Friday, June 30, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Georg Anton Benda (1722-1795)
Laszlo Lajtha (1892-1963)
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)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

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)
Ezra Laderman (1924-2015)
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.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

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)
Robert Xavier Rodriguez (1946)
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)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

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)

Monday, June 26, 2017

MCANA selects Breaking the Waves for Best New Opera award

The Music Critics Association of North America has announced that "Breaking the Waves" has won its Best New Opera award. An awards committee consisting of Heidi Waleson, George Loomis, Alex Ross, John Rockwell and Arthur Kaptainis selected "Breaking the Waves," which was composed by Missy Mazzoli with the libretto by Royce Vavrek. The award will be given to Mazzoli and Vavrek on July 19th during MCANA's annual meeting in Santa Fe. I am a member of MCANA and will write a report for this blog when I attend the event. To read more about this announcement, click on this article in the Classical Voice of North America, MCANA's online magazine.

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)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

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)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

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)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Carl Reinecke (1824-1910)
Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993)
George Russell (1923-2009)
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)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

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)
Billy Wilder (1906-2002)
Joseph Papp (1921-1991)
Meryl Streep (1949)
Elizabeth Warren (1949)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pacifica Quartet shines more with Schumann than with Brahms in new recording

Guest Review by Peter Schütte

The Pacifica Quartet's newest recording on the Cedille label features the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor (Op. 34) with Menahem Pressler and the Schumann String Quartet in A Minor (Op. 41, No. 1). The Pacifica Quartet is a great group, and they benefit by collaborating with Pressler, a man who thrives at his high age and is fully alive and full of music and grand experience.

Not very long ago I heard the Pacifica Quartet perform the same music as is on this CD with Pressler at the piano as well and had a very different experience - sitting in the audience during that live performance versus hearing the studio recording by the same superb musicians. It made me realize again that a live concert generated a warmth and thrill that did not reach me through this studio recording no matter how well it was played. Not fair, but I could not help experiencing that I missed that the thrill and tension and joy I felt in the live concert so much more.

But in listening to the recording of the Brahms Piano Quintet - right away with the first great statement the music exploded and then when Pressler joined in - I indeed did for a moment felt that rare tingle in my back. That's a good sign and I set down my cup of tea to listen what would follow. What followed was the Quintet but Brahms seemed not to be there. It is all excellent but.... would I think about this differently had I not been present at that live concert a few weeks ago? I decided to do something else for a while and then try again. But when I came back hours later I must admit that this is not the performance that took a hold of me. I have heard better I am sorry to say. One thought about is that this studio performance is perhaps lacking inspiration, drama? After all, a bare studio full with microphones can be not very inspiring!

Finally when coming into the fourth movement I felt much better with the excellent playing and the ensemble's building towards the ending of a very Brahmsian world of inner music-making. Still, the recording of this piece left me a cool bystander rather than a person listening, almost participating with passion and promise for more.

But when moving on to the Schumann Quartet, I heard the Pacifica players following Schumann in some of his swinging mood differences in a warmly and inspired performance. Frankly I was happily impressed by this performance. Not only did I feel a greater affection and musical joy in the playing, the beautiful dynamics, and general the by now well known excellence of these musicians was a welcome change. What also seems different is the acoustics. The sound is warmer, deeper and more alive. Suddenly I see each player perform like in the concert hall again and I am feeling surrounded by their music making where in the Brahms I did not have that feeling of anticipation and deep listening. A lovely Adagio third movement and an wildly and dancing presto bringing this great piece to an end. Schumann in his sharply contrasting moods but oh so full of inspiration and passion! And a finely balanced and full sounding recording probably in another venue and better acoustics as in the first Brahms piece.

I would take this Schumann alone for the fine performance and will listen again and again with pleasure. I do miss the warm applause after such inspired music-making and wished this would come more often with such a concert on a CD!

