same program, Slonimsky also conducted the Orchestre Straram in the European premieres of works by Adolph Weiss ("American Life"), Ives ("Three Places in England"), Carl Ruggles ("Men and Mountains"), and the Cuban composer Amadeo Roldan ("La Rehambatamba").

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Arthur Somervell (1863-1937)
Robert Mayer (1879-1985)
Eduard Tubin (1905-1982)
Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006)
Peter Schat (1935-2003)
Martha Argerich (1941)
Bill Hopkins (1943-1981)

and

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)
Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936)
Alfred Kazin (1915-1998)
David Wagoner (1926)
Margaret Drabble (1939)
David Hare (1947)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Today's Birthdays

James Hewitt (1770-1827)
Evgeny Mravinsky (1903-1988)
Alan Shulman (1915-2002)
Robert Merrill (1917-2004)
Irwin Bazelon (1922-1995)
Oliver Nelson (1932-1975)
Anthony Braxton (1945)
Cecilia Bartoli (1966)

and

Josef Sittard (1846-1903)
Karl Valentin (1882-1948)
Robert Anderson (1917-2009)
Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
Larry McMurtry (1936)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Preview of Vancouver Symphony season finale in The Columbian

Friday's edition of The Columbian contains my preview of the final concert of the season for the Vancouver Symphony (WA). You can read it here.

Today's Birthdays

František Jan Škroup (1801-1862)
Charles Lecocq (1832-1918)
Jan Peerce (1904-1984)
Valerie Masterson (1937)
Curtis Mayfield (1942-1999)
Greg Sandow (1943)
Lynne Dawson (1956)

and

Josephine Baker (1906-1975)
Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
Ruth Westheimer (1928)

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Today's Birthdays

James Cutler Dunn Parker (1828-1916)
Felix Weingartner (1863-1942)
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Jozef Cleber (1916-1999)
Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012)
Mark Elder (1947)
Neil Shicoff (1949)
Michel Dalberto (1955)

and

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

and from The New Music Box:

On June 2, 1938, Amy Beach began work on her Piano Trio while in residence at the MacDowell Colony. She finished the composition fifteen days later (June 18th) and published it as her Op. 150. It was to be her last major work.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Georg Muffat (1653-1704)
Ferdinando Paër (1771-1839)
Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)
Werner Janssen (1899-1990)
Percy Whitlock (1903-1946)
Nelson Riddle (1921-1985)
Yehudi Wyner (1929)
Edo de Waart (1941)
Richard Goode (1943)
Frederica von Stade (1945)
Arlene Sierra (1970)

and

John Masefield (1878- 1967)
Charles Kay Ogden (1889–1957)
Naguib Surur (1932-1978)
Colleen McCullough (1937-2015)
Sheri Holman (1966)
Amy Schumer (1981)