Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kanyova, Troxell, and Zeller create genuine and heartfelt La Traviata

Sometimes you have to wait until the last act of a show to see if the singers can deliver a knockout punch and totally bring the audience into their story. Well, that’s exactly what happened at the Sunday matinee performance of Portland Opera’s production of “La Traviata.” Strong performances by the three stars of the opera, soprano Maria Kanyova, tenor Richard Troxell, and baritone Richard Zeller, caused sniffles to break out all over Keller Auditorium during Act III. That's when Kanyova, as the TB-stricken courtesan Violetta, crumpled to the floor just beyond arms of her lover Alfredo (Troxell) and the saddened gaze of Alfredo’s father (Zeller).

But hankies aside, much of the credit of this production goes to Kanyova, whose beautiful looks are enhanced by terrific acting skills and a wonderful voice. Whether flirting during the party scenes, agonizing over lover, or coming to grips with the fact that she is dying because of her illness, Kanyova embodied the tragic heroine in every sense.

Yet, she started out a little on the shaky side because she sometimes strayed just a little under pitch during Act I. This act is taxing for any soprano and Kanyova was singing with only one day’s rest. Yet somehow her voice improved as the opera progressed and she saved the best for the final act, when she had to alternate between fragility and strength as the illness takes its toll despite the surge of energy she experiences with Alfredo.

Troxell’s voice and acting matched up very well with Kanyova’s. His top notes rang out and he expressed a wide rang of emotions ranging from empathy to frustration and rage. Troxell did duck the high C at the end of the vigorous cavatina “O mio rimorso!” (“Oh my remorse!”), and that was the only glitch in his performance.

Troxell’s acting was convincing throughout, especially when he threw his winnings at Violetta at the end of the gambling scene and received the condemnation of his father and his peers. But he was even better as the grief-stricken lover in the final act. At one point, he picked up Violetta and carried her to her mattress. That was when Kanyova sang while being carried, and she sang beautifully! It was pretty incredible, and I’ve never seen that done before. Also, both Troxell and Kanyova sang from the floor, and Kanyova, all pale and willowy thin got up to sing one last time before expiring. If you don’t feel something at that point, you don’t have a heart.

As Germont, Zeller was superb. His golden-toned baritone supported a character that was filled with sympathy and understanding. It was simply gorgeous and certainly the best performance by Zeller that I have ever heard (and I’ve heard many).

Also, Zeller’s gestures and mannerisms created a Germont who had empathy for the lovers, and that worked well. However, it was odd to see Zeller without a beard or a moustache, and he might have looked a little older and more fatherly with some facial hair.

Hannah Penn created a foxy and slightly kinky Flora Bervoix and Jonathan Kimple was excellent as her counterpart, the Marquis d’Obigny. Brendan Tuohy’s Gastone stirred up the party scene like a swizzle stick. José Rubio made a mean Baron Douphol. Sharin Apostolou turned in a fine performance as Annina, Violetta’s maid.

The opera chorus (prepared by chorus master Robert Ainsley) gave a sterling performance, and conductor Stephen Lord paced the orchestra and singers very well.

Stage director Jennifer Nicoll provided clear movement for everyone, and I could easily follow the action and the story. The party scenes were outstanding -- with a little titillation thrown in for good measure. I liked how the revelers did a freeze-frame so that Violetta and Alfredo could interact intimately yet still be in context. The only nit I had was that Violetta had to sit and sing with her back to the audience during the letter writing scene, but I could hear her clearly, so it didn’t matter all that much.

The opera scenery, jointly owned by Opera Colorado and Boston Lyric Opera as part of an original production by James Robinson, nicely matched the transitions in the story. The opera opened with an opulent, decadent, velvetly red dining room in a Paris mansion. The French countryside in the second act was set in winter with frosted trees and a mottled blue sky in the background and white furniture in the foreground. The party and gambling scene at Flora’s house was mostly draped in black, and the final act depicted a desolate, barren garret. Set and costumes by Bruno Schwengl were very well matched throughout, but outstanding was how the gypsy singers flipped their black capes into red evening gown without missing a beat – all right in front of us. Finally, lighting designer Mimi Jordan Sherin deserves praise for framing the production with just the right amount of intensity.

If you haven’t seen this production of “La Traviata,” then I hope that you can get to one of the final performances on Thursday, October 2 or Saturday, October 4. You won’t regret it.

Today's Birthdays

Sir Charles V. Stanford (1852-1924)
David Oistrakh (1908-1974)
Dame Julie Andrews (1935)
Johnny Mathis (1935)
Alan Hacker (1938)
Jonathan Lloyd (1948)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Third time's a charm for the B-9

Tonight at the Schnitz, music director Kalmar and the orchestra got in sync and gave a fine performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. This is not an easy feat, considering that this was the third performance of the piece, and it's easy to slack off. But tonight the artistry and professionalism of the musicians and their leader was at a much higher level. The strings played sublimely and really together. I was especially impressed with the way the violins and violas played with utmost commitment. From my perch in the choir stalls, I can see them the best. But there was plenty sparkling playing by their colleagues: the woodwinds, the brass, and especially timpanist Paul Salvatore, who plays all of the correct notes at the right time without any cues from Kalmar. It made me think that Salvatore can play this thing blindfolded.

Also, the playing of assistant principal bassoonist Evan Kuhlmann and bassoonist Robert Naglee was almost impeccable at every single performance.

Fortunately, Kalmar kept improving his communication with the soloists. He allowed soprano Kelley Nassief to hold onto the notes a little longer. Each night all three soloists sounded terrific. It should be noted that tenor Brendan Tuohy and mezzo soprano Hannah Penn came directly from the Portland Opera production of "La Traviata" to sing marvelously on Sunday evening (as did Sharin Apostolou in the Vaughan William's number). Baritone Philip Cutlip was splendid at each performance, but tonight he nearly tweaked the high F in his declamatory opening statement. That's a very minor nit, but heck, I've got to find something to complain about.

The Vaughan Williams piece, "Serenade to Music," was perhaps a little less perfect tonight than during previous evenings. Someone in the double basses came in to early at one point, but that was about all to notice.

I think that Portland Symphonic Choir sang very well for all of the concerts, but it's hard for me to judge since I'm too influenced by my own singing and what's happening around me.

The house was almost sold out tonight. Saturday and Sunday evening were pretty standing room only. That bodes well for the OSO, which will play again this Friday in a concert with the sensational Chinese pianist Lang Lang. That concert is sold out and should be a big splash. It would be great if a TV crew would come by to take a snapshot of this pianist. Lang Lang was the featured artist of the Summer Olympics and has inspired thousands of kids to study piano and Western Music. I'm really looking forward to hearing him.

Today's Birthdays

Joaquin Nin (y Castellanos) (1879-1949)
Richard Bonynge (1930)
Jerry Lee Lewis (1935)
Jean-Luc Ponti (1942)
Alan Francis (1943)


Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)
Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Beethoven's 9th and VW's Serenade to Music with the OSO - one singer's perspective

I'm singing in the tenor section of the Portland Symphonic Choir in the opening classical series for the Oregon Symphony. We just completed the concerts for Saturday and Sunday evenings. Monday evening is our third and final time to scale the heights of Beethoven's 9th symphony and experience the lush landscape of Vaughan Williams "Serenade to Music."

Both performances of the Beethoven 9 have flown by with exuberance, and judging by the response of the nearly standing-room-only audiences, we connected with bases-loaded home runs in the bottom of the ninth on both performances, Saturday and Sunday nights. Okay, it's probably pretty difficult for the audience to respond in any other way, but both performances caused a spontaneous combustion from the listeners, and that's always a wonderful thing to experience.

But each performance has been quite different from the perspective of the performers. I think that Carlos Kalmar, the artistic director of the Oregon Symphony, must have put in a long day on Saturday. We had rehearsals in the morning and a performance that evening.

