Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Vancouver Symphony (WA) hits a home run with its inaugural livestreamed concert

Photo by Paul Quackenbush

It was pretty strange to see musicians wearing masks and spaced six feet apart from one another, but that was the tableau on stage at the Skyview Concert Hall when the Vancouver Symphony presented its inaugural online concert on Saturday (September 26). The face coverings and distanced positions were necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced performing arts groups to offer livestream performances. The VSO ensemble, paired down to a chamber-sized group of around 15, played a full program of works by Antonio Vivaldi, George Walker, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughn Williams, and William Grant Still, culminating with a vigorous and intelligent performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony. Ken Selden, who also wore a mask, conducted the ensemble expertly with an expressive style that elicited top-notch playing.

I watched the Sunday’s rebroadcast of the performance on my HP laptop, which has good speakers but is not equivalent to being in the same space with the musicians. In general, I didn’t hear the lower strings as well as I would have liked, and fortes and pianissimos didn’t come across as strikingly as they do in the concert hall. Still, it was exciting to experience the performance, and the VSO deserves the highest marks for rising to the challenge with a meaningful selection of music that received fine and committed playing from the musicians.

The ensemble wonderfully captured the idiosyncratic moodiness of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony (arranged by Rudolf Barshai). The piece seesawed over a sonic landscape that conveyed loneliness, anguish, anger, and a glimmer of hope before subsiding into silence. When concertmaster Eva Richey held a sustained note against the repeated striking lines from her colleagues, it made me think of Shostakovich’s subtle, yet nerve-wracking defiance of Stalin and the Soviet authorities. May we all persevere against the current virus with such inner strength.

The concert featured pieces by two African-American composers: George Walker and William Grant Still. With its soothing rendition of Walker’s Lyric for Strings, the VSO created a heartfelt balm that seemed perfect for the crisis of our current times. The same could be said for Still’s Serenade, which resonated with a calming gospel-song quality. Principal cellist Dieter Ratzlaf carried the ball with evocative playing, and the performance was wonderfully preceded by a phone interview between Selden and Still’s daughter, Judith Anne Still, who told how the piece was commissioned by a high school in Great Fall, Montana. She added that her father’s compositions, including his works for orchestra, are now in high demand, and she has to fulfill about 150 orders per week!

Sandwiched between the pieces by Walker and Still were Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and Vaughn Williams’ Five Variants of “Dives and Lazarus.” The ensemble delivered the restive and elegant Serenade with polish. They delved into the soulful atmosphere of the Five Variants, which was based on a folk song but is known by most listeners as a hymn (arranged by Vaughn Williams btw). The lovely duet between the concertmaster and the harpist in the third variant was exquisite.

The concert kicked off with spirited account of Vivaldi’s Concerto alla rustica. All parts of the orchestra could be heard equally well, including Michael Liu’s harpsichord, and concertmaster Richey’s fluid solo passages were a delight. After the piece ended, Richey faced the empty seats and bowed, which seemed a little awkward at first but became sort of poignant as the concert progressed because she and other players who had the spotlight in the various pieces were appropriately acknowledged in this way.

Selden, who teaches at Portland State University, deserved extra credit for effectively conducting with a mask. The facial expression of conductors is one of the elements that helps to inspire musicians, and to take that ingredient away from the conductor could have presented a problem. Selden, fortunately, had plenty of other gestures to express what he wanted, and that helped to make concert a success.

Clarinetist Steve Bass, who is also the CEO of Oregon Public Broadcasting, was outstanding as emcee. Principal trombonist Greg Scholl teamed up expertly with podcast producer Ashley Hall to present informative background information on each piece before the concert began. A nice improvement after the concert ended would be to print the names of the musicians; so that we know who each one is.

Photo by Paul Quackenbush


Today's Birthdays

Johann Svendsen (1840-1911)
Sir Charles V. Stanford (1852-1924)
Václav Smetáček (1906-1986)
David Oistrakh (1908-1974)
Dame Julie Andrews (1935)
Johnny Mathis (1935)
Alan Hacker (1938-2012)
Jonathan Lloyd (1948)
Andrew Rindfleisch (1963)

and

W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)
Truman Capote (1924-1984)
Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Jacques-Martin Hottetere (1674-1763)
Joaquin Nin (y Castellanos) (1879-1949)
Gene Autry (1907-1998)
Richard Bonynge (1930)
Jerry Lee Lewis (1935)
Jean-Luc Ponty (1942)

and

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)
Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865)
Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936)
Enrico Fermi (1901-1954)

