Saturday, October 31, 2009

Special roundtable with Philip Glass

I've been invited to join some other journalists at the Portland Opera offices for a roundtable discussion with Philip Glass, who will be in town because of his opera "Orphée." The roundtable with Glass is will take place on November 3rd at 11:15 am at the Portland Opera offices on (211 SE Caruthers, just south of OMSI). There is no recording of this work, but I do have recording by the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra playing the Interlude from Act II. This snippet from the opera bubbles along and sounds really great.

Today's Birthdays

August Everding (1928-1999)
Colin Tilney (1933)
Odaline de la Martinez (1949)


Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)
John Keats (1795-1821)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Paul Manz, organist, composer - Rest in Peace

Paul Otto Manz was an outstanding composer and organist. He died Wednesday evening (October 28th) in St. Paul, at the age of 90.

Here are two obits:

- Minnesota Public Radio

- Minneapolis Star Tribune

Upcoming concerts

Cascadia Composers - New works by regional composers

The new group of regional composers who want to promote new music. This concert will feature works by some of its members. For a preview of the concerts, please read my article in Oregon Music News.

Friday, October 30 at 8 pm
Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church (2828 SE Stephens St. in Portland)

Oregon Symphony - Beethoven's 5th, Mozart, and Ravel

Guest conductor Claus Peter Flor leads the Oregon Symphony in a two concert series. The young virtuoso Stefan Jackiw is the featured soloist in Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4. Also on tap are Beethoven's 5th Symphony and Ravel's “Le Tombeau de Couperin.”

Saturday, October 31 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, November 1 at 2 pm
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (1037 SW Broadway in Portland)

Bach Cantata Choir - Bach and Handel cantatas

Ralph Nelson conducts the choir and orchestra in a program that features Bach's Cantata #147 "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" and Handel's Chandos Anthem #9 "O Praise the Lord with one Consent."

Sunday, November 1 at 2 pm
Rose City Park Presbyterian Church (NE 44th and Sandy)

Portland Piano International - Jonathan Biss in recital

Portland Piano International presents Jonathan Biss, who will play works by Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, and Kurtág.

Sunday, November 1 at 4 pm
Newmark Theatre (1111 SW Broadway in Portland)

Portland Opera and Portland Art Museum - Philip Glass on film

The Opera and PAM are presenting "Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts," to help whet your appetite for the upcoming Portland Opera production of Glass's "Orphée."

Sunday, November 1 at 7 pm
Whitsell Auditorium (1219 SW Park Ave. in downtown Portland)

Today's Birthdays

André Messager (1853-1929)
Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953)
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)
Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
Robert Caro (1935)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pierce batons and Hannu Lintu

Alan Pierce, former bass trombonist with the Oregon Symphony, makes batons for a lot of conductors. He recently made 13 batons for Hannu Lintu, who has guest conducted the Oregon Symphony several times. Lintu is the artistic director and chief conductor of the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra in Finland.

Today's Birthdays

Harold Darke (1888-1976)
Vivian Ellis (1904-1996)
Václav Neumann (1920-1995)
Jon Vickers (1926)
James Dillon (1950)
Lee Actor (1952)
James Primosch (1956)


James Boswell (1740-1795)
David Remnick (1958)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Portland Symphonic Choir to perform Brahms Requiem

Steven Zopfi directs the Portland Symphonic Choir in a performance of Brahms Requiem at 3 pm on November 15th at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The concert includes the Portland Sinfonietta with featured soloists: Georgia Jarman, soprano and Richard Zeller, baritone. Zeller is a an Oregon native who is on the roster at the Met in New York City. Jarman is an up-and-coming talent who is singing this month with the Portland Opera in its production Orphée.

The performance of Brahms Requiem will be in German with English supertitles.

Grant Park Music Festival gets new executive director

According to this report in the Chicago Tribune, Elizabeth Hurley, a dynamo administrator at Metropolitan Opera is now the new executive director of the Grant Park Music Festival. Carlos Kalmar, the Oregon Symphony's music director is also the music man at Grant Park, so he's got a new colleague in Chicago.

Today's Birthdays

Howard Hanson (1896-1981)
Dame Cleo Laine (1927)
Carl Davis (1936)
Howard Blake (1938)
Kenneth Montgomery (1943)
Naida Cole (1974)


Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)
John Harold Hewitt (1907-1987)
Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bach Cantata Choir concert this Sunday

This season, both Northwest Reverbers (Lorin and myself) are singing with the Bach Cantata Choir, and the ensemble has its first concert coming up this Sunday (November 1st).

Here's all the essential information about this concert from the BCC's press release:

The Bach Cantata Choir of Portland will open its 5th concert season with a concert featuring works by Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) on Sunday, November 1 from 2:00pm-3:15pm at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church, 1907 NE 45th Ave in Portland, Oregon. The concert, under the direction of conductor Ralph Nelson, will feature a performance of Handel’s stirring Chandos Anthem #9, “O Praise the Lord with One Consent” and Bach’s Cantata #147, “Herz und Mut und Tat und Leben.” Both works contain themes well known to most audiences – the Handel is based on the familiar hymn tune “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”, and the Bach contains “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. The concert is free and open to the public. A free-will offering will be taken. Doors open at 1:30pm. A silent auction, whose proceeds benefit the operations of the choir, will immediately follow the concert in the parlor adjacent to the sanctuary.

Featured in Handel’s Chandos Anthem #9 will be soprano Nan Haemer, countertenor Tim Galloway, tenor Byron Wright and bass-baritone Jacob Herbert. In Bach’s Cantata #147 the soloists will be soprano Gina Osborne, alto Irene Weldon, tenor Byron Wright and bass-baritone Jacob Herbert. The works will be accompanied by a small chamber orchestra. John Vergin will provide the organ continuo. This concert features the Bach Cantata Choir – a choir of 55 professional or semi-professional voices, drawn from many of Portland’s finest choirs.

Today's Birthdays

Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840)
Helmut Walcha (1907-1991)
Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997)
Dominick Argento (1927)
Julius Eastman (1940-1990)
Håkan Hardenberger (1961)
Vanessa-Mae (1978)


Lee Krasner (1908-1994)
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Portland Baroque Orchestra celebrates youthful works of Mendelssohn

The sound of a loud pop greeted the audience at the Portland Baroque Orchestra concert on Saturday evening (October 24) at Kaul Auditorium. It also surprised violin virtuoso Monica Huggett, because she just broke her E string about five seconds after beginning the first piece. After halting the orchestra, Huggett excused herself for a few minutes in order to attach a new string, and the audience got a chance to take a quick breather and reflect on the informal freshness of such a thing. Perhaps even Felix Mendelssohn, who was noted as a super straight-laced kind of guy, would’ve relaxed. In any case, after returning to the stage, Huggett and her ensemble whipped up some froth in a program that featured Mendelssohn’s music, all from during his early years.

The orchestra started out with Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No. 6 in E major, which he wrote at the age of 12 as an exercise for his composition teacher Carl Friederich Zelter. The ensemble conveyed the cheerful nature of this work with incredible agility, crisp phrasing, and pinpoint stops. The instrumentalists also increased the tension in the final measures, which added a lot to the dynamic shape of the piece and made it satisfying to hear.

The orchestra played the concerto for violin, piano, and strings in D minor, which Mendelssohn created at the age of 14. Performing on a piano built in Vienna in 1841, guest artist Eric Zivian collaborated extremely well with Huggett, who played the solo violin parts. They got the utmost in color and expression from their instruments, especially in the slow second movement with its delicate and elegant sentiment. I also enjoyed the vigorous conducting by Huggett and the demonstrative sweep of the entire ensemble in the last movement.

After intermission came the Octet in E major (Op. 20), which Mendelssohn composed after he turned 20 years old. At the outset, the middle voices of the ensemble were not as strong as those on the edges, but the ensemble adjusted itself and played their hearts out. I wanted even more dynamic thrust from these players, but I have to admit that my ears have been tempered to performances by modern instruments. The Baroque sound was lighter and less accented. Plus, in the last movement, the ensemble increased the volume too quickly and didn’t have anywhere to go. Still, this was an exciting performance of a brilliant piece of music, and the audience rewarded it with thunderous applause.

Oregon Music News

Today is the first real day for Oregon Music News, an online music magazine that will cover almost the goings on in all most all music genres. I'm the classical music guy for OMN and have an interview with composer Tomas Svoboda as one of my first postings.

I intend to keep things going here at Northwest Reverb... well as long as I can get to a fresh cup of strong coffee.

Today's Birthdays

Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612)
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972)
György Pauk (1936)
Christine Brewer (1955)
Sakari Oramo (1965)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Third Angle brings the newest of sounds from China in stellar concert

There’s a huge landscape for new music in China, and the Third Angle New Music Ensemble explored a bit of that territory in an exciting concert on Friday evening (October 24) at the Fields Ballroom in the Portland Art Museum. That landscape (both external and internal) is being discovered and given a voice by Chinese composers who are fusing sounds from the East and West in exciting ways. Third Angle found a way into the heart of these sounds and delivered intriguing performances of music by Chen Yi, Jia Daqun, and Ye Xiaogang. To make the concert even more special, Xiaogang was present, as was special guest soloist, the zheng virtuoso Haiquiong Deng.

The first piece on the program was Chen Yi’s “Yangko,” which begins with rhythmic and percussive vocalizations by three performers: violinist Ron Blessinger and percussionists Niel DePonte and Jeffrey Peyton. A free-spirited passages for violin gradually takes over and becomes interwoven with sounds from hand-sized cymbals, castanets, drums, and, and gongs. It all evoked the Yangko, a major folk dance form from northern China, and it was easy to picture the dancers as the wended their way through the countryside.

The next piece was “San Die” (“Three Variations”) by Ye Xiaogang for flute and zheng. The zheng is a 21- or 26-string plucked instrument with moveable bridges for each string. From a distance, it looked like a dulcimer gone wild, but in the hands and fingers of Haiquiong Deng it was poetry.

The piece started slowly with flutist GeorgeAnne Ries playing a vaguely melodic line that was interrupted by notes from the zheng. The piece had lots of variety, but the zheng with its range from twangy to spiky was fascinating to hear. The quiet swirls between the flute and zheng were arresting and the piece ended with a positive upswing that put a smile on everyone’s face.

Next came “Colorful Sutra Banner, which Xiaogang wrote after visiting Tibet and becoming inspired by the banners he saw. This piece had a lot of playful exchanges between violinist Blessinger, cellist Cheifetz, and pianist Susan Smith. The delicate and tender sections at the beginning gave way to sturdier and march-like music that culminated with loud, percussive pluck.

The first half of the concert concluded with “Flavor of Bashu” by Jia Daqun, a work that creates the excitement of music from Chinese opera. This piece featured violinists Blessinger and Daniel Feng, percussionists DePonte, Peyton, and Brian Gardiner, and pianist Smith. The music was thrilling, chilling, and spilling that made me want to see some performers leap about the stage. The second part (called “Veins in rock”) featured some extremely furious sawing from the violins (both amplified) and at one point sounded like riders on horseback fading into the sunset.

After intermission Deng performed a traditional solo for zheng entitled “River Frolic in the Wintry Water.” With amazing dexterity Deng created a wonder palette of sounds. Some were quick and trickling and others were feathery light. Some slid from tone to tone and others wiggled. The fast sections were mesmerizing.

Ries, Blessinger, Cheifetz, and Smith played Xiaogang’s “Datura,” a piece that changed moods sharply from contemplative to dramatic and intense before ending quietly. The program notes explained that Datura is common houseplant in southern China that “can be used as a hallucinogen, usually with unpleasant results.” So the music may have directly reflected the affects and effects of this plant in a very broad sense.

Deng returned to play “Springs in the Forest” by Xiaogang. This virtuosic work for the zheng flitted about from elegant, melodic lines to short and long phrases with raspy or zingy qualities. The ending was wild and filled with a positive, uplifting spirit..

The concert ended with “Sparkle” by Yi for eight instrumentalists (Ries, Blessinger, Cheifetz, Smith, Peyton, Gardiner, clarinetist Todd Kuhns, and bassist Jason Schooler) who were directed by DePonte. The meter in this piece seemed to change constantly and DePonte was busy cuing throughout. I enjoyed the short glissandos from the bass, the tension in the piece, the melodic snippet for clarinet, the punctuations by the piano, the vigorous passages in which all of the instrumentalists seemed to be chasing each other sonically, and the dramatic ending with a brief tag from the flute. This was a great way to bring the concert to a close, and the audience seemed to be abuzz with all of the new sounds.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Strauss II (1825-1899)
Georges Bizet (1838-1875)
Galina Vishnevskaya (1926)
Peter Lieberson (1946)
Diana Burrell (1948)
Colin Carr (1957)
Midori (1971)


Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
John Berryman (1914-1972)
Anne Tyler (1941)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Ferdinand Hiller (1811-1885)
Conrad Leonard (1898-2003)
Paul Csonka (1905-1995)
Tito Gobbi (1913-1984)
Luciano Berio (1925-2003)
George Crumb (1929)
Sofia Gubaidulina (1931)
Malcolm Bilson (1935)
Bill Wyman (1936)
George Tsontakis (1951)
Cheryl Studer (1955)


Moss Hart (1904-1961)
Norman Rush (1933)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nancy Ives to play cello with the Vancouver Symphony (WA)

In today's Columbian, I have an article about this weekend's Vancouver Symphony Concert, and it contains an interview that I did with Nancy Ives, who will play the Dvorak Cello Concerto.

OTO lets it all hang out in 'The Beggar's Opera'

Opera Theater Oregon opened their 2009-2010 season Thursday the 22nd at the Someday Lounge with a fresh re-telling of John Gay’s 1728 Beggar’s Opera, a farce based on the operatic traditions of the day that lampooned London personages and featured low-life characters involved in seedy plots. All of these core elements were kept, but the scene was updated to modern day Portland in this work featuring the talents of librettist/director Stephen Marc Beaudoin and composer/arranger Michael Herrman.

The show began even before the ‘curtain,’ with a group of shoddily dressed performers wandering through the audience and arguing loudly, so that at first it was difficult to tell if it was real or some sort of clever gimmick. The performance began with on-stage vocalises by the ensemble that turned into a wailing cacophony and then morphed into a declamatory air sung by the whole ensemble that directly addressed the audience and explained the purpose of the opera.

The opening scene was set in a pornography store called Peachums-n-Cream. One of the principals, Mrs. Peachum, a sadistic proprietress who wielded a riding crop against virtually everyone in the course of the evening, was sung by Beth Madsen Bradford. She put her comedic talents to good use, often dropping ghastly French phrases spoken in phonetic English, and her opening aria ‘God bless these tools of lust’ was sung with the utmost sincerity and lascivious intent in her full, glorious mezzo. The role of the groping pervert Felch (Peachum’s husband) was sung by Arne Hartmann who also got great laughs throughout the evening.

Soprano Leah Yorkston sang the role of Polly Peachum, their ingenue daughter who, thanks to her parents, discovers in the first scene that her beau, up-and-coming PDX indie rocker Mack the Guitar (sung by tenor Scot Crandal), has been moonlighting in gay porn films. Yorkston was convincing in the role of the poor, confused girl who tries through the course of the evening to figure out what to do with her boyfriend, and showed a fine voice in her aria ‘Mackie my love–I’m shocked he’d do this on film.’ Scot Crandal carried much of the burden of advancing the drama, as it becomes clear that many people are plotting against him and trying to take advantage of his success. His singing was spot-on and well-suited to the role, but the acting was sometimes lacking in conviction. Emily Zahniser played the role of Lucy Lockit, a corrupt cop’s daugher, doing a gratifying send-up of Portland personality Storm Large. Her best singing was as a rocker in the Herrman original tune ‘Lucy’s Song.’ Gigi Urban also deserves mention for her beautiful aria ‘There was a time when life open’d just like a perfect flower.’

Musically the production was a great success. (See the interview with the composer and librettist here for more information on the musical structure.) Herrman wrote a number of original tunes, the most compelling of which were ‘Little Sparrow’ and ‘Song of Redemption.’ It was somewhat incongruous to hear these modern tunes interspersed with other songs from Gay’s opera that retained much of their centuries-old structure (but for the most part with new lyrics by Beaudoin). The incongruity was fun though; it helped to update the ‘attitude’ of the piece, and made for a nice change from the old tunes.

There is very limited staging space at the Someday Lounge, so the cast took the interesting step of just hanging out in the cramped space on stage in full view whenever they weren’t part of the action. The costuming was original, and it was interesting to watch the clever costume changes right on stage. From a staging perspective, the opera was a brilliant case of maximizing the small space and limited set in order to focus most of the attention on the story itself. There were stretches, however, especially in the second half, where the pacing seemed a bit slow for this type of story.

