Monday, December 31, 2007

Year end thoughts...

I've really enjoyed writing Northwest Reverb since my first posting in February. I'm happy to report that the blog is now attracting just a hair under 900 visits a month.

I'd love to devote more time to the blog, because there's so much superb music-making underway in Portland and the Pacific Northwest, but I have to be careful about how much time I spend blogging.

Besides all of the wonderful concerts by established groups, it's really great when people like Charles Noble and Bob Priest put together their own concerts, because these kind of under-the-radar events energize very lively, responsive audiences. I hope to attend more of these performances in 2008.

With best wishes for a Happy New Year!

- James

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Willamette University flute instructor Molly Barth nominated for Grammy Award

Willamette University flute instructor Molly Barth was a member of Eighth Blackbird, whose recording Strange Imaginary Animals has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Chamber Music Category (Category 104). I briefly talked with Barth, and she confirmed that her playing is in this recording, which was completed before she took the job a Willamette University.

Barth has impressive credentials, including 4 CDs with Cedille Records, the 2000 Naumburg Chamber Music Award, the 1998, 2000 and 2002 CMA/ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming, first prize at the 1998 Concert Artists Guild International Competition, the 1998 Coleman Chamber Music Competition, and 1996 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. You can read more about this on her Willamette University faculty page. I heard Barth play with the Fear No Music ensemble in their November concert, and her performance was excellent.

Overall, eight blackbird has been nominated for 3 Grammys:

Category 104: Best Chamber Music Performance - strange imaginary animals
Category 107: Best Classical Contemporary Composition - Jennifer Higdon, Zaka
Category 97: Best Producer of the Year, Classical - Judith Sherman

The Grammy winners will be announced on February 10th. We'll see if Eighth Blackbird makes a sweep!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What's in a name?

On Friday evening, I heard the Portland Baroque Orchestra's concert with Cappella Romana as the chorus. But only LeaAnne DenBeste and a couple other people in the chorus normally sing with Cappella Romana. In fact, none of the core Cappella Romana men (including Mark Powell who also serves on the administrative staff of Cappella Romana and on the staff of PBO) sang in this concert or the concert series (four performances). So why bother to call the vocal ensemble Cappella Romana?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bob Priest's letter regarding Elliott Carter in New York Times

Composer Bob Priest has been on a letter-writing spree lately. His letter about Elliott Carter's music appeared on page 40 of Sunday's New York Times Arts and Leisure section. BP has allowed me to reprint it here:

From: Bob Priest
Date: December 10, 2007 4:01:27 PM PST
Subject: Elliott Carter

I am thrilled that Elliott Carter is still alive and continuing to compose. I have admired and learned much from his scores over the past 35 years. His craft is impeccable. Unfortunately, I generally can't bear listening to his actual music. I have struggled mightily in the past with this dichotomy. Now, I've made peace with the fact that Carter's music "speaks" to me through my mind - not my ear.

Bob Priest
Portland, Oregon

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Composer Bob Priest registers his thoughts about Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony

Portland-based composer Bob Priest wrote the following letter to the New York Times regarding the turmoil with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony. He has allowed me to print his letter in Northwest Reverb. So here it is:

From: Bob Priest
Date: December 17, 2007 12:54:08 AM PST
Subject: "Gerry's" Seattle Symphony

I lived in Seattle for 11 years and worked with the Seattle Symphony on several projects ( "Penderecki Week" - 1988, and the Seattle Spring Festival of New Music and World Arts - 1992 with Toru Takemitsu as composer-in-residence). During this time, I established some fleeting "friendships" with a few key symphony principle players. While these fine artists rarely had anything positive to say about Schwarz, my personal experience with the "maestro" was relatively problem free. He was quite kind and supportive of my/our new music projects in a distant sort of way.

However, after reading your recent article about the intense bickering, politics and divisive gamesmanship surrounding Gerry's ongoing tenure with the band, it is abundantly clear that "The Ger" (as some have appelled him) should step down and move on . . . What I experienced first-hand and have recently read underlines the FACT that the present situation is far from being optimally conducive to trusting, sympathetic and forward driving music making. When "politics" assert their nastiness to this degree, anything other than a "regime change" merely prolongs the death throes of what is essentially the rotting corpse of a done deal.

Bob Priest
Marzena Performance Ensemble

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Assistant conductor shines in Wintersong concerts

I thought that Anna Song did a terrific job, conducting the Portland Symphonic Choir in its Wintersong! concerts over the weekend. She seemed to be a little wound up for the first concert on Saturday evening, but she really looked relaxed and very expressive during the concert on Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed singing in both concerts and will look forward to singing under Anna's direction again.

Kudos also to the women of the choir and accompanist Douglas Schneider in an Caldwell/Ivory arrangement of "Go Where I Send Thee." Ace soprano Cameron Griffith Herbert took over direction for this piece and led a Lights Out performance!

Also, a wonderful highlight was Gretchen Corbett's superb narration. Corbett put everything into her delivery. I especially liked her rendition of Barbara Robinson's "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

Seattle Symphony commentary

The Seattle P-I ran the entire New York Times article about the Seattle Symphony's problems on its front page yesterday. And you can read a lively commentary from readers here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Anna Song to the rescue!

Steven Zopfi, artistic director of the Portland Symphonic Choir, won't be able to conduct the choir's concerts this weekend. Zopfi is attending to family matters on the East Coast because his father just passed away. Fortunately for the choir (of which I am a member), we have a very talented assistant director, Anna Song, who will direct the pieces (except for a couple of them). Song has a BA in composition from UCLA and an MM in conducting from the School of Music and the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University. She has conducted the choir in several pieces before, but this will be her first time to lead an entire program. So that will add a bit more excitement to the concert.

The program includes traditional Christmas carols, a Hanukah piece entitled “Aleih Neiri” (“Rise Up, My Light”), a Kwanzaa song called “Harambee” (“Call to Unity”), and the Ukranian folksong “Shcedrik,” which is popularly known as the “Carol of the Bells.” The choir will also perform a suite of songs called “Native American Ambiances,” which was written by Jackson Berkey, one of the members of Mannheim Steamroller. Berkey combined texts from American Indians with flute, pre-recorded percussion and environmental sounds (wolves, rivers and other nature sounds) to create a thought-provoking atmosphere. On the humorous side, we'll sing PDQ Bach's "Good King Kong Looked Out," and in a nod to the gospel genre, the women of the choir will perform "Go Where I Send Thee." That's not all of the numbers, but that's all that I have time now to mention. For more information about the concert, see See you at the concert!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Carl Herko - new PR guy at the Oregon Symphony

It's not often that the new PR person at the Oregon Symphony is greeted with fanfare, but that's what it feels like from my perspective. I received an email announcement from Elaine Calder that Herko is the point person for the Symphony's publicity. Herko has a strong background in journalism (as David Stabler notes in his blog), and it will be very interesting to see what Herko will do to help advance the cause of the orchestra.

Herko's official title is Vice President, Media & Public Relations or VPMPR for short. He has lived in Buffalo, NY for decades, but he moved to the Northwest a couple of years ago. I'm looking forward to meeting him and finding out his perspective on the orchestra.

As an additional note, I like how Elaine Calder comes out before the orchestra concerts begin to welcome everyone and introduce the orchestra. Calder's personality comes across as genuine and likable, and I've heard good comments in the audience.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Suggestion for next year's Comfort and Joy

KBPS has put together a fine holiday CD called "Comfort and Joy" that has been a popular gift for listeners who have donated to the station over the past month or so. Staff members made the selections, which number 20 and begin and end with two from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker." Next year, KBPS should look into making selections from local groups. I would think that the Oregon Repertory Singers, the Portland Symphonic Choir, the David York Ensemble, the Columbia Symphony, and many other ensembles in town would love to donate the performance of at least one seasonal tune to a recording that would be very appreciated by KBPS's listeners and would generate interest in the concerts for those groups during the holidays and beyond.

PR changes at the Oregon Symphony

Besides Michael Kosmala's exit, I received news that Allison Griffin, public relations associate at the Oregon Symphony, has recently left the mother ship. In her email, Griffin didn't say that she was laid off, but that's the way it looks. When I find out who the new PR people at the Symphony will be, I'll post it here.

Great coffee deal

Caffe D'arte is offer a pound of coffee free with every pound that you purchase at their new store in NE Portland. I just tasted their Velletri blend, and it's fantastic - very smooth and rich tasting. So, for $14, you can get another pound of coffee for free! I think that this deal extend only through the end of the month.

Caffe D'arte has taken over the spot where Torrefazione used to be in NE 15th between Weidler and Broadway. Try it out! Here's the company's main web site.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Reviews now also in Seen and Heard

Many of my reviews will now be published also on MusicWeb International's "Seen and Heard." You can find recent Oregon Symphony review here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Review of the Oregon Symphony's Italian concert

The Oregon Symphony transported us to Italy, performing Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” Edward Elgar’s “In the South,” and Hector Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival Overture.” I attended the concert on Sunday night (December 2nd), and was treated to an outstanding concert by the orchestra and its guest soloist Eilina Vähälä. Here's my take on what I heard.

Pared down to a lean chamber ensemble of 21, the orchestra delivered a remarkably expressive and crisp rendition of Vivaldi's gem with the beautiful, Finnish violinist Eilina Vähälä as the soloist. Vähälä performed with impeccable, breath-taking control and dynamics that made this piece come alive as if it had never been played before. Accompanying her with the utmost attention to subtle nuances, the orchestra blended perfectly in support of Vähälä artistry, and together they created convincing tableaux of bucolic landscapes in their seasonal guises.

Artistic director Carlos Kalmar led with his hand rather than with a baton, which worked to keep the music soft, such as when the shepherd slept and a dog barked in the background. The slashing rainfall during the summer thunderstorm and the icy winter storm was thrilling as the sound raked the stage. Vähälä and the ensemble wonderfully evoked the peasant’s dance, hunting scene, and other summer pleasures before slipping away into the bitter chill of winter. Harpsichordist Sue Jensen and principal cellist Nancy Ives played superbly throughout.

Vähälä made a terrific case for herself as a violinist to be reckoned with. I hope that she will return to Portland to inspire us again.

I didn’t care for Les Sarnoff’s style of narration of the accompanying sonnets. His voice was pleasant but too avuncular, so all of the words seemed to be coated with sugar.

