Friday, February 29, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792-1868)
Jimmy Dorsey (1904-1957)
Reri Grist (1932)

Bach's face - without a wig

The BBC reports that
"The face of Johann Sebastian Bach has been recreated by experts at Dundee University more than 250 years after the German composer's death." You can read about it here and view the rebuilt face.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Geraldine Farrar(1882-1967)
George Malcolm (1917-1997)
Joseph Rouleau (1929)
Osmo Vänskä (1953)
Markus Stenz (1965)


Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)
Linus Pauling (1901-1994)
Zero Mostel (1915-1977)
Frank Gehry (1929)

Ron Blessinger reflects on the Portland music scene

Catch Ron's most recent thoughts on the music scene in Portland on the Third Angle blog. Ron recently taped a segment on this top for OPB's Think Out Loud program.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918)
Lotte Lehmann (1888-1976)
Marian Anderson (1897-1993)
Elizabeth Welch (1904-2003)
Mirella Freni (1935)
Gidon Kremer (1947)
Frank-Peter Zimmermann (1956)


Elizabeth Taylor (1932)
Ralph Nadar (1934)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
Lazar Berman (1930-2005)
David Thomas (1943)
Emma Kirkby (1949)


Antoine Dominique "Fats" Domino (1928)
Johnny Cash (1932-2005)

Seattle Symphony looking to resolve quartertime concertmaster setup

Melinda Bargreen in the Seattle Times reports that the unusual concertmaster arrangement for the Seattle Symphony violates the orchestra's collective-bargaining agreement. You can read all about it in Bargreen's "Symphony's musical chairs must be resolved."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)
Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965)
Victor Silvester (1900-1978)
Davide Wilde (1935)
Jesús López-Cobos (1940)
Denis O'Neill (1948)


George Harrison (1943-2001)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Daltirus, Porretta, and Grimsley team up to knock Seattle Opera’s Tosca out of the park

Seattle Opera lined up three strong singers for the principal roles on the opening night of “Tosca,” and each artist responded with career-enhancing performances. With soprano Lisa Daltirus in the title role, tenor Frank Porretta as her lover Cavaradossi, and Greer Grimsley as the evil chief of police, Puccini’s famous political potboiler got every ounce of superb sound and drama to make this opera thrilling and memorable.

Daltirus unleashed her pitch-perfect, radiant voice with stunning effect. From the top-most notes to those in the basement, she infused each one with plenty of passion. Her flirting with Cavaradossi in the Act I delightfully blended spontaneity, charm, and willfulness. Daltirus started singing the aria Vissi d’arte while lying down on the floor of Scarpia’s apartment and finished the aria in such a convincing state of despair that the audience erupted in deafening applause and shouting from all corners.

Porretta sang ardently with a warm voice that blossomed wonderfully in the upper register and filled the house. His Vittoria! rang out magnificently and his E lucevan le stele was a show stopper as well.

Grimsley does the creepy Scarpia with so much conviction that it’s a relief when Tosca stabs him. He has a terrific way of injecting pure evil into the tone of each word that he sings, and he emits a wheezing sound before he breathes his last breath.

The voices of all three leads balanced very well. One singer didn’t overmatch the other and all three of them swung for the fences.

Impressive in lesser roles were Jason Grant as the freedom fighter Cesare Angelotti, Peter Strummer as the lovable caretaker of the sacristy, and David Korn as the Shepherd Boy.

Conductor Vjekoslav Sutej paced the orchestra well and their playing was exceptional. The off-stage singing by Tosca and the chorus during Act II was so loud that it interfered with the singing of Scarpia and Cavaradossi.

Clear stage directions by Chris Alexander helped to shape the storyline. The scenery, provided by San Francisco Opera, placed the action in Rome around 1800. The opera opened in a large church and moved to Scarpia’s ornate apartment in the second act. The third act took place on the roof of the Castel Sant’Angelo and was dominated by the statue of Saint Michael with his sword pointing downward to the place where Tosca jumps to her death. All was spectacularly lit by designer Connie Yun, especially the final scene which became a panoramic silhouette against a darkened sky.

The costumes were traditional and tastefully designed by Andrew Marlay. The English captions by Jonathan Dean were excellent.

Special note: Lisa Daltirus sings “Aida” in Portland Opera’s production in May. She then returns to Seattle to sing “Aida” in the second cast in August. Also, Greer Grimsley performs in the Portland’s “Aida” as Amonasro and his wife, Luretta Bybee, sings the part of Amneris. Finally, Vjekoslav Sutej will conduct the performances.

Today's Birthdays

Samuel Wesley (1766-1837)
Arrigo Boito (1842-1918)
Arnold Dolmetsch (1858-1940)
Michel Legrand (1932)
Renato Scotto (1934)
Jiří Bělohlávek (1946)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Singing in Vancouver

This morning the Portland Symphonic Choir sang a 20-25 concert as part of the ACDA convention in Vancouver. It was fun to sing for an audience of about 500 people who are really into choir music. Hamilton Cheifetz played extremely well in the "Lux Aeterna" piece (which has a very difficult cello part). The big ballroom where we performed has decent acoustics, but the lighting for the performers was terrible. Several singers complained of not being able to read their scores. Our conductor Steven Zopfi did an excellent job in preparing us for the event.

As for touring Vancouver, one of the nifty things you can do, is take the Seabus across the bay to North Vancouver and dine there. Kathy and I did that last night and had a spectacular view of the city. The cost for the Skytrain and Seabus was $2.50 each. Quite a deal.

Today's Birthdays

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Sir Hugh Roberton (1874-1952)
Albert Sammons (1886-1957)
Martindale Sidwell (1916-1998)


Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) - blogger of the 17th Century
Karl Jaspers (1883-1969)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in search of a new CEO

Cincinnati is looking for a new person to boost ticket sales, upgrade symphony hall, and put new life into the endowment. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. The story is in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Today's Birthdays

York Bowen (1884-1961)
Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963)
George Zukerman (1927)
Steven Lubin (1942)
Lucy Shelton (1954)
Lowell Liebermann (1961)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Music helps stroke patients to recover more quickly

This is an interesting report on a study completed recently in Finland.

