Monday, October 31, 2016

Thumb-driven piano music by R P Collier

In this thumb-driven age, a tiny piano that you can play with your digits, seems appealing. RP Collier is a Portland-based composer/artist who has created a number of unique instruments and musical pieces for them, drawing inspiration from jazz and African music. You can hear and see RP Collier's creations on YouTube, and you can check out his latest at this web site.

Today's Birthdays

August Everding (1928-1999)
Colin Tilney (1933)
Odaline de la Martinez (1949)
Naji Hakim (1955)


Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)
John Keats (1795-1821)
Susan Orlean (1955)

from The New Music Box:

On October 31, 1896, the Boston Symphony premiered the Gaelic" Symphony in E Minor by Mrs. H.H.A. Beach (Amy Marcy Cheney Beach), the first symphony by an American woman ever publicly performed.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Today's Birthdays

André Messager (1853-1929)
Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953)
Alfred Einstein (1880-1952)
Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987)
Sir David Willcocks (1919-2015)
Bruno Canino (1935)
June Anderson (1950)
Antonio Pappano (1959)


John Adams (1735-1826)
Theodor Fontane (1819-1898)
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
Fred W. Friendly (1915-1998)
Robert Caro (1935)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Colin Currie and the Oregon Symphony careen about the funhouse with “Switch”

Whenever you see a hedge row of percussion instruments lined up along the front of the stage at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, you know that Colin Currie is in town. Sure enough, the intrepid, world-class drummer sprang in from off-stage to a lively and witty performance of Andrew Norman’s “Switch” with the Oregon Symphony on Monday evening (October 24nd).

In “Switch,” written in 2015, Currie had to dance between stations of his percussion battery. At one moment, he commanded a marimba, wood blocks, bells, and tin cans. Then he would jump to an impressive ensemble of tom toms, snare drum, bass drum, and cymbals, and then quickly move to another group that consisted of gongs, xylophone, wood blocks and a drum. According to the program notes, the dynamics that Currie, and even the other musicians, played were determined at times by snapping slapsticks from members of the orchestra’s percussion section. The snapping sound was the “switch” that signaled what to do. Often he had to react quickly and that meant figuring out where he was in the score that placed on three music stands in three different places. Yikes!

Despite ricocheting around, Currie seemed to be enjoying himself while using his virtuosic talent to create all sorts of fascinating sounds, many of which were mezzo-piano or softer. The orchestra had a major role, because it also expressed an eclectic assortment of passages that often careened from short blasts to uninhibited wagga waggas to mini-glissandos. Just when you thought you knew what was going on, something unexpected would happen – sort of like a conversation run amok but in a good way.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Richard Strauss’s “Ein Heldenleben” (“A Hero’s Life”), which the orchestra played with gusto and wry insight. Highlights included the grand opening statement, the chattering and bickering woodwinds, pulsating brass, and glistening strings. The nine French horns, led by John Cox, sounded terrific as did the offstage trumpets. At one point, the flutes impressively sneaked into the picture from out of nowhere, and Kyle Mustain’s expressive playing of the English horn was exceptional. But the best solos were delivered by Concertmaster Sarah Kwak, who elicited the wonderful warmth and playfulness – especially the little zings at ends of some phrases – of the hero’s wife.

The concert began with Christopher Rouses’s “Supplica,” (composed in 2013), which left an indelible impression because of its lovely subtleties, depth, and sublime emotional content. It was a slow moving piece that seemed to expand and contract in a way that was similar to breathing. There was a sense of tragedy that got resolved and moved into a space resembling prayer. It was a very remarkable performance. Music Director Carlos Kalmar and the orchestra seemed to find a personal space that reached out to each individual in the audience. At the start of the concert, President Scott Showalter remarked that the concert was being recorded for a future CD release. I really hope that “Supplica” is on that recording.

Today's Birthdays

Harold Darke (1888-1976)
Vivian Ellis (1904-1996)
Václav Neumann (1920-1995)
Jon Vickers (1926-2015)
James Dillon (1950)
Lee Actor (1952)
James Primosch (1956)


James Boswell (1740-1795)
Henry Green (1905-1973)
David Remnick (1958)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Giuditta Pasta (1797-1865)
Howard Hanson (1896-1981)
Dame Cleo Laine (1927)
Carl Davis (1936)
Howard Blake (1938)
Kenneth Montgomery (1943)
Naida Cole (1974)


Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)
John Harold Hewitt (1907-1987)
Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
John Hollander (1929-2013)
Anne Perry (1938)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Today's Birthdays

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


Lee Krasner (1908-1994)
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)
Zadie Smith (1975)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612)
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972)
György Pauk (1936)
Christine Brewer (1955)
Natalie Merchant (1963)
Sakari Oramo (1965)


Andrei Bely (1880-1934)
Napoleon Hill (1883-1970)
John Arden (1930-2012)
Andrew Motion (1952)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Almost enough grim in Seattle Opera's Hansel and Gretel

Sasha Cooke and Ashley Emerson. Photo by Philip Newton
When thinking of an opera that suits the Halloween season, Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel is a natural fit. Profound juxtapositions abound: the harvest season and the coming scarcity of winter, the gaiety of childhood under the specter of poverty, hunger when there is so much food nearby. Seattle Opera's performance at McCaw Hall on October 22 began with great promise, but ultimately the production yielded a mixed bag in terms of interpretation and overall effectiveness.

The musical performances were wonderful. Sasha Cooke as Hansel was especially arresting vocally--her delivery was rich and profound--a real pleasure to hear. Ashley Emerson joined as Gretel, and between the two they were extremely convincing as children--at times playful, bratty, unreasonably frenetic, strangely calm. There was no 'buy-in' to them as children--it simply felt natural. Marcy Stonikas as Gertrude imparted a sense of verismo as to the grinding effect of poverty--blinding anger and crushing weight were evident in her portrayal, as was ecstatic joy at the bounty of food that Peter brings home.  Mark Walters as Peter was excellent as well--his rolling, easy baritone formed the foundation of the effable father, and yet when he began singing about stories of the witch, he brought out the most in Humperdinck's score, reveling in the sense of creeping menace--infectious, inviting somehow.

Marcy Stonikas. Photo by Jacob Lucas
It was the non-delivery on this promise of menace that rendered the production less poignant than it otherwise could have been. Barbara de Limburg's sets right from the start pointed to something that could be special; giant images of duct-tape over a rag-tag curtain, the house an immense, ramshackle cardboard box with falling down walls--unflinching images of severe shortage and its effect on people's lives pointed toward a profound interpretation.  The sets continued to impress: the forest, tumbledown and barren of leaf or green, fit with the image of sparsity, and when coupled with the imperceptible creep of twilight, the children huddling in a pool of light with the darkling woods just behind, it set up for what should have been the fulfillment of the promise of a dark and disturbing happening.

John Easterlin as The Witch did a fine job within the confines of the production. His cackle was baudy and grating, and he warmed into the humor of the role as the final act moved on, and as the action moved toward its conclusion he did look disturbing--bald and frowzy and uncomfortable to look at. But somehow it never felt as if the children were really in peril--the candy house was imaginative, looking as though it were made of shelves of goodies from a box store with every sweet and soda imaginable. But it was confusing as to where the oven was--difficult to figure out why the witch kept climbing to the top of the house, and all the action happened outside of the house, which was really just a large object on stage, so it was only just before the witch was pushed into the oven that it became apparent where it was.

The final set, while eye-catching, was confusing in terms of the action, and the the witch  was portrayed as nonsensical and slapstick without enough believable predatory intent. That coupled with the sense that the children in the finale were essentially not scared (or not scared enough) of the witch led to the let-up on the promise of a dark ending--and make no mistake, a child forced into burning alive an evil witch in order to avoid being cannibalized is a dark ending--yet somehow by the end it just didn't feel that way.

Today's Birthdays

Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623)
Johann Strauss II (1825-1899)
Georges Bizet (1838-1875)
Galina Vishnevskaya (1926-2012)
Peter Lieberson (1946)
Diana Burrell (1948)
Colin Carr (1957)
Midori (1971)


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

Monday, October 24, 2016

Reviews of Portland Opera productions in Opera magazine

My reviews of "The Magic Flute" and "The Italian Girl in Algiers" with a brief introduction to Portland Opera's new summer season have been published in the November edition of Opera (UK). Brian Kellow's review of "Eugene Onegin" is also in that issue.

Today's Birthdays

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


Moss Hart (1904-1961)
Denise Levertov (1923-1997)
Norman Rush (1933)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Albert Lortzing (1801-1851)
Denise Duval (1921-2016)
Ned Rorem (1923)
Lawrence Foster (1941)
Toshio Hosokawa (1955)
"Weird Al" Yankovic (1959)
Brett Dean (1961)


Robert Bridges (1844-1930)
Johnny Carson (1925-2005)
Nick Tosches (1949)
Laurie Halse Anderson (1961)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Today's Birthdays

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


John Reed (1887-1920)
Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

From the Writer's Almanac:
It was on this day in 1883 that the Metropolitan Opera House opened with a performance of Faust. The opera was based on Goethe's German poem, and it was composed in French, but it was sung in Italian. The New Yorkers who designed the opera house wanted it to have an Italian feel, so they had it built with a palazzo on Broadway, and Italian was the language of choice.

There was already an opera house in New York, the Academy of Music, near Union Square. It was one of the main gathering places of the city's high society, who watched each other from the opera boxes as eagerly as they watched the opera itself. But there were only 18 opera boxes at the Academy of Music, and in the 1870s a whole generation of industrial millionaires were emerging in New York. These nouveau riche were not so welcome at the Academy of Music, or in any of the social circles of old money. But they wanted a place to display themselves, so they decided to build their own opera house. Seventy people got together and pooled $1.7 million to buy land and build a concert hall. They put in three levels with 36 box seats in each, more than enough for everyone.

In The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton wrote:
"On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

"Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote metropolitan distances 'above the Forties,' of a new Opera House which should compete in costliness and splendor with those of the great European capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy. Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thus keeping out the 'new people' whom New York was beginning to dread and yet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung to it for its historic associations, and the musical for its excellent acoustics, always so problematic a quality in halls built for the hearing of music."

Friday, October 21, 2016

Today's Birthdays

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


Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896)
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Charles Ives (1874-1954)
Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941)
Alfredo Campoli (1906-1991)
Adelaide Hall (1909-1993)
Robert Craft (1923-2015)
Jacques Loussier (1934)
William Albright (1944-1998)
Ivo Pogorelich (1958)
Leila Josefowicz (1977)


Christopher Wren (1632-1723)
Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)
John Dewey(1859-1952)
Robert Pinsky (1940)
Elfriede Jelinek (1946)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

San Francisco Opera’s “The Makropulos Case” a timely affair with great soprano Nadja Michael

©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Humans have always had the desire to live forever. Even today there are those wealthy enough to have their bodies frozen in a cryogenic state and others who fervently believe that the wizards of Silicon Valley will preserve them digitally. Leoš Janáček’s opera, “The Makropulos Case” addresses the desire for eternal youth head on, and San Francisco Opera’s masterful production on opening night (October 14) was a timely reminder that it’s a good thing that our lives are finite.

Based on a play by Karel Čapek, “The Makropulos Case” revolves around the life of opera singer Emila Marty, who drank a special elixir when she was a child. The strange thing is that that happened during the time of the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf and the concoction has allowed her to live for 300 years. At the outset of the opera, set in the 1920s, Marty is 337 years old, even though she doesn’t look a day over 30. However, she knows that her time is up and she will die unless she can get her hands on the document that contains the formula for the potion. The document was placed in a home of one of her former lovers and that estate is tied up in an interminable legal case. By the time that Marty receives the document, she realizes that her life doesn’t have any meaning and existing for another 300 years would only bring more boredom and loneliness.

Olivier Tambosi oversaw the staging of the San Francisco Opera production, which the company premiered in 2010 in a co-commision with Finnish National Opera. German soprano Nadja Michael gave a captivating performance as Marty, the ageless opera diva. She prowled on top of the lawyer’s desk and a bed mattress, daring men with her haughty beauty. Dazzling also was Michael’s opulent voice, which was mesmerizing throughout the evening.

The men who swirled about Marty were exceptional across the board. In the role of Albert Gregor, Charles Workman convincingly pled with her to love him but to no avail. Stephen Powel created a suave Baron Jaroslav Prus who nevertheless was transfixed by her. Dale Travis mixed skepticism and gravitas in his portrayal of Dr Kolenatý. Joel Sorensen’s soaring tenor fit the role of Vítek perfectly, and Brenton Ryan’s Janek conveyed a believable naiveté. In the role of Count Hauk-Šendorf, Matthew O’Neill colored his passion for Marty with a web of reverie.

Julie Adams created a convincingly naïve Kristina who was totally enthralled with the famous Marty. In lesser roles, Latvian mezzo Zanda Švēde and Brad Walker sang with distinction.
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Except for the first act, which featured a huge bookcase stuffed with books and manuscripts, Frank Philipp Schlössman’s sets were minimalistic yet evocative. All of the sets included a large illuminated clock that reminded the audience of the passage of time in the story as well as the exact time of the performance (no need to look at a watch or cell phone). Schlössman’s costumes were traditional with the Michael standing out in the first act, pacing about in a white dress and short platinum blonde hair, which reminded me of Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct.”

The orchestra, guided by conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov conquered Janáček’s tricky score although there were a couple of shaky entrances. The offstage brass ensemble elicited the time of Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf II. Overall, the music shifted wonderfully between lyricism and a propulsive dynamic thrust and is worth hearing again and again.

Today's Birthdays

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


Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)
Auguste Lumière (1862-1954)
Miguel Ángel Asturias (1899-1974)
Jack Anderson (1922-2005)
John le Carré (David John Moore Cornwell) (1931)
Philip Pullman (1946)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Luca Marenzio (1553-1599)
Lotte Lenya (1898-1981)
Alexander Young (1920-2000)
Egil Hovland (1924-2013)
Chuck Berry (1926)
Wynton Marsalis (1961)


Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811)
Henri Bergson (1859-1941)
A. J. Liebling (1904-1963)
Rick Moody (1961)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Today's Birthdays

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


Georg Büchner (1813-1837)
Nathanael West (1903-1940)
Arthur Miller (1915-2005)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1933 that Albert Einstein officially moved to the United States to teach at Princeton University. He had been in California working as a visiting professor when Hitler took over as chancellor of Germany. Einstein’s apartment in Berlin and his summer cottage in the country were raided, his papers confiscated, and his bank accounts closed. He returned to Europe and handed in his German passport, renouncing his citizenship. He considered offers from all over the world, including Paris, Turkey, and Oxford. Einstein eventually decided on Princeton, which offered him an attractive package teaching at its Institute for Advanced Study — but he had his hesitations about the university. For one thing, it had a clandestine quota system in place that only allowed a small percentage of the incoming class to be Jewish. The Institute’s director, Abraham Flexner, was worried that Einstein would be too directly involved in Jewish refugee causes, so he micromanaged Einstein’s public appearances, keeping him out of the public eye when possible. He even declined an invitation for Einstein to see President Roosevelt at the White House without telling the scientist. When Einstein found out, he personally called Eleanor Roosevelt and arranged for a visit anyway, and then complained about the incident in a letter to a rabbi friend of his, giving the return address as “Concentration Camp, Princeton.” In 1938, incoming freshmen at Princeton ranked Einstein as the second-greatest living person; first place went to Adolf Hitler.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Today's Birthdays

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


Noah Webster (1758-1843)
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Eugene O'Neill (1886-1953)
Günter Grass (1927-2015)
Thomas Lynch (1948)

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

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Dag Wirén (1905-1985)
Harold Blumenfeld (1923-2014)
Karl Richter (1926-1981)
Barry McGuire (1935)
Suzanne Murphy (1941)
Peter Phillips (1953)


Virgil (70 B.C.E.- 19 B.C.E.)
Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)
Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844-1900)
P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975)
Varian Fry (1907-1967)
John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007)
Italo Calvino (1923-1985)
Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Alexander Zimlinsky (1871-1942)
Gary Graffman (1928)
Rafael Puyana (1931-2013)
Enrico di Giuseppe (1932-2005)
Sir Cliff Richard (1940)
Kaija Saariaho (1952)


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

and from The Writer's Almanac:

Theodore Roosevelt was shot at a campaign stop on this date in 1912. Roosevelt had just gotten into a car outside a Milwaukee hotel when John Schrank, an unemployed saloonkeeper, shot him with a Colt revolver from a distance of five feet. Schrank — who believed he had been given orders by the ghost of President McKinley — had been stalking Roosevelt, and intended to stop him from pursuing a third term as president. It had been an ugly campaign so far, with deep division in the Republican Party. Roosevelt left the GOP and ran as a member of the National Progressive, or “Bull Moose,” Party.
The crowd tackled the shooter, but Roosevelt’s composure was not ruffled in the least. He asked Schrank why he’d done it, and turned the man over to the police when he received no answer. Roosevelt then coughed experimentally into his hand, and deduced that the bullet had not penetrated his lungs, because he didn’t cough up any blood. He insisted on proceeding to the Milwaukee Auditorium, where he delivered a 90-minute speech as scheduled.
He began by calling for quiet, and then told the stunned crowd: “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot — but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” He opened his coat to reveal his bloodstained shirt, and credited the 50-page speech in his breast pocket for saving his life. Roosevelt blamed the media for provoking the shooter: “It is a very natural thing,” he said, “that weak and vicious minds should be inflamed to acts of violence by the kind of awful mendacity and abuse that have been heaped upon me for the last three months by the papers.” He also predicted that such shootings would become more commonplace, should the government fail to care for the well-being of all its citizens.
In the end, Roosevelt came in second to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. He received 27 percent of the vote, the most any third-party candidate has received in an American presidential election. Schrank’s bullet remained lodged in Roosevelt’s rib for the rest of his life.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Incredible performance by Hamelin of Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto blows roof off

Photo by Fran Kaufman
It would be hard to rein in the superlatives when attempting to describe Marc-André Hamelin’s performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Oregon Symphony on Saturday evening (October 8). Electrifying, heartrending, sublime, off-the-charts… all would apply. Hamelin climbed into the music and delivered an astounding interpretation of the piece, considered one of the demanding piano concertos in the repertoire. One of the most outstanding elements of his playing was how he could bring out the colors of each phrase. Some passages were brilliant and sparkly, others dreamy and soft as a pillow, and the somber, dark tones that rumbled in the basement resonated into every corner of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

What struck me most of all, was how Hamelin could shape the music so that it took us on a journey with a destination. Passages connected naturally to each other and the ebb and flow of the piece built up so that it climaxed with incredible exuberance at the very end. In the hands of a lesser artist, the piece would have sounded exciting but chopped up into one impressive passage after another. Hamelin was able to rhapsodize when needed without sliding into sentimentality. He created a space that invited everyone into Rachmaninoff’s soundscape and that made the performance a life-enhancing experience.

The orchestra, directed by guest conductor Nicholas Carter, played at the top of its game. High notes floated from principal bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood. The French horns were superb, including the muted yet slightly brassy passage in the first movement. Carter switched to directing without a baton at the beginning of the second movement and that helped to create a super lush sound from the strings. Principal trumpeter Jeffrey Work’s pristine playing was another highlight of the evening.

After the last note of the piece died away, the audience – en mass – leapt to its feet with an ecstatic ovation of cheering, applauding, and whistling that went on and on and on, bringing Hamelin back to the stage at least four times. He responded finally with an encore that he didn’t announce. It sounded like a Gershwin tune that he spun into variations a la Rachmaninoff.

The concert opened with a relatively quiet piece, which was a bit on the subtle side of the scale since curtain raisers typically offer something splashy. The first was the “Waldweben” (“Forest Murmurs”) from Wagner’s “Siegfried” in an arrangement by Wouter Hutschenruyter. I have heard this opera several times, including in Bayreuth last year, and I felt that the Oregon Symphony did an outstanding job of conveying the delicate sensibilities of the music even though it was done outside the context of the opera. The strings established the gentle winds for the forest scene, and the woodwinds excelled at creating the magic with principal flutist Martha Long creating the twittering Forest Bird and principal clarinetist James Shields making a wonderfully penetrating tone that glistened in the forest of sound.

The second piece on the program was Sibelius’s Third Symphony. Its grand opening statement featured strong playing from the strings and wonderful bursting glow from the French horn and brass sections. The musicians created a wonderful landscape of sound, much of which was extremely pianissimo and subtle. The woodwinds expressed the lovely melancholy melody at the beginning of the second movement that was picked up with tenderness by the string. The fleet strings – especially the low strings – created a gorgeous sound throughout. The gradual crescendo at the end of the piece really rounded things out in a glorious way.

Today's Birthdays

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


Arna Bontemps (1902-1973)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

It’s the birthday of singer and songwriter Paul Simon, born in Newark, New Jersey (1941). Simon and Garfunkel recorded their first folk album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, in 1964, but it only sold a few thousand copies. They figured their career was probably over, but, unbeknown to Simon and Garfunkel, their record label had added electric guitars to the song “The Sounds of Silence” and released it as a single. They had just moved back in with their parents and were sitting in Simon’s car, wondering what to do next, when they heard the song come on the radio, and the DJ said it had gone to No. 1. Simon turned to Garfunkel and said, “That Simon and Garfunkel, they must be having a great time.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Oregon Repertory Singers create a resonating plea for peace with "The Armed Man"

“The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” received an ardent performance from the Oregon Repertory Singers on Saturday afternoon (October 8) that resonated convincingly with the audience in First United Methodist Church. Written by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins as part of England’s Millennium celebrations and dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo crisis (1998-1999), “The Armed Man” contains elements of the Catholic Mass but also includes texts from sacred and secular sources, including the Islamic call to prayer, the Hindu Mahabharata, the Bible, and poetry by Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Sankichi Tōge, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima. Since its premiere in 2000, “The Armed Man” has had been performed over 1,000 times. Conducted by Ethan Sperry, the performance by the Oregon Repertory Singers with the Vancouver Symphony and organist Jonas Nordwall was its Portland premiere.

In his mass, Jenkins drew inspiration from a medieval troubadour song “L’homme armé” (“The Armed Man”), which has a jousting bounce that matches its lyrics perfectly:

The armed man should be feared.
Everywhere it has been proclaimed
That each man shall arm himself
With a coat of iron mail.
The armed man should be feared.

Scholars have argued whether the words have something to do with St. Michael the Archangel, or the Crusades, or just the name of a tavern, but in Jenkin’s mass the song appears right away in the first movement and provides a backdrop for the next twelve movements. Surrounding the nave of the church, the Oregon Repertory Singers made a strong impression, because after singing the opening text, the chorus marched in lock step to the risers behind the orchestra. That bit of choreography added to the anticipation of warfare and its demons.

The next movements suggested a plea for peace and an attempt to prevent any kind of armed conflict. This included the “Call to Prayers” (“Adhaan”) as sung by Wajdi Said, a plaintive “Kyrie” with April Vanderwal as soloist, “Save Me from the Bloody Men” from Psalms, and “Sanctus.” The “Sanctus” came across with a fearful sense of urgency, but its plea was subsumed by the “Hymn Before Action” (Kipling), which set up the impending warfare with righteousness.

A trumpet fanfare announced the “Charge!” movement, in which warring factions are let loose and ennobled with the words “How blest is he who for his country dies.” At this point, the lighting of the stage area turned red as the orchestra and chorus upped the volume considerably and created an explosive roar.

The awfulness of war vibrated through the nave with “Angry Flames” (text by Sankichi Tōge) and “Torches” (text from the Mahabhrata), and the haunting imagery was assuaged somewhat by the “Agnus Dei” that followed.

Amelia Lamb sang “Now the Guns Have Stopped” with eloquence. The lyrics, written by Guy Wilson who was the master of the Royal Armouries Museum in London, spoke of the tragic aftermath of war in a personal way. (The museum commissioned “The Armed Man.”). In the “Benedictus,” principal cellist Dieter Ratzlaf played a beautifully soothing melody that was picked up gently by the choir. The final movement, “Better is Peace,” returned to the original medieval tune and gave a sense of renewal and hope with bold thoughts such as “Ring out the false, ring in the true” and topped it all off with a cappella warmth that “God shall wipe away all tears.”

The orchestra distinguished itself with fine playing - especially the merry pipping of the piccolo - although there were a couple of noticeable flubs in other sections. Nordwall added a healthy amount of gravitas with the organ.

The performance of “The Armed Man” was preceded by “Missa L’homme armé” by Giacomo Carissimi and Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei.” The singers stood in a triple choir formation (three distinct groups), surrounding the nave, with Sperry conducting form the center aisle. The sopranos soared magnificently with a minimum of vibrato when the choir crescendoed to a double forte, and the final measures of the piece washed over the audience with comforting tenderness.

Today's Birthdays

Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
Arthur Nikisch (1855-1922)
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Carlos López Buchardo (1881-1948)
Gilda Dalla Rizza (1892-1975)
Erich Gruenberg (1924)
Pilar Lorengar (1938-1996)
Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)
Daryl Runswick (1946)
Penelope Walker (1956)
Chris Botti (1962)


Robert Fitzgerald (1910-1985)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Today's Birthdays

George Bridgetower (1780-1860)
Fernando De Lucia (1860-1925)
Albert Stoessel (1894-1943)
Eugene Weigel (1910-1998)
Art Blakey (1919-1990)
Ennio Morricone (1928)
David Rendall (1948)


Mason Locke Weems (1759-1825)
Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)
Thich Nhat Hanh (1926)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Vernon Duke (1903-1969)
Paul Creston (1906-1985)
Thelonious Monk (1917-1982)
Gloria Coates (1938)
Sir Willard White (1946)
John Prine (1946)
Steve Martland (1959)
Evgeny Kissin (1971)


Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)
Harold Pinter (1930-2008)

And from The Writer's Almanac:

It’s the birthday of the composer Vernon Duke, born Vladimir Dukelsky, in Parafianovo, Belarus (1903). He was a talented classical musician, educated at an elite conservatory, but his family fled Russia after the revolution and he wound up playing piano in cafés in Constantinople (now Istanbul). From there, his family rode steerage class on a ship to America, went through Ellis Island, and ended up in New York in 1921. There the teenage Dukelsky met George Gershwin, who was only a few years older, and the two became good friends. Dukelsky played Gershwin what he described as “an extremely cerebral piano sonata,” and Gershwin, who was also trained in classical music, suggested this: “There’s no money in that kind of stuff, and no heart in it, either. Try to write some real popular tunes — and don’t be scared about going low-brow. They will open you up.” He also suggested that Dukelsky shorten his name, as he himself had done — Gershowitz to Gershwin. So Vladimir Dukelsky came up with the name Vernon Duke, but he didn’t use it for a while.

First, he went to Paris. There, he met and impressed the great ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Dukelsky wrote later about their first meeting — that Diaghilev had drawled: “‘Ah, a good-looking boy. That in itself is most unusual. Composers are seldom good-looking; neither Stravinsky nor Prokofiev ever won any beauty prizes. How old are you?’ I told him I was 20. ‘That’s encouraging, too. I don’t like young men over 25.’” And so Diaghilev commissioned him to write a ballet, and he wrote Zephire et Flore, with sets by Georges Braque, choreography by Léonide Massine, and costumes by Coco Chanel. It got a great reception, and Dukelsky was taken in by the not-quite-as-good-looking Stravinsky and Prokofiev. For a few years he divided his time between Paris, where he continued to write classical music, and London, where he wrote show tunes and used the name Vernon Duke. Then in 1929, he decided to go back to America, and he wrote some of the biggest hits of the 1930s — “April in Paris” (1932), “Autumn in New York” (1934), “I Can’t Get Started” (1936), and “Taking a Chance on Love” (1940). And he wrote the music for the Broadway show and film Cabin in the Sky (1940). By that time, he had become an American citizen and officially changed his name to Vernon Duke.

He said, “Every dogma has its day, but good music lives forever.”

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Harry Lawrence Freeman (1869-1954)
Carl Flesch (1873-1944)
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Einojuhani Routavaara (1928-2016)
Alfons Kontarsky (1932-2010)
John Lennon (1940-1980)
Jackson Browne (1948)
Sally Burgess (1953)
Roberto Sierra (1953)


Ivo Andrić (1892-1975)
Bruce Catton (1899-1978)
Léopold (Sédar) Senghor (1906-2001)
Belva Plain (1915-2010)
Jill Ker Conway (1934)

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)
Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1785)
Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
Will Vodery (1885-1951)
Paul V. Yoder (1908-1990)
James Sample (1910-1995)
Kurt Redel (1918-2013)
Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996)
Johnny Ramone (1948-2004)
Robert Saxton (1953)
Carl Vine (1954)
Tabea Zimmermann (1968)
Bruno Mantovani (1974)

John Cowper Powys (1872-1963)
Walter Lord (1917-2002)
Philip Booth (1925-2007)
Elizabeth Tallent (1954)

Friday, October 7, 2016

The top 10 concert halls in the world

This report from the Business Insider, UK publication, lists the best ten concert halls in the world as judged by acoustic legend Leo Beranek, who just turned 102. The best ones were built before 1901 and have a shoebox shape. Architects who design new halls try to do something new and original, but can't match the best old halls for sound.

I've got Beranek's book, "Concert Halls and Opera Houses," which describes many halls around the world, including their acoustical properties, meticulously.  It does not, however, rate the halls in a list.

Today's Birthdays

William Billings (1746-1800)
Joe Hill (1879-1915)
Alfred Wallenstein (1898-1983)
Shura Cherkassky (1911-1995)
Charles Dutoit (1936)
Yo-Yo Ma (1955)
Li Yundi (1982)


James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)
Niels Bohr (1885-1962)
Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones) (1934-2014)
Thomas Keneally (1935)
Dianne Ackerman (1948)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Today's Birthdays

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


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

From the Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1600 that the opera Euridice was first performed, at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. It is the oldest surviving opera.

Euridice was performed for the wedding celebrations of Henry IV of France and Maria de' Medici. It was written by Jacopo Peri, a beloved composer and singer. He had already written Dafne a few years earlier, which is considered to be the first opera, but that music has been lost.

Euridice is a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which the gifted musician Orpheus falls in love with the beautiful Eurydice, but just after their wedding she is bitten by a snake and dies. Orpheus is heartbroken, and he journeys to the underworld, to Hades, to try to bring her back. He charms the king of the underworld, also named Hades, and his wife, Persephone, and they agree to return Eurydice to Orpheus on one condition: that he get all the way back to the upper world without looking back to see if Eurydice is following. He almost makes it, but right as he is walking out into the sunlight he turns back, and Eurydice is still in the underworld, so he loses her forever. Peri not only wrote the opera, but he sang the role of Orpheus. The climax of the opera came during "Funeste piagge," or "Funeral shores," when Orpheus begs Hades and Persephone to release his beloved.

Peri wrote a long preface to Euridice, in which he explained the new musical form he was working in, which we now call opera. He said that he was trying to write the way he imagined the Greeks would have, combing music and speech into the ultimate form of drama. One of the people who came to Florence to see Euridice was Vincenzo Gonzaga, the Duke of Mantua. And he probably brought his servant, Claudio Monteverdi. A few years later, in 1607, Monteverdi premiered his first opera, L'Orfeo, which was also a retelling of the legend of Orpheus. Monteverdi elevated the opera form to new heights, and L'Orfeo is considered the first truly great opera, with all of the dramatic orchestration and lyrics that are so central to the drama.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Today's Birthdays

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


Denis Diderot (1713-1784)
Helen Churchill Candee (1858-1949)
Flann O’Brien (1911-1966)
Václav Havel (1936-2011)
Edward P. Jones (1950)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Kamio excells in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with Vancouver Symphony

Mayuko Kamio " Photo credit: Shion Isaka

Mayuko Kamio may be diminutive in stature, but she knows how to create a big, beautiful sound. The young Japanese virtuoso (age 30) delivered an immaculate performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto on Saturday afternoon (October 1) to open the Vancouver Symphony’s 38th season. Her playing riveted a large audience at Skyview Concert Hall in an all-Russian program that featured Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”) and the Overture to Mikhail Glinka’s “Ruslan and Ludmila.”

Kamio performed the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with meticulous care, generating a gorgeous and rich tone throughout the piece. She effortlessly created fortissimos and excelled in bringing the volume down to super soft pianissimos. Her quiet playing during the big cadenza in the first movement was almost drowned out by the pounding rain on the roof. But some of the tempos in the third movement were a tad slow and caused the music-making to drag a little. Still, the accelerando into the final movement preceded an amazing set of fireworks from Kamio. The orchestra, guided expertly by Salvador Brotons, accompanied her with terrific sensitivity, and the audience responded with thunderous applause.

Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony is a veritable roller coaster of a piece and it received an emotionally gripping performance from the orchestra. There was a little bit of uncertainty now and then in the first movement with a couple of shaky entrances and a choppy blend in the brass. But the musicians settled down and reeled off a wonderful ensemble sound the rest of the way. Superb solos dotted the music, including meltingly beautiful phrases of principal clarinetist Igor Shahkman, golden sounds from principal trumpeter Bruce Dunn, snarling brass, deep and dark tones from principal bassoonist Margaret McShea and colleague Nicole Buetti, and sweeping lovely passages from the strings.

The violins at the outset of the third movement were light and bright but not together and one of the trombones tried to come in too early. But the crescendos and decrescendos were thrilling as well as the exciting uptick, which added a fearlessness to the march that closed out the movement. The cry of despair in the fourth movement came from the entire ensemble and the poignancy of the music especially came across in the final throbbing pattern heartbeats from the bass violins.

Brotons conducted the entire piece from memory, and his energetic presence on the podium added to the compelling dynamics. Urging the musicians from a crouched position, he wrung out as much emotion as possible, and the piece concluded with a dignified solemn silence.

The orchestra performed the Overture to Glinka’s “Ruslan and Lumila” better than ever. The violins played together at full speed with outstanding precision, including intonation. The cellos sang out will a richer and fuller expression than I’ve heard before. Just a couple of slight hesitations in entrances took off a bit of the polish, but overall, the musicians gave the gem plenty of sparkle to make it glow.

The concert marked the beginning of the 26th season for Brotons, and the orchestra, especially the strings, is upping its game, which is a good sign.

Today's Birthdays

Fanny Tacchinardi‑Persiani (1812-1867)
Alain Daniélou (1907-1994)
Alain Lombard (1940)
Richard Wilson (1941)
John Aler (1949)
Fransico Araiza (1950)
Marc Minkowski (1962)
David Dzubay (1964)


Frederic Remington (1861-1909)
Damon Runyan (1880-1946)
Buster Keaton (1895-1966)
Brenden Gill (1914-1997)
Roy Blount Jr. (1941)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Bluestone makes final concert with Fear No Music memorable

Percussionist Joel Bluestone’s final performance with the Fear No Music ensemble celebrated his connections with his colleagues with heartwarming élan on Friday night (Sept. 30) at Lincoln Hall. Bluestone, who cofounded FNM 25 years ago with pianist Jeffrey Payne, fashioned his own sendoff, selecting works by Joseph Walters, Osvaldo Golijov, Kenji Bunch, Somei Satoh, Tomas Svoboda, and Bonnie Miksch. In his introductory remarks to each piece, Bluestone gave his take on the music and reminisced about his fellow musicians. Along the way he managed to introduce Michael Roberts as his successor with the group and delighted the audience with impeccable playing on a wide range of percussive instruments.

Opening with Joseph Waters’s “Flame Head” (2001), Bluestone let loose on wangy-twangy opera gongs and vibraphone against a background wash of electronic music. Whenever the action paused, the space allowed a remarkable amount of hang-time for some of the sounds to reverberate. But most of the time, “Flame Head” had an engaging chaotic toy shop quality even though it was meant to be (as per the program notes) a “humble tribute to Chango, the Orisha of thunder and lightning in the Cuban-based Santera religion.”

Osvaldo Golijov’s “Mariel” (2008) for marimba and cello took the audience in the opposite direction with music that moved between a lamentation and a cry of grief. The soulful playing Bluestone with cellist Nancy Ives expressed anguish and acquired an emotional depth that struck a chord with the audience –which by the way had a lot of young students.

The first half of the program closed with “Road Trip” (1999), a light-hearted creation that recounted the cross-country excursion that composer Kenji Bunch took with his college roommate. In five-movements, it was easy to picture the car starting up, the climb through the Rockies, the break-down and wait-for-repair at forlorn truck stop, the resumption and surge across the Midwest, and the final celebratory arrival at the parent’s home on the East Coast. The performance by Bluestone, Ives, and pianists Monica Ouchi and Jeffrey Payne had a humorous edge that was accented especially by the wild-zing of the flexatone.

The second half began with “Toki No Mon” (“A Gate into Infinity), which Samei Satoh wrote in 1988. This piece featured a lovely pattern of notes that Bluestone played on nipple gongs from Thailand, and it was topped off by a chime-like chord from pianist Payne. Gentle sequences from the gongs and from steel drums were balanced against slow-moving phrases from violinist Paloma Griffin Hébert, and the combination created a contemplative, timeless atmosphere.

Bluestone teamed up with his replacement, Michael Roberts, to perform Tomas Svoboda’s “Duo for Xylophone and Marimba.” Their harmonic interplay tickled the ears and each performer got the opportunity to take the lead while the other accompanied. The last movement , “Allegro Moderato,” had a cantabile spirit that elevated the simple melody at its center.

The last piece on the program was the final movement, “In a field of golden light” from Bonnie Miksch’s “Somewhere I have never traveled.” For this piece, Bluestone played tuned copper pipes with the rest of the FNM ensemble (violinists Inés Voglar Belgique and Hébert, violist Joël Belgique, cellist Ives, and pianist Payne). They created a glowing, lyric sound that was heavenly, and Bluestone took the opportunity to distribute red roses to his colleagues during several measures when he wasn’t required to play. It was, I have to admit, one of the sweets gestures I have ever seen at a concert, and it added an extra dollop of poignancy to the occasion. Needless to say, the audience showered Bluestone with a thunderous, extended standing ovation.

Today's Birthdays

Antoine Dauvergne (1713-1797)
Stanisław Skrowaczewski (1923)


Emily Post (1873-1960)
Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)
Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993)
Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

"Echoes of China" - outstanding recording by Susan Chan

With the release of her latest album, “Echoes of China,” Susan Chan is solidifying her reputation as the go-to pianist when it comes to the best of East/West music. Released on the Naxos label, “Echoes of China,” features an intriguing mix of works for solo piano by composers Zhou Long, Doming Lam, Alexina Louie, Tan Dun, and Chen Yi – all of whom shape their music a Western aesthetic. Each piece shines brightly through the playing of Chan, who is a native of Hong Kong and a professor of music at Portland State University, and the CD, which contains three world premieres, leaves listeners with a vivid impression of contemporary China-infused music.

The recording opens with “Pianobells” by Zhou Long, who won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for his opera “Madame White Snake.” Commissioned by Chan in 2012, “Pianobells” draws on an ancient legend of strong winds that can howl through limestone caverns and cause nine great bells to ring. By striking and strumming the strings inside the piano, Chan marvelously creates sonic rumbles that are punctuated by deep thumps. They are followed by scatterings of high treble notes, suggesting an ethereal presence. The piece closes with shimmering bell tones and gusts that fade into the distance.

The oldest piece on the recording is the “Lamentations of Lady Chiu-Jun” that Doming Lam wrote in 1964. According to the liner notes, the piece is based on a beloved ancient Chinese melody that tells of a young Chinese woman who was sent as a marriage gift to a Mongolian king in exchange for peace between Mongolia and China. The music delightfully evokes traditional Chinese opera instruments with lots of flourishes. The oddly clashing chords at the end may signal submission or some kind of inner defiance or both.

Alexina Louie, a Canadian composer of Chinese descent, is represented on the album with her “Music for Piano” (1982). It consists of four impressionistic movements that have a wonderfully flowing arc, starting with the questioning and probing spirit of “The Enchanted Bells” and concluding with “Once Upon a Time,” which puts a wrap on everything with a grand finale.

The longest piece on the CD is Tan Dun’s “Eight Memories in Watercolour” (1979), which explores the composer’s “diary of longing” through folk-songs from his childhood. Several of Dun’s “memories,” such as “Missing Moon” and “Blue Nun” evoke a soulful and wistful atmosphere. Others, such as “Staccato Beans” and “Sunrain” leave a playful and jokey impression.

Another world premiere recording on the album is that of Long’s “Mongolian Folk-Tune Variations” (1980). It presents eight variations on an opening melodic statement. Each variation is pleasant and lovely, but they had more of a “Western” feel than the other pieces.

Chen Yi’s “Northern Scenes” contains a flurry of passages that change quickly between demonstrative outbursts and lighter impressionistic images. In this world premiere recording, Chan creates a landscape that changes from warm and intimate to cold and distant yet always vivid.

“Echoes of China” is the third recording that Chan has made. If I am not mistaken, she has the most solo albums of any classical pianist who is based in Portland. I am sure that there’s a lot more East-West piano music that needs to be recorded. So it looks like she will be busy for a long, long time.

Today's Birthdays

Frantisek Tuma (1704-1774)
Henry Février (1875-1957)
Francis Jackson (1917)
Mary Jeanne van Appledorn (1927-2014)
Michel Plasson (1933)
Phill Niblock (1933)
Peter Frankl (1935)
Ton Koopman (1944)
Jonathan Summers (1946)


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

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Today's Birthdays

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


Jimmy Carter (1924)
Tim O'Brien (1946)