Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950)
Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940)
Nathan Milstein (1904-1992)
Jaap Schröder (1925)
Odetta (1930-2008)
Stephen Cleobury (1948)
Donna Summer (1948)


Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Today's Birthdays

André Messager (1853-1929)
Alfred Einstein (1880-1952)
Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987)
Sir David Willcocks (1919)
Bruno Canino (1935)
June Anderson (1950)
Antonio Pappano (1959)


Theodor Fontane (1819-1898)
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Symphony in Waves, Grant Park Orchestra, and Kalmar stimulate the imagination with new works by Kernis

If you’re trapped in a windowless room and have the urge to watch the sky or the ocean, then your situation is not hopeless if you can listen to a new recording that features the music of Aaron Jay Kernis. Entitled “Symphony in Waves” this album contains superb performances by the Grant Park Orchestra under Carlos Kalmar that evoke the ephemeral nature of the air and water.

Released in August under the Cedille label, “Symphony in Waves” features three works by Kernis. First up is “Newly Drawn Sky,” the newest work (2005) in the recording. After it comes the nimble and off-kilter “Too Hot Toccata,” which Kernis wrote in 1996. The last and longest piece is the title work, “Symphony in Waves,” which dates back to 1989. Although an earlier version for chamber ensemble received an excellent recording in 2006 by the New York Chamber Symphony under the direction of Gerard Schwarz, this new release under the Cedille label is the first full orchestral recording.

“Newly Drawn Sky” uses a host of unusual orchestral sounds to seem to paint ephemeral events that take place outdoors over our heads. The piece begins with an ominous, dark rumble from the lowest instruments that seems to create the image of a menacing sun. It seems to burn off the morning mist and clear the atmosphere. Then the music gradually becomes dense and gains weight, suggesting slow moving clouds that mass in the distance. These clouds become aggressive and threatening. A hard rain falls, and it’s cleared away and overtaken by a rainbow, symbolized by chimes and cymbals in the orchestra. Many more events take place, but you get the idea. All in all, the shifting sounds of this piece convey a lot of drama and stimulate the imagination.

“Too Hot Toccata” is a lightening quick work that threatens to careen out of control. No orchestra member gets to linger over a note, because each one is very hot to the touch. The orchestra takes the accelerandos with élan, playing everything crisply. At one point, they get to rock out and create musical havoc. This piece sounds virtuosic and fun at the same time.

With five movements and 40 minutes, “Symphony in Waves” is the biggest work on the album, and Kernis unleashes a many different tonal combinations to deliver a constantly changing seascape. In the first movement, “Continuous Wave,” the fog horn-like sound signals a warning before the basses create a wave that comes out of the depths like terrifying Poseidon. The playful interaction of sounds between all parts of the orchestra in the second movement, “Scherzo,” ends with a quickie striptease. The third movement, “Still Movement” throws down the hammer with blocks of sound and shifts back and forth from very loud to very quiet before leaving us in a haunted, windy space. The fourth movement, “Intermezzo” evoked a flock of birds and waves that fold upon each other. The fifth movement, “Finale” ends with exuberance.

“Symphony in Waves” has many moments of contemplative stillness that are broken up by periods of restlessness and change from all directions. It’s a great work that stirs the imagination and gives much satisfaction for the direction of contemporary orchestral music. This exciting new recording of Kernis’s work by Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra has set a high mark. I hope that you get the chance to hear it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Henry Fogel on opera conducting as a basis for symphonic conducting

In his blog, Henry Fogel wrote recently about the time-honored tradition of conducting operas before before launching into a career as a symphonic conductor. Almost all conductors, including the famous ones, spent a good amount of time learning their craft in the pit of an opera house. Many conductors stay involved in the operatic world even after they have earned acclaim in the symphonic realm.

Fogel was the president of Chicago Symphony for many years and served as the CEO of the League of American Orchestras from 2003 to 2008. He also has an incredible database of classical music that you can search at

Today's Birthdays

Pablo Casals (1876-1973)
Lionel Tertis (1876-1975)
Billy Tipton (1914-1989)


William Gaddis (1922-1998)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Roger Sessions (189601985)
Earl "Fatha" Hines (1905-1983)
Johnny Otis (1921)
Nigel Kennedy (1956)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Sir John Goss (1800-1880)
Tito Schipa (1888-1965)
Marlene Dietrich (1904-1992)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Carl Orff - tortured mind of a Nazi sympathizer and liar

The Times of London recently published this engrossing article about Orff. Although his ties to the Nazis are well-known, he refused to use his connections to help save the life of Kurt Huber, an academic who had helped him with librettos. I've sung Orff's "Carmina Burana" and some of his other works many times, and have read about his Nazi sympathies, but this new additional information puts Orff at the bottom of the barrel in terms of his humanity.

