Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Louise Farrenc (1804-1875)
Billy Mayerl (1902-1959)
Alfred Deller (1912-1979)
Akira Ifukube (1914-2006)
Shirley Verrett (1931-2010)
Peter Yarrow (1938)
Bruce Adolphe (1955)
Marty Ehrlich (1955)


Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853)
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) 
Clint Eastwood (1930)

and from the New Music Box:
On May 31, 1921, emigre composer Edgard Varèse founded the International Composer's Guild in New York City to perform and promote music by contemporary composers.

Monday, May 30, 2016

In Charleston, South Carolina for the Spoleto Festival (USA) and critics conference

I arrived in Charleston, South Carolina for the annual conference of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) today. About 35 of my colleagues will be in town for various discussions and to experience the festival. Highlights of the concerts we will attend include

La Double Coquette (US premiere)
Composed by Antione Dauvergne with revision by Gerard Pesson.
Libretto by Charles-Simon Favart with revision by Pierre Alferi.
Directed by Fanny de Chaille

Chamber Music
Hosted by violinist Geoff Nuttall

Porgy and Bess
Created by George Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin
Conducted by Stefan Asbury, Directed by David Herskovits.

The Little Match Girl
Music and libretto by Helmut Lachenmann
Conducted by John Kennedy. Directed by Mark Down and Phelim McDermott

If you want to know more about the schedule, click here.

Today's Birthdays

Benny Goodman (1909-1986)
George London (1920-1985)
Gustav Leonhardt (1928-2012)
Pauline Oliveros (1932)
Zoltan Kocsis (1952)


Howard Hawks (1896-1977)
Colm Toibin (1955)

and from the New Music Box:
On May 30, 1923, 26-year-old composer and conductor Howard Hanson, who would later be one of the founders of the American Music Center, led the world premiere performance of his Nordic Symphony, the first of his seven symphonies and still one of his best-known works, in Rome during his residence as first holder of the American Rome Prize.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Fanciulli (1853-1915)
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)
Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001)
Helmuth Rilling (1933)
Michael Berkeley (1948)
Linda Esther Gray (1948)
Melissa Etheridge (1961)


G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
Oswald Spengler (1880-1936)
John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)
Steven Levitt (1967)


from the New Music Box:
On May 29, 1954, the Louisville Orchestra, under the direction of Robert S. Whitney, premiered the Eleventh Symphony of Henry Cowell. The seven-movement work, subtitled "Seven Rituals," was one of the most successful of Cowell's 21 symphonies.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Profile of Ethan Sperry in PSU Magazine

My profile of Ethan Sperry, director of Choral Activities as Portland State University and the artistic director of the Oregon Repertory Singers, was recently published in PSU Magazine. You can now read it online here.

Today's Birthdays

Thomas Arne (1710-1788)
T-Bone Walker (1910-1975)
Nicola Rescigno (1916-2008)
György Ligeti (1923-2006)
John Culshaw (1924-1980)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012)
Richard Van Allan (1935-2008)
Maki Ishii (1936-2003)
Elena Souliotis (1943-2004)
Levon Chilingirian (1948)


Thomas Moore (1779-1852)
Oswald Spengler (1880-1936)
Ian Flemming (1908-1964)
May Swenson (1913-1989)
Walker Percy (1916-1990)

and from the New Music Box:

On May 28, 1957, after several discussions, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc. (NARAS) was born at a meeting at Hollywood's legendary Brown Derby Restaurant.

[NARAS sponsors the Grammys.]

Friday, May 27, 2016

First Musica Maestrale Festival to be held in Astoria on August 18-21

Press Release from Musica Maestrale:

Hi everyone,

We've just finished the season, but we are already looking ahead to the summer!  This year, we are trying something new and bold, and holding an early music festival in Astoria!  It will be 2 1/2 days full of concerts and workshops.  Whether you are a musician wanting to get some coaching on some tricky pieces, or an aficionado who loves the idea of non-stop early music concerts, there will be something for everyone.  Come on out to the coast to hang out in beautiful Astoria in mid-summer, and join us for this early music extravaganza!  We will even help you with the accommodations, if you wish.  More info below.

Also... we will be having our annual summer fundraiser/party in the evening of Sun. July 10.  As always, it will be a fun time filled with good food, drinks, and company, and of course, early music!  This time, the music will be provided by the wonderful Arwen Myers, whom you might have heard in our January program, and yours truly.  We are also going to try something new... a silent auction, for which we soliciting items to auction off.  It will be great fun; more on this soon, but in the meantime, save the date!


Today's Birthdays

Jacques Halévy (1799-1862)
Joseph Joachim Raff (1822-1882)
Claude Champagne (1891-1965)
Ernst Wallfisch (1920-1979)
Thea Musgrave (1928)
Donald Keats (1929)
Elizabeth Harwood (1938-1990)
James Wood (1953)


Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910)
Wild Bill Hickok (1837-1876)
Isadora Duncan (1877-1927)
Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)
Rachel Carson (1907-1964)
John Cheever (1912-1982)
John Barth (1930)
Linda Pastan (1932)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Al Jolson (1886-1950)
Eugene Goossens (1893-1962)
Vlado Perlemuter (1904-2002)
Moondog (Louis Thomas Hardin) (1916-1999)
François‑Louis Deschamps (1919-2004)
Peggy Lee (1920-2002)
Joseph Horovitz (1926)
Miles Davis (1926-1991)
Teresa Stratas (1938)
William Bolcom (1938)
Howard Goodall (1958)
Armando Bayolo (1973)


Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837)
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
Frankie Manning (1914-2009)
Alan Hollinghurst (1954)

and from the New Music Box:
On May 26, 1953, Aaron Copland appeared before the Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Oregon Symphony ends 2015-16 season with Mahler's grandiose 3rd Symphony

Carlos Kalmar
There's nothing for it like going out with a bang, and the Oregon Symphony chose do to that at its home venue the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Monday, May 23rd by presenting Gustav Mahler's Titanic Symphony No. 3 in D minor.   Accompanied by guest mezzo-soprano Susan Platts, the Women of the Portland State Chamber Choir and Vox Femina and the Pacific Youth Choir, there were at least 150 musicians on stage when all was said and done.

Opening with a subdued theme from the 9-voice horn choir and occasional alarming trumpet calls, the introduction to this long work gradually seeped out from the stage to overtake the hall. Striking glissandi from the low strings and a whisper-thin rumbling from the bass drum--more felt than heard--as the rest of the orchestra faded were satisfying to hear. Percussion sections are oft-overlooked (until they make a mistake) but the OSO is blessed to have an incredibly skilled and precise group--Monday night was no exception to the excellent work they've done all season.

Concert master Sarah Kwak played a marvelous pastoral solo during the introduction, and the trombone solo was equally arresting.  Often the strings felt too subsumed under the wall of sound presented by the gargantuan woodwind and brass section required by this piece--when it was tutti fortissimo all across the orchestra, the strings consistently took a beat or two longer to reach the proper dynamic--but it was a dynamic that was certainly within their ability--resulting in some weaker entrances (at least early in the work) than one would hope for.