The second half of the program began with a brilliant sweep of sound that introduces Elgar’s "In the South." Sometimes this part of the piece makes me think that it had been written by Richard Strauss, but Elgar takes us down a path that is entirely his own. The orchestra wielded a generous palate of colors and painted a rich and varried soundscape.

At one point, melancholic and lyrical passages faded away before the orchestra threw itself into big blocks of sound. I thought of a giant walking across a valley floor, but apparently Elgar meant this passage to convey ancient, warlike, Roman troops as described in a poem by Tennyson. In any case, the masculine theme rumbled off into the distance, and we are left to wander in a daze until the strings picked us up and escorted us onward.

Principal violist Joël Belgique’s solo in the third section was exquisite, and the violins added a nice layer of sweetness. Overall, this piece showed a lot of exciting energy and drive. The woodwind and brass, especially principal French horn John Cox and principal clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao, played outstandingly from beginning to end.

I would normally think of opening the concert with the “Roman Carnival Overture” by Berlioz, but by concluding the program with this piece, Kalmar and company convincingly capped off the evening with a shower of sonic fireworks. Harris Orem played the English horn solo with pure, plaintive beauty. I also enjoyed how principal flutist David Buck and principal oboist Martin Hebert finished each other's conversations seamlessly. Also, contrasts between the quiet, thoughtful passages and the festive eruptions were marvelous. The audience in the Schnitz, which seemed to be close to 90 percent full, soaked up the final chords with gusto.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Nordstrom pianists moving onward...

Earlier today I talked with Dave Lee the fellow pictured in the Oregonian article about the termination of pianists in their stores. That's an old photo. Two years have passed since the last time Lee played in Nordstrom. He's gone onto other, more lucrative gigs. (The $15 an hour at Nordy's was a pretty sad wage.) The archived picture photo that The Oregonian used has created wonderful publicity for Lee. In the meantime, he said that we should watch for another department store that is going to feature pianists. Would that be the store that starts with M...?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Financial restrictions mean no subs for the Oregon Symphony

One of the ways that the Oregon Symphony is conserving money involves restricting how many substitutes can be hired. One of the orchestra members told me that no subs could be hired for the last few concerts and for the near future. For the upcoming Vivaldi concert, no subs will be required because a chamber orchestra will probably be used for the "Four Seasons." But I have noticed that for the last several concerts, the orchestra (in terms on numbers on stage) looked pretty lean. On the one hand, no subs means that the orchestra members will play a little louder in the passages that require more volume. On the other had, I have to admit the some of the pianissimos in the last concerts were whisper-like quiet. I really liked that because the contrasts with the fortissimos were really large and more interesting that ever.

So, it seems that the no subs ruling is working. The orchestra is saving money and the sound hasn't been compromised. Of course, for the Mahler in April and the Orff in May, some subs are going to be needed.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christmas concert roundup

I published a piece about upcoming Christmas concerts in the Portland-metro area on livePDX here. It's doesn't cover all of the concerts, but if you haven't already planned which concerts you want to attend then this is a good place to start.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oregon Symphony - Sibelius, Haydn, and Beethoven review

On Sunday evening, I attended the Oregon Symphony concert that offered Sibelius' Symphony No. 6 in D minor, Haydn's Concerto for Cello No. 2 in D major, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 and F major. The Schnitz seemed to be about 85 percent full; so Portland audience really responded well to this program selection or Ralph Kirshbaum, the featured cellist for the Haydn, really pulled in some of the Chamber Music Northwest crowd. (Kirshbaum has been a regular artist at CMNW's concerts for many years.)

Yet despite the strong program (with the first OSO performance of the Sibelius 6th) and the wonderful guest soloist, I thought that the very guest conductor, Hannu Lintu, stole the show with his very animated and unusual conducting style. (Read Charles Noble's blog for an explanation of the poetic conducting style vs. the scientific conducting style.)

Lintu is a very tall, lanky fellow with (at least on the surface) a dry, typically Finnish speaking style (business-like). He spoke to the audience and told us how everyone thinks that Sibelius' 6th Symphony deals with nature. Yet Sibelius never took walks in the forest or hugged trees. He did occasionally pace around his house while wearing a dark suit. Instead, Lintu said that this symphony is a portrait of "Sibelius' inner landscape" which was full of conflict at a time when he wanted to continue writing Romantic music despite the brusque treatment he was receiving from Schoenberg-influenced composers.

The first movement of the symphony was filled with a buoyant feelings of hope and cheerfulness. I heard lots of great woodwind combinations that are so common in Sibelius' music and there were swells in the sound that are uniquely his style. But that all shifted in the second movement when we heard all sorts of interesting combinations of sounds yet it ended like an incomplete thought. The third movement brought back some of the exiting exchanges in volume. Sometimes the strings would begin an agitated passage that would then fall back to a more relaxed and expansive idea. I recall hearing some terrific articulation in the lower strings. I didn't grasp the final movement well at all except to note that it ended quietly.

Throughout the piece the orchestra played really well. I was watching Lintu alternate between a clear beat to some very expansive, atypical gestures, like sweeping from side to side. I sort of remembered that the last time he directed the symphony (in 2004), he did some of the same thing.

Ralph Kirshbaum gave the Haydn Second Cello Concerto a beautiful interpretation. His tone was lovely and he made the difficult stuff look easy. The gorgeous second movement was wonderfully supported by the orchestra, which played as quietly as I have ever heard. I can also say that the audience really paid attention during this time. I heard no coughing or other kinds of disturbances in the balcony during the entire movement. Everyone seemed to enjoy the rich, warm, and playful nature of the third movement and responded to the piece with great appreciation.

After intermission, the orchestra returned to play Beethoven's 8th Symphony, and this is when the reserved Finn became something more akin to a poet or a wild man. After starting everyone at the beginning of each movement he seemed to abandon any type of beat that you could discern and instead went for the emotive, impassioned, expansive style of stick work in which you do anything you can to get the sound you want. I saw Lintu shaking the baton for several bars at the violas. I saw him swish around from side to side. He showed all sorts of exaggerated gestures that would be hard to catalog unless you watched on a video replay several times. And what he did got great results. The starts and stops were impeccable. The humor in the second movement was whimsical. The cellos, clarinets, and horns in the third movement were outstanding. The con brio tempo, sharp attacks, and crisp entrances in the fourth movement was scintillating! Wow! It was a memorable concert.

PS: I recall seeing Klaus Tennstedt conduct the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood many years ago in Beethoven's 5th. Tennstedt rarely raised the baton to a high enough level for the orchestra to see. Instead, he would sort of lunge at the orchestra as if he was going to skewer them. Whatever he did got tremendous results from the players and the audience ate it up.

Fear No Folk Song

Fear No Music, an intrepid group of musicians who date to inject contemporary works into Portland’s musical consciousness, presented its first concert of the season on Sunday afternoon. The crowd inside The Old Church numbered around 75 or so, but everyone eagerly anticipated new sounds that most had probably never heard before.

The program, entitled, “Folk Song” started with Mathew Burtner’s “Mists,” a piece for computer generated noise and a “stone trio.” The electronic sounds made me think of a misty ocean and waves of water splashing on the shore, spraying everyone with a fine mist. The “stone trio” consisted of three players who held stones and smacked them next to microphones position at three stations around the audience. As the mist condensed it would cause droplets of water to randomly fall. (The stone trio consitsted of Inés Voglar, Phillip Patti, and Joel Bluestone.)

The piece had a meditative quality, but I’m not sure what it had to do with folk songs. Because it was drizzling rain outside, it felt at times as if we had brought the rain inside. Joël Belgique directed the timing of this piece by looking at something on a computer screen and another set of information written on paper. He would use his hands to signal the players at a certain junctures in the score. In a way, he was like a semaphore, and that gave this tranquil piece a bit of suspense.

In any case, “Mists” segued nicely to the next piece entitled “Kuyas” by Harry Somers, a Canadian composer who used a Canadian Amateur Hockey Association scholarship to study composition with Darius Milhaud in Paris (from 1949 to 1950).

“Kuyas” consists of texts taken from an Indian tribe in British Columbia. This music lamented the life of hunting and a way of life that this tribe had to give up. Soprano Janice Johnson sang ardently and filled the room with anguish. Some of the sounds she made mimicked the howl of a wolf. Flutist Molly Barth and percussionists Patti and Bluestone added to the plaintive atmosphere with their accompaniment.

Next came Reza Vali's "Folk Songs Set No. 11b" for string quartet in two movements: Lament and Folk Dance. Vali is from Iran and now teaches music at Carnegie Mellon University. His Lament was very heartrending. Cellist Adam Esbensen played outstandingly. The cello part is extremely emotive and technically difficult, requiring the soloist to negotiate a minefield of leaps and filigree. Esbensen wrung out every last drop with artistry, connecting us with a wail of despair and regret. I thought that if the concert ended right here, I was satisfied. I had truth and beauty even if it's a sad truth and beauty. Well, the second movement, Folk Dance, moved everyone ahead with rhythmic drive that reminded me of a barn dance. Violinists Erin Furbee and Inés Voglar, and violist Belgique teamed up with Esbensen to get our toes tapping again.

The FNM string quartet (Furbee, Voglar, Belgique, and Esbensen) followed this piece with four excerpts from Adam's "John's Book of Alleged Dances." The four excerpts were "Judah to Ocean," "Dogjam," "Habanera," and "Toot Nipple." I thought the recorded percussion track overwhelmed the strings in the "Habanera," especially when they performed the pizzicati passages. I enjoyed the singsong style of "Judah to Ocean" and the rock and roll undercurrent of "Dogjam," and though they are brief dances I wanted to hear more.

The last work on the program was Luciano Berio's "Folk Songs" in the version that he set for voice and seven instruments. Janice Johnson expressed the eleven different songs wonderfully. She easily negotiated the eight different languages/dialects that Berio used in this piece. It always strikes me how fierce and almost angry the Sicilian song "A la femminisca" ("May the Lord Send Fine Weather...") sounds every time I hear it, and the "Azerbaijani Love Song" was full of joy.

Berio wrote a lot of unusual instrumentation for these songs. I loved how "I wonder as I wander" ended with flute and clarinet making a melancholy statement (played superbly by Barth and clarinetist Todd Kuhns). The ensemble (Barth, Kuhns, Belgique, Esbensen, Bluestone, Patti, and harpist Jennifer Craig) played at a very high level, but, with only seven instruments, the overall sound was very spare when compared to the full orchestra version that I heard the Oregon Symphony do a month or so ago.