There was lots of good stuff for Portlanders who are in the know as far as local happenings, scandals, personalities and politicians, so its freshness was very effective. With the scenes being set in a porn shop, a strip club, a jail and under the Burnside Bridge, the down-to-earth (yet still intelligent) humor came off smartly for the most part. There were so many coarse one-liners that when one didn’t go over, it didn’t really matter because there was another one right around the corner. This was an ambitious project, and for those who like more than a dash of daring in their opera, who enjoy beautiful music coupled with bawdy humor, it should prove a very enjoyable outing indeed.

Today's Birthdays

Albert Lortzing (1801-1851)
Ned Rorem (1923)
Lawrence Foster (1941)
Toshio Hosokawa (1955)
"Weird Al" Yankovic (1959)
Brett Dean (1961)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Upcoming concerts

Third Angle Ensemble - China Music Now

This concert features the music of Jia Daqun, Chen Yi, and Professor Ye Xiaogang, the Beijing Olympics composer who will be present. Also guest zheng virtuoso Haiqiong Deng will perform.

October 22 and October 23
7:30 pm at the Fields Ballroom of the Mark Building - Portland Art Museum

Opera Theater of Oregon - The Beggar's Opera

Based on John Gay's landmark 18th century ballad opera of the same name, OTO's "Beggar's Opera" is written by Portland performer and writer Stephen Marc Beaudoin (script/lyrics) and Buoy LaRue's Michael Herrman (music).

October 22-25
7:00 pm at Someday Lounge (21+)

Portland Baroque Orchestra - Mendelssohn Celebration

Monica Huggett directs a mini-festival celebrating the 200th year of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), including a rarely heard concerto and his famous octet.

October 23 and 24
7:30 pm at Reed College, Kaul Auditorium

Portland Baroque Orchestra - Mendelssohn Chamber Music

Monica Huggett performs chamber music by Mendelssohn with PBO principal violoncellist Tanya Tamkins, and Eric Zivian, piano soloist.

October 25
7:30 at Reed College, Kaul Auditorium

Portland Chamber Orchestra - Renaissance Redux

This concert presents the music of Lukas Foss, including his “Renaissance Concerto” with flutist Carol Wincenc. Also on the program are works by Giovanni Gabrieli, Peter Warlock, and Ottorino Respighi.

October 24
7:00 at Venetian Theater in Hillsboro
October 25
3:00 pm at Kaul Auditorium, Reed College

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Season Opener

The orchestra performs Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," "Requiebro Andaluz" by Montes, and Dvorák's Cello Concerto with soloist Nancy Ives, principal cellist with the Oregon Symphony.

October 24
3 pm at Skyview Concert Hall in Vancouver
October 25
7 pm at Skyview Concert Hall in Vancouver

Choral Arts Ensemble - A Celtic Céilí

This concert is a musical journey to the Celtic lands with traditional Irish musical guests Cary Novotny and friends.

October 24
7:30 pm at First Unitarian Church
October 25
3 pm at First Unitarian Church

Stephen Price and Friends Annual Concert

Oregon Symphony violist Stephen Price will be joined by pianist Janet Coleman and Tim Scott on viola da gamba at this free concert (held annually since 1972).

October 24
8 pm at The Old Church, Portland

Celebration Works - The 'O' Instruments

Organist Jon Stuber and oboist Ann van Bever perform music popular in 1854 with flutist Janet Bebb and soprano Anita Lundgren.

October 25
2pm at First Presbyterian Church

Sunnyside Symphony Orchestra - Susan Chan plays Mozart

Pianist Susan Chan perform Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 (K488) with the Sunnyside Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra will also play Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave and Brahms Symphony No. 4. This concert is free.

October 25
4 pm
Sunnyside Adventist Church, Portland

Today's Birthdays

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Sir Donald McIntyre (1934)
Elizabeth Connell (1946)


John Reed (1887-1920)
Doris Lessing (1919)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oregon Symphony receives $1.45 million!

Woo Hoo! Four foundations have awarded the Oregon Symphony $1.45 million to support its budget. Kudos go to the James. F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, the Meyer Memorial Trust of Portland, The Collins Foundation, and the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. This calls for a major fanfare! Congratulations to the orchestra and its administrative staff. (Note: Charles Noble had mentioned some of these grants earlier in his blog here.)

Here's the details from the orchestra's press release:

The Oregon Symphony, Portland’s largest performing-arts organization, announced today that it has been awarded new grants totaling $1.45 million by four foundations in support of its ongoing activities. The grants include:

· $1 million in operating support for the 2009/10 season from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.

· $300,000 in operating support from the Meyer Memorial Trust of Portland ($150,000 each for the 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons)

· $100,000 in operating support from The Collins Foundation in Oregon.

· $50,000 to support education programs in 2009/10 from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation of San Francisco.

The new grants mark a significant step forward in the orchestra’s efforts to achieve financial sustainability because three of the four come from foundations that have not supported the Oregon Symphony in recent years. Before these awards, the orchestra had most recently received grant support from The Collins Foundation in 2005, the Hearst Foundation in 2004 and the Meyer Memorial Trust in 2001.

“In addition to these significant grant awards, it’s encouraging to have the support of these foundations,” said Oregon Symphony Association president Elaine Calder. “They serve our entire community and are understandably prudent in their choice of recipients. These grants signal their recognition of the role the Oregon Symphony plays in our community and of our efforts over the past several years to create a stable platform of financial and operational support for the orchestra.”

Increased foundation support is a key element of the Oregon Symphony’s multi-year effort to balance its budget and stabilize its finances. During the 2007/08 season, the most recent year for which audited figures are available, the orchestra received a total of $1.69 million in foundation grants. Overall, contributed income from all sources – including individuals, foundations, government and businesses – accounts for about 50 percent of the Oregon Symphony’s budget each year.

At its annual meeting earlier in October, Calder also announced additional progress toward the organization’s goal of sustainability, including:

* The use of $7.2 million from the orchestra’s unrestricted funds to eliminate its long-term bank debt.
* An extension of its contract with the union representing orchestra musicians that contains significant financial concessions expected to save the organization $1.4 million over the two-year length of the agreement. (Oregon Symphony players are represented by Local 99 of the American Federation of Musicians.)
* A board-approved balanced budget for the current season.

Board Chair Walter E. Weyler announced at the Oct. 2 meeting that the organization finished its 2008/09 season with an operating deficit of $519,000 – down from $590,000 the prior year – and total box office revenue of $6.61 million. He said the latter figure represents a 35 percent increase over the past two seasons, which he called “a stunning improvement.”

At the same meeting, Oregon Symphony Association members elected five new directors to seats on the organization’s board. They are:

· Labor lawyer Nelson D. Atkin II, a partner with the firm of Barran Liebman LLP in Portland (Atkin had previously served on the board from 1992 to 1999);

· Former businesswoman Jillian Cain;

· Philanthropist Mary Clark, a longtime Oregon Symphony supporter;

· Robyn Johnson, a partner with Vernier Software & Technology in Beaverton, OR, and 2009/10 president of the Friends of the Oregon Symphony; and

· Thomas M. Lauderdale, founder and leader of the Portland’s internationally known touring band Pink Martini.

And finally, all I've got to say is "To Hell with a Six-Concert Season!"

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957)
Howard Ferguson (1908-1999)
Alexander Schneider (1908-1993)
Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997)
Dizzy (John Birks) Gillespie (1917-1993)
Sir Malcom Arnold (1921-2006)
Hugh Wolff (1953)


Alfred Nobel (1833-1896)
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929)

Young Canadian becomes conductor of the New Jersey Symphony

According to this report in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra just named Jacques Lacombe to succeed Neemi Jarvi (who actually departed last spring) as its new music director. Lacombe is 46 years old and conducts the Orchestre Symphonique de Trois-Rivieres in Quebec. I'm sure that there is a vast difference in the amount that the orchestra will pay Lacombe, a relatively unknown conductor, as compared to what they paid the internationally known Jarvi.

FYI: The budget for the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has been fairly similar to that of the Oregon Symphony.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New recording features pianist Jeffrey Biegel in Mozart sonatas

Earlier this year, Jeffrey Biegel released a marvelous recording of Mozart’s piano sonatas. Biegel combines impeccable technique with a fine sense for phrasing and a sense of where the music is going. I really enjoyed the balletic grace in Biegel’s playing, especially when he embellishes some passages in the Mozartian spirit of understatement.

This recording contains three disc with three sonatas on each. The first disc features the first three sonatas (K. 279, K. 280, and K. 281) that Mozart wrote while visiting Munich in 1775. The next set of sonatas (K. 282, K. 283, and K. 284) are on the second disc. Sonata No. 6 (K. 284) offers a theme with 12 inventive variations in the last movement, and Biegel performs it all superbly.

The third disc has three sonatas that Mozart wrote when he traveled to Mannheim in 1777 and Paris in 1778. Sonata No. 7 (K. 309) was written for one of Mozart’s students and has some of the mannered elegance that was characteristic of the Mannheim style. Mozart wrote Sonata No. 8 (K. 310), which showed too much contrast and emotion for the Parisians. In Sonata No. 9 (K. 311), written in Mannheim, Mozart moved further towards his mature style, and Biegel plays all of this brilliantly.

Biegel is a member of the piano faculty at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, a City University of New York (CUNY), and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). This recording of Mozart’s piano sonatas is E1 Music label.

Financial picture sitll cloudy for Seattle Symphony

Yesterday's Seattle Times article on Susan Hutchison contained a fair amount of information about the financial health of the Seattle Symphony. According to this report the orchestra closed its fiscal year on August 31st with a $1.2 million deficit and the accumulated debt at $4 million. The operating budget of the Seattle Symphony is $23.7 million and its endowment stands at $22.7 million. Over the past few years the orchestra has received millions of dollars from the city of Seattle and the Simonyi foundation, and the musicians have given back $3.2 in wage and benefit concessions.

Apparently, Hutchison did a fine job in leading the effort to secure more donations to the orchestra and that helped to stem a lot of the fiancial bleeding. Now Hutchison has left the Seattle Symphony and is the executive director of the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences and she's running for the King County executive office.

Enterprising Oregon City teacher wins $40k in new music equipment for her school

It's a sad commentary that music programs in our schools are in such dire straits as to call for this kind of bailout, but big giant kudos to Cheryl Rizzo for her efforts and to InTune magazine and the sponsors for the generous support. Read more here.

Today's Birthdays

Charles Ives (1874-1954)
Alfredo Campoli (1906-1991)
Adelaide Hall (1909-1993)
Robert Craft (1923)
Jacques Loussier (1934)
William Albright (1944-1998)
Ivo Pogorelich (1958)
Leila Josefowicz (1977)


Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)
Robert Pinsky (1940)
Elfriede Jelinek (1946)

Statistical update

Northwest Reverb received 208 visits yesterday. That's the first time that this blog has cracked the 200 visits ceiling. It has come close several times before.

The 208 visits came from 167 different visitors who looked at a total of 256 pages.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Three Bs get A+ treatment from the Oregon Symphony

One of the great things about a fine orchestra is how it can play a work really fast, yet not sacrifice anything in terms of articulation and phrasing. That’s what I heard on Sunday evening at the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall when the Oregon Symphony under the direction of Carlos Kalmar performed a blitzschnell version of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Only the best orchestras can get away with this sort of thing without blurring the lines in the music and causing sonic train wrecks instead of giving shape to the music and executing pinpoint stops. I heard Gustavo Dudamel and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra tear through Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony with lighting speed in New York City last November to great effect, and the Oregon Symphony was just as scintillating with the Beethoven.

It was interesting to note that Kalmar directed the Beethoven without a baton, and I’m guess that he chose to do so because the orchestra members had this piece so ingrained that they could read his fingertips and gestures without hesitation. In any case, members of the audience were sitting up straight and leaning forward on their seats so that they wouldn’t miss anything. They heard brilliant volleys by the horns, beautiful exchanges from the woodwinds, and a shimmering buoyancy from the strings. During the fastest parts it looked like all of the strings were rocking out!

All of the Beethoven excitement came after hearing pianist Kirill Gerstein and the orchestra play Bernsetin’s Symphony No. 2, “the Age of Anxiety” with great depth and feeling. One of the magical moments in this piece came right at the very beginning with a quiet, far away, yet sustained sound from the principal clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao and assistant principal Todd Kuhns. I really enjoyed the interplay between the orchestra and the pianist, which included extended piano solos and orchestral responses. Together they built up tension and relaxed it only to build it once again. In the second part of the piece came a jazzy passage that seemed to free-up the overall mood, but it was the beautiful and majestic climax at the end that finally guided the audience to new vistas and hope.

The concert began with Bach’s suite No. 4, which the orchestra excelled in conveying a dancing, Baroque sensibility. Sometimes the orchestra’s sound percolated to the top and at others it was stately and regal but still light-afoot. Kalmar, again directing without a baton, conveyed the just the right mood with spry movement on the podium and that helped to make the piece a delight to the ears.

The Oregon Symphony plays Bach, Bernstein, and Beethoven again tonight. Click here for more information.

Today's Birthdays

Sidonie Goossens (1899-2004)
Karl-Birger Blomdahl (1916-1968)
Emil Gilels (1916-1985)
Robin Holloway (1943)
Robert Morris (1943)


Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)
Miguel Ángel Asturias (1899-1974)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Seattle Opera’s La Traviata sumptuous but in need of more sonic sparkle

(Photo by Rozarii Lynch)

Seattle Opera’s production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” could’ve used a dash of élan on opening night (October 17) at McCaw Hall. The performance with its opulent scenery and costumes glittered, but the music-making didn’t match up with the energy needed for the party scenes so that they didn’t contrast all that dramatically with the slower tragic parts of the opera when the principal singers were at their best. Strong performances by Nuccia Focile as the consumptive courtesan Violetta Valéry, Dimitri Pittas as her lover Alfredo, and Charles Taylor as his father Giorgio Germont made this “La Traviata” a rewarding experience even though it could’ve been much more.

During the first act, Focile’s voice kept going sharp and she seemed to work too hard for the high notes towards at times. She avoided the high E-flat at the end of “Sempre libera,” which might have disappointed opera goers who didn’t read her explanation in the program that sopranos have inserted that note over the years. Her voice seemed much steadier for the remainder of the opera, and she convincingly portrayed the emotional turmoil of the heroine.

This performance marked the Seattle debut for Pittas. His Alfredo was a bit wooden, but he his tenor voice sounded golden. With more edge in his voice, he will bring out more emotion in his conflicted character. In the role of Giogio Germont, baritone Charles Taylor brought down the house a couple of times with his very emotive, expansive, and flat-out beautiful singing.

Among the other principals who sang with distinction were Barry Johnson as the Baron Douphol, Sarah Heltzel as Flora Bervoix, Leodigario del Rosario as Gastone, Jonathan Silvia as the Marquis d’Obigny, Byron Ellis as Dr. Grenvil, and Emily Clubb as Annina.

Under the baton of Brian Garman, the orchestra sounded sluggish and uncertain now and then. The party scene in the first act needed more sparkle and playfulness from the orchestra. Even the chorus didn’t have its usual luster. Garman is the music director of Seattle Opera’s young artists program, and this was his debut performance on the main stage. Things are bound to get better for him.

The stage direction by Mark Steshinsky set out in fine fashion with a slow-motion pantomime during the overture which showed how beautiful and trapped Violetta was. Highlights of the performance included Fociles’ singing and walking atop a banquet table and the interaction between the principals with the freeze-frame partiers in the background. However, at the very end of the opera when Violetta collapsed and died, Alfredo just looked at her in bewilderment. He didn’t rush to her side and the elder Germont seemed to gaze on Violetta’s demise almost approvingly. This created a striking tableau as the curtain fell, but the emotion was cold.

The set and costumes from San Francisco Opera were of the period and wonderfully framed the opulent life-style of high society in Paris of the 1850s. The lighting by Connie Yun was outstanding during the entire performance.

Seattle Opera’s production of “La Traviata” plays until October 31st. For more information, click here.

Today's Birthdays

Lotte Lenya (1898-1981)
Alexander Young (1920-2000)
Egil Hovland (1924)
Chuck Berry (1926)
Wynton Marsalis (1961)


Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811)
Henri Bergson (1859-1941)
A. J. Liebling (1904-1963)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Columbia Symphony plays Beethoven, Sibelius

On Friday, October 16th at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Portland, the Columbia Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Huw Edwards began their regular season with a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58, and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D. Major, Op. 43. The concert was themed 'Awesome Openings' partially in reference to the unique opening moments of each work.

Portland-area pianist Barbara Roberts was the soloist for the Beethoven, which opened the evening. She began the concert beautifully, with a simple, intimate opening for piano alone, an unusual feature for a concerto of the day. Her playing was smooth but the long scale runs were sometimes blurred by a bit of excessive pedalling, leaving one wishing for a more crisp articulation. Edwards did well in keeping the orchestra sounding full, yet not intrusive during the many delicate moments of this work.

During the final Rondo the repartee of orchestra and soloist came off quite well, the tricky syncopations being tossed off between the two sounding vibrant and fresh. After an octave run towards the end where Roberts seemed to lose her place for a moment, she asserted the thunderous pomposity that one often associates with Beethoven into the final cadenza, using the moment as a springboard to achieve a fiery, satisfying final flourish.