Monday, September 28, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Johann Mattheson (1681-1764)
Florent Schmitt (1870-1958)
Vivian Fine (1913-2000)
Rudolf Barshai (1924-2010)
Edward Applebaum (1937)
Catherine Robbin (1950)
Michaela Comberti (1952-2003)

and

Confusius (551 BCE - 479 BCE)
Caravaggio (1571-1610)
Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856-1923)
Edith Pargeter (1913-1995)
Simon Winchester (1944)

and

from the Composers Datebook

On this day in 1951, the Sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still" opens in theaters across America, featuring memorable score by Bernard Herrmann that included eerie, other-worldly sounds imitating the electronic instrument known as a "Theremin" (after its Russian-born inventor, Leon Theremin). In the movie, actress Patricia Neal's rendition of the space alien command "Gort: Klaatu barada nikto" prevents Earth's destruction by a death-ray robot from outer space.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Cyril Scott (1879-1970)
Vincent Youmans (1898-1946)
Jean Berger (1909-2002)
Igor Kipnis (1930-2002)
Dame Josephine Barstow (1940)
Misha Dichter (1945)
Chris Merritt (1952)
Dimitry Sitkovetsky (1954)

and

Sir William Empson (1906-1984)
Joyce Johnson (1935)
Kay Ryan (1945)

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Alfred Cortot (1877-1962)
Charles Munch (1891-1968)
George Gershwin (1898-1937)
Yvonne Levering (1905-2006)
Fritz Wunderlich (1930-1966)
Salvatore Accardo (1941)
Dale Duesing (1947)

and

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
Jane Smiley (1949)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1957, 20 years after George Gershwin died, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. It was not immediately successful. It only became famous when it was turned into a film in 1961 and won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It’s based on the story of Romeo and Juliet, but it is set in the gang-ridden streets of New York.

During the weeks leading up to the opening of West Side Story, the news was full of stories of gang violence and racial confrontations. At the end of August, Strom Thurmond filibustered for more than 24 hours to try to prevent passage of the Voting Rights Act. The day before the show’s opening, federal troops forcibly integrated Little Rock High School.

In general, critics responded favorably to West Side Story, but all the major Tony Awards went instead to The Music Man, a bubbly, nostalgic musical about a small town in Iowa.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Johann Nikolaus Hanff (1663-1711)
Jean-Phillippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Léon Boëllmann (1862-1897)
Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970)
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Sir Colin Davis (1927-2013)
Glenn Gould (1932-1982)
Stella Sung (1959)

and

William Faulkner (1897-1962)
Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Blind Lemon Jefferson (1893-1929)
Sir Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991)
Vaclav Nelhybel (1919-1996)
Cornell MacNeil (1922-2011)
Alfredo Kraus (1927-1999)
John Rutter (1945)
Marc Neikrug (1946)

and

Horace Walpole (1717-1797)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
Eavan Boland (1944)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1947, German-born composer Hanns Eisler is questioned about his former membership in the Communist Party by the House Committee on Un-American activities. Eisler had been a member of the Party in the 1920s, left Germany when Hitler came to power in 1933, and had been working in Hollywood on film scores and as the musical assistant to Charlie Chaplin. He left the U.S. in 1948 and settled in East Germany - where he composed that country's national anthem.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Jacques Féréol Mazas (1782-1849)
William Levi Dawson (1899-1990)
Jarmila Novotná (1907-1994)
Soulima Stravinsky (1910-1994)
Alexander Arutiunian (1920-2012)
Ray Charles (1930-2004)
John Coltrane (1926-1967)
Robert Helps (1928-2001)
Bruce Springsteen (1949)
William Shimell (1952)

and

Euripides (ca 480 BC - 406 BC) - today is the traditional day for Greeks to celebrate his birthday.
Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927)
Baroness Emmuska Orczy (1865-1947)
Walter Lippmann (1899-1974)
Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Online concert recommendations in The Oregonian

I scouted around for online concerts presented by Portland-based ensembles and compiled a list of performances, which appeared earlier today in the online edition of The Oregonian. It will appear in the print version later this week - in the Fall Arts Guide. I think that will hit the stands on Friday. I hope that you will enjoy reading my compilation.