Aside: Janice Johnson and Joel Bluestone wore identical-looking footbraces, and it made me wonder if they were snowboarding at the same time or what?

Egarr lights up Portland Baroque’s Haydn and Mozart

I’ve heard that Richard Egarr is good, but that’s an understatement. He’s fantastic! I got to see and hear him direct the Portland Baroque Orchestra in a concert of music by Mozart and Haydn at the First Baptist Church on Saturday evening, and it was amazing. Actually, Egarr took on the player/coach role, directing the orchestra and playing the fortepiano at the same time. How he weaves and bobs while hunched over the keyboard in order to direct was entertaining in itself. But the way he arches his eyebrows and stares at the violin one moment and the cellos at the next was even more impressive, because he seemed to be challenging the orchestra to stay up with him.

In introducing Mozart’s Symphony No. 1, which the Wolfgang wrote when he was 8 years old, Egarr said, “Put yourself in his father’s shoes.” He left us musing over how we would handle a son who was genius, when he and the orchestra launched into the music. The strings were fleet and the tempi very brisk. The presto of the third movement danced marvelously, and Egarr’s directions were crisp.

Haydn’s Piano Concerto was also a delight to hear. The sound from Egarr and the orchestra was lively and engaging. They also excelled at decrescendos and changing the pace of music. In the second movement, Egarr and forces and a great way of almost staggering the rhythm – slowing down and speeding up and then slowing down again – all of which kept me on edge, wondering what would happen next.

I could say much the same kind of thing for the orchestra’s playing of Mozart’s Quintet for Fortepiano and Winds. However, with so few instrumentalists, the sound of the fortepiano had more presence. Egarr showed a superb touch throughout the piece, dazzling us with fine nuances. The four winds instrumentalists were splendid, but oboist Gonzalo Ruiz went the extra mile in a terrific performance.

The concert ended with Haydn’s Symphony No. 44 (“Trauer”), and it was filled with all sorts of sudden variations in volume and tempi. The violins really got into the fast lane at one point, but they had no problem transitioning into a slower tempo, showing great control the entire way. Egarr placed a micro copy of the score on the fortepiano, and it was a wonder that he could see the itty-bitty notation, but it seems as if nothing can stop this fellow from making great music. I should add that the orchestra was outstanding when they went from a jagged and jarring sound to a sudden liquid smooth sound.

Egarr sat on a couple of cushions while playing, so that his knees could reach the pedals (or levers). The fortepiano had two pedals (one for sustaining and the other to soften the sound, I think) located just under the keyboard, so he would raise one knee or the other to activate the pedal he wanted. The fortepiano was a 1986 creation based on an 1805 instrument, and it looked like a toy piano because it was so small in comparison to today’s concert grand.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Columbia Symphony performs Mozart and Elgar

I enjoyed seeing the large audience at Columbia Symphony's second concert of the season on Friday evening at First United Methodist Church. In particular, Portland's Asian community (including a lot of kids) made up a hefty portion of an audience that appeared to be well over 500. The strong Asian turnout was due to Mighten Yip, a teenager who is consider one of the best young pianists in the Pacific Northwest. Yip played Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9. in the first half of the program. Elgar's Symphony No. 1 filled the second half.

Playing from memory, the 14-year-old Yip gave an technically accurate performance of the piano concerto that Mozart wrote in 1777 at the ripe age of 21. Yip kept the phrasing elegant throughout the concerto and he was especially graceful in his transitions to softer and lighter passages, but he needed some more flair to make the piece more exciting. Everything was in the medium to very soft range. More variation in loudness and tempi would have helped a lot.

The orchestra supported Yip very well and were careful not to overwhelm him. There seemed to be some intonation problems in the first and second movements, but they were minor. It was impressive to watch this young fellow play the entire concerto, and it will be interesting to see how his career develops. Since Yip has taken master classes from Benedetto Lupo, Paul Roberts, and other outstanding pianists, we will be hearing him again.

The audience thinned out a little bit after intermission, but I was impressed that the vast majority stayed to hear the rarely performed symphony by Elgar. I liked the stately beginning (the "nobilmente" theme), which made me imagine walking and surveying the English country-side and making a grand gesture now and then in a regal sort of way. The orchestra displayed some terrific swells in volume that were impressive. I also enjoyed several excellent, sudden diminuendos from the orchestra in general in the first movement as well as a lyrical lightness in the violins during the second theme of the first movement.

The contrast between brusque, agitated marches contrasted well with more lyrical themes throughout the piece. The principal clarinetist Carolyn Arnquist had many fine moments, and the brass shone with a very polished tone. Concertmster Dawn Carter also put a lot of expression into several brief solos. Huw Edwards directed the work from memory, and the orchestra made sure that the crescendos near the finale crashed mightily like waves against a rocky cliff. The piece concluded with a demonstrative slap, and the audience reacted with enthusiasm.

More on the Cascade Music Festival announcement

I thought it curious that The Oregonian ran an article announcing that James DePreist would take over the Cascade Festival of Music, a popular 7-day music festival that occurs every August. But the article didn't have a byline. I looked at the Cascade Festival web site and at James DePreist's web site to find some kind of confirmation of this announcement, but I found nothing at all. A quick conversation with Kathleen Cody, executive director of the Cascade Festival of Music, revealed that The Oregonian account was a reprint of an article that first ran in the Bend Bulletin on November 10th. Cody said that the festival and DePreist's agent are engaged in discussions. I asked what happened to Murry Sidlin. She replied that he has run the festival for 13 years and has really built it up. Since she is new to the festival, she said she didn't know why Sidlin wanted to retire from it. In any case, everyone is excited to have DePreist in the wings.

Since DePreist uses a special wheelchair to conduct, I wondered how he would get to the stage. Cody replied that DePreist has a special podium that they may use, and if it isn't available, they will build a special one for him. She also noted that this would get the festival to be ADA compliant for the stage and they will upgrade the restrooms as well.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sharing artists and audiences

This weekend Ralph Kirshbaum will be performing for the first time with the Oregon Symphony. Kirshbaum has been a regular at Chamber Music Northwest for a number of years, and I would think that a number of Chamber Music Northwest subscribers might want to hear the Oregon Symphony this weekend because of Kirshbaum.

It's terrific to see major-league artists appearing in concerts that are sponsored by different organizations. Once in a while I've seen this happen with pianists who play on the series with Portland Piano International and also with the Oregon Symphony. Usually, this doesn't happen during the same season.

Of course, I don't want the same people to circulate among these organizations all the time, but some crossover or sharing among the groups is a good way to get stimulate audiences.

I have also enjoyed how Portland Opera has promoted hometown talents. Christine Meadows, who graduated from Portland State University was a regular at NY City opera and at Portland Opera for many years. We've also seen PSU grads like Kelly Nassief and Angela Niederloh star in recent productions. I just took a look at Clayton Brainerd's web site (he also graduated from PSU) and noticed that he will be appearing next year in Portland Opera's production of Fidelio. A great move by Portland Opera.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Northwest Reverb stats

You may be wondering how many people actually take a look at Northwest Reverb. I've been running some analytics on the site (free software from Google) and have found out that Northwest Reverb has been getting an average of 800 visits a month from 500 different visitors (from around the world though the majority are from Oregon and Washington). I think that these are pretty good numbers for a blog that started in February and hasn't advertised anywhere.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Vancouver Symphony (WA) announces scholarships for winners of young adult competition

Winners of the the Vancouver Symphony's young adult competition can now take home $1,500 and receive the opportunity of performing with this symphony. VSO president Ceila Gesting announced the new scholarships (for three categories) at the VSO concerts this weekend. I mentioned announcement in my review of the concert for The Columbian newspaper. Because of these new monetary awards, I suspect that the competition will be pretty fierce this year. Contact the Vancouver Symphony for the details.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Gregory Vajda conducts the Santa Rosa Symphony

This weekend, Gregory Vajda, the resident conductor of the Oregon Symphony, is leading the Santa Rosa Symphony in a program that features the music of Pierre Jalbert, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein. Here's a link to the concert.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Empty seats at LA Phil concerts, too

In the San Francisco Classical Voice, reviewer Lisa Hirsch writes of some recent Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts that centered on the music of Sibelius. The concert series was entitled "Sibelius Unbound," and Esa-Pekka Salonen led the orchestra. At the end of the review, Hirsch states:

"I wish I could report that this great series sold out, but I saw a surprising number of empty seats at each of the “Sibelius Unbound” concerts. A top-notch orchestra and conductor, beautiful music performed in a great concert hall — what more could an audience want?"

So, even the vaunted LA Phil, with an outstanding, popular conductor, and a celebrated new hall has trouble selling tickets.

For the complete article, click here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Some more ideas for the Oregon Symphony

I'm late in getting to the table regarding the discussion about Oregon Symphony that was ignited by the article in Crosscut. I would've commented earlier, but I've been ultra-busy lately. I have a regular job (technical writing in the software industry) and a number of other obligations that get in the way of my blogging.

One of the good ides that has bubbled up involves getting the orchestra members out into the neighborhoods. Chamber music ensembles from the Symphony could perform concerts at churches and other venues. One of my friends recently received a season brochure from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, announcing that the BSO musicians are doing just that. I know that some of the OSO musicians have discussed this topic, so it's time to act. These kinds of concerts would give a people a chance to talk with orchestra members after the concert and a chance for the musicians to personally invite people to attend concerts at the Schnitz. I know that not all musicians are the meet and greet types, but you only need a couple in the group to make it a smooth effort.

I wrote profiles of four OSO musicians for a local newspaper last February. It would've been better if I could've mentioned an upcoming concert at neighborhood church where the foursome would be playing, but that wasn't the case.

To shake down some big bucks, the OSO could approach people like Phil Knight with the idea of creating and performing a new theme song for Nike. That is, the orchestra would hire a composer to write some kind of light fanfare music for the company and perform it. This theme music could then be used by the company at their events, marketing stuff, etc. It could also be reduced down to a simple phrase to be used as a ringtone (for cell phones). Company issued cell phones and employees who want the company ring tone on their phones could then use the company theme. This could also be done for universities like the U of O, OSU, or PSU. I don't know how much a company would pay for this, but maybe the orchestra could get $200,000 for each theme song. Universities might want to cut a deal in which they would offer one of their faculty to compose the piece...

