Thursday, February 22, 2024

Review: Thrilling Tchaikovsky with Gil Shaham and Oregon Symphony then bold Bruckner Fourth

 

OSO violins celebrating with Shaham after Brucker Fourth

Two powerful warhorses and one of the world’s greatest violinists combined for a terrifically robust experience with the Oregon Symphony (February 17), drawing one of the largest audiences that I have seen at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall for a regular classical music concert. No wonder; with Gil Shaham in town to play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, you can count on getting one of the most thrilling performances of that beloved piece you’ll ever hear, and for those of us who love big and bold symphonic works, Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony will do the trick.

Of top-tier violinists in the world, Shaham is one of the most animated, moving about while playing impeccably, combining mind-boggling precision with a mesmerizingly beautiful tone that sounds absolutely refreshing. Nowadays, it never fails that audiences, swept into virtuosity and melodic uplift of the first movement of the Tchaikovsky, burst into applause. Only this time, the applause was accompanied by cheering and some concertgoers rising from their seats for a standing ovation. The enthusiastic reaction to Shaham’s performance was wonderful to witness, but it reduced a bit the audience’s response at the end of the concerto despite the fact that Shaham and the orchestra delivered all of the Tchaikovsky with elan. As a side note, Shaham didn’t play an encore on Saturday, but I heard that he added Scott Wheeler's delightful "Isolation Rag" on Monday evening.

And from the photo above (posted on Facebook), it looks like he joined the violin section for the Bruckner Fourth on Monday as well. What a treat! At Saturday’s show, the violins sans Shaham more than held their own in an inspired performance that featured, multiple times, the brass and the horns. Talk about a glorious sound! I felt a little sorry for the woodwinds because they were positioned right in front of the brass choir and had to endure several sonic volleys that were at sustained double-plus fortes. The musicians wisely used ear plugs as needed, thank goodness.

In his introductory remarks, Danzmayr described the Fourth Symphony in this way: the first movement offers a sunrise over the countryside, the second is a Minnesang (lyric-and-song from the Germanic medieval period) featuring the viola section, the third presents a group of knights going hunting, and the fourth is an apocalyptic climax. I liked that explanation, although sometimes I just imagine majestic mountain ranges and a big cathedral with a magnificent, honking organ.

Like a magician, Danzmayr guided his forces through a number of hills and valleys in which big crescendos were often followed by astonishingly quiet diminuendos. Sometimes the sound decayed down to just a few strings and one woodwind – like Principal Flutist Martha Long – who would fashion a brief, lovely melodic line. In other quiet moments the double basses (eight of them) would create a low yawn or moan before the music would shift to another gear. Principal Timpanist Jonathan Greeney had lots of forte pummeling, but he also delivered soft murmurs during some of the quiet sections. Principal Hornist Jeff Garza and Principal Trumpeter Jeffrey Work excelled with their numerous solos. The violas created a strong cantabile sound in the second movement, and the strings, conquering line after line of unrelenting tremolos, pizzicatos, and runs were outstanding.

I love it when a world-famous soloist becomes part of the orchestra. Cellist Alban Gerhardt often did that whenever he came to town. Portland is very fortunate to have such outstanding musicians who can attract such high caliber talent into their midst. And it is a tribute to Danzmayr as well, because his conducting must also have inspired Shaham to join in the music-making.

P.S. I will be in Amsterdam for a few days in June and will hear the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra under Christian Thielemann playing Bruckner’s Eighth. I will write a review of it, for sure, maybe after a couple martinis.

Today's Birthdays

Niels Wilhelm Gade (1817-1890)
York Bowen (1884-1961)
Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963)
Joseph Kerman (1924-2014)
George Zukerman (1927-2023)
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 (1925-2022)
Ishmael Reed (1938)
Terry Eagleton (1943)

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Today's Birthdays

Carl Czerny (1791-1857)
Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
Charles Marie Widor (1844-1945)
Kenneth Alford (1881-1945)
Andres Segovia (1893-1987)
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)

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Today's Birthdays

Johann Peter Salomon (1749-1815)
Charles‑Auguste de Bériot (1802-187)
Mary Garden (1874-1967)
Vasyl Oleksandrovych Barvinsky (1888-1963
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)

Monday, February 19, 2024

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)

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Review: Oregon Symphony and Danzmayr deliver intense Beethoven and Andres

 

Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” is such a well-known, iconic work – one of the few classical works that pervades even popular culture – that it seems impossible to make it fresh and appealing – especially to a jaded music critic. But the Oregon Symphony under David Danzmayr did just that at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (February 12). Those famous first four notes were played with stirring intensity and focus – as if almost to grab listeners by the throat or at least the ears and say “listen to this!” The music that followed in the first movement had an insistent, incessant drive, bordering almost on the neurotic.