Today's Birthdays

Maurice Gendron (1920-1990)
Thea King (1925-2007)
Earle Brown (1926-2002)
Phil Specter (1939)
Harry Christophers (1953)
Andre-Michel Schub (1953)


Thomas Gray (1716-1771)
Henry Miller (1891-1980)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Today's Birthdays

Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
Giuseppe de Luca (1876-1950)
Gladys Swarthout (1900-1969)
Noel Redding (1945-2003)
Jon Kimura Parker (1952)
Ian Bostridge (1964)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Two violinists from the Moscow Virtuosi attacked

According to the Moscow Times, two violinists from the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra were mugged over the past couple of days in separate incidents that may be related. Apparently their violins were stolen as well.

Today's Birthdays

Peter Cornelius (1824-1874)
Nikolai Roslavets (1881-1944)
Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946)
Sir Vivian Dunn (1908-1995)
Teresa Stich-Randall (1927-2007)
Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008)
Arnold Östman (1939)
Libby Larsen (1950)
Hans-Jürgen von Bose (1953)


Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)
Dana Gioia (1950)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In Mulieribus concert postponed

Due to inclement weather, In Mulieribus' winter concert, "O Radix Jesse" has been postponed. It is rescheduled for Sunday, December 28th at 7:30 p.m. at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church.

Bach Cantata Choir trumps weather with vibrant concert

The really snowy stuff held off just long enough on last Friday evening (December 19) for the Bach Cantata Choir to give a spirited performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, Parts 1-3 and several movements from Marc-Antonie Charpentier's "Messe de Minuit." The Rose City Park Presbyterian Church wasn't as full as it would have been under normal conditions (earlier in the week only 50 tickets were left), but the brave folks that made it to the concert were rewarded with some excellent music making.

After a slight hesitation at the very beginning, the choir and orchestra performed the "Messe de Minuit" in a straight-ahead manner. Charpentier’s music is based on French ChristmaCs Carols and has several opportunities for singers to perform alone and small ensembles. I heard some fine singing by sopranos Laurie Miller Vischer and Elise Groves, alto Elizabeth Farquhar, tenors Brian Haskins and Mark Woodward, bass Tom Hard. Vischer and Groves, in particular, gave a spirited duet that reminded me of happy, chirping birds.

The 40 plus voices of the Bach Cantata Choir, soloists, and orchestra, all of which were led by Ralph Nelson, delivered a terrific performance of the first three parts of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. They jumped on the lines of the first chorus “Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage” (Triumph, rejoicing, rise, praising these days now”) with a jubilant and contagious spirit that affected the rest of the concert.

The orchestra got involved and played well throughout, including really listening to each other and blending their sound to heighten the emotion of the music. Also impressive were trumpeters Jeffrey Snyder, John Kim, and Dean Hinkley, who played their devilishly tricky parts impeccably.

The numerous recitatives and arias by mezzo-soprano Irene Weldon, tenor Byron Wright, and bass Jacob William Herbert were outstanding. Weldon’s warm voice excelled especially in “Bereite dich, Zion, mit Zaertlichen Trieben” (“Prepare thyself, Zion, with tender affection”) and in “Schliesse, mein Herze, dies selige Wunder” (“Keep thou, my heart now, this most blessed wonder”). Wright’s voice showed superb suppleness in “Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet” (“Joyful shepherds, haste, ah hasten”), which contains numerous lightening-quick runs. Among the highlights of Herbert’s solos was his singing of “Grosser Herr, o starker Koenig” (“Mighty Lord, O strongest sovereign”).

Also outstanding was the duet between soprano Melanie Downie Zupan and Herbert in “Herr, dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen” (“Lord, thy mercy, thy forgiveness”) in which they achieved a matched vocal quality that supported the words perfectly.

Nelson showed a lot of agility in his conducting. His quick tempos had a dance-like ambience and his slower tempos never bogged down. The music stayed lively and enhanced the evening with some much needed warmth for everyone who had to leave and brave the cold once more.

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Boismortier (1689-1755)
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) alternate date
Claudio Scimone (1934)
Ross Edwards (1943)
Edita Gruberová (1946)
Han-Na Chang (1982)


Robert Bly (1926)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Article about Angela Meade in Scene magazine

I also published an article about soprano Angela Meade in the winter issue of "Scene" magazine. "Scene" is the alumni magazine at Pacific Lutheran University. Meade has been winning a ton of competitions and awards, and earlier this year (on March 21st) she replaced an ailing Sondra Radvanovsky in the role of Elvira for the Metropolitan Opera's production of Verdi's "Ernani."

