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.”

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Composer Bob Priest and his Free Marz String Trio concert

I recently talked with Bob Priest about the upcoming concert of new music that his Free Marz String Trio will be performing this Friday at 8 pm at the Community Music Center. The music is built upon several interlocking themes - centered on birthdays, zodiac signs, and other constellations of the mind. Priest, I think, is a fellow who can push free association to the limits. Well, in this case, the outer limits.

This concert features music by John Paul, Benjamin Britten, Thomas Daniel Schlee, Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Igor Stravinsky, Darol Anger, Bob Priest, and Jimi Hendrix. The Free Marz String Trio consists of violinist Ines Voglar, violist Joel Belgique, and cellist Adam Esbensen, all of whom are members of the Oregon Symphony and of Fear No Music. They will be joined by violinist Erin Furbee (also a member of the OSO and FNM) and bassist Jeff Johnson (OSO member) on a couple of pieces. Also, actor David Loftus will read an excerpt from Viennese author Arther Schnitzler"s novella "Lieutenant Gustl."

The Marz name is a Priest's shortening of Marzena, and Marzena, a popular name for Polish women, means "dream." Priest liked that name so much that used it for the Marzena Performance Ensemble, which was featured in two music festivals that Priest created: the Seattle Spring Festival of New Music and World Arts (1988 to 1992) and the Seattle Summer Festival of New Music (1994).

"For a while in Seattle, I lived a few blocks from the Free Mars Cafe," says Priest, "which used to stay open until four in the morning. Anyway, it made me think of altering the ensemble's name. Also the first Mars landing happened on my 26th birthday."

This concert begins with "Chara," a string trio by Johan Paul, who is the head of the music department at Marylhurst University.

"Chara means joyous or to celebrate in Greek," explains Priest. "It sounds Americana, very motoric, very sprightly, a straight ahead piece. Incidentally, before Paul went into academia, he wrote some video game music for Atari. He's an interesting fellow."

Next is a work by Thomas Daniel Schlee, an Austrian composer and a professional touring organist who lives in Vienna and runs a music festival in the south part of Austria. Schlee and Priest have been friends since they met in Paris at a class taught by Messiaen in the late 1970s. Schlee's piece, "De Profoundis" is written for viola and double bass.

"This is a dramatic, tough number," says Priest.

Ines Voglar follows with by a short work by Xenakis, who would have been 85 years old had he lived longer.

"The Xenakis is an over the top glissandi piece," explains Priest. "It will push the envelope a little bit."

Next comes a tribute to Rostropovich. Adam Esbensen will perform the first two movements from Britten's seconds suite for solo cello.

"Rostropovich had a tremendous influence on Britten," says Priest. "Britten wrote five major works based on his connection to Rostropovich and that helped to transform the cello repertoire."

"Rostropovich is one of my absolute favorite people," adds Priest. "I saw him play on two occasions in Los Angeles, and he was electrifying. I couldn't sleep after hearing him play. I also got an autograph from him. He was larger than life. Another connection to Rostropovich is Ines. He conducted a youth orchestra that she played in and toured around Europe."

Next comes a short reading by David Loftus from Schnitzler's "Lieutenant Gustl" (which was retitled in the English version as "None but the Brave").

"I like to have something that is more than just music on the program," explains Priest. "This excerpt is an interior monologue by the main character who is sitting in a concert an muses on all sorts of things."

Interspersed between these pieces, the audience will hear selections from Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Tierkreis” (Signs of the Zodiac) which he wrote for music boxes. Priest has arranged three of these pieces for Voglar, Belgique, and Esbensen, who will play them from different areas of the stage.

After intermission, the Free Marz String Trio will play four movements of Priest's arrangement of Stravinsky's "Les Cinq Doigts" ("The Five Fingers"), which he wrote for piano in 1921.

"I'm calling my arrangement 'Four by Igor'" says Priest, "because he orchestrated the music for an ensemble of 15. So, I'm primarily using the original piano arrangement, but I'm also referring to the larger arrangement, too. So, my piece has four the of the eight movements."

After the Stravinskian excursion, Erin Furbee joins the Free Marz Trio -- making it the Fear No Music string quartet -- to play Priest's "Formula PH: 3 Moves for Jimi."

"I wrote this piece in 1998," states Preist. "It has three movements and uses elements of Jimi Hendrix's music. It's all abstracted from and inspired by Hendrix's music, but it's not like the Kronos arrangement of 'Purple Haze.'"

The last number on the program is an arrangement by Darol Anger (current Portland resident and former violinist of the Turtle Island String Quartet) of Hendrix’s “Gypsy Eyes.” You may have have heard it on the TISQ's recording "Who do we thing we are."

"You have to put a lot of verve into this piece," says Priest, "and you have to sing and play at the same time, too."

Whew! That's a lot of new stuff! You can enjoy a reception of interesting food at the end of the concert, too. And it's all gratis!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jossie Perez puts wow factor into Portland Opera's Carmen

Jossie Perez in the title role as the spicy, sexy, cigarette-factory girl in Portland Opera's Carmen delivers an over-the-top performance that you should see if you haven't already purchased your tickets. Perez looks the part, she acts the part, and she sings it all superbly, and she adds so much sexual tension to the story that the air conditioning at Keller Auditorium last night was running at full blast. Supported by a terrific cast of principals, including Richard Zeller, Maureen O'Flynn, Richard Troxell, ad Mark S. Doss, this season opener is very strong and convincing.

