Friday, March 24, 2023

Expanded profile of Julian Perkins - new PBO AD - in Classical Voice North America

CVNA has published my expanded profile of Julian Perkins, the new Artistic Director of Portland Baroque Orchestra. It contains a lot of helpful links. You can access it here.

Today's Birthdays

John Antes (1740-1811)
Maria Malibran (1808-1836)
Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)
Christiane Eda-Pierre (1932)
Benjamin Luxon (1937)


Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990)
Dwight Macdonald (1906-1982)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021)
Dario Fo (1926-2016)
Ian Hamilton (1938-2001)
Martin Walser (1927)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1721, J.S. Bach dedicates his six "Brandenburg" Concertos to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, whose orchestra apparently never performed them.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Portland Opera’s “Thumbprint” elevates the human spirit with the story of Muktar Mai

Alok Kumar, Omar Najmi, Indira Mahajan, Neil Balfour, Sitara Razaqi Lones, Priya Judge, Samina Aslam, and Leela Subramaniam | Photo by Christine Dong/Portland Opera.

Portland Opera’s opening night of “Thumbprint” is still reverberating between my earlobes. The production that I experienced on March 18 at the Newmark Theatre presented the rarest of operas because a terrible event does not end up in a full-blown tragedy; instead, it leads to a life-enhancing outcome that continues to lift people’s lives today.

Based on the true-life story of Mukhtar Mai, a peasant from rural Pakistan, “Thumbprint,” written by Kamala Sankaram with a libretto by Susan Yankowitz, tells how Mai stood up for herself after being gang-raped by a wealthy and powerful clan. Although her culture demanded that she submit to shame and commit suicide, Mai found the inner strength and courage to fight back against those who abused her. She took them to court and astoundingly won, which reversed a centuries old tradition. Mai, who received world-wide attention from the press, then received settlement money from the government and started a school to teach girls how to read and write instead of using their thumbprint to sign documents.

The opera opened with expressions of joy and hopefulness of Mai and her family before she was violated by members of the Mustai clan. The men of the Mustai repeated words (“Honor”) and phrases about tradition in an attempt to wear Mai down and assert their superiority. They laughed derisively when Mai went to the police, but were absolutely stunned when she won, and as they sank into the background Mai, encouraged and embolden by her victory, soared higher and higher with renewed purpose.

This powerful opera, directed with insightful clarity by Omer Ben Seadia, hit a trifecta of thrilling performances from the singers, dancers, and orchestral musicians. And that was complemented by evocative scenery and lighting to mesmerize the audience for 90 minutes straight.

Sankaram created a unique blend of Hindustani and European music that suggested Pakistani culture in a way that was easy for outsiders like me to grasp. Sankaram shifted between intoxicating rhythmic patterns – some of which involved the musicians in syncopated clapping and chants. Sankaram made excellent use of the double bass to express the lowest points in the story. Among many stirring passages one of the most poignant was when the flute accompanied Mai and her father on the ill-fated journey to meet the rival clan.

Leela Subramaniam as Annu, Indira Mahajan as Mother, and Samina Aslam as Mukhtar Ma | Photo by Christine Dong/Portland Opera.

As Mukhtar Mai, soprano Samina Aslam conveyed a heavy load of emotion, overcoming a wasteland of shame with an inspiring sense of self-worth and determination. Soprano Indira Mahajan in the role of the Mother, fiercely ignited Mukhtar with a palpable sense of urgency. Leela Subramaniam’s brilliant soprano soared with hope and innocence as Mukhtar’s sister Annu. The softness of Neil Balfour’s bass-baritone wonderfully suited the gentle Father.
Alok Kumar as Faiz | Photo by Christine Dong/Portland Opera.

Tenor Alok Kumar gave a standout performance as Faiz, the leader of the Mastoi clan. His declamatory voice was filled with no-nonsense conviction that was grounded in a belief that tradition must not be changed. Lyric tenor Omar Najmi pleaded convincingly as a remorseful Shakur. Sitara Razaqui Lones and Priya Judge deftly heightened the drama with emotive dancing that never seemed intrusive thanks to the sensitive choreography of Subashini Ganesan-Forbes.