Peter Schütte is a career photographer and artist with a longstanding love of great music.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795)
Henry Holden Huss (1862-1953)
Hilding Rosenberg (1892-1985)
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 (1948)

and from the Composers Datebook

On this day in 1890. Richard Strauss's tone-poem "Death and Transfiguration" and "Burleske" for Piano and Orchestra were given their premieres in Eisenach, at a convention of the General German Music Association, with the composer conducting and Eugen d'Albert as the piano soloist in the "Burleske".

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Concert rediscovers the music of Lou Harrison

Judging from the assortment of gongs, gourds, flowerpots, coffee cans, a huge spring, bells, brake drums, marimbas, drum sets, cymbals, xylophones, wood blocks, metalophones, cymbals, and other instruments that arranged on the stage in Lincoln Recital Hall, the audience at CeLOUbration concert on Friday evening (June 16) knew that they were going to hear something unique. The program consisted of works by composer Lou Harrison, who was born in Portland a hundred years ago and new pieces inspired by Harrison. The intrepid listeners heard intoxicating sonic combinations that easily showed how much Harrison’s influence reverberates today.

The concert was the first of two that were held on the campus of Portland State University in celebration of Harrison, who passed away in 2003 at the age of 85. It was also the first chance for the general public to purchase a spanking new copy of “Lou Harrison, American Musical Maverick” (Indiana University Press) and get the autographs of co-authors Bill Alves and Brett Campbell. While Alves is on the music faculty at Harvey Mudd College, Campbell teaches journalism at PSU and was instrumental in putting together the two-day CeLOUbration. Their book, which I have just begun reading, is well-written and researched, making it an essential item for any Harrison fan.

The concert was the first of two that were held on the campus of Portland State University in celebration of Harrison, who passed away in 2003 at the age of 85. It was also the first chance for the general public to purchase a spanking new copy of “Lou Harrison, American Musical Maverick” (Indiana University Press) and get the autographs of co-authors Bill Alves and Brett Campbell. While Alves is on the music faculty at Harvey Mudd College, Campbell teaches journalism at PSU and was instrumental in putting together the two-day CeLOUbration. Their book, which I have just begun reading, is well-written and researched, making it an essential item for any Harrison fan.

Cellist Diane Chaplin and harpist Kate Petak delivered a lovely performance of Harrison’s “Suite for Cello and Harp.” Melodic threads wove back and forth between the two instruments, ending with a sequence that was totally soothing. The Portland Percussion Group played Harrison’s “Song of Quetzalcoatl” incisively, starting with a big kaboom before tiptoeing through intricate passages that transitioned into some very lively material and finishing in a more delicate space. Flutist Sydney Carlson and percussionist Florian Conzetti gave a fine interpretation of “First Concerto for Flute and Percussion,” which Harrison wrote when he was 22 years old. It had a slightly exotic feel that hinted at Harrison’s the direction he would travel.

One of the most interesting pieces of the evening was the “Double Music,” which Harrison wrote with John Cage. The Portland Percussion Group handled an oddball assortment of instruments that included a cymbal that was halfway immersed in a tub of water, a big sheet of metal (perhaps tin). When raised from the water and struck, the cymbal created a low shimmery sound. The metal sheet emitted a soft tremolo. The last couple of notes of the piece didn’t line up together, but perhaps it was meant to be that way.

The concert featured Susan Alexjander’s “Three Little Multiverses (For Lou),” which was inspired by and incorporated poetry that Harrison had written. The text, wonderfully sung by mezzo-soprano Hannah Penn, was accompanied by cor anglais (Catherine Lee), cello (Chaplin), and harp (Petak). The word painting in the music was fairly direct and the sentiment of the piece was hopeful. A quartet of percussionists gave Lisa Marsh’s “Changing Winds” a thrilling ride as the music changed from motoric to more heavily rhythmic.

Paul Safar’s “Refugium” included visual slides that were projected on a screen behind the performers: flutist Carlson, violist Sharon Eng, and percussionist Brian Gardiner, who deftly moved between several different instruments and lightly vocalized, too boot. The piece was an ode to nature that abruptly stopped after a sequence of rising notes. The Portland Percussion Group had fun with Greg Steinke’s “Diversions and Interactions” whose members got to shout “Hey Ha Ja” periodically. The rapid play of spoons on the knee was a real treat amidst a variety of interesting sound effects that the ensemble created with precision.

Overall, the festive sounds of the concert was a joy to hear and may generate more Harrison-inspired events. In the meantime, readers will enjoy the new Harrison biography that Alves and Campbell wrote.

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792)
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)
Josephine Winslow Johnson (1910-1990)
Vikram Seth (1952)

Monday, June 19, 2017

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)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pirates, maidens, cops, and the Major General cavort in Mock's Crest production of "Pirates of Penzance"

Guest review by Phillip Ayers

This summer’s Gilbert and Sullivan offering by the Mock’s Crest organization is "Pirates of Penzance" and the performance on Friday evening (June 16) at the Mago Hunt Theater was great fun. Somehow, G & S never fails to please and some would go so far as to say that an “acquired taste” really isn’t necessary to enjoy these operettas. Others would call the G & S “canon” operas but that might be cause for discussion or dispute. I won’t quibble in this review, simply because I thoroughly enjoyed it, having played “Samuel” in a performance in a local civic theater in Michigan in 1998. I fell in love with this work, having known only "Trial by Jury" and "HMS Pinafore" intimately enough to make a sound judgement.

Readers might be interested, as was I, about how the pirate-theme came to be so attractive to Gilbert and Sullivan. What I surmised is that plays and books about pirates were popular in the 19th century and that no doubt attracted them. There’s something splashy, swashbuckling, romantic, intriguing, and just plain enjoyable about piracy and its depiction. George Bernard Shaw believed, as a "Wikipedia" article states, that Gilbert drew on ideas in "Les Brigands" for his libretto, including the businesslike bandits and the bumbling police. But I was more interested to find in that same article that the work’s title is a “… multi-layered joke." On the one hand, Penzance was a docile seaside resort in 1879, and not the place where one would expect to encounter pirates. On the other hand, the title was also a jab at the theatrical ‘pirates’ who had staged unlicensed productions of "HMS Pinafore" in America.” Most of us are aware that satire played a huge role in Gilbert and Sullivan’s works, and it takes only a minimal amount of digging to find where the satire is aimed. It is worth mentioning that "Pirates" premiered, not in England, but in the USA, mainly to avoid any pirating of the music and libretto.

The story is simple and easy to follow. Frederick, a young pirate, is about to be out of his indentures as an apprentice, having reached his 21st birthday. Ruth, the “maid of all work,” reveals that she mistakenly apprenticed Fredrick to the group of pirates because she is hard of hearing. The music that surrounds this little bon mot is a play on “pilot,” (which Ruth thought she was getting her charge into) and “pirate.” Because he has never seen another woman, Frederick thinks Ruth is beautiful. The pirates know otherwise and suggest he take her with him. He also informs them that once released from servitude, because of his strong sense of duty, he will devote himself to their extermination. He also points out that the pirates are not very successful because of their softness for orphans. The word has got out and many ships they attack claim to be completely crewed by orphans.

The pirates, leave and Frederick spies a group of beautiful young girls approaching and realizes that Ruth has lied to him and sends her away. After initially hiding, Frederick reveals himself, to their shock and surprise. The eldest of these girls, who are sisters, Mabel, appears and chides the others for their lack of charity and offers Frederick pity. They instantly fall in love. Frederick warns them about the pirates being nearby, but before they can flee the pirates appear and capture all the girls, intending to marry them. Mabel warns the pirates that their father is Major General Stanley, who then arrives and introduces himself. He appeals to the pirates not to take his daughters who are his only comfort in his old age and then pretends to be an orphan. The softhearted pirates release the girls and make the Major General an honorary pirate.