Although I graduated from PLU in the last millennium, this marks my first time to publish a piece in "Scene."

Article in Opera America magazine

I published an article ("Making Early Opera Sing") about the challenges to presenting Baroque opera. It appears in the winter issue of Opera America magazine. Amongst the many people I interviewed for this article were Christopher Mattaliano, general director of Portland Opera, Thomas Thomas Cirillo, executive director of the Portland Baroque Orchestra, and Gregory Ewer, violinist for the Oregon Symphony and the Portland Baroque Orchestra. Unfortunately, the article isn't available online.

Today's Birthdays

Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787)
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Franz Schmidt (1874-1939)
Edgard Varèse(1883-1965)
Joseph Deems Taylor (1885-1966)
Alan Bush (1900-1995)
Andre Kostelanetz (1901-1980)
Jean Rigby (1954)


Jean Racine (1639-1699)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cancellations everywhere except for Portland Baroque

The Portland Symphonic Choir has decided to cancel its concert for this evening because of the weather. The Aurora Chorus is canceling its concert as well, but will perform it next week.

Portland Baroque Orchestra will go ahead and hold its concert, which is scheduled for 4 pm this afternoon. According to their web site, they will have tickets available at the door.

Also, the Oregon Repertory Singers have decided to reschedule their concerts. Here's the latest from the ORS web site:

"If you hold tickets to either of our Glory of Christmas concerts, scheduled for December 14 and 15, your tickets will be honored at the rescheduled concerts on Sunday, January 4, 2009. Performances will be at 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM at First United Methodist Church. You may attend either performance. You do not need to get reissued tickets for that date.

If you are calling to purchase tickets to the January 4 concerts, tickets will be available at the door one hour before concert start."

Kaplan controversy continued

Charles Noble in his blog has been expertly providing ever-more links to postings on the controversy surrounding the conducting ability of Gilbert Kaplan and whether or not those who have played under his direction should publicly criticize that ability. I hope that you have had time to follow the multiple threads of this conversation-debate, because it has been fascinating to read. Noble points to the most recent blog entry by Steve Smith, the freelance reviewer who was assigned to review the New York Philharmonic concert that Kaplan conducted. It's interesting to read how crucial it is to find the right words. It's a constant stuggle...

Today's Birthdays

Zdeněk Fibich (1850-1900)
André Turp (1925-1991)
Frank Zappa (1940-1993)
Michael Tilson Thomas (1944)
András Schiff (1953)
Thomas Randle (1958)
Jonathan Cole (1970)


Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

Oregon Symphony holiday kids' concert is postponed

From the Oregon Symphony's PR:
"Due to the inclement weather, the Oregon Symphony's Happy Holiday Kids Concert scheduled for this afternoon at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall has been postponed. Patrons should hold on to their tickets. A new concert date will be announced later."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Alex Ross on Bernstein

Bernstein conducting Mahler's 2nd in 1980 at Tangelwood

Alex Ross recently wrote a fine article about Leonard Bernstein, and it appeared in a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine. It's also available online here.

I really enjoyed reading how Bernstein could take some music he had written for one work and use it for another. Here's a quote from the article:

"One evening in October, Jack Gottlieb, who served as Bernstein’s assistant at the New York Philharmonic, presented a lecture-concert at the Jewish Museum in which he and various performers demonstrated Bernstein’s relationship with Jewish traditions. In the process, they highlighted the composer’s knack for alchemically transforming his own material. One part of the program focussed on “Chichester Psalms,” Bernstein’s choral masterpiece from 1965. Gottlieb noted that the music of the second movement—combining Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”) with Psalm 2 (“Why do the nations rage”)—is largely derived from other projects. Just before writing the “Psalms,” Bernstein tried to write a musical based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth.” When the project fell through, he saw that one completed number, the gently bluesy duet “Spring Will Come Again,” fit the words of the psalm: “Winds may blow” became “Adonai,” “Spring will come again” became “Naf’shi y’shovev.” Bernstein also retooled a castoff number from “West Side Story,” a fight song called “Mix,” to produce Psalm 2: “Make a mess of ’em / Make the sons of bitches pay” mutated into “Lamah rag’shu / Lamah ra-g’-shu goyim.” Bernstein’s propulsively muttering musical line applies equally to rival gangs and raging nations, which are, after all, symptoms of the same disease. The Amor Artis Choir and the soprano Heather Buck sang the pieces at the Jewish Museum, and it was like watching one of the great magic tricks in history explained."

