Thursday, February 28, 2019

Today's Birthdays

John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951)
Sergueï Bortkiewicz (1877-1952)
Guiomar Novaes (1895-1979)
Geraldine Farrar (1882-1967)
Roman Maciejewski (1910-1998)
George Malcolm (1917-1997)
Joseph Rouleau (1929)
Osmo Vänskä (1953)
Markus Stenz (1965)

and

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)
Linus Pauling (1901-1994)
Stephen Spender (1909-1995)
Zero Mostel (1915-1977)
Frank Gehry (1929)
John Fahey (1939-2001)
Stephen Chatman (1950)
Colum McCann (1965)
Daniel Handler (1970)

and from the Composers Datebook

On this date in 1882, the Royal College of Music is founded in London.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918)
Lotte Lehmann (1888-1976)
Marian Anderson (1897-1993)
Elizabeth Welch (1904-2003)
Viktor Kalabis (1923-2006)
Mirella Freni (1935)
Morten Lauridsen (1943)
Gidon Kremer (1947)
Frank-Peter Zimmermann (1956)

and

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990)
Ralph Nadar (1934)
N. Scott Momaday (1934)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Blind pianist wows crowd at Vancouver Symphony concert

Ignasi Cambra amazed Vancouver Symphony patrons with an exceptional performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto on Saturday afternoon (February 22) to a near-capacity audience at Skyview Concert Hall. The Spanish pianist played the piece with impeccable technique and delivered the emotional goods with panache, a truly commendable achievement for any talented pianist. Yet one additional element made this performance exceptionally memorable… Cambra is blind.

Cambra’s condition made it all the more mesmerizing to watch his fingers dash up and down the keyboard as his every move was projected on two large screens positioned on either side of the stage. Besides commanding hand-crossovers with panache and delivering numerous immaculate trills, he also played the entire piece with great sensitively, always making sure that the melodic line could be heard even when the orchestra was playing its loudest.

Cambra gave the first movement (Allegro con brio) a joyful and lively quality that elicited an extended round of applause from the audience. The second (Largo) was dreamy and accompanied by a wonderfully silky sound from the violins. The third (Rondo: Allegro) galloped off at a good clip, and Cambra added a crisp snap to some of the phrases.

After the concerto concluded, the listeners erupted with their appreciation, and Brotons brought Cambra back to the keyboard where he played two encores. The first was a Scarlatti sonata in D minor, in which Cambra deftly displayed graceful ornamentation in the right hand. The second was the beloved and comforting “Träumerei” (Dreaming) from Schumann’s Kinderszenen.

After intermission, the orchestra gave a spirited performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. Because this work is closer to the classical style of Beethoven’s predecessors, there are a lot of exposed sections for the strings, and those sections revealed that the violins were not always in agreement with intonation. The final movement sounded the best with Brotons and his forces finishing the piece dramatically. Another plus was the evocative playing of principal clarinetist Igor Shahkman.

To open the concert, the orchestra played the Overture to Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. The somber sentiment of the piece came across very well with the trombones sounding grand and noble. The nimble and lighter sections needed to be slightly faster and crisper to achieve more contrast between serious and humorous. But these quibbles aside, it was fun to hear the orchestra play the piece, and that made me wonder if the VSO might consider presenting a concert version of an opera sometime in the future.

Overall, the star of the concert was Cambra, and that, of course, brings up the possibility of another appearance by him with the orchestra in the years ahead.

Today's Birthdays

Anton (Antoine) Reicha (1770-1836)
Alfred Bachelet (1864-1944)
Emmy Destinn (1878-1930)
Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
Witold Rowicki (1914-1989)
Antoine Dominique "Fats" Domino (1928-2017)
Lazar Berman (1930-2005)
Johnny Cash (1932-2005)
David Thomas (1943)
Guy Klucevsek (1947)
Emma Kirkby (1949)
Richard Wargo (1957)
Carlos Kalmar (1958)

and

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
John George Nicolay (1832-1901)
Elisabeth George (1949)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Armand-Louis Couperin (1727-1789)
Antoine Reicha (1770-1836)
Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)
Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965)
Victor Silvester (1900-1978)
Davide Wilde (1935)
Jesús López-Cobos (1940)
George Harrison (1943-2001)
Lucy Shelton (1944)
Denis O'Neill (1948)
Melinda Wagner (1957)

and

Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
Karl Friedrich May (1842–1874)
Anthony Burgess (1917-1993)
John C. Farrar (1896-1974)