Here are a couple of summary paragraphs from newsreports:

Listening to music in the early stages after a stroke can improve patients' recovery, according to new research published online in the medical journal Brain February 20.

Three months after a stroke, verbal memory was boosted by 60 percent among those who listened to music, by 18 percent among audio book listeners, and by 29 percent among non-listeners, the study’s lead author, Teppo Sarkamo, a neuroscientist at Helsinki University, said.

New stats...

Thank you for checking out Northwest Reverb! The Google Analytics program states that over 1,000 different visitors are stopping by every month and making almost 2,000 visits.

Today's Birthdays

Carl Czerny (1791-1857)
Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
Charles Marie Widor (1844-1945)
Kenneth Alford (1881-1945)
Nina Simone (1933-2003)
Elean Duran (1949)
Simon Holt (1948)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oregon Symphony goes into overdrive: Copland, Barber, Bizet, and Liszt

The Oregon Symphony performed a long and varied program that covered a lot of territory on Sunday evening. The concert featured works by Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Franz Liszt (two pieces), and Georges Bizet. Superb guest pianist Arnaldo Cohen threw in a gem-like encore as well; so the concert lasted almost three hours. The musicians and music director Carlos Kalmar stayed focused and delivered exciting interpretations of each piece on the program.

The concert began with Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which he scored for four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, and tam tam. The brass and percussionists of the Oregon Symphony gave this short work a strong, muscular sound that resonated well with the audience, which responded enthusiastically.

Next came Barber’s “Souvenirs,” a delightful, off-balance glimpse into the hotel ballrooms of a bygone era dating back to Barber’s youth. Each of the six dances in “Souvenirs” had something to catch my ears. The wandering clarinet line and light strings gave the “Tempo di walzer” a serendipitous flavor. The “Schottishe” furiously swirled away at its conclusion. Plaintive and graceful woodwinds paint the “Pas de deux.” A whimsical viola led the “Two-step,” the “Hesitation-Tango” lingered exotically, and the muted trumpet solo added to the dash in the “Galop.”

The final piece on the first half of the program was Liszt’s Concerto No 2 in A major, which I usually count as an uninteresting piece. However, Cohen’s brilliant playing expressed a wide range of colors, varied the tempi, and made the piece come alive and sing. A spontaneous standing ovation ensued, and Cohen responded with an encore, “Odeon” by Brazilan composer Ernesto Nazarath. That brought down the house a second time.

The second half of the program continued with Bizet’s Symphony No. 1 in C Major. The orchestra’s string sections got a full-body workout, playing the tricky passages cleanly and with panache. Principal oboist Martin Hebert played the seductive oboe theme in the second movement terrifically. The French horns also had many shining moments. The extended pizzicato section in the low strings in the Allegro vivace was fun to watch and hear.

The concert concluded with Franz Liszt’s “Les Préludes” (Symphonic Poem No. 3), a piece that traversed a huge, emotional landscape. The orchestra impressively mounted the big, majestic parts of this work when everyone is going full bore. The musicians also tenderly expressed the quietest moments when the harp could be heard clearly (not a small feat in the Schnitz). I also loved the section in which the violins and cellos started a conversation that was commented upon by the bassoons and basses. Kudos all around to the orchestra and Kalmar for delivering a thrilling ride.

Today's Birthdays

Mary Garden (1874-1967)
Ruth Gipps (1921-1999)
Christoph Eschenbach (1940)
Barry Wordsworth (1948)
Riccardo Chailly (1953)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Guest review of Portland Baroque's Bach Cantata concert

I couldn't attend last weekend's Portland Baroque Concert so I asked Lorin Wilkerson, a singing colleague and writer for the Bach Cantata Choir to record his thoughts. Here's Lorin's review:

There’s nothing that will liven up an evening’s performance like a little controversy. Friday evening’s performance by the Portland Baroque Orchestra consisted of J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto in D minor delightfully sandwiched between music from four of his sacred cantatas, and the controversy surrounded the concerto.

The night started with the opening sinfonia of Cantata BWV 21 appended to Cantata 159, which was composed with no orchestral introduction. Because they are both in the same key, the sinfonia proved a seamless segue into the first cantata of the evening. This cantata was a good opener. Especially impressive was the soprano aria Ich folge dir nach, which Amanda Jane Kelley sang with precision and clarity of phrase. During a technically difficult section where she was doubled by the oboe, both soloists showed a high degree of intuition and sensitivity. Countertenor Ian Howell also stood out with his unforced and mellifluous head-voice showcasing the now-rare skills this type of singing demands.

The second half began with Cantata 32, which oboe soloist and visiting scholar Gonzalo X. Ruiz described during the pre-concert lecture as a "dialogue cantata" due to an intimacy between the melodic lines of the oboe and soprano. He explained that "we are constantly stepping on each another’s toes," and that the technique using melodic lines weaving in and out of close harmonies and doublings was unusual in this context. Perhaps the most sublime moment of the evening for me came with the bass aria Hier in meines Vaters Stätte. Bass David Stutz sang this lengthy movement with tenderness and grace.

The finale was the famous "Wedding Cantata" Der Herr denket an uns, BWV 196. Artistic director Monica Huggett stood graciously aside and allowed her small orchestra to take the helm during the sinfonia, and it seemed as though she was enjoying it as much as the audience.

The opening chorus raced right from the outset, and at times the structure held together tenuously at best. There were several instances where Huggett had to stop playing and direct the singers with her bow at this furious tempo. There were a few brief moments like this during the evening, when the musicians seemed to be trying hard to feel each other’s tempos: sometimes between singers and instrumentalists and sometimes amongst the instrumentalists themselves. There were no disastrous moments however; the high degree of trust between Huggett and her orchestra came through each time there was a moment of searching, and each time a rhythm was found. The final chorus was another "presto" with a dense contrapuntal texture; during this fugal movement I was reminded not so much of a cantata as a concerto grosso, with the vocalists forming the concertina. This one went off without a hitch and provoked a long ovation which netted a reprisal of the "Amen" chorus as an encore.

Ruiz spoke during his pre-concert lecture of the argument between Bach scholars as to which if any of his famous clavier concerti (specifically BWVs 1041, 1042, 1052 and 1056) actually started life as keyboard works, and which were meant for violin. Huggett, on the strength of her baroque violin virtuosity, expressed the opinion that BWV 1052, which was heard Friday night, was originally composed for the violin. Ruiz had arguments otherwise, but invited the audience to decide for itself which instrument was better suited to this work.

While the cantatas were a laudable exploration for the PBO, the Bach violin concerto let this group perform at its shining best: strings, continuo, and Huggett out front -- a fearless leader of a group displaying such precise musicality that at times it seemed as though the individual members were really just parts of one colossal instrument. Right from the boldness of the opening attack, through the heart-rending adagio in the middle and on to the brutally difficult ricercare of the final allegro, Monica showed why she is such a bright star in the firmament of baroque musicians.

I told my friend with whom I attended the concert that I think of Monica Huggett as the Eddie Van Halen of baroque violin; an analogy that Huggett might not mind, given that she cites guitar hero Eric Clapton as one of the musical influences from her youth. She often grits her teeth in grim determination during the ferocious sequence of lightning-quick, arpeggiated bariolages; she sways gently to and fro while making her instrument sing during the more tender moments. This piece was virtually flawless and well worth the enthusiastic standing ovation, which seemed to genuinely touch Huggett. I was never able to decide whether or not it was originally written for the violin, but it sure was a wonderful experience trying to figure it out.

Today's Birthdays

Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
Grace Williams (1906-1977)
Stan Kenton (1912-1979)
Timothy Moore (1922-2003)
George Guest (1924-2002)
Michael Kennedy (1926)
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (1932-1988)
Penelope Walmsley-Clark (1949)

Jackie Parker’s one-person rendition of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” rocks the Kasbah

Jon Kimura Parker showcased a wide-ranging program, delivering a taste of the East with Alexina Louie’s “Scenes from a Jade Terrace” and a sampling of the West with Robert Schumann’s “Carnaval.” But it was Parker’s own arrangement of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” that created a wow factor on Sunday afternoon at the Newmark Theatre as part of Portland Piano International’s recital series. Parker’s intense and intelligent playing and all-around virtuoso technique re-created the entire atmosphere of Stravinsky’s hymn to pagan times.

I heard Parker play this piece a few years ago at the World Forestry Center and what struck me was its forcefulness. This time I was more impressed with how Parker always brought out the leading theme of each movement and how clearly I could hear all of the sound in the Newmark. After ending the first part like a possessed madman, Parker created an atmosphere of mystery at the beginning of the second part and gradually increased the tension, keeping a firm hand on the throttle. The jagged, jarring, and at times brutal rhythmic drive became almost hypnotic. Parker at times rocked back and forth and so did his assisting page turner.

Wild applause erupted at the end of the piece, although I got the feeling that part of the audience just doesn’t like Stravinsky’s music not matter how brilliantly it is played. They may have been confused by Alexina Louie’s “Scenes from a Jade Terrace,” which Parker commissioned in 1987 when he was 28 years old. This piece contains some intriguing tone clusters, especially a blur of notes in the bass that create a hollow, ghostly sound. Parker also quickly reached into the piano to strum the strings, which added an atmosphere of awe to the “Warrior” and “Memories in an Ancient Garden” movements.

Parker superbly played Schumann’s “Carnaval,” creating a separate mood for each scene. Whether noble, silly, wild, or serene, Parker conveyed it all marvelously.

I was unable to stay for the encore, which I found from Harold Gray’s blog was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Prelud in G Major, Op. 32, No. 5.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Pietro Giovanni Guarneri (1655-1720)
Marchel Landowski (1915-1999)
Rita Gorr (1926)
Marek Janowski (1939)
Marlos Nobre (1939)

Portland Symphonic Choir hits the road

Around 80 or more members of the Portland Symphonic Choir will be singing in Vancouver, BC this weekend as part of the American Choral Directors Association's Northwest Convention. As a member of the choir's tenor section, I'm looking forward to singing for the indie choral folks. We will perform Sid Robinovitch's "Prayer Before Sleep," Alice Parker's arrangement of "Y'susum Midbar" ("The Desert Shall Be Glad"), and Bryan Johanson's "Lux Aeterna," which PSC commissioned for its 2004-2005 season (and recorded). Johanson's wrote his work for choir and cello solo, and we'll perform it with cellist Hamilton Cheifetz, who teaches as Portland State (as does Johanson).

After we return, we'll get back to work on the pieces that we are doing on March 12th with PDQ Bach: "The Seasonings" and "Oedipus Tex."

PS: The Pacific Youth Choir, directed by Mia Hall Savage and based in Portland, will also be singing at the ACDA convention

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Sr. Edward German (1862-1936)
Andres Segovia (1893-1987)
Marian Anderson (1893-1993)
Ron Goodwin (1925-2003)
Fredrich Cerha (1926)
Anner Bylsma (1944)
Karl Jenkins (1944)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Maria Korchinska (1895-1979)
Sir Geraint Evans (1922-1992)
Eliahu Inbal (1936)
John Corigliano (1938)
Sigswald Kulijken (19440

Review of the Vancouver Symphony (WA) concert

One of the most challenging things that I get to do as a reviewer is to write a review in one hour. Because I write reviews for The Columbian newspaper, I attend the Saturday afternoon concerts of the Vancouver Symphony. The concerts start at 3 pm and typically finish a little after 5 pm. Today's concert had an encore, so it finished at 5:15 pm, and I didn't get home until 5:30. So, from 5:45 until 6:45, I madly write a critique of about 500 words. It's sort of like being in college all over again. The good thing is that it's done and over with quickly. The bad thing is that I might have left out something important, or I could've chosen a better slate of words to describe some aspect of the concert. It's sort of like a sports reporter, I suppose. You go to the game, and write up a summary as quickly as possible afterwards. Ok, enough of the blabbing. Here's a link to the review, which my editor at The Columbian has already posted.

Anyway, if you want to experience a rush, try writing a review in an hour!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Heinrich Engelhard Steinway (1797-1871)
Marcella Sembrich (1858-1935)
Jean Langlais (1907-1991)
Norma Procter (1928)
John Adams (1947)
Christopher Rouse (1949)
Kathryn Harries (1951)
Christian Lindberg (1958)


Matt Groening (1954)

Beethoven's Triple Concerto at the Vancouver Symphony (WA) concert

I published a preview about this weekend's Vancouver Symphony concert in The Columbian. Justin Kagan (Portland Cello Project member and metro freelancer) will play this difficult but gorgeous piece with violinist Thomas Hwang and pianist Michael Liu, both of whom are medical doctors.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Pietro Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)
Fernando Sor (1778-1839)
Alexander Dargomizhsky (1813-1869)
Wyn Morris (1929)
Steven Mackey (1956)
Renee Fleming (1959)

Henry Fogel says that interpretations have become very narrow

Henry Fogel, the President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras and former President of the Chicago Symphony maintains in his blog, On the Record, that artistic interpretation of music by conductors and musicians has become narrower and more "puristic." He has proof of his assertion from recordings that have been made over many, many years. Fogel states that artists were much more daring and risk-taking in the years up to 1950, but since then artists have shown a narrower understanding of the right way to interpret music. You can read about Fogel's view here.

With more and more recordings and concerts turned out each year, it seems that we would be greeted with a wider variety of interpretations, but I wonder if we (artists, critics, and audiences) have straight-jacketed ourselves into thinking that there is only one right way to do a particular piece. I have a recording of Sibelius' 2nd Symphony that is directed by Toscanini, and it clips along at a faster and more furious rate than any recording by other conductors (all since 1960) that I have ever heard. I know that artists want to put their own stamp on how they do a certain piece, but perhaps many also fear that they will get clobbered it they express themselves too freely.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938)
Eileen Farrell (1920-2002)
Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938)

Is there a countertenor in the house? A conversation with Gerald Thompson

Gerald Thompson is the 31 year old phenomenal countertenor who is singing the role of Unufo in Portland Opera’s production of “Rodelinda.” I talked with him over the phone yesterday afternoon to find out more about his voice and his career.

How do you become a countertenor?

Thompson: Well, I think that it’s a little different for everybody, but for me it happened while I was still in college – in Arkansas, which is where I’m from. A new voice teacher came to our school and I started studying with him. I was a tenor at the time, and he was also a tenor; so I thought that he could help me figure out the tenor stuff. So after a couple of lessons, he kept warming my voice up higher and higher. Then he said, “Well, you’re not a tenor.” So I asked, “Well, what am I?” He replied, “A countertenor.”

So, I just found the right teacher who recognized my voice for what it is.

What is the countertenor tone, isn’t it sort of a falsetto?

Thompson: Some people call it different things, like reinforced falsetto. When I was warming up at the top of the tenor range I would switch into this other voice. Then I could still go an octave and a half or two octaves higher.

So how high do you go?

Thompson: In Rodelinda, I go up to a G above a tenor’s high C.


Thompson: Most countertenors go around an F or a G above the tenor’s high C. I can sing up to a soprano’s high C.

Mon Dieu!

Your voice is so rich and full. How do you get this wonderful sound?

Thompson: None of my teachers taught a countertenor before they met me. So they just taught me as if I were a mezzo-soprano. They used the same technique for them but applied it to my voice.

Every countertenor that I have heard has a different quality to their voice than any other countertenor I’ve heard.

So how to you transition into the lower tenor range?

Thompson: What I try to do is very similar to mezzo with her chest voice. I try to mix the tenor and the head-voice so that I’m never singing with the full tenor sound. So it should sound like an even mix. It’s the same concept when I go into the extreme upper range, I try to keep a some of the middle in the higher area. So there’s an even transition throughout the voice.

You are from Arkansas?

Thompson: Yes, I was born and raised in Pocahontas, Arkansas, and went to college to Arkansas Tech University, and that’s where I met the teacher who discovered my countertenor voice. He had a career in Europe as a tenor and knew about countertenors. David Daniels had just released his first CD as a countertenor at this same time. So the idea of becoming a countertenor was more acceptable here in the States, but they have been using countertenors for a long, long time in Europe.

Tell us more about your career path.

Thompson: I was in the Merola Opera program for young artists then I got the Adler Fellowship with San Francisco Opera. I graduated from that program last year and have been working full-time for a full year now. I’ve been real busy. I’m preparing for a big European audition tour so that I can get work over in Europe. My agent is based in London, and she’s setting things up for me. I’ll be based in Paris, but I’ll go all over Europe for the auditions. There are just more opportunities in Europe.

When I first got into this the upper range was just a freak kind of thing. My voice teacher brought in some CDs of countertenors from Europe, and I asked, “You can make a living from doing this?!”

Before the getting into the Merola program I sang two and a half years with Opera Theatre at Wildwood Park in Arkansas doing their opera season and also as a young artist in their opera in the schools program. So I sang as a countertenor in a children’s opera tour.

The kids’ jaws must have dropped!

Thompson: The first question that the kids always asked is, “Why do you sing like a girl?” Since the first role I had in that program was Hansel in “Hansel and Gretel,” I’d tell them that I was playing a young boy and boys still had high voices.

With a countertenor there is still some masculinity in the voice despite that fact that it’s really high. It’s difficult to find your way into this profession. You just have to see what doors open. My biggest break really came when I did Merola – 12 weeks in the summer – then I got a call to be in the Adler Fellowship, and they had a countertenor who had to drop out of a show, so they needed someone as a last minute replacement. So I immediately flew back to San Francisco and started rehearsal. So I was singing a nice-sized supporting role on San Francisco Opera’s stage. Then they put me in two more shows. So I sang the role that I’m singing here with Portland Opera while still in the young artists program. And later I sang Prince Orlofsky in “Die Fledermaus” there as well. So they’ve been very good to me.

I feel so lucky to be the first countertenor to have performed with Portland Opera. I love the company and the city here. I’d love to come back here and sing again.

That would be terrific! Good luck with everything.

Thompson: Thanks!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Roy Harris (1898-1979)
Franco Zeffirelli (1934)
Thomas Campion (1567-1620)


Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

Learning more about music – the engaging lectures of Robert Greenberg

During intermission at the Ian Bostridge recital a couple weeks ago, I talked with Fred Mosedale, a longtime friend of mine, who enthusiastically told me about the music education courses offered by Robert Greenberg through the Teaching Company. Mosedale asked that I add information about Greenberg’s courses to Northwest Reverb, because he feels that many readers would benefit from them

Mosedale, who worked many years in the hi-tech industry, told that he never took a class in (performing, theory, or anything else). Yet he has attended many concerts over the years and has become more and more interested in music. Because he enjoys learning at home, he bought a music education series by Robert Greenberg through The Teaching Company, and found that it was incredibly helpful. For example, Greenberg’s “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music” course contains lectures with lots of music excerpts from operas, symphonies, chamber music, etc.

I, too, have listened to all of the 48 CDs in “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music” course and can vouch for its high quality. Greenberg is an engaging speaker who really captures your attention and laces his lectures with a little bit of humor to keep in moving ahead.

Moreover, you don’t have to purchase a course a full price, because all of the courses go on sale once or twice every year. Many of the courses cost several hundred dollars (in DVD, CD, or as a download to your computer), but when they go on sale, they typically cost less than $100. You can also take look on eBay and to see if you can find them there.

Also, if you have already purchased one or more of Greenberg’s courses and want to exchange or sell them, please let me know, and I will post your message.

Here's an additional note from Fred:
Your readers might like to know that libraries may carry the courses. The Washington County Library system has the course and a number of his other courses too. Click here for a listing of their Greenberg course. I'd guess that the Multnomah County Library might carry them too.

Ron Blessinger's Third Angle blog...

Ron Blessinger, the artistic director of the Third Angle New Music Ensemble and a member of the Oregon Symphony's violin section, registers his thoughts and comments about the upcoming Oregon Symphony season in the Third Angle blog. A big thanks to Charles Noble for pointing out this blog.

Ron Blessinger has also been the concertmaster of the Cascade Festival since 1994.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Rudolf Firkušný (1912-1994)


Thomas Edison (1847-1931)

Upbeat Oregon Symphony 2008-2009 season preview

I attended the Conductor's Circle 2008-2009 Season Preview this evening and was impressed with the upbeat mood among the orchestra's staff and it big-time donors. The soirée, held at the Governor Hotel, had a good buzz going (and I don't mean from the wine and beer, although that was flowing at a good rate).

President Elaine Calder spoke about next year's focus on selling more tickets via a five-point plan. The five points centered on celebrity (eg., Joshua Bell and Lang Lang), variety (eg., the special concerts), consistency (eg., Inside the Score), scarcity (eg., reducing the number of Pops concerts to create hot tickets, and bribery (eg., if you purchase the full series then you'll get free Itzhak Perlman tickets - that is, A + B = Perlman).

Calder also mentioned that in the Pops arena, the orchestra has hired Jeff Tyzik to conduct four pops concerts. Tyzik is one of the best one of the best if not the best pops conductor in the nation. The Pops series has been reduced from a series of three to just two concerts each time. This move will consolidate money and resources - especially since the attendance at Monday evening concerts has been lagging.

Kalmar talked about the upcoming season and highlights several concerts and guest artists. He mentioned that the Symphony has been trying for several years to get Joshua Bell to come and that everyone is happy that he will finally play with the orchestra. He noted that finding the right mix of symphonies, concerti, new music, and pieces that have never been performed by the OSO but need to be performed is a difficult task. It's hard to please everyone but Kalmar and his staff have tried their best and are very excited. So along with some warhorses like Beethoven's 9th and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, the symphony will perform 15 works that they have never performed before, including six pieces by living composers. One of the composers is Oregon's own Tomas Svoboda, who Kalmar feels is "the most underrated composer in America." Also, Kalmar noted that the "20th Century pieces will have music that you'll like," meaning that it will not be the ugly stuff that people usually associate with modern music.

Niel DePonte added his take on the upcoming season with a side note about being in the orchestra for 30 years and his willingness to take on new and exciting percussion -oriented pieces. He is also looking forward to working with Tyzik who was a classmate of his at Eastman.

Also, Thomas Lauderdale, who was in attendance, is working on getting some of his artistic friends to sign up for concerts next season. So, some more specials will pop up later.

I heard that tickets for the remainder of this season are selling at a good clip, so things are looking up for the Symphony.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Eighth Blackbird wins Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance!

Congratulations to Eighth Blackbird and its former member flutist Molly Barth, who now makes her home in Oregon. Judith Sherman, the producer of their album "Strange Imaginary Animals" won the Best Producer of the Year for Classical music. You can see for yourself here. Go to Category 97 and Category 104. The winners are listed in Gold print.

Today's birthdays

Johann Melchior Molter (1696-1765)
Leontyne Price (1927)
Jean Coulthard (1908-2000)


Roberta Flack (1937)

Countertenors in the Pacific Northwest - a extremely rare talent

After hearing the brilliant countertenor Gerard Thompson on opening night of Portland Opera's "Rodelinda," I began to wonder if I knew of any countertenors in the Portland area and concluded that I didn't. I quickly realized that I didn't know of any countertenors in the Pacific Northwest. During the 2004-2005 Oregon Symphony season, I got to sing (as a member of the Portland Symphonic Choir) in a series of Baroque-styled "Messiah" concerts with another outstanding countertenor, Matthew White, who stole the show with his scintillating presence and singing. White is a native of Ottawa, Canada, and I'm not sure where Thompson is from. In any case, it looks like there is a growing demand for countertenors, and it should be a field that young males singers should consider.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Today's birthdays

Alban Berg (1885-1935)
Hildegard Behrens (1937)
Ryland Davies (1943)

Understudy Sharin Apostolou saves Portland Opera's Rodelinda

Sharin Apostolou, a soprano in the Portland Opera Studio Artist program, rescued Portland Opera from a potential opening night disaster with steely nerves and artistic chutzpah, delivering an outstanding performance in the title of role of "Rodelinda." It was a night to be remembered for Apostolou who filled in for headliner Jennifer Aylmer, who was suffering from a bronchial infection and advised by her doctors to avoid singing. Apostolou, who I heard a few weeks ago in the Oregon Symphony's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", sang with intelligence and passion. Her voice was clear, supple, and had plenty of warmth and fire when needed. Apostolou's acting was also very inspired, revealing the character of a heroine who outfoxed her enemies with cunning and a double dog dare attitude.

The cast of principals in this production were strong but uneven. As Rodelinda's husband, Bertarido, contralto Jennifer Hines did remarkably well, yet her beautiful darkened tone seemed was underpowered in the lower register. Tenor Robert Breault, aptly created the role of Grimoaldo who usurped the throne and sought the hand of Rodelinda, but his voice seemed to want to break free of the ornamentation that is required in Baroque opera. Whenever Breault got to the upper register, he let it ring out as if he were in an Verdi opera.

In the role of Garibaldo, a close friend of Grimoaldo, bass Valerian Ruminski has a big sound and a fair amount of agility to negotiate most of his passages. Apparently, contralto Emma Curtis was also subject to bronchial problems, but she recovered enough to perform as Eduige, Bertarido's sister. Yet her condition seemed to affect her lowest notes - which were sustained and powerful - but disconnected from the beautiful tone that she normally displayed.

Countertenor Gerald Thompson was superb as Unulfo, the nobleman who befriended Bertarido and helped Rodelinda to save him. Thompson whipped through some devlishly tricky arias with panache, completely winning over the audience en route.

George Manahan did an admirable job of conducting while seated at the harpsichord. Yet he could have pushed the chamber orchestra much further in expressing the music. During the escape scene in the third act, when the drama became heightened, the violins especially became louder, but they lost that crisp and darting quality that would've made the music more engaging.

Helena Binder provided a fine touch with the stage directions. The modicum of movement served to enhance the arias rather than detract from them. The lighting by Thomas Munn also was excellent.

The sumptuous costumes (harkening back to Handel's era) were exquisite, but the scenery, provided by Dallas Opera, lacked imagination. The backdrop consisted of large frames trimmed in gold, so that the characters looked as if they were walking into a painting. Inside the frames were white-on-white themes that depicted a forests and buildings like white silhouettes, but they were bland. Fortunately, the servants brought in ornate furniture that provided more texture.

Overall, the night belonged to Apostolou, a dynamic young talent who rose to the occasion and hopefully will have many opportunities to hone her artistry in the world of opera.

Additional Note: Aposolou will appear in the Portland Opera Studio Artists production of Albert Herring (March 14-30).

Friday, February 8, 2008

Today's birthdays

John Williams (1932)
Elly Ameling (1934)

A conversation with Grammy nominee, flutist Molly Barth

The Grammy’s will be announced Sunday, so it’s time to catch up with flutist Molly Barth, one of the founding members of Eighth Blackbird, whose recording “Strange Imaginary Animals” has been nominated for three Grammys (Best Chamber Music, Best Producer Classical, Best Classical Contemporary Composition).

So why did you leave Eighth Blackbird?

I left eighth backbird because I am much more comfortable with the lifestyle that I lead now. I don’t have to live half the year on the road, living out a suitcase, waiting around in airports, and being in hotel rooms and rental cars all of the time. And as Eighth Blackbird continues to be more successful, they will be on the road more and more. It’s already happening. When I left, the tour schedule was six months out of the year and now it’s eight.

Do you miss all the acclaim from the Eighth Blackbird concerts?

I get my chamber music kicks with Fear No Music and a new music ensemble that I’ve started with trumpeter Brian McWhorter from the University of Oregon. It’s called Beta Collide. We are a Pacific Northwest based ensemble, and we like the idea of being presenters as well as musicians. We’ll create each concert with a guest artist. We’ve got a weeklong residency at Stanford University that starts at the end of the month. We’ve invited Scott Rosenberg, a saxophonist from the Bay Area who is active in the free jazz movement, to perform with us. Scott bridges the gap between free jazz and contemporary classical.

Then on April 5th at Willamette University, we are performing a concert with Stephen Vitiello, who is a sound installation artist. He is the archivist for The Kitchen in New York City – a really funky, alternative venue. Vitiello teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University. So we have a lot going on already!

And you teach flute at Willamette University…

Yes, I have a fairly full studio with ten students. The people there are really intelligent and fun to spend time with. None of my students are music performance majors. The have a good work ethic. They really respond to what I say. They want to play music. I don’t have to twist their arms.

And you’re playing with the Oregon Symphony and with the Eugene Symphony…

Yes, when I left Eighth Blackbird I realized that I was yearning for more variety. Now I’m teaching, doing chamber music and orchestral music. It’s wonderful.

So you have to drive a lot?

I live in McMinnville, and the drive is pretty awful sometimes. My husband percussionist Phillip Patti is a vintner and is a learning to be a vineyard manager. He performs with me in Beta Collide and with other groups like Fear No Music.

The Pacific Northwest has a lot of composers for you to work with.

Yes, I’m getting to know them. Playing new music is really fascinating. You’re collaborating with the composer. There’s a lot of give and take. I enjoy that.

It’s amazing that in the Oregon Symphony you have two new music ensembles that are drawn from the orchestra members: Third Angle and FearNoMusic. Not that many orchestras in the US have that kind of commitment.

Do you own several flutes?