Then came the second movement with its grand majestic phrases. They decayed and decayed into delicate pianissimos that allowed listeners to hear the bassoons. It was truly magical. The third movement offered glowing horns and murky, mysterious lower strings, the blitzing fugal passage – it all surged and then dwindled down to almost nothing before gathering steam and tension and finally bursting into the gloriously triumphant fourth movement – with fireworks coming from all corners of the orchestra.

The taut orchestral sound resonated throughout entire piece. Every musician seemed to be on fire. Danzmayr, referring occasionally to a tiny score that was placed on his music stand at such a low position you would think that he would need binoculars to see the notes, urged the orchestra with spot-on gestures, and he got all sorts of stunning results – some lines, for example, had enticing crescendos and decrescendos built into them. The overall effect of the Fifth was awesome, and the audience rewarded the performance with thunderous acclamation and cheers – during which Danzmayr recognized the outstanding contributions from each section.

The main work on the first half of the concert was “The Blind Banister,” by Brooklyn-based composer Timo Andres. This piano concerto, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2016, featured Andres as the soloist, and it will be released as a CD with Andres and the Metropolis Ensemble on Nonesuch Records later this year. The piece was inspired by a poem, ‘Schubertiana,” by Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2011.

Consisting of three movements that flow as one, “The Blind Banister” started out with a tremolo-like passage for the right-hand at the keyboard. Then with his left-hand, Andres created a series of notes that cascaded down the scale. A forceful entry by the orchestra seemed to offer emotional support to the pianist who continued to explore the downward trend in various guises. After a while, both pianist and orchestra created the feeling of someone who is trying to find his/her/their way through a lot of murkiness. Slashing sounds from the orchestra, gnawing sounds, in particular, from the violins – the piece seemed to slow down and break down into a cacophony, then the piano emerges from it all, and in a refreshing upswing, dashes off with the orchestra accompanying with a fanfare of hope.

Like a lot of new works, the piece appeared to be very tricky, but the orchestra made it look easy peasy and Andres made a strong statement with his solo. Danzmayr singled out Concertmaster Sarah Kwak, Principal Trumpeter Jeffrey Work, Assistant Principal Timpanist Sergio Carreno, and the percussion section for their stellar contributions.

The concert program began with Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture. Led decisively by Danzmayr, it received a totally committed performance by the orchestra – very dynamic with penetrating blasts that contrasted wonderfully with the plaintive passages. The horns also excelled with brilliant staccatos, driving the piece to its heroic end.

Another overture or sorts, “Fate Now Conquers” by Carlos Simon, began the second half of the concert. This brief piece packed a punch with a two-note opening statement. Busy strings and a pulsating rhythm topped off by trumpet calls gave the music a lot of energy. A short melodic line from Principal Cellist Nancy Ives dissolved into the busy maelstrom of the strings, plus interjections from the trumpets. The piece concluded with a fanfare-ish ending. Given the title, I wonder if it could follow Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, because it has been associated with the idea of fate knocking at the door. So “Fate Now Conquers” would be the follow-up. Right?

In any case, readers should know that Simon has been appointed to the inaugural composer chair with the Boston Symphony. According to the press release, it is the first time that such a position has been created for the orchestra in its 143-year history.

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 (1931-2019)
George Pelecanos (1957)

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Review of PBO's Dinner with Handel in Oregon ArtsWatch

 


My review of Portland Baroque production of the witty and uplifting pasticcio opera has been published in Oregon ArtsWatch here.

Today's Birthdays

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881)
Sr. Edward German (1862-1936)
Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947)
Paul Fetler (1920-2018)
Ron Goodwin (1925-2003)
Fredrich Cerha (1926-2023)
Lee Hoiby (1926-2011)
Anner Bylsma (1944)
Karl Jenkins (1944)

and

Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904)
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.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Today's Birthdays

Charles Avison (1709-1770)
Willem Kes (1856-1934)
Selim Palmgren (1878-1951)
Maria Korchinska (1895-1979)
Alec Wilder (1907-1980)
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)