Conductor Maria Badstue, in her American debut, impressively guided the chamber orchestra, while giving precise cues to the singers. This was easy to notice because the ensemble was on the stage rather than in the very small orchestra pit of the theater.

The straight-forward set design by dots, a New York-based design collective, was versatile enough to suggest all of the locations in the story with the bare minimum of props. The plain exterior of a building made of clay had platforms on its left and right sides with stairways leading to an upper area that represented the home of the Matsoi. Huge constructs of see-through curtains served almost like veils – metaphorically expressing the unwritten customs of that part of the world, and when the curtain-veils were lifted at the end of the opera, you could feel a sense of relief.

Joe Beumer’s lighting terifically enhanced the scenery and the traditional costumes designed by Kara Harmon.

Even though this opera addresses with the subject of rape in one part of the world, it speaks to a problem that is happens all too often everywhere, and that is a very sad state for humanity.

On a final, positive note, one extraordinary feature of this production was its diversity. All of the performers, the conductor, and the choreographer were of South Asian descent. That might be a first for the world of opera and definitely puts a feather in the cap of Portland Opera, whose Artistic Director, Priti Gandhi, has Indian heritage.

Neil Balfour as Father, Omar Najmi as Shakur, principal dancer Sitara Razaqi Lones, principal dancer Priya Judge, and Leela Subramaniam as Annu | Photo by Christine Dong/Portland Opera.


After the performance, I asked Sankaram, who plays sitar, why she had not added that instrument to the orchestration. She replied that sitars cannot change keys. So, she would have needed ten sitars for "Thumbprint."

Today's Birthdays

Léon Minkus (1826-1917)
Eugène Gigout (1844-1925)
Franz Schreker (1878-1934)
Josef Locke (1917-1999)
Norman Bailey (1933)
Boris Tishchenko (1939-2010)
Michael Nyman (1944)
David Grisman (1945)


Roger Martin du Gard (1881-1958)
Louis Adamic (1898-1951)
Erich Fromm (1900-1980)
Kim Stanley Robinson (1952)
Gary Joseph Whitehead (1965)

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Oregon Symphony Announces Leadership Succession Plan President and CEO Scott Showalter to become Executive Advisor

From the Press Release:

PORTLAND, Ore. March 22, 2023 – The Oregon Symphony Board of Directors today announced a leadership succession plan, following the end of President and CEO Scott Showalter’s contract on June 30. Showalter will remain at the helm until a successor is identified and begins their term later this year. At that point, Showalter will assume the new role of Executive Advisor to the President and the Board. 

Scott has established an incredible legacy by growing the Symphony’s regional impact and its national reputation. His leadership has been a boon to the State of Oregon,” says Board Chair Dan Drinkward.

Since assuming his role in 2014, Showalter has expanded the orchestral season and breadth of its education and digital programs. The Oregon Symphony now serves hundreds of thousands of people in person and tens of millions more via syndicated programs each year. During his tenure, the Symphony also has broadened its repertoire to include music from hip hop to video games, premiered classical works that address issues from homelessness to racism, completed a global search for its new Music Director, led a community celebration of its 125th anniversary, grown wages for musicians and staff, and earned multiple Grammy nominations.

Drinkward notes that additional changes to administrative and financial structures have allowed the Symphony to serve its mission better. Under Showalter’s leadership, revenues have grown by 65%. Except for fiscal year 2020 during the onset of the pandemic, the Symphony has balanced its budget each year, and it has incurred no debt. 

Showalter reflects that the Symphony’s successes have been a team effort. “Working with our board, musicians, staff, and donors has been the highlight of my career, and I am proud of all that we have accomplished together. Although I will move on later this year, I am committed to ensuring our continued success through this transition.” 