Before giving the synopsis for Act 2, some comments on the production thus far might be in order. The playful nature of the characters is evident right at the outset with the pirates pouring sherry, funny asides, and one of the pirates heaving a barrel around the stage, generating much laughter from all corners of the hall. When the maidens appear, one in particular, played by Jack Wells, is swatting insects and desiring to get near to Frederick. Ruth, played by Rachelle Riehl, has terrific facial expressions and engaged the audience in her appearances. Her voice, a nice contralto, did have some passagio problems in higher registers. The ensemble is good, especially in relating to the audience. One could tell that there were really only one or two on stage who weren’t truly “present,” perhaps because they got lost in the patter-songs. The set is unremarkable, but adequate, so this allowed the drama and the music to hold forth without distraction. The University of Portland does these productions with professionals, semi-professionals, and university students.

The orchestra, behind a scrim which unfortunately didn’t allow them to acknowledge the applause at the end of their hard work, was very good, although the winds and brass overpowered at times the strings in the overture . There were some glitches, such as Frederick’s sash coming partially undone. And Joshua Randall’s (Frederick) eyes could be a play in themselves. It has been said that Mabel should always be played by a coloratura, and Cassi Q Kohl fulfilled that well in the quasi-Verdian passages. Kevin-Michael Moore, as the Major General, affected Robin Williams somewhat in his portrayal, with a nasal sound and wonderful little asides to the audience. Samuel Hawkins as Samuel affected an Irish accent and did it well. Swordsmanship by Bobby Winstead (The Pirate King) and others was well-executed and right in context.

In Gilbert and Sullivan, second acts often begin more “softly and quietly” than the first, and "Pirates" is no exception. This could produce somnolence in an audience, but here there was enough to keep everyone attentive. The act starts with the Major General, in a nightshirt, sitting in the ruined chapel on his estate. He is tortured by his conscience because of the lie he told about being an orphan. (And, in the first act, the play on “orphan” and “often” is hilariously done). The sergeant of the police and his corps appears and announce their readiness to arrest the pirates. The girls all express their admiration for the policemen. The choreography and comedic acumen of the actor/singers who play the policemen is superb and funny.

Frederick, left alone, encounters the Pirate King and Ruth who inform him of a paradox (another occasion for a musical word-play).They realize his apprenticeship was worded as to bind him until his 21st birthday and since he was born on February 29 he will not actually achieve that birthday until he is in his eighties. Because of his sense of duty, he tells the Pirate King about the General’s deception. Revenge will be swift and terrible. Frederick lets Mabel know of his change of fortune and she agrees to wait for him. She then steels herself to lead the police against the approaching pirate band. The police hide as the pirates appear. Major General Stanley appears, which causes the pirates to hide. The police hide as the pirates appear and when the Major General appears the pirates hide. The girls appear and the battle begins. The pirates easily subdue the police and the Pirate King urges the Major General to prepare for death. However, the Sergeant has a plan. He demands the pirates yield in Queen Victoria’s name. Here, as well as “Hail Poetry in the first act,” the chorus/ensemble shines and this is likened to a Mozart symphony in its sonority. Ruth appears and reveals that the pirates are all noblemen gone wrong. The Major General, waving the flag (always left to almost fall, but grabbed by someone), yields and love wins the day.

One skillfully written portion of the second act can easily be bungled, but these players did it flawlessly – and that is “With cat-like tread,” when the pirates and Samuel are going to burglarize the General. The police are hiding as the pirates enter, but not with cat-like tread: they’re very noisy! “Let’s vary piracee / With a little burglaree!” they sing. “Burglarious” tools are passed out among the pirates, including a “skeletonic key.”

The romantic leads are excellent in both their acting and singing. I noticed a few young boys two rows ahead of where I was seated, who at times were throwing their arms up in the air, either for exercise or in boredom in the love-scenes. Still, I was glad these kids were there and there was plenty of action for them to enjoy. They probably didn’t “get” the nuances, which are many in G & S: as in the Major General’s opening patter-song with the play on “hypotenuse,” and in the “Doctor of Divinity” portion which is really a choral patter-song and not easy to bring off.

