Monday, April 20, 2015

Portland State University's delights with 'Figaro'

Portland State University opened its 2015 opera, Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, on Friday, April 17 at the Lincoln Hall on the PSU campus. A marvelous venue since it's renovation in 2010, it was a perfect showcase for this beloved work.

PSU has long been known for its spectacular student operas, and this year's was no different. The orchestra under Ari Pelto hit the ground running with the famous overture, its tempo brisk and lines clean. The set was traditional, set in the late 1700s and included a sweeping colonnade that served as a backdrop for many scenes, including a dimly lit, mystical garden in the second half. The costumes were rich and detailed, providing another important element for an evening that felt like one had moved back in time to Herr Mozart's day.

Hannah Consenz's Susanna was spectacular--fine singing, clear, concise diction, and a seeming intuition for the demands of the soubrette were hallmarks of her performance. The opening scene with her and Darian Hutchinson as Figaro left no doubt that the PSU opera group was up to the task.

Hutchinson was an affable Figaro and he too sang beautifully. There was charisma and chemistry between him and his affianced, and throughout the performance Hutchinson's portrayal of a Figaro with effortless confidence imparted to the audience his belief that no matter what the circumstance, things would turn out all right for Figaro.

Jonathan Roberts as Bartolo and Hanaa El-warari as Marcellina were also enjoyable; Roberts has a clean, easily-projecting baritone. Anna Patterson's Cherubino was a special treat, not just for the knack for physical comedy she displayed, but also for some nuanced singing.

Alexandra Saori Erickson's Countess Almaviva was extremely impressive. Erickson has a very powerful voice; in some instances it pushed being too powerful. As a listener I would've traded some heft for a more delicate touch in her first aria, but by the time she sang E Susanna, non vien she had settled in and delivered a rich, inviting aria, vocally balanced and emotionally true. Of special note too were her duets with Consenz; they blended two very different vocal types seamlessly, and the end result was delicious to hear.

In all the performance displayed the traits that audiences have come to expect from PSU's opera program under the hand of Christine Meadows; that is to say professionalism, poise and an outstanding final product.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Young artists shine with the Vancouver Symphony

Matthieu Galizia, Nathan Kim, and Yun Teng
Every spring for the past 22 years, the Vancouver Symphony has rewarded the winners of its Young Artist Competition with the opportunity to solo with the orchestra on it classical series. At this year’s concert, which took place yesterday afternoon (April 18), a earnest audience shunned the unseasonably sunny weather outside to hear violinist Yun Teng, and pianists Matthieu Galizia and Nathan Kim perform at Skyview Concert Hall. All three teenagers delivered outstanding performances with Kim’s playing of Sergei Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto shining the brightest.

Kim, a 15-year-old freshman at Newberg High School (Newberg, Oregon) has already won a number of prestigious competitions that have allowed him to play at Carnegie Hall and a month ago soloed with the Coeur d’Alene Symphony after winning its young artists competition. He came on stage with a lot of confidence and unleashed a passionate and precise performance of the Prokofiev concert. Glancing up now and then to make sure that he was in sync with conductor Salvador Brotons, Kim brought out the mercurial nature of the music, which ranged from bold statements to quiet and solemn excursions.

Galizia, a 16-year-old homeschooled student from St. Helens, Oregon, has also won several competitions, and this was his first appearance with an orchestra. He played the first movement of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto with confidence and remarkable expression, but he was not always lined up exactly with orchestra. His best and most expressive playing came during the cadenza. At that point, he coaxed gorgeously sensitive phrases and a made the piece his own.

Equally impressive was Teng’s ardent performance of the first movement of Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto. The 17-year-old senior from Camas High School (Camas, Washington), is also young veteran of competitions and has soloed in Carnegie Hall and with the Willamette Falls Symphony and the Clark College Orchestra. He created searing lines with a beautiful, resonant tone that carried well above the orchestra. Even though the frenzied passage just before the end of the piece veered a little off the rails, Teng kept his composure and applied a silky sound to the finish.

After intermission the orchestra performed Arthur Honegger’s Fifth Symphony, which is known as “Di tre re” (“Of the three D’s”) because of the Ds that are played by the low strings and the timpani at the end of each movement. The orchestra gave this rarely heard gem a stirring performance. The crescendos into the wildest parts of this piece were thrilling with the French horn contributing mightily. The motoric sound of the third movement had a lot of verve and the lower strings established a tick-tock kind of fate as the piece came to a close. Biting accents by the trombones, sporadic commentary by the woodwinds, and a mysterious atmosphere created by the strings were some of the highlights of this piece.