The incoming President will be able to build on Showalter’s accomplishments as they put their own stamp on the institution, Drinkward says. In Showalter’s role as Executive Advisor, he will assist the new President and the Board on institutional priorities like fundraising and strategic planning and help to transition relationships with key stakeholders. “We are the beneficiaries of Scott’s goodwill, since he has agreed to remain in his current role for now and serve as an advisor beyond his current contract,” says Drinkward. “Rarely does a nonprofit benefit to such a degree from the expertise and connections of a departing CEO.”

The Board of Directors has partnered with Aspen Leadership Group, which specializes in non-profit executive searches and succession planning, and expects to name a new President and CEO later this summer. 

Today's Birthdays

Carl Rosa (1842-1889)
Hamisch MacCunn (1868-1916)
Joseph Samson (1888-1957)
Martha Mödl (1912-2001)
Fanny Waterman (1920-2020)
Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986)
Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
Joseph Schwantner (1943)
George Benson (1943)
Alan Opie (1945)
Rivka Golani (1946)
Andrew Lloyd Webber (1948
Edmund Barham (1950-2008)


Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)
Louis L'Amour (1908-1988)
Edith Grossman (1936)
James Patterson (1940)
Billy Collins (1941)
James McManus (1951)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1687, Italian-born French composer Jean Baptiste Lully, age 54, in Paris, following an inadvertent self-inflicted injury to his foot (by a staff with which he would beat time for his musicians) which developed gangrene.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Norman Huynh - former Oregon Symphony Associate Conductor to lead New York Philharmonic

Congratulations are in order for Norman Huynh, who now leads the Bozeman Symphony as its music director. He has been tapped to conduct the New York Philharmonic in its Vertigo (with the film) concert. Here's the link:

Scroll down the page and you'll find this:

Today's Birthdays

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Modeste Moussorgsky (1839-1881)
Eddie James "Son" House (1902-1988)
Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949)
Paul Tortelier (1914-1990)
Nigel Rogers (1935)
Owain Arwel Hughes (1942)
Elena Firsova (1950)
Ann MacKay (1956)


Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978)
Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998)
Ved Mehta (1934)

From the New Music Box:

On March 21, 1771, the Massachusetts Gazette published an announcement for a musical program including "select pieces on the forte piano and guitar." It is the earliest known reference to the piano in America.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Today's Birthdays

Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957)
Lauritz Melchoir (1890-1973)
Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997)
Dame Vera Lynn (1917-2020)
Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970)
Marian McPartland (1918-2013)
Henry Mollicone (1946)


Ovid (43 BC - AD 17)
Ned Buntline (1823-1886)
Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)
Peter Schjeldahl (1942)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1928, the New York Symphony and the New York Philharmonic Society united to form the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York - now known as simply "The New York Philharmonic."

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Gasparini (1661-1727)
Max Reger (1873-1916)
Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
Nancy Evans (1915-2000)
Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950)
Robert Muczynski (1929-2010)
Ornette Coleman (1930-2015)
Myung-Wha Chung (1944)
Carolyn Watkinson (1949)
Mathew Rosenblum (1954)


Tobias Smollett (1721-1771)
Nikolay Gogol (1809-1852)
Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890)
Philip Roth (1933)

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Women strive against repression in Seattle Opera’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns”

Maureen McKay as Laila (left) and Karin Mushegain as Mariam (right) in A Thousand Splendid Suns at Seattle Opera. Photo credit: Sunny Martini.

Seattle Opera’s world premiere of “A Thousand Splendid Suns” plunged me into a world that was fascinating, sad, exotic, tragic, hopeful, and illuminating. The production I experienced at McCaw Hall on March 3 was outstanding and unsettling and deserving to be seen and heard in more opera houses.

Based on the best-selling, award-winning novel of the same name by Khaled Hosseini, the opera tells the story of two women and their resilient quest to find love and meaning in life despite the oppressive male-dominated culture of their homeland, Afghanistan. With evocative music by Sheila Silver and superb libretto by Stephen Kitsakos, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” was enhanced by an exceptional cast led by mezzo-soprano Karin Mushegain and soprano Maureen McKay. The production also benefitted from the stage direction of Roya Sadat, who is Afghanistan’s first woman film and television producer during the post-Taliban era and winner of more than 20 international awards.