The production runs five more times, so get a ticket and go see it before it ends on June 25th. You’ll be richly rewarded!

Today's Birthdays

Antonio Maria Bononcini (1677-1726)
Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831)
David Popper (1843-1913)
Sir George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987)
Edward Steuermann (1892-1964)
Manuel Rosenthal (1904-2003)
Eduard Tubin (1905-1982)
Paul McCartney (1942)
Hans Vonk (1942-2004)
Anthony Halstead (1945)
Diana Ambache (1948)
Eva Marton (1948)
Peter Donohoe (1953)


Geoffrey Hill (1932)
Gail Godwin (1937)
Jean McGarry (1948)
Chris Van Allsburg (1949)
Amy Bloom (1953)
Richard Powers (1957)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

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)

Friday, June 16, 2017

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)


Geronimo (1829-1909)
Joyce Carol Oates (1938)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

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)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Antonio Sacchini (1730-1786)
Simon Mayr (1763-1845)
Nicolai Rubinstein (1835-1881)
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)
Jonathan Raban (1942)
Mona Simpson (1971)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Inspiring “Man of La Mancha” sallies forth in Portland Opera production

Photography by Cory Weaver/Courtesy Portland Opera
Reality versus idealism smacked head to head and word to word in Portland Opera’s production of “Man of La Mancha” on opening night (June 9) at the Keller Auditorium. Truth, beauty, and moral purpose won out in the end with the music of Mitch Leigh and his iconic “The Impossible Dream” lifting the spirits of everyone in the house. Crisp directions by Alan Paul, associate artistic director of The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., fit the cast like a custom made gauntlet, and Welsh baritone Jason Howard embodied the title role with utter conviction even when a wayward mustache got in his way.

Using the original production staged by Albert Marre and produced by Albert W. Selden and Hal James, all of the action took place on a circular stony floor that represented the bowels of a prison in 16th Century Spain. High above it, on the back wall was a huge, ominous gang-plank that became an impressive set of stairs from which soldiers of the Inquisition descended. The lighting of Robert Wierzel enhanced the production, conveying a vivid climax with a thousand points of light against a night sky while Howard sang of striving to “reach the unreachable star.”
Photography by Cory Weaver/Courtesy Portland Opera
Howard’s robust voice embraced role of Cervantes and his alter ego, Don Quixote, with depth and charm. Reggie Lee’s energetic Sancho Panza provided a delightful counterweight to the elderly knight errant. His impeccable comic timing and enthusiasm wonderfully aided and abetted Don Quixote and even charmed the hard-boiled Aldonza, who was terrifically created by Tara Venditti. Her singing of “Aldonza” was one of the many highlights of the show.
Photography by Cory Weaver/Courtesy Portland Opera

Damian Norfleet was totally in the moment as the domineering Governor and understanding Innkeeper. One of the best scenes was the humorous “I’m Only Thinking of Him” in which Kate Farrar’s Antonia and AnDee Compton’s Housekeeper confessions to Aaron Short’s Padre became a competitive squeeze. David Warner in the role of the Barber also brought a dash of levity to the story. Ryan Thorn’s Dr. Carrasco railed at Don Quixote with passion. The swaggering muleteers added a layer of danger to the story.

Photography by Cory Weaver/Courtesy Portland Opera
The choreography by David Marquez worked very well, especially the opening scenes when the prisoners ransacked all of Cervantes belongings. The abduction-rape scene in which Aldonza was tied up and dragged to the back of the stage suggested just enough. The fight scenes, choreographed by John Armour, went well enough but could have been a little tighter.

Despite amplification, some voices didn’t project well, which may have been due to an action sequence and body-mic placement. Music director George Manahan led a tight ensemble of woodwinds, brass, percussion, guitar, and one bass violin in the orchestra pit. The small number of musicians must have allowed extra space for several performers who entered and exited the stage from the orchestra pit.