Today's Birthdays

Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
Roger Woodward (1942)
Mitsuko Uchida (1948)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Upcoming choral concerts

Here are some of the upcoming concerts in Portland that might interest you:

December 19 at 7:30
Bach Cantata Choir - Christmas Oratorio - Parts 1-3

December 19 and 20 at 8 pm, December 21 at 2 pm
Portland Gay Men's Chorus - Heavenly Holidays

December 20 at 7 pm
Lutheran Choral Association - Christmas Program

December 20 at 7:30 and December 21 at 2 pm
Choral Arts Ensemble - Carols for Organ and Audience

December 21 at 4 and 7 pm
Aurora Chorus - Song For a Winter's Night

December 21 at 7:30 pm
Portland Symphonic Choir - Wintersong!

December 22 at 7:30
In Mulieribus- O Radix Jesse

Today's Birthdays

Fritz Reiner (1885-1963)
Edith Piaf (1915-1963)
Dalton Baldwin (1931)
Phil Ochs (1940-1976)
William Christie (1944)
Marianne Faithfull (1946)
Olaf Bär (1957)
Steven Esserlis (1958)
Rebecca Saunders (1967)


Italo Svevo (1861-1928)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Exposing Gilbert Kaplan as a conducting charlatan

The New York Times published an article about an uproar within the ranks of the New York Philharmonic over the guest conducting of Gilbert E. Kaplan, a wealthy businessman who has made a specialty of directing orchestras around the world in performances of Mahler's 2nd Symphony ("Ressurection"). The article points to David Finlayson's scathing review of Kaplan's abilities as a conductor. Finlayson, a trombonist in the New York Philharmonic, wrote incisively and brilliantly about the performance and built a convincing argument that the baton should be taken away from Kaplan.

Today's Birthdays

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Edward MacDowell (1860-1908)
Rita Streich (1920-1987)
William Boughton (1948)


Paul Klee (1879-1940)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The show must go on...

Last weekend the Portland Symphonic Choir performed its Wintersong concert at a very full and appreciative audience at St. Mary's Cathedral, but the concert scheduled for Sunday night had to be canceled because of the inclement weather. With optimism reigning supreme, the choir has surveyed its members and voted to give the concert this Sunday night at St. Mary's Cathedral. Be there at 7:30 pm to hear the choir plus the Gresham High School Choir (an outstanding choir I have to admit), narrator Gretchen Corbett, and Grammy-nominated baritone Jacob Herbert. Click here for more information.

Today's Birthdays

Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Arthur Fiedler (1894-1979)
Ray Noble (1903-1975)
William Wordsworth (1908-1988)
Art Neville (1937)


Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939)
John Kennedy Toole (1937-1969)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)
Turk Murphy (1915-1987)
Dame Thea King (1925-2007)
Kenneth Gilbert (1931)
Philip Langridge (1939)
Trevor Pinnock (1946)
Isabelle van Keulen (1966)


Jane Austin (1775-1817)
George Santayana (1863-1952)
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973)

Snow Day Ticket Sale - Portland Baroque Orchestra special

The Portland Baroque Orchestra is offering a special Snow Day Sale on tickets to this Thursday's performance of Messiah with music for Christmas by J.S. Bach.

Selected seats (regularly $52) are 50% off: Just $26 per ticket, or $52 for a pair, while supplies last.

Call 503.222.6000 or go online at

Just a small number of seats is available at this special Snow Day price (offer ends Wednesday).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Catching up with Gregory Vajda

Gregory Vajda, the resident conductor of the Oregon Symphony, will lead the orchestra this coming weekend in a special holiday concert with Chris Botti on Friday and Saturday evenings and a holiday music and dance spectacular on Sunday afternoon.

Vajda took a little time out in his busy schedule last week to chat over a cup of coffee about what he has been doing. I'll tell you, he has been keeping a hectic scheudle. On October 17 and 18, he conducted the Edmonton Symphony in a program of Russian music. From November 15 through the 23, he led four performances for Atlanta Opera of Rossini's "La Cenerentola" ("Cinderella") with Jennifer Larmore in the title role.

Over the last two weeks Vajda heard two premiers of his own music. His quintet, "Conversations with children" for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano was performed in Brescia, Italy by the dèdalo ensemble. The performance came as part of winning a prize in a competition. Heck, Magnus Lindburg was on the jury.

The UMZE Chamber Ensemble performed Vajda's "The Vacuum" in Budapest, Hungary on a program that also featured music by Carter, Adams, and Kurtág. In addition, Vajda conducted that concert.