And from the New Music Box:

On February 25, 1924, the first issue of the League of Composers Review was published. Under the editorial leadership of Minna Lederman, this publication—which soon thereafter changed its name to Modern Music (in April 1925)—was the leading journalistic voice for contemporary music in America for over 20 years and featured frequent contributions from important composers of the day including Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, John Cage, Marc Blitzstein, Henry Cowell, Lehman Engel, and Marion Bauer. Its final issue appeared in the Fall of 1946.
And from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1682,Italian composer Alessandro Stradella, age 37, is murdered in Genoa, apparently in retaliation for running off with a Venetian nobleman's mistress.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Antoine Boësset (1587-1643)
Samuel Wesley (1766-1837)
Arrigo Boito (1842-1918)
Luigi Denza (1846-1922)
Arnold Dolmetsch (1858-1940)
Michel Legrand (1932)
Renato Scotto (1934)
Jiří Bělohlávek (1946)

and

Wilhelm (Carl) Grimm (1786-1859)
Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
George Augustus Moore (1852-1933)
Mary Ellen Chase (1887-1973)
Weldon Kees (1914-1955)
Jane Hirshfield (1953)
Judith Butler (1956)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1955, Carlisle Floyd's opera "Susannah" received its premiere at Florida State University in Tallahassee. According to Opera America, this is one of the most frequently-produced American operas during the past decade.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Concert preview with blind piano virtuoso in The Columbian newspaper

My concert preview of this weekend's Vancouver Symphony concert with blind pianist Ignasi Cambra appeared in Friday's issue of The Columbian Newspaper here. Cambra will play Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto with the orchestra.

Today's Birthdays

John Blow (1649-1708)
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Sir Hugh Roberton (1874-1952)
Albert Sammons (1886-1957)
Dave Apollon (1897-1972)
Elinor Remick Warren (1905-1991)
Martindale Sidwell (1916-1998)
Hall Overton (1920-1972)
Régine Crespin (1927-2007)

and

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) - blogger of the 17th Century
W. E B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
Karl Jaspers (1883-1969)
William L. Shirer (1904-1993)
John Camp (1944)

Tidbit from the New York Times obit: In the early 1930s, William Shirer and his wife shared a house with the guitarist Andres Segovia.

From The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1940 that Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to “This Land Is Your Land."

The melody is to an old Baptist hymn. Guthrie wrote the song in response to the grandiose “God Bless America,” written by Irving Berlin and sung by Kate Smith. Guthrie didn’t think that the anthem represented his own or many other Americans’ experience with America. So he wrote a folk song as a response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” a song that was often accompanied by an orchestra. At first, Guthrie titled his own song “God Blessed America” — past tense. Later, he changed the title to “This Land Is Your Land,” which is the first line of the song.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Niels Wilhelm Gade (1817-1890)
York Bowen (1884-1961)
Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963)
Joseph Kerman (1924-2014)
George Zukerman (1927)
Steven Lubin (1942)
Lowell Liebermann (1961)
Rolando Villazón (1972)

and

George Washington (1732-1799)
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
Edward Gorey (1925-2000)
Gerald Stern (1925)
Ishmael Reed (1938)
Terry Eagleton (1943)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Music gives voice to silent films in VSO chamber event

During the silent film era (1895-1930), it was common for movie theaters to provide live music accompaniment while the film was shown. Most theaters hired an organist or a pianist, who could improvise as the movie played. Some theaters in larger towns or cities provided a chamber ensemble to accompany the film. Resurrecting this long-ago performance art, moviegoers got a refreshing taste of keyboard improvisation while watching Laurel and Hardy’s Wrong Again and incidental music from a chamber ensemble during Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman at Kiggins Theatre on February 10 as part of the Vancouver Symphony’s chamber music series.

The music for the performances was led by Rodney Sauer, a pianist, arranger of music, and scholar of silent films who lives in Denver. Sauer knows his way around the keyboard so well that he can play in the dark, because all of the lights were turned off when he accompanied Wrong Again. He improvised the entire way through 20-minute film in which Laurel and Hardy depict two clueless stable hands who mistakenly try to get $5,000 in reward money from a millionaire by bringing a racehorse named Blue Boy instead of a missing painting with the same name. Hilarious circumstances ensue after Laurel and Hardy bring the horse into the millionaire’s mansion and get him to stand on top of the grand piano!