Today's Birthdays

Arthur Pryor (1870-1942)
Mikolajus Ciurlionis (1875-1911)
Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988)
William O. Smith (1926-2020)
Hugh Bean (1929-2003)
Leonardo Balada (1933)
Anna Tomowa-Sintow (1941)
John Tomlinson (1946)
Vladmir Ghernov (1953)
Michael Torke (1961)

and

Fay Weldon (1931)

Monday, September 21, 2020

Today's Birthdays

François Francoeur (1698-1787)
Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791)
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
Meinrad Schütter (1910-2006)
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
Jill Gomez (1942)
Andrei Gavrilov (1955)
Nina Rautio (1957)

and

Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498)
Sir Edmund Gosse (1849-1928)
H(erbert) G(eorge) Wells (1866-1946)
Sir Allen Lane (1902-1970)
Stephen King (1941)

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968)
Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton (1885-1941)
Uuno Klami (1900-1961)
David Sheinfeld (1906-2001)
John Dankworth (1927-2010)
Jane Manning (1938)
Laurie Spiegel (1945)
John Harle (1956)

and

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968)
Maxwell Perkins (1884-1947)
Stevie Smith (1902-1971)
Donald Hall (1928)

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Gustav Schirmer (1829-1893)
Allan Pettersson (1911-1980)
Kurt Sanderling (1912-2011)
Blanche Thebom (1918-2010)
Arthur Wills (1926)
Bonaventura Bottone (1950)

and

William Golding (1911-1993)
Amalia Hernández (1917-2000)
Roger Angell (1920)

Friday, September 18, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Johann Gottfried Walther (1684-1748)
Lord Berners (1883-1950)
Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960)
Meredith Willson (1902-1984)
Josef Tal (1910-2008)
Norman Dinerstein (1937-1982)
Thomas Fulton (1949-1994)
John McGlinn (1953-2009)
Anna Netrebko (1970)

and

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Jean-Bernard-Léon Foucault (1819-1868)
Paul Zimmer (1934)
Alberto Ríos (1952)

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870)
Vincenzo Tommasini (1878-1950)
Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920)
Isang Yun (1917-1995)
Hank Williams (1923-1953)
Vincent La Selva (1929-2017)

and

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
Frank O'Connor (1903-1966)
Ken Kesey (1935-2001)

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Paul Taffanel (1844-1908)
Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979)
Hans Swarowsky (1899-1975)
B. B. King (1925-2015)

and

John Gay (1685-1732)
Henry Louis Gates Jr. (1950)
Elizabeth McCracken (1966)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1920, Italian tenor Enrico Caruso makes his last records (selections by Meyerbeer, Lully, Bartlett, and Rossini) for Victor Records in Camden, New Jersey. He would make his last operatic appearance at the old Metropolitan Opera House on Christmas Eve in 1920 (an evening performance of Halevy's "La Juive"), and die the following summer in Naples.
On this day in 1977, opera diva Maria Callas dies of a heart attack, age 53, in Paris

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Horatio William Parker (1863-1919)
Bruno Walter (1876-1962)
Frank Martin (1890-1974)
Henry Brant (1913-2008)
Richard Arnell (1917-2009)
Cannonball Adderley (1928-1975)
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (1933-2014)
Jessye Norman (1945)
Richard Suart (1951)

and

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)
Robert Benchley (1899-1945)

Monday, September 14, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Michael Haydn (1737-1806)
Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842)
Vittorio Gui (1885-1972)
Alice Tully (1902-1993)
Lehman Engel (1910-1982)
Rolf Liebermann (1910-1999)
Martyn Hill (1944)
Raul Gimenez (1950)

and

Eric Bentley (1916)
Ivan Klíma (1931)
Barbara Grizzuti Harrison (1934-2002)
Renzo Piano (1937)

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Bill Monroe (1911-1996)
Robert Ward (1917-2013)
Maurice Jarre (1924-2009)
Mel Tormé (1925-1999)
Nicolai Ghiaruv (1929-2004)
Werner Hollweg (1936-2007)
Arleen Auger (1939-1993)
Steve Kilbey (1954)
Andreas Staier (1955)

and

Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941)
J.B. Priestley (1894-1984)
Roald Dahl (1916-1990)

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Karl Doppler (1825-1900)
Herbert Lincoln Clarke (1867-1945)
Ernst Pepping (1901-1981)
Gideon Waldrop (1919-2000)
Tatiana Troyanos (1938-1993)
Phillip Ramey (1939)
Barry White (1944-2003)
John Mauceri (1945)
Vladimir Spivakov (1946)
Leslie Cheung (1956-2003)

and

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956)
Alfred A. Knopf Sr. (1892-1984)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1910, Mahler's Symphony No. 8 ("Symphony of a Thousand") received its premiere in Munich, with the composer conducting.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Today's Birthdays