At the performance on Saturday evening, Kalmar did well with the Vaughan Williams' lush "Serenade to Music." But he must have been tired when we did the Beethoven, because he seemed to forget the pacing in some key transitions and he was flipping back and forth in his score. He still didn't have the soloists lined up with his beat and gave the appearance of rushing them when they sang as a quartet. Still, he got he together for the fourth movement when we and the soloists came into play and delivered a knockout punch that sent the listeners into ecstasy.

Incidentally, on Saturday, I talked briefly with Nancy Ives, principal cellist, during the intermission. She noted that the Vaughan Williams piece has to sound smooth and flowing but it requires an ultra slow bow movement and that's pretty tough.

Concertmaster Jun Iwasaki played the violin solos for the Vaughan Williams piece with clarity and sensitivity. Well, it was just brilliant. In the choir ranks, Sharin Apostolou, sang the brief yet demand soprano solos superbly. Her voice ascending to the high A with clarity and beauty. Both Iwasaki and Apostolou were outstanding on both evenings in the "Serenade to Music."

It seemed that the orchestra players had a tougher time on Sunday evening. Iwasaki played so hard in the first two movements that horsehair came off his bow and then he broke a string in the second movement. Assistant concertmaster, Peter Frajola, traded violins with Iwasaki and swiftly repaired Iwasaki's violin, and Iwasaki was back to playing on his own instrument within a few minutes. (Give Frajola a medal for that - bravo!) Also, there were some problems with the horns and with intonation between the basses and cellos. The quartet of vocal soloists were closer to the quick tempo that Carlos wanted, but he seemed to relax the beat for them as well.

Kalmar seemed more rested and freed up in his interpretation of both pieces. He showed a lot more sweeping gestures and was crisper at the same time - except for the slight hand gesture that he made at the beginning of the poco Allegro (measure 843) of the fourth movement. That gesture meant that the violins didn't start together. (Actually, it is quite impressive that an very slight movement of two fingers can cause someone or ones to jump the gun.) No matter, the finale was emphatically triumphant and caused the audience to jump out of their collective seats in a burst of applause.

On the way the concert hall, Mark Petersen, basso and general manager of the Portland Symphonic Choir, noticed some prominent folks in attendance at the Sunday evening concert: David Hattner, new music director of the Portland Youth Philharmonic, Yaacov Bergman, music director of the Portland Chamber Orchestra, and Jack Allen, the new president and CEO of KBPS (which helped to sponsor the Sunday performance).

Today's Birthdays

Florent Schmitt (1870-1958)
Vivian Fine (1913-2000)
Rudolf Barshai (1924)
Catherine Robbin (1950)
Michaela Comberti (1952-2003)


Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Turmoil in Cleveland - more thoughts from Sandow and Swed

The aftermath of classical music critic Don Rosenberg's demotion at Cleveland Plain Dealer has spread into several publications. Critic Greg Sandow has published his thoughts on the matter in today's Wall Street Journal and in his Arts Journal blog. He has an excellent suggestion that the Cleveland Orchestra "publicly ask for Don's reinstatement, and ask the publisher to step down from the board."

Mark Swed, critic at the LA Times, suggests that the Plain Dealer allow both Rosenberg and his replacement Zachary Lewis, to write reviews of the Cleveland Orchestra. That might help to re-establish some impartiality on the part of the newspaper.

The story first appeared in Tim Smith's blog here. There was an incredible response from readers as well.

Tim Smith is the music critic at the Baltimore Sun and president of the Music Critics Association of North America (of which I'm a member as well).

The New York Times story on the whole thing is here.

Today's Birthdays

Igor Kipnis (1930-2002)
Dame Josephine Barstow (1940)
Mischa Dichter (1945)
Chris Merritt (1952)
Dimitry Sitkovetsky (1954)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Alfred Cortot (1877-1962)
Charles Munch (1891-1968)
George Gershwin (1898-1937)
Fritz Wunderlich (1930-1966)
Salvatore Accardo (1941)
Dale Duesing (1947)


T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

Get your B-9 shot!

The Oregon Symphony will perform Beethoven's 9th this weekend. With Carlos Kalmar at the helm it should be a terrific jolt for anyone who needs a classical music booster shot. I'll be singing with the Portland Symphonic Choir for this concert, and the program also features Vaughan Williams "Serenade to Music," a very gorgeous work with words by Shakespeare.

By the way, the featured soloists in this concert (or concerts since it runs Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) are soprano Kelley Nassief, mezzo Hannah Penn, tenor Brendan Tuohy, and baritone Philip Cutlip.

Nassief is a graduate of Portland State University who hit the big time after winning the Met Opera auditions - the entire thing. She has sung with the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Mazur and also his Gewandthaus Orchestra in Leipzig. She has also sung with Portland Opera and Chicago Lyric Opera.

Hannah Penn and Brendan Tuohy are two exceptionally gifted singers in the Portland Opera Studio Artist program.

I'll hear Cutlip for the first time tonight at our rehearsal with the orchestra. He has fine credentials, so he should be a good fit for the Beethoven.

I hope that you will get to hear one of our performances! See you at the Schnitz.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Monica Huggett to lead new program at Juillard

Yesterday, the Juilliard School announced that Monica Huggett would become the artistic director of the School's new Historical Performance program. Huggett is one of the world's most sought-after Baroque violinists and is the artistic director of the Portland Baroque Orchestra and the Irish Baroque Orchestra. Accompanying Huggett to teach at Juilliard's new program are early music experts Cynthia Roberts (violin and viola); Phoebe Carrai (cello); Robert Nairn (double bass/violone); Sandra Miller (flute); Gonzalo Ruiz (oboe); Dominic Teresi (bassoon); Kenneth Weiss (harpsichord) and violinist Robert Mealy (chamber music coach).

According to Thomas Cirillo, Portland Baroque's executive director, Ruiz is scheduled appear with the PBO this season.

You can read about the appointment in the New York Times here.

You can find the press release from the Juilliard School here.

Today's Birthdays

Jean-Phillippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970)
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Sir Colin Davis (1927)
Glenn Gould (1932-1982)


William Faulkner (1897-1962)
Mark Rothko (1903-1970)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Portland Baroque Musicians cut loose at the Holocene

Last Wednesday a number of Portland musicians and baroque music fans gathered at the Holocene. While it may seem like an unusual venue for baroque music, this type of scene is becoming more common for classical music in Portland. There was good music, costumes, drinking, cavorting, and general merrymaking of all sorts. I had an opportunity to perform on the harpsichord, and also won a costume competition along the way. For more photos and the complete story about this 18th-century style madness, check it out here at my blog, Musical Oozings.

Portland Opera featured on OPB - Thursday

Portland Opera's general director Christopher Mattaliano and tenor Richard Troxell will appear on Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Think Out Loud" program tomorrow. They will discuss "Opera's New Day - What should the opera do to appeal to a new, young audience?" The program airs in the morning at 9 am and again at 9 pm. Click here for more information on the discussion.

Also, Portland Opera's production of La Traviata (with Troxell as Alfredo, Maria Kanyova as Violetta, and Portland's own Richarad Zeller as Germont) opens this Friday. If you want to find out more about the opera, I suggest that you visit Portland Opera's web site, where they've just posted some excellent videos. There's a wonderful video of Kanyova working with stage director Jennifer Nicoll and singing one of the famous arias from La Traviata, plus an interview with Kanyova and another with conductor Stephen Lord.

Today's Birthdays

Sir Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991)
Cornell MacNeil (1922)
Alfredo Kraus (1927-1999)
John Rutter (1945)


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Fear No Messiaen concert transcends

It might seem weird to say that one can hear music for the first time and feel lifted by it, but that’s what happened to me during a concert of Olivier Messiaen’s music, which was performed by members of the Fear No Music ensemble on Sunday evening at the Community Music Center. Maybe it was all of the odd chords that Messiaen uses in a mesmerizing blend of mixed formations. Or it could’ve been the wide variety of colors that he creates with his music. In any case, I left the concert feeling better, as if I had been taken to higher ground.