The melodies that Sauer played had a music hall quality. Now and then, he would segue into something blatantly familiar like “Camptown Races.” He relied on a trill whenever Laurel or Hardy used an odd hand gesture to indicate that rich people were peculiar. If a scene was suspenseful, it was accompanied by an unresolved chord. Whenever the action became faster, the music picked up speed. Overall, Sauer’s deft accompaniment helped to give the film a voice and added to the laughter.

For The Cameraman, Sauer wrote a score that was a compilation of music available from the 1920s for silent films. He performed it with a quartet of VSO musicians: violinist Eva Richey, cellist Dieter Ratzlaf, trumpeter Bruce Dunn, and clarinetist Igor Shahkman. They opened the film with a quick fanfare and accompanied the scenes with gusto.

The movie’s plot centered on Keaton as a bumbling tintype photographer who falls in love with the receptionist at a news organization. In those days, cameramen were sort of like news hounds who had to go out and film some event that would capture the public’s interest. To impress and win the young lady, Keaton spends all of his money on an old camera and tries his luck at getting a story. After some mishaps he captures a big fight in Chinatown between rival gangs, but that reel goes missing due to a mischievous monkey. Keaton doesn’t give up and, with the aid of the monkey, captures an accident at a boat race in which he rescues the girl. In the end, his filming of the gang war, the boat race, and the rescue win him a job at the news company and the girl.

The movie had plenty of pratfalls and gags were expertly accompanied by the musicians. Salon-like music and lyrical passages accompanied the romantic scenes. The pace of the music quickened whenever Keaton raced through the streets or up and down flights of stairs. At one point, Keaton and another man are crowded in booth at a swimming pool and engage in a chaotic struggle to get out of their street clothes and into swim trunks. The chamber ensemble accompanied their antics with a Strauss Waltz. Much of the music was paired so seamlessly with the action or situation that I forgot about the music altogether. I have to admit that it would be fun to experience the movie and the music again to figure out how Sauer made the experience work so well. Overall, the experience of chamber music and silent film was magical.



Today's Birthdays

Carl Czerny (1791-1857)
Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
Charles Marie Widor (1844-1945)
Kenneth Alford (1881-1945)
Nina Simone (1933-2003)
Elena Duran (1949)
Simon Holt (1948)

and

Anaïs Nin (1903-1977)
W. H. Auden (1907-1973)
Erma Bombeck (1927-1996)
Ha Jin (1956)
Chuck Palahniuk (1962)
David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Johann Peter Salomon (1749-1815)
Charles‑Auguste de Bériot (1802-1870)
Mary Garden (1874-1967)
Robert McBride (1911-2007)
Ruth Gipps (1921-1999)
Toshiro Mayuzumi (1929-1997)
Christoph Eschenbach (1940)
Barry Wordsworth (1948)
Cindy McTee (1953)
Riccardo Chailly (1953)
Chris Thile (1981)

and

Russel Crouse (1893-1966)
Louis Kahn (1901-1974)
Ansel Adams (1902-1984)
Robert Altman (1925-2006)
Richard Matheson (1926-2013)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
Louis Aubert (1877-1968))
Arthur Shepherd (1880-1958)
Grace Williams (1906-1977)
Stan Kenton (1912-1979)
Timothy Moore (1922-2003)
George Guest (1924-2002)
György Kurtág (1926)
Michael Kennedy (1926-2014)
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (1932-1988)
Smokey Robinson (1940)
Penelope Walmsley-Clark (1949)
Darryl Kubian (1966)

and

André Breton (1896-1966)
Carson McCullers (1917-1967)
Amy Tan (1952)
Siri Hustvedt (1955)
Jonathan Lethem (1964)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Giovanni Battista Vitali (1632-1692)
Pietro Giovanni Guarneri (1655-1720)
Gustave Schirmer, Jr. (1864-1907)
Marchel Landowski (1915-1999)
Rolande Falcinelli (1920-2006)
Rita Gorr (1926-2012)
Yoko Ono (1933)
Marek Janowski (1939)
Marlos Nobre (1939)
Donald Crockett (1951)

and

Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916)
Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957)
Wallace Stegner (1909-1993)
Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)
Len Deighton (1929)
Toni Morrison (1931)
George Pelecanos (1957)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Oregon Symphony with Simone Lamsma give intense and superb concert

Outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday (February 9), it was winter coat weather with temperatures below freezing, but inside things were toasty warm because of the fiery, incisive playing of violin soloist Simone Lamsma and the Oregon Symphony. It was the 34-year-old Dutch virtuoso’s fourth appearance with the orchestra, and this time around she delivered a searing performance of Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto.