The concert concluded with a spirited performance of Maurice Ravel’s “La Valse” (The Waltz”). Brotons, conducting from memory, urged the orchestra to fashion a dance that would spin out of control. It didn’t seem to quite get there, but the music still had a wonderful collapse that sent the audience out into the bright sunshine with a smile.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Oregon Symphony goes from dark to light with late works by Sibelius and Bartók topped off by Dvořák

© Bernard Martinez
Guest Review by Phil Ayers

An evening of some worthy, but somewhat unknown, music was presented by Carlos Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony with guest pianist Jean-Philippe Collard last Sunday (April 12) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Two of the pieces were Portland debuts and two were among the last works of their composers. What could well have been a melancholy experience was anything but: the "Slavonic Dances," Op. 72, of Antonín Dvořák would keep any listener wide awake and free of any sadness!

Maestro Kalmar's comments before the concert, while waiting for one of the bassoonists who was delayed and who arrived safely were an apt introduction to the evening. Jean Sibelius' last published work, "Tapiola" ["Realm of Tapio:], is a paean to a forest god in the Finnish national epic saga "Kalevala." As Kalmar remarked, the work has to do with trees and "we in Oregon know all about trees." Sibelius wrote a poem, included in the program notes, that introduces the piece:

Wide-spread they stand, the Northland's dusky forests,
Ancient, mysterious, brooding savage dreams;
Within them dwells the Forest's mighty God,
And wood-sprites in the gloom weave magic secrets.

And nineteen minutes of brooding, savage-sounding music aligned itself perfectly with this poetry. Musically, I could not help but think that "ensemble" was the watchword of this piece; the work in the woodwinds was especially commendable. It was unfortunate that Sibelius wrote (or at least published) nothing after "Tapiola" which was composed in 1926. He lived for a long time in severe depression and spoke little about his music in his last years.

Jean-Philippe Collard, French pianist, came onstage to play Béla Bartók's Third Piano Concerto. I remember hearing this work as a young college student when I purchased a record of two of Bartók's concerti. Impressed by their grittiness, but knowing very little about music at that time, just that I was fascinated by "modern" music, I remember playing the record often and always being held in awe. Bartók was a sad man: suffering many losses and having to escape from his native Hungary when it was overtaken by the Nazis. He found a new home in the U.S. but his music did not have much popularity here and he worked mainly on commissions to earn money. Like Sibelius, he suffered from depression and was diagnosed with leukemia in 1942. His “Concerto for Orchestra,” probably his most famous composition, arose out of this time. The cancer was in remission by the summer of 1945 and Bartók and his wife Ditta, a pianist, lived for awhile in Asheville, North Carolina. He wrote the concerto for her as a birthday surprise. However, his health worsened and he returned to New York, managing to finish this concerto four days before he died. Although I used the word "grittiness" earlier, this concerto rather gives the lie to that as it is playful, lilting, and whimsical. The middle movement Adagio religioso is an excellent mixture of what sounds like Appalachian folk music, hymns, and bird-calls. For one who considered himself an atheist, perhaps this signaled a turn in Bartók outlook.

Everything described here was expertly manifested by Collard. At 67, he plays deftly and attentively, occasionally using a score for reference. (It was noted that he would turn two or three pages at a time.) The aforementioned middle movement, which is really central to the whole piece, was executed sensitively. It was enthralling. I would like sometime to hear Collard play the middle movement (indeed all of the work) of Ravel's piano concerto, which is similar in scope.

A complete change of mood took place in the second part of the evening's program. Antonín Dvořák's second set of "Slavonic Dances" was given a lively, playful reading by the orchestra. It would have been helpful to have an English translation of the titles of each dance, but with some help I found that Starodávný, the title of the second and sixth dances, means "of yore"; Špačírka means "walking" (fifth dance); Kolo is "round" (seventh dance); and Sousedská is "vicinal" ("neighborly," the eighth dance). The eight dances range from delicate to sweeping, brooding to bold, carnival-like and brash to contemplative. The varied tempi provide and hold interest, but at times a few messy entrances, especially in the brass, distracted this listener.

Dvořák had composed a popular first set of dances and his publisher Simrock wanted a second set, but the composer demurred: "You will forgive me but I simply have not the slightest inclination now to think of such light music." But he did not simply dash off quickly these lively dances but gave them his best craft and skill. Dvořák was mainly interested in larger-scale works but Simrock insisted that he produce more dances and paid well for them. It's what "sells" that counts, then (1886) as now, we suppose.

Both the Sibelius and the Dvořák works were OSO premiere performances, and it is hoped they will be played and heard again.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Esteemed music critic Andrew Porter passes

Andrew Porter passed way yesterday at the age of 86 in London. NPR has filed this obituary on Porter, and the New York Times has another, very entertainingly written one, here.