Part two opened with a lush string serenade--the violins in fine fettle with all the swooning romanticism one could want. The gently quacking bassoon during the Mysterioso and the ghostly off-stage flugelhorn were nice treats to hear. Mic'ing the vocalists felt unnecessary from a volume perspective, but the concert was being recorded for broadcast so perhaps other considerations came into play. Both Platts and the choirs were excellent, with fine diction abounding. The long nocturne-like ending was carried off well by the strings, the melancholy interjections from the horn sounding bright and even lively despite the elegiac character of the finale.

And what a finale it was...the entire evening. This big, bold grand gesture of the late Romantic, the longest work in the standard repertoire (the evening clocked in at a bit under two hours without intermission)--what a fine gift from the OSO to the music-loving community. When else do you have an opportunity to hear 8 contrabasses, something like 30 violins, 9 horns, two harps, 60-some singers, etc--all going at the same time? A fine cap to maestro Carlos Kalmar for another a season well-done, and a reminder of how grateful the region at large is to have this fine ensemble.

Today's Birthdays

Thomas "Blind Tom" Bethune (1849-1908)
Miles Davis (1926-1991)
Beverly Sills (1929-2007)
Franco Bonisolli (1937-2003)


Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)
Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

and from the New Music Box:
On May 25, 1977, the American half of the Gian Carlo Menotti's "Festival of Two Worlds"—Spoleto USA—opens in Charleston, South Carolina. The Spoleto Festival Brass Quintet played at the opening ceremonies at noon that day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Vancouver Symphony (WA) double dips with Shostakovich concert

By playing two Shostakovich symphonies in its final concert of the season, the Vancouver Symphony pushed into new territory and celebrated Salvador Brotons’s 25th year as Music Director in style. The rare double-dip on the program Sunday night (May 22nd) at Skyview Concert Hall featured Dimitri Shostakovich’s First and his Fifteenth Symphonies, juxtaposing his first and last symphonic works. Although the orchestra had played the First back in 2005, the performance marked the ensemble’s first-ever journey into the heady waters of the Fifteenth, which contains many treacherous, exposed passages for the first desk players and some of their colleagues. All in all, the VSO tackled both pieces with élan and emerged triumphantly.

Conducting from memory, Brotons energetically urged the orchestra into Shostakovich’s unique sound world – made all the more unique by the fact that Shostakovich wrote the piece when he was still a teenager at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The orchestra elicited the mercurial nature of the piece, building upon its perky and optimistic ambiance. The low strings displayed a rich, smooth sound, and their duets with the bassoon in the second movement marched along smartly. The orchestra excelled at tapering off the endings of both the first and second movements. Excellent solo contributions by the principals in all sections added to the snappy and bright atmosphere. Some intonation problems in the violin section marred the fastest passages and the piccolo and flute veered now and then towards the shrill side. Still, the audience got so caught up in the music that it applauded after the orchestra created a huge crescendo in the fourth movement, thinking that the piece was done. Brotons wisely used his free hand to still the noise, and the orchestra went ahead to create a big splashy ending.

The Fifteenth Symphony, written near the end of Shostakovich’s life, shifts back and forth between somber and reflective moods and jaunty and almost carefree ones. The VSO explored all corners of the piece, including the numerous, virtuosic solo passages. Principal Cellist Dieter Ratzlaf evoked the soulfully searching sections. Concertmaster Eva Richey’s solos skipped along swiftly. Principal Trombonist Greg Scholl whipped through his lines so that they almost crackled. Mournful horns were complimented by somber statements from the trombone and tuba, all of which contrasted well with the rapid fire exchange from the piccolo and flute. The percussion battery had a field day on a large array of instruments, and Principal Timpanist Florian Conzetti added the haunting soft sounds quoted from Richard Wagner’s operas.

Some of the entrances seemed a bit tentative, and violins’ intonation went a bit wayward here and there. But the orchestra captured the spirit of Shostakovich’s music , saving the best for last when the snare drum and wood block combination took over. That passage has reminded some of a funeral carriage on a cobblestone street heading into oblivion – perhaps it was just Shostakovich’s wry speculation on the end of his own life.

In a nod to much lighter fare, the concert began with two crowd-pleasing chestnuts. Brotons conducted Brahms’s famous “Hungarian Dance No. 5” with verve and a fine ear for dynamic contrast. Preceding the Brahms was a rousing account of Souza’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” under the baton of guest conductor Karl Scarborough, who won the honor of stepping onto the podium at the orchestra’s annual fundraiser. Scarborough’s appearance was particularly fitting, because he is the one and only music teacher in the Winlock School District and was honored with the SW Washington Music Teacher award earlier this year. Bravo Mr. Scarborough!

Today's Birthdays

Paul Paray (1886-1979)
Joan Hammond (1912-1986)
Hans‑Martin Linde (1930)
Maurice André (1933-2012)
Bob Dylan (1941)
Konrad Boehmer (1941-2014)
Fiona Kimm (1952)
Paul McCreesh (1960)


William Trevor (1928)
Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)
Declan Kiberd (1951)
Michael Chabon (1963)

and from the New Music Box:
On May 24, 1939, then 30-year-old composer Elliott Carter (b. 1908) had his first major performance of his music in New York. The work was the ballet Pocahontas composed in a populist style far different from the music for which Carter would later become internationally known and revered.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Andrea Luchesi (1741-1801)
Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986)
Artie Shaw (1910-2004)
Jean Françaix (1912-1997)
Alicia de Larrocha (1923)
Robert Moog (1934-2005)
Joel Feigin (1951)


Margaret Wise Brown (1910-1952)
Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Johann Schrammel (1850-1893)
Minna Keal (1909-1999)
Sun Ra (1914-1993)
George Tintner (1917-1999)
Humphrey Lyttelton (1921-2008)
Claude Ballif (1924-2004)
John Browning (1933-2003)
Peter Nero (1934)


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)
Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014)

and from the New Music Box:
On May 21, 1893, in an lengthy article published in the New York Herald titled "Real Value of Negro Melodies," Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak, during his three-year sojourn in the United States, prognosticated that the future of American music should be based on "negro melodies" and announced that the National Conservatory of Music, where he was serving as Director at the time, would be "thrown open free of charge to the negro race." It was to be the first of a total of seven articles in the Herald in which Dvorak espounded these ideas which provoked comments ranging from incredulity to denunciation by composers and performers around the world including Anton Bruckner, Anton Rubinstein and John Knowles Paine.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Preview of Vancouver Symphony (WA) concert in The Columbian

Yesterday, my preview of the Vancouver Symphony's season finale was published by The Columbian newspaper here. The orchestra will play two symphonies of Shostakovich: his First and his Fifteenth. In the meantime, I'm still singing with the Bach Cantata Choir and our final concert of the season will take place tomorrow at 2 pm at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church.

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Parry (1841-1903)
Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904-1943)
Gina Bachauer (1913-1976)
Heinz Holliger (1939)
Rosalind Plowright (1949)
Linda Bouchard (1957)


Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989)
Robert Creeley (1926-2005)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Hephzibah Menuhin (1920-1981)
George Hurst (1926-2012)
Karl Anton Rikenbacher (1940-2014)
Joe Cocker (1944-2014)
Cher (1946)
Sue Knussen (1949-2003)
Jane Parker-Smith (1950)
Emma Johnson (1966)


Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ohlsson and the Oregon Symphony team up for superb Brahms – orchestra goes deep for Hindemith

Playing Brahms Second Piano Concerto with the Oregon Symphony, Garrick Ohlsson proved once again that he is one of the best pianists on the planet. Impeccable technique and remarkable artistic phrasing by Ohlsson showed how far and deep he could go in his performance on Saturday evening (May 14th) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Ohlsson is not a diminutive fellow. In fact, his imposing frame seems to make a Steinway grand look like a baby grand. Yet his size didn’t prevent him from creating some of the softest, most elegant tones imaginable, and they contrasted well with the louder and demonstrative passages. Thick textures, complex arpeggios, and thorny cadenzas were like putty in Ohlsson’s hands, and he commanded all of it with an articulate pianism.

Ohlsson’s terrific performance was enhanced by the orchestra, which showed exceptional dynamic control and flat-out great playing throughout the entire piece. Plaintive horn solos (John Cox and Graham Kingsbury), subtle and supple playing by the strings, rhapsodic solos by Nancy Ives, superb contributions by oboist Karen Wagner, and the playful exchange between the soloist and the orchestra in the fourth movement were a few of the highlights of the performance.

The near-capacity crowd gave Ohlsson a long and sincere ovation that brought him back several times. He responded with an encore, the subdued and introspective Brahms’ Intermezzo in E Major, Op 116, No. 6. Ah!

The orchestra showed off its many talents with a sterling interpretation of Hindemith’s “Mathis der Maler,” a three-movement orchestral suite that depicts sections of Mathias Grünewald’s famous alterpiece for the monastery at Isenheim in Alsace. Guided by Music Director Carlos Kalmar, the orchestra issued a noble yet lightly airy opening statement that expressed the radiantly mystical “Angelic Concert,” and caused much of the audience to applaud. The slow second movement, “Entombment,” featured lovely exposed passages for flute (Martha Long), oboe (Martin Hébert), and clarinet (Todd Kuhns). The absolutely unified sound of the violins, cello, and violas – all on the same note for a while – was one of the remarkable aspects of the fourth movement, “Temptation of St. Anthony.” But it also contained percussive jolts, fast segments, twisting angular phrases, and a massive, majestic ending with brass blazing, and that really resonated with the listeners.

The concert began with the Schumann’s Overture to “Genoveva,” an opera that has been long forgotten, because it apparently lacked dramatic energy. Fortunately, its Overture has plenty of purely musical energy to keep it alive on the stage, and the Oregon Symphony gave it a performance that sparkled, delving into its dynamic contrasts (in particular, the upsweeping crescendos) with relish. The performance by the orchestra of this piece was its first ever, and, because of its short length (under ten minutes), it floated by rather quickly. So it would be good to hear it again some day.

Today's Birthdays

Nellie Melba (1859-1931)
Kerstin Thorborg (1896-1970)
Sandy Wilson (1924-2014)
Pete Townshend (1945)
Stephen Varcoe (1949)


Malcom X (1925-1965)
Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)
Nora Ephron (1941-2012)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667)
Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876)
Karl Goldmark (1830-1915)
Ezio Pinza (1892-1947)
Henri Sauguet (1901-1989)
Meredith Willson (1902-1984)
Sir Clifford Curzon (1907-1982)
Perry Como (1912-2001)
Boris Christoff (1914-1993)
Mikko Heiniö (1948)


Omar Khayyam (1048-1131)
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Walter Gropius (1883-1969)
Frank Capra (1897-1991)
Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991)
Tina Fey (1970)

and from the New Music Box:
On May 18, 1981, the American Composers Orchestra conducted by Dennis Russell Davies premiered Joan Tower's very first composition conceived for symphony orchestra, Sequoia. Since then, Sequoia, has been performed by more than 40 orchestras around the world. The recording by Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony, which was part of the Meet The Composers Orchestra Residency Series CDs for Nonesuch Records, has recently been reissued on First Edition Music.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Erik Satie (1866-1925)
Sandor Vegh (1905-1997)
Birgit Nilsson (1918-2005)
Dennis Brain (1921-1957)
Taj Mahal (1942)
Paul Crossley (1944)
Brian Rayner Cook (1945)
Bill Bruford (1949)
Ivor Bolton (1958)


Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957)
Alfonso Reyes (1889-1959)
Gary Paulsen (1939)

and from the New Music Box:
On May 17, 1846, Belgian-born instrument builder and clarinetist Adolphe Sax patents the saxophone, an instrument that would have a profound impact on American jazz. Over a century later, on May 17, 1957, a computer was used to make music for the first time.

and from the Writer's Almanac:
Beethoven’s famous Kreutzer Sonata was first performed on this day in 1803 at Augarten-Halle in Vienna, Austria. Beethoven had been asked to write a sonata by George Bridgetower, a handsome and ambitious half-West Indian violin virtuoso who wished to perform the piece with the great composer. But Beethoven hated writing custom pieces, and so he put off writing it until the last minute, leaving the pianoforte copy almost entirely blank. For the finale, a resentful Beethoven simply tacked on a finale from an earlier work.

But when Beethoven and Bridgetower began to play at the 8:00 a.m. concert, both performed beautifully, and Beethoven was so impressed with Bridgetower’s performance — Bridgetower improvising much of it — that he jumped up and hugged the violinist midway through the performance.

Later, however, Bridgetower and Beethoven quarreled (scholarly opinion differs on the nature of the argument — some say it was about a man they both knew, some say it was about Beethoven doing such a last-minute job on the original composition) and Beethoven angrily undedicated the sonata to Bridgetower and rededicated it to Rudolph Kreutzer, a prominent Parisian violinist who had recently traveled to Vienna. It is rumored that when Kreutzer first saw the composition, he proclaimed the part written for violin too difficult to play. He is believed to have never played the sonata that now carries his name.

What became of Bridgetower after the Augarten concert is lost to history.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Seattle Opera deliver's Alden's powerful interpretation of "The Flying Dutchman"

Photo credit: Philip Newton
With Greer Grimsley leading the way in the title role of “The Flying Dutchman,” Seattle Opera presented a powerful performance Christopher Alden’s interpretation of Wagner’s opera at McCaw Hall on Saturday, May 7th. Set in the 1920s, this “Dutchman” offered an introspective slant in which the outsiders were pitted against an insular community, and everyone went off kilter, including the conformist townspeople, who become possessed after trying to communicate with the Dutchman’s ghostly ship.

In the end, Senta (Rebecca Nash) redeemed the ill-fated Dutchman, but not in the usual way. Instead of jumping into the sea, she was shot to death by the jealous Erik (Nikolai Schukoff), who couldn’t bear the idea of losing her. She died while holding a painting of the Dutchman as he slowly ascended a circular stairwell, clutching her wedding veil, on his way to the great beyond.

Christopher Alden’s revisionist interpretation is a bit sharper than the version I saw in 2007 at Portland Opera in which the Dutchman and Senta walked backwards across the front of the stage for some mysterious symbolic reason. In the Seattle production, the Steersman (Colin Ainsworth) walked comatose across the front of the stage at the very end, apparently because he too was in love with Senta. Daland (Daniel Sumegi) was totally immobilized at the idea of the fantastic wealth he would receive from the Dutchman after his daughter married him. Mary (Luretta Bybee) found herself clinging to the legend of the Dutchman even against her own reasoning. The townspeople wore armbands, suggesting Nazi-group think, and Erik had a brown outfit that suggested a Nazi-follower. The Dutchman, after casting aside his coat showed that he was wearing prisoner’s strips.

Rebecca Nash (Senta) and Greer Grimsley (The Dutchman). Photo credit: Philip Newton
The scenery, designed by Allen Moyer for The Canadian Opera Company, placed almost all of the action inside a huge room that was tilted from left to right. One end of the room was dominated by a huge wheel. When the Steersman (Colin Ainsworth) or The Dutchman gripped the wheel, it served to suggest a ship. After a smaller wheel suspended from the ceiling was connected to the large wheel, they worked together to suggest a factory where the women labored.

Grimsley’s powerful voice roared, alternating between anguish and hope as the Dutchman sought to become free of the curse of wandering the seas. Nash created a driven and determined Senta. Her singing of Senta’s ballad was stunning. Each time it returned to the next verse, she hit the high notes squarely in the center. At the very end of the opera, with her final words “Hier steh’ ich – true dir bis zum Tod!” (“Here I am, true to you till death!”) were electrifying. It was if she vocally threw herself into the sea.
Nikolai Schukoff (Erik). Photo credit: Philip Newton
 Another thrilling voice was that of Schukoff as Erik. He sang with impeccable diction, emotion, terrific tone quality, and power to spare. It would be difficult to find a better Erik anywhere. Sumegi made us feel a little sorry for Daland, because he was made helpless by the riches of the Dutchman.

Luretta Bybee’s Mary was less a disciplinarian and more like someone who could not control her inner passion for the Dutchman. If she had been younger, she probably would have battled Senta for the right to be the Dutchman’s wife. Colin Ainsworth sang the role of The Steersman with total passion.

The Seattle Opera Chorus, prepared by John Keene, sounded fabulous. Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing urged the orchestra ardently, and the result was an excellent sound all night long.

Today's Birthdays

Today's Birthdays

Richard Tauber (1891-1948)
Ivan Vishnegradsy (1893-1979)
Jan Kiepura (1902-1966)
Woody Herman (1913-1987)
Liberace (1919-1987)
Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000)
Betty Carter (1930-1998)
Donald Martino (1931-2005)
Robert Fripp (1946)
Monica Huggett (1953)
Andrew Litton (1959)


Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799)
Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866)
Louis "Studs" Terkel (1912-2008)
Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

and from the New Music Box:
On May 16, 1907, Miller Reese Hutchison filed an application at the U.S. Patent Office for his invention, the motor-driven Diaphragm Actuated Horn and Resonator, for use in automoblies. The patent was granted on May 3, 1910. The carhorn would later be used as a musical instrument by numerous composers ranging from George Gershwin in An American in Paris (1928) to Wendy Mae Chambers who developed a Car Horn Organ in 1983.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Michael William Balfe (1808-1870)
Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986)
Arthur Berger (1912-2003)
John Lanchbery (1923-2003)
Ted Perry (1931-2003)
Brian Eno (1948)


L. Frank Baum (1856-1919)
Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931)
Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980)
Peter Shaffer (1926)
Jasper Johns (1930)
Laura Hillenbrand

and from The New Music Box:
On May 15, 1972, the Concord Quartet premiered George Rochberg's String Quartet No. 3 at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. Rochberg, an established serialist composer, shocked the compositional scene by returning to tonality in this composition. Many cite this premiere as the birth of neo-romanticism.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Otto Klemperer (1885-1973)
Sidney Bechet (1897-1959)
Lou Harrison (1917-2003)
Aloys Kontarsky (1931)
Peter Skellern (1947)
Maria de La Pau (1950)
Helen Field (1951)
David Byrne (1952)


Hal Borland (1900-1978)
Mary Morris (1947)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Portland Symphonic Choir delivers profound performance of Tippett's "A Child of Our Time"

Guest review by Phl Ayers

When I was a student in the music school of the University of Wichita in the early sixties, the director of the University Singers and professor of choral music Robert S. Hines edited "The Composer's Point of View." In this book, 20th-century composers of choral music wrote essays about one of their works. Sir Michael Tippett was asked to write on his oratorio "A Child of Our Time."

At that time, I wasn't too interested in that portion of the book, turning my attention to the essays by Jean Langlais, Lukas Foss, Vincent Persichetti (who had visited our campus), and Leo Sowerby. Quite naturally, however, when asked to do this review, I turned to Tippett's essay and was richly rewarded.

I found that Tippett originally wanted to compose an opera or an oratorio on the Irish uprising of 1916, but turned to the incident of a young Jew who murdered a German official, setting off what became Kristallnacht and the ensuing Holocaust. And the interesting fact of Tippett desiring that his mentor T. S. Eliot write the libretto to what eventually became "A Child of Our Time" is described in some detail. The story is fascinating and won't be retold here, but it's enough to say that Eliot suggested that Tippett write the libretto himself. And he did. This fact is never mentioned in the otherwise enlightening concert notes of the performance of this work on Wednesday (May 11) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall by the Portland Symphonic Choir.

Conductor Steven Zopfi introduced the work, both with his notes and commentary before the performance. This emotionally moving work was given an excellent reading by the PSC and four fine soloists, Marlette Buchanan, André Flynn, Carl Halvorson, and Angela Niederloh, accompanied by the Portland Sinfonietta. "This is a difficult work to hear and perform. But it is a necessary one" said Zopfi. I perceived that the audience felt that the difficulty, perhaps in hearing the piece and pondering its profound theme and texts, was well worth the effort.

Tippett followed a tripartite scheme, laid out by Handel's oratorios, especially Messiah: first part prophecy and preparation, second part epic (e.g., Christ's birth onward), and third part meditative. Bach's Passions, in their unitary structure, influenced "Child" as well: narrational recitative, descriptive chorus, contemplative aria, and the special Protestant constituent of the congregational chorale/hymn. So, what emerged in "Child" was: Part I - the general state of affairs in the world today as it affects all individuals, minorities, classes or races that are felt to be outside the ruling conventions. Man at odds with his Shadow (dark side of personality, a la C.G. Jung, reflecting Tippett's years of Jungian analysis); Part II - The "Child of Our Time" appears, enmeshed in the drama of his personal fate and the social forces of our day. The drama of the young man, driven by forces stronger than the good advice of his uncle and aunt; Part III - The significance of this drama and the possible healing that would come from Man's acceptance of his Shadow in relation to his Light. (Taken from Zopfi's notes.)

Throughout, the choir's "wall of sound" was very much in evidence. This is a choir of some 125 singers, not an ensemble of 50; keeping such a force as a unified whole is not easy, but Zopfi always brings it about. The choir could contrast the animated with the meditative, sustaining the drama of the text throughout. An example of this is in section 3, in which the chorus alternates with the alto soloist in "Man has measured the heavens": animated: "Is evil then good? Is reason untrue? / Reason is true to itself"; meditative: "But pity, but pity breaks open the heart. / We are lost"; animated: "We are as seed before the wind / We are carried to a great slaughter."

Drama was nearly always within the music itself. The soloists allowed emotive expression to be contained within the music. There was a minimum of physical gesture, but one could not but notice Angela Niederloh's smile at the conclusion of No. 29, "I would know my shadow and my light," after singing "It is spring." At times, I was reminded of Britten's "War Requiem," in some of the ensembles. I wondered if Britten had been inspired by Tippett, some twenty years after "Child."

Tippett's use of spirituals came about when considering how Bach used chorales in his Passions and in many cantatas. With Bach, they were nearly always congregational hymns, but Tippett chose to use Negro spirituals instead. At times, the previous solo or solo ensembles segue into the spiritual, giving a unity to the expression. Five spirituals are used: "Steal away," "Nobody knows the trouble I see," "Go down Moses," "By and by," and "Deep river." They are often performed by choirs as separate pieces, but heard in the context of the oratorio, they take on a terrific and stunning aspect within the whole.

Photographs on a screen over the stage illustrated the texts. Pictures of Jews being taken to the camps and eventual extermination, of families and children, of a nurse and patient, of American Japanese internees, of dead bodies in the street, of a demonstration in Washington, DC, of Martin Luther King, Jr., of African Americans voting for the first time, of Muslim girls in school, enhanced the power of this oratorio. Eyes, even teary, could not close! The pictures came from the collection of the Oregon Jewish Museum and its Center for Holocaust Education.

A few years ago, the Oregon Bach Festival presented a performance of "Child" at Trinity Cathedral. As I recall, it was a very warm evening in the summer, and I was not as moved by this music as I was Wednesday. Yet, the setting in the packed cathedral seemed more appropriate than a large concert hall filled only part-way in the middle of the week. Another observation overheard on my way out of the hall: "It would have been better on a weekend." The Portland Symphonic Choir is truly a gift to the Portland music community and no doubt has to watch its expenses closely when producing such a large work as this at the Schnitzer.

Today's Birthdays

Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)
Constantin Silverstri (1913-1969)
Gareth Morris (1920-2007)
Jane Glover (1949)
Stevie Wonder (1950)
David Hill (1957)
Tasmin Little (1965)


Daphne du Maurier (1907- 1989)
Bruce Chatwin (1940–1989)
Kathleen Jamie (1962)

and from The New Music Box:
May 13th seems to be a good day for John Harbison. On May 13, 1987, Herbert Blomstedt conducted the San Francisco Symphony in world premiere performance of Harbison's Symphony No. 2. Then on May 13, 2001, Harbison's North and South received its world premiere in the Windy City by the Chicago Chamber Musicians.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Whimsical Sendak scenery enhances Portland Opera’s “Magic Flute”

Photo credit: Cory Weaver
Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” sounded better than ever in Portland Opera’s opening night performance (May 6th) because of the sets that were designed by Maurice Sendak, the beloved children’s book illustrator and author who created “Where the Wild Things Are.” Sendak’s whimsical scenery elicited numerous oohs and aahs from the audience at Keller Auditorium and seemed to inspire the performers as well. Sung in English from a translation by Andrew Porter, the high-spirited production was led by the company’s General Director Christopher Mattaliano who was the cornerstone in resurrecting the Sendak scenery.

Mattaliano’s link to Sendak extends back to 1980, when he was the assistant director to Frank Corsaro for the Houston Grand Opera production that premiered Sendak’s scenery and costumes. Mattaliano became a personal friend of Sendak as well as the stage director for revivals of the productions over the next 25 years. But in 2005, Hurricane Wilma destroyed the sets, which had been stored in a warehouse in Florida. Mattaliano solicited funds from several foundations, including the Maurice Sendak Foundation, to purchase the production for Portland Opera and have it restored/realized by Neil Peter Jampolis. Jampolis was the artist who did the original scenic paintings from the 60-plus illustrations that Sendak created for the 1980 HGO production. The result was fantastic!

Photo credit: Cory Weaver
The Sendak-inspired scrims were stunningly beautiful and whimsical with faux Egyptian images, lush foliage, lazy stone ruins, and animals with humanoid faces. All were depicted in soft pastels that often trended into the brown-green-blue range, and some scenes included a starry night with a full moon. Sendak’s costumes for the Queen of the Night and her attendant ladies were brighter than the background while Papageno was bedecked in a traditional manner with a bird headdress, cage on his back, and a feathery coat. The entire enterprise was wonderfully accented by the lighting design of Jampolis.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver
John Moore pulled out all of the stops in the role of Papageno, combining a big-hearted voice with impeccable comic antics. He could act like an impudent teenager one minute, a scaredy-cat the next, and a gullible blowhard after that – but all the while winning over the audience with his down-to-earthiness.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver
As the noble Tamino, Shawn Mathey was the veritable image of rectitude and forthrightness, yet he sang with ardor and a gorgeous tone. Maureen McKay fashioned a spirited and appealing Pamina. When she implored the heavens over the possible loss of Tamino, everyone in the house felt her desperation.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver
Tom McNichols conveyed a superior yet caring Sarastro with a warm and rich basso profundo. Aline Kutan hit all of the stratospheric notes in the famous revenge aria for the Queen of the Night, but she didn’t show enough ferocity in her demeanor.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver
Felicia Moore, Angela Niederloh, and Abigail Dock sang superbly as the three lady attendants, but Niederloh was by far the best in the acting department, hamming up her lust for Tamino while trying to fend off her sisters. Catherine Olson, Aishani Saha, and Kathleen Taylor displayed refinement even when enforcing the temple rules as the three Spirits.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver
Marcus Shelton created a light, friendly version of Monostatos – more of a deluded and sort of helpless chap who is obsessed by the beauty of Pamina. Vocally he started small but ended large, and he won over the audience with his athleticism, prancing about and launching himself horizontally into the arms of Sorastros’ men. Katrina Galka added a charmingly light touch to the role of Papagena.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver
Music Director George Manahan led the orchestra well with a refreshing pace. The chorus sounded robust and well-blended, thanks to the preparation of Chorus Master Nicholas Fox, who made a couple of well-timed appearances from the orchestra pit to hand a goblet of wine to Papageno.

Today's Birthdays

Giovanni Viotti (1755-1824)
Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989)
Burt Bacharach (1928)
Anthony Newman (1941)
Dalmacio Gonzalez (1945)
Doris Soffel (1948)


Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Alma Gluck (1884-1938)
Irving Berlin (1888-1939)
William Grant Still (1895-1978)
Robert Johnson (1911-1938)
Ross Pople (1945)
Judith Weir (1954)
Cecile Licad (1961)


Mari Sandoz (1896-1966)
Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
Francisco "Paco" Umbral (1932-2007)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Jean‑Marie Leclair (1697-1764)
Max Steiner (1888-1971)
Dmitri Tiokin (1894-1979)
Maybelle Carter (1909-1978)
Artie Shaw (1910-2004)
Richard Lewis (1914-1990)
Milton Babbit (1916-2011)
Maxim Shostakovich (1938)
Lori Dobbins (1958)


Karl Barth (1886-1968)
Fred Astaire (1899-1987)

and from The New Music Box:
On May 10, 1987, David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe produced the first-ever Bang on a Can Marathon, a twelve-hour concert at the SoHo gallery Exit Art combining music by Milton Babbitt, Steve Reich, John Cage, George Crumb, Lois V Vierk, Lee Hyla, Aaron Kernis, Phill Niblock and others.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)
Jacques Singer (1910- 1980)
Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005)
Nigel Douglas (1929)
Billy Joel (1949)
Michel Beroff (1950)
Joy Harjo (1951)
Linda Finnie (1952)
Anne Sofie von Otter (1955)
Alison Hagley (1961)


James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937)
Alan Bennett (1934)
Charles Simic (1938)

and from The New Music Box:
On May 9, 1967, avant-garde cellist Charlotte Moorman gets a suspended sentence from a criminal court judge in New York City for appearing topless during a performance of Nam June Paik's Opera Sextronique on February 9, 1967.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869)
Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981)
Heather Harper (1930)
Carlo Cossutta (1932-2000)
Keith Jarrett (1945)
Felicity Lott (1947)


Edmund Wilson (1895-1972)
Gary Snyder (1930)
Thomas Pynchon (1937)
Roddy Doyle (1958)

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Carl Heinrich Graun (1704-1759)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Edmond Appia (1894-1961)
Elisabeth Soderstrom (1927-2009)
Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981)
Philip Lane (1950)
Robert Spano (1961)


Robert Browning (1812-1889)
Archibald MacLeish (1892-1962)
Angela Carter (1940-1992)
Peter Carey (1943)

and from The New Music Box:
On May 7, 1946, Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering is founded with about 20 employees. The company, later renamed Sony, would eventually invent the home video tape recorder, the Walkman and the Discman, as well as take-over Columbia Records, later CBS Records, which under the leadership of composer Goodard Lieberson (1956-1973) released numerous recordings of music by American composers.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973)
Godfrey Ridout (1918-1984)
Murry Sidlin (1940)
Ghena Dimitrova (1941-2005)
Nathalie Stutzmann (1965)


Robert Peary (1856-1920)
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Gaston Leroux (1868-1927)
Randall Jarrell (1914-1965)

And from The New Music Box:
At the second of the Copland-Sessions Concerts of Contemporary Music, which was held at the Edyth Totten Theater in New York City on May 6, 1928, pianist John Duke premiered the first three movements of Roger Sessions' First Piano Sonata. Although the program announced a fourth movement, it was not finished in time for the concert. Also on the program were premieres of works by Copland (Two Pieces for String Quartet), Quincy Porter (Piano Quintet), Robert Delaney (Sonata for Violin and Piano) as well as solo piano pieces by Aldoph Weiss, Dane Rudhyar and Ruth Crawford.

In his review of the concert for the Boston Evening Transcript (published on May 11, 1928), Nicolas Slonimsky praised Copland as a "poet" who "works wonders" and Sessions as "a persistent and scholarly searcher for a new style" and one its "chief masons." But he called Rudhyar's music "a Naught to the Nth power." He was somewhat critical about Crawford as well but conceded that "there may be a chance for her in the future." Slonimsky also pointed out that the concert was nearly sold-out, claiming it proof that "there are several hundred persons actively interested in modern music." 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Pianist Buechner raises the rafters in Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the PSCO

I thought that I had heard most of the fantastic pianists who reside in the Pacific Northwest, but now I have to add another, Sara Davis Buechner, to my list after hearing her deliver an electrifying performance of George Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra at the First United Methodist Church on Friday evening (April 29th). Buechner, who maintains a busy performance schedule and teaches piano at the University of British Columbian in Vancouver, played Gershwin’s jazzy concoction immaculately, excelling in the buoyant, rhythmic passages as well as the slow, lyrical ones. She impressively closed out the first movement with a blitz of octaves and chords that elicited spontaneous applause from the audience. Her relaxed playing fit bluesy second movement like a cool breeze, and she sprang into the ragtimey third with an intensity that brought the piece to a splashy end.

Principal trumpeter Joshua Silva deftly expressed the sultry and languid trumpet solos in the second movement. The duet between Buechner and principal flutist Liberty Broillet danced with great sensitivity. Music director Steven Byess let the orchestra swell too loudly during the forte sections, overwhelming the sound that Buechner generated even though she was bearing down on the keyboard mightily. But those huge crescendos were the only sections to quibble over, and the audience responded to the collaboration with a standing ovation that was well deserved.

In addition to the Gershwin, the concert featured three pieces by American composers. The most interesting one was the brash “Dreamtime Ancestors” by Christopher Theofanidis. He wrote the work in 2015 for a commission from the New Music for America organization, which enlisted 53 orchestras to play it by 2017. In this concert, “Dreamtime Ancestors” received it Oregon premiere.

Inspired by Australian aboriginal creation myths, “Dreamtime Ancestors” sought to convey a connection between people and their ancestors that would extend through all of time: past, present, and future. From the text printed in the program, the ancestors included non-human forms such as the “Crocodile Man Ancestor.” The piece had an episodic nature displayed some brilliant writing for each section of the orchestra. One of the most compelling passages set the violins and flutes in a melody that was pinned against a different melody from the French horns and trumpets. The orchestra, guide expertly by Byess, played some subdued, dissonant passages that had an intriguing, magical quality. Massive and thick building blocks of tonality seemed a bit plodding at times, but the piece ended with a crescendoing, ascending line that suggested a bold hopefulness.

The concert began with a snappy and lively rendition of Bernard Herrmann’s Prelude to “North by Northwest, and that was followed by sensitive treatment of Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s tone poem, “The White Peacock.” In the Griffes, the orchestra excelled in creating a floaty, opaque atmosphere with a well-balanced sonic blend. Concertmaster Dawn Carter executed a silky solo and principal oboist Brad Hochhalter delivered several lovely passages wonderfully.

Returning to guest pianist Buechner, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that she started her life as a man. She was born David Buechner, and won the 1984 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, a Bronze Medal in the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, and has made numerous recordings. As far as I know, this was the first time that I have heard a concert by someone who has had a sex change, and for the record, it was first class. Hopefully, Sara Davis Buechner will be back in town for a return engagement sometime soon.

Today's Birthdays

Hans Pfizner (1869-1947)
Maria Caniglia (1905-1979)
Kurt Böhme (1908-1989)
Charles Rosen (1927-2012)
Mark Ermler (1932-2002)
Tammy Wynette (1942-1998)
Bunita Marcus (1952)
Cédric Tiberghien (1975)


Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Nellie Bly (1864-1922)
Christopher Morley (1890-1957)
James Beard (1903-1985)
Kaye Gibbons (1960)

From the New Music Box:
On May 5, 1891, Walter Damrosch led the New York Philharmonic in the very first concert in the large auditorium at Carnegie Hall, now called Stern Auditorium. The program consisted entirely of European repertoire: Beethoven’s "Leonore Overture No. 3," Berlioz’s "Te Deum," Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky "Festival Coronation March" (with the composer making a guest appearance on the podium), the hymn "The Old One Hundred" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (then America's unofficial national anthem although the tune is that of the British anthem "God Save The Queen").

This was not actually the first concert in the building, however. On April 1, Liszt-pupil Franz Rummel had already given an all-European solo piano recital in the space that now holds Zankel Hall. The oldest known program for the third of Carnegie's stages, what is now called Weill Recital Hall, a chamber music concert produced by the Society for Ethical Culture, dates back to October 31, 1891 and included the song "At Twilight" by the American composer Ethelbert Nevin.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731)
Mátyás Seiber (1905-1960)
Tatiana Nikolayeva (1924-1993)
Roberta Peters (1930)
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (1931)
Marisa Robles (1937)
Enrique Batiz (1942)
Peter Ware (1951)


Horace Mann (1796-1859)
Frederick Church (1826-1900)
Graham Swift (1949)
David Guterson (1956)

From The Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1675, England’s King Charles II commissioned the Royal Greenwich Observatory, the center of time and space on Earth. He also created the position of the Astronomer Royal at the same time, to “apply himself with the most exact care and diligence to the rectifying of the tables of the motions of the heavens, and the places of the fixed stars, so as to find out the so much desired longitude of places for the perfecting of the art of navigation.” The building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and it was the first structure in Britain that was built specifically for a scientific purpose.

The prime meridian marks the boundary between the Eastern and Western hemispheres just as the equator marks the boundary between north and south, and it was established at the Observatory in 1851. The prime meridian was originally marked by a brass strip, then stainless steel, and now it’s marked by a green laser. The laser actually marks the historical location of the prime meridian; old methods of calculating geographical coordinates involved using measurement of local sea level, and since sea level can vary worldwide, the coordinates weren’t consistent. Once an Earth-centered — rather than local — system was used, the prime meridian shifted about 103 meters to the east.

Greenwich Mean Time was also calculated at the Observatory, when it was still active; before the establishment of GMT, each town kept its own time, and they varied widely. Since 1833, people have been able to set their clocks by the time ball, which still drops every day at precisely one o’clock p.m.

The Royal Observatory was gradually decommissioned over the first half of the 20th century, and it’s now a museum, planetarium, and tourist attraction. Light pollution from London and electrical interference from the nearby railway system made it impossible to carry on as a working observatory, but it’s still the official starting point for each new day, year, and millennium.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682)
Richard D'Oyly Carte (1844-1901)
Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Bing Crosby (1903-1977)
Sir William Glock (1908-2000)
Léopold Simoneau (1916-2006)
Pete Seeger (1919-2014)
James Brown (1933-2006)
Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012)


Niccol Machiavelli (1469-1527)
Jacob Riis (1849-1914)
May Sarton (1912-1995)
William Inge (1913-1973)
Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)

From the New Music Box:
On May 3, 1943, William Schumann received the very first Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Secular Cantata No. 2 - A Free Song, a work published by G. Schirmer and premiered by the Harvard Glee Club, the Radcliffe Choral Society, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky on March 26, 1943. (Despite this accolade, to date, there has never been a commercial recording of this composition.)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Mattaliano talks about Portland Opera's move to a summer season and the upcoming operas

Starting at the end of this week with performances of "The Magic Flute," Portland Opera is opening its season in the late spring and will finish in the first week of August. This is the first time that the company has tried to shift all of its productions to the months when sunshine can dominate the weather forecast. In order to know why Portland Opera has decided to make this big change, I visited the General Director, Christopher Mattaliano, who is in his 12th year at the helm of the company. Our conversion took place at his office at the Hampton Opera Center.

What’s going on with the move of the opera season to an all summer schedule?

Mattaliano: We did an analysis of a switch to late spring and summer and saw it as an opportunity to increase revenue by bringing more Broadway Series performances to the Keller through the fall, winter, and early spring. We get a lot of requests to use this building, Hampton Opera Center, which we own. We get requests to rent it for meetings and for rehearsal space because we have two huge studios downstairs.

We spent two or three years talking about these matters and did a lot of analysis and some strategic planning. There was the element of okay if we condense our season and move it to the summer months, what opportunities in terms of additional revenue will come as a result.

It seems that the Keller is constantly booked with musicals.

Mattaliano: We’ve always had a locked hold at the Keller for the Broadway Series, which is ours. The expansion of the Broadway Series has evolved into more dates and shows.

St. Louis Opera takes place during the summer. Are you trying to imitate them?

Mattaliano: We have some excellent examples of summer opera companies: St. Louis, Santa Fe, Glimmerglass, Cincinnati, Central City. We can learn how they market themselves, what their unique challenges are, what are their strengths and weaknesses. We did a fair amount of analyzing and confirm with our sister companies around the country.

We celebrated our 50th anniversary last year. But 12 opera companies have closed in the past 5 years, which included New York City Opera and Baltimore Opera. San Diego Opera went to the brink and then came back as an entirely different company. Opera Pacific, which was located in Orange County – one of the wealthiest county in the country - went belly up in 2008.

Portland Opera is a very stable company with a significant endowment. We own our building outright, we own the parking lot across the street, and we have significant rental income. We have a strong subscription base, but like all of the other companies, we took a hit when the economy tanked during the Great Recession. With the board, we started dreaming about the next five to ten years of this company. We also discussed how we can avoid making the mistakes that have gotten other companies into financial trouble. The biggest thing we saw was that the companies that got into financial trouble were the ones that refused to adjust to the change in audience behavior. Audience behavior has shifted dramatically in the past decade.

Michael Kaiser has written a lot about the state of the arts and the challenges we are facing. His latest book is called “Curtains?” and the key argument he makes is any opera, orchestra, theater company is competing with every opera, orchestra, theater company that is online. Why should I go should I go see Portland Opera’s production of “La boheme” and pay 50 to 150 dollars for a good seat when I can at home on my spectacular state of the art home theater system download performances from La Scala, Covent Garden, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Bolshoi, the Met for a few dollars and watch it when I want to in my pajamas with a glass of wine. So Kaiser says that unless you as an opera company start a real presence online, you are going to be obsolete within 30 years.

Kaiser explains how we are on our third generation of children who have not had an arts education. So more and more kids are growing up with no choir, band, jazz ensemble, in the schools. The entire gateway for these kids to the world is through their gadgets. He says that we now have kids who don’t even know what live arts are.

So in Portland Opera's planning sessions,we talked a lot about the future and audience behavior that has changed dramatically. People are nervous about what they do with their disposable income. The internet has provided so many more options for people’s entertainment – and they can get it when they want it.

But Portland Opera doesn't have the budget to stream productions online?

Mattaliano: That's correct. But I feel that we as human beings need to congregate and experience something live together as a community – whether we go to church together, or a piano recital, or opera. I think that the live experience is still far more satisfying than seeing a great performance on a DVD.

So we felt that if we are going to change, we will change big. That means that there will be some risk included. It seemed that the majority of opera companies that got into trouble refused to think about changing what they program and how they program. And if there was a financial gap, then they would go back to Mrs. Smith and ask for that additional 25 thousand dollars. And that was getting companies into trouble – relying on a very small pool of donors.

We looked at summer opera companies and found that they were the most consistently stable through the second economic downturn and there is little happening here in Portland during the summer in terms of classical music. There is Chamber Music Northwest, which is very successful, but that’s the major player. Other opera companies said to us, you own the landscape. It became more and more difficult for us to get our message across in the fall because that’s when everything starts happening. We feel that the city has become such a destination in recent years and the weather is so magnificent in the summer. We thought that a switch to the summer would be a chance to expand our audience and build packages for the weekend where people can see two operas. We will do that this year with ”Eugene Onegin” and “The Italian Girl in Algiers.”

You started shifting last year with "The Elixir of Love," which you did in the summer last year.

Mattaliano: And that went really well. But over the past couple of years, I’ve learned that change is tough. Regardless of whether it makes sense or not, people are resistant to change. So we have a lot of people sitting on the fence wondering what the hell Portland Opera is doing. It takes about three years for people to figure out what we are doing. People have to experience our productions during the summer to find out what it’s like.

With "Eugene Onegin" and "The Italian Girl in Algiers" you are doing more performances – seven for each.

Mattaliano:That gives people who have subscribed at the Keller a few more options for their seats.

The Keller has had problems for us, because it so huge with 3,200 seats. The Newmark has problems with the second balcony which is very steep and the orchestra pit is tiny. So we will try to focus on popular operas and musicals at the Keller and we have can use the Newmark to stretch ourselves artistically and take more risks. "Onegin" and "The Italian Girl" are not all that risky, but things will change next year – which I can’t tell you more about at this moment.

For the orchestra pit in the Newmark, what are you doing for "Onegin?"

Mattaliano: We are using a reduced orchestration which was done in England a few years ago and brought to Lincoln Center. I don’t know if you remember the Peter Brook “Carmen,” which did the opera in 90 minutes, but the orchestration in that production used 15 musicians and they got rid of the chorus numbers and he really focused on following the story that was in the Merimee novella. So this is a similar idea with Onegin that essentially the Pushkin story is an intimate piece that can be done with a chamber orchestra and without the big chorus scenes. We are setting it during the Gorbachev era, so it is the Russia of the 1980s. Kevin Newberry who directed our “Galileo” a few years ago returns to direct "Onegin."

For the Italian Girl in Algiers we are bringing in Christian Rath for the first time. I was blown away by his work in Verdi’s “King for a Day” at Glimmerglass a few years ago.

And you are directing Magic Flute

Mattaliano: I was the original assistant director of "The Magic Flute" that used the Sendak designs back in 1980 at Houston Grand Opera. I was the assistant to Frank Corsaro, who was my teacher and mentor. He got an offer from Houston Grand to do a new "Magic Flute." He loved reading Sendak’s book to his kid, and he got the idea of using Sendak’s ideas of light and dark and disturbing things but they are very joyful and playful at the same time. Corsaro saw this as a key into the world of "The Magic Flute." He contacted Sendak, who is a opera lover and a Mozart fanatic, and then convinced David Gockley who was the general director of Houston Grand, to do the opera with Sendak’s designs for scenery and costumes, even though Sendak had never designed for an opera before. That was an enormously successful production that was staged all over the country. I directed several of the revivals. But the sets were stored in Florida and destroyed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Because of very generous grants from Maurice Sendak Foundation, the Carol Franc Buck Foundation and form the Schnitzer CARE Foundation, we salvaged the costumes and purchased them, and we are having the sets totally rebuilt and repainted. So we are reviving that production.

Are you redoing the sets from old photographs?

Mattaliano: We are fortunate that the fellow, who did the original scenery paintings based on Sendak’s drawings, is still alive. His name is Neil Peter Jampolis, and he is the painter that Sendak chose when the Houston Grand Opera production was done. So Jampolis is taking the images and translating them into 3-dimensional designs and painting them to the full scale. This is a production that is very near and dear to my heart, and I have a personal connection with it. Portland Opera now owns it, and we think that it will provide us a lot of rental income in the years to come.

What kind of staging will be used for Sweeney Todd?

Mattaliano: I’m glad that you asked. When New York City Opera folded , we purchased this production from them. It’s essentially the original Broadway production. Hal Prince moved from theater to opera and adapted his original Broadway staging and scenery to the New York State Theater. We hired Albert Sherman,who was Hal Prince's assistant to help recreate the staging.

So this season, Portland Opera will be creating new productions for the Newmark Theater – that’s "The Italian Girl in Algiers" and "Eugene Onegin" – and using productions that we own – for "The Magic Flute" and "Sweeney Todd."

That's a huge undertaking. Break a leg!

Mattaliano: Thanks!

Today's Birthdays

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)
Jean‑Baptiste Barrière (1707-1747)
Lorenz Hart (1894-1943)
Alan Rawstorned (1905-1971)
Jean‑Marie Auberson (1920-2004)
Arnold Black (1923-2000)
Philippe Herreweghe (1947)
Valery Gergiev (1953)
Elliot Goldenthal (1954)


Jerome K Jerome (1859-1927)
Dr. Benjamin Spock (1904-1998)

From the New Music Box:
On May 2, 1984, Sunday in the Park With George, a musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine starring Many Patinkin as the painter Georges Seurat and Bernadette Peters as his mistress Dot, opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre. The work was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama the following year.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Sophia Dussek (1775-1831)
Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960)
Leo Sowerby (1895-1968)
Walter Susskind (1913-1980)
Gary Bertini (1927-2005)
Judy Collins (1939)


Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)
Joseph Heller (1923-1999)
Bobbie Ann Mason (1940)

And from The Writer's Almanac:
It was on this day in 1786 that Mozart's first great opera, The Marriage of Figaro, premiered in Vienna. It was based on a French play, and it tells the story of a single day in the palace of Count Almaviva. The count spends the day attempting to seduce Susanna, the young fiancée of the court valet, Figaro. Susanna and the Countess conspire to embarrass the count and expose his infidelity.

Lorenzo da Da Ponte wrote the libretto in six weeks and Mozart was paid 450 florins for his work, a comfortable sum at the time. He directed the first performance himself, seated at the keyboard. He had his detractors in Vienna, some of whom padded the theater with hecklers. They were no match for Mozart’s composition, though, and the performance inspired so many encores that Habsburg Emperor Joseph II was forced to issue a decree “to prevent the excessive durations of operas, without however prejudicing the fame often ought by opera singers.”

It was a light-hearted, comic opera, but the musicians and singers could hardly believe the quality of the music. One singer, an Irish tenor named Michael Kelly, later wrote: "I can still see Mozart, dressed in his red fur hat trimmed with gold, standing on the stage with the orchestra at the first rehearsal, beating time for the music. ... The players on the stage and in the orchestra were electrified. ... Had Mozart written nothing but this piece of music it alone would ... have stamped him as the greatest master of his art."

Johannes Brahms said, “In my opinion, each number of Figaro is a miracle; it is totally beyond me how anyone could create anything so perfect; nothing like it was ever done again, not even by Beethoven.”