Final note: the minimal staging of the production meant that scenes involving windmills and such were simply not there, which put the emphasis on the ability of the cast to inspire it all. They did that as well as anyone can imagine.

Today's Birthdays

Anton (Antonín) Wranitzky (1761-1820)
Anton Eberl (1766-1807)
Elisabeth Schumann (1888-1952)
Carlos Chavez (1899-1978)
Alan Civil (1929-1989)
Gwynne Howell (1938)
Sarah Connolly (1963)
Alain Trudel (1966)


Frances Burney (1752-1840)
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Mary Antin (1881-1949)
Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957)
William S. Burroughs (1914-1997)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Vanni Marcoux (1877-1962)
Werner Josten (1895-1963)
Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986)
Leon Goossens (1897-1988)
Maurice Ohana (1913-1992)
Ian Partridge (1938)
Chick Corea (1941)
Oliver Knussen (1952)


Harriet Martineau (1802-1876)
Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)
Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Djuna Barnes (1892-1982)
Anne Frank (1929-1945)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Antonio Bonporti (1672-1749)
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
George Frederick McKay (1899-1970)
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)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900)
Frederick Loewe (1904-1988)
Ralph Kirkpatrick (1911-1984)
Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007)
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)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Otto Nicolai (1810-1849)
Alberic Magnard (1865-1914)
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)


Baroness Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914)
George Axelrod (1922-2003)
Patricia Cornwell (1956)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1840, Franz Liszt gives a solo performance at the Hanover Square Rooms in London billed as "Recitals". This was the first time the term "recital" was used to describe a public musical performance, and it caused much discussion and debate at the time. Liszt is credited with both inventing and naming the now-common solo piano "recital".

Thursday, June 8, 2017

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 Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1912, Ravel's ballet, "Daphnis et Chloé" was premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, by Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe, Pierre Monteux conducting.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Talking with Alistair Donkin and Justin Smith about the "Yeomen of the Guard"

Alistair Donkin
Marylhurst University will be presenting Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Yeomen of the Guard" this weekend at St. Anne's Chapel on the Marylhurst campus. There will be two performances: one on Saturday, June 10th at 7:30 pm followed by another on Sunday, June 11th at 4 pm.

Justin Smith
To find out more about the production, I talked with director and actor Alistair Donkin and music director Justin Smith. Donkin is well-known in England for his directing and performances of Gilbert and Sullivan's works.

Does this production involve students only?

Smith: The orchestra is a mixture of students and hired professionals. The entire cast consists of singers from Marylhurst. The production Gilbert and Sullivan operas started when I came here five years ago and has grown significantly since then. It’s basically the spring project for our choral and vocal area.

Gilbert and Sullivan is particularly good for young , emerging voices. It’s just challenging enough and not too straining. It is even better when you have a resource like Alistair from England to bring in every year to direct it because he knows and loves the material so well and does such a wonderful job teaching our students.

How did you find out about Alistair?

Smith: Before I came to Portland, I was getting my doctorate from the University of Houston in Houston, Texas. The Houston Gilbert and Sullivan Society is one of the big three or four in the US, and I served as their chorus master for three summers. Alistair has directed them for 36 years now. He is so awesome, brilliant, and funny and he comes directly from the D’Oyly Carte Company, which is the one that Gilbert and Sullivan started to produce their own shows. It tell my students that this is the next best thing to resurrecting Gilbert from the grave!

So after I got the job at Marylhurst I invited Alistair to come direct here and do a show before he goes to Houston. We started with a production of “Pinafore” and it’s been uphill from there!

Donkin: After “Pinafore,” we did “Pirates,” and “Iolanthe.” Last year we off the rails and did “Candide.”

