Tuesday, March 11, 2014
This is the third part of a discussion with impressario and composer Bob Priest about March Music Moderne IV.
So what is coming up for the festival this Friday?
Priest: Friday's MMM array unfolds beginning at 3 pm with a free concert by Judith Cohen at the Portland Piano Company. Juthdith is a Seattle-based pianist who used to play with my group Marzena back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in Seattle. She will give her performance on an ultra-fab Faziolli piano - already a huge treat! Cohen will perform a huge variety of pieces by Louis Andriessen, Béla Bartók, Ken Benshoof, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alan Hovhaness, Erik Satie, Erwin Schulhoff, and Patrick Stoyanovich. Down the road a piece at Lewis & Clark College, a 5 pm lecture by noted scholar James Harley will address "Music & Mathematics: Xenakis & beyond." Harley is a wonderfully eclectic Canadian composer and man about the globe. He wrote an acclaimed book on Xenakis, is a specialist on the highly-skewed music of The Residents and has written numerous raucous big band charts. Jim studied with Xenakis in Paris & the Free Marz String Trio has commissioned a new work from him to be premiered during the final concert of the festspiel. He also will have a formidable bass clarinet piece played on the Friends of Rain concert & an electro-acoustic onslaught aired on the Electric Marzena Land program. I met Jim 30 years ago in a Warsaw music store back when Poland was still thickly oppressed by their Soviet "allies" & we've been good friends ever since. MMM is celebrating his 55th birthday, and we are grateful to the Canadian Council for helping to fund his PDX residency.
At 7:30, MMM crosses the river back into my old SE 'hood for a kicker of a concert at the Community Music Center - probably my fave music venue in town! The Arnica String Quartet will play the three uber-great string quartets of Benjamin Britten. I’ve never heard the third string quartet live (Benji's final completed work), and to hear all three of these masterworks in one evening is a very rare opportunity. Charles Noble and his colleagues from OSO have been devoted to Britten for quite some time, and I would rate these quartets right up there with THE greatest quartets of the Twentieth Century. I would NOT miss this festival highlight!
MMM's frolicsome Friday culminates at 11 pm with Sounding the Cinema II, a FREE showing of Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” at Cinema 21. In this spooky & troubling film, pre-existing music is employed much as Wendy Carlos did in “A Clockwork Orange." Here, Robbie Robertson assembled patches of superb music by Penderecki (the particularly phobic Passacaglia from his 3rd Symphony), Harrison, Ligeti, Cage, Scelsi, Marshall, Mahler and John Adams. I highly recommend picking up the 2-CD soundtrack given that it can serve double-duty as a new music primer! The unforgettable outgoing music in "Shutter Island" is a spine-tingling meld of gorgeous string music by Max Richter & Dinah Washington’s voice from "This Bitter Earth."
OK, please lemme catch my cyber-breath before coming back to tell you about MMM's final ten events on Saturday and Sunday...
Thursday, March 6, 2014
It is a pleasure beyond measure to enjoy a concert by Portland's premier large chorus that is dedicated to masterworks of the choral repertoire. Sunday (March 2nd) afternoon's late winter concert, themed "Light and Love," took place in the sacred and acoustically live space of our local Catholic Cathedral. Warm and dry inside, it was a refuge from the constant rain, the "permamist," of Portland; more than simple enhancement, the gorgeous choral music offered was, as always, a joy.
"Light and Love" brought to mind recent celebrations and observances of both the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Candlemas, a month ago, with its blessing and procession with candles, reminiscent of the aged Simeon's canticle Nunc Dimittis: "… to be a light to enlighten the Nations …" and St. Valentine's Day with its love, arrows and affection.
As conductor Steven Zopfi mentioned in his introductory comments, Josef Rheinberger, a lover of nature, in his work Drei geistliche Gesänge sets first a text about morning (translated: "The darkness [God] has banished, / you, children, take no fright; / he comes to those who love him, / the Father of all light"). Another love of the composer was religion and the second part is from the Offertory proper for Christmas Day, based on Psalm 89:12,15 (translated: "Thine are the heavens, thine the earth …"). The little trilogy ends with Abendlied, contrasted with the opening morning song, with the text from the Gospel According to Luke, "Abide with us … the day is far spent."