Under James DePreist the orchestra got to do the theme song for the Bill Cosby show and that caused a big splash locally. So a company or university theme song (let's say for commencement) might work well.

Regarding Carlos Kalmar and how much time he spends here. If you go back to the period of 1925 to 1938, the Portland Symphony Orchestra (as the Oregon Symphony was known then) was led by Willem van Hoogstraten, a Dutch violinist and conductor with an international reputation who really elevated the orchestra. In fact, the orchestra was featured on several national broadcasts during his tenure here.

According to Glenn Reeves, a retired principal violist of the OSO, Hoogstraten never bought a home in Portland. When Hoogstraten was in town, he rented rooms at the Congress Hotel (the Congress Center office tower now occupies that site). Reeves, as an 18 year old, auditioned at Hoogstraten's residence in the Congress Hotel (and won the job). Portland audiences in the days of yore were very happy with its globe-trotting conductor, because he added prestige. And like Kalmar in Chicago, Hoogstraten conducted the New York Symphony-Philharmonic during its summer series at Lewisohn Stadium on the campus of the City College of New York.

When DePreist arrived on the scene he kept his gig at the Quebec Symphony for a short while, but he did make his home base in Portland. It didn't take long for DePreist to develop an international reputation, and each time he conducted a European orchestra or a major league American orchestra, that fact was celebrated locally. He was counted as own of Portland's own. It's not too late to make the same happen for Kalmar. Kalmar is a thoughtful and engaging personality, and he can resonate with Portlanders. I interviewed him (for this blog) at the beginning of this season, and I hope to interview him after the new year.

PS: I interviewed Reeves (at his home in Tacoma) several years ago about his time with the Oregon Symphony. He is the only person to have played for all of the conductors of the orchestra up to and including DePreist. Reeves didn't play for Denton when Denton conducted the Portland Symphony. He played for Denton because Denton taught orchestra in the Portland Public School system.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

James DePreist, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the Oregon Symphony

The atmosphere at the Oregon Symphony's concert last Sunday struck me as very odd. For some reason, I just couldn't get into the music. The concert was fairly well attended. The house looked like it was 85 percent full, and lots of folks were geared up for laureate music director James DePreist, who returns once each season to conduct.

I was especially looking forward to the Wagner piece, because, in all of the years that I have been attending concerts here, I can't recall DePreist ever conducting a Wagner piece despite the fact DePreist's conducting style fits Wagner's music perfectly. I had the overture from Die Meistersinger stuck in my head when the first notes were played, and realized that they are playing the Prelude to ActII of Die Meistersinger. This is a subdued, quiet, piece, and it was elegantly played, but dang, I wanted to hear the festive, marching Wagner instead of the melancholy one. (Side note: DePreist has been conducting more and more Wagner lately. He conducted Ring excerpts with Jane Eaglen this past summer at Aspen and he has a whole raft of ring excerpts scheduled for a concert with Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony. See his schedule here.)

Next came Max Bruch's Violin Concerto with virtuoso Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Maybe I was out of sorts, but Salerno-Sonnenberg's playing just didn't grab me. She seemed to dig into the notes at times when they didn't need to be dug out, and some of the themes seemed to be disjointed. Of course, NSS was entirely in her element in the fiery last movement, and the audience responded with wild applause.

DePreist remained in his wheelchair on the podium during the entire intermission. This has been his standard way of doing things for the last several years (after his kidney transplant operation), and when the second half began, he didn't turn to the audience to acknowledge their applause. He just simply launched into Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 in E minor. This is a piece that he and the orchestra know well. They recorded it in 1992, but most of those players are not in the current roster.

I heard lots of committed, emotionally gratifying playing on Sunday evening. The lush, beautiful melodies were expansive. The sforzando entrances and acceleration into the faster passages were exciting and precise. One time, the woodwinds cascaded over and onto the rest of the ensemble with too much volume (Charles Noble in his blog noted that the orchestra might have overreacted to DePreist's gestures here and there.) Still the musicians created many magical moments, like when principal clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao pours out pure, warm, smooth legato lines.

What troubled me though was DePreist's baton movement. He just didn't have the usual expansive gestures that are his trademark. This is a big fellow with a very large wingspan. But he didn't use it at all. And during his acknowledgments of the enthusiastic applause from the audience, he used a very limited gesture to the violins on his right and then to the violas on his left. It left me with some sadness to think that he may not be feeling well. This tremendously talented fellow, who has not let his skin color, polio, kidney disease, and who knows what else, stop him from sharing his gift for making music, seemed to be somewhat diminished. I hope that I'm wrong.

PS: I liked seeing GeorgeAnne Ries in the flute section again. She has also been playing in the Portland Opera orchestra during their production of Cinderella. So, Ries earns the freelance player of the week award!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Cappella Romana's recent concert packs them in Portland but not in Seattle

One of Portland most unique, top tier groups, is Cappella Romana, a vocal ensemble that specializes in performing music from Byzantium. More specifically, they sing the traditional liturgical music of the Greek Orthodox Church, developed over a long period of time from the beginnings of the Byzantine Empire in 330 until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Cappella Romana has released a number of recordings of this music, have performed at the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, and at the Getty Museum in LA. They have developed a large devoted audience in Portland that typically fills St. Mary's Cathedral (which can hold well over 600 people) to the brim. Cappella Romana's first performance of the season on Friday evening at St. Mary's was almost standing room only. But their concert at Town Hall Seattle looked as if it had an audience of 150. That was the performance that I attended, and it was worthy of a larger audience despite several acoustical challenges that this venue poses.

The first half of Cappella Romana's program consisted of five chants (two of which were from Medieval Germany) that spanned centuries from approximately 600 to 1360. Baritone John Boyer did and excellent job in singing the leading the chants, and the five men (led by artistic director Alexander Lingas) gave a good unified sound. The four women in the ensemble had a harder time with the chants -- a couple of disagreements in intonation in St. Hildegard of Bingen's "O viridissima virga" and "Alleluia O virga mediatrix."

The second half of the program was devoted entirely to a World Premiere of Robert Kyr's "A Time for Life," a long work of that ponders our relationship to the environment with texts drawn from the Bible and from Native American songs and prayers. The singers were accompanied by two vielles (a predecessor of the violin) and a viola da gamba (an early form of the cello

Kyr wrote this piece extremely well. The music has immediacy, and it moves through the texts at an even pace. Kyr could have easily beaten us over the head with the serious nature of the texts, such as "We defile your oceans, Harming and killing sea life. We forget who we are." But the music and singing never bogs down and the piece ends on a glorious note of hope.

Unfortunately, the acoustics at Town Hall Seattle are not advantageous to an eight member vocal ensemble. Instead of the warm, lush sound that Cappella Romana gets at St Mary's, we heard a clear yet sterile sound at Town Hall Seattle. The singers had to work very hard to fill the space with sound and their voices sometimes strained. In particular, this marred the end of "A Time for Life" when everyone had to sing at full throttle.

Some of the problem at Town Hall Seattle is certainly due to the carpet that runs throughout much of the space. Carpet really sucks up sound waves. Also, there wasn't any reverberation at all. A little reverberation would have helped.

If the voices of Cappella Romana had been doubled or tripled, then I think it could made a much better concert and wouldn't have taxed the singers nearly as much. They return to Town Hall Seattle for their next concert on January 12th. But if you want the full effect of this group, then you should come to Portland and hear them on January 11th at St Mary's.

PS: I'll be reworking some of these thoughts in a review that I am writing for on Cappella Romana and Portland Baroque Orchestra for and upcoming issue of The American Record Guide.

In MUSO magazine

It's kind of odd to trumpet where and when I publish articles, but sometimes I use this blog as a brag bag. So here goes: I've published two articles in MUSO publications. One article deals with helping young classical musicians to find grant and scholarship money for their summer music education. The article is called "Show Me the Money," and it appears in the MUSO Yearbook 2008, which contains 122 pages of really useful information about music schools in the US and Canada. The other piece is "Pennies from Heaven" discusses finding financial aid scholarship for music study in general. This article is in the fall issue of MUSO. I've just written another piece that surveys undergraduate and graduate vocal programs in the US and Canada. That is scheduled for the next issue. You can find MUSO magazine here.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Portland Opera's Cinderella has plenty of charm

On Friday evening, Portland Opera presented a lively and enchanting version of La Cenerentola (Cinderella), with Angela Niederloh in the title role. The production has a lot going for it with young, vibrant singers in all of the roles, but the orchestra was sometimes too loud in the first act, especially when Niederloh had to motor down into her lower range. Tenor Michael Colvin as the Don Ramiro (the Prince) also sang well, but had to hold when he reached his uppermost notes. I heard some great singing from Steven Condy as Don Magnifico, Derrick Parker as Alidoro, and Sharin Apostolou and Hannah Sharene Penn as Cinderella's mean sisters. But it was Morgan Smith in the role of Dandini, the Prince's valet, who almost stole the show.

This production featured new scenery built for Portland Opera, and it worked well except of the Prince's palace, which just didn't look opulent enough. I'd say more, but I have to write a review for Opera magazine (London). Overall, I can heartily recommend this production, and you have the benefit of seeing Niederloh and her colleagues at the beginning of what might be long and noteworthy careers.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Robert Kyr work in this weekend's Cappella Romana concert

This weekend's Cappella Romana concert features a world-premiere of Robert Kyr's A Time for Life. Written for 8 voices with string accompaniment. A Time for Life combines the text from a Greek Orthodox service for the environment with words Native Americans. The strings consist two vielles and a viola da gamba, which are medieval predecessors of the modern violin and cello. Kyr teaches composition at the University of Oregon.

Pre-concert talks are at 7pm by Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, and post-concert reflections begin at 9:30pm with the composer and a panel of environmental leaders.