In January, Vajda will conduct concerts with the Oregon Symphony, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and with the Da Camera ensemble in Houston. He is still on the short list for the music director job with the The San Antonio Symphony, The Fort Wayne Philharmonic, the Fairfax Symphony (Virginia), and the Music in the Mountains Festival (Grass Valley, California). So, 2009 should be a break through year for Vajda.

Today's Birthdays

Lotte Schöne (1891-1981)
Ida Haendel (1924)
Nigel Robson (1948)
Jan Latham-Koenig (1953)


Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000)
Edna O'Brien (1930)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Georges Thill (1897-1984)
Spike Jones (1911-1965)
Rosalyn Tureck (1914-2003)
Dame Ruth Railton (1915-2001)
Ron Nelson (1929)
Christopher Parkening (1947)
John Rawnsley (1949)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Josef Lhévinne (1874-1944)
Eleanor Robson Belmont (1879-1979)
Samuel Dushkin (1891-1976)
Victor Babin (1908-1972)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Grammy nominee Jacob Herbert featured in Portland Symphonic Choir concert this weekend

Portland's own Jacob Herbert will be featured as the baritone solist in Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on Christmas Carols" this Saturday and Sunday at St. Mary's Cathedral with the Portland Symphonic Choir. Herbert is a featured soloist in the Grammy nominated recording by the Phoenix Chorale, "Spotless Rose," which has been released on the Chandos Label, and it's up for a Grammy.

For more about the Portland Symphonic Choir concert, click here.

Today's Birthdays

Frank Sinatra (1915-1998)
Sir Philip Ledger (1937)
Donald Maxwell (1948)
Margaret Tan (1953)
Jaap van Zweden (1960)
David Horne (1970)


Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)
Edvard Munch (1863-1944)
John Osborne (1929-1994)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Art of the States looking for circus-inspired music

Art of the States, an international radio service of contemporary American music, is assembling a circus-oriented program that consists of traditional circus band music and more classical and experimental works inspired by it. They are interested in any releases that you might know of that has anything to do with the circus, clowns, acrobats, etc -- and not necessarily just in name, but stylistically as well.

Matthew Packwood, who works for Art of the States, says that they have an interesting selection of composers right now, including Ives, Copland, Mumma, Erickson, Schuman, and Zorn, but they are looking for more. Composer must be American and there are some guidelines regarding how to submit work (for example, email submissions are not allowed). Click here to understand how to submit a recording.

Free downloads from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

To celebrate their 120th anniversary, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is offering ten symphony recordings that you can download for free. Click here for the details.

Today's Birthdays

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
Elliott Carter (1908)
Neil Mackie (1946)


Grace Paley (1922-2007
Thomas McGuane (1939)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Today's Birthdays

César Franck (1822-1890)
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
Morton Gould (1913-1996)
Sesto Bruscantini (1919-2003)
Nicholas Kynaston (1941)
Julianne Baird (1952)
Kathryn Stott (1958)
Sarah Chang (1980)


Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Adolf Loos (1870-1933)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bob Kingston's new opera blog

Bob Kingston, an admitted opera fanatic, expert at giving presentations about opera and classical music, and guest reviewer for Northwest Reverb, has launch a new blog called dramma per musica. I hope that you get a chance to read and exchange thoughts with Bob on a regular basis and welcome Bob to the blogosphere.

How the ideas of a secret order influence Beethoven

In Slate magazine, Jan Swafford wrote an intriguing article about he influence of Christian Neefe on the young Beethoven. Neefe belonged to a secret order called the Illuminati, which sought to spread ideas of the Enlightenment by indocrinating youth. He probably did influence Beethoven a little bit. It's too bad that the article doesn't contain any direct quotes from Beethoven to support its thesis. That would've strengthened the argument.

Today's Birthdays

Joaquin Turina (1882-1949)
Conchita Supervia (1895-1936)
Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (1915-2006)
Christopher Robson (1953)
Donny Osmond (1957)
Joshua Bell (1967)


John Milton (1608-1674)
Ödön von Horváth (1901-1938)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Compose music for video games at $2,000 per minute

Yep. Composers can earn a lot of buckos writing for the video game industry. A report in today's Los Angeles Times says that music for video games can garner as much as $2,000 per minute:

"The gigs pay well: Composers can receive as much as $2,000 for each minute of music they write, with a typical game requiring 60 to 90 minutes of music. Including the allowance for hiring musicians, renting recording studios and post-production work, the music budgets for top-notch games can reach as high as half a million dollars."

I know that John Paul, who teaches music at Marylhurst University, was one of the earlier composers in the video game arena. He wrote for Atari's games and has a number of other credits. You can read about it in his online bio here.