Next was "Village Wedding," by the late John Tavener, that reflects his Orthodox conversion by depicting, through a series of musical and verbal images, a village wedding ceremony in Greece. Zopfi mentioned that this could be considered a homage to Igor Stravinsky, and it was easy to hear that in this work. A simple, four-note theme is developed throughout. The composer's notes at its premier performance by the Hilliard Ensemble at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival in 1992 set the scene: "My insertion of Isaiah's Dance (the moment in the Orthodox marriage ceremony when the couple is solemnly led three times around the Holy Table by the Celebrant), and the whole tone of (Angelos) Sikelianos' poetry … show that everything in the natural and visible world, when rightly perceived, is an expression of a supernatural and invisible order of reality." The American premiere took place in 1995 with Chanticleer. I'm wondering if this weekend's fine performance was a Portland premiere?
The "Isaiah's Dance" is the most engaging section of this piece, lively and jaunty, then peaceful and tranquil. One could reflect on Tavener's life in that same vein, a life that sadly ended last year. His spare, austere music is a terrific basis for meditation and contemplation. Imagining a painting or icon of the Wedding in Cana of Galilee, up behind the altar of the cathedral, is easy!
Part of the text follows here:
To my beloved, who breaks my heartUnfortunately, the text was omitted in the attractively printed program provided for the audience. Perhaps this can be rectified for future concerts of this kind, in which seeing the texts is integral to the total listening experience. Otherwise, PSC's printed program was the most attractively produced I've seen in a long while, and considerable care was given to it. The written and spoken notes and commentary by Steven Zopfi were most welcome and helpful.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child. [interspersed between the following lines]
Do you listen within your veil, silent, God-quickened heart?
O depth and stillness of virginity! Follow your man.
Let them throw white rice like a spring shower.
Like a spring cloud, let her now tenderly spread her bridal veil.
O the peace of the bridal dawn.
And he listens, and he listens.
And, as in front of a fount of crystal water,
Let the girls pass in front of the bride,
Observing her look from the corner of their eyes,
As though balancing pitchers on their hearts.
Held by your husband's strong heart,
And he listens.
Bring into the world with a single cry your child,
As the poet brings forth his creation.
Eric Whitacre's unique setting of the poems of his then-girl friend (and now his wife), Hila Plitmann, called "Five Hebrew Love Songs," concluded the first part of the concert. Each of the poems is artfully set by one who, when he began his studies, could not read music! That has certainly changed, and in a big way. Anyone who has sung Whitacre's works, or listened closely to them, is immediately struck with tenderness, boisterousness, contrasts (e.g., between male and female voices) and sheer joy. Eric and Hila were obviously madly in love with each other and his music reveals that. While a mostly wordless, delicate sound was heard in Éyze shéleg! ("What snow!"), baritone Ariel Rogson's expert Hebrew was spoken. The listener had to be attentive to all five poems to enjoy the effect. The lovely and integral violin part was well-played by Janet George and percussion was executed by Gordon Rencher. Signe Lusk competently played the piano accompaniment. After the cycle, I found myself turning to my spouse and saying "Wow!" as we smiled at each other and realized that Whitacre is our younger son's age!
After intermission, there were three more works, each sung with accuracy and skill by this wonderful choir who produce "walls of sound" that emphasize the joy of making music like this in a choir and presenting it to an audience who, it is hoped, share that joy. René Clausen's Magnificat was first, utilizing both the Latin text,(Magnificat, anima mea…), intoned by Emily Kalteich, and an English text. As far as I could tell, this is the English Language Liturgical Consultation (formerly known as the International Consultation on English Texts) translation. It provides a more modern version of the traditional English text from the Book of Common Prayer, 1662 (or American 1928). I suppose this is due to Clausen being the Director of Choral Music at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, which is under the auspices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and its liturgical life makes a large impact on the institution's esthetic and musical life. It was refreshing to hear, and I was reminded of the splendid choral tradition at that college, the present-day artists there being descendants of F. Melius Christiansen and his followers. This piece was commissioned in 1988 and, as Zopfi's notes mention, "… is a wonderful example of Clausen's love of thick textures, interesting solo lines, angular soprano parts [not unlike Morten Lauridsen's, ed.], and Clausen's ability to dramatize the text." This setting of the Canticle of Mary would be most suitable for Choral Evensong from some English Cathedral or Collegiate Chapel on BBC Radio Three, sung in the context of the liturgy. Perhaps we'll hear it on their streaming audio one day!