Concert dates:
Friday, November 2, 8:00 pm at St. Mary's Cathedral Portland
Saturday, November 3 8:00 pm at Town Hall, Seattle

Also, CR has just released a new recording: Byzantium in Rome: Medieval Byzantine Chant. This two CD set contains music dating back to the 13th century from the Greek Orthodox community that was located just outside of Rome at the Abbey of Grottaferrata (the Iron Grotto).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Angela Niederloh talks about her upcoming Cinderella

Angela Niederloh, one of Portland's own divas, is featured in the title role in the Portland Opera's production of Rossini's La Cenerentola, which opens this weekend. Niederloh emerged from the opera program at Portland State University to become a terrific mezzo-soprano who has recently sung principal roles with Houston Grand Opera and with Portland Opera. I exchanged email with her to ask her a few questions about her upcoming performance.

How are rehearsals going?

Niederloh: Rehearsals are going very well. It always makes for a smooth, yet fun production process when there is a good repartee among the cast members. Not only is everyone incredibly talented, but also they are good people to boot.

Oddly enough, this is the first La Cenerentola for most of the cast; including myself. I think this makes for an interesting experience for all of us. Potentially when you have a cast that has performed in several of the same production, it can be hindering to the creative process. Meaning, it is difficult to look at something with fresh eyes and ears when you have performed it for the umpteenth time. With that said, for those that have had the pleasure of being involved with La Cenerentola before, they too bring a unique insight into the show -- (that is) traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation, potential pitfalls, helpful hints and creative cuts (to the music).

Have you done this opera before? If so, where and when?

Niederloh: I have not performed Angelina (Cinderella) in her entirety. However, I have done many scenes from the show for concerts and recitals. It is interesting to me having had the pleasure now of being acquainted with this character’s journey. Before I would have snap shot views into her as a character, but now diving into the whole role, it makes such a difference. For instance, I have sung Angelina’s final aria, Non piu mesta for many years now. In the aria she sings about being born into sadness, singing to herself by the fireside. But like a lightning bolt, her life changed. I feel like I sing it completely differently now. Having the advantage of experiencing the role in it’s entirely gives you the big picture experience, the whole journey , not just the cliff notes.

How do you learn a foreign language like Italian?

Niederloh: Probably the best way to learn a language is to completely immerse yourself into it, try to assimilate and absorb all that the culture has to offer. I, on the other hand, did not completely go this route. I studied languages in college and later in my young artist programs. Both experiences put a lot of emphasis on conversing. Instructors would tweak our sentence structure, but for the most part, they wanted us to be uninhibited in the act of communicating. Were all of my conjugations completely up to par? No, but I was communicating and that is ultimately what we as performers are trained to do from the stage; communicate.

What is one of the trickiest things you have to do for this opera (for example, sing while lying flat on your back or while dancing, or…)?

Niederloh: Well, I don’t have to participate in a lot of tricky stage shenanigans, thank goodness. The obstacle for me is to spit all of the words. Rossini is known for his lightening speed, coloratura musical lines and rapid fire, albeit, clever word patter. I guess I owe a hardy “Thanks” to Chris Mattaliano, the stage director, for taking pity on me and not having me participate in an elaborate gymnast routine, when I have enough trouble as it is to stick the landing!

How long have you been working on this opera?

Niederloh: I have been working on Cinderella for about a year now. Not all of that time was spent strictly on music. A lot of time is devoted to, what I refer to as, “kitchen table” work. This is were you spend a lot of time translating the piece and speaking through it so that it sounds natural, not robotic. Another part of the process is spent doing more “left brained” activities, like learning the notes and rhythms of the work. Memorizing the piece is another aspect to one’s opera prep. The expectation in the opera world is to show up with your part learned and memorized so that we can start staging the piece right away.

I think you mentioned that you were teaching somewhere like Pacific University. Are you teaching at PSU, too?

Niederloh: Yes and yes! I have been teaching private voice and directing the annual music production at Pacific since the fall of 2005. I just started teaching private voice instruction at PSU. I love having the balance of teaching voice and performing. I think my students benefit too from having a teacher who is trying to practice what she preaches.

What other gigs do you have lined up for the near future?

Niederloh: I have mostly concert work coming up because of my busy teaching schedule. I am performing the grand Beethoven 9th and Missa Solemnis and Mozart’s Requiem.

Thanks Angela and best wishes for Friday night!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Concession to Halloween

One of the scariest things you can do as singer is to sing a work that is filled to the brim with dissonant chords. I just finished singing a brand new work by Judith Lang Zaimont called "Rememberance" (four movements - about 23 minutes) with my colleagues in the Portland Symphonic Choir, and the Zaimont piece was one of the most nerve-wracking things that I've ever done. It ranks with a performance of Stravinsky's "Les Noches" that I did with the PSC some 14 years ago. "Rememberance" was extremely difficult because the choir constantly had to find pitches that were cast in very odd relationships to the notes that led up to the notes that we were asked to sing. It's one thing to play an instrument (like the piano) and just play the notes, but as a singer, you have to find the notes inside of you. Zaimont's "Rememberance" was filled with clashing sounds that challenged our abilities to the max. But we made it, and we survived. Whew!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Portland Symphonic Choir concert at Temple Beth Israel

Stephen Zopfi conducts the Portland Symphonic Choir this weekend in two performances of music by Jewish composers. We (I'm in the tenor section) will be singing three numbers from the "Talmud Suite" by Sid Robinovitch (including the restful "Prayer Before Sleep", Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms," Joel Hardyk's "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," three arrangements of folk songs, and the world premiere of Judith Lang Zaimont's "Rememberance," which was commissioned by the Portland Symphonic Choir.

Sat. Oct. 27 - 7:30 pm or Sun. Oct. 28 - 2:30 pm
Congregation Beth Israel, NW 19th and Flanders
$25 at the door - $20 for seniors/students.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New grants available for individual Oregon artists

Yesterday, the Oregon Arts Commission announced that individual artists (like musicians and singers) should apply for a new grant to help their careers. The OAC has a total of $40,000 to give away during this first year, so the size of each grant will range from $300 to $1500, which ain't much, but every little bit helps. See for more information. The first deadline (for this quarter) is November 14th. You can apply online. Good luck!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Goodbye to Choral Classics at KBPS

The final Choral Classics program on KBPS (89.9 FM) airs this Sunday at 7 pm. Hosted for the past six years by Phil Ayers, this program will die a quiet death unless another stellar volunteer from the ranks of KBPS listeners puts his/her voice/foot forward. I talked with Ayers, a retired Episcopalian priest who sings with the Portland Symphonic Choir, and he is simpling looking forward to having more time to pursue other interests.

I hope that another interested person will contact KBPS about continuing this program. There is no other program on 89.9 FM that features choir music. In the meantime, Ayers deserves a big round of applause for keeping choral music on the airwaves. Thank you Phil!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Monica Huggett and the Portland Baroque Orchestra rock out on Vivaldi

To open their 24th season, the Portland Baroque Orchestra performed a whole evening of Vivaldi concertos last night at First Baptist Church, and that's a pretty tough program. I mean, even though most audiences love Vivaldi's music, it's a real challenge to make each piece sound unique and interesting and beautiful. Well, artistic director and virtuoso violinist Monica Huggett and the PBO kept digging deeper and deeper into the music and delivered outstanding performances of four concertos from Vivaldi's Opus 11 (1729) and two from his Opus 3 (1711), which is also known as "L'estro armonica" (Harmonic innovation).

Huggett, the featured soloist in all of the concertos for solo violin, strings and basso continuo from Opus 11, combines a marvelous technique and artistry that is mesmerizing to watch and hear. Her control allows her to speed up and slow down in the same measure. It's sort of like watching a great basketball player shift gears in mid stride, then change his shot, and swish the ball through the hoop without touching the rim. At one moment Huggett seems to be whirling her right hand like with an egg beater motion and in another moment, a lush, silken, lyrical melody starts.

These Vivaldi concertos for solo violin are not all that different from attending a rock concert with an gifted guitarist in the spotlight. Only this time it is Huggett who gets to riff all over the place.

I also like the way the Huggett inspires the ensemble, which is a top notch group of musicians from Portland and around the nation. Their sound can be tight but not cramped, expansive but not limp, noble and stately, but not rigid and sterile. I heard a lot of warmth and really good rhythmic drive. So that we were always looking forward to the next concerto.

The two concertos from the "L'estro armonica" were also excellent. violin soloists Carla Moore and Joli von Einem teamed up to perform a satisfying Concerto No. 8 in Aminor (RV 522). They blended their sound perfectly, but perhaps could've been a little bit louder when the rest of the ensemble joined them. Violinists Rob Diggins and Adam LaMotte collaborated with cellist Joannna Blenduff to give a superb interpretation of Vivaldi's Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Diggins put extra verve on his playing, especially with the way he could lean into a note an put an extra sheen on it. He also shows a real joy in music making that adds a lot to the overall atmosphere.

The enthusiastic applause at the end of the concert encouraged Huggett and the orchestra to play a movement from Concerto No. 3 in A major - from Opus 11. We didn't get to hear the entire concerto, but those of you choose to attend this evening or on Sunday afternoon at Kaul Auditorium will hear it all. The concert program at each performance differs slightly, and, all of the performances are being recorded for the PBO's 25th Anniversary Vivaldi double-CD.


PS: Apparently, rampant speculation on Vivaldi's sex life is the subject of upcoming movies and books. Click here to read that article from The Times (of London).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Some straight talk at the Oregon Symphony annual meeting

I attended the Oregon Symphony's annual meeting today and heard a serious, thoughtful and straightforward presentation, which was refreshing. Here are some highlights:

Carlos Kalmar address touched on the Waterfront collaboration with Portland Opera and Oregon Ballet Theatre. He referred to the financial struggles of the orchestra, but also said that it was playing at an exceptionally high level. For next year, the Symphony hope to draw larger audiences with big names, such as Garrick Ohlsson, Stephen Hough, Lang Lang, and Edgar Meyer. They are apparently working out a deal with Jeff Tyzik for the pops series and Thomas Lauderdale is somewhere in the mix as well.

Orchestra Committee Chair and associate concertmaster Peter Frajola remarked on the recent changes in orchestra personnel, including those who retired, resigned to take jobs elsewhere, and one who recently passed away. Frajola reasserted that the desire of his colleagues to make the Oregon Symphony a destination orchestra and not a pass through orchestra.

Walter Weyler, board chair, noted that the economic downturn in 2001 really hurt the endowment, and that the orchestra lost $1.7 million last year and that pushed their accumulated deficit to about $7. They can't continue operating with another big loss. So the object is to shore up things this season and aim to break even during the 2008-2009 season.

