Saturday, January 3, 2009

Top Concerts in 2008

On a belated note, Lorin and I came up with a list of favorite concerts that we heard this past year. Lorin has a nifty introduction to his selections and listed them in order, so I'm starting with him:

Here are my favorite concerts that I've been to this year. I chose from many different styles and for different reasons. These aren't (at least not in every case) the most technically precise concerts I went to, but performances in the "Classical" genre (whatever that actually means) that were particularly enjoyable to me for a variety of reasons. A difficult but fun exercise, given the many magnificent (and otherwise) concerts that I've had the privilege to attend this year.

#4 Wordless Music. Thursday, April 17th at Holocene and Friday, April 18th at The Old Church.

Two nights of ambient electronica interspersed with classical music, from works by Shostakovich and Chen Yi commemorating hideous tragedies to the spare, serene minimalism of Arvo Part, the whole project was a fascinating and meaningful study into the concept of eradicating boundaries between very different worlds in art music.

#3 Verdi's Aida, Portland Opera, Keller Auditorium, mid-May.

Lisa Daltirus gave her all (a tremendous 'all' it was) in the title role of Verdi's masterpiece. I loved the gargantuan golden eagle and the clever ways this sparse setting was used throughout the night. Keith Miller's Ramfis and Greer Grimsley's Amonasro also stood out. The pageantry of grand opera never grows tiresome, and this was great fun to see, even without an elephant.

#2 Tie: Cappella Romana, 'The Heart of Kiev," Friday, October 17th St. Mary's Cathedral.

William Byrd Music Festival (Sunday, Aug.10th and Sunday Aug 24th) St. Stephens.

In both cases, top notch vocal talent and the deeply intuitive scholastic commitment of guest directors Mark Bailey (CR) and Richard Marlow (WBMF) gave these concerts a feeling of special power and directness. On the opening night of the festival, guest keyboardist Mark Williams teamed with musicologist Kerry McCarthy to present a look into the life of William Byrd through his keyboard music. All three concerts mentioned here were special treats for the fan of music history.

#1 Portland Baroque Orchestra 'The Italian in Europe.' Friday March 14th First Baptist Church.

It should come as no surprise that most of my favorite concerts come from the archives of early (pre-1750) music, considering the special love I have for this immense genre. When Rinaldo Alessandrini of the Concerto Italiano showed up to lead the PBO in a concert showcasing the finest examples of the Italian Baroque, the result was nothing less than sublime greatness, an examination of all that is best in live historically informed performance. I was also somewhat personally proud of the fact that the PBO (no slouches when it comes to music history) chose to link to my review of this concert here at NW Reverb for some weeks afterward. Another sterling concert by the PBO was Nicolas McGegan's visit to town to lead 'Pergolesi, Naples, and Julius Caesar.' If you love baroque sopranos, please--don't miss Yulia Van Doren the next time you have a chance to see her!

Additional note from Lorin:

Perhaps as meaningful are the groups that I'm looking forward to hearing more of this year: In Mulieribus (I'm terribly sorry to have missed their Christmas concert), La Stella Early Music Ensemble, Fear No Music, Third Angle, Seattle Opera, and of course all my usual favorites. I'll be attending the William Byrd Festival again, and look forward to hearing more of the Vancouver Symphony as the beginning of my mission to hear as much live Shostakovich as I possibly can this year.

On a sadder note for 2008, I bid the fondest of farewells to the Cascade Festival of Music in Bend, and event I've enjoyed for about 25 years. It was originally founded by my friend and former music professor Dr. Charles Heiden, in whose newest endeavor I wish him the best.

Here are some of the top concerts that I, James Bash, heard in 2008:

Angela Hewitt, JS Bach

The capacity audience at Newmark Theatre was totally engrossed in Angela Hewett’s performance of Bach on April 3. Portland Piano International presented Hewitt in two concerts as part of her World Bach Tour in which she traveled to 40 cities around world to play all 48 Preludes and Fugues from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. I heard the second of the two concerts in which Hewett astounded us with her mesmerizing playing of 24 pieces - all from memory - from Book II.

Oregon Symphony, Mahler’s 9th Symphony

The Oregon Symphony ’s performance of Mahler’s 9th Symphony on April 29 will stay with me for along time. The orchestra under its music director Carlos Kalmar plumbed the depths of this demanding work with intensity, technical veracity, and artistry, making this concert very emotionally rewarding. I would’ve liked to have heard the orchestra play this piece on each of the three nights that it was presented.

Chamber Music Northwest, Summer Festival

I loved the lively concert shared by the Imani Winds, The Miami String Quartet, clarinetist David Shifrin, and pianist Shai Wosner on July 26 as part of Chamber Music Northwest’s summer festival. The program consisted of Roberto Sierra’s “Concierto de Cámera,” (a newly commissioned work), Leoš Janácek’s “Mládí,” and Robert Schumann’s Quintet in E-flat major for piano and strings. Most of the performers were young, and all were totally committed to the music — so much so that I had to purchase recordings afterwards.

Portland Opera, Beethoven’s Fidelio.

Portland Opera’s “Fidelio” was an outstanding production that combined powerful singing by a very strong and talented cast with a fine orchestra conducted by Arthur Fagen and made effective use of a contemporary prison setting. With Lori Phillips in the title role, Jay Hunter Morris as the wrongly imprisoned husband, Greer Grimsely as the evil prison warden, this opera had plenty of verve to make it relevant.

Fear No Music - Songs of Heaven & Earth
Jeff Payne changed my mind about Olivier Messiaen’s piano music at a Fear No Music concert on September 21st at the Community Music Center. Even though he didn't have a top-notch piano at hand, Payne played brilliantly in his performance of 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 other performances at the concert were also exceptional (click here for the entire review).

PDQ Bach Plays PDX
The PDQ Bach Plays PDX concert on March 13 will go down as one of my all-time favorite concerts because it was absolutely hilarious and I and my colleagues in the Portland Symphonic Choir got to violate nearly every code of decorum that choirs usually obey. We made a lot of noise every time we stood up, we wore bathrobes, and we fell asleep during the performance. It was a hoot to perform “Oedipus Tex” and “The Seasonings.”

A final note from both James and Lorin:

Happy New Year to all the music lovers who read Northwest Reverb and help make Portland's art scene such a thriving community.

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