Friday, November 26, 2021

Today's Birthdays

Earl Wild (1915-2010)
Eugene Istomin (1925-2003)
Alan Stout (1932-2018)
John Sanders (1933-2003)
Craig Sheppard (1947)
Vivian Tierney (1957)
Spencer Topel (1979)

and

Eugene Ionesco (1909-1994)
Charles Schulz (1922-2000)
Marilynne Robinson (1943)

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Soloists reign supreme in Bach Cantata Choir concert

In June of 2020 the Bach Cantata Choir (of which I am a member) was supposed to have sung at Bachfest, the international festival in Leipzig, Germany. COVID-19 put the kibosh on that event, but the choir has been reinvited to participate in 2024. In the meantime, the BCC has restarted performing at Rose City Park Presbyterian with its first in-person and livestreamed concert taking place this past Sunday afternoon (November 21). The program featured mezzo Hannah Penn, soprano Vakarė Petroliūnaitė, tenor Les Green, and bass Jacob Herbert – the four soloists who were scheduled to appear with the choir in Leipzig back in 2020 – in a selection of solos and duets, plus a chorale in which all four sang. An instrumental ensemble with artistic director Ralph Nelson at the helm accompanied each piece. I heard it all online.

The concert began with Penn warming things up with a mellifluous “Bekennen will ich seinen Namen” from Bach’s Cantata 200. Green followed with “Frohe Hirten” from the “Christmas Oratorio,” conquering the treacherously high passages with elan. Next came Penn, who delivered a lovely, soul-searching “Schliesse, mein Herz.”

In the duet “Seid wachsam, ihr heiligen Wächter” from Cantata 149, Penn and Green’s voices balanced exceptionally well. Afterwards came “Liebster Jesu, mein verlangen” from Cantata 132 with heartfelt singing by Petroliūnaitė, representing the soul and Hebert as Jesus. The concert concluded with the foursome in the final chorale from that cantata.

Portland is fortunate to have a cadre of top-tier professional singers who can handle the many challenges of singing Bach, including incisive diction. I expect that they will team up with the choir in a couple of years to show an international audience in Leipzig that Bach’s music is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest.

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For readers who would like to hear the choir, it will be in full force on December 17th for the Baroque Holiday Concert. I hope to see you there.

Today's Birthdays

Franz Gruber (1785-1863)
Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991)
Virgil Thomson (1896-1989)
Paul Desmond (1924-1977)
Sir John Drummond (1934-2006)
Jean-Claude Malgoire (1940)
Håkan Hagegård (1945)
Yvonne Kenny (1950)
Gilles Cachemaille (1951)

and

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)
Helen Hooven Santmyer (1895-1986)
Lewis Thomas (1913-1993)
Murray Schisgal (1926-2020)
Shelagh Delaney (1938-2011)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1934, conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler's article "The Hindemith Case" defending Hindemith's music appears in several German newspapers. A response attacking both Hindemith and Furtwängler appears in the Nazi newspaper "Der Angriff" on November 28. Furtwängler resigns all his official German posts on December 4 and leaves Berlin for several months. On December 6 Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels denounces Hindemith as an "atonal noisemaker" during a speech at the Berlin Sport Palace.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Last-minute conductor Andrew Grams elevates Stravinsky ballet and Ehnes delivers impeccable Mozart at Oregon Symphony concert

For the second time this season, the conductor scheduled to lead the Oregon Symphony concert could not enter the United States because of visa problems. Just a few weeks ago David Danzmayr stepped in for Jun Märkl to inspire the orchestra. This time around, Andrew Grams replaced Jonathon Heyward, who also could not enter the United States from Europe where he is the Chief Conductor of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie. But Grams really saved the evening (November 20) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall because the program included Stravinsky’s “Agon,” a rarely performed ballet that could have been disastrous with a less-gifted director. In fact, Grams and the orchestra made the Stravinsky a highlight of the evening, rivaling the impeccable playing by James Ehnes of Mozart’s Fourth Violin Concerto. To top that off, Grams led the musicians in stirring performances of Kareem Roustom’s “Dabke” and Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.”

Stravinsky wrote “Agon” in the 12-tone technique, which can sound abstract, dissonant, and dry to the ears. But in Grams’ hands, “Agon” had shape and emotion that made its eccentricity fun to hear. It turns out that Grams, in his earlier career as a violinist, has played this piece numerous times. He elicited an exciting interpretation that skillfully accented the many quirky ensemble combinations, such as timpani, flutes, xylophone, trombones, and concertmaster Sarah Kwak playing in one of the movements. Another featured harp, mandolin, piano, timpani, flutes, basses, and cello. At times, the piece seemed to have an ancient, fragmentary allure, and that made me wonder how dancers would interpret it. It all flowed together so well that the audience rewarded it with sustained applause.

Ehnes, a frequent guest artist with the Oregon Symphony, delivered an elegant and inspired interpretation of Mozart’s Concerto No. 4 for violin and orchestra. Playing with impeccable clarity and control, Ehnes also gave each phrase just the right dash of salt and pepper to make the piece fresh and invigorating. It was a mesmerizing performance by a great artist who makes it all look so effortless. Enthusiastic applause and loud bravos brought Ehnes back to center stage several times, and I think that some folks wanted an encore, but they will have to wait for another engagement from the stellar Canadian virtuoso.

Digging into the rhythmic propulsion of “Dabke” by Syrian-American composer Kareem Roustom, the strings created terrific sonic textures with a Middle Eastern temperament. The violas and basses had a couple of flings with thrumming, thematic lines that jolted the piece forward. I loved the quick, sliding sounds and the intense pizzicato passages. Kwak and the principal strings deftly showed their expertise in several exposed sections, and the piece came across in stunning fashion, resulting in vigorous and loud acclaim from all corners of the hall.

The concert closed with a superb performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.” Highlights included the swirling, chaotic sounds of the fight scene, and the lush, romantic melody that soared with passion before descending into sadness – with the cellos and basses and finally the last heartbeats from the timpani signaling the lovers’ deaths. It was breathtaking to hear and concertgoers again responded with heartfelt acclamation.

Unsung hero

For his work behind the scenes, Charles Calmer, the orchestra’s vice president for artistic planning, deserves high praise. With only a four-day notice to find a conductor to replace Heyward, Calmer fortunately contacted Grams, who knew the Stravinsky piece forwards and backwards and led the hometown band in another exceptional concert. But with the pandemic still causing problems in Europe, it looks like Calmer will have to be at the ready in the New Year for more last-minute replacements. Hmmm.... maybe we will see Grams, who was until recently the music director of the Elgin Symphony, in the very near future.

Today's Birthdays

Scott Joplin (1868-1917)
Willie ("The Lion") Smith (1897-1973)
Norman Walker (1907-1963)
Erik Bergman (1911-2006)
Emma Lou Diemer (1927)
Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998)
Maria Chiara (1939)
Chinary Ung (1942)
Tod Machover (1953)
Jouni Kaipainen (1956)
Edgar Meyer (1960)
Angelika Kirchschlager (1965)

and

Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677)
Laurence Sterne (1713-1768)
Margaret Anderson (1886-1973)
Dorothy Butler Gilliam (1936)
Nuruddin Farah (1945)
Arundhati Roy (1961)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1850, the legendary soprano Adelina Patti makes her operatic debut at age 16 in New York City, singing in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Today's Birthdays

Pierre Du Mage (1674-1751)
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
André Caplet (1878-1925)
Guy Reginald Bolton (1884-1979)
Jerry Bock (1928-2010)
Vigen Derderian (1929-2003)
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933)
Ludovico Einaudi (1955)
Thomas Zehetmair (1961)
Nicolas Bacri (1961)
Ed Harsh (1962)

and

Nirad C. Chaudhuri (1897-1999)
Paul Celan (1920-1950)
Jennifer Michael Hecht (1965)

and from the Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1889, the first jukebox was unveiled in a saloon in San Francisco. It was invented by Louis Glass, who had earlier worked as a telegraph operator for Western Union and then co-founded the Pacific Phonographic Company. He was fascinated by the phonograph technology and saw a market for charging people to listen to them, since phonographs were still too expensive to buy for your own home. He installed the machine in the Palais Royal saloon simply because he knew the owner and it was close to his house, so he didn’t have to carry the machine very far.

The word “jukebox” wasn’t invented until the 1920s. Glass called his machine the “nickel-in-the-slot phonograph,” since you had to pay a nickel to hear a song play. In today’s money, a nickel was about $1.27 at the time. The first machine had four different stethoscopes attached to it that functioned as headphones. Each pair of headphones had to be activated by putting in a nickel, and then several people could listen to the same song at once. There were towels left by each listening device so people could wipe them off after using. As part of his agreement with the saloonkeepers, at the end of each song, the machine told the listener to “go over to the bar and buy a drink.”

His phonograph was a huge hit and, at a conference in Chicago, Glass told his competitors that his first 15 machines brought in over $4,000 in six months. This led to other manufacturers making their own machines. Shortly after, Thomas Edison designed a phonograph people could buy for their homes, which also cut into the market. Glass’s invention eventually made the player piano obsolete, and competitors updated the jukebox with new technologies from record players to CDs. Now there is such a thing as a digital jukebox, but they never really caught on, since they come with the size and expense of a regular jukebox, without any of the charm of flipping through the records and watching the moving parts of the machine.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Today's Birthdays

Frantisek Benda (1709-1786)
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784)
Conradin Kreutzer (1780-1849)
Edgard Varèse (1883-1965)
Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981)
Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Gunther Schuller (1925-2015)
Jimmy Knepper (1927-2003)
Hans Zender (1936-2019)
Kent Nagano (1951)
Stephen Hough (1961)
Sumi Jo (1962)

and

George Eliot (1819-1880)
André Gide (1869-1951)
Winfred Rembert (1945-2021)

And from The Writer's Almanac:

It’s the feast day of Saint Cecilia, who was the patron saint of musicians because she sang to God as she died a martyr’s death. She was born to a noble family in Rome near the end of the second century A.D.

It wasn’t really until the 1400s that people really began to celebrate her widely as the patron saint of music. Then, in the 1500s, people in Normandy held a large musical festival to honor her, and the trend made its way to England in the next century. Henry Purcell composed celebratory odes to honor her, and the painter Raphael created a piece called “The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia.” Chaucer wrote about her in the Second Nonnes Tale, and Handel composed a score for a famous ode to her that John Dryden had written.

Today, Saint Cecilia is often commemorated in paintings and on stained glass windows as sitting at an organ.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Today's Birthdays

Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909)
Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933)
Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969)
Bernard Lagacé (1930)
Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003)
James DePreist (1936-2013)
Idil Biret (1941)
Vinson Cole (1950)
Kyle Gann (1955)
Stewart Wallace (1960)
Björk (1965)

and

Voltare (1694-1778)
Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944)
Mary Johnston (1870-1936)
René Magritte (1898-1967)
Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991)
Marilyn French (1929-2009)
Tina Howe (1937)

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Today's Birthdays

Edmond Dédé (1827-1903)
Daniel Gregory Mason (1873-1953)
René Kolo (1937)
Gary Karr (1941)
Meredith Monk (1942)
Phillip Kent Bimstein (1947)
Barbara Hendricks (1948)

and

Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014)
Maya Plisetskaya (1925-2015)
R.W. Apple Jr. (1934-2006)
Don DeLillo (1936)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1805, Beethoven's opera "Fidelio" (1st version, with the "Leonore" Overture No. 2) was premiered in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien.