Thursday, June 30, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Georg Anton Benda (1722-1795)
John Duke (1899-1984)
Lena Horne (1917-2010)
James Loughran (1931)
Giles Swayne (1946)
Stephen Barlow (1954)
Esa-Pekka Salonen (1958)


John Gay (1685-1732)
Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Aarre Merikanto (1893-1958)
Nelson Eddy (1901-1967)
Leroy Anderson (1908-1975)
Frank Loesser (1910-1969)
Bernard Hermann (1911-1975)
Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996)
James Dick (1940)
Joelle Wallach (1946)
"Little Eva" Boyd 1945-2003)
Anne-Sophie Mutter (1963)


Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900-1944)
James K. Baxter (1926-1972)
Oriana Fallaci (1929-2006)

From The Writer Almanac:

Today is the birthday of composer, librettist, and lyricist Frank Loesser, born in New York City in 1910. His father was a classical pianist and a piano teacher who tried to discourage his son from pursuing popular music, but to no avail. Because his father didn’t approve, Loesser was largely self-taught. In the late 1920s, he became a staff lyricist for a music publisher, and none of his songs really went anywhere until Fats Waller recorded “I Wish I Were Twins” in 1934. Loesser also started performing in nightclubs in the mid-1930s; two years later, he moved to Hollywood. He got a job with Universal Studios, and then Paramount, and wrote lyrics for several notable popular composers, including Hoagy Carmichael (“Two Sleepy People” and “Small Fry”).

He was assigned to the Army’s Special Services as a songwriter during World War II; the first song for which he wrote the music as well as the lyrics was also the first big hit of the war: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” He wrote the official song of the U.S. infantry — “What Do You Do in the Infantry?” — and also wrote morale-boosting songs for the shows that soldiers put on in camps.

In 1944, he wrote “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which he sold to MGM in 1948 for the film Neptune’s Daughter. The song won the Academy Award and would become a perennial Christmas season favorite. He went to Broadway and won the Tony Award for music and lyrics for Guys and Dolls (1950) and for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), which also won a Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Napoléon Coste (1805-1883)
Joseph Joachim (1831-1907)
Richard Rodgers (1902-1979)
Arnold Shaw (1909-1989)
Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996)
George Lloyd (1913-1998)
Giselher Klebe (1925-2009)
Philip Fowke (1950)
Thomas Hampson (1955)


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936)
Eric Ambler (1909-1989)
Mark Helprin (1947)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Friedrich Silcher (1789-1860)
Toti Dal Monte (1893-1975)
Karel Reiner (1910-1979)
George Theophilus Walker (1922)
Ruth Schönthal (1924-2006)
Anno Moffo (1932-2006)
Hugh Wood (1932)
Daniel Asia (1953)
Nancy Gustafson (1956)
Magnus Lindberg (1958)
Robert King (1960)


James Smithson (1765-1829)
Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906)
Helen Keller (1880-1968)
Frank O'Hara (1926-1966)
Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)
Alice McDermott (1953)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Matthew Halls talks about his work at the Oregon Bach Festival

Matthew Halls, now in his third year as the artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival, has been a busy fellow ever since he landed in Eugene a couple of weeks ago. The 40-year-old conductor has already led performances of Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” and of early Romantic works. Over the next two weeks, he will helm the premiere of James MacMillan’s “Requiem,” honcho young conductors through performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, command the Berwick Chorus of the OBF in music of Bach and Frank Martin, and close the festival with a program of the Brahms Requiem and his Third Symphony. In between those concerts, the festival will offer concerts that range all over the map from organ (featuring Paul Jacobs) to Baroque music (Monica Huggett) to youth choirs (Anton Armstrong) to Viennese classics (Robert Levin) to new works (Gabriel Kahane) to more Baroque music (Rachael Podger) to puppet theater and to the one and only Punch Brothers band.

I talked with Halls to find out more about him and the sonic explosion that he has arranged in Eugene this year.

You started out as a keyboard artist before your conducting career took off.

Halls: Yes. I began as a pianist then at the age of 14 and then converted to organ. I spent a number of years working as an organist in several cathedrals in the UK. Of course, in the UK, it is impossible to be an organist without being a singer. So I was a countertenor for quite some time. Like many countertenors, I started off as a baritone and then an accident in shaving one morning caused me to discover a new range. [Laughs!]

From a combination of those things I worked with several conductors in the historical performance movement. I was the organist and harpsichordist for the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra with Ton Koopman. That was during the time when he was recording all of the Bach Cantatas – an extraordinary period for me. I also did a lot of work with John Eliot Gardiner, William Christie, and others. But I was interested in their explorations into the 19th and even 20th Century repertoire. It seemed obvious that I would move at some point back into that world, but the historical performance bit was sort of an interesting chapter for me. I have ended up craving a little more variety in my musical life. Opera was the way in for me. I spent quite a number of years training as a conductor, chorus master, and music coach-répétiteur at several opera houses in Europe. I’m a silent singing conductor who loves working with orchestras and choirs; so OBF is a perfect fit.

It’s great that you have a program for upcoming conductors.

Halls: We are very selective about the conducting course. The course has been running for many, many years. Helmuth Rilling and Royce Saltzman really believed in the course and a commitment to young conductors to help prepare them for a career in which Bach’s music would be featured – and the challenges that would present. So in the beginning the program was specific to a study of Bach’s choral music. I am similarly passionate about educating young conductors because I can remember all too well how hard it is to find opportunities. Conductors don’t have an instrument that we can regularly practice on. I realized pretty quickly that the Oregon Bach Festival provides many opportunities during the festival for young conductors to get their hands dirty, so to speak, and feel how it is to be in front of an orchestra and choir. So this program is more than a one-day event. It goes on in the background through the whole duration of the festival. The conductor-students are working a daily schedule in conjunction with the fabulous director of the course, Edward Maclary, who is the director of choral activities at the University of Maryland. They will participate in conducting parts of the Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” in the Discovery Series concerts, give conduct various choral works, and shadow me in my work on several programs.

As I travel about the United States and arrive in various cities, I always meet a choral or orchestral conductor who at some stage passed through the Oregon Bach Festival. It’s amazing how many people have worked with the OBF program.

Can you tell us about the MacMillan Requiem?

Halls: It is one of the festival events that I am most excited about. The world premiere of a Requiem Mass for chorus and orchestra by one of today’s leading composers of choral and orchestral music. MacMillan has a very strong religious background. He is very spiritual in his approach to music. The score is intriguing. The first thing that hits you is the very personal response to the requiem. It is through-composed, meaning that you don’t have that great division like you do in the Verdi and Brahms Requiems into standalone units. He doesn’t carve things up into movements. There are no huge pauses for reflection between the various texts. The work does have reflection points for various parts of the requiem texts which are very familiar to people who are used to requiem masses. All of the usual movements are there: the Libera me, the In Paradisum, the Offertorium, the Graduale, it’s all there – the Catholic liturgical requiem text – but it’s woven into this extraordinary symbolic tapestry. It starts in an incredibly radical way – all other requiem masses begin introverted, quiet, serene and calm. This one doesn’t begin that way. From the very beginning, one can tell that there’s another message – focal point. The opening statement seems to invoke the Last Judgement and texts that are associated with the Dies IreDies Illa – “The Day of Wrath” and the “Day of Trial and Tribulation.” So you have this restlessness and impetuosity at the beginning. This statement immediately calms into the opening Requiem Aeternam text. Even while the reflective texts are explored always in the background there’s this idea of the day of judgement until final resolution with the In Paridisum, you get this sublime final section for both the soloists and the chorus and ending quietly. The orchestral score is lavish and rich and very challenging. It will be an extraordinary evening of music.