I play a Burkart C-flute that I use all the time, a Burkart piccolo, and a Haynes alto flute from the 1950s that’s absolutely beautiful. When I decided to resign from Eighth Blackbird I thought of moving to Boston and going into flute-making. Most of the companies that make flutes are there.

Did you always play flute?

I started at the age of nine. In fourth grade we could play any instrument we wanted, but I was wearing braces at the time. My orthodontist told me that I could play percussion or flute, so I chose the flute. My parents are not musicians, but I was exposed to music at an early age.

Will you be attending the Grammy awards?

No. I won’t be going down to LA. I’ll be playing the Inside the Score concert on Sunday afternoon with the Oregon Symphony, and then I have to drive to Eugene to play with the Eugene Symphony later that day.

The life of an itinerant musician!

Yup! (Laughs.) Cross your fingers for Eighth Blackbird in the Grammys!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Today's birthdays

Claudia Muzio (1889-1936)
Ossip Gabrilovich (1878-1936)
Vilhelm Eugene Stenhammar (1871-1927)


Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Conference on classical music at Seattle University

Seattle University is hosting a conference called "Sounds of the Future: Classical Music - A Naitonal Conversation" this weekend (February 9th and 10th). Speakers and panelists include Gerard Schwarz, Greg Sandow, Ann Midgette, Perry Lorenzo, and Melinda Bargreen. The cost is $10 for students, and $45 for the rest of us. You can also get the VIP treatment for $150, which includes a reception.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Today's birthdays

Claudio Arrau (1903-1991)
Karl Weigl (1881-1949)
Stephen Albert (1941-1992)

A fistfull of batons...

On the cover of the most recent issue of the Oregon Symphony program, you'll see music director Carlos Kalmar holding an array of batons (photographed by Micahel Jones -- with apologies from me because I can't get this photo to upload as clearly as I would like). The batons were made by Alan Piece, who retired last year from the orchestra's trombone section. Pierce, by the way, left earlier this week to deliver a set of batons to Simon Rattle in Berlin.

A new classical music club...

Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto (who will appear with the Oreogn Symphony in March) has launched a classical music club in a restaruant in Helsinki. You can read about it here. I think that Portland is ready for a similar kind of club. I'm not sure where this could happen right now, but in the near future, when the new park block behind the Fox office tower is done, it will have a building that could serve as a restaruant/bar with a small stage for chamber music. Since it is located one block away from the Schnitz, this venue could become a great location to congregate after a show.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Today's birthdays

Ivan Tcherepnin (1943-1998)
Ole Bull (1810-1880)
Christian Gottlob Neefe (1748-1798)
Jussi Björling (1911-1960)


Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron (1934)

Symphony musicians give free concert at the Old Church

At noontime tomorrow (Wednesday), you can catch two ensembles from the Oregon Symphony that will present the following program gratis!

Beethoven: String Quartet Op.59-1, F major
Shin Kwon, Fumino Ando (Violns), Masayo Higuchi (Viola), Adam Esbensen (Cello) --

Brahms: Piano Quintet in F minor
Shin Kwon, Sarah Roth (Violins), Chales Noble (Viola), Heather Blackburn (Cello), Cary Lewis (Piano)

BTW: Esbensen is the fellow who just won a position with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Review: Oregon Symphony performs Adams, Beethoven, and Schumann

John Adams has a sense of humor, but it’s one that requires a lot of hard work. In 1992, Adams wrote his “Chamber Symphony” after contemplating Schoenberg and being interrupted by the sounds of a Roadrunner cartoon that his young son was enjoying. I heard a 15-member ensemble from the Oregon Symphony play this exceedingly difficult piece on Sunday evening, and I came away impressed with the constantly shifting myriad of sounds and the rhythmic intensity.

Divided into three movements, the “Chamber Symphony” opened with a jazz-inspired “Mongrel Airs,” but this wasn’t loosey-goosey jazz. The atmosphere was tightly wound and seemed to relax only slightly when the brass laid down a sustained sound. An ascending series of chords gave me the impression of someone climbing a set of stairs, but that escalated quickly into a tornado-like blur that abruptly ended.

Next came “Aria with Walking Bass,” which started with a forlorn call from the trombone. A meandering line from the bassoon and double bass entered while the trumpet and French horn added a layer of melancholy. The violin trilled several times, and the oboe began playing in a stratosphere register. The synthesizer started puttering around before the piccolo got into the act, and then the clarinet started high stepping all over the place. This movement ended with a sense of unfinished business and anticipation.

“Roadrunner,” the last movement, contained a furious amount of mayhem. It was a jumble of cool sounds that would spring from anywhere in the ensemble. At one point violinist Jun Iwasaki made a bunch of scratchy sounds as if the music had to relieve an itch. The piece concluded suddenly, but with a finality as well. Enthusiastic applause from the audience ensued, but I think that some people were puzzled at what they just heard.

The music seemed to reflect a nervous, unsure, and whimsical world. The last movement made me wonder if Adams had indulged in too much Red Bull. The ensemble, made up mostly of orchestra principals, seemed to have fun. But acting principal bassoonist Evan Kuhlmann’s bobbing motion signaled that he was rocking out on the piece.

While the orchestra reconfigured itself for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, I switched seats to another section of the lower balcony. This was the evening of the Super Bowl, and attendance was a little down. Guest artist Kirill Gerstein delivered a wonderful rendition of Beethoven’s music. I liked how Gerstein could turn and listen to the orchestra and play superbly at the same time. He easily changed dynamics, and his feathery touch in the first movement was exquisite. The languid section in the second movement made me sink into a mile long pillow. The third movement was a playful frolic between the orchestra and the pianist, concluding brilliantly.

After the applause died down, Gerstein played Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s “Erlkönig.” I really enjoyed the way that Gerstein brought out the different voices (the father, the child, and the evil Erlkönig).

The second half of the program, the orchestra played Schumann’s Symphony No. 4. I sat near the topmost row of the balcony for this piece. The sound was very balanced, and I could hear the lower strings almost every time. Crescendos and diminuendos were clearer and more dramatic than in the lower balcony. In the fourth movement, there’s a point in which the orchestra sounds as if it is breaking through a thick, thick haze, and that was just glorious.