My elevated spirit was due to a great degree to the playing of Jeff Payne, who got more beautiful sounds out of a baby grand piano than anyone could have imagined. Payne performed in each work on the program, and his intelligent and articulate yet emotional playing made each piece sparkle. Of course, Payne was most outstanding in the selections from Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus.” The three solo pieces were “Le basier de l’enfant- Jésus” (“Kiss of the infant Jesus”), “Regard de l’Esprit de Joi” (“Gaze of the Spirit of Joy”), and “Noël” (“Christmas”). The first was slow moving and evoked a mystical, timeless, contemplative atmosphere. The second was more agitated and featured wonderful, cascading chords. At the end of the piece Payne played some notes at either end of the keyboard exquisitely. The third piece (“Noël”) began in a more declamatory fashion but did quiet down and then erupted into a rambunctious sequence before abruptly ending – not the usual kind of number that I would associate with Christmas, yet it made me think of Christmas in a different way.

The three other works on the program were also excellent. Flutist Molly Barth and Payne performed Messiaen’s “Le Merle Noir” (“Blackbird”) with a wonderful combination of precision and grace. Barth’s virtuosic ability created fluttering trills, sudden fortes, and soothing legato lines that were flat out remarkable.

Cellist Heather Blackburn teamed up with Payne for Joan Tower’s “Tres Lent” (“Hommage à Messiaen”), a piece that has long, somber yet beautiful lines for the cello and a dramatic thrust that subsides into an ending that is full of longing. Blackburn and Payne’s performance was superb in every respect. (As a side note, Blackburn told me after the concert that she and Payne played this piece for Tower at the Bloch Festival eight years ago when they were just new to this work. So, it was wonderful for them to play it again.)

The final piece on the concert, “Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus” (“Praise to the Immortality of Jesus”) from Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” was performed by violinist Inés Voglar and Payne. The music was sweet and powerful at the same time. It sort of transported me to a more wonderful place. At the beginning of the piece, Voglar told the audience that she wanted to dedicate the performance of it to her grandmother, who had just passed away. I think she heard it.


Final note: This concert was the third in a series called “Songs of Heaven & Earth” that was dedicated to Olivier Messiaen. I regret missing the second concert, in which organist Tamara Still played Messiaen’s “La Nativite du Seigneur.”

Also, Jeff Payne will play all of Messiaen's "Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus" ("Twenty Gazes/Contemplations on the Infant Jesus") on November 2nd at Kaul Auditorium in the next Fear No Music concert.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lang Lang's concert with Oregon Symphony sold out

This afternoon the Oregon Symphony announced that it has sold every seat in Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall for the Lang Lang concert on Friday, October 3rd. Of course, there's always a chance that you can get a ticket from a scalper...

Fine reivew of The Rest Is Noise in Slate magazine

Composer and writer Jan Swafford pens and excellent critique of Alex Ross' "The Rest Is Noise" here in Slate. Ross just won a $500,000 MacArthur genius grant. (Record winnings for a classical music critic!) The New York Times relates the announcement here.

Today's Birthdays

Jarmila Novotná (1907-1994)
Ray Charles (1930-2004)
John Coltrane (1926-1967)
Bruce Springsteen (1949)
William Shimell (1952)

Monday, September 22, 2008

David Stabler stays put

Stabler notes in his blog that he won't be taking the buyout from The Oregonian. That's good news for the arts here in Portland. The classical music scene here needs all of the publicity that it can get. Previews and reviews, no matter how much they've been cut back in recent years at The Oregonian, always help to get the word out and keep our music organizations and their artists in the public eye. Let's hope that Stabler can help to rebuild the discussion of classical music on the pages of The Oregonian.

Today's Birthdays

Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988)
Hugh Bean (1929-2003)
Anna Tomowa-Sintow (1941)
John Tomlinson (1946)
Vladmir Ghernov (1953)
Michael Torke (1961)

Free Marz String Trio lights musical birthday candles

The Free Marz String Trio concert on Friday evening at the Community Music Center performed music that celebrated the birthday anniversaries of several composers who have had a profound affect upon contemporary music: Olivier Messiaen, Witold Lutoslawski, Henryk Gorecki, and Krzysztof Penderecki. The performance included premieres for string trios, pieces for two violas, a work for two violins, plus a solo for cello. For good measure and a dash of piquant humor, the concert also featured a dramatic recitation from Elais Canetti’s “Earwitness” in celebration of Herbert von Karajan, who would’ve turned 100 this year, if he were still alive.

The concert began with the string trio premieres by Fabian Watkinson, Thomas Daniel Schlee, and Bob Priest, all of whom were students of Messiaen thirty years ago. A fourth student from that class, George Benjamin, was unable to submit a string trio, but Priest (who organized this concert) included Benjamin’s piece for two violas. Taken together, these works were tributes to birthday of Messiaen, who was born in 1908. Members of the trio ensemble were violinist Ines Voglar, Viola Joel Belgique, and cellist Justin Kagan.

The three premieres were all short pieces – each about three minutes in length – so it seemed that we got just a glimpse at their temperament, but not much beyond that. Watkinson’s “Le Tombeau de Messiaen” came out swinging with a combination of strident, spiky sounds. It all gradually melted away, but left me wanting to hear some more.

Schlee’s “Invocation” was quiet and contemplative, interlaced with pauses, and close-knit chords. The violin part, played evocatively by Voglar, seemed to slide around in search of a landing place, which was found more or less at the end of the piece.

“Smile” by Bob Priest also featured close-knit chords amongst the ensemble, but it all broke into expressions for each instrument. The ultra high part for the violin was wonderfully juxtaposed with a subterranean sound from the cello (played by Justin Kagan). There was a tenderness in the performance that was very heartening. I wanted to hear more of this piece, because it seemed to be going somewhere really interesting.

Benjamin’s “Viola, Viola” for two violas (Belgique and Charles Noble) got off to a rough start, which seemed to frame the fighting style of this music. That is, jarring, angry dissonance of this piece suggested two sides that were sparring most of the time. At one point the aggressive sounds became more playful, and the end of the piece featured a lot of angry plucking from both sides. I’m not sure if one or the other got the upper hand, though.

The second half of the program began with Lutoslawski's "Sacher Variation" for solo cello, which he wrote in 1975. This short work, played by Kagan, started very forcefully yet gradually mellowed until it ended quietly. It's music was intriguing, and I would've enjoyed hearing it again. (Note: Lutoslawski would have been 95 years old this year.)

Next came Gorecki's Adagio Sostenuto and Andante Con Moto from his Sonata, op. 10 for two violins (1957). For this work, Voglar teamed up with Jun Iwasaki, and they performed this piece with a very high sense of precision and passion. The piece began with forceful, matched notes, but that dissolved into an interesting conversation between the two violins. Each seemly commenting or complimenting on the sound of the other. The legato-like sections were soothing, but I liked the angry pizzicato sections as well. The fierce commitment of both artists to this music was inspiring, and Iwasaki even shredded some horsehair from his bow. (Incidentally, Gorecki is 75 years old.)

To lighten up the mood, Jean Sherrard, a Seattle-based actor, gave wonderful performance of "The Maestroso," which is an essay from Canetti's "Earwitness." Canetti's words humorously speared the egos of orchestra conductors who have achieved superstardom. I loved it when Sherrard talked about how the conductor's legs "are like columns" and that he "strides upon his columns." Whereever the conductor stopped became a "temple" where "worshippers" would gather and "rack their brains" about the the most minute things that a conductor would do. Even his "sighs" carried meaning.

Sherrard's performance was done in honor of Karajan, and that was most fitting. I once saw Karajan conduct Brahm's "German Requiem" in Vienna, Austria (a Vienna Philharmonic ausserordentiche concert) and that was the first time that I had seen 50-year-old men yelling at the top of their voices and clapping in adulation when Karajan came out on the stage of the Musik Verein before the performance even began. And these worshippers wouldn't stop until Karajan raised his baton to begin the music. It was nuts.