The Brahms “German Requiem” should tie in well with the festival.

Halls: There has been an underlying Brahms-Bach theme going on over the last couple of seasons. We explored Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and we related it to the Bach Cantata 150, which inspired the beautiful Chaconne at the end of the Brahms. The year before that I did the “Schicksalslied” with the orchestra and chorus. So Brahms the antiquarian, Brahms the Bach lover, fits very well into our Bach-inspired festival.

There is so much Bach going on during the festival and there must be. For many musicians, Bach is the center of our very existence. But I feel that one thing that has made the Oregon Bach Festival unique over the years is that it has the resources, which is quite rare, to explore at a very high level the choral-symphonic repertoire. So we have in our repertoire these great choral-symphonic war horses – great pieces of 19th Century literature, which we often use to close the festival or to celebrate a civic event.

Many people don’t know how many ensembles we have at the festival. If you look at the number of choirs, we have a profession choir which serves as a chamber choir and as an orchestral choir. We have the University of Oregon Chamber Choir, which is a fantastic ensemble that sings to a very high level. We have our vast youth choral academy. From time to time we have a choral teachers workshop. And the conducting students are encouraged to sing in the final concert as well. When we perform the Brahms Requiem, we combine all of those elements. We can create a choir that is unlike any other you’ve ever heard. It’s when we all come together – an absolutely exhilarating point – it’s like a celebration of the whole festival.

I assume that you are familiar with the Punch Brother’s music?

Halls: I am probably the Punch Brothers biggest fan. They are absolutely extraordinary. I love their music. I’ve been addicted to it for a long time. We weren’t sure that they would even come to a Bach festival. So asking them was a shot in the dark.

As an artistic director, I am interested in how it all links together. Even if people don’t see the thinking that has gone on behind the concerts, they might feel it. A lot of our audience is incredibly loyal, and they enjoy – taking the journey – our theme for this year – setting aside time during the festival’s two and a half weeks to enjoy the journey of the festival. The Punch Brothers - for me it is always nice to have a concert program that is not classical. In the case of the Punch Brothers and a lot of the programs that we present there’s an underlying link with Bach or with classical music. The Punch Brothers are outstanding musicians who have been inspired by classical composers by the music of Bach. They rework it with such respect and such love into something that is truly great. As serious classical musicians we have to listen to their music. These guys are geniuses!

Tell us about the Berwick Academy.

Halls: The Berwick Academy is a new pioneering program that we set up last summer to offer high-level exposure to final-year conservatoire and first year professional musicians working on historical instruments. The come from all over America and Canada – some are Juilliard graduates, some are Cleveland Institute of Music graduates, and there are many other conservatories represented. They get intense orchestral reading sessions to prepare concert programs. You get them with the best professional Baroque violinists and oboists and it’s amazing what you can do. Last year’s results exceeded all of our expectations. We bring a faculty of tutors from all over the world like Eric Hoeprich, one of the world’s leading exponents of the historical clarinet. He is a professor at the Jacobs School of Music at the University of Indiana.

Where will you go after the festival?

Halls: I will conduct at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York in a program with Joshua Bell. In September I’m getting married. Later in the fall I will travel to Europe to conduct Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” with the Vienna Symphoniker.

Congratulations on all that. Will the wedding be in England?

Halls: It will be in Canada. My fiancé is from the Toronto area.

Congratulations again!

Halls: Thank you!

Today's Birthdays

Big Bill Broonzy (1893-1958)
Hugues Cuénod (1902-2010)
Wolfgang Windgassen (1914-1974)
Giuseppe Taddei (1916-2010)
Syd Lawrence (1923-1998)
Jacob Druckman (1928-1996)
Claudio Abbado (1933-2014)


Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973)
Walter Farley (1916-1989)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Gustave Charpentier (1860-1956)
Arthur Tracy (1899-1997)
Bill Russo (1928-2003)
Kurt Schwertsik (1935)
Carly Simon (1945)


Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926)
George Abbott (1887-1995)
George Orwell (1903-1950)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Harry Partch (1901-1974)
Pierre Fournier (1906-1986)
Milton Katims (1909-2006)
Denis Dowling (1910-1984)
Terry Riley (1935)


Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
John Ciardi (1916 - 1986)
Anita Desai (1937)
Stephen Dunn (1939)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Six Northwest composers chosen for November festival in Cuba

From the press release:

The Cascadia chapter of the National Association of Composers/USA (NACUSA) is thrilled to announce a first-of-its-kind exchange between six Northwest-based composers and a select number of their Cuban composer colleagues. Currently there are 76 Cascadia Composer members, making it the largest NACUSA chapter. Six composers from this chapter were recently selected to attend the 29th Annual Festival de La Habana, de Música Contemporánea in Cuba this November. At the invitation of festival director Guido López-Gavilán, this year’s festival will include a special concert on the fifth night of the Festival featuring the Cascadia Composer members' works.
The delegation will enjoy a six-day tour of Cuba; the highlight comes on November 17, 2016 when the NW composers take centerstage and their pieces are performed by some of Cuba’s most respected musicians inside the converted Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis (built in 1591). It has been almost six decades since American and Cuban composers and musicians have been able to participate in an exchange like this. This international arts exchange is organized with assistance from the LA-based organization Project Por Amor.
The six Northwest-based composers and a description of their selected compositions are listed below:
David Bernstein of Portland, OR, presents Late Autumn Moods and Images at the 2016 Cuban Festival. This piano trio reflects the variations seen during this season of transition. Exuberant, introspective, intense and even pleasantly relaxed, this piece contains moments of pure happiness and profound sadness. 
Daniel Brugh teaches piano and music composition in Beaverton OR. He has two pieces being presented in the Cuban festival: Fantasia is for the clarinet and tape, Reticulum is for a tenor voice and string Quartet.
Ted Clifford of Portland, OR presents his piece Child’s Play for two pianos in Cuba. Inspired by the idea of musical games engaged by dueling pianos, this involves a series of semi-programmatic pieces. There are three movements and accompanying texts about various children’s games which are turned into melodies. The playful nature is further emphasized by the use of bean bags on the piano strings and a toy melodica.

Art Resnick of Portland, OR received the 2015 composer of the year award for the Oregon Music Teachers Association and is a jazz pianist/composer by profession. He also composes modern classical pieces and recently completed Images of a Trip that will be presented to Cuban audiences at the festival. Images of a Trip is presented in five movements as a piano trio that includes the violin and cello. Each movement musically describes a scene from the trip: the departure is called, The Storm followed by Hiking the TrailWaltz (dancing around the evening fire), the peaceful Lake and finally, The Return.

Paul Safar of Eugene, OR composed A Trio of Dances for the piano, violin and cello. It was written during a humorous and humbling period in Paul’s life. An impromptu birthday basketball game, in flip-flops, left the composer with a broken foot and an infectious riff that later became the first movement.  His second piece, Cat on a Wire is for a solo cello and hand drum (a dumbek). It was originally performed with an aerial artist at the Oregon County Fair’s “Cat and Bird” show.
Jennifer Wright of Portland OR has two pieces being presented and they both fall into the wild and adventurous classical category. Looper is composed for one piano, eight hands! Four pianists sit cheek to jowl on two benches at one piano. Looper requires crossed hands keyboard acrobatics and careful timing to avoid getting in each other’s way or knocking each other off the bench. X Chromosome is generally played on five toy pianos but other instruments may be used for the Cuban performance. With X Chromosome Jennifer plays up her role as the only female composer in the delegation. She was intrigued by the “X” and its suggestions of intersection and the synchronicity of chance meetings.
In addition to the pieces presented in Cuba on November 17, 2016 as part of the Festival de La Habana, Cascadia Composers will also produce three Portland, OR area concerts. Early in 2017, Cascadia Composers will announce the names of the Cuban composers participating in the NW leg of the exchange. These Cuban composers will attend the two May concerts (details below). An October 2016 concert is also planned in Portland so American audiences not travelling to Cuba can get a sneak peek at the pieces being performed at the Festival de La Habana, de Música Contemporánea the following month.
To Cuba With Love, Por Amor: Sat. Oct. 15, 2016; 7:30 Portland State Univ., Lincoln Hall 75 This concert previews the Cascadia composers’ works performed by the Cuban musicians at the Festival de La Habana in November, 2016. General Admission Tickets are $20 and will be available for purchase in August through or at
Viva Cuba and the US!:  Fri.  May 19, 2017; 7:30 Portland, OR location TBD
The contemporary ensemble “Fear No Music” performs pieces by the eight visiting Cuban composers. They will attend that performance and a reception will follow. General Admission Tickets are $20 and will be available in 2017 at

From Cascadia With Love, Por Amor: Sat. May 20, 2017; 7:30 Portland OR location TBD
This concert is for the Cuban composer delegation and showcases compositions by Cascadia members, other than those previously heard at the festival in November of 2016. General Admission Tickets are $20 and will be available in 2017 at
In addition to the six Cascadia composers attending the November festival in Cuba; there is space for approximately 20 arts patrons and Cascadia composer supporters on the journey. Travel dates for this Patron Tour are Sunday, November 13 through Saturday November 19, 2016. Details and costs are available at or by contacting Sage Lewis at Project Por Amor in Los Angeles,
Interviews with the Northwest-based composers and photos are available upon request. Contact Jennifer Rice at the email and phone listed above.
About Cascadia Composers
Cascadia Composers is a non-profit membership chapter of NACUSA (National Association of Composers USA) based in Portland, Oregon and dedicated to the promotion and support of regional composers. Since its founding in 2008, Cascadia Composers has grown to be NACUSA’s largest chapter with over 70 members.  It has produced over 50 concerts, bringing to the stage more than 400 works of musical art by local and West Coast members. The group presents five to seven public concerts each year in collaboration with local musicians; included also are educational events and many community outreach programs. Cascadia members work in virtually every musical genre: chamber music, jazz, choral music, musical theater, electronic and electro-acoustic, world and orchestral music. Members include independent professionals, composer/educators and students. Together they foster a rich collaboration with local musicians, members share the benefit of being part of a regional community of composers who share common goals and aspirations.
About Festival de La Habana, de Música Contemporánea
Each November the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and the Cuban Institute of Music present the Festival de La Habana, de Música Contemporánea. Founded in 1984 and under the current direction of maestro Guido López-Gavilán, the festival is dedicated to various formats of contemporary music including chamber, vocal and instrumental. Unique concert settings inside the Historic Center of Havana include: the Minor Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Ernesto Lecuona salon inside the National Lyric Theater of Cuba, the San Felipe Neri Oratorio, the Ignacio Cervantes room and the theater inside the National Museum of Fine Arts.
About Project Por Amor
Project Por Amor (PPA) is an organization which harnesses the power of arts and culture to bring Cubans and Americans together. Through travel dialogue and artistic exchange PPA is committed to building a better future between our two close but distant societies. PPA’s network throughout the island puts them in the unique position to be able to arrange special travel exchanges for US arts organizations and individuals to understand Cuban culture and build meaningful relationships with the people. PPA designs custom delegations for US professionals to visit Cuba and pioneer new partnerships with its leading players. PPA is fully licensed by the US Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control to legally bring Americans to Cuba on People-to-People exchanges.

Today's Birthdays

Carl Reinecke (1824-1910)
Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993)
George Russell (1923)
Adam Faith (1940-2003)
James Levine (1943)
Nigel Osborne (1948)
Nicholas Cleobury (1950)
Sylvia McNair (1956)


Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)
Michael Shaara (1928-1988)
David Leavitt (1961)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Manfredini (1684-1762)
Étienne Nicolas Méhul (1763-1817)
Frank Heino Damrosch (1859-1937)
Jennie Tourel (1900-1973)
Walter Leigh (1905-1942)
Sir Peter Pears (1910-1986)
Hans-Hubert Schönzeler (1925-1997)
Pierre Thibaud (1929-2004)
Libor Pešek (1933)
Pierre Amoyal (1949)
Christopher Norton (1953)


Harriett Mulford Stone Lothrop (1844-1924)
Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970)
Joseph Papp (1921-1991)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Metropolitan Youth Symphony to give free Bon Voyage concert this Thursday at Director Park

From the press release:

Metropolitan Youth Symphony (MYS) kicks off its summer tour to China with a free noon concert at Director Park on June 23.  Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish opens the hour-long performance by the MYS Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Interim Music Director William White.  Repertoire will showcase music to be performed in China, and includes White’s Mulligan Overture, Weber’s Turandot Overture and Georges Bizet’s L’Arlésienne.  A highlight of the afternoon will be a performance of the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s infamous Violin Concerto by MYS Concerto Competition Winner, Cammie Lee.  

The Symphony Orchestra will spend 11 days in China, visiting Beijing, Tianjin and Qinhuangdao-Beidaihe.  As part of the American Celebration of Music in China, they will perform at the Central Music Conservatory Concert Hall in Beijing, Tianjin Concert Hall, Beidaihe People’s Cultural Theatre and at Juyong Pass on the Great Wall!  MYS students will participate in master classes led by professors at the Central Music Conservatory and in a collaborative concert and cultural exchange with two Beijing high schools. The days will be filled with music-making and experiencing the rich culture and history of China.  Performance abroad is a long-standing tradition at MYS that gives young people the unique opportunity to be global ambassadors through their music. Trips of the past have included tours to Central Europe, Russia, Japan, China, Scandinavia, and Italy.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795)
Harry Newstone (1921-2006)
Lalo Schifrin (1932)
Diego Masson (1935)
Philippe Hersant (1948)
Judith Bingham (1952)
Jennifer Larmore (1958)


Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1972)
Donald Peattie (1898-1964)
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
Mary McCarthy (1912-1989)
Ian McEwan (1942)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra to perform free concert on Wednesday at PSU

From the press release:

The award-winning youth ensemble Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra performs a program of music for string orchestra on Wednesday evening, June 22, 2016 at 7:30 pm at Portland State University’s Lincoln Recital Hall. Admission is free.