President Elaine Calder said that ticket sales are currently at $4 milion and the organization has targeted $5.5 million as its goal. Everyone is working to reduce costs - and one part of that has been the reduction in administrative staff. A small group of big time supporters are committed to seeing the symphony through this tough time. Everyone is working hard to make sure that the Symphony takes care of the bottom line and begins to grow again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Paltry turnout for exceptional Oregon Symphony performance

At the Oregon Symphony performance on Sunday night I settled into my seat in the lower balcony and surveyed a wide expanse of empty seats on either side of me. Could it be that everyone was still recovering from double wins for Oregon and Oregon State football? Or that the property tax statements knocked concertgoers into the hospital? Jeez, there must've been some great shows on TV. No, no, no. The lousy attendance was most likely due to the symphony’s Spanish Splendor program, which featured works by Luciano Berio and Manuel de Falla, two composers who are not well known here. Well, those of you who took a pass missed out on some of the best music making by the Oregon Symphony to date.

The concert was dedicated to the memory of Martha Herby, who joined the flute section in 1981. The orchestra played Christoph Willibald Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” with great sensitivity. Principal flutist David Buck’s solos were soothing and the strings were lovely, creating a heavenly tribute for their colleague.

The program continued with a charming and crisp interpretation of Haydn’s Symphony No. 93 in D major. The orchestra expressed the music with plenty of nuances, including sudden stops, smooth decays, and elegant phrasing. The audience chuckled when principal bassoonist Evan Kuhlmann punctuated the beautiful melody in second movement with a low note. Overall, the orchestra’s tone was sweet, spirited, and assured, making this Haydn sparkle.

The second number was Berio’s “Folk Songs,” which he originally wrote for a chamber ensemble and mezzo soprano and later arranged for full orchestra. The Oregon Symphony performance featured Patricia Risley, a beautiful, young lady with a gorgeous voice. Risley sang the eleven songs wonderfully, and added flair with her facial expressions and gestures. The orchestration was mostly light, requiring taught chamber-ensemble musicianship – especially from the violas. The orchestra accompanied Risley with much finesse so that each song acquired its own character. As a set (eleven songs in all) the effect was enchanting.

In the second half of the program, the orchestra played Falla’s complete ballet score for “The Three-Cornered Hat.” This music retells the comic story of a magistrate and his failed attempts to seduce another man’s wife. The orchestra performed outstandingly throughout this piece. From the declarative statement of the opening fanfare through all of the mood changes that captured a warm, evening in a small Spanish town, to the wild, whirling dance sounds – with the exciting piccolo trills, castanets, and maracas – this piece gave us a cornucopia of vivid imagery. I enjoyed the repeated cries of “hey”* from the orchestra and their rhythmic clapping also. How many pieces offer that?

John Cox, principal horn, stood out for his excellent playing, but all in all, every section performed at a very high level.

Over all, I’m very proud our orchestra gave it their best in spite of a house that seemed only 60 percent full. What a terrific group of musicians! And conductor Carlos Kalmar more than rose to the occasion with his remarkable leadership from the podium. All are consummate professionals who love to make music.

Finally, if Risley is engaged to sing here again, be sure to hear her!

* I found out later that the "hey" was actually "ole!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

First rate Iphigenia in Tauris for Seattle Opera

Seattle Opera’s brand new production of Gluck’s “Iphigenia in Tauris” received a glorious performance on opening night with a terrific cast led by Nuccia Focile in the title role. It’s great that Seattle Opera, acclaimed for its large-scale productions of Wagner’s operas, chose to tackle this rarely performed Baroque gem. This new realization has breathed life into a work that has only been sporadically performed since its successful premiere in 1779 in Paris.

A well-matched cast of principals led by Focile conveyed the ancient story of Iphigenia convincingly. Focile commanded the stage with an expressive and beautiful voice that swept us into the turbulent stream of emotions that ruled Iphigenia’s inner life. Her inner turmoil contrasted well with and strength and resolve she showed as the high priestess of the Scythians.

In the role of Iphigenia’s tormented brother Orestes, baritone Brett Polegato sang ardently. As Orestes best friend Pylades, tenor William Burden blended passion and lyricism with conviction. The brotherly love expressed between Orestes and Pylades was convincing, but it bordered on the edge of homo-erotic. As the bloodthirsty King Thoas, Phillip Joll bellowed about with a very wobbly vibrato. Michele Losier made an excellent impression as the goddess Diana.

An imaginative set by Thomas Lynch combined the look of an ancient temple with the heaviness of a tomb. The largest room, lit by oil lantern/sconces, featured a stone altar, and a gigantic statue of Diana, goddess of the hunt. Next to the large room was a smaller room that served as a jail and as a gathering place for the priestesses. A door from that room led to a narrow passageway to the outside and to freedom. A real highlight was how Clytemnestra (the mother of Orestes and Iphigenia) stood inside a see-through column of wall and placed one hand on Orestes and the other on Iphigenia. That was cool!

Stage director Stephen Wadsworth made sure that the action was as fluid as possible, despite the limited confines of the rooms. Thanks to choreographer Daniel Pelzig, the dancers overcame the somewhat cramped quarters with panache, although the brief highland fling by the Scythian warriors looked sort of hokey. The fight scene, choreographed by Steve Rankin, was one of the best I’ve seen on the operatic stage.

The scenery and sets were enhanced by the superb lighting of Neil Peter Jampolis. The dusky red clothing of the priestess blended well with the temple wall and the over all mood of this opera. Diana’s tight-fitting, shiny black leather or plastic get-up made her look more like cat woman than a goddess, but what the heck – you’ve got to give a goddess some leeway.

I heard lots of color and texture from the orchestra, which was paced expertly by conductor Gary Thor Wedow who also made sure that the volume near overwhelmed the singers. The chorus, prepared by Beth Kirchhoff, was outstanding, providing a balanced sound throughout the drama.

Extra note: After completing its run here, “Iphigenia in Tauris” moves to the Metropolitan Opera, which is the co-producer.

Monday, October 15, 2007

One busy fellow - conductor Ken Selden

Ken Selden, conductor of the PSU Symphony has been running at full speed. Over the past month or so, he has filled in as cover conductor at the Oregon Symphony, because resident conductor Gregory Vajda has been in directing a production of Verdi's "A Masked Ball" for Opera De Montreal. So, in addition to his duties at the university, he has been running down to the orchestra hall to help with rehearsals and be on call in anything happens to Carlos Kalmar.

In the meantime, Selden has been preparing his orchestra at PSU for their first concert, which is this October 19th at Lincoln Hall. On their program is a U.S. premier of "Disembodied Instruments" by David Horne and Vaughn Williams Symphony No. 5. The piece by Horne is right in line with Selden's interest in new music. In fact, his leadership in new music earned PSU national recognition after receiving First Prize in Adventurous Programming from ASCAP and the American Symphony Orchestra League. You can find out more about the PSU Symphony here.

Also, Selden has been engaged to lead a concert by the Newport Symphony and another by the Portland Youth Philharmonic. The PYP concert is coming up soon on November 10th, so Selden is one busy fellow.

A terrific piano recital by Endre Hegedûs

The next time pianist Endre Hegedûs comes to town, you ought to hear him. The Hungarian virtuoso gave a spectacular recital at the Old Church on Friday evening (Oct. 12) of works by Chopin and Liszt, including a rarely heard Liszt fantasy of Bellini’s “Norma” and a Liszt transcription of Wagner’s “Tannhaueser.” Hegedûs plays with a style that makes the piano sing and at the same time has a genuine, earnest feeling.

Hegedûs masterfully controlled the tempi and volume to create a warm and fluid sound that worked well for Chopin’s”Nocturnes” (No. 1 in B flat minor and No. 2 in E flat major). Hegedûs easily expanded the dynamic range for his interpretation of Chopin’s Sonata in B minor and the Polonaise “Heroic” in A flat major, making an impressive statement that ended the first half of the program with verve.

The second half was devoted to Liszt. Hegedûs interpreted “At the stream” with grace and elegance. He then polished off a terrific rendition of the “Mephisto Waltz No. 1” with all of its knuckle-crunching sounds ringing about. Hegedûs then delivered a nostalgic and poignant “Forgotten Waltz No. 1,” which evoked the dance-like atmosphere from ballrooms of an earlier era.

Hegedûs‘s playing of Liszt’s “Norma – Grand Fantasy” was very dramatic and beautiful and may have been the best piece of the evening. This piece contains seven melodies from Bellini’s opera and Hegedûs brought all of them forward wonderfully. The Liszt transcriptions of two themes from Wagner’s Tannhaueser (Walfram’s “Romance to the Evening Star” and “The Entry of the Guests”) was performed by Hegedûs with remarkable depth and clarity. (This makes me think that there should be a way to promote Portland operas with piano transcriptions.)

The audience rewarded Hegedûs with a standing ovation, and he responded with an encore, Bartok’s “Evening at the Village.”

PS: Hegedûs didn’t hum or make other sounds while he was playing. André Watts, in his most recent recital in Portland, has taken up this annoying habit.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Preview of Endre Hegedűs piano recital

The virtuoso Hungarian pianist Endre Hegedűs will play tomorrow evening at The Old Church. His concert is sponsored by Oregon Hungarian Communion of Friends, and this is the second time that he has played here. Hegedűs has won several international piano competitions, soloed with many orchestras, made 24 recordings, is a Steinway Artists, and teaches at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music.

I talked to Hegedűs over the phone about his life and upcoming concert.

Did you grow up in a musical family?

E.H.: Yes, my father was a self-taught musician. He played piano beautifully and played popular songs, folk songs, jazz, everything except classical music. He established a dance orchestra in my home town. My mother wanted to be a professional pianist, but her dream was cut off by the WWII, and she had to find work to make ends meet. So music for me was a given.

When did you start becoming interested in the piano?

E.H.: I was interested as soon as I could walk. My walkings as a young child led me to this mysterious flat box that was in the center of our living room. At that time, the keyboard was just my head, so I would stretch and try to tickle the keys. As a child, I spent a lot of time alone, I didn’t have any sisters or brothers. Since the age of four, both my parents had to work, so they left me at home and taught me how to use the radio. So, as soon as I heard a nice melody I would rush to the piano and try to figure it out. I began piano lessons at the age of five.

You are beginning your program with Chopin. Is he one of your favorite composers?