The Free Marz String Trio concert ended with Penderecki's String Trio, which he wrote in 1990 and 1991. Penderecki turned 75 this year.) This was a very committed and exiciting performance by Voglar, Belgique, and Kagan. The music contained all sorts of moods from humorous to somber and had a wicked fugue-like section and fierce, rhythmic drive. It was a gem of a piece that this trio polished with panache. Bravo!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Portland Symphonic Choir looking for new assistant conductor

The Portland Symphonic Choir has been looking for a new assistant conductor ever since Anna Song resigned from that position to become the interim director of choirs at Linfield College. If you are qualified and interested in the assistant conductor position with the Portland Symphonic Choir, then you should take a look at the job announcement on the PSC web site. I have heard that a number of excellent candidates have applied. Applications will be accepted until October 6th.

Today's Birthdays

Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
Jill Gomez (1942)
Andrei Gavrilov (1955)
Nina Rautio (1957)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

News from the Oregon Symphony's annual meeting

Yesterday's annual meeting of the Oregon Symphony contained a lot of interesting news. Music director Carlos Kalmar said that last season was the most successful artistically, because the orchestra is paying at its highest level. He referred to the evaluations that president Elaine Calder began last year with the orchestra members, asking them to assess each concert. The orchestra players felt that Mahler's 9th Symphony was the best concert series of the year. Several remarks from the musicians noted that it was the silence before the audience clapped at the end of the piece that affect them as well.

Kalmar also noted the new musicians who will join the orchestra's ranks: two new horn playhers, a new second flutist (in the Martha Herby chair), and a new second clarinetist. The orchestra will also announce a new member of the trumpet section very soon. The have just auditioned 68 trumpet players and decided on the person.

Kalmar said that he was looking forward to all of the concerts that he will be conducting, but he did note that he was especially anticipating concertmaster Jun Iwasaki's concerto debut with the orchestra early next year and the Brahms, Prokofiev, and Svoboda concert in March.

Jason Schooler, bassist and orchestra committee chair mentioned the musicians new 2-year contract that was just signed. He also said that in the past three years, thirteen new players have joined the Symphony. Schooler also noted that the orchestra roster has shrunk, but that everyone hopes that it will increase to the levels that it had a few years ago.

Walt Weyler, board chair, talked about how everyone is pulling together to solve the budget woes of recent years. He noted the increase in ticket sales and attendance, and that things are looking up.

Elaine Calder gave more specifics: the box office revenue is up $1 million (which means 30%) over last year at this time. To date 16,000 more tickets have been sold than last year.

Calder also noted the change in the business plan for the Pops series. That is, fewer Pops series and more Pops specials. She hinted that the Classical series will be closely looked at this year and reexamined.

Calder also talked about the pay for the musicians - that the Symphony wants to offer the musicians pay that is equal to their peers in other orchestras.

Sidenote: I found out from Carl Herko, the Symphony's PR man, that the musicians will receive a 5% salary increase for this year and a cost of living increase afterwards.

Portland composer's sound installation vandalized

I just received an email from Jackie Gabel, whose sound installation at Olympic Mills Commercial Center is missing two speakers. In his email, Gabel notes that the speakers were very inexpensive, but that someone had gone to great lengths to remove them. He is going to replace the speakers with new ones tomorrow.

Here's the complete message from Gabel, in case you would like to check out the sounds he has created for the rdEVOLUTION + Phone Book Mashup visual art exhibit, which is on display at the OMCC.

"Portland-based composer, Jackie T. Gabel, after a 21-year hiatus from creating sound installations (composing primarily for the concert hall, dance stage, recording studio and screen), recently installed a multi-channel sound-sculpture as part of the Working Artists Group / Yelp exhibit: rdEVOLUTION + Phone Book Mashup (Sept. 5 - Oct. 25), in the expansive lobby of the Olympic Mills Commercial Center - open to the public M-F, 9AM-6PM.

Olympic Mills Commercial Center
107 SE Washington St.
Portland, OR 97214

I processed the sounds and installed the sound equipment with great enthusiasm, as it's been so long since I did such a piece. The 8 small audio speakers, through which the delicate intermittent packets of sound are delivered into the space, hang about 15 feet off the floor, just under the 2nd floor walkways, all open to the four 2-story, atrium-like, lobby quadrants in the newly renovated Olympic Mills Commercial Center.

At the Sept. 5 exhibit opening, response to the subtle soundscape was encouraging. A week later when I returned to check on the installation, to make sure the playaback units were still functioning, I discovered that 2 of the speakers had been removed. To date, all inquiries into their fate have turned up nothing.

It's curious that anyone would go to such trouble. The speakers are almost worthless ($2-$5 ea. on Craig's List) . Getting them down required some work and planning (12-foot ladder + wire cutter). The soundscape, though not even close to anything most would call "music," is, however, barely there, when it's there at all. Yet, it must have been just a bit too much in someone's face. Punitive vandalism seems to be the motive.

Just how "objectionable" is my now-vandalized sound installation? It's a bit hard to verbalize it. You need to be there. Conceptually, I can say this: as part of the Phone Book Mash Up exhibit, I processed all the sound from digital voices out of my computer, reading online phone directory listing, then assembled the parts into asymmetrical sequences, so none of the parts ever conspire to achieve a perfect repetition.

Feel free to visit the exhibition anytime (M-F, 9am-6 pm). Since the sounds cycle between broad silences in different temporal proportions in the four lobby quadrants, you have to spend a bit of time there to get a fair sense of it. But, it's in the lobby, where the marvelously eclectic rdEVOLUTION + Phone Book Mashup visual art exhibit is on display. So, taking all that in affords plenty enough time to hear the sound installation. I'll be down there replacing the disappeared speakers tomorrow, so the "damage" will not be readily detectable unless you go there today."

Today's Birthdays

Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton (1885-1941)
John Dankworth (1927)
Jane Manning (1938)
Laurie Spiegel (1945)
John Harle (1956)


Upton Sinclair (1878-1968)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Novelist Neal Stephenson is a big fan of Cappella Romana

Seattle-based author Neal Stephenson, who wrote "Cryptonomicon" and has just published a new novel entitled "Anathem," loves the music of Byzantium. Consequently, one of his favorite ensembles is Cappella Romana. According to Mark Powell, executive director of Cappella Romana, several singers from CR are featured on the CD that comes with "Anathem."

Also, you can read about the music that Stephenson likes in this New York Times article. Another one of his favorite vocal ensembles is Seattle's The Tudor Choir. Also, the final paragraph points out that David Stutz, a member of Cappella Romana and The Tudor Choir wrote some music based on "Anathem."

Today's Birthdays

Allan Pettersson (1911-1980)
Kurt Sanderling (1912)
Blanche Thebom (1918)
Arthur Wills (1926)


William Golding (1911-1993)

Sidewalk sale at Classical Millennium

Today and tomorrow, Classical Millennium will have a sidewalk sale with incredibly cheap prices! Here's the skinny from Michael Parsons, Mr. Classical Millennium:

In celebration of George Gershwin's 110th Birthday, Classical Millennium presents their first ever Sidewalk Sale event. Hit the bricks with us at 3144 East Burnside in Portland, and enjoy savings of up to 90% off and prices starting as low as .50 cents per item, on classical compact discs, cassettes, and performing arts DVDs. The selection of items to choose from will be tremendous, and new items will be added throughout the sale, which runs from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Friday, 9/19, and Saturday, 9/20. We hope to see you there. "S'Wonderful!"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Alan Petterson (1911-1980)
Kurt Sanderling (1912)
Arthur Wills (1926)


William Golding (1911-1993)

Today's Birthdays

Francesca Caccini (1587 – c. 1640)
Lord Berners (1883-1950)
Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960)
Joseph Tal (1910-2008)
Norman Dinnerstein (1937-1982)
Thomas Fulton (1949)
John McGlinn (1953)
Anna Netrebko (1970)


Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

New Mozart Piece Discovered

A new score in Mozart's hand has been discovered in a French museum. It is fragmentary, a preliminary sketch for a previously unknown work. In brief from the AP:

PARIS - A French museum has found a previously unknown piece of music handwritten by Mozart, a researcher said Thursday. The 18th century melody sketch is missing the harmony and instrumentation but was described as important find.

Ulrich Leisinger, head of research at the International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg, Austria, said there is no doubt that the single sheet was written by the composer.