William Boyce (1711-1779)
Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832)
Eduard Hanslick (1825-1904)
Vally Weigl (1894-1982)
Harry Somers (1925-1999)
Arvo Pärt (1935)
Catherine Bott (1952)

and

O. Henry (1862-1910)
D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
Reed Whittemore (1919-2012)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Niccolò Jommelli (1714-1774)
Tor Aulin (1866-1914)
Mikolajus Ciurlionis (1875-1911)
Judith Nelson (1939-2012)
Christopher Hogwood (1941-2014)
Sir Thomas Allen (1944)
Michael Schønwandt (1953)

and

Hanna Webster Foster (1758-1840)
Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961)
Franz Werfel (1890-1945)
Cyril Connolly (1903-1974)
Mary Oliver (1935)
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002)

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Joan Cererols (1618-1680)
Edwin Lemare (1865-1934)
Edward Burlingame Hill (1872-1960)
James Blades (1901-1999)
Olly Wilson (1937)
Otis Redding (1941-1967)
Miriam Fried (1946)
David Rosenboom (1947)
Adam Fischer (1949)
Rachel Masters (1958)

and

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Paul Goodman (1911-1972)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703)
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Ninon Vallin (1886-1961)
Lionel Salter (1914-2000)
Christoph von Dohnányi (1929)
Eric Salzman (1933-2017)
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016)
Dezső Ránki (1951)
Ilan Volkov (1976)

and

Wilhelm Raabe (1931-1910)
Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)
Grace Metalious (1924-1964)
Ann Beattie (1947)
Michael Schermer (1954)

Monday, September 7, 2020

Today's Birthdays

François Philidor (1726-1794)
Joan Cross (1900-1993)
Sir Harry Secombe (1921-2001)
Arthur Ferrante (1921-2009)
Madeleine Dring (1923-1977)
Leonard Rosenman (1924-2008)
Hugh Aitken (1924-2012)
Sonny Rollins (1930)
Buddy Holly (1936-1959)
Jean-Yves Thibaudet (1961)
Angela Gheorghiu (1965)

and

Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951)
Edith Sitwell (1887-1964)
Joe Klein (1946)
Jennifer Egan (1962)

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Anton Diabelli (1781-1858)
Sir Henry Walford Davies (1869-1941)
William Kraft (1923)
Arthur Oldham (1926-2003)
Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002)
Joan Tower (1938)
Cynthia Haymon (1958)
Detlev Glanert (1960)
Shih-Hui Chen (1962)

and

Fanny Wright (1795-1852)
Jane Addams (1860-1935)
Robert Pirsig (1928-2017)
Alice Sebold (1963)

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864)
Amy Beach (1867-1944)
John Cage (1912-1993)
Peter Racine Fricker (1920-1990)
Karita Mattila (1960)
Marc-André Hamelin (1961)
Lars Vogt (1970)

and

Frank Yerby (1916-1991)
Justin Kaplan (1925-2014)
Ward Just (1935)

Friday, September 4, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)
Frederic Curzon (1899-1973)
Rudolf Schock (1915-1986)
Irwin Gage (1939)
René Pape (1964)

and

Mary Renault (1905-1983)
Richard Wright (1908-1960)

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Adriano Banchieri (1568-1634)
Pietro Locatelli (1695-1764)
Marcel Grandjany (1891-1975)
Francesco Mignon (1897-1986)
Robert Thurston Dart (1921-1971)
Rudolf Kelterborn (1931)
Valerie Coleman (1970)

and

Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909)
Louis H. Sullivan (1852-1924)
Sally Benson (1897-1972)
Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)
Alison Lurie (1926)
Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)
Malcolm Gladwell (1963)
Kiran Desai (1971)

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Today's Birthdays

George Böhm (1661-1733)
Alphons Diepenbrock (1862-1921)
Laurindo Almeida (1917-1995)
David Blake (1936)
Greg A. Steinke (1942)
John Zorn (1953)
Paul Goodwin (1956)

and

Eugene Field (1850-1895)
Joseph Roth (1894-1939)
Grady Nutt (1934-1982)

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Today's Birthdays

Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812)
Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921)
Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957)
Conway Twitty (1933-1993)
Seiji Ozawa (1935)
Júlia Várady (1941)
Leonard Slatkin (1944)
Reza Vali (1952)