Today's Birthdays

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)
Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)
Gérard Souzay (1920)
Sir James Galway (1939)


Diego Rivera (1886-1957)
Bill Bryson (1951)

Tchaikovsky’s 2nd piano concerto beams with Hough and Oregon Symphony

Guest artist Stephen Hough gleaned as many nuggets as possible from the Tchaikovsky Second Piano Concerto, but despite Hough’s considerable artistry, this concerto just cannot match the level of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. Yet the rarely heard Second Concerto contrasted well with the Tchaikovsky’s “Festival Coronation March” and music from the beloved “The Nutcracker,” making the Oregon Symphony concert on Saturday evening a satisfying experience and sending everyone homeward with the hope that snow flurries might grace the evening air.

Hough, who has just been nominated once again for a Grammy, was dazzling in his interpretation of the concerto. He could just rip arpeggios up one side of the keyboard and down the other. He was in complete command of knucklebusting passages with fingers flying in every direction. The first movement ended with such a head of steam that many listeners spontaneously erupted with applause. The second movement featured sensitive playing by Hough with concertmaster Jun Iwasaki and principal cellist Nancy Ives. Together they created an intimate sound that drew us closer to the music. The third movement whirled in a dancelike trance at times, sweeping the audience into a standing ovation after it came to a close.

In so many of this other works, Tchaikovsky creates melodies with such ease that it’s astonishing, but in this concerto, he seemed to get stuck after inventing a theme or two. Perhaps Hough also felt that the piece falls short of the Tchaikovskian heights. In any case, he played Debussy’s “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” as an encore with great sensitivity.

The concert began the “Festival Coronation March,” a celebratory work that Tchaikovsky wrote on commission for the coronation of Czar Alexander III in 1883. The Oregon Symphony, led by its music director Carlos Kalmar, put some extra caviar on this piece with its robust brass section.

For the march and for the concerto, Kalmar rearranged the orchestra with basses and cellos on the left and violas and second violins on the right. By doing so, he could get Hough, Iwasaki, and Ives close together, and that seemed to work very well. I also enjoyed seeing that arrangement, because the Kirov Orchestra, which I heard twice in New York a couple of weeks ago, uses that same configuration.

The second half of the program was devoted to the music from Act II of “The Nutcracker.” I really enjoyed hearing this music live with a full orchestra, and I heard a lot of exceptional playing throughout from all sections. From my perch in the balcony, I could see Niel DePonte playing some large objects on his knees to make the castanet sounds. Among the many nifty sounds I heard were the buzzy flutter in the flutes, the elegant harps, the magical celeste, and evocative playing by the strings. There was no need for ballet dancers, because it was easy to picture them while the orchestra played. In fact, the little girl in the row in front of me stayed awake through the entire concert, and her eyes would light up at each theme.

As an encore, the orchestra played the Autumn movement from Glazunov’s “The Seasons.” Now if there had only been some snow outside…

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945)
Rudolf Friml (1879-1972)
Daniel Jones (1912-1993)
Helen Watts (1927)
Harry Chapin (1942)
Daniel Chorzempa (1944)
Tom Waits (1949)
Kathleen Kuhlmann (1950)


Joyce Cary (1888-1957)
Noam Chomsky (1928)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

New books about Sarah Caldwell

A new biography has just been published about Sarah Caldwell, the larger than life conductor and music director of the Opera Company of Boston. Also, Caldwell's memoirs have also just been released. As a woman who could create and steer an entire artistic enterprise, Caldwell was a real anomaly in the top echelon of the opera world. She appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1975 and became the first woman to conduct at the Metropolitan Opera and the second to conduct the New York Philharmonic. Click here, if you'd like to read a review of these books and know more about Caldwell's remarkable life.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703)
Ira Gershwin (1896-1983)
Dave Brubeck (1920)
Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929)
Henryk Górecki (1933)
Tomas Svoboda (1939)
John Nelson (1941)
Daniel Adni (1951)
Matthew Taylor (1964)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762)
Little Richard (1932)
José Carreras (1946)
Krystian Zimerman (1956)


Joan Didion (1934)
Calvin Trillin (1935)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Grammy nominee Stephen Hough to play with Oregon Symphony

Pianist Stephen Hough has been nominated for a Grammy award in the Best Chamber Music Performance (Category 104) for a recording of the Brahms Piano Quintet No. 34 that he did with Takács Quartet on the Hyperion label. Hough is in town for the rarely performed Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Oregon Symphony. In the interview I did with music director Carlos Kalmar a couple months ago, Kalmar noted that Hough has been very eager to come to Portland to play with the orchestra and is keen on this Tchaikovsky piece as well.