E.H.: Yes, I consider myself a Romantic. I like the ideas of the great Romantic composers: that the piano is capable of expressing the color, voices, even the volume of an entire symphonic orchestra. Music is a mirror of our lives, but it can also take us to a better world. Music must come from our hearts.

The composers gave us their works, but there is a lot of freedom within each score, and that gives the performers a chance to put their personal perspective on the music. So there are many, many ways to interpret a piece.

Can you tell us about the other works you’ll be playing?

E.H.: Liszt’s “At the stream - from the 1st Year: Switzerland” describes the mood and attitudes of being in the forest. It’s a beautiful description of nature. I think that this a beautiful miniature.

The “Mephisto Waltz” is program music that describes a scene from Nicholas Lenau’s Faust. This is the story about the learned man Faust who makes a contract with the devil. At one point, there is a wedding reception where the town musicians are playing slowly and poorly. Mephisto takes the violin out the hands of the violinist and plays a wild and fiery tune that gets everyone to dance crazily. And Faust is swept off to hell in the end. It’s an exciting piece.

Liszt also made transcriptions and fantasies of operas. I’ll a couple of these that retell the music from Bellini’s “Norma” and Wagner’s “Tannhaeuser.” When Liszt wrote these pieces, they became a great way for people to experience the music of these operas. This also helped to make the music of these composers better known. Liszt had an extraordinary technique and limitless imagination. I have recorded 34 opera transcriptions and fantasies of Liszt. He wrote 85 of them. Most pianists play only three or four of them.

When did you last perform in Portland?

I played in Portland last year at the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian revolution of 1956. I enjoyed Portland and hope to take a walk again in the woods near the home of my friend Lajos Balogh. It’s wonderful to perform in Portland again.

Endre Hegedűs "The Tender Chopin and Fireworks Liszt"

October 12, 2007 at 7:30

The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th, Portland

Tickets: General admission: $25.00, Students: $10.00, Children under 14: free. Available through Brown Paper Tickets: 1-800-838-3006 or

For more information, visit: ,

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Review of Andre Watts recital

Andre Watts stopped in town to give two recitals (October 7 and 8) in the Newmark theatre. These concerts opened the Portland Piano International’s recital series, which began 28 years ago as the Portland State recital series and changed its name to PPI in 2005. PPI has added Monday evenings to its schedule (last year was Sunday afternoons only), and the appearance of a popular artist like Watts, helped to make sure that both concerts would come close to selling out.

Watts devoted the first half of the program to works by Scarlati, Mozart, and Schubert. He began with two sonatas (L. 187 and L. 422) by Scarlati, and his playing was clear and crisp – perhaps a little too brittle over all. It was as if he wanted to separate the notes distinctly so that they would sound more like a harpsichord.

The sound grew more expansive with Watt’s performance of two rondos by Mozart, the A minor (K. 511) and the D major (K. 485). Watts poignantly brought out the melancholy theme of the first rondo, and the second rondo sparkled, but in a sensible way.

With Schubert’s “Three Piano Pieces (D. 946), Watts got closer to the full-blown romantic sound that seems closer to his heart. The Schubert pieces became a spirited romp that Watts plays as well as anyone on the planet.

Watts changed his program for the second half. He sat down at the piano and turned to the audience, and announced what he would like to abandon the all-Chopin selections that were listed in and instead play works by Ravel, Debussy, Liszt, and Chopin.

He performed Ravel’s “Oiseaux tristes” (“Sad Birds”) with lots of dynamic range and color. This short, impressionistic piece became the hit of the evening, because the impression Watts created was so vivid and inspiring.

In his performance of Debussy’s “Pagodas,” Watts created an oriental landscape that was powerful and beautiful. He also unleashed two mystical and dreamlike treasures by Liszt: “La Lugubre gondoa” (The lugubrious gondola”) and “Schlaflos, Frage und Antwort” (“Sleepless, Question and Answer”).

Watts then gave forceful yet fluid interpretations of works by Chopin, including two Etudes and the Ballade No. 1 in G minor. The audience erupted in applause, and Watts returned for two encores. I think that the second was one of Liszt’s works.

One thing about Watt’s style of playing it that he doesn’t waste any time. As soon as he sits down at the piano, he takes less than five seconds to begin a piece. The man has a tremendous amount of focus, and it showed in this concert.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

New scribblings in two publications

I've recently published a couple of articles on outstanding local musicians. One article is a profile of pianist Susan Chan, who also teaches at PSU. She performs a very diverse repertoire on concert stages (including Carnegie Hall) and performs much of the same pieces for retirement homes and hospitals. The article, "Generous Performer," appears in the fall issue of PSU Magazine, which is sent to all PSU alumni.

The other article describes conductor Ralph Nelson and his Bach Cantata Choir. Ralph is the founder of this 45-voice ensemble, which will sing all of Bach religious and secular cantatas over the next 20 years. That's because there's over 200 of these works to perform. The article - with a cheesy title - "Bach to the future!" appears in the Hollywood Star newspaper.

Both articles, I'm sorry to say, are not available on the web (although the PSU Magazine will post the Susan Chan story at a later date.

In the meantime, I'm happy to note that Ralph will be the director of the choir at First Immanuel Lutheran (Northwest 19th and Irving) where I sing. So, if you'd like to see what Ralph can do, stop by some Sunday at 11 am.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Oregon Symphony - Rach 2 concert review

I have been so busy lately, that I’m now just getting around to posting this review. A week ago (Sunday, September 30th) I heard the Oregon Symphony’s season opening concert. The Schnitz seemed to be nearly 95% full, and the atmosphere buzzed in anticipation of the program, which featured two crowd-pleasing pieces: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra.”

The concert opened with Dvorak’s “Symphonic Variations,” a complicated work that has 27 variations on a main theme. I liked the clean and crisp playing by the violin section, and that seemed to speak well of the concertmaster Jun Iwasaki. Iwasaki also had at least one solo in this piece, and he handled each passage very fluidly with excellent tone.

In the hands of some conductors, the “Symphonic Variations” could become a real bore, but Kalmar and the orchestra worked well together to give this piece some shape. Each variation tickled our ears with something different and unique. The piece culminated with a big, Bohemian-sounding (or Dvorak-sounding) fugue that had a tremendous fanfare-like blast.

I’m sure that Valentina Lisitsa has played the Rach 2 many times, but she surprised everyone by pouncing on the opening notes a little too fiercely. I think that she hit the bass so loudly that it caused the piano to sound out of tune. So, some of us in the audience got a little jumpy during the first passage, but Lisitsa, being the artist that she is, got it all under control and delivered a very inspired, poetic performance the rest of the way. I saw people leaping out of their seats at the end of the finale, and jubilation erupted from every corner.

The orchestra accompanied her elegantly, and, as usual, principal clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao, poured out the liquid, clear lines that are a pure delight to hear. I also admired how the bassoon or bassoons could play lithely in their upper register. Plus the slight shimmer of sound that Niel DePonte gets from the small cymbals adds oh so much to the magical quality of this work.

Following intermission, the orchestra gave a stirring and vigorous interpretation of Strauss’s massive tone poem. The two tubas and the battalion of trumpets, trombones, and horns made sure that the opening statement was grand, but it was also crisp and delineated. I really enjoyed hearing the sound reduce or distill down to the bass fiddles – only to watch the sound grow again gradually adding the cellos, then one bassoon, then the second violins, the violas, all bassoons, the first violins, and finally everyone else.

I heard a lot of great playing from everyone, and it was fun to watch Iwasaki and associate concertmaster Peter Frajola work together during the Viennese waltz.

I did note to myself that the flute section didn’t look quite right, because Martha Herby wasn’t playing. It is with much sadness to hear the news that she died just a few days ago. The opening concert was dedicated to the memory of Symphony benefactor Jean Vollum, and I’m sure that the next set of concerts (Oct. 13-15) will be dedicated to Herby.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Review of the Free Marz String Trio "Constallations" concert

A capacity audience of over a 150 – with some standing along the back wall – heard the Free Marz String Trio concert on Friday Sept. 28th at the Community Music Center in SE Portland. They created a festive atmosphere for an evening of music that few had ever heard before. Several pieces were dedicated to the memory of Mstislav Rostropovich and Jimi Hendrix, two favorite performs of artistic director and composer, Bob Priest.

The concert presented an array of new music from around the globe. Marylhurst music professor and composer John Paul kicked things off with “Chara,” his new composition for string trio. The Free Marz String Trio (consisting of violinist Inés Voglar, violist Joël Belgique, and cellist Adam Esbensen) dove into the rhythms of this piece with gusto. I liked how one player would finish the phrase that another began. Also impressive was how the ensemble negotiated the sudden downshifting to a lower gear, as if to jump from the fast lane of a freeway to drifting about on a pond in a rowboat. The finale of the piece was emphatic and so was the applause of the audience.

Next came “De Profundis,” an unusual piece for viola and bass by Austrian composer Thomas Daniel Schlee. This music had sections in which the bass played much higher notes than the viola before both instruments go through an agitated phase and the bass descends to the depths. Violist Belgique and bassist Jeff Johnson deftly handled the unusual sounds and improvisational character of this piece, which concluded with the bass rumbling in the basement.

Volgar blended extraordinary control and artistic sensibility in the following piece, “Mikka,” by Iannis Xenakis. A continuous variety of glissandos captivated the audience with buzzing, high-pitched growling, gnawing, screaming, and sighing. The four-minute piece became a real show-stopper in Volgar’s hands, and it elicited an enthusiastic response from the audience.

After a brief pause that featured the recorded ambient sounds of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s “Tierkreis,” Esbensen played “Declamato & Fuga” from Benjamin Britten’s Suite II for cello. Esbensen showed a lot of nimbleness as he negotiated the sporadic, random sounds of this very abstract piece. I had a hard time getting into this piece.

Actor David Loftus gave a short recitation from Arthur Schnitzler’s novella “None But the Brave,” and garnered lots of laughs of self-recognition from most of the audience.

After this non-music interlude came “Pisces, Libra & Leo, an arrangement by Bob Priest of Stockhausen’s “Tierkreis.” Each member of the Free Marz String Trio took a positions on either side of the audience or on the stage, forming a triangle as they played this whimsical arrangement. I sat nearest to Voglar, who played impeccably throughout, and I think that the others did as well.