I'm writing a review of the production for Opera, the London-based magazine, so I won't say much more than to say that you won't see a better performance of Carmen than Perez's.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again

I'm back to singing in the tenor section of the Portland Symphonic Choir again. I took a year off because of ongoing scheduling conflicts with some music critics conferences that I wanted to attend (they included a Ring Cycle in Toronto, Canada, and the Spoleto USA festival in Charleston, South Carolina).

After passing a rigorous audition, I'm delving into the nitty gritty of learning some difficult Jewish music. We will be presenting concerts on October 27 and 28 at Temple Beth Israel in NW Portland. The trickiest piece is Judith Lang Zaimont's Rememberance, which was commissioned by the PSC. Zaimont frames this work in four movements to poems by Shakespeare, Sir John Suckling, Christina Rossetti, and to texts from Reform Judaism's prayerbook for the High Holy Days.

This concert features other pieces, of course, and I'll mention them at a later date. In the meantime, I have to say that the choir is sounding better than ever. I am really impressed by the professionalism of my singing colleagues. The choir, in fact, has been invited to sing at the American Choral Directors Association conference in Vancouver BC in late February. I think that everyone is looking forward to that!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thank you KBPS!

I signed up to receive the new email newsletter from KBPS called e-NOTES. During their kick-off drive last month, they lured people like me by giving away a CD every day to one of us who signed up during that period. I was one of the lucky ones; so, in the mail a couple of days ago came a copy of Rene Flemming's new recording, By Request, which I heard her in recital a few years ago at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, and she is a marvelous artist, one of the finest sopranos on the planet right now.

In the meantime, I heard that more than 400 people signed up for e-NOTES during that CD give-away period.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Pavarotti sales at Classical Millennium going up, up, up!

After noticing and article about the steep demand for Pavarotti recordings in England, I called Michael Parsons, proprietor of Classical Millennium, to see how Pavarotti sales are doing at his store.

"There's a significant increase in demand," he quickly replied. "The recordings that are compilations of his famous performances are going fast. Among the opera recordings, La Boheme is leading the pack."

So plan ahead if you are looking for a Pavarotti album...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Local soprano sang for Pavarotti

As I walked through my neighborhood (Irvington) in Portland a couple days ago, I saw a sign placed in one of the front yards, stating "Thank You Pavarotti!" So, I stopped by that house and chatted to the owner to find out about her connection to the great tenor. I was introduced to Nancy Olson-Chatalas, who teaches voice as an adjunct faculty member at Portland State University. She put the sign on her front lawn as a tribute to Pavarotti, and she told me of a time when she sang for him.

"I was in the finals of the International Arts and Letters competition," recalls Olson-Chatalas. "You had to have a high grade point average, be in certain age range, create a recital of five arias, work your way through the levels. And there was a lot of money involved if you won. The competition was held every year for about 12 years. I was in the 1979 finals which were held in Frank Lloyd Wright Auditorium in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Pavarotti was an adjudicator."

"Were you scared?"

"Not really," says Olson-Chabalas. "I was excited. In the master class he said that 'talent cannot be taught' and he gave me kisses, and I tied for first place with Susan Robinson who later taught at Westminister College. Pavoratti stood behind me with his hands on my waist and said 'breathe into my hands,' and I did that, and he said 'good, good.'"

Olson-Chatalas is retiring from teaching voice at PSU and wants to concentrate on writing and hiking. She now only has five students, but she is still working on singing Schubert lieder.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Debut recording by the Rose City Mixed Quartet

A few months ago, the Rose City Mixed Quartet released its debut CD entitled Outstanding! This recording contains 16 songs that feature some tightly wrought a cappella singing that puts a fresh twist on tunes that we take for granted. Take their opening number, Ain’t Misbehavin’, which detours into the realm of barbershop or Can’t Buy Me Love, which has accents of a madrigal or ’Tis a Gift to Be Simple, which has a jazzy underlying rhythm.

Other numbers on the RCMQ recording are Someone to Watch Over Me, Embraceable You, Home on the Range, Danny Boy, Lonesome Road, Short People, Lazy River, Blackbird, Isn't It Romantic, Java Jive, Little Red Riding Hood, In My Life, and Goodnight Sweetheart. Some of these arrangements (at least the background harmonies) are in the spirit of the Swingle Singers, an octet (now based in London, England) that has been bridging the gulf between classical music, popular music, and jazz with several chart-climbing albums since 1967.

The RCMQ consists of soprano Cameron Griffith Herbert, alto Helen Deitz, tenor Dale Webber, and bass Mark Petersen. They are longtime members of the Portland Symphonic Choir, and I have sung with all of them many times as a member of the PSC.

I’ve enjoyed this group’s ability to thread the needle in performing these complex arrangements. It’s great to have a mixed ensemble like this in Portland. Check out RCMQ’s Outstanding! when you get the chance. Here's a link to their web site.