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).

No comments: