Thursday, May 25, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Thomas "Blind Tom" Bethune (1849-1908)
Miles Davis (1926-1991)
Beverly Sills (1929-2007)
Franco Bonisolli (1937-2003)

and

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)
Raymond Carver (1938-1988)
Jamaica Kincaid (1949)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1944, Arturo Toscanini conducts the combined NBC Symphony and New York Philharmonic in a benefit concert of music by Wagner, Verdi, and Sousa at the old Madison Square Garden. The concert raised $100,000 for the Red Cross. During an intermission auction, New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia auctioned off Toscanini's baton for $10,000.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

OSO takes Portland audiences on a journey with the Mahler 2 'Resurrection' Symphony.

Elizabeth DeShong.
Photo by Dario Acosta
Saturday night, May 20, the Oregon Symphony began the weekend that wrapped up its 2016-17 season at the Schnitz with Mahler's grandiose Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, the 'Resurrection' Symphony. It featured soloists Tamara Wilson, soprano, and Elizabeth DeShong, mezzo-soprano, as well as the Portland State University Choirs.

With Maestro Kalmar conducting, this was an amazing journey. The orchestra was on fire, suitably sensitive to the incredible range of dynamic contrasts and varying timbres required to make this work a success.

Right from the start, the orchestra exuded a feeling of intense focus, one that drew the listener immediately. There was a peripatetic feel to the movement, with the extended crescendo that built from the lower strings wringing every bit of tension possible. The whispering tremolando from the strings was exciting to hear.

The group handled the emotional displacement to more pastoral themes deftly, and the almost hypnotic shift into a dreamy brass-world was beautifully organic and completely convincing. The orchestra consistently displayed clarity and succinctness in the multiple and vital pianissimos. The more folksy portions were engaging and somewhat disjointed from the weightiness of the overall work--exactly as felt right.
There were many gradual and protracted crescendi throughout the work that ended in a titanic fortissmo, and these the orchestra played well by and large. The only sour spot was in the high woodwinds, flutes and piccolos, that often did not agree on a pitch when the ultimate dynamic was reached, and these moments stood out a number of times.

The vocal portions of the symphony were all spectacular. DeShong displayed a magnificent, show-stopping low alto register, and the Portland State University choirs (PSU Chamber Choir, PSU Man Choir and PSU Vox Vemina) were dignified and solemn, singing with reverence and clear diction. All in all, despite the seriousness of the work, the performers were clearly having fun, and with this composition, how could they not?

Today's Birthdays

Paul Paray (1886-1979)
Joan Hammond (1912-1986)
Hans‑Martin Linde (1930)
Maurice André (1933-2012)
Harold Budd (1936)
Bob Dylan (1941)
Konrad Boehmer (1941-2014)
Fiona Kimm (1952)
Paul McCreesh (1960)

and

William Trevor (1928)
Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)
Declan Kiberd (1951)
Michael Chabon (1963)

and from the New Music Box:
On May 24, 1939, then 30-year-old composer Elliott Carter (b. 1908) had his first major performance of his music in New York. The work was the ballet Pocahontas composed in a populist style far different from the music for which Carter would later become internationally known and revered.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Andrea Luchesi (1741-1801)
Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870)
Louis Glass (1864-1936)
Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986)
Artie Shaw (1910-2004)
Jean Françaix (1912-1997)
Alicia de Larrocha (1923)
Robert Moog (1934-2005)
Joel Feigin (1951)

and

Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)
Margaret Wise Brown (1910-1952)
Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Johann Schrammel (1850-1893)
Minna Keal (1909-1999)
Sun Ra (1914-1993)
George Tintner (1917-1999)
Humphrey Lyttelton (1921-2008)
Claude Ballif (1924-2004)
John Browning (1933-2003)
Peter Nero (1934)

and

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)
Laurence Olivier (1907-1989)
Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014)

and from the New Music Box:
On May 21, 1893, in an lengthy article published in the New York Herald titled "Real Value of Negro Melodies," Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak, during his three-year sojourn in the United States, prognosticated that the future of American music should be based on "negro melodies" and announced that the National Conservatory of Music, where he was serving as Director at the time, would be "thrown open free of charge to the negro race." It was to be the first of a total of seven articles in the Herald in which Dvorak expounded these ideas which provoked comments ranging from incredulity to denunciation by composers and performers around the world including Anton Bruckner, Anton Rubinstein and John Knowles Paine.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Parry (1841-1903)
Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904-1943)
Gina Bachauer (1913-1976)
Heinz Holliger (1939)
Rosalind Plowright (1949)
Linda Bouchard (1957)

and

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Henri Rousseau (1844-1910)
Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989)
Robert Creeley (1926-2005)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Hephzibah Menuhin (1920-1981)
George Hurst (1926-2012)
Karl Anton Rikenbacher (1940-2014)
Tison Street (1943)
Joe Cocker (1944-2014)
Cher (1946)
Sue Knussen (1949-2003)
Jane Parker-Smith (1950)
Emma Johnson (1966)

and

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Stunning production by Michael Curry breathes new life into "Persephone"

The Oregon Symphony and puppeteer-production designer Michael Curry blew away a standing-room-only audience with a breathtaking, magical performance of Stravinsky’s “Persephone.” This rarely performed melodrama came to life via sophisticated lighting, puppetry, and evocative sets not to mention the dance, spoken monologue, and music created by the orchestra, adult chorus, children’s chorus, and tenor soloist. Curry’s visual imagery and skillful direction of twelve black-clad puppeteers absolutely enhanced the story-telling and the music to make “Persephone” a very memorable event.