Resident conductor Gregory Vajda paced this music well, giving it time to develop and grow. Vajda directed all of the pieces very well, looking for all sorts of nuances, shaping phrases, and having a grand time of it. He and the orchestra capped off the concert with an encore, Franz von Suppé’s Overture to his operetta “Light Cavalry.” This music, as Vajda pointed out to the audience, has been used by cartoons and Hollywood countless times. Everyone played very well, but principal trumpet, Jeffrey Work, played his part magnificently.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Today's birthdays

Erich Leinsdorf (1912-1993)
Martti Talvela (1935-1989)

and also

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Bach Cantata Choir performs Super-Bach Concert II

Although the weather on Sunday afternoon vacillated between hail, sleet, sunshine, and all-purpose cloudiness, that didn’t deter about 300 people from attending the Bach Cantata Choir’s second annual Super-Bach concert. They were treated to a festive program of two demanding Bach cantatas and Christoph Graupner’s Concerto in C Major for Oboe d’amore and Strings at the Rose City Park Presbyterian Church.

Bach wrote his Cantata #41 “Jesu, nun sei gepreiset” (“Jesus, Now be Praised”) for New Year’s Day, 1725, in Leipzig where he was entering his second year of service as the music director for the city’s principal churches. This piece opens with a chorus that the 50-voice choir and the 15-piece orchestra, under the direction of Ralph Nelson, sang joyously. The instrumental part calls for three piccolo trumpets that were played with gusto by Gerald Webster, Jeff Snyder, and John Kim.

Soprano Elisa Groves, alto Irene Weldon, tenor Byron White, and bass Jacob Herbert excelled in their solos. Unfortunately, violist Shawne Stone’s playing was off the mark during the tenor aria, which marred the effect of that section.

The chorus delivered the final chorale, “Dein ist allein die Ehre” (“Yours alone is the glory”) with warmth, and the audience joined during the second time through (in English). The trumpets put on a flourish and made the outcome of this cantata glorious.

Graupner wrote 44 concerti, and his music has been rediscovered during the last hundred years. The graceful performance by Paul Pitkin as the featured artist in Graupner’s concerto for oboe d’amore and strings, made me want to hear more works by this contemporary of Bach. Pitkin painted a pleasant variety of tones that ranged from mellow to cheery, and the languid second movement melted like butter on a warm, summer day.

A small ensemble that included violist Rae Richen, cellist Dale Tolliver, violinists Mac Kim and Maria Powell, and harpsichordist John Vergin supported Pitkin with very well. The third, and final movement had a nice bounce to it, and elicited enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Before beginning Bach’s Cantata #19 “Es erhub sich ein Streit” (“There Arose a War”), Nelson explained how the music depicts a passage in Revelation in which St. Michael and his angels defeats Satan. He also got some chuckles by alluding to the Super Bowl football game that has its own style of warfare. He then displayed energetic stick work as he quickly launched the choir and orchestra into the first chorus.

Bass Herbert, tenor White, and soprano Mel Zupan sang their solos wonderfully and the chorus expressed the final chorale “Lass Dein’ Engel mit mir fahren” (“Let your angel travel with me”) with rapture. Again the audience joined the chorus the second time around in English, which is a great way to involve them in this great music of Bach.

Acoustical Note: At last year's concert, I sat in the main section of the church, but the sound seemed uneven. This year I briefly tried under the balcony and quickly found that a lot of the sound was cut out. I moved up to the balcony and found this to be the best place. The sound from the choir was more present, but I still have trouble hearing the bass section. I know that the basses are fine, so I'm wondering if the bass sound (from where the basses section is placed) just doesn't carry well in that building.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Famous birthdays for Feb. 3

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Born on Feb. 2nd

Here are some famous people who were born on February 2nd:

Martina Arroyo (1937)
Sir Andrew Davis (1944)
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
Louis Marchand (1669-1732)
Stan Getz (1927-1991)
Ursula Oppens (1944)


James Joyce (1882-1941)

St. Olaf Choir in town - concert sold out

The highly esteemed St. Olaf Choir will give a concert at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. According to the choir's national tour web site, the concert is sold out. However, I have heard that you might be able to purchase tickets at the door. The cost per ticket is $35 - although it might be a little higher since they weren't purchased ahead of time.
The choir's famous conductor, Anton Armstrong, will direct all of the pieces. Here's where you can find the program. Note that Armstrong works with choirs at the Oregon Bach Festival every summer, so if you miss this program (or are impressed with Armstrong), you might try to catch him in Eugene this summer.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Review of Tashi in Asymmetry Magazine

I attend last Friday's Tashi concert (sponsored by Chamber Music Northwest) and wrote a review for Asymmetry Magazine. You can read it here.

Would you like an aria with those fries? - learn about Portland Opera's "Rodelinda"

Portland Opera's brown bag lunch presentation on the upcoming opera "Rodelinda" will take place at noon today at the Multnomah County Central Library (801 SW 10th Ave) in the U.S. Bank room. Chorus Master Robert Ainsley discusses the music and history behind Hanel's "Rodelinda." Portland Opera Studio Artists will be on hand to perform selections from the opera.

I have found Ainsley and the singers to be excellent. This brown bag lunch is a great way to learn more about this opera. And it's free!

First anniversary of Northwest Reverb

A year ago today, I started Northwest Reverb in order to record my thoughts about the classical music scene in Portland and elsewhere. This has been a very rewarding experience. The blog has grown to attract over 1,350 visits per month from over 750 different visitors. Thank you for visiting!

I would like to spend more time gathering information, interviewing artists, writing previews and reviews, but I have to keep my day job.

For this second year of Northwest Reverb, I'll add a birthday list (courtesy of "The music diary 2008" from Boosey & Hawkes) of famous people in musicland. Here's the first list:

Born on February 1

Francesco Stradivari 1671-1743
Victor Herbert 1859-1924
Renata Tebaldi 1922-2004