Morten Lauridsen, the noted composer who hails from Beaverton, has written a body of choral works that have become increasingly popular through the years. The choral textures and shapes, the angularity of sound, especially in the soprano parts, the selection of engaging texts, are all hallmarks of this man's lovely and accessible music. Nearly two years ago, some of us were present at First Unitarian Church to see a film about Lauridsen, the PSU Chamber Choir performed a few works, and the composer himself was present to talk with the audience. It was an unforgettable evening.
In this cycle, entitled "Nocturnes," there are four choral songs, two in French with texts by Rilke, another in Spanish with text by Neruda, and another in English, text by James Agee. The delicate accompaniment is with piano, deftly handled by Signe Lusk. "Nocturnes" was commissioned by the American Choral Directors Association in 2005 and was premiered at their national conference that year by the Donald Brinegar Singers with the composer at the piano. "The poetry of the first two songs and the last of the cycle use the imagery of night to represent death, and they serve as songs about light as well as love. The third, "Sure on this Shining Night," sets Agee's poem of the same name, which is most famously set by Samuel Barber, first as a solo song and then later as a choral work." (Steven Zopfi) Having sung Barber's song and heard the choral version, it would be a hard choice to choose one over the other version. Lauridsen's setting was more fitting, I feel, for the context and theme of this concert. The whole cycle was performed without breaks, giving a seamless impression of "whole cloth." Lauridsen never gets stale!
The excellent performance of "Hymn to the Creator of Light" by John Rutter would have been enhanced by providing the text, written by the Anglican divine, Lancelot Andrewes, probably in Latin, and translated into English by Alexander Whyte.
Glory be to thee, O Lord, glory be to thee,This was juxtaposed with the text by Johannes Franck, translated by Catherine Winkworth, and sung to Schmücke Dich, which is used at the conclusion of the piece.
Creator of the visible light,
The sun's ray, the flame of fire;
Creator also of the light invisible and intellectual:
That which is known of God, the light invisible.
For writings of the law, glory be to thee:
for oracles of prophets, glory …
for melody of psalms, glory …
for wisdom of proverbs, glory …
for experience of histories, glory …
a light which never sets.
God is the Lord, who hath shewed us light.
Light, who dost my soul enlighten;Again, the "wall of sound" came into play, and the listener could readily catch what Zopfi remarked, that he got the idea for this concert from this piece. The work is for double a capella choir and is an homage to Herbert Howells, whose Church music is especially keen and sung over and over in both England and America. Zopfi "warned" Sunday's audience that this is not like other work by Rutter. "Hymn" is not a brash, in-your-face sort of piece, with brasses blaring triumphantly and with many syncopated rhythms. Rather, it was more introspective and meditative, thus fitting in with the theme of light and love. In the chorale is the line, "Oh, how vast and deep its treasure …"; the vast, deep treasure was right there in the midst of all of us present Sunday at St. Mary's Cathedral. Thank you, Portland Symphonic Choir and Steven Zopfi, you are a treasure and a gift to all of us!
Sun, who all my life dost brighten;
Joy, the sweetest man e'er knoweth;
Fount, whence all my being floweth.
From thy banquet let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
Through the gifts thou here dost give us,
As thy guest in heav'n receive us.
Phillip Ayers sings with the Portland Bach Cantata Choir and for ten years sang with the PortlandSymphonic Choir. From 2001-2007 he produced and hosted "Choral Classics" on All Classical radio. A retired Episcopal priest, he and his spouse are former church organists and choir directors and now enjoys "sitting in the pew" at church and concerts.
