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).