The Sibelius opened with a three-note theme that was heard throughout the piece. It felt as though it took a few moments for the full effect of the dynamic contrasts to manifest themselves; for the orchestra to take the pianos as seriously as the raucous fortes. In the second movement the brass choir and percussion were exceptional, very intuitive and responsive to Edwards' direction in what was a challenging section for them. The rich, handome sound that marks the CSO's string section was put to good use in the heavy tremolo used by Sibelius to heighten the tension towards the end of the second movement.

In the finale Edwards and his group wowed the crowd with the revolutionary ostinato theme that built slowly but steadily in a minor key until it exploded in the glorious major sunburst, to shine briefly and then decline once more into the depths. The orchestra was largely sensitive to the many colors called for in this symphonic heavyweight. This concert will reprise Sunday the 18th at 3pm at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.

Fear No Music goes way out on a limb – once again

(Photo by Charles Noble)

The Fear No Music ensemble has no qualms about tackling unusual music. On Friday evening (September 16) at the Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church, the Fear No Music musicians performed some very eclectic numbers that loosely paid homage to other composers, ideas, or something vaguely intangible. The music stretched the ears of the audience with all sorts of intriguing sounds from a wide palette of, mostly, contemporary composers, including George Crumb, Kaija Saariaho, Charles Ives, Elliott Carter, Stephen Hartke, and Michael Daugherty. Some audience members might have left the concert scratching their heads… but in a good way.

The concert opened with “Four Nocturnes” by George Crumb. Played by pianist Jeff Payne and violinist Inés Voglar, this piece had a fragmentary nature that explored sounds of the night. Voglar rapped on her violin, created whispery sounds and brief single-note phrases. Payne knocked the side of the piano and stood over its strings to strum them or suddenly pounce on a cluster of strings. That was just a little bit of what happened in this piece, which might have been Crumb’s version of “Eine Keline Nacht Musik.”

Next came Kaija Saariaho’s “Nymphéa” (water lily) for string quartet and electronics. This amplified piece (performed by violinists Voglar and Paloma Griffin, violist Joël Belğique, and cellist Nancy Ives) began with some high pitched sounds from the violins and an electronic noise that seemed akin to snoring. That morphed to thicker and more interwoven textures from the string quartet which nicely feathered away at one point. The piece also had wordless vocalizations from the quartet and ended with ferocious wailing from the instruments. So Saariaho’s lilies didn’t leave the stage with a whimper.

Charles Ives’s “Hallowe’en” for string quartet, piano, and bass drum offered a refreshing contrast to the Saariaho number, because it had a more light-hearted atmosphere. In a preparatory remark, Belğique explained that the strings would play in different keys, and it was really delicious to hear the sound of the quartet as they played passages that ascended and descended all over the place. With Vajda walloping the bass drum the piece achieved a Walpurgis Night atmosphere that was too brief. I would really like to hear this piece again some day.

The Ives was followed by Elliott Carter’s “Figment No. 2: Remembering Mr. Ives” for solo cello, which was played evocatively by Nancy Ives. This music didn’t have the random and severely abstract nature of other pieces by Carter that I have heard before. It growled more deeply and had more emotion, and was a pleasure to hear.

To change things up completely, violinists Voglar and Griffin performed the strikingly bluesy “Oh Them Rats Is Mean in My Kitchen” by Stephen Hartke. Voglar and Griffin played with verve and the near unison passages near the end were dynamic and blues-filled at the same time.

The concert concluded with Michael Daugherty’s “Paul Robeson Told Me” for string quartet and tape. This very unusual piece featured the voice and singing of Paul Robeson from 1949 when he was in Russia. In the first part of the piece, Robeson spoke in Russian and sang the ‘People’s Battle Song” while the “live” musicians accompanied him lightly. That nicely set up the second part of the piece, which was all-instrumental and filled with strong emotions. The FNM ensemble played this segment with hard driving fervor that finished in a tempest of sound.

Today's Birthdays

Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998)
Rolando Panerai (1924)
Reiner Goldberg (1939)
Stephen Kovacevich (1940)


Georg Büchner (1813-1837)
Nathanael West (1903-1940)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Alex Ross has another blog

Alex Ross is writing a music blog called "Unquiet Thoughts" for The New Yorker magazine. That's in addition to his regular blog The Rest Is Noise, which will be scaled-back somewhat. Read both to find out the thoughts of the only classical music critic who has won a MacArthur genius grant.

Today's Birthdays

Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745)
James Lockhart (1930)
Derek Bourgeois (1941)
Marin Alsop (1956)
Erkki-Sven Tüür (1959)
Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1962)


Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Eugene O'Neill (1886-1953)
Günter Grass (1927)

In 1882, during a tour across the US, Oscar Wilde lectured to coal miners in Leadville, Colorado, where he saw a sign on a saloon that said, "Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best," and called it "the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Upcoming concerts

This weekend, you can take in a concert every night. Here are a few of the events:

Fear No Music - Homage

Music by George Crumb, Kaija Saariaho, Charles Ives, Elliott Carter, Stephen Hartke, and Michael Daugherty

Friday, October 16 at 8 pm
Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church (2828 SE Stephens St.,Portland)

Columbia Symphony Orchestra - Awesome Openings

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with Barbara Roberts and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2

Friday, October 16 at 7:30
First United Methodist Church (1838 SW Jefferson St., Portland)
Sunday, October 18 at 3 pm
Mt. Hood Commmunity College Theater (26000 SE Stark St., Gresham)

Oregon Symphony - Bach, Beethoven and Bernstein

Kirill Gerstein performs Bernstein's Symphony No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra, “The Age of Anxiety.” Also on the program are Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 4 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.

Saturday, October 17 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, October 18 at 7:30 pm
Monday, October 19 at 8 pm.
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (1037 SW Broadway, Portland)

Oregon Chamber Players - Season Opener
Schubert's first extant surviving orchestral work (composed when he was 14), the Der Teufel Als Hydraulicus Overture, and Rameau's first ballet suite, Hippolyte et Aricie Ballet Suite No. 1.
Krommer's Octet-Partita, Op. 57 and a mystery piece

Saturday, October 17 at 7:30 pm
All Saints' Episcopal Church (4033 SE Woodstock Boulevard, Portland)

Oregon Repertory Singers - Modern Choral Masterpieces
Works by Samuel Barber, Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridsen, Joni Mitchell, Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, Franz Biebl, John Corigliano, and Vincent Persichetti.

Saturday, October 17 at 8 pm
Evans Auditorium on the campus of Lewis & Clark College, Portland
Sunday, October 18 at 3:30 pm
First United Methodist Church (1838 SW Jefferson St., Portland)

And Seattle Opera is presenting La Traviata this Saturday.

Today's Birthdays

Dag Wirén (1905-1985)
Karl Richter (1926-1981)
Barry McGuire (1935)
Suzanne Murphy (1941)
Peter Phillips (1953)


Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844-1900)
P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975)
Varian Fry (1907-1967)
John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007)
Italo Calvino (1923-1985)
Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Money is still flowing in Dallas

Dallas is opening a new opera house and a new theater in this month. According to this report, the cost of the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House and Dee and Charles Wyly Theater is approximately $392 million. Dallas will be opening its new opera house on October 23rd with a production of Otello.

Meanwhile, we in Portland will keep dreaming of such things.

Today's Birthdays

Alexander Zimlinsky (1871-1942)
Gary Graffman (1928)
Rafael Puyana (1931)
Enrico di Giuseppe (1932-2005)
Sir Cliff Richard (1940)
Kaija Saariaho (1952)


Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923)
E. E. Cummings (1894-1962)
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)
Katha Pollitt (1949)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Art Tatum (1910-1956)
Hugo Weisgall (1912-1997)
Gustav Winckler (1925-1979)
Paul Simon (1941)
Leona Mitchell (1949)
Kristine Ciesinski (1950)
Melvyn Tan (1956)
Mark Applebaum (1967)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Roberto Alagna's fees

This is from The Telegraph:

‘I live in Switzerland but I pay my taxes in France. I don’t know the exact extent of my fortune because I am not a businessman. For a gala concert, I get 60,000 euros. If I need money, I go to Abu Dhabi or Japan, where I can get 100,000 euros. I get 25 centimes for every CD sale, but I don’t get anything for DVDs or broadcasts or cinema transmissions. .... In the opera house, I get roughly 13,000 euros a performance. But not much remains at the end of it. Half of it goes in tax. The rest pays my agent and daily expenses .... At the moment, for two performances of Carmen, I am in London for a month and half [Alagna is actually scheduled to sing five performances]. The apartment rented near Covent Garden cost me £1,500 a week. My assistant cooks and does the laundry. ...’

