Wednesday, March 28, 2007

James DePreist makes guest appearance in comic book

I've interviewed some young musicians, who will appear as soloists in the upcoming Vancouver Symphony concert, for a preview in The Columbian newspaper. One of the young artists, Nanao Yamada, told me that James DePreist appeared as a character in a Japanese comic book series called Nodame Cantabile. (Note: DePreist is the principal conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.) This is a comic book series about a student who wants to make a career in classical music, and it's very popular in Japan. I googled it and found all sorts of links, including one in Wikipedia. Now that's a unique way to promote classical music!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Terrific Richard Paul Fink anchors strong Flying Dutchman production

A magnificent performance by Richard Paul Fink in the title role of Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman" on put a full wind to the sails in the Portland Opera production on Saturday evening at Keller Auditorium. Because I am writing a review of this production for Opera magazine, I can't put it in this blog, but suffice it to say that the strong cast, the top-level playing by the orchestra, and the inventive staging by Christopher Alden combined to create a thoroughly engaging "Dutchman." There are three remaining shows left (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday). Get a ticket if you can.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Columbia Symphony concert dishes meat and potatoes with gusto

The Columbia Symphony served up a rich, musical dinner last night in a program that contained the music of three major staples: Brahms, Beethoven, and Sibelius. Led by Huw Edwards, the orchestra performed Brahms' "Tragic Overture," Sibelius's Symphony No. 5, and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 with guest soloist Susan Chan. Overall, the concert had many satisfying moments, but the effect was marred at times by intonation problems in various sections of the orchestra.
The performance began with the Brahms' great overture and the interpretation by Edwards and his ensemble had plenty of verve to convey the conflicting emotions of hope and loss that run through this piece. The violins exhibited a warm, vibratant tone, but once in a while (for example, at the end of a descending scale) the section didn't agree on the notes. The brass played gloriously, although the horns seemed a little hesitant now and then.
Next on the program came the Beethoven concerto with pianist Chan, who played the piece eloquently, especially the slower second movement. I felt that the last movement, a lively rondo, could have used more spring in its step and need a slightly louder sound, just to give it more contrast. The violins again showed some slippage at times with their notes. The audience wholeheartedly responded to the piece with cheering and a standing ovation.
After intermission, the orchestra performed the Sibelius No. 5. There were some rhythmic roughness in the first movement, but I really enjoyed how the music came to a rollicking end. The ensemble successfully negotiated a number of challenging tempo changes, especially in the second movement. The brass sounded glorious for the most part, but they weren't flawless. All in all, though, the orchestra delivered an emotionally gratifying performance of this masterpiece.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Fun video of Portland Opera's Flying Dutchman set

Portland Opera shows a fun time-lapse video of its intricate and imposing stage setting for the upcoming production of Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman." It's too bad that the accompanying music to the time-lapse video isn't from the opera.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pianist Susan Chan plays Beethoven with the Columbia Symphony

This Friday and Sunday, Susan Chan, who teaches at PSU, will play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. I asked Professor Chan a few questions via email and am including her responses in this posting:

How long have you been practicing this concerto?

I did my initial learning of the piece last fall, from around late September. Then because of solo recitals in December in Portland and in Asia, I put the concerto aside for a few weeks and picked it up again from around mid-January. I find it helpful in this way as it lets the music settle in me, and I approached it again with a fresh mind.

What is the hardest thing about this piece?

Every piece has its challenges and lovely parts. There are a couple of passages in the first movement that are tricky to play technically, when one hand is playing soft and fast sixteenth notes in an intricate pattern while the other hand is playing a completely different rhythm
that includes a dotted rhythm. Then the materials are switched between the hands. When I was studying Liszt's Mephisto Waltz, I said to my teacher of the time, Mr. Gyorgy Sebok, that it was a difficult piece. He responded with deep wisdom and a smile, "It will become easy." It was a little hard to believe it at the time, but of course he was right. The same applies to these tricky passages in the Beethoven concerto, that they have become easier over time. In general, the piece is pretty accessible. We'll see how it goes when rehearsing with the orchestra!

Do you like playing with orchestras more than recitals?

There is a certain excitement about playing with an orchestra that comes from the elements of unpredictability and spontaneity, something that is different from solo recitals. When performing with other musicians it sometimes feels a bit like playing a friendly tennis match with a crowd watching you. You are very prepared but need to flexible and respond spontaneously to what comes to you. Having said that, although one has more control when playing recitals, there are often surprises whether we like them or not! Whether it's playing with an orchestra or playing a recital, every performance is a different experience, as Heraclitus the Greek philosopher said, "You cannot step into the same river twice."

Anything else about the emotional content or background of the Beethoven concerto?

The concerto was first written as early as in the late 1780s, when Beethoven was a young composer; in fact, this was actually the first concerto he wrote but was published after the C major 'Concerto No. 1'.

There is a certain freshness and youthfulness about the work. Rather light hearted and elegant the first movement is Mozartean in character, although Beethoven's 'fingerprints' are already clearly found. For example, the piece opens with a forte blocked chord followed by a broken chord, something that is a very Beethovenian statement. The listeners may discover some stylistic differences in the cadenza, which Beethoven wrote in around 1809 for his pupil, Archduke Rudolph of Austria. This middle-period cadenza starts in fugato style, uses much counterpoint, and has an extended trill section. All these characteristics actually foreshadow his writing style in the late period. The gorgeous second movement is profound and prayerful. The finale is a witty rondo where the main theme has syncopated sforzandi.

Thanks Susan!

Susan Chan makes her debut with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra on a program that includes Brahm's Tragic Overture and Sibelius' 5th Symphony. For more information about this concert see, the Columbia Symphony's website.

Also, you can hear Professor Chan on a outstanding recording called East West Encounter. She plays the following pieces on a Fazioli piano:

- Ning-Chi Chen's "Cherishing Thoughts of Red Cliff"
- Alexina Louie's "Warrior" movement from "Scenes from a Jade Terrace"
- Ludwig van Beethoven's Sonata in E minor
- Franz Liszt's "Mephisto Waltz No. 1
- Cesar Franck's Prelude, Fuge et Variation
- Frederic Chopin's Sonata No. 3 in B minor

I know that Classical Millennium has this CD for sale.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Oregon Symphony 07-08 Season

For the past two years the Oregon Symphony has tried to alternate some regular concerts on just two nights rather than the old standard of three nights (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday). For example, the upcoming concert with the Portland Symphonic Choir is on Saturday, March 31 and Monday, April 2, but no concert on Sunday, April 1. It looks like that experimental scheduling didn't work out. Next season, all of the regular concerts are on back to Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. That will make things easier for the folks at the box office.

Also, it's interesting to note that the Classical A series offers more guest soloists than the B series. The B series, does offer Mahler's 9th and Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with the women of the Portland Symphonic Choir. I'm pretty sure that the orchestra has only done the instrumental version of the Mendelssohn, and I'm not sure that they've done Mahler's 9th. So, I'm glad that they've scheduled these works.

If you have some comments about the upcoming Oregon Symphony season (artists, repertoire, scheduling) , please make a comment.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Oregon Symphony does have kids concerts planned!!!!

I just talked with Michael Kosmala, VP of Marketing and Community Engagement at the Symphony. He said that a brochure is coming out this weekend for the family/kids concerts scheduled for next year! So, this is great news! This separate brochure will be targeted toward a specific audience that might differ from the audience intended with the initial, regular brochure.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Launch of Counterstream Radio

A new internet radio program called Counterstream Radio will be launched on March 16th. But the site is up and running with samples of new compositions by a variety of composers. I enjoyed a Bryan Johanson (composer, guitarist, and Portland State University music prof) recording a couple of days ago. So check out the web site!

The real opening ceremonies are slated for March 16th a 3 pm with an exclusive conversation between Meredith Monk and Bjork.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Cutting back on music for kids - errata

See posting on March 13th!
I've modified this posting to reflect that the kids/family series needs some attention!

Unfortunately the kids concerts series have not been well attended at all. My friends just heard to the Tall Tales concert on Sunday and said that it was delightful. In particular Ja'Ttik Clark's tuba piece was a real hit. But the Schnitz was less than half full.

It's sad to know that people aren't willing to take their kids to an entertaining one hour program that's reasonably priced. I think that this problem needs some more discussion. There's got to be a good way to reach out to children. Maybe smaller ensembles in other venues than the Schnitz is the way to go. What do you think?

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Review of Windscape in the American Record Guide

My review of a concert by Windscape, a superb wind quartet based in New York City, is in the current (March/April) issue of the American Record Guide. The performance took place in late November as part of Chamber Music Northwest's fall-winter-spring series. The American Record Guide offers concert reviews in addition to its staple of recording reviews. The March/April edition also contains a thoughtful analysis of where to buy records and videos, and Portland's own Classical Millennium receives a nice mention on page 45.