PACO’s Great Northwest Tour, celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding, features our talented 35-member strings-only chamber orchestra in a wide-ranging program of classical music by Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Schubert, Astor Piazzolla, Peter Heidrich and the world premiere of Anniversary Overture by PACO alum Camden Boyle.

Led by their music director Ben Simon, noted violin soloist and PACO alumna Robin Sharp, the orchestra will will perform the “Spring” movements from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Astor Piazzolla’s tango-inflected “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”. The first movement of Schubert’s dramatic string quartet in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”) will be paired with a set of humorous and virtuosic variations on “Happy Birthday” by Peter Heidrich.

PACO’s 50th Anniversary tour will bring the orchestra to venues from Redding, CA to Vancouver, BC, including the ensemble’s annual appearance on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Elizabethan Stage, co-sponsored by the OSF. This appearance in Portland is the orchestra’s first!

Today's Birthdays

Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)
Wilfred Pelletier (1896-1982)
Chet Atkins (1924-2001)
Ingrid Haebler (1926)
Eric Dolphy (1928-1964)
Arne Nordheim (1931-2010)
Mickie Most (1938-2003)
Brian Wilson (1942)
Anne Murray (1945)
André Watts (1946)
Lionel Richie (1949)


Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)
Lillian Hellman (1905-1984)
Vikram Seth (1952)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Today's Birthdays

François Rebel (1701-1775)
Johann Wenzel Stamitz (1717-1757)
Carl Zeller (1842-1898)
Alfredo Catalani (1854-1893)
Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915)
Guy Lombardo (1902-1977)
Edwin Gerschefski (1909-1988)
Anneliese Rothenberger (1926-2010)
Elmar Oliveira (1950)
Philippe Manoury 1952)


Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
Pauline Kael (1919-2001)
Tobias Wolff (1945)
Salman Rushdie (1947)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

OperaBend's world premiere of Via Lactea shows what a small-city opera can do

Emily Pulley
Last weekend OperaBend's truly audacious undertaking Via Lactea came to fruition. A world premiere by Bend author and librettist Ellen Waterston with music by Rebecca Oswald, it told the tale of a middle-aged woman's inward and outward journey as she seeks to reinvigorate her life by walking the ancient Camino de Santiago, (known in English as St. James' Way), a pilgrimage that has existed since the middle ages.

The vocal talent lined up was top notch; soprano Emily Pulley sang the role of the main character Peregrina. Pulley (who, like the librettist actually completed a pilgrimage on the Camino) infused Peregrina with an absolutely convincing and multi-faceted depth. Her singing was marvelous--clear, powerful, always emotionally and musically insightful and with pure diction. In a production with ups and downs in some key facets, Pulley's performance was the one sure thing throughout.

Also spectacular was mezzo Hannah Penn as Omniscient, a strange, phantasmic character who reveals insights and serves as a sort of guide to Peregrina. Penn's singing was as fine as I've ever heard it, which is saying something. Soprano Jocelyn Claire Thomas as Peggy was also noteworthy; she has a fine, bright soprano and lent the right verve and spunkiness to a character that could have been annoying and trite in the wrong hands.

Oswald's score was ambitious and by-and-large very engaging; unpretentious and true to the task. Oswald has some real skill as a composer. The first act was largely through-sung, featuring small, repetitive phrases that were sometimes slightly reminiscent of Phillip Glass.  In the hands of the fine principals the score came alive and revealed its imaginative nature. The text underlay was part of the fascination: not always predictable, and featuring humorous and original syncopations.  The choruses were the weakest part of the musical writing. Mostly present in the second half, they were often (though not always) block chord recitations that lost the lyrical charm of the writing for single voices.  The problem with the choruses lay not entirely with the composer, but more on that later.

The libretto and story were definitely a mixed bag. I found myself engrossed in Peregrina's story immediately. She was a very sympathetic character: a woman at a crossroads in her life, searching for something to give it meaning again. We find out much later that her husband has died, though it is clear from her soul searching that this is not the reason, nor maybe even the larger part of the reason that she is on a quest to rediscover herself in some fashion.

The libretto had some fine moments: "I have phoenixed before, and now again," says Peregrina as she prepares for her journey.  "How far must I go to come home?" she asks herself at another point. When she leaves on the journey and encounters her fellow pilgrims, there is a fascinating chorus where the pilgrims pace the stage in complex patterns, each revealing why they have come on the journey. Lest it take itself too seriously, the scene wherein the pilgrims bed down for the evening contains a moment where the lusty German tourist pre-apologizes to his compatriots because he tends to "snore and fart" when he sleeps. One of the finest moments of the production was Penn as the Stork, a symbol of good fortune along the Camino. She managed to be precise, avian, singing about hunting green frogs. Her modal singing was powerful and pure right down into a striking contralto range, and the presence of three dancers added to the pastoral yet somehow spooky scene.

Camino Woman, another fantastic character, who represents women inasmuch as they have been ignored, mistreated and otherwise abused by male-dominated religions over the millennia, was sung by Jeanne Wentworth. She and Peregrina provided a much-needed tongue-in-cheek moment when, upon first meeting and Peregrina begins waxing poetic about Camino Woman being the 'sacred feminine, ' the pure representation of the virgin Mary, etc, Camino Woman says 'let's not go too far' and they share a laugh.

And it was unfortunate that the story didn't take its own advice, because in the second half the story itself--Peregrina's voyage--largely became lost in a series of confusing choruses that were often symbolic or metaphoric moments that lay without the actual happenings of the journey along the Camino, intermixed with events such as Peregrina fighting off wild dogs, sharing a kiss with a fellow wanderer, and confronting the corrupt (though hilarious) priest at the Santiago de Compostela cathedral.

The choruses featured groups of singers in various guises quite often standing stock-still in groups declaiming at the audience, like too much voice-over narrative in a movie. There were a few (maybe a few too many) dancing numbers, which the orchestra sometimes struggled with and no one on stage really seemed to believe in. Many of the choruses felt as musically uninspiring as the narrative technique, though one chorus, 'Cold Mountain,' did stand out as a particularly fine one. It felt as though Peregrina's story got lost, degenerating into so much quasi-metaphysical argle-bargle--stock ideas like 'life always gives you what you need,' and 'you are what you hoped to be all along,' and other similar nonsense. Philosophical considerations aside, the second half was confusing and over-long--all the points had been made a half-hour before the music ended, and it felt like the second half was largely about making these spiritual points and less about a woman's journey, which is what fascinated me at the beginning.