"This is absolutely new," Leisinger said in a telephone interview. "We have new music here."
"His handwriting is absolutely clearly identifiable," he added. "There's no doubt that this is an original piece handwritten by Mozart."

You can read more here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Novelist Neal Stephenson connects wtih Cappella Roman

Neal Stephenson, author of

Mattaliano talks about his work as general director of Portland Opera

In late August I asked Christopher Mattaliano about his work as general director of Portland Opera. I used my Flip Mino camera to capture the discussion (the tripod helped a lot) and then split the interview into six separate videos. I hope that you enjoy them.

In the first video, Mattaliano gives the big picture and then we venture into several aspects of his job in the other videos. I'll will post the others later (I need to split them into shorter segments).

Today's Birthdays

Vincenzo Tommasini (1878-1950)
Charles tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920)
Isang Yun (1917-1995)
Hank Williams (1923-1953)
Vincent La Selva (1929)


William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
Ken Kesey (1935-2001)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lorin Wilkerson at the Baroque Bash

It don't get much better than this! Northwest Reverb's own Lorin Wilkerson will open the Baroque Bash with some Purcell and Haydn at Holocene. Be there or be Rococoed!

The Baroque Bash will be held on September 17th, at 9 PM at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison, Portland. The cost is$8 at the door; $6 for those in costume.

For more about the Baroque Bash, click here.

London: Orchestra capital of the world?

This article in the Telegraph discusses the five world-class orchestras in London:

- the London Symphony Orchestra
- the London Philharmonic
- the Philharmonia
- the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
- the BBC Symphony Orchestra

I don't know of another city has hosts so many terrific orchestras. It would be fun to hear them play one concert after the other to compare them.

Today's Birthdays

Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979)
Hans Swarowsky (1899-1975)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Bruno Walter (1876-1962)
Frank Martin (1890-1974)
Richard Arnell (1917)
Cannonball Adderley (1928-1975)
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (1933)
Jessye Norman (1945)
Richard Suart (1951)


Agatha Christie (1890-1976)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Talking with Bob Priest about his festival-tribute to Messiaen

(Double click to enlarge the image)

About three weeks ago, I met with Bob Priest to discuss his upcoming music festival that will celebrate Olivier Messiaen’s 100th birthday (if Messiaen were still alive today). This festival has three concerts: the first concert features the Free Marz String Trio, the second concert features organist Tamara Still, and the last concert features the Fear No Music ensemble. Priest is a composer who teaches composition at Marylhurst University. He studied composition in a class taught by Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory from 1977 to 1978.

How did this festival come about?

Priest: Originally I was going to do another regular Free Marz string concert. Then I happened to meet Tamara Still who also teaches music theory and organ at Marylhust. I was giving away my little peddle organ, and it was listed on the Marylhurst web site. She called about the organ and came over. We got to talking, and she told me that she had studied organ in Paris with the guy who replaced Olivier Messiaen – after Messean retired. It turns out that she had played Messiaen’s “La Nativite du Seigneur” on Messiaen’s organ, and she said that she would be available to play that for me at some point.

I replied how about in a few months? So we have two concerts and a festival is beginning to take shape. Tamara is a music associate at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, and she was able to schedule her concert at the church. The big piece on that concert is Messiaen’s “La Nativite du Seigneur,” which lasts about an hour. He wrote it in 1935, and it’s a work that really established his particular music style with inter-modes, unlimited transposition, bird-like material, slow movement things and brisk toccata-like passages.

Tamara will also play a couple of other pieces that relate to French composers and WWWII. That’s where the Heroes of France title for this concert comes from. Messiaen was imprisoned during the war, because he was connected to the Resistance. Jehan Alain went into the military and was sent, in effect, on a suicide mission. Also, there’s a piece by a friend of Messiaen, Jean Langlais.

Now, I with two concerts in hand, I talked to Inés Voglar, artistic director of Fear No Music to see if they could also do a concert as part of the festival, and she agreed. So Fear No Music will do the third concert of the festival. Jeff Payne will play part of Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus.” In a way, this concert will be a preview for Jeff Payne who is going to do the entire piece at a Fear No Music concert in November. He and Inés will play the last movement from the Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” and cellist Justin Kagan will team up with Jeff to play Joan Tower’s tribute to Messiaen. Messiaen didn’t write a lot of chamber music, but Payne and Molly Barth will play a piece for flute and piano.

For the Free Marz String Tro concert, which begins the whole festival, I thought that I’d commission my fellow Messiaen students from the Messiaen class to write short string trios for the Free Marz trio as a tribute to his 100th birthday. Fabian Watkinson from England, Thomas Daniel Schlee from Austria, George Benjamin is on the program as well. We were all in Messiaen’s class from 1977 to 1978 and we wrote little string pieces for his 70th birthday. In the class, Jean Langlais gave us a theme – a Gregorian theme –and we all used the same theme as a point of departure and we handed Messiaen a portfolio of all these pieces that we wrote for him.

What was his reaction to that!

Priest: He said (in French) “Oh you are angels! You are angels!” He was very touched.

That was the very last year of his teaching at the Paris Conservatory. So, the Free Marz String Trio concert is called Anniversaries. This year marks Messiaen’s 100th as well as the 30th year anniversary of the students who met in his class and became friends.

So, Fabian Watkinson's string tio piece is called “Tombeau de’ Olivier Messiaen, and Thomas Daniel Schlee's piece is “Invocation.” My piece is called “Smile.” It comes from one of Messiaen’s very early songs, which is the only song he wrote on his mother’s poetry. His mother was a poet. My piece is also a sidelong glance at Brian Wilson, who used to sing with the Beach Boys.

Joël Belgique and Charles Noble will play a dazzling number by George Benjamin, who was Messiaen’s favorite student, and one of the most incredibly gifted musicians that I have ever encountered. The piece is called “Viola Viola.” It’s amazing because at times it sounds like six or seven players.

The second part of the program has a more Polish flavor. It’s Penderecki’s 70th birthday. It would’ve been Lutoslawski 95th birthday. And it is Gorecki 75th birthday, also.

Inés will be joined by Oregon Symphony concertmaster Jun Iwasaki playing two movements from Gorecki early sonata for two violins, which is very un- Gorecki-ish compared to the slow-moving style of Gorecki that we all know. This one has more of a Polish-mountain-dance folkloric quality, but you can tell that he was moving towards the slower pieces. One movement is protracted and hovers in the air above everything else.

Then Justin Kagan is going to play a short cello solo that Lutoslawski wrote as a tribute for Paul Sacher, the extremely wealthy Swiss philanthropist who commissioned Bartok’s “Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta.” Sacher commissioned Frank Martin, Benjamin Britten, and all sorts of people.

After that piece, an actor will do a brief selection from Elias Canetti’s “Earwitness,” which is a collection of 50 little portraits of different personality types. And this one is call Maestroso, a very funny and poignant portrayal of a conductor. And this we are offering as a 100th anniversary salute to the departed Herbert von Karajan.

The Free Marz concert will close with Penderecki’s String Trio, which is tour de force. It’ll bring the house down.

The festival is called “Songs of Heaven and Earth” and that's a rescrambling of an early Messiaen song cycle called "Songs of Earth and the Sky." Messiaen was such a visionary musician and a servant of his Catholic faith – he was deeply religious. One of his last pieces was called “Visions of the Great Beyond.” So, that's the connection between this festival and Messiaen.

Tell us more about studying under Messiaen in the class that you took at the Paris Conservatory.

Priest: This is something that I learned from my mother when she took me as a kid to meet Willy Mays. The lesson was if you want to meet someone or learn something from someone, just ask them. She called up Willy Mays on the house phone at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.and said my son would like to come over. And May said, Sure come on over, we’ll talk.