Deftly creating a unique blend of Hindustani and Western music, Silver used a full orchestra augmented by South Asian instruments, such as the tabla, daf, dholak, and Tibetan bowls (played by Deep Singh) and the bansuri (played by Steve Gorn). The sound-world drew was inspired by ragas – with their drone-underlayment and myriad of microtonal shifts. The trombones were especially effective to conveying the wiggly tones of the call to prayer from a minaret. Conductor Viswa Subbaraman guided the orchestra with lots of dynamic contrast that matched the text and action extremely well.

Kitsakos condensed the plot of Hosseini’s novel to fit into two acts with five scenes each. Altogether, the opera covers a 30-year period from 1970 when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan to 2001 with the 9/11 attacks.
Foreground, from left: Andrew Potter as Mullah, John Moore as Rasheed, Karin Mushegain as Mariam, and Martin Bakari as Jalil. Background, from left: Ibidunni Ojikutu as Wife #2, Sarah Coit as Wife #3, and Sarah Mattox as Wife #1 in A Thousand Splendid Suns at Seattle Opera. Photo credit: Antone Patterson.

Mushegain made a totally convincing, Mariam, the “illegitimate” woman who was forced into marriage and then abused by her husband. Her voice expressed a big range of emotion – from anger to pleading prayerfulness. McKay excelled in the role of Laila, who lost her parents because their home was bombed. Laila then became the second wife and also suffered abuse. The stunning duet with the two women discovering that they are allies rather than rivals, was a highlight of the opera.

Baritone Jon Moore embodied the harshness and rigidity of the women’s husband Rasheed with such conviction that the audience erupted in cheers when Mariam slayed him with a shovel. Tenor Rafael Moras embraced the role of Laila’s lover Tariq with terrific vitality and energy. Tariq’s love-duet with Laila was another high point of the opera. Bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam exuded warmth and understanding as Laila’s father, Hakim. Mezzo Sarah Coit in the role of Laila’s mother countered her husband’s bookishness with a back-to-reality directness.

The very tall bass, Andrew Potter, made an imposing Mullah. Tenor Martin Bakari was superb as the duplicitous Jalil. Soprano Tess Altiveros made the fear and frustration of Nana palpable. Sopranos Sarah Mattox and Ibidunni Ojikutu joined Coit as Jalil’s three wives who coerced Mariam into marriage. Grace Elaine Franck-Smith portrayed Rasheed’s son Zalmai with panache.

An ingenious set by Misha Kachman rotated to display the mostly drab interior and exterior of Afghan homes. Just a few people were needed to quickly change the scene, which helped to keep the story moving forward, although sometimes it seems to revolve a bit too much. Lighting by Jen Schriever accented the singers, the buildings, and the mountains in the background, but the illumination of Miriam at the end of the opera, giving her a Virgin-Mary-like glow that defied the militia men and the rifle pointed at her, was one of the most striking and memorable images I have ever seen.

Guided by cultural advice of Humaira Ghilzai, production consultant Aziz Deildaar, and costume-historical consultant Rika Sadat, the production offered an authenticity that revealed a glimpse into the complexity of Afghani life. During the Q and A after the show, attendees found out more about differences in customs and language in Afghanistan. Hopefully, other opera companies that choose to present A Thousand Splendid Suns will have access to cultural advisors like Ghilzai, Deildaar, and Sadat.

Unfortunately, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” has become extremely relevant because the Taliban are again in command of Afghanistan and have crushed women’s rights. In the Seattle Opera’s printed program, Hosseini writes that he hopes that circumstances there will improve and rights will be returned to women so that “’A Thousand Splendid Suns’ will become one day a relic of an erstwhile era.” Amen to that.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Christoph Vogel (1756-1788)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Paul Le Flem (1881-1984)
Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973)
Willem van Hoogstraten (1884-1964)
Nobuko Imai (1943)
James Conlon (1950)
Jan-Hendrik Rootering (1950)
Courtney Pine (1964)


Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898)
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
Manly Hall (1901-1990)
George Plimpton (1927-2003
Christa Wolf (1929-2011)
John Updike (1932-2009)