The trio returned after intermission to play Priest’s “Four By Igor,” his recent arrangement from Stravinsky’s “Les Cinq Doigts.” The four short numbers that made up this work had a simple and direct character. The third movement was lithe yet haunting, and the fourth alternated intriguingly between plucking and a smooth legato-like sound.

Violinist Erin Furbee joined the string trio to play Priest’s “Formula PH: Three Moves for Jimi,” an abstract homage to the music of Jimi Hendrix. The sound went in many directions, but I was unable to identify any particular Hendrix quote. The audience loved the music and applauded enthusiastically between each “move.”

The concert concluded with “Gypsy Eyes,” an arrangement for string quartet by David Balakrishnan and the Turtle Island String Quartet. This piece had a lot of driving glissandos and the violins and viola were played like mandolins at one point. A highlight was Belgique’s singing "I love your gypsy eyes" (or something to that effect) towards the end. That took everyone by surprise. Okay, now I'm ready to see what Belgique can do with an electronic viola!

A standing ovation followed with lots of cheering for the ensemble and Priest, who put everything together.

I was impressed with the audience, which gave its fullest attention to each piece. Among the listeners, I spotted several members of the Oregon Symphony like principal flutist David Buck, cellist Trevor Fitzpatrick, and new concertmaster Jun Iwasaki. Composer Tomas Svoboda also attended the concert. One of his pieces was featured at the Third Angle New Music Ensemble concert at The Old Church yesterday (Oct. 5th).

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Pierce batons in the hands of Riccardo Muti

Maestro Muti gave Alan Pierce's baton a test drive at one of the Chicago Symphony concerts right before they went on their European tour (click on this link for tour info). "Muti loved my baton," said Pierce. "And he said that he would use it from now on. He prefers batons that are about 14.5 inches. He expressed his gratitude and I felt very proud."

Pierce also sold six batons to three conductors who were attending the rehearsals. If you are interested in Pierce baton, check out his web site here.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reviewing the Eugene Symphony

This past few days have been a busy for me. The Eugene Register-Guard asked me to review opening night of the Eugene Symphony because all three of their regular reviewers were not available. So I drove to Eugene on Thursday evening, heard the concert (with one of my nieces who is attending the U of O) and wrote the review, which appeared in today's Register-Guard here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Talking with Carlos Kalmar

Last Friday I visited with Oregon Symphony’s director Carlos Kalmar at his office, and we talked about a variety of topics. At the end of our conversation, I snapped a picture of Carlos that you see above. Behind his desk is a large, colorful painting by George Broderick.

Summertime in Chicago, Baltimore, and Wyoming

Every summer, Kalmar conducts the forces at the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago. This year they finished up two recordings under the Cedille Records label, and both CDs are scheduled to be released in April.

“All of the recordings are live,” says Kalmar. “We record the concerts live and then have a patch session. So after the concert, you take a shower and then return to the stage to re-record. It’s demanding.”

One recording features the music of Aaron Jay Kernis.

“We recorded a new piece for large orchestra that Kernis wrote in 2005,” says Kalmar. It was written for James Conlon and the Chicago Symphony for their summer Ravinnia concerts. So, the Chicago Symphony premiered it but didn’t record it.

“We also recorded a Kernis piece called ‘Newly Drawn Sky,’” adds Kalmar. “Very colorful and excellent writing. Also, Kernis took out a movement from a concerto he wrote for guitar, violin, and small orchestra, and orchestrated it for a medium-sized orchestra. That movement is called ‘Too Hot Toccata’. It’s very jazzy, crazy, and technically difficult to the extreme.”

The other recording features mezzo soprano Jennifer Larmore, a rising star in the operatic world.

“This is an interesting recording if you look at what singers usually do when they put out a recording. Singers typically include flashy arias – lots of high notes and coloratura the usual stuff. So Jennifer and I and the orchestra went in a completely different direction.

We recorded music about four queens and none of the selections are operatic pieces. So this recording includes ‘Le mort de Cleopatra’ by Berlioz, Barber’s ‘Andromache's Farewell,’ Ravel’s ‘Shéhérazade,’ and Benjamin Britten’s ‘Phaedra.’ This is very late Britten, a very strange, wacky piece of music, and you think that it’ll never work. Then we got into it. Jenny got into it. I got into, and we thought that this is great and it’s scary, too.

Carlos also conducted in Jackson Hole, Wyoming at the Grand Teton Festival and he conducted Beethoven’s 9th in July with the Baltimore Symphony.

“I broke my own rule,” comments Kalmar. “I usually don’t do any work in July, but this year I did the performance with the Baltimore Symphony. It’s a great orchestra, and we are good friends.”

Oregon Symphony’s new concertmaster Jun Iwasaki

I also asked Kalmar to give me some of his impressions about the new concertmaster Jun Iwasaki.

“Jun is very energetic,” says Kalmar. “He has excellent leadership and relates to others well. He reads already very well. He has to adjust to me and the orchestra. There’s a learning curve, too. I try to listen to what the orchestra offers to me, and Jun offers a lot. It’s an exciting time, and I think that he will do very well. The training from conservatories is spectacular, and in every audition that we had, there were people who were very good, but we went for the outstanding. We went for the very special. So we selected Jun.”

Fall concerts with the Oregon Symphony

We touched briefly on the Van Cliburn gala concert (which was performed last week). Kalmar enjoyed working with Van Cliburn and noted that he brought his piano with him and felt very comfortable with the orchestra.

Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 – Sept. 29-Oct. 1

Valentina Lisitsa is filling in again – this time to replace an ailing Horacio Gutiérrez in a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Back in March, Lisitsa made a terrific last minute replacement for Denis Matsuev on Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.

I couldn’t help but ask how Kalmar first heard of Lisitsa.

“I found her in Chicago in 1998,” replies Kalmar. “She was the soloist at Grant Park for a concert that I didn’t conduct. I was guesting and for some reason staying another day. Jim Palermo, the festival’s artistic director, suggested that I hear this fantastic Ukrainian pianist. Now we’re talking music. She is really pleasant to work with and a wonderful pianist.”

Lisitsa’s appearance will a highlight on a program that features Dvorák’s “Symphonic Variations” and Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra,” which American audiences still heavily identify with the film 2001 A Space Odyessy. So the Strauss piece will create a lot of splash as well. We’ve got terrific players in the orchestra.

Spanish Splendor – Oct. 13-15

This concert begins with Haydn’s Symphony No. 93.

“It’s one of the late ones – from the London group,” says Kalmar, “but it isn’t one of the famous ones. Still, it’s excellent Haydn.”

“This program has some unfamiliar music,” notes Kalmar. “People have heard the suite compilation “– 12 to 15 minutes – of Falla’s “The Three-Cornered Hat.” We will play the entire thing. It’s a ballet piece and it contains some extremely symphonic writing. It would be great to have music showcased by dancers on stage, but in this case the music has a lot of substance and carries the story well. I’ve always had great results with this piece.”

Also on the program is Berio’s “Folk Songs.”

“Luciano Berio was married to the American singer Cathy Berberian,” says Kalmar “and he wrote this for her. There are two versions. One is a different orchestration than the other. If you like the version we will play you can hear this piece in the chamber music version for seven players with Fear No Music and a mezzo-soprano a couple of months later. It’s a compilation at random of folk songs from very different countries and very different characters. It starts with two American folk songs. For me, not coming from this country, I always wonder if people know these songs. They should be able to recognize the first one: “Black, black is the color of my true love’s hair.” It’s the folk song in the original version with Berio redoing it. Beautiful with very intelligent writing with modern parts that are in conjunction with the original. Then the music travels to Armenia, France, three songs from Italy. It’s stunning what happens there. Also has a song from Azerbaijan. Every song is sung in the original language. So our guest mezzo soprano, Patricia Risley will show her skills in different languages.”

“This concert came about because I always wanted to the Berio folk songs,” continues Kalmar. “That piece goes well with the Three Cornered Hat’ because it starts with a trumpet fanfare, then you hear a female voice, but you don’t see the singer, then the piece evolves and in the middle of the piece you hear the voice again, but again you don’t see the singer. So that’s the connection with Berio.”

Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 – Inside the Score – Oct. 21

Carlos and the orchestra will explore the New World Symphony, This piece is considered an American piece. But what does that mean and is that true?

James DePreist and Najda – November 3-5

Laureate Music Director DePreist returns with one of his favorite soloists, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg to perform Bruch’s violin concerto. Also on the program is Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Wagner’s “Prelude to Act III of Die Meistersinger.” I’m looking forward to the Wagner piece, because it’s a natural fit for DePreist’s sweeping Romanticism, plus he never conducted Wagner (or if he did it was very rarely) during his tenure here. He recently conducted Wagner at the Aspen Music Festival (with soprano Jane Eaglen), and has, in fact, done lots of Wagner in the past two years.

Haydn & Beethoven – November 17-19

Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu returns for an engagement with the orchestra. Guest cellist Ralph Kirshbaum will play the Hayn cello concerto. Sibelius’ 6th Symphony and Beethoven’s 8th are also on tap.

“Lintu is extremely musical,” says Kalmar. “He works well with our orchestra. He has just been appointed the new chief conductor of Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra in Finland. That’s a very fine orchestra, and I’ve worked with them twice.”

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – December 1-3

This program feature’s Vivaldi’s famous piece, Elgar’s “In the South,” and Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival Overture.”:

“I’m looking forward to working with Finnish violinist Elina Vähälä,” states Kalmar. “We got some material from this artist from her agency. We think that she has something special. Of course, we always check references, too. Once I’ve worked with people and I like the way they work, I tend to still with them. The best example for me is the cellist Alban Gerhard. With him, music making is always great.”

Four orchestras in four weeks – the Kalmar marathon

For four weeks between the last week of October and the last week of November Kalmar will be ping pong his way around Europe. On October 28 he conducts Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia at A Coruña (located in northern Spain), then he ricochets to Ireland where he conduct the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra on November 9. Kalmar heads back to Spain to conduct the Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa on November 15 and 16 (in a program that features the great pianist Benedetto Lupo), and he winds up on November 23 with the Flemish Radio Orchestra in Brussels

Kalmar knows how to live out of the suitcase.

“I’ve been doing this work for 20 years,” says Kalmar, ‘”I can pack a suitcase in 25 minutes. I know what has to be there. It’s easy. I’m proud and lucky not to forget things.”