Lamsma plumbed the extroverted and introverted contours of the piece with an intense fierceness. During the numerous lightning-fast passages, notes brilliantly took flight from her Strad, and she held nothing back form the rhapsodic, bravura sections. She also expressed the slower, melancholic sections with an equal amount of intensity, bringing out the somber colors that suggested a lament that my have drawn of the composer’s Armenian heritage.

The orchestra supported Lamsma expertly. Principal clarinetist matched her voice marvelously when he echoed a brief melodic line that led to her cadenza in the first movement. The same sensitivity was given by the bassoons and cellos and later. The folksy and dance-like rhythm of the last movement was playful between the orchestra and soloist, but it went by at a good clip, and Lamsma notched it up at one point into fifth or sixth gear before the piece ended.

The appreciative audience called Lamsma back to center stage three times, and she graciously responded with an encore. Instead of choosing a gentle and relaxing number, she tore into a wickedly difficult Finale from Hindemith’s sonata for solo violin. That brought down the house one more time.

The two outer pieces of the evening’s program provided a delightful contrast. The concert opened with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, which the orchestra took at a blitzing pace. Urged on by Kalmar, the musicians showed off their agility straight away, pouncing on the first movement with alacrity. The serene second movement featured outstanding contributions by principal bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood. The third had a slightly strident opening, but finished quietly, and the fourth was super crisp, showing off the fleet fingerwork of the strings.

The concert closed out with a terrific performance of Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony. The sound of the orchestra was well-balanced throughout the piece. For example, the trombones’ entry near the beginning was soft yet just loud enough to be heard. The violins raced up and down with élan. The woodwinds created bird like sounds that put listeners in the midst of a forest. Concertmaster Sarah Kwak dished out a lyrically sweet melody during her solo. Clarinetists Shields and Marc Dubec offerred an amazingly blended sound. The French horns were polished an grand, and the final trumpet call by principal Jeffrey Work wonderfully announced the noble theme that makes this symphonic work one of the best ever.

The only oddity of the program was that Kalmar didn’t do any introductory remark. Over the years, Kalmar has gotten very adept at expressing some well-chosen ideas to the audience with just a few words about each piece on the program. I am thinking that this was just an aberration, and that we will hear him again in the near future.

Today's Birthdays

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881)
Sr. Edward German (1862-1936)
Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947)
Andres Segovia (1893-1987)
Marian Anderson (1893-1993)
Paul Fetler (1920-2018)
Ron Goodwin (1925-2003)
Fredrich Cerha (1926)
Lee Hoiby (1926-2011)
Anner Bylsma (1944)
Karl Jenkins (1944)

and

Ronald Knox (1888-1957)
Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)
Chaim Potok (1929-2002)
Ruth Rendell (1930-2015) Mo Yan (1955)

From the New Music Box:

On February 17, 1927, a sold-out audience attends the world premiere of The King's Henchman. an opera with music by composer, music critic and future radio commentator Deems Taylor and libretto by poet Edna St. Villay Millay, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. The New York Times review by Olin Downes on the front page the next morning hailed it as the "best American opera." The opera closed with a profit of $45,000 and ran for three consecutive seasons. It has not been revived since and has yet to be recorded commercially.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Charles Avison (1709-1770)
Willem Kes (1856-1934)
Selim Palmgren (1878-1951)
Maria Korchinska (1895-1979)
Alec Wilder (1907-1980)
Machito (1908-1984)
Sir Geraint Evans (1922-1992)
Eliahu Inbal (1936)
John Corigliano (1938)
Sigiswald Kuiljken (1944)

and

Nikolai Leskov (1831-1895)
Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)
Van Wyck Brooks (1886-1963)
Richard Ford (1944)