“Yeomen of the Guard” is different than the other Gilbert and Sullivan operas. While the other operas are two-dimensional, “Yeomen of the Guard” is a fully staged drama that happens to have music attached to it. It has elements of grand opera – for example, at the last chord of the production, my character, Jack Point, drops dead of a broken heart, and it’s still supposed to be a comedy. The music is glorious. I just love it!

I have an odd link with this opera. It was premiered on the third of October, 1888. I was born on the third of October, 1947. The plot revolves around two people trying to rescue one man but without telling the other conspirators what is going on. Things get tangled and there are a lot of twists and turns.

Because of my link with Houston, we’ve had the costumes shipped up from the Houston company. My jesters costume just arrived yesterday, and it is fitted, which was quite surprising since it was made for me in 1983. The middle-age spread has not hit yet.

Since Jack Point is a jester, can you give us one of his jokes?

Donkin: Yes, ‘the lieutenant says, "Suppose I sat me down hurriedly on something sharp, and the response is "I would say that you sat down on the spur of the moment!”

How do you find working with the students?

Donkin: I love working with the students. I never intended to be a teacher, but working with the students in the rehearsals, explaining the interpretation of dialogue, explaining the text –even what some of the words mean. Read that line a different way and see what different meanings that you can bring out. The students are like blotting paper. They soak up whatever I tell them. Then they make it their own and create a wonderful performance. The way they are working is an absolute joy.

Today's Birthdays

Leopold Auer (1845-1930)
George Szell (1897-1970)
Ilse Wolf (1921-1999)
Philippe Entremont (1934)
Neeme Järvi (1937)
Sir Tom Jones (1940)
Jaime Laredo (1941)
Prince (1958-2015)
Roberto Alagna (1963)
Olli Mustonen (1967)


Paul Gaugin (1848-1903)
Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973)
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)
Nikki Giovanni (1943)
Orham Pamuk (1952)
Louise Erdrich (1954)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Brotons and forces wow audience with Khachaturian's Second Symphony

The Vancouver Symphony closed out its season with a sonic wallop by giving an exciting performance of Aram Khachaturian’s Symphony No. 2 (“The Bell”). That sprawling, emotional roller-coaster of a work left an indelible impression with the audience at SkyView Concert Hall on Saturday afternoon (June 3). Its massive qualities balanced very well with Richard Strauss’s “Burleske,” which received a sparkling interpretation by pianist Sofya Melikyan. Underscoring the program was Armenia, the homeland of both the composer and the pianist, and Melikyan nicely connected it all with a scintillating encore of Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.”

The Second Symphony was almost an hour-long excursion into the madness of war and its aftermath. Khachaturian wrote the piece during the Second World War, and much of the thematic material shifted between elegiac melodies and propulsive, stormy passages. The melancholic sections of the symphony were flavored with short descending lines that suggested an oriental or perhaps Armenian flair. An Armenian folk song was clearly expressed in the third movement and blended smoothly with the “Dies irae” to create a hushed, somber effect. The brass chorale in the fourth movement swelled majestically and the symphony ended with a stirring, triumphal crescendo.

Even though Brotons had not conducted this piece before, he chose to do so from memory, impressing the heck out of this reviewer because of his commanding repertoire of gestures that coaxed, urged, and inspired an outstanding performance from the orchestra, which also played the music for the first time. Perhaps because Brotons is a composer, has an inside track to the center of the music, and then he gets the music to flow through him and the musicians. Well, whatever he did on the podium was pretty incredible, especially considering that the Khachaturian symphony is rarely played in the United States.

Kudos were in order for many of the orchestra’s musicians, especially principal bassoonist Margaret McShea. The performance wasn’t flawless – there were patches when some sections of the orchestra didn’t quite play together and it was difficult to hear the bell tones at the beginning and at the end – but overall the musicians hit a home run.

In the first half of the program, the orchestra teamed up with Melikyan to clear the bases with a fine performance of Strauss’s “Burleske.” Melikyan, who learned the piece for this concert, dove into its mercurial and brilliant waters with panache. Her exchanges with the orchestra went smoothly, and she made the many quick and splashy passages look easy and natural. Her interactions with principal timpanist Florian Conzetti were spot on and a highlight of the afternoon.