So kudos to OperaBend! It was a daring venture and despite some warts, a deserving enterprise and an enjoyable evening. It takes a lot of chutzpah and incredible amounts of talent and hard work to premier an opera anywhere, and in a smaller community like Bend even more so. Having been a part of the Bend art music scene many years ago (including a role as a singing waiter in Juniper Opera's La Vie Parisienne), it was with a certain sense of home-town pride that I watched Via Lactea unfold. It's great to see how far opera in Central Oregon has come in the intervening years, and no doubt OperaBend will take it to exciting places in the future.

Today's Birthdays

Antonio Maria Bononcini (1677-1726)
Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831)
Sir George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987)
Edward Steuermann (1892-1964)
Manuel Rosenthal (1904-2003)
Paul McCartney (1942)
Hans Vonk (1942-2004)
Anthony Halstead (1945)
Diana Ambache (1948)
Eva Marton (1948)
Peter Donohoe (1953)


Geoffrey Hill (1932)
Jean McGarry (1948)
Chris Van Allsburg (1949)
Amy Bloom (1953)
Richard Powers (1957)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Today's Birthdays

John Wesley (1703-1791)
Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Hermann Reutter (1900-1985)
Einar Englund (1916-1999)
Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006)
Sir Edward Downes (1924)
Christian Ferras (1933-1982)
Gérard Grisey (1946-1998)
Derek Lee Ragin (1958)


M. C. Escher (1898-1972)
John Hersey (1914-1993)
Ron Padgett (1942)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Niccolò Vito Piccinni (1728-1800)
Helen Traubel (1899-1972)
Willi Boskovsky (1909-1990)
Sergiu Comissiona (1928-2005)
Lucia Dlugoszewski (1931-2000)
Jerry Hadley (1952-2007)
David Owen Norris (1953)


Joyce Carol Oates (1938)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Lachenmann's "The Little Match Girl" wanders off

Photo by Julia Lynn Photography
Hans Christian Anderson’s story of “The Little Match Girl” has captured the imagination of a number of contemporary artists, including composer Helmut Lachenmann, whose operatic interpretation of the story was presented at Spoleto Festival USA on Thursday (June 2). Although Lachenmann finished the work in 1997, the production that I experienced at Memminger Auditorium marked the opera’s premiere in the USA. It was a challenging production both sonically and visually, but though it had much to offer, in the end, it seemed to go wide of the mark.

Much of “The Little Match Girl” production was very unique. Fortunately, the steeply raked seating gave patrons an excellent view of the stage area below and in front of them. A very large orchestra surrounded the audience on all sides above the stage area and slightly above the top row of the audience. But this was not ordinary orchestra. It was augmented by two pianos (both with strings weighted down) and an array of electronic instruments that were overseen by six recording engineers. The last part of the opera featured a long solo passage by Chen Bo on the shō, a Japanese reed instrument that sounded like an subdued harmonica. The entire assemblage was conducted by John Kennedy whose gestures were projected via many monitors to the orchestra members who were not seated in front of him. 
Photo by Julia Lynn Photography
Anderson’s story of “The Little Match Girl” is very short and simple. A poor, young girl goes out on a cold, winter night to sell matches. She doesn’t want to return home without selling some because her father will beat her. As she gets colder and colder, she lights the matches to stay warm, and their glow makes her think of a Christmas tree with its lights and her loving grandmother. Just before she dies she asks her grandmother to take her to heaven.

Co-directed by Mark Down and Phelim McDermott, the inventive puppetry of Blind Summit Theatre and Improbable used a fast-paced combination of cue cards and silhouetted figures to convey the story. But Lachenmann injected a letter from Gudrun Ensslin, who was childhood friend of the composer and a core member of the anarchistic Baader-Meinholf Gang, into the matter. It was a very 70s polemic in which Ensslin railed against “the system,” and it disturbed the emotional content of story. Not long afterwards, singer/composer Adam Klein, dressed sort of like Hans Christian Anderson, appeared on stage and began to reciting in German from Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex Arundel,” but he recited the words in a halting method that broke each word into its syllables – thus rendering da Vinci’s text almost unintelligible. That was the most frustrating part of the one hour and forty five minute work. At least thirty people in the audience left the performance, and I might have joined them, but I just decided to persevere.

Photo by Julia Lynn Photography
Musically speaking, the orchestra created a vast array of unusual sounds. The strings produced a variety of sonic notions by bowing behind the bridge or on the tailpiece of their instrument. They also rubbed pieces of Styrofoam together to suggest the sound of snowfall. Plunks and planks were generated by the pianists Stephen Drury and Renate Rohlfing. Two sopranos, Heather Buck and Yuko Kakuta used tuning forks to find pitches that were all over the map. They also sang into the strings of the piano, and they slapped their cheeks, clicked their tongues, sang syllables rather than words, and created other extended effects that were, well, interesting. Their vocals were augmented by members of the Westminster Choir. No words were ever sung by any of the singers.

Photo by Julia Lynn Photography
The idea behind all of this, I think, was to put the audience inside the head of the little match girl. To get us to feel the coldness and aloneness that she felt. I didn’t get there, but I think that if the air conditioning had been turned up several notches, it might have done the trick. I have read that it takes more than one hearing of this piece to get the hang of Lachenmann’s opera. I would be willing to try it again, and if I ever do I will file another report. But after surviving the performance in Charleston, I did feel like have two really stiff martinis – to aid the recovery.

Today's Birthdays

Franz Danzi (1763-1826)
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Ernestine Schumann‑Heink (1861-1936)
Guy Ropartz (1864-1955)
Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981)
Sir Thomas Armstrong (1898-1994)
Otto Luening (1900-1996)
Geoffrey Parsons (1929-1995)
Waylon Jennings (1937-2002)
Harry Nilsson (1941-1994)
Paul Patterson (1947)
Rafael Wallfisch (1953)
Robert Cohen (1959)


Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827)
Saul Steinberg (1914-1999)
Dava Sobel (1947)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Simon Mayr (1763-1845)
John McCormack (1884-1945)
Heddle Nash (1894-1961)
Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976)
Stanley Black (1913-2002)
Theodore Bloomfield (1923-1998)
Natalia Gutman (1942)
Lang Lang (1982)


Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
John Bartlett (1820-1905)
Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971)
Ernesto (Che) Guevara de la Serna (1928-1967)
Mona Simpson (1971)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Elisabeth Schumann (1888-1952)
Carlos Chavez (1899-1978)
Alan Civil (1929-1989)
Gwynne Howell (1938)
Sarah Connolly (1963)
Alain Trudel (1966)


William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957)
William S. Burroughs (1914-1997)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Portland Opera delivers mesmerizing "Sweeney Todd"

Guest review by Nan Knight Haemer

Portland Opera’s performance of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” on opening night (June 3rd) at Keller Auditorium was a fantastic experience from beginning to end. The production featured a creative set and staging from the 1984 revival by New York City Opera, including Albert Sherman as Stage Director. Sherman was Hal Prince’s assistant for that 1984 revival of Sweeney. I truly did not notice that three hours went by!