So, that was a preview to what I did with Messiaen. I was a teaching assistant at USC. I was the TA for Pepe Romero in classical guitar. I was going for my masters from USC. I was becoming more of a composer at that time and Messiaen was my favorite. I wanted to write him a letter to tell him how much I admire his music and see if he would look at a score or two and get some advice. A friend drafted my letter into French, because I didn’t know any French at that time. Then about six weeks later, I got a letter back from Messiaen in French. I had to go over to the French department at USC to get someone to read it to me. I found out that he had invited me to his composition class at the Paris Conservatoire. It would be his last year of teaching and he politely invited me. I found out that he was being forced to retire at age 70 because that was the rules. So it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

So I went to Pepe and asked him what I should do. He told me, “You need to go to Paris, Bob, even if you have to swim!” So with Pepe’s blessing I went to Paris to study with Messiaen. After I got there, I started taking intensive French lessons at the Alliance Française. Messiaen’s class was twelve hours a week – four hours a day, three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday). He would arrive at class at 9 am and the classes lasted four hours. During those four hours, he never once took a break to go to the bathroom, to drink something – even water, or to eat something. It was four straight hours of discussion, listening to music, analyzing music, occasionally he would bring a guest. One day Takumitsu came, another day Stockhausen came, one day he took us to the Paris Opera to see all of there gongs. It didn’t matter, he never ever took a break.

There were probably fifteen students in the class. I think that I missed only two classes all year. It was fantastic. Overwhelmingly stimulating. He didn’t speak any English at all.

Usually, when he first arrived, he would ask the class, “does anyone have anything they would like to play or show me?” Then the class had an analysis component and we spent the majority of the time on that. This was when Messiaen was working on his opera “St. Francis of Assisi.” It was a secret. We didn’t know the title or the subject of his opera. He was very tight-lipped about that. So, he would never discuss it, but we knew that he was working on an opera. But we spent the analysis part of the class on operas. We analyzed "Wozzeck," "Boris Godunov," "Siegfried," "Götterdämmerung," which he thought was the greatest piece of music ever written period. He thought that Ligeti was the greatest living composer. So, we analyzed Ligeti scores and Dutilleux. Some of his former students would drop in with compositions and play something for us. So it was an incredible spectrum of topics.


Here is a picture of Bob Priest at the class with Messiaen. Priest is the fellow with the beard. He is between George Benjamin and Messiaen.

You can find this picture here.

Today's Birthdays

Michael Haydn (1737-1806)
Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842)
Vittorio Gui (1885-1972)
Alice Tully (1902-1993)
Martyn Hill (1944)
Raul Gimenez (1950)

Vancouver Symphony (WA) review in today's Columbian newspaper

I attended the Vancouver Symphony concert yesterday afternoon and wrote my review for The Columbian newspaper. You can find the review here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Robert Ward (1917)
Mel Tormé (1925-1999)
Nicolai Ghiaruv (1929-2004)
Arleen Auger (1939-1993)
Steve Kilbey (1954)
Andreas Staier (1955)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Tatiana Troyanos (1938-1993)
Barry White (1944-2003)
John Mauceri (1945)
Vladimir Spivakov (1946)
Leslie Cheung (1956-2003)

3rd Angle New Music Ensemble will make splashy concert

This Sunday you can catch an unusual concert by 3rd Angle at Keller Fountain in downtown Portland. The music will celebrate the urban landscaping of Lawrence Halprin and the choreography of his wife Anna. The performance will include dance by City Dance ensemble. The two performances at 1 and 4 pm on Sunday are free. For more information click here.

Vancouver Symphony (WA) opens this weekend

The Vancouver Symphony opens its 30th season with an all-Russian concert. Seattle-based pianist Geisa Dutra (a native of Brazil) will play Rachmaninov's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." A preview that I wrote of this concert is in today's Columbian newspaper.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832)
Harry Somers (1925-1999)
Sir John Drummond (1934)
Arvo Pärt(1935)
Bonaventura Bottone (1950)
Catherine Bott (1952)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Judith Nelson (1939)
Christopher Hogwood (1941)
Sir Thomas Allen (1944)
Michael Schønwandt (1953)


Franz Werfel (1890-1945)

Gerard Schwarz to resign from Seattle Symphony

In 2011, when his contract expires, Gerard Schwarz will step down from the music director position and become the conductor laureate of the Seattle Symphony. You can read about Schwartz's announcement in the Seattle Times and the Seatle Post-Intelligencer. Click here to read the SSO press release.

Click here for the report from the New York Times.

Click here for the latest from Crosscut.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Joan Cererols (1618-1680)
James Blades (1901-1999)
Otis Redding (1941-1967)
Miriam Fried (1946)
David Rosenboom (1947)
Adam Fischer (1949)
Rachel Masters (1958)


Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Renown lutenist Ronn McFarlane to perform at Classical Millennium

Classical Millennium is sponsoring a concert by lutenist Ronn McFarlane in celebration of his latest recording, Indigo Road, which is being released on the Dorian label. For this program, McFarlane will play a 30-minute set from the CD, and will talk about the influence of Baroque and Renaissance music on the new works that he writes for the lute.

The concert takes place from 3 to 4 pm on Saturday, September 13 at Classical Millennium (3144 East Burnside, Portland). The event is free!

McFarlane is a resident of Portland. Here is his bio from the press release:

Born in West Virginia, Mr. McFarlane spent his early years in the neighboring state of Maryland where he developed an interest in music at an early age. As a teenager, he taught himself to play on what he calls a "cranky sixteen dollar steel string guitar." He went on to develop his talent, and combined blues and rock music on the electric guitar with studies on the classical guitar. He graduated with honors from Shenandoah Conservatory and continued studies at Peabody Conservatory before turning his full attention and energy to the lute in 1978. The following year, Mr. McFarlane began to perform solo recitals on the lute and became a member of the Baltimore Consort. Since that time, he has toured extensively throughout the United States, Canada and Europe with the Baltimore Consort and as a soloist.

Mr. McFarlane was a faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory from 1984 to 1995, teaching lute and lute-related subjects. In 1996, Mr. McFarlane was awarded an honorary Doctorate from Shenandoah Conservatory for his achievements in bringing the lute and its music to the world.. He has numerous recordings on the Dorian label, including solo lute recordings, lute song recordings with Julianne Baird (soprano) and Frederick Urrey (tenor), CDs with the Baltimore Consort and ballad recordings with Custer LaRue and members of the Baltimore Consort.

Recently, Ronn McFarlane has been engaged in composing new music for the lute, building on the tradition of the lutenist/composers of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This new music is the focus of his new solo CD, Indigo Road.

Today's Birthdays

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Lionel Salter (1914-2000)
Christoph von DohDohnányi (1929)
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (1934)
Dezső Ránki (1951)
Ilan Volkov (1976)


Wilhelm Raabe (1931-1910)
Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)
Ann Beattie (1947)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Today's Birthdays

François Philidor (1726-1794)
Joan Cross (1900-1993)
Sir Harry Secombe (1921-2001)
Arthur Ferrante (1921)
Hugh Aitken (1924)
Sonny Rollins (1930)
Jean-Yves Thibaudet (1961)
Angela Gheorghiu (1965)


Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951)
Edith Sitwell (1887-1964)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Anton Diabelli (1781-1858)
Sir Henry Walford Davies (1869-1941)
Arthur Oldham (1926-2003)
Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002)
Joan Tower (1938)
Cynthia Haymon (1958)
Detlev Glanert (1960)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Elaine Calder talks about her work with the Oregon Symphony

I recently talked Elaine Calder about her job as the president of the Oregon Symphony, because I just wanted to know more about what she does.

What is your work day like?

Calder: My work day usually starts at 9 in the morning. Since I live at Jefferson and 10th; so on the way to work I usually stop in at the Schnitz when there are rehearsals. One of the things that I do throughout the season is take in an up-to-date box office report which I post for the musicians so that they can see how the next few performances are selling. A lot of them really count that down.

This morning I went in and put that up, and I posted a memo of I had written with the results of a survey that I had them do last season. I gave them a survey on 14 classical programs and the four inside the scores program. And I asked them to rate each from 1 to 5 where 1 was “How did this happen, don’t let this ever happen again,” and 5 was “This was one of the greatest experiences in my performing career.” I also gave them the guest artists and guest conductors, and asked them to circle y or n to indicate if you want them back.

That’s interesting to have them evaluate the season.