Curry has been acclaimed for his work with Disney’s “The Lion King” as well as for his collaborations with Cirque du Soleil , The Metropolitan Opera, London’s Royal National Theatre, the International Olympic Committee. The production of “Persephone” marked his first collaboration with a symphony orchestra, and it became the third installment in the Oregon Symphony’s unique “Sight and Sound” series. The audience knew right away that it was in for something special, because a specially-built stage behind the orchestra featured a very large moon-like disc centered between two large gnarly trees with intertwined roots.

André Gide, the Nobel Prize winning poet wrote the libretto for “Persephone,” which retells an ancient Greek myth that explains the seasons of the year. However, Gide changed the story to give Persephone a Christ-like character. In the original, Persephone is abducted by Pluto and brought to Hades, but in Gide’s retelling, Persephone has compassion for the people of the underworld and goes there to provide some sense of happiness. She can do this because she is the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of harvest and agriculture. Unfortunately, Demeter really misses her daughter. This causes the earth to be dominated by the cold, harsh winter so that no crops can grow and everyone above ground is miserable. So Persephone returns to the earth and accepts Triptolemus, the tiller of soil, as her husband, but because of her obligations to Pluto, she returns to hades for half of the year.

Although "Persephone" dominated the evening, the concert began with an impeccable performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2 ("Little Russian"). The woody sound of the clarinets, the immaculate exchange of pizzicato lines between the strings, the big brass chorale, and the lovely melodic passages were augmented by the sensitive playing of Joseph Berger on the French horn and Carin Miller Packwood on the bassoon.

In Curry’s production, the character of Persephone was split three-ways: as a life-size marionette, a dancer (Anna Marra), and as an actress (Pauline Cheviller). This may have caused some confusion initially, but it became clear as the story progressed. Marra’s graceful aerial dance at the end of a large boom was spectacular, doing cartwheels in slow motion above the stage and over the orchestra – briefly dangled above the timpani and trumpets. At times, her movements were accompanied by the ghostly spirits of the underworld and she also dallied with Pluto, which was represented by a fibrous 14-foot tall puppet.

Cheviller deftly conveyed the text with emotion, reaching a high point when Persephone became distraught as her mother search fruitlessly for her. In the role of the priest Eumolpus, tenor Paul Groves narrated each scene with a stentorian recitative. The Portland State Chamber Choir (expertly prepared by Ethan Sperry) and the Pacific Youth Choir (expertly prepared by Mia Hall) conquered the challenging music with panache.

Cheviller, Groves, and all of the singers were amplified, which was a necessity due to the Schnitz’s poor acoustic. Stravinsky’s music sounded ancient and modern at the same time, and the orchestra, guided by Carlos Kalmar, handled all of it terrifically. The musicians were positioned on a stage that extended over the first few rows of the hall.

Among the many wonderful moments of Curry’s production was a stag that transported Persephone to the underworld and later brought in a pomegranate that she ate and made her long to return home. A group of women whose braided hair extended from the roots of the tree was also very striking as were the images projected on the moon-like disc.

Representatives from other orchestras were in attendance to watch the show. Seattle Symphony has Curry’s production of “Persephone” already scheduled for next April. The magical vision of Curry makes me wonder what he would do with Wagner’s “Ring Cycle.” Hmmm…..

Today's Birthdays

Johann Jacob Froberger (1616-1667)
Nellie Melba (1859-1931)
Kerstin Thorborg (1896-1970)
Sandy Wilson (1924-2014)
Pete Townshend (1945)
Stephen Varcoe (1949)

and

Malcom X (1925-1965)
Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)
Nora Ephron (1941-2012)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1886, the American premiere of J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor (11 selections) was given during the May Festival in Cincinnati, conducted by Theodore Thomas. The next documented performance (12 sections) was given in Boston on February 27, 1887, by the Handel and Haydn Society, with Carl Zerrahn conducting a chorus of 432 and an orchestra of 50. In both the 1886 Cincinnati and 1887 Boston performances, the famous 19-century German soprano Lilli Lehmann appeared as one of the soprano soloists. The first complete performance of the work was apparently given either at the Moravian Church in Bethlehem on Mar 17, 1900, by the Bach Choir under J. Fred Wolf, or at Carnegie Hall in new York on April 5, 1900, by the Oratorio Society, Frank Damrosch conducting.