I met Porter once in Toronto, Canada, when the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (home of the Canadian Opera Company) opened in 2006. I was there with a number of my music critic colleagues, and Porter had given a talk related to the Ring Cycle, which was the initial production for the new opera house.

Also, I should thank opera critic Mark Mandel for alerting me about Porter's death.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Classical Up Close - 2015 season

From the press release:

Classical Up Close is bringing world class musicians to Portland neighborhoods with its annual weeklong series of free chamber music performances, where audiences are encouraged to sit onstage with the performers, use social media, ask questions, and applaud freely.

  • Classical Up Close will take place between April 24th and May 3rd, 2015
  • The festival centers around six informal, full-length concerts in various locations throughout Greater Portland, including Congregation Beth Israel, St. Mark’s Lutheran, and Lake Grove Presbyterian. 
  • Special guests include Pink Martini’s China Forbes, who will sing at Maranatha Church in North Portland on April 26th, 2015. 
  • In addition to full-length concerts are several “blitz” performances: 30-minute concerts in unlikely venues, meant to meet people where they live, work, and play.  Blitz venues will include American Legion Post #134, Powell’s Books, Meals on Wheels, PDX Playdate, and Beaverton City Library.
  • Two special performances for children and families will be held at Vancouver Community Library on May 2nd, 2015. More information can be found at www.fvrl.org
  • Tony Starlight’s Showroom will be hosting a Classical Up Close benefit concert on April 20th at 7:30pm. Ticket information can be found at www.tonystarlight.com
  • New this year, All Classical Radio has agreed to be the official media sponsor of Classical Up Close.  Jack Allen, President and CEO of All Classical Portland, writes:
“We are thrilled to become the official media sponsor of Classical Up Close, with whom we share a goal of breaking down traditional barriers to the appreciation and enjoyment of classical music, and building cultural vitality and vibrancy for our community.”

Classical Up Close was founded in 2013 by a group of Oregon Symphony musicians seeking to celebrate and strengthen their community relationships, thank the symphony’s many supporters, and make new friends, both for the symphony and for classical music.
More information, including concert and blitz schedule, can be found at: www.classicalupclose.com

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

EAR TRUMPET - Portland's new music calendar - April edition



Here is the listing of concerts for April in the Portland metro area that feature new music, as compiled by Bob Priest, composer, impresario, and Mr.MarchMusicModerne.

Concerts

4 - Sat - 7:30 pm
45th PARALLEL
"Folk Inspirations"
Bartok & Bunch
The Old Church
oldchurch.com

6 - Mon - 7:30 pm
ELIAS QUARTET
Henri Dutilleux
Lincoln Hall
focm.org

9 - Thur - 7:30 pm
SARAH TIEDEMANN
Copland, Dutilleux & Messiaen
The Old Church
oldchurch.com

10 - Fri - 7:30 pm
CASCADIA COMPOSERS
"Cascadia Hits on the World"
New Percussion Music
Temple Baptist Church
cascadiacomposers.org

<<< ET PICK >>>
12/13 - Sun/Mon - 7:30/8:00 pm
OREGON SYMPHONY
Bartok & Sibelius "Tapiola"
Arlene Schnitzer Hall
orsymphony.org

16 - Thur - 7:30 pm
THIRD ANGLE
"Silver Threads"
Jacob Cooper
Zoomtopia
thirdangle.org

17 - Fri - 7:30 pm
CELEBRATE SVOBODA!
Martinu Quartet
Janacek, Martinu & Svoboda
Lincoln Hall
focm.org

19 - Sun - 2:00 pm
MOUSAI
"Tell Me A Story"
Curtis, Janacek, Persichetti & Small
First Presbyterian Church
firstpresportland.org
 
19 - Sun - 7:00 pm
MOUSAI REMIX
Bartok's 6th String Quartet
Cyril's @ Clay Pigeon Winery
mousairemix.instantencore.com

24 - Fri - 7:30 pm
CHANTICLEER
"The Gypsy in my Soul"
Ligeti & Rautavaara
Kaul Auditorium @ Reed
focm.org

25 - Sat - 3:00 pm
OREGON REP SINGERS
"The Sealed Angel"
Bernstein & Shchedrin
First United Methodist Church
orsingers.org

26 - Sun - 3:00 pm
PORTLAND CHAMBER ORCH
"A Spring Swing"
Barber & Bernstein's "West Side Story"
Agnes Flanagan Chapel @ Lewis & Clark
portlandchamberorchestra.org