My first take-away: Portland Opera’s orchestra performed Sondheim beautifully, accurately, and with feeling. The quality of playing by the orchestra and conducting by George Manahan wonderfully conveyed the rhythmically and texturally complex score. That allowed the singer/actors to become their roles, pulling the audience into a very dark but riveting story of revenge.

My second take-away: Susannah Mars is a beast of an actress/singer. She ruled as Mrs. Lovett, the sociopathic pie purveyor. Moving from sung to spoken dialogue seamlessly, naturally, and fluidly, Mars embodied this very complex woman - from hilarious and punny, to poignant, to murderous, just like a fully fleshed character should! No hint of caricature, a brilliant incarnation by Mars.

The lighting by Ken Billington could have easily killed the show by going too dark in a mostly brown, industrial world. However, all the actors/singers were lit well when “on” and the stagehands and supernumeraries required to MOVE the amazing set were in shadow when remaining on stage. That was very cool, requiring an immense choreography of lighting and staging. Opening night often has a few tiny bugs technically (a few spotlight issues, mic issues), but these were quickly fixed early on – an amazing achievement for such complicated staging.

A great cast and chorus made the singing of tough music look easy. The chorus opened the show by telling us to “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,” voice by voice, then all joining in. They didn’t get individual bows at the end as they are not “named” characters, which seemed a shame as some of the choristers were featured more than once.

David Pittsinger portrayed the title character superbly. You could hear every word, every inflection, every emotion in his deep, round, resonant voice, including amazing high notes that just kept going up and up and would have been out of range for most bass-baritones. His ability to emote vocally was beautiful. I found his acting a bit stilted though. I wasn’t sure if his oddly unnatural looking makeup and his stiff movements were a conscious choice on his part, directed that way, or just his style. I wanted his body to match his mellifluous and expressive voice more. I know the text of Sweeney is “his skin was pale and his eye was odd,” but the makeup stood out in its staginess too much for my taste.

Susanna Mars, as I said, is a beast. That’s a good thing, in case you misunderstand. Her role, Mrs. Lovett, could easily be a caricature of a tweaky woman. No. I think Mars fleshed her out (oh, the puns, the puns!) her role the best of any play or opera I have ever seen. She sang, she moved, she spoke, she WAS Mrs. Lovett, a totally likable and scary woman of business and sociopathy. Who needs cats when you can have a real meat pie of Priest? So funny, but then would turn on a dime and be tender with Toby (Steven Brennfleck) or Sweeney. She used the full palette of colors in her voice, screeching one moment and dark and warm the next. Her interplay with Toby in “Not While I’m Around” was mesmerizing. You could have heard a pin drop in the house at the end.

So we’ve heard of the two villains, what about the good guys?

Baritone Alexander Elliott as the sailor Anthony had me swooning and gave me chills of the delightful kind. He fit the role well physically, even more so with his gorgeous voice, but he was not just a one dimensional hero. He tore up the song “Johanna,” singing of his love for Johanna, portrayed by Katrina Galka. He began tenderly, sweet, heady and with beautiful low notes as well, despite Sondheim’s throwing in some very dissonant, creepy chords under the lovely melody. On the return of the refrain, Anthony’s determination and volume heightened to raise the hair on your arms, because you believed HE believed he could win, not in a sappy “everything will turn out” way, but because he was ready to fight for his love in a very dark world.

Galka’s Johanna was somewhat hampered by the microphones being a little low for the female leads in the first half. Galka’s lighter voice has a faster and wider vibrato than is easily heard in the Keller Auditorium. Unlike a straight opera, this show was mic’d, and the levels on the female voices and Toby were at times not optimal. After intermission the sound balance improved.

Anne Allgood played and sang the role of The Beggar Woman clearly and well. Like the turning central portion of the stage, parlor/barbershop/pie house, her role was pivotal and was well executed.

Super-pervy Judge Turpin (Kevin Burdette ) successfully creeped me out completely during the self-flagellation scene. I’m not sure that I needed to see an orgasm on stage while he lusts after his ward Johanna, but Burdette played an amoral abuser of self and others brilliantly. His voice and demeanor in the role fit it excellently – looking good on the outside, completely corrupt on the inside, leaking out over all, including his henchman, The Beadle, sung by tenor Marcus Shelton. High notes? Yes, Shelton has them! Holy cats, slightly whiny and piercing just like The Beadle should sound. Along with the ever-present supercilious smile, greasy and threatening alongside the darker Judge – that was a great pairing!

I found it a bit hard to hear Tobias (Toby), played by Steven Brennfleck, in the first half, but after intermission his mic levels were adjusted, revealing a sweet and light voice that was perfect for Toby, but I thought he was best at the end after he’s lost his mind: more vocal intensity and truer to his instrument and more naturally acted. It is not easy to do “insane” naturally, but Brennfleck did well.

The final take away for me, after reflecting on individuals and separate components of Sweeney Todd: The ensemble singing and acting was first class. I’ve sung Verdi ensembles and they are considered the most difficult. I’d say Sweeney is up there in difficulty in regards complexity and musical challenge

The seemingly effortless interplay between the characters made me less conscious of the fact that I was watching a production but rather entering a world – a fascinating and harsh world with really challenging music to sing – all the while striving to be clear with the text yet conveying the emotion. The entire Portland Opera production – scenery, costumes, lighting, music, stage direction, singing, and acting – were all on an even playing field, and that made us believe their reality as a whole.
Nan Knight Haemer is a professional singer and voice teacher.

Today's Birthdays

Vanni Marcoux (1877-1962)
Leon Goossens (1897-1988)
Maurice Ohana (1913-1992)
Ian Partridge (1938)
Chick Corea (1941)
Oliver Knussen (1952)


Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)
Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Djuna Barnes (1892-1982)
Anne Frank (1929-1945)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Antonio Bonporti (1672-1749)
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Shelly Manne (1920-1984)
Carlisle Floyd (1926)
Antony Rooley (1944)
Douglas Bostock (1955)
Conrad Tao (1994)


Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
William Styron (1925-2006)
Athol Fugard (1932)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Spoleto Festival USA makes colorful splash with new "Porgy and Bess"

Photo by Julia Lynn Photography
In celebration of its 40th anniversary and the newly renovated Gaillard Center, Spoleto Festival USA made a colorful splash with its production of “Porgy and Bess” on Wednesday, June 1st. The production, directed by David Herskovits, marked the first time that Gershwin’s opera about the cripple and the love of his life had been performed as part of the Festival and also the first time it had been done in Charleston since 1970, closing a pretty big hole since the opera’s story originated in Charleston. A lot of the splash in the performance I saw was caused by visual designer Jonathan Green, who envisioned the costumes and scenery in vibrant hues rather than the drab ones that are typically seen in “Porgy and Bess” productions. Adding to the excitement was an exceptional cast of principals, who sang with utmost conviction and intensity. Unfortunately, the audience was hampered in understanding the lyrics (written by DuBose Heywood and Ira Gershwin) because no supertitles were used.

Photo by Julia Lynn Photography
It would be difficult to overstate the entirely new visual aspect of the Spoleto Festival USA production. Green, a native of Charleston’s Gullah community, didn’t want to present the characters in the typical, downtrodden way that most of us associate with “Porgy and Bess.” Instead, he chose vivid colors that were inspired by West African culture. The houses along Catfish Row, created by designer Carolyn Mraz, exuded a colorful charm. Most of the costumes, designed by Annie Simon, blended an African style with a typical middle-class American style from the Twenties. Only Crown, during his time as an outcast on Kittiwah Island, and Bess, after she returned from her encounter with Crown, wore clothing that was torn and disheveled.
Photo by Julia Lynn Photography
The uplifting scenery worked well for the most part, but the hurricane scene didn’t have the fearful, claustrophobic effect that would’ve upped the ante. Also, the courtyard featured a large, curved, fountain-like basin that was apparently dry and barren in the first half of the opera but out of which sprouted a huge palm tree in the second half. A nice touch was the church steeples in the background, of which the highest was the steeple that belonged to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was a nod to the church where the massacre of parishioners took place last year. (That church, by the way, is just a couple of blocks from the Galliard Center.)
Photo by Julia Lynn Photography
Herskovits’s directions moved the large cast pretty well around the stage, but it seemed that the pacing of the production slowed down too much because almost none of the music was cut. So the chorus, in particular, had to stand about at times, without much to do. The fight between Crown and Robbins was one of the best I’ve ever seen, but Porgy’s strangling of Crown was not as convincing.

All of the principals’ voices surged with power and emotion, led by Lester Lynch as Porgy. Alyson Cambridge’s Bess broke a lot of hearts with her impassioned singing. Eric Greene created an intimidating presence as Crown. In the role of Sportin’ Life, Victor Ryan Robertson had a high-stepping field day except when he was threatened with by Lisa Dalitrus’s growling Maria. Sidney Outlaw’s Jake conveyed a welcoming sense of optimism. Indra Thomas wailed with Biblical conviction in role of Clara. In lesser roles, Courtney Johnson distinguished herself as Serena and Ivan Griffin as Robbins.

One of the unusual features of this production was the African-American chorus, which consisted of members from the John C. Smith University Concert Choir, expertly prepared by Chorus Master Duane Davis. Conducted energetically by Stefan Asbury, the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra got into the grand, jazzy-ragtimey nature of the music, displaying terrific dynamics range.

Over the past several years, $142 million was spent on the renovation of Gaillard Center, transforming the rundown auditorium into an impressive hall that seats 1,800. It has a horseshoe shape, but almost all of the seating is on the orchestra level, which slopes gently to an orchestra pit that generously accommodated the large orchestra needed for “Porgy and Bess.” All six performances of the Spoleto Festival USA production sold out two weeks after the tickets went on sale; so the Festival added a free simulcast plus a rebroadcast over the radio.

The acoustic of the hall was lively but the large voices just rolled in waves that made the text unintelligible a lot of the time. Supertitles would have fixed that problem and elevated the level of enjoyment. If Spoleto Festival USA ever decides to release a video of the production, it should include them.

Today''s Birthdays

Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900)
Frederick Loewe (1904-1988)
Ralph Kirkpatrick (1911-1984)
Bruno Bartoletti (1925-2013)
Mark-Anthony Turnage (1960)


Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)
Terence Rattigan (1911-1977)
Saul Bellow (1915-2005)
James Salter (1925-2015)
Maurice Sendak (1928-2012)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Otto Nicolai (1810-1849)
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Cole Porter (1891-1964)
Dame Gracie Fields (1898-1979)
Ingolf Dahl (1912-1970)
Les Paul (1915-2009)
Franco Donatoni (1927-2000)
Charles Wuorinen (1938)
Ileana Cotrubas (1939) 


George Axelrod (1922-2003)
Patricia Cornwell (1956)

and from the New Music Box:
On June 9, 1836, the Styrian Musik-Verein sponsored a concert in Vienna devoted to the American landscape-inspired music of emigré composer Anthony Philip Heinrich, the self-described "Beethoven of Kentucky" who is often cited as a precursor to the contemporary American maverick tradition. Although Heinrich claimed that there were not enough musicians available to properly perform his work, which often features up to 40 independent compositional lines, the concert was his greatest success in Europe and the earliest international success of an American-based composer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Violinist-impresario Nuttall stirs informal fun into Spoleto chamber music series

St. Lawrence String Quartet with Stephen Prutsman - Photo by William Struhs 
I’ve got to hand it to Geoff Nuttall for creating an informal and fun way to share chamber music with audiences. Nuttall has a wonderfully engaging stage presence, a strong voice that projects easily, humorous anecdotes that are short and to the point, and a welcoming style that draws people in. Now in his seventh season as the Director for Chamber Music at Spoleto Festival USA, Nuttall introduced the Bank of America Chamber Music concerts I heard with a much-need gusto that kicked all stuffiness aside.
Osvaldo Golijov - Photo by William Struhs
The chamber music concerts at Spoleto Festival USA are typically 75-minute affairs that start at 11 am or 1 pm at the intimate Dock Street Theatre. The morning program on Wednesday (June 1) started with “Lullaby and Doina” by Osvaldo Golijov, who happened to be in the house. So Nuttall invited Golijov on the stage to talk about his music. He explained that he wrote “Lullaby and Doina” as a suite of some of the themes from the music that he wrote for the film, “The Man Who Cried.” The inner voices of the lullaby section reflected the melody from a famous duet in Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” while the outer voices played a melody that Golijov invented. The second theme, “Doina,”he said would be a “gallop.” And so it was. The performers delivered the piece exactly as Golijov described. Evocative playing by flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, clarinetist Todd Palmer, violinists Owen Dalby and Geoff Nuttall, violist Daniel Phillips, cellist Christopher Costanza, bassist Anthony Manzo, and harpsichordist Pedja Muzijevic superbly contrasted the relaxed tempo of the first part of the piece with the pell-mell dash in the second.

Next came two Handel pieces: “Where’er You Walk” from “Semele” and “Why Do the Nations” from the “Messiah,” both of which were sung outstanding by baritone Tyler Duncan, accompanied by Nuttall and Dalby (violins), Phillips (viola), Costanza (cello), Manzo (double bass), and Muzijevic (harpsichord). Duncan maintained excellent diction in both pieces which contrasted superbly from the stately, soft, and sublime aria from “Semele” to the fiery, fast, and furious blast from the “Messiah.” But just before the instrumental ensemble could wrap up the last few measures of “Why Do the Nations,” everything was interrupted by a piping bassoon sound from offstage. At first, no one could tell if it was a weird cell phone call or some kind of unique plumbing incident, but onto the stage walked bassoonist Peter Kolkay who was playing the third movement from Gordon Beeferman’s “Occupy Bassoon,” a perky, insistent rant that caused chuckles here and there from the a listeners. After Kolkay finished, the Nuttall and company resumed playing the last bars of the Handel, and all the players stood side by side to enjoy the enthusiastic applause.

According to Nuttall, Haydn wrote his Divertimento in C Major (Hob. II:11 “Der Geburtstag”) for the birthday of a violinist who was married another violinist, and it showed off some of the clever interplay between them. Those parts were played by Livia Sohn and Phillips, and they were joined by O’Connor (flute), James Austin Smith (oboe), Costanza (cello), Manzo (double bass), and Muzijevic (piano) – all of whom accentuated the playfulness of the music.

The final piece on the program was the “Trio pathéthique” in D Minor by Glinka. Nuttall introduced this piece by explaining how Glinka was forced to end a budding relationship with a young lady because her father wouldn’t allow it. In response, Glinka wrote an emotionally effusive piece, the “Trio pathéthique” to express his pain, and, as Nuttall maintained, the music could be thought of as an exchange of arias between the clarinetist (the gal) and the bassoonist (the guy); so he encouraged the audience to applaud, if so moved, at the end of each aria.

Nuttall’s idea worked pretty well, but the evocative playing by clarinetist Palmer and bassoonist Kolkay, accompanied by pianist Muzijevic just didn’t create a transcendent moment. Palmer played an arching high note that was slightly shrill during one of his arias. Kolkay created some superb moments, but they were not always balanced well during the duets. The audience didn’t mind, though and applauded enthusiastically. Perhaps I was wishing too much for voices to sing some words of desperation and despair.

Palmer and Kolkay fared much better at the chamber music concert the next afternoon (Thursday, June 2) at the Dock Street Theatre when they opened the program with Poulenc’s Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon. They excelled with the mercurial and playfulness of the first movement, and followed that with a sublimely tender and quiet second. In the third, they displayed a variety of intriguing harmonies that only Poulenc could write before wrapping things up with a flare.

Before playing the world premiere of “Anniversary Bagatelles,” Nuttall explained that Golijov had written the piece in honor of Nuttall and Sohn’s 15th wedding anniversary and how they were married in the backyard of one Spoleto’s main sponsors in Charleston. He then invited Golijov to the stage to talk about the piece, which is based on two bagatelles (op 126, Nos. 2 and 5) of Beethoven. Golijov remarked how Beethoven had so much experience when he wrote his bagatelles yet could still experience life like a child. Golijov’s arrangement converted the bagatelles from piano to two violins. One of the most entertaining parts of the piece was how Sohn and Nuttall returned each other’s volleys – kind of like a tennis match. During a quiet movement, a cell phone went off and Nuttall said something like “Thank God, it wasn’t Livia’s mother.” That cracked up Sohn and she laughed for quite a while before recovering her focus. They finished the piece with Sohn balancing a high note against a lower one from Nuttall.

Before embarking on Fauré’s Piano Quintet No. 1 in D Minor (op. 89), Nuttall mentioned that the piece modulates from one key to the next 79 times before it finishes. After pianist Stephen Prutsman demonstrated some of the key changes, Nuttall compared it to running around a baseball diamond in with 79 bases instead of four. The nifty comparison got a lot of heads nodding in the audience, but that quickly turned to chuckles as Prutsman and the St. Lawrence String Quartet (violinists Nuttall and Dalby, violist Lesley Robertson, and cellist Costanza) tuned by constantly changing keys until they settled on D minor. The ensemble then plunged into the sunny first movement with élan, reveling in the lush sonic plumage. After playing a dreamy, slow second movement, which seemed to conclude on a thick downy cushion, the ensemble picked up the pace with an extended pizzicato section before seguing into passages that were darker and heavier and a robust and exciting finale.

The last piece on the program was Golijov’s “Last Round,” which Nuttall remarked had the comment “Macho Cool and Dangerous” written by Golijov at the beginning as a guide for the instrumentalists. Golijov came on stage to explain how the tango-driven piece was inspired by Astor Piazzolla’s “My Beloved Buenos Aires.” To paraphrase Golijov, “Last Round” is basically a tango between two quartets. The ensemble consisted of violinists Nuttall, Dalby, Benjamin Beilman, and Sohn, violists Robertson and Phillips, cellists and Costanza and Alisa Weilerstein, and bassist Manzo. Manzo was in the middle of the two quartets and he had to play to both sides. The musicians really dug into the sliding tones and ratcheted up the tempo, so that the piece was rocking and rolling. The furious bow action resulted in some serious shredding of horse hairs from the bows – in particular Weilerstein’s. The group created a soulfully somber ending that totally connected with the listeners who erupted with a standing ovation. Everyone seemed to leave the hall in an elevated mood.

Today's Birthdays

Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1750)
Nicolas Dalayrac (1753-1809)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942)
Reginald Kell (1906-1981)
Emanuel Ax (1949)


Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
John W Campbell (1910-1970)

and from the New Music Box:
On June 8, 2002, Meet The Composer presented The Works, a 12-hour hour marathon concert of MTC commissioned music from Noon to Midnight at the Southern Theatre in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

La Double Coquette puts new twist on Baroque opera at Spoleto Festival USA

L-R: Damon (Robert Getchell), Florise (Isabelle Poulenard), and Clarice (Maïlys de Villoutreys) - Photo by William Struhs 
Adding a new twist to an old opera, “La Double Coquette” delightfully turned the tables at Spoleto Festival USA (Charleston, South Carolina) where I took in the performance on Tuesday, May 31st, at the Dock Street Theatre. “La Double Coquette” is based on “La Coquette trompée” (The Coquette Deceived”), an opera that was written in 1753 by Antoine Dauvergne with a libretto by Charles-Simon Favart. Composer Gérard Pesson reworked the original score, making made 32 “additions” in a refreshing Stravinsky-neo-classical style that slipped seamlessly into the Baroque tradition. Contemporary librettist Pierre Alferi injected new lyrics that changed the direction of the story so that the ending would speak to today’s audiences.
Photo by William Struhs
In the plot of “La Double Coquette,” Florise (Isabelle Poulenard) loves Damon (Robert Getchell), who has taken up with Clarice (Maïlys de Villouyreys). To win Damon back, Florise takes on the guise of a man and tries to lure Clarice away from Damon, but she ends up falling in love with her rival and her rival with her. Damon gets left out, and he accepts it with a shrug. The moral of the story, disclosed in the finale: “If identity is only décor/Liberation is what bodies are for.”

Sung in French (with super titles to aid the audience) and directed by Fanny De Chaillé, the one-act performance (75 minutes) featured the principals sharing the stage with the instrumental ensemble Amarillis, which was led by Violaine Cochard and Héloïse Gaillard.

Photo by William Struhs
Crisp articulation, pinpoint intonation, and emotional directness – sometimes tongue-in-cheek – were hallmarks of the singers, who wore fanciful costumes created by Annette Messager. Email on a tablet – revealing Damon’s alliance with Clarice – was the only prop used. Members of Amarillis wore masks and played with verve, making the scattered dissonant tones seem natural.

This is the first revised Baroque opera I have ever seen, and it bodes well for composers and librettists who are undertaking similar revisions. I wonder what’s next.
Photo by William Struhs