FYI: Today 1 Euro = 1.4809 U.S. dollars

Today's Birthdays

Arthur Nikisch (1855-1922)
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Gilda Dalla Rizza (1892 - 1975)
Erich Gruenberg (1924)
Pilar Lorengar (1938-1996)
Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)
Daryl Runswick (1946)
Penelope Walker (1956)
Chris Botti (1962)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Conductor joke

What's the ideal weight of a conductor?

Four and a half pounds, not including the urn.

- I heard that today from Jacob Herbert who said that he got it from Carlos Kalmar.

Today's Birthdays

George Bridgetower (1780-1860)
Fernando De Lucia (1860-1925)
Albert Stoessel (1894-1943)
Eugene Weigel (1910)
Art Blakey (1919-1990)
Ennio Morricone (1928)
David Rendall (1948)

and a piece of history, courtesy of the New Music Box:

On October 10, 1940, Virgil Thomson began a 14 year stint as chief music critic of the New York Herald Tribune, arguably the most visible journalistic position ever held by a prominent American composer.

With his first published review, titled "Age Without Honor," Thomson set the tone for an agenda that put American composers first, excoriating the New York Philharmonic for a program that "was anything but a memorable experience." In this first of his many pronouncements against the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, he denounced as "vulgar, self-indulgent, and provincial beyond all description." His most biting prose, however, he saved for the orchestra itself: "As a friend remarked who had never been to one of these concerts before, "I understand now why the Philharmonic is not a part of New York's intellectual life.'"

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Interview: Stephen Marc Beaudoin and Michael Herrman talk about OTO's upcoming Beggar's Opera

I recently had a chance to sit down and ask questions of Stephen Marc Beaudoin, librettist and director of the upcoming Oregon Opera Theater production of a re-telling of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, and composer/arranger Michael Herrman, who is also the frontman for local indie rock group Buoy LaRue.

The Beggar's Opera was originally produced in London in 1728 by John Gay. Considered a ballad opera, it was part of a tradition that British theatergoers used to mock the pretension, and, it was felt, undue foreign influence of Italian (and Italian-syle) opera, which was then taking Europe by storm for the first time. Popular tunes of the day would be given new lyrics and set within the context of an opera, usually revolving around low-brow or criminal characters and situations.

The interview took the form of a lively, informal conversation, during which my questions were answered, not always after I had asked them (and sometimes without asking them at all.) With consent from the interviewees, the following represents a composite of the conversation in relation to my prepared questions; a full, unedited text of the conversation is posted at my blog, MusicalOozings. (See the SideNote entry at the end of the article for further information.)

LW: First things first: whose idea was this?

SMB: It was Katie [Taylor] at Opera Theater Oregon, who wrote me...because I had really been wanting to do this piece for a number of years. She had for some reason heard through the grapevine that I was talking about this and said to me ‘actually I’m thinking of doing that…do you want to write it and direct it?’ So she enticed me with it, and obviously she waved a big six-figure check in my face and that made all the difference.

LW: So you’re rich after this now? [laughter]

SMB: Yeah, I am, I am.

LW: Well that’s excellent, I’m glad to hear that.

MH: That’s funny…why was mine two figures? [more laughter]

LW: So what was the process like? How did it all come together?

SMB: Michael was one of the very first people I thought of to do the project. I had known his music from when I was writing for Willamette Week. Michael’s a strong songwriter, as you heard, [in reference to an earlier song MH played for us]. There’s something cinematic about the sweep of his music that I found very appealing and inherently theatrical and, I thought it was funny that after we started talking more he said ‘actually, I have a theater background.’

MH: My grandmother had a PhD in music, and my grandfather had a theater in New York City. My dad as a kid was always working the popcorn stand or taking tickets or whatever it was. It's in the blood.

LW: I’m curious about the overall collaborative process between the composer and librettist. That hasn’t always been the smoothest-working partnership in the history of music—how was it for you two?

MH: I thought it was incredibly smooth, and I think that Stephen and I work very well together. Having said that, this was also a brand new process for me. As a songwriter I'm usually the lyricist and the composer, so this was a different process. But I welcomed it; that’s part of what I want to do as a songwriter is to be stretched in these different ways, and try different avenues of writing songs, and Stephen and I just clicked. There isn’t an ego battle, or struggle between us at all…

SMB: Because he knows who’s in charge. [laughter]

MH: Yeah…the guy holding the guitar. [all laugh again.] But no, right off the bat…first of all, we established the working relationship: “This is what I’m going to do, this is what you’re going to do; we’re going to come together and see how it goes, iron out any problems."

L: So what was that [the nature of the relationship]? If you could boil it down.

MH: It was: Stephen was going to write the lyric and send it to me, and I would write around it. Basically.

SMB: And improve upon it sometimes. It's very hard for me to divorce myself from thinking about a tune while writing it. And very often, to be totally honest with you, I would sometimes write a lyric with a song in mind. Like the very first song! Which is the first song of the show.[he starts humming] I gave him this lyric, and [the result was] not what I thought it was going to be—it’s so much better.

MH: [laughter] Well, I didn’t know what he had in mind either. I didn’t know that…and I didn’t want to know either, because it probably would’ve…influenced me.

LW: Besides the thematic content, are there any homages to Gay’s 1728 original? For instance, are any of Stephen’s lyrics set to popular tunes of our day, or arrangements thereof by Michael?

SMB: It’s a great question. We did not [do that]. I thought about that…[to MH] I never actually approached you with that idea because my thought was, in a sense your music would be the contemporary pop…

MH: The link.

SMB: Yes, the link. So we chose not to go that route.

LW: Are there any quotations of tunes used by Gay?

SMB: The musical concept was interesting. What we did was we took about twenty tunes from the original and basically imported them wholesale into the show. And those tunes, and Michael’s arrangements, which are new, are the tunes from the original. Now sometimes we’ve changed some accidentals, or time signatures, that sort of thing. But those tunes from the original are the tunes that the characters sing in the context of the drama.

MH: My job was was to do eight full-on new, original songs, and then arrange for Buoy LaRue to play somewhere in the ballpark of 20 of the old airs. So what we had was what you just heard Stephen playing on the piano—that was the melody line that we had to work with, with some small alterations, and try to do it in the sensibility of what Buoy LaRue would bring to it.

SMB: And also in the sense of what was going on in the show.

LW: There have been a number of re-envisionings of the Beggar’s opera in the last couple of centuries. How does this version fit in with that tradition?

SMB: I think that anything that’s worth it’s weight, like Romeo and Juliet, is something that’s been kicked around a lot in terms of different interpretations and new film adaptations and all those sorts of things. So I think that if something is timely in its way, it’s going to want to be re-imagined again and again. I make some winking references to the Threepenny Opera [itself a nod to Gay's 1728 original] and I make plenty of references to Gay in this. I’m going to be very interested to know what the audiences pick up, because obviously audiences are going to come from people who have no idea, who have never heard this piece before and don’t know it from Adam…this is a whole new piece for them, which is great. And we’re going to have some people who will say ‘oh, I’ve studied this in college,’ and so it’s going to be interesting to see what they pick up. But it is important for this piece to be seen today because…nothing’s changed. Like in London of 1728 when political corruption was running rampant and people were dying...out on the streets, it was this filthy, festering, disgusting, wonderful place, and Portland is just like that. [laughter] Portland is just like that.


For a fuller understanding of the conversation, complete and unedited in all of its glorious, real-life, hiccupping conversational verismo including original lyrics (some very ribald and hilarious) and unedited rambling, see this SideNote at MusicalOozings. All original language is preserved and the flow of the conversation is presented as it actually happened, with many different topics and sub-topics are examined. See photos of the librettist being assaulted with a guitar--immerse yourself more fully in the seamy underworld of newly-created alternative Portland opera!

Today's Birthdays

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Paul Creston (1906-1985)
Thelonious Monk (1917-1982)
Gloria Coates (1938)
Sir Willard White (1946)
John Prine (1946)
Steve Martland (1959)
Evgeny Kissin (1971)


Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721)
Harold Pinter (1930)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Harry Lawrence Freeman (1869-1954)
Carl Flesch (1873-1944)
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Einojuhani Routavaara (1928)
Alfons Kontarsky (1932)
John Lennon (1940-1980)
Jackson Browne (1948)
Sally Burgess (1953)
Roberto Sierra (1953)


Bruce Catton (1899-1978)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Today's Birthdays

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)
Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
Will Vodery (1885-1951)
Paul V. Yoder (1908-1990)
Kurt Redel (1918)
Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996)
Johnny Ramone (1948-2004)
Robert Saxton (1953)
Carl Vine (1954)
Tabea Zimmermann (1968)


Philip Booth (1925-2007)

Thomas Hampson explores the role of the singer as storyteller

On Tuesday night at the Newmark Theater, renowned baritone Thomas Hampson delivered a masterful recitation of American song as part of the acclaimed 'Song of America' program that he has been developing in conjunction with the Library of Congress. This program is an ongoing project that has as one of its goals the launch of a website dedicated to American poets, composers, songwriters, and their songs, and to serve as a jump-off point for research into this topic. After the intermission Hampson spoke at length about his passion for this project, and gave some sense as to the immense scope, and incredible importance, of this undertaking. He spoke of the importance of song as a "dialog of metaphors between one language [words] and another [music]," as well as the unique ability of Americans to portray "American culture in its wide, deep, confusing, entertaining" nature.

The program began with the first song definitely attributed to an American composer, "My Days Have Been so Wondrous Free" by Francis Hopkinson. Stephen C. Foster was next, with a lilting "Open thy Lattice, Love" that gave the feeling as though one was sitting in a log cabin in front of a crackling fire in the youth of our nation, listening to an American troubadour of the highest caliber.

One of the most impressive aspects of the performance, aside from the rich, nuanced and impeccable singing styles Hampson brought, was his ability to tell a story. Whether sending the audience into rip-roaring laughter with Aaron Copland's rendition of "The Dodger," or leaving the audience in humbled solemnity with his repeated impassioned cries of 'Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!' at the end of Michael Daugherty's setting of Abraham Lincoln's famous "Letter to Mrs. Bixby," there was never a moment where Hampson's intent was unclear, when his interpretation of the work left anything to be desired by way of emotional import. His amazing ability to bring every tool of the storyteller's craft to his beautiful, intentioned singing left no doubt that he fully believed in the dialog of metaphors about which he spoke. His ability to inform that dialog to such an expert, heartfelt degree in both languages was the truly amazing feat displayed in this concert.

His range of choices was impressive as well. There were difficult, modern atonal compositions that had been composed specifically for him by Michael Tilson Thomas and John Corigliano, whose novelty and complexity provided some of the most gratifying moments of the evening; there was Copland aplenty, Bernstein, Charles Ives, and a fresh rendition of the normally sentimental 'Shenandoah' that seemed to not take itself too seriously while still displaying the deep pride of place inherent in the timeless American classic. Wolfram Rieger, the accompanist, was superb as well, and the repartee between the two was seamless, intimate and engaging.

In talking during the intermission with some friends who had attended Hampson's master class, they spoke of his kindness, of openness, of a giving nature and an easy sense of humor. All of these things and more were readily apparent throughout the evening. The term 'national treasure' is perhaps sometimes used too glibly, but such praise is not too high to be heaped upon one so skilled and dedicated as Thomas Hampson is to preserving, continuing, and enriching the glorious tradition of American song.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Michel Plasson to become director of the China National Symphony Orchestra

Musical America reports that Michel Plasson, the 76-year old French conductor is now the music director of the China National Symphony Orchestra. Here's more information from the article:

Plasson, whose one-year contract calls for him to conduct ten programs, is the first foreigner to be artistic director of a state orchestra in mainland China. Orchestra Executive Director Guan Xia reports that he has been asked by many other performing arts groups how he managed to finesse the appointment.

The secret may be in the financing: Plasson’s services – reportedly $3 million renminbi (about $440,000) -- are being paid in full by a private sponsor.
Some of Musical America's articles are subscription based, so I'm not sure if this link will work for everyone.


For those of you who are still thinking that the Oregon Symphony should reduce it's concert schedule to something like six concerts, you might see someone of Kalmar's caliber go to an orchestra in Asia. He has conducted several orchestras there.

Today's Birthdays

William Billings (1746-1800)
Alfred Wallenstein (1898-1983)
Shura Cherkassky (1911-1995)
Charles Dutoit (1936)
Yo-Yo Ma (1955)
Li Yundi (1982)


James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)
LeRoi Jones (1934)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

To hell with a six-concert season!

Just a couple of days ago, Barry Johnson of The Oregonian, suggested in an article that the Oregon Symphony "do less with more" by cutting back its classical subscription series to just six concerts. I hate this idea, because it strikes me as one in which the orchestra has thrown in its spit rags and be placed on a level with much, much smaller orchestras. Heck, I review the Vancouver Symphony across the river for The Columbian, and that ensemble manages to mount six concerts a year. Of course, the rebuttal is that the Oregon Symphony could perform six incredible concerts to sold-out audiences. Well, the problem with just six concerts is that the orchestra would probably lose the services of its music director Carlos Kalmar and a lot of the symphony's roster, because they would try to make a living elsewhere. So, the Oregon Symphony would end up with a journeyman conductor, part-time orchestra members, six mediocre concerts, and suffer a loss momentum and prestige.

Last year, the Oregon Symphony closed out its most successful year ever in terms of ticket sales, and though tickets sales have fallen off at the beginning of this year, that doesn't mean that the orchestra has to abandon hope. The orchestra has responded by offering its ticket stub incentive, and I would wager that there will be other ideas that might help to stimulate sales. A couple of years ago the orchestra faced a similar start to the season and ended up selling over $5 million dollars in tickets.

I don't know how many music students from Portland State University attend concerts, but I do know that there are more music students than ever before and that its boasts 23 full-time faculty members and 35 part-time faculty members. Plenty of students are studying music at Lewis & Clark, the University of Portland, Reed, Warner Pacific, and PCC. Most of these students probably cannot afford to purchase a season series of Oregon Symphony concerts, but they can be tapped into for cheap tickets and help to create a buzz for the orchestra's concerts.

For more than thirty years, people have been writing about the aging demographics of symphony goers, but that's just a lot of crap. If that were true, then all of the audience at the Schnitz would be in their 90s. People get interested in classical music for all sorts of reasons, and one of the main reasons is that people just get tired of listening to popular music - partly because most pieces of popular music last only three minutes. So many people become avid listeners of classical music after the age of 40.

Even though the current economic situation is terrible, this is not the time for the orchestra to think small. The orchestra is playing better than ever. It delivers terrific musical experiences. Just to compare a bit, the Portland Trailblazers are not cutting back their season. They are expecting to contend for the NBA championship, and I think that they will sell out most of their games (and those tickets are expensive). With the Oregon Symphony, we've got a top-tier orchestra that does our state proud. Its musicians competed for an invitation to Carnegie Hall and got it. It deserves the support of anyone who is interested in great music-making. I think that a rallying cry is in order. To hell with a six-concert season!

Today's Birthdays

William Bradbury (1816-1868)
Jenny Lind (1820-1887)
Julia Culp (1880-1970)
Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)
Maria Jeritza (1887-1982)
Edwin Fischer (1886-1960)
Paul Badura-Skoda (1927)
Dennis Wicks (1928-2003)
Udo Zimmermann (1943)
Keith Lewis (1950)


Le Corbusier (1887-1965)
Caroline Gordon (1895-1981)

Monday, October 5, 2009

New Jersey raises $180 million for the arts

The New Jersey Star Ledger reported on Friday, Oct. 2 that $180 million smackers have been raised for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Click here to read about the success of this 5-year campaign. Maybe there's something that we can learn from the Garden State about funding the arts.

Young Van Cliburn winner makes strong Portland Piano International debut

(Photo Alte Media)

Haochen Zhang, the youngest person ever to win the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, showed off his formidable skills at Portland Piano International’s recital series on Sunday afternoon at the Newmark Theatre. At 19 years old Zhang successfully conquered a challenging program that included works by Beethoven, Ravel, Brahms, Liszt, and contemporary composer Mason Bates.

I had the fortunate of attending the Van Cliburn Piano Competition earlier this year, and was looking forward to hearing Zhang at this concert. My experience at the concert in Portland was marred by a member of the audience (a man in his 40s) who suffered from a repetitive sniffing syndrome. Initially I thought that he had a cold, but it was something that was wrapped into his psyche. So, I endured this disturbance during the first half and moved to the second balcony for the second half.

Zhang opened his recital with a probing performance of Beethoven’s Sonata in A-flat major (Opus 110). This was an arresting piece in which Zhang delved into the tender and careful nature of Beethoven’s music extremely well. Of course, the piece contains a demonstrative side that would flare up occasionally, but I came away from the piece with the feeling that Beethoven was exploring new horizons – even during the last years of his life – all of which were marked by his deafness.