This is the second installment of an interview with Bob Priest about the fourth annual March Music Moderne Festival. This part of the discussion covers the first few days of the second week of the Festival.
The first three days are jam-packed. Tell us what follows.
Priest: A 7:30 pm concert by The Winslow Brothers at The Old Church on Monday, March 10th, starts the new week off and resounding. "From Oregon to Venice with Love" features music by composer, pianist and music critic Jeff Winslow and his older brother Walter. Both Winslows grew up in Oregon, and Walt was a rising star composer before his life was cut short by cancer in 1998. Walter’s final work,“Concertati Veneziani” will be given its West Coast Premiere by Vancouver's DTQ Ensemble – four violins, viola, and cello. This performance will be accompanied by slides of Venice and paintings from the Portland Art Museum's current show devoted to the glories of Venetian art. Also, on the first half of this concert, you will hear baby bro Jeff’s ”Alone on the Prairie,” “Ghosts and Machines" for piano and “Cat Tale" sung by cabaret chanteuse, Nancy Wood from Eugene.
Also on Monday evening at 7:30 is the first of two concerts by Quatuor Ebene, courtesy of PDX treasure presenters, Friends of Chamber Music. Highlighting these performances are two of Bela Bartok’s six string quartets. The dazzling Parisian Ebene Quartet play B's third on Monday and his fourth on Tuesday the 12th. The third is a very condensed and super-intense 15 minute masterpiece and is my favorite of Bartok's SQ portfolio. I remember both Messiaen and Lutoslawski stating their belief that Bartok's quartets represent the pinnacle of the genre after Beethoven. In other words, you're gonna wanna hear this world-class ensemble run these down! Both performances will be at Lincoln Hall on the Portland State University campus.
Just a few blocks away at The Old Church, also on Tuesday, you can choose to catch the Oregon Wind Quintet concert. This stellar ensemble is based at the University of Oregon and is led by flutist extraordinaire Molly Barth. The program includes the local premiere of PDX native, Kenji Bunch’s “Shout Chorus" --- a kick-ass tune that Kenji wrote in 2006. Other composers essayed by OWQ at their gig "Retro-Moderne" are Alex Temple, Paul Hindemith, Elliott Carter, and Jean Françaix. Dang it, I wish I could be in two places at once on both Monday and Tuesday nights! Alas.
Next up, at high noon on Wednesday the 12th, you can drive on down to Lake Oswego for a free concert entitled Going Boldly In Lake Oswego at the L.O's United Methodist Church. This standout MMM program is curated by Linda Woody and will feature Astor Piazzolla’s “History of Tango” for flute and guitar, a major work by Calvin Hampton for organ, Lou Harrison’s exquisite “Varied Trio” for violin, percussion, and piano, plus premiere performances of two new works by Woody. I am particularly looking forward to experiencing her opus for handbell choir - what fun!
Later on Wednesday, 7:30 pm at Michelle’s Pianos, we have a Cascadia Composers production of Piano Bizarro with spank 'em up music by Jennifer Wright, Art Resnick, Ted Clifford, Stephen Montague, and a rarely-performed controversial behemoth for four pianos by prematurely deceased black composer, Julius Eastman. I'll tell you right now, Eastman's work will absolutely pin you to the wall - trust mmme! Yes, an evening like none other during MMM, "Piano Bizarro" utilizes an extremely unusual array of keyboard instruments: dueling toy pianos, amplified harpsichord, prepared, detuned and electrified pianos…plus the world’s only “Skeleton Piano.” I'd get to this one early if I were you as it's gonna be SRO.
Post-Haste Reed Duo on Thursday the 13th marks MMM's return to one of my fave venues in town, Hipbone Studio. This will be a highly virtuosic and very intimate evening of music for saxophone and bassoon by three of Europe's greatest living composers, Louis Andriessen, Heinz Holliger, and Peter Maxwell Davies. Lemme say it again, I LOVE Hipbone Studio and always look forward to seeing the wonderful art work adorning its walls. Post-Haste is Sean Fredenburg, instructor of saxophone and chamber music at Portland State University, and Javier Rodriguez, bassoon prof at the University of Texas at San Antonio where he teaches studio bassoon and courses in woodwind instrumental techniques and world music.