Calder: Well, apparently no one had ever asked them to do this before. I wrote them a two-page memo that summarized the survey. There was real unanimity around some things. And they were completely split around a couple of people. Some responses left me completely puzzled. I thought the performance by Elina Vähälä of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was one of the greatest performances of that piece that I had ever heard. And they were like ‘oh yeah, okay, no big deal.’ Anyway, they wrote lots of comments, and I’ve got them all. So, I’ve given their feedback to Carlos, Gregory, and Charles Calmar.

So, I’m often here at the Symphony offices until 6 or 7 pm.

My glib answer about my job as a senior manager is that I’m the decision maker that people seek out frequently. You spend a lot of your time with the door open saying ‘Yes, great idea, run with it. Yes, great idea, but don’t you think that we should think a little more about it. Or No, please don’t do that, and here’s why. But that’s the glib answer to your question.

I do a lot of fund raising. I was at lunch today with a major donor. A couple of ideas came out of it. I was at a planning meeting with a group of board members and the development vice president talking about the coming season. So I do a lot of fund raising work. I make a lot of calls, write a lot of letters, and stay in touch with people.

Since you work with budgets, are you an Excel expert?

Calder: Excel is my second language. Just the other Friday, I spent an hour over the cash flow forecast with the controller, and saying ‘this looks so good, there must be something wrong here.’ This morning I figured out a way to check that.

We don’t have a CFO here, but it’s me. Fortunately, I like numbers and am happy with numbers.

So do Carlos Kalmar and Charles Calmer take care of the artistic side?

Calder: I get involved in the artistic side, too. Charles heads up an artistic planning group that meets on Wednesday mornings. The group includes me, Charles, Carl Herko, Jessica, representing the marketing people, and we usually ask Charles Noble to attend. We keep trying to get more musicians involved. A lot of them bring back good ideas from summer festivals where they are playing. John Cox, our principal French horn player, brought me the program from the Mozart Festival in San Diego because he thought that he had some really good fund-raising ideas.

So we have weekly meetings almost all through the year. One board member suggested that we do to our classical series like we’ve done to the Pops. We had too many Pops programs. We had seven Pops programs, and we’ve taken them down to four. The audience is actually thrilled. And now we are doing very specific concerts for various niches in the marketplace. So instead of trying to do a seven concert Pops series that pleases no one, we’ve created a much tighter Pops series with Jeff Tyzik that is traditional Pops. And then we are programming Bluegrass, Fado music, the recording with Pink Martini, we have Norman Leyden coming back for Memorial Day weekend. We will put in as much as we can that’s different.

So, this board member thinks that we have too many classical programs, because even though we are doing better at the classical concerts, there are still too many empty spaces. I’m worried about November, because we have three classical programs in November and that seems like too many. But we have a 41 week season and three weeks we can’t program anything at all. We have to work around Carlos’s schedule, the Pops programs, we have to work around Portland Youth Philharmonic’s concerts in the Schnitz. So sometimes too many concerts get bunched up during one month. I’m worried about that. It’s unfair to our audiences. It’s not as though we are the only thing that’s going on in Portland. There are conflicts with the scheduling of other groups.

So, I wrote a position paper on taking down the Classical series from fourteen concerts a year to twelve. What could we do with those two extra programs. What who do we do with the Inside the Score series? Are there enough major works for that series – which is what people going to that program seem to explore. Should we be meeting the demand for Sunday afternoon, full classical programs. That’s the big question. We are one of the only orchestras that don’t do matinees as part of our regular classical series.

Do you do the negotiating with artists?

Calder: Charles Calmer does the negotiating with artists’ agents. Everything is looked at closely, but, of course, fees for young artists are affordable. The big fees for the big names are that way for a good reason. What gets more scrutiny are the fees for artists in the middle rank. Their fees are not cheap. Will they bring in more people than a young unknown. That’s a difficult decision, we talk it over a lot. This is especially crucial in the single-ticket shows. Sometimes you have to get on the phone or email and find out how someone did elsewhere.

Last week I talked with Doug Jenkins of the Portland Cello Project. We are looking at working with them sometime in the future. So many people are down about classical music and younger people, but he said that’s true at all. Anyway, tickets for our concert with Antony and the Johnsons is selling very well; so we are looking forward to that.

How do you acquire the knowledge that you have? Is there a finishing school for arts managers?

(Calder laughs.)

Can someone come out of a corporation like a bank and run an orchestra?

Calder: That happens quite frequently. Some people can do it and others can’t. I have an MBA from a business school It wasn’t an Arts MBA, but the real deal, and while my fellow graduates went on to work for international banks, I chose to work for a theater company. Before I got the MBA, I ran a little community theater in the town where I lived, Woodstock, Ontario, for about ten years.

Anyway, after I received my MBA from the Ivey School which is part of the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, I still wanted to run a theater company, so I got a job with a theater company in Toronto. I went from there to the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario, which was about a 3 million dollar company, and then I went to the Shaw Festival at Niagara on the Lake, which was a really big thing. Then I went to the Canadian Opera Company, which was a bigger operation.

I always resisted orchestras, even though I had an orchestra at the Canadian Opera Company and Pinky’s (Pinchas Zuckerman) orchestra at the National Arts Centre when I worked there for ten months. We are hoping to get him here.

But I always thought that orchestras were tough, then I got headhunted by the Edmonton Symphony. And it took six years to fix that situation.

So, is this your first time to work in the US?

Calder: No, this is the second. I worked for two years at the theater company in Hartford, Connecticut.

Are orchestras a bigger challenge than theaters?

Calder: Everyone complains that there are so many musicians to deal with, but they aren’t the problem although they are a huge fixed cost. I mean at the Shaw Festival, when we got into a financial difficulty the year that GST, a national tax, became introduced in Canada. And it came at the same time that Ontario went into a recession. And we had this one horrible year. That year the acting company was 85; the next year it was 65. You do smaller plays; you hire fewer actors; you make fewer costumes. Well, you can’t do that here. You can’t say ‘oops, sorry guys, twenty of you aren’t coming back next year.’

So to me it’s not he musicians. Instead, it’s the whole marketing challenge. You have no word of mouth at all, and you’ve got to draw huge numbers of people every night. And with us it’s all over in a weekend. And you have to get people excited about the next weekend.

I couldn’t imagine going out and helping to raise funds if I didn’t believe in the orchestra. Sometimes I have to overcome skepticism.

We are going to be accountable to our donors. We are not going to take a pledge from them for five years and then hold them to that when they are unhappy with the way things are going. They are going to get a lot of reports from me as to what’s going on and if they don’t like what’s happening or if they don’t think that we’re making progress then they can give your money away somewhere else. There’s lots of good places to give money in Portland. So we are keeping people informed, and they can re-up their commitment according to their evaluation. We are will to open the books, keep people up do date, make things transparent. Explaining to people how things work is part of fund raising.

So, I’ve got a lot of things to do – from strategic planning to the budget and many other things. It’s a great job, and I love being here!

Today's Birthdays

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864)
Amy Beach (1967-1944)
John Cage (1912-1993)
Peter Racine Fricker (1920-1990)
Karita Mattila (1960)
Marc-André Hamelin (1961)
Lars Vogt (1970)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)
Frederic Curzon (1899-1973)
Irwin Gage (1939)
René Pape (1964)


Richard Wright (1908-1960)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Powder your wig and lace up your corset for…

The Baroque Bash - September 17th at Holocene

(Press Release from CRPDX.)

Baroque music meets baroque pop for a first-of-its-kind show at the Holocene nightclub on September 17th. The “Baroque Bash” features performances by beloved chamber-rockers Sophe Lux, chamber music collaborative Classical Revolution PDX and special guests from Portland Baroque Orchestra, the Pacific Northwest’s premiere period instrument ensemble. CRPDX and the PBO Chamber Players will perform works by Bach, Haydn, Vivaldi and other 17th and early 18th Century composers. Sophe Lux, known as much for their lavish costumes and mini-operettas as for their musicianship, will play original songs hailed by the Portland Tribune as being “operatic, ambitious...sophisticated, theatrical pop.” The Philadelphia Weekly described them as “fancy-dressed, concept-loving, rock-opera terrorists... This Weimar-infused, accordion-loving experimental cabaret is led by the blond and beautiful Gwynneth Haynes, whose octave-jumping soprano could easily turn from indie rock to Brecht-Weill torch songs.”