========================== >
Radio

4/11/18/25 - Saturday: 8-10
CLUB MOD
All-Classical @ 89.9 FM
allclassical.org

6/13/20/27 - Monday: 8-10
A DIFFERENT NATURE
KBOO @ 90.7 FM
kboo.fm

========================= >

ET Recording of the Month

GERARD GRISEY
"Les Espaces Acoustiques"
Accord-Musidisc France

========================= >

ET West Coast Trail Concert of the Month


16 - Thur - 7:30
SEATTLE SYMPHONY
Schnittke Violin Concerto 4
Benaroya Hall
seattlesymphony.org

========================== >

Blogs

ALITISA
alitisa.com

EXPERIMENTAL PORTLAND
experimentalportland.com

NOBLE VIOLA
nobleviola.com

NORTHWEST REVERB
northwestreverb.blogspot.com

OREGON ARTS WATCH
orartswatch.org

OREGON MUSIC NEWS
oregonmusicnews.com

Monday, March 30, 2015

Boston Symphony raises the rafters with new Gandolfi work and Mahler Sixth

Michael Gandolfi
When scheduling an orchestral program a year or more in advance, it is probably impossible to know how a brand new piece will match up with any other work, but Michael Gandofi’s “Ascending Light,” which received its world premiere last weekend from Boston Symphony, had a lot in common with Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, the other piece on the program. Both featured a pounding percussion battery that supported loud and massive sonic textures from the orchestra. Usually symphonic programs strive for complimentary pieces that offer some contrast. Still, the audience, which almost filled Symphony Hall on Saturday evening (March 28) relished both pieces, which were conducted by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, and perhaps that proved the saying that you can’t get enough of a good thing.

“Ascending Light,” written for organ and orchestra, was commissioned by the Gomidas Organ Fund in honor of its founder, the late Armenian-American organist Berj Zamkochian (1929-2004) and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Zamkocian made several recordings as the organ soloist with the BSO and taught on the faculty of the New England Conservatory, where Michael Gandolfi currently teaches.

According to the program notes, part of “Ascending Light” was inspired by a sacred Armenian choral piece entitle “Aravot Lousabe” which translates as “Ascending Light” and by an Armenian folk song known as the “Lullaby of Tigranakert.” On the whole, Gandolfi’s music did not stray from a harmonic center, opening with slow drum beats and grand chords from the orchestra and the organ, which featured Frenchman Olivier Latry at the keyboard. After the massive tonal collage dwindled away, simple lines ascended from the organ and were joined at the top by silken strings. Interweaving phrases, were exchanged between the orchestra and the organ before the pounding chords of the opening statement returned. The following warm, legato section established a lull that was broken up by an edgy call from the French horns, which kicked the orchestra into a driving, brassy rhythmic passage and another stretch of massive chords. Later, a dramatic cutoff cleared the floor for the organ, and that was when Latry played a theme that sounded distinctly Armenian. Plaintive piccolo, mournful horns and lower strings suggested sadness, but out of that emerged tones from the harp that climbed heavenward. A return to the pounding drums and massive chordal motif sealed the finale.

With the organ console right next to Nelson’s podium, Latry held the spotlight with his agile playing, impeccably playing his solo passages and blending the sound of the organ with the orchestra even when cranking up the volume. His efforts and the orchestra as a whole received enthusiastic applause from the audience.

After intermission, the orchestra and Nelsons returned to the stage to play Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Shaping the Mahler Sixth into a coherent performance must be one of the most difficult undertakings for any conductor because the 90-minute long piece has so many high peaks and low valleys. Just when the music seemed to reach a climax, it tapered off or segued into soothing passages before it gathered steam once again to climb onto another incredibly loud mountain of sound. The steady tread of drums became and the emotional rollercoaster of the music was relentless –with the exception of the second movement (“Andante moderato”) which was gentle and almost mild in comparison

The French horn section, led by principal James Sommerville, played with panache. Principal tubist Mike Roylance created tonal depth charges of despair and the bass violins (nine!) grumbled with terrific force. Concertmaster Malcom Lowe performed each of his exposed passages impeccably.

Nelsons whipped up the orchestra with a variety of full-body gestures that would have made Mahler proud. Nelsons urged on his colleagues by crouching down to the level of his music stand, leaping, lunging, using hands only, switching the baton to his left hand while guiding with his right, and using his fingers for trills. Once in a while, he appeared to be caught in an awkward moment like a basketball player completing a layup on the wrong foot. But nothing slowed him down or got in the way. The final anguished notes lingered for a while before the audience broke into applause and cheers. It was a triumphant end of a long, wild , and sometimes mind-numbing emotional journey.
---
PS: I greeted Adam Esbensen, BSO cellist, just after he came back on stage for the second half of the performance. Many readers may recall that Esbensen was member of the Oregon Symphony and was active with other ensembles in and around Portland before he joined the BSO.