Next on the program, Zhang served a change-up pitch with “White Lies for Lomax” by Mason Bates. Zhang was very expressive in his playing, and he got into the herky-jerky honky tonk style of the piece but could’ve been a little more bluesy and free with it.

The first half of the concert closed with “Gaspard de la Nuit,” by Ravel. Zhang used his impeccable technique to great effect, bringing out all sorts of moods and emotions. Zhang created suspenseful shimmers, dark valleys, and a sort of atmospheric madness. And he did it all with flair, and the audience responded enthusiastically.

After intermission, Zhang played Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel (Opus 24) and really wowed the listeners with his complete command of everything that Brahms dished out. Zhang also successfully built tension into his playing, which he released magnificently in the final variation.

Zhang unleashed even more technical fireworks with his performance of Liszt’s “Spanish Rhapsody” (S. 254). It was fun to hear Zhang dig into this piece with flawless technique and fingers flying so fast that they could put your mind into a time warp. He succeed again in building up tension and releasing it in a finale that brought down the house and got the audience to leap to its feet.

With the applause cascading around him, Zhang played an encore, which he simply said was a “Chinese folk piece.” Here Zhang seemed to get even more into his element with completely virtuosic playing and wonderful expressiveness. It was a terrific conclusion to a fine debut in Portland by a very promising, young pianist.


PS: In this concert, Portland Piano International used a large screen to display the movement of the pianist’s hands so that everyone in Newmark Theatre could see his playing. This was a wonderful addition to the recital experience, and I hope that it becomes a standard feature of every PPI concert.

Today's Birthdays

Jürgen Jürgens (1925-1994)
John Downey (1927-2004)
Iwan Edwards (1937)


Denis Diderot (1713-1784)
Václav Havel (1936)
Edward P. Jones 91950)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Parker and the Oregon Symphony create beautiful tapestry in opening concert

Jon Kimura Parker delivered a finely honed and satisfying performance of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Oregon Symphony on Saturday evening (Oct. 3) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in its first concert of the classical music season. I really liked the way that Parker painted a lovely canvas with this piece. The first movement was shaped with understated beauty. The second offered a lyrical and tender perspective, especially in the passage that sounds like raindrops falling hear and there. The third had a more forceful and spirited flair, and created a lively and exciting contrast that got the audience out of its seats with loud bravos.

The orchestra, led by Carlos Kalmar, played with great sensitivity. The horns had many passages that came across with elegance and beautiful phrasing. The strings played impeccably, but I would liked to have heard more presence from them. If the orchestra could afford a just few more violins, that would’ve made the entire experience more gratifying.

After intermission, the string sections of the orchestra returned to the stage to engage us with Béla Bartók’s “Divertimento for String Orchestra.” This three-movement work contained so many playful elements that it was fascinating to watch and listen. The music stayed in flux, including volume, tempos, rhythms, pauses, and accents. There were moments of follow the leader, such as in the third movement when concertmaster Jun Iwasaki would introduce a theme that others would then take over. The music would be traded from section leaders to entire sections to duets or trios or quartets or other intriguing combinations. The piece wound up an extended pizzicato passage, a light-hearted waltz, and a furiously fast section that showed how first-rate this orchestra can play.

The concert concluded with sparkling performance of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 1. The brass, in particular, had many shining moments in this splashy piece, and that capped off the evening with an affirmative “joie de vivre.”

The concert, however, began on a somber note with the orchestra, honoring the death of its beloved stage manager Bob McClung with very exquisite playing of the Adagietto from Maher’s 5th Symphony. The most poignant moment came when the strings were so quiet that a single note from the harp rang out beautifully and loudly. I did hear some sniffles from patrons in the balcony; so I think that the music-making of the orchestra rang true.

Today's Birthdays

Mikolajus Čiurlionis (1875-1911)
Alain Daniélou (1907-1994)
Alain Lombard (1940)
Richard Wilson (1941)
John Aler (1949)
Fransico Araiza (1950)
Marc Minkowski (1962)


Frederic Remington (1861-1909)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The future of arts journalism

Yesterday, a national arts summit was held to explore the future of arts journalism in the US. Sponsored by the Annenberg School for Communication at USC and the National Endowment for the Arts, this summit examined the issues behind where arts coverage is going and what the future might look like. Earlier this summer, the National Arts Journalism Program issued a challenge to all online publications to submit their ideas and the top five would be selected for a special appearance at this summit, plus a financial award of at least $2,000. I put in my bid for this blog, but my bid didn't make the cut. San Francisco Classical Voice, however, was chosen, and it's one of the featured web sites at the summit. Now, the National Arts Journalism Program is voting on which three groups will get the top prizes.

If you would like to view the video presentations at the summit - especially the presentation of San Francisco Classical Voice (a truly exceptional web site for classical music in the Bay Area), then click here. You will then know more about the future of arts journalism in our nation.

Today's Birthdays

Roy Webb (1888-1982)
Stanislav Skrowaczewski (1923)
Steve Reich (1936)
Geoffrey Douglas Madge (1941)
Ruggero Raimondi (1941)
John Melby (1941)
Ian MacDonald (1948-2003)


George Bancroft (1800-1891)
Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)
Gore Vidal (1925)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nancy Ives and Paloma Griffin join Fear No Music

The Fear No Music Ensemble embarks on its 18th season with a couple of new members: cellist Nancy Ives and violinist Paloma Griffin. Ives is the principal cellist of the Oregon Symphony and Griffin is the founding director of the Melegari Chamber Players, a former member of the Oregon Symphony's violin section and of Pink Martini.

Fear No Music's first concert will take place on Friday, October 16th at 8 pm at the Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church (2828 SE Stephens Street, Portland). The program will feature works by Crumb, Saariaho, Ives, Carter, Hartke, and Daugherty.

Here's some information about the concert from FNM's press release:
What do the stillness of the night, the structure of a lily, a Hallowe’en bonfire, acoustic blues, and the voice of Paul Robeson all have in common? They’re all celebrated by the composers of our season’s opening concert!

George Crumb gives us four delicate nocturnes in his Night Music II . . . then Kaija Saariaho describes the structure of a water lily through the medium of string quartet and electronics. Charles Ives, the forefather of American experimentalism, evokes an eerie and mischievous Hallowe’en party . . . then Elliot Carter (a sprightly centenarian) remembers his friend Mr. Ives. Stephen Hartke tips his hat to early blues in Oh Them Rats Is Mean in My Kitchen . . . and Michael Daugherty gives us a tribute to a great actor, singer, and activist in Paul Robeson told
me (for quartet and digital tape) — incorporating excerpts from a rare recording of Robeson singing in Moscow in 1949 . . .

Five iconic, subversive Americans — and one fascinating Finn — bring to life their memories, influences, ideals, and preoccupations — demanding in the process our fearlessness and our most poetic instrumental voices!
For more information, see FNM's web site.

Today's Birthdays

Francis Jackson (1917)
Mary Jeanne van Appledorn (1927)
Michel Plasson (1933)
Phill Niblock (1933)
Peter Frankl (1935)
Ton Koopman (1944)
Jonathan Summers (1946)
Stig (1951)


Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
Graham Greene (1904-1991)
Jan Morris (1926)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Oregon Day of Culture celebrations begin today

October is National Arts & Humanities Month; so Oregonian are taking it personally by seizing today as the first day of a weeklong celebration of Oregon culture. This fall fling event is called Oregon Day of Culture, and its sponsored in part by the Oregon Cultural Trust.

If you are wondering what is going on over the next seven days, try the special Oregon Day of Culture website that lists over 400 events - many of which are free. Go forth and cultivate!

Jon Kimura Parker to play Brahms with the Oregon Symphony this weekend

The Oregon Symphony welcomes back Jon Kimura ("Jackie") Parker to the stage this weekned for a concerts series that features Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1. This is a terrific piece that is counted among the best in the concerto literature. Also on this program are Bela Bartok's Divertimento for String Orchestra and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 1. Since the concert will kick off the season, you'll get to open your lungs and sing the Star Spangeled Banner with the orchestra in an arrangement by Norman Leyden.

For more information, click here.

Stabler gives an update on Oregon Symphony's finances

In this report, David Stabler of The Oregonian provides an update on the Oregon Symphonies finances. It seems that somethings are looking up and others have a ways to go.

Today's Birthdays

J. Friedrich Eduard Sobolewski (1808-1872)
Paul Dukas (1865-1935)
Vladimir Horowitz (1904-1989)
Sylvano Bussotti (1931)


Tim O'Brien (1946)