Also, Jennifer Koh, who played a scintilating Brahms Violin Concerto last month with the Oregon Symphony, has been nominated for a Grammy in the same category as Hough. Koh recently released a recording called "String Poetic" with pianist Reiko Uchida under the Cedille Records label - the same recording outfit that has made several recordings of Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra.

Today's Birthdays

André Campra (1660-1744)
Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1949)
Alex North (1910-1991)
Yvonne Minton (1938)
Lillian Watson (1947)
Andrew Penny (1952)


Thomas Carlyle (1795-1891)
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Anonymous "4" sparkle in Friends of Chamber Music Concert

On Wednesday, December 3rd, The Anonymous 4 (minus Susan Hellauer, absent to attend to family matters) delivered a scintillating exploration of American music of Scottish, Irish and English origins at the Kaul Auditorium at Reed College. This Grammy winning, world-beloved vocal ensemble captivated a wildly enthusiastic audience despite missing one of their members. They were assisted by accomplished string players Darol Anger, a Portlander on fiddle and mandolin, and Scott Nygaard on guitar. The performance was one in their 'Long Time Traveling' tour, and was a rare and special opportunity to hear this group live, as they have not been touring regularly since 2003-2004. Although they became famous for their performances of medieval music, at the Kaul Auditorium they delivered up a rich feast of Americana with a focus on its older roots in the British Isles.

They joked about the 'Andrews Sisters' renditions of the songs they would sing without Hellauer, but there was nothing lacking in the performance. They began the night with a shape note tune entitled 'I'm on My Journey Home,' and from the first moment they opened their mouths the audience was enthralled. The shape note music, so called because of its origins in the American South as a method of learning the solfege system with different syllables represented by noteheads of varying shapes, displayed the close, intimate connection between this music and its roots in Celtic vocalization. Their almost unearthly harmonic blend in this a cappella work was a preview of a fantastic night to come.

Throughout the evening in a varying program consisting of shape note, gospel, revival, folk hymns and lyric folk songs, the three who were present (Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky and Jacquline Horner-Kwiatek) displayed a remarkable, virtuosic ability to render to each piece exactly what was required to make it unforgettable, no more, no less. This music was not characterized by fanciness, nor frills, but by its sometimes stark simplicity. The bulk of the music was religious in nature, being of the 'Sunday morning' variety, as Anger put it. The expressivity of tone was coupled with a deft ability to sing in such a way that it brought out first and foremost the heartwrenching pangs of true belief that must have characterized the composers and performers of this music when it was written.

They sang old favorites that have found long life in the bluegrass idiom, such as 'I'll Fly Away,' 'Angel Band,' and 'Sweet By and By,' as well as other, less familiar works. Each singer also presented a solo work throughout the course of the evening. Genensky sang a cappella towards the end of the performance. 'You Fair and Pretty Ladies,' as she rendered it, was nothing short of ecstatic; its sad tale of a young woman spurned was achingly beautiful. A tune that harkened back to the moors of Scotland, one could detect in the DNA of Genensky's delivery the origins of the "high lonesome" sound that is so prized in modern bluegrass.

Anger and Nygaard also gave an excellent performance. They were no mere 'backup musicians,' but engaging and enjoyable in their own right. Anger spoke a bit through the course of the evening, both about his first meeting with Anonymous 4 when they performed together on A Prairie Home Companion, and later in opening the second half with what he called 'Saturday Night' music (in opposition to the Sunday Morning tunes about which he spoke before.)

The second half opened with Anger and Nygaard playing a medley of fiddle tunes, during which at times Anger seemed to be challenging Nygaard to keep up with him in his accompaniment, forming an immensely enjoyable musical repartee that brought the audience to open peals of delighted laughter. Despite their own virtuosic talents they were skilled and sensitive accompanists when called for, and their musicianship only enhanced the overall amazing quality of the performance. When all was said and done, the audience couldn't get enough and all five musicians reprised 'I'll Fly Away' as an encore, with the audience encouraged to clap and sing along.

Friends of Chamber Music brought a rare and wonderful talent to Portland last night, as evinced by the sold-out crowd of awestruck patrons and the brisk CD sales after the event. I can only imagine that most shows by this ensemble are sold out wherever they go, and rightly so. It was a pleasure to hear music so thoroughly, un-self-consciously insistent and executed with such sincerity and skill.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chicago A Cappella ‘s Christmas album sparkles with new vocal gems

Chicago A Cappella, a top notch vocal ensemble from the Windy City, really sparkles in its new holiday recording, entitled Christmas A Cappella. The CD contains 18 songs from around the world and each number is given a superb performance by this ensemble.