The audience responded to Melikyan’s playing with a standing ovation, and she warmly reciprocated with an electrifying piano rendition of Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.” Hopefully, she will be back again someday in the near future to perform with the orchestra.

The concert began with a piece that the audience selected earlier in the year, Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 5.” The orchestra played it with vim and vigor and brought out the dynamic contrasts, which made it a good opener for the concert.

Today's Birthdays

Sir John Stainer (1840-1901)
Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930)
Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978)
Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987)
Iain Hamilton (1922-2000)
Serge Nigg (1924-2008)
Klaus Tennstedt (1926-1998)
Louis Andriessen (1939)


Pierre Corneille (1606-1684)
Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)
Thomas Mann (1875-1955)
Maxine Kumin (1925-2014)
Robert Pirsig (1928-2017)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1931, Henry Cowell's "Synchrony" received its premiere in Paris, at the first of two concerts of modern American music with the Orchestre Straram conducted by Nicholas Slonimsky and funded anonymously by Charles Ives. On the same program, Slonimsky also conducted the Orchestre Straram in the European premieres of works by Adolph Weiss ("American Life"), Ives ("Three Places in England"), Carl Ruggles ("Men and Mountains"), and the Cuban composer Amadeo Roldan ("La Rehambatamba").

Monday, June 5, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Arthur Somervell (1863-1937)
Robert Mayer (1879-1985)
Eduard Tubin (1905-1982)
Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006)
Peter Schat (1935-2003)
Martha Argerich (1941)
Bill Hopkins (1943-1981)


John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)
Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936)
Alfred Kazin (1915-1998)
David Wagoner (1926)
Margaret Drabble (1939)
David Hare (1947)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Today's Birthdays

James Hewitt (1770-1827)
Evgeny Mravinsky (1903-1988)
Alan Shulman (1915-2002)
Robert Merrill (1917-2004)
Irwin Bazelon (1922-1995)
Oliver Nelson (1932-1975)
Anthony Braxton (1945)
Cecilia Bartoli (1966)


Josef Sittard (1846-1903)
Karl Valentin (1882-1948)
Robert Anderson (1917-2009)
Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
Larry McMurtry (1936)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Today's Birthdays

František Jan Škroup (1801-1862)
Charles Lecocq (1832-1918)
Jan Peerce (1904-1984)
Valerie Masterson (1937)
Curtis Mayfield (1942-1999)
Greg Sandow (1943)
Lynne Dawson (1956)


Josephine Baker (1906-1975)
Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
Ruth Westheimer (1928)

Friday, June 2, 2017

Preview of orchestra's season finale in The Columbian newspaper

Today's issue of the Columbian newspaper features my preview of the Vancouver Symphony's final concert of the season. The performance will take place on Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening.

Today's Birthdays

James Cutler Dunn Parker (1828-1916)
Felix Weingartner (1863-1942)
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Jozef Cleber (1916-1999)
Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012)
Mark Elder (1947)
Neil Shicoff (1949)
Michel Dalberto (1955)


Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

and from The New Music Box:

On June 2, 1938, Amy Beach began work on her Piano Trio while in residence at the MacDowell Colony. She finished the composition fifteen days later (June 18th) and published it as her Op. 150. It was to be her last major work.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Georg Muffat (1653-1704)
Ferdinando Paër (1771-1839)
Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)
Werner Janssen (1899-1990)
Percy Whitlock (1903-1946)
Nelson Riddle (1921-1985)
Yehudi Wyner (1929)
Edo de Waart (1941)
Richard Goode (1943)
Frederica von Stade (1945)
Arlene Sierra (1970)


John Masefield (1878- 1967)
Charles Kay Ogden (1889–1957)
Naguib Surur (1932-1978)
Colleen McCullough (1937-2015)
Sheri Holman (1966)
Amy Schumer (1981)