Friday, February 15, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Michael Praetorius (1571-1621)
Jean‑François Lesueur (1760-1837)
Friedrich Ernst Fesca (1789-1826)
Heinrich Engelhard Steinway (1797-1871)
Robert Fuchs (1847-1927)
Marcella Sembrich (1858-1935)
Walter Donaldson (1893-1947)
Georges Auric (1899-1983)
Harold Arlen (1905-1986)
Jean Langlais (1907-1991)
Norma Procter (1928-2017)
John Adams (1947)
Christopher Rouse (1949)
Kathryn Harries (1951)
Christian Lindberg (1958)

and

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)
Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)
Art Spiegelman (1948)
Matt Groening (1954)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Pietro Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)
Alexander Dargomizhsky (1813-1869)
Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948)
Jack Benny (1894-1974)
Wyn Morris (1929-2010)
Steven Mackey (1956)
Renée Fleming (1959)

and

Frederick Douglass (1814-1895)
Carl Bernstein (1944)

and

On this day in 1895, Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest opened in London. He wrote the first draft in just 21 days, the fastest he’d ever written anything.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Fernando Sor (1778-1839)
Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938)
Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938)
Tennessee Ernie Ford (1919-1991)
Eileen Farrell (1920-2002)
Yfrah Neaman (1923-2003)
Colin Matthews (1946)
Peter Gabriel (1950)
Raymond Wojcik (1957-2014)
Philippe Jaroussky (1978)

and

William Roughead (1870–1952)
Ricardo Güiraldes (1886-1927)
Grant Wood (1891-1942)
Georges Simenon (1903-1989)
Elaine Pagels (1943)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1914, ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) is formally organized in New York City, with composer Victor Herbert as its first director.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Thomas Campion (1567-1620)
Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812)
Roy Harris (1898-1979)
Franco Zeffirelli (1923)
Mel Powell (1923-1998)
Paata Burchuladze (1951)

and

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Judy Bloom (1938)

And courtesy of the New Music Box:

On February 12, 1924 at New York's Aeolian Hall, self-named 'King of Jazz' Paul Whiteman presented An Experiment in Modern Music, a concert combining "high art" and "hot jazz." The concert featured newly commissioned works from Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern, Edward MacDowell, Irving Berlin, Ferde Grofé, and Rudolf Friml, but the highlight of the program was the world premiere performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Rudolf Firkušný (1912-1994)
Sir Alexander Gibson (1926-1995)
Michel Sénéchal (1927)
Cristopher Dearnley (1930-2000)
Jerome Lowenthal (1932)
Gene Vincent (1935-1971)
Edith Mathis (1938)
Alberto Lysy (1935-2009)
Christine Cairns (1959)

and

Thomas Edison (1847-1931)
Philip Dunne (1908-1992)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1909-1993)
Pico Iyer (1957)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1841, was given the first documented American performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 at the New York's Broadway Tabernacle, by the German Society of New York, Uri Corelli Hill conducting.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Johann Melchior Molter (1696-1765)
Adelina Patti (1843-1919)
Jean Coulthard (1908-2000)
Joyce Grenfell (1914-2001)
Cesare Siepi (1923-2010)
Leontyne Price (1927)
Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004)
Roberta Flack (1937)
Barbara Kolb (1939)

and

Charles Lamb (1775-1834)
Boris Pasternak (1890-1960)
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)
Åsne Seierstad (1970)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1921, Charles Ives hears Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird" Ballet Suite at an all-Russian program by the New York Symphony at Carnegie Hall. Also on the program were works of Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninoff (with Rachmaninoff as piano soloist). Walter Damrosch conducted.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Oregon Symphony teams up with Manual Cinema for fantastic Hansel and Gretel

Wow! It’s amazing what artists can do with overhead projectors! Manual Cinema, a Chicago-based company that specializes in shadow puppetry, elevated the largely forgotten overhead projector into a splendid storytelling device, using impeccable timing and imagination to enhance the Oregon Symphony’s presentation of Hansel and Gretel on Saturday, February 2, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The imaginative visual component provided by Manual Cinema worked seamlessly with the orchestra, under Music Director Carlos Kalmar, and a stellar line-up of soloists to wonderfully convey Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera in a refreshing way.

Hansel and Gretel has been a staple of opera houses everywhere since its premiere in 1893, due to its beautiful music and charming story of two children, who get lost in the woods and almost gobbled up by a gingerbread witch. However, the storyline, based on one of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, has a serious undercurrent, because the children’s family is poor and on the brink of starvation. With nothing in the house to eat, the mother, in a pitch of anger over the children’s frivolous behavior, sends them into the forest to pick strawberries.

The Oregon Symphony’s production of Hansel and Gretel marked its North American premiere (the original version was presented at the La Monnaie De Munt, Brussels) as part of the orchestra’s SoundStories series. Several black-clad puppeteers stood next to four overhead projectors that were lined up in front of a screen behind the orchestra on the left side of the stage. The puppeteers deftly handled a complicated series of cutouts and also did live-action segments – all of which was projected onto a large screen centered on the back wall. All of the images, including the live-acting flowed seamlessly in sync with the music in a balletic way with no glitches of any sort.

A superb slate of singers portrayed all of the characters with panache. The voices of Chelsea Duval-Major as Hansel and Maeve Höglund as Gretel complimented each other perfectly, highlighting their collaboration with the “Angel’s Prayer” and the duet to celebrate the witch’s death. Jenny Schuler created the stern mother, who realizes the gravity of her mistake after the warm-hearted father, Gregory Dahl, arrives home with food that he had bundled together after dumpster diving. The sparkling, clear voice of Yungee Rhie wonderfully delivered the goods in the roles of the Sandman and the Dew Fairy. John Easterlin gave a tour-de-force performance as the Witch, punctuating his stentorian lines with an incredibly entertaining combination of cackles. The voices of the freed children were conveyed with distinction by the Pacific Youth Choir.

The orchestra performed outstandingly from beginning to end with terrific emotion that provided the connective tissue for the entire enterprise. Every section was on top of its game. It was fun to watch percussionist Niel DePonte play the cuckoo whistle for one of the forest scenes.

It was too bad that the supertitles had to be placed on either side of the orchestra rather than above the large screen, but that arrangement is the only one that works in the hall. The amplification of the singers muddied the diction a bit, but it was necessary due to limited rest for the singers between performances.

Bringing an opera into the concert hall with the visual aid of a group like Manual Cinema is much cheaper than doing a full-blown opera production. The success of Hansel and Gretel makes me want to hear more. Perhaps there is a way for The Oregon Symphony to commission another such endeavor. Just think of the possibilities! Well, you could reach for the sky with a complete Ring Cycle. Hmm…

Today's Birthdays

Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841)
Franz Xaver Witt (1834-1888)
Alban Berg (1885-1935)
Harald Genzmer (1909-2007)
Hildegard Behrens (1937-2009)
Ryland Davies (1943)
Paul Hillier (1949)
Jay Reise (1950)
Marilyn Hill Smith (1952)
Amanda Roocroft (1966)

and

Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
James Stephens (1882-1950)
Brendan Behan (1923-1964)
J.M. (John Maxwell) Coetzee (1940)
Alice Walker (1944)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1893, Verdi's opera, "Falstaff," was first performed in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala. This was Verdi's last opera.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Jacob Praetorius (1586-1651)
André Grétry (1741-1813)
Osian Ellis (1928)
John Williams (1932)
Elly Ameling (1933)
Gundula Janowitz (1937)
Margaret Brouwer (1940)
Stephen Roberts (1948)
Irvine Arditti (1953)

and

Jules Verne (1828-1905)
Kate Chopin (1850-1904)
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)
Neal Cassady (1926-1968)
John Grisham (1955)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927)
Ossip Gabrilovich (1878-1936)
Eubie Blake (1883-1983)
Claudia Muzio (1889-1936)
Quincy Porter (1897-1966)
Lord Harewood (1923-2011)
Maruis Constant (1925-2004)
Stuart Burrows (1933)
Wolfgang van Schweintz (1953)

and

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)
Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951)
Gay Talese (1932)

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Henry Litolff (1818-1891)
Karl Weigl (1881-1949)
Andre Marchal (1894-1980)
Claudio Arrau (1903-1991)
Stephen Albert (1941-1992)
Paul Esswood (1942)
Bob Marley (1945-1981)
Bruce J. Taub (1948)
Matthew Best (1957)
Sean Hickey (1970)

and

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
Eric Partridge (1894-1979)
George Herman "Babe" Ruth (1895-1948)
Mary Douglas Leakey (1913-1996)
Deborah Digges (1950-2009)
Michael Pollan (1955)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Hagner and Stenz create a little magic with the Oregon Symphony

Sometimes it is interesting to see which guest artist makes the biggest impression at a concert. The Oregon Symphony offered an interesting choice at its concert on Saturday, January 26th, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. On the one hand, virtuoso violinist Viviane Hagner made her debut with the orchestra in playing Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto. On the other, veteran conductor Markus Stenz made his debut on the podium, balancing the new work with two evergreens: Beethoven’s First Symphony, and Schumann’s Third.

Chin’s Violin Concerto, written in 2001, was divided into four movements denoted purely by beats per minute. But the tempo didn’t matter all that much, because the piece seemed to move all over the place, with Hagner spending most of her time in the upper register of her instrument. She created a huge array of sounds – from edgy, almost shrill to gnawing to glassy glissandos to quiet, simple notes – but no discernable melodic phrases – not even a snatch of one. The whole piece seemed to be more of an intellectual sonic exploration, and it was fascinating to hear the various episodes. The second movement had moments that sounded ethereal and sort of like a music box. The third featured an extended pizzicato section for the orchestra. At the beginning of the piece Hagner generated quiet tones that seemed to rise from out of a cloud of sound from the orchestra, and at the end of the piece, her sound became placid and was subsumed by general orchestral sound. Perhaps that phoenix-like emergence and extinguishment was meant as a metaphor for contemporary life.

To counter the edgy complexity of the Violin Concerto, Hagner played an encore from Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas for violin. Her performance sounded immaculate, eloquent, and full of inner light that just took one’s breath away.

As part of his introductory remarks to the audience, Stenz gave a short music class in regards to the opening of the last movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No 1 and how revolutionary it was. Stenz encouraged the audience to shout “Bam” and count the next sequence of beats – following his every gesture. Later, during the performance of the symphony, some of the audience members chuckled when they recognized the section of music that Stenz had taught.

The orchestra performed Beethoven’s First Symphony superbly. The fast passages were light and immaculate played. Each instrumental part seemed to be perfectly balanced. The dynamics offered wonderful contrasts and the tempos were spot on.

Schumann’s Third Symphony also received an outstanding outing. In the first movement, the French Horn section created a glowing sound, the trumpets were crisp, the violins energetic. And so the exceptional playing continued through the rest of the piece with a nod again to the terrifically balanced sound, sensitivity to dynamics, tempos, and just a sense of delivering the poetry of the music.

For each piece, Stenz eschewed the baton. His style at times suggested sculpting the air, and he was gifted at doing so with either hand. With the Beethoven and Schumann, he didn’t worry about keeping a clear beat; instead, he seemed to use his gesture to shape of music in a poetic way. Often the last note of a movement ended up with his right arm extended straight ahead and upwards.

The music lesson that Stenz gave at the beginning of the concert connected well with the crowd. A couple of my friends afterwards indicated that they liked his approach. It would be swell to hear him return to the podium and find out how he could reach out to the audience again. For that matter, it would be wonderful to bring back Hagner to hear her again as well.

Today's Birthdays

Ole Bull (1810-1880)
Christian Gottlob Neefe (1748-1798)
Ricardo Viñes (1875-1943)
Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969)
Jussi Björling (1911-1960)
Sir John Pritchard (1921-1989)
Luc Ferrari (1929-2005)
John Poole (1934)
Ivan Tcherepnin (1943-1998)
Josef Protschka (1944)
Phylis Bryn-Julson (1945)

and

Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron (1934)
John Guare (1938)
William S. Burroughs (1914-1997)
Christopher Guest (1948)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1887, Verd's: opera "Otello" premiered in Milan at the Teatro all Scala, with the composer conducting (and cellist Arturo Toscanini in the orchestra).