A cappella singing is one of the most daunting of all vocal challenges because it uses no accompaniment whatsoever. This means that the singers must strive for perfection in intonation and achieve genuine artistry as well – especially in a recording. Well, Chicago A Cappella makes it all sound easy and natural. Whether singing an energetic “Amuworo ayi out nwa” (“For unto us a child is born”) by Nigerian composer Christian Onyeji or the hauntingly gracious “Prayer of the Venerable Bede” by Chicago composer Richard Proulx, the Chicago A Cappella ensemble gets to the heart of each song with sheer musicality and impeccable diction.

The performance of each selection are gemlike, but some of the ones that still glisten in my mind include an arrangement by Eleanor Daley of “The Huron Carol,” Stacy Garrop’s “Lo Yisa Goy,” Rosephanye Powell’s “Who is the baby?,” Gwyneth Walker’s “The Christ-child’s Lullaby,” Enrico Oweggi’s “Nyathi Onyuol,” and Chaim Parchi’s “Aleih Neiri.” James Clemens’ “Jinge a cappella” is a delightfully twisted arrangement of “Jingle Bells” that has got to be really difficult to perform without messing up.

Nine of the numbers in “Chirstmas A Cappella” were written in this millennium. “En stjerne er sat” by Danish composer Per Nørgård dates back to 1961, making it the oldest selection in the recording. They reflect a modern understanding of religious and non-religious themes that compliment the holiday season. It’s very impressive when a fine vocal ensemble like Chicago A Cappella adds to the depth of the season and gives listeners another way to explore new music.

Today's Birthdays

Nicolo Amati (1596-1684)
Anton Webern (1883-1945)
Nino Rota (1911-1979)
Irving Fine (1914-1962)
Charles Craig (1919-1997)
Matt Haimovitz (1970)


Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

YouTube Symphony Orchestra

Today, YouTube announced that it is creating the first symphony orchestra to be created from online submissions. This is no joke. The YouTube people are putting up a lot of money to team up with Michael Tilson Thomas, Tan Dun, The London Symphony Orchestra, and Carnegie Hall to find classical musicians (no age restrictions) for this orchestra. Those who are chosen will get a chance to play a Tan Dun composition under MTT at Carnegie Hall. I think that this is a terrific opportunity.

Here's the Press Release from MTT:

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

World’s first collaborative online orchestra will connect aspiring musicians with leaders and stars in the classical world

YouTube Symphony Orchestra Summit and Carnegie Hall performance to take place in April 2009

San Bruno, CA – YouTube, the leading online video community that allows people to discover, watch and share original videos, today announced a collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, Grammy Award-winning conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, Academy Award-winning and Olympics composer Tan Dun, world-renowned pianist Lang Lang, the first YouTube Symphony Orchestra Global Ambassador, and many other classical music stars and leading institutions, to launch the “YouTube Symphony Orchestra” (, the world’s first collaborative online orchestra and summit.

From December 1, 2008 through January 28, 2009, musicians from around the world are invited to submit videos showcasing their personal style as they perform two different videos – their interpretation of an original Tan Dun composition, written specifically for this program, and a talent video designed to demonstrate their musical and technical abilities. A panel of musical experts from the London Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and other leading orchestras around the world will narrow the field of entries down to the semifinalists. The YouTube community will be invited to vote on the semifinalists from February 14, 2009 through February 22, 2009. Musicians who are selected will be announced on YouTube on March 2, 2009. For official rules of entry and FAQ, consult YouTube Symphony Orchestra Channel (

In April 2009, selected musicians will be flown to New York City to participate in a three-day classical music summit with Michael Tilson Thomas and leading performers in the field, culminating in a Carnegie Hall performance on April 15, 2009. In addition, selected video entries of the musical piece will be mashed together to create a living YouTube symphony — a single video of memorable entrants combined into one ensemble piece — and even more entries will be displayed on YouTube homepages around the world.

As the first YouTube-sponsored program to welcome submissions from every country around the world, YouTube Symphony Orchestra will transform individual performances into a global collaborative symphony, explore new possibilities for orchestral collaboration, and springboard talented classical musicians into the global YouTube spotlight.

Click here to go to the YouTube page to find out more about it.

Start practicing!

Today's Birthdays

Harriet Cohen (1895-1967)
Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970)
Maria Callas (1923-1977)
Irina Arkhipova (1925)
Jörg Demus (1928)


Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-1891)
T. Coraghessan Boyle (1948)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Today's Birthdays

Agathe Grøndahl (1847-1907)
Gordon Crosse (1932)
Lou Rawls (1933-2006)
Bette Midler (1945)
Rudolf Buchbinder (1946)
Leontina Vaduva (1960)


Dame Alicia Markova (1910-2004)