Singer Gwynneth Haynes invites the audience to fully participate in the evening by taking on Baroque characteristics. Says Haynes “Don’t just be a spectator, be a part of the spectacle!” Audiences are invited to join in the evenings festivities by donning outfits and wigs for the evening’s costume contest.

Tom Cirillo, Executive Director of Portland Baroque Orchestra, jumped at the invitation from Classical Revolution PDX to bring live performance of 18th century music to a “downtown” club venue like Holocene. He says, “18th century music is all about flash, spectacle and live improvisation. A party-like setting with adult refreshments is certainly in the spirit of the music and I know our virtuoso violinists Greg Ewer and Adam LaMotte will thrive in the energy of this unique event at Holocene.”

Violist Mattie Kaiser, who performs with Classical Revolution PDX and Sophe Lux, says the Baroque Bash will demonstrate the commonality between Baroque music and the literate, musically complex pop songs produced by bands like Sophe Lux. She likens the best music of the Baroque, known for its emphasis on ornament and extravagance, to glam rock: “I really don’t think there’s that much of a difference between the baroque music pageantry that existed back in the day and glam - it’s all about being completely ridiculous with the utmost sincerity.”

The Baroque Bash will be held on September 17th, at 9 PM at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison, Portland. The cost is$8 at the door; $6 for those in costume.

Today's Birthdays

Pietro Locatelli (1695-1764)
Robert Thurston Dart (1921-1971)
Rudolf Kelterborn (1931)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Review of Art in the Dark 2008 - A-Wol Dance Collective

As a special feature, I asked Michelle Johnson to review the outdoor dance performance by A-Wol Dance Collective on August 22nd. Johnson teaches ballet at Laurelhurst Studio.

Since it was still light outside, my daughter, Maria, and I easily followed the “Art in the Dark” signs after turning off Highway 43 to Mary S. Young Park in West Lynn. The walking path had lights strung along it that were cheerful as the trees started getting thick about then and the daylight grew dimmer. When we arrived at the end of the path and handed in the tickets we saw an open area surrounded by trees and across from us a stage and Bryan Free singing for pre-show entertainment at its side. The people closest to the stage sat on blankets and further back there were viewers in low chairs. I liked the relaxed ambiance of expectation and comfort on a warm, darkening evening. It was fun to notice that people who used to dance with the Oregon Ballet Theatre were in the audience (Daniel Kirk and Eric Skinner). The A-Wol Dance Collective must merit some attention!

The theme of the show as we understood involved presenting some pieces, chronologically, that A-Wol had done since they began five years ago, My first thought upon seeing the colorful slings hanging way up high on the trees was wondering how they could be sure they were secured enough, because tree limbs move! Yet the dancers showed no delay in the speedy turns, swinging, hanging, rolling up, rolling down, climbing, folding and more-- all by using harnesses, slings and rings. The female dancers climbed on each other and on the lone male we saw in the first half. Each piece was unique in its placement on stage and number of dancers and types of moves though I don’t now recall as much variation in the rhythmic jazz music. The costumes were simple fitted camisoles and boycut shorts.

The professional quality of the dancers made their performance outstanding. They have the noticeable gracefulness, strength and classical lines of dedicated, talented dancers. “Aerial Without Limits” indeed as they were all fearless in their feats of moving art and we watched in rapture sitting there grounded in the dark with a star-peeping sky above our heads. We hope to watch them again if they’re back next summer!

Today's Birthdays

George Böhm (1661-1733)
David Blake (1936)
Paul Goodwin (1956)


Joseph Roth (1894-1939)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sock Monkey shows whimsical side of new music

A lot of new music is serious in nature, but the pieces featured in Sock Monkey, a new recording of music by Mark Applebaum, stresses the humorous side. Applebaum teaches composition at Standford University where he directs the Stanford Improvisation Collective, and he seems to have a tongue in cheek approach to music making. The liner notes for his bio indicate that "His music has been played at numerous prestigious festivals in rigorous places like central Europe, and commissioned by fancy, impressive A-list players and ensembles--prominent ensembles." Whatever the case, Sock Monkey the CD, contains 12 pieces, including a piece for orchestra entitled, "Sock Monkey."

Before I begin to ramble on about some of the music in this recording, I have to say that as seemingly funny or absurd some of Applebaum's pieces may sound, the technical demands on the instrumentalists is quite striking. The first number is called "Magnetic North: 86 Public and Consensual Rituals," has a lot of spot-on stops and starts. The music seems to stagger head, but in an almost comical herky-jerky manner. The sounds blurt, bubble, rattle, and roll ahead, always percussive and brief.

According to the liner notes, "Magnetic North" incorporates the absurd into music. For example, "At various times individual players are asked to stand for no apparent reason. One measure is repeated x+1 times where x is the number of times it takes two players to stop playing in protest. In accompaniment of certain solo passages the brass quintet is asked to tap bottles with chopsticks, tear pieces of paper and drop ping-pong balls. At one point in the piece the horn player, located stage right, removes a length of aluminum foil from a roll and sets it at the foot of the trombone player. Later the trombonist will wad the foil into a ball and roll it to the tuba player who, minutes later, place it into a paper bag." There's a lot of this kind of musical high jinks going on and as played the the Meridian Arts Ensemble, which includes Applembaum as mouseketier electoacoustic sound-sculpture and live electronics, the piece does have a spontaneous Joie de vivre about it.

The percussive, blurty style continues and accelerates somewhat in "The Composer's Middle Period" with aggressive sounds dominating. The Bay Area new music ensemble sfSound performs this piece with verve.

Next come "Theme in Search of Variations I," "Theme in Search of Variations II," and "Theme in Search of Variations III." "TSV I" is for percussion trio and is strikingly softer than any of the previous pieces. "TSV II" features bass clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, and cello -- all of which are played by sfSound. It wild and carefree and for a minute or two some metal things crash while the piano passage wanders aimlessly about before windchimes or some other bell-like instrument takes over with an array of ethereal tones. "TSV III" is played by Beta Collide, a Eugene-based ensemble that features flutist Molly Barth, Tumpeter Brian McWhorter, pianist David Riley, and percussionist Phillip Patti in another hodgepodge collection of seemingly spontaneous and mostly percussive sound. The liner notes point out the unpredictability of the sounds, and I have to admit that this pieces is rife with brief pauses and interruptions.

"Variations on Variations on a Theme by Mozart" finally gets to a place where we can enjoy a distinct tune. The Mozart piece is his variations on the "Twinkle Twinkle little star" childrens song that we all know. Applebaum plays his variations on prepared pianos, and it's fun to hear, because it sounds like some kind of ripped up percussive-toy-piano thing.

Brian McWhorter plays all sorts of impossible sounds during "Entre Funerailles I," which was written for solo trumpet. The "Martian Anthropology 7, 8, and 9, are performed by The Paul Dresher Ensemble Electo-Acoustic Band. The instruments involved in this piece include amplified violin, mallet sampler, data controller, cracklebox, amplified bass clarinet, and bricolage drumset. The premise for the music is that we humans have blown ourselves to smithereens after a nuclear holocaust and some Martian anthropologists have created some music in order to depict what our civilization must have sounded like. Number 7 sounds like the Martians are furiously scratching things with electronic devices. Number 8 is more ethereal-Martian-otherworldly like. Number 9 is more rhythmically-driven.

"On the Nature of the Modern Age" is a work for piano duo and live electronics that seemed to evoke a aura of mystery. "Sock Monkey," played by the Standford Symphony Orchestra is subtitled "Transcription of a Little Girl Running Around the House," and this piece does have a playful and energetic quality.

Today's Birthdays

Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812)
Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921)
Conway Twitty (1933)
Seiji Ozawa (1935)
Júlia Várady (1941)
Leonard Slatkin (1944)