Monday, February 4, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Eustache du Caurroy (1549-1609)
Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1795)
Aristide Cavaillé‑Coll (1811-1899)
Yrjo Kilpinen (1892-1952)
Bernard Rogers (1893-1968)
Erich Leinsdorf (1912-1993)
Jutta Hipp (1925-2003)
Martti Talvela (1935-1989)
François Dumeaux (1978)

and also

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
Gavin Ewart (1916-1995)
Betty Friedan (1921-2006)
Robert Coover (1932)

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)
Sidney Lanier (1842-1881)
Priaulx Rainier (1903-1986)
Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975)
Blas Galindo Dimas (1910-1993)
Jehan Alain (1911-1940)
Helga Dernesch (1939)

and

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)
Georg Trakl (1887-1914)
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)
Alvar Aalto (1898-1978)
James Michener (1907-1997)
Simone Weil (1909-1943)
Richard Yates (1926-1992)
Paul Auster (1947)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1844, Berlioz's "Roman Carnival" Overture, in Paris was premiered at the Salle Herz, with the composer conducting.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Vancouver Symphony struts down Broadway

The Vancouver Symphony put a little razzmatazz into its first concert of the New Year (January 26), pairing flashy and popular works by Copland and Gershwin with several numbers from the world of Broadway musicals. While the purely instrumental pieces were warmly appreciated by the near-capacity audience in SkyView Concert Hall, it was the collaboration with singer-actress Susannah Mars, the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, and other guest artists that really got people’s attention.

Sashaying in from the left side of the stage, Mars did a bang-up job with “Hello Dolly” (from Hello Dolly) and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” (from Anything Goes), backed up by 80-plus voices of the PGMC. They were brassy and had plenty of verve that got heads to nod along.

In “What I did for Love” (from A Chorus Line), Mars shared the spotlight with two students from the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics: Isabella Daltoso and Maddison Gebhard. Each took a verse, with Mars leading the way, and young singers showed that they could easily deliver the goods, making the piece very enjoyable.

Gebhard and Daltoso were joined by Julana Torres and Jae Specht for a lively rendition with dance moves of “America” (from West Side Story). They made terrific use of an extended stage area that didn’t leave much room for error.

The PGMC, expertly prepared by its Artistic Director Bob Mensel, were featured in three selections: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” (from Oklahoma), “To Build a Home” (from The Bridges of Madison County), and “Wheels of a Dream” (from Ragtime). The men sang with enthusiasm and sensitivity, but , the tenor section needed to be stronger whenever they broke into harmony.

The musical half of the program concluded with “Make our Garden Grow” (from Candide) with Thomas Black and Mars as the soloists. Black’s warm and expansive baritone sounded well suited to the piece, but the timbre of Mars’ voice didn’t match up well. Music Director, Salvador Brotons and the orchestra didn’t hold anything back in the final measures, and the music expressed the hope of a brighter tomorrow, which was a great way to end the concert.

The orchestral suite of four dance episodes from Copland’s ballet Rodeo was played with a lot of spirit, but needed some tightening up, especially when a couple of violins jumped the gun at the in third episode, “Saturday Night Waltz,” causing first few measures to sound a bit out of whack. Still, there was plenty of good music made with excellent solos on trombone (Greg Scholl), trumpet (Bruce Dunn), and clarinet (Igor Shahkman).

Gershwin’s American in Paris fared much better, and the orchestra conveyed the scene of a young American strolling around Paris, sampling one diversion or another, yet becoming homesick. Solos on English Horn (Kris Klavik) and by the concertmaster Eva Richey were highlights of the piece and the bluesy sound of the trombone and trumpet suggested the comfort food of American music. The dynamics could have been crisper, but the orchestra wound it all up on an emphatic and joyful note.

The concert marked the first time that the orchestra had ventured into Broadway. The amplification of the voices (choir and soloists) was done very well. Some lyrics in the chorale pieces were difficult to understand, and that might have been circumvented if they had been printed with the program note. Still, the Broadway pops concept was a refreshing success for the orchestra.

Today's Birthdays

Louis Marchand (1669-1732)
Leo Fall (1873-1925)
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987)
Stan Getz (1927-1991)
Skip Battin (1934-2003)
Martina Arroyo (1937)
Sir Andrew Davis (1944)
Ursula Oppens (1944)
Eliane Aberdam (1964)

Also

James Joyce (1882-1941)
James Dickey (1923-1997)

Friday, February 1, 2019

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Stradivari (1671-1743)
Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768)
Johan Joachim Agrell (1701-1765)
Victor Herbert (1859-1924)
Julius Conus (1869-1942)
Clara Butt (1872-1936)
Sándor Veress (1907-1999)
Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993)
Renata Tebaldi (1922-2004)
Ursula Mamlok (1928-2016)
Michael G. Shapiro (1951)

and

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
S. J. Perelman (1904-1979)
Muriel Spark (1918- 2006)
Galway Kinnell (1927-2014)