Now, hold on, please don't touch that dial. James Bash and I will be baaaack with part III of this talkabout in a few days. After all, MMM's final 14 events on Friday (14th), Saturday (15th), and Sunday (16th) deserve some cyber-air time, too, pravda?
The Shostakovich Fourth hasn’t been heard in Oregon since 1985 mostly because it requires huge forces including 20 separate parts for woodwinds. That’s a headache in the pocketbook for professional orchestras, which would have to hire a lot of extra musicians. For this concert, the PYP was augmented by their younger colleagues in the Portland Youth Conservatory Orchestra. That translated, by my count, around 140 instrumentalists on the stage of the Schnitz. With many ensembles, the larger the forces, the weaker the cohesiveness of the performance, but that was not the case with at this concert. The high caliber of playing was evident from Hattner’s downbeat, which released an emphatic statement from the orchestra with barking French horns, a crashing gong, pulsating xylophone, and a massive wail from the entire ensemble. The orchestra created a vast array of intriguing textures and colors: at one moment a crisp brass section marched crisply onward, at another moment the strings would surge ahead, then the ensemble would fashion a diminuendo so well that the gentle sounds of two harps rang true and would clear out a space for a soulful passage from the principal bassoonists, Nicholas Clark and Debra Loh. The piece ebbed and flowed with terrific dynamics, including the beehive of sound when the strings whirled through a scintillating fugato section. Concertmaster Rachel Graves and principal trombonist Peter Judge played evocative solos, and the piece wound up in a mesmerizing way with rising notes from the celesta over a thick sonic mist from the strings.
Even without the Shostakovich, this program featured another exceptional piece, Bartók’s Viola Concerto, which the composer left in sketches at the time of his death and was completed by his pupil, Tibor Serly. The concerto received a brilliant performance – entirely from memory – by Zacharia, the PYP’s co-principal violist who won the orchestra’s annual concerto competition. Zacharia played the fast movements with impeccable technique and was equally skilled with the slow, plaintive sections as well. His cadenzas were superb and his playing delved into the serious nature of the piece with grace. The orchestra supported Zacharia with a transparent sound that made it very easy to hear him at all times. It was an amazing solo debut for Zacharia, who turned 15 on the same day (and he was treated to the "Happy Birthday" song by this orchestral colleagues).
The concert began with “Celebration Fanfare,” which Walzcyk wrote to mark the passage of the baton from the Oregon Symphony music director James DePreist to Carlos Kalmar in 2003. Aside from some slippage in the first couple of measures, the PYP delivered a robust performance, capturing the spirit of the piece handsomely.
Monday, March 3, 2014
March Music Moderne, Portland's annual celebration of new music, will be opening this Friday for a run of 10 days (March 7th through the 16th) at various venues all over the city. I caught up with impresario and composer Bob Priest to find out more about this year's offerings. Here is the first of three installments of this interview:
What is different about MMM IV this year? Is it just the fact that you’ve condensed it to a span of fewer days?
Priest: Yes, fewer days (daze?) but with the same gaggle of 32 action-packed events in 24 different venues sprinkled all across Global Village PDX! Actually, this year, MMM is more of a multi-media affair with a goodly dose of film, visual art, poetry, and dance, as well. Of course, music is still very much full-frontal and central: high modernist avant-garde, minimalist, neo-romantic, industrial noise, world-beat-inflected, meditative, soundscape, jazz, free improv, electro-acoustic, microtonal, gamelan, tango, flamenco, 20th century classics, and arty rock. We are presenting music by 67 composers from 19 countries. Heck, there's even some Beethoven and Bach thrown into the eternal present of our - and all - time. By the way, 14 MMM events are free, and many others are only $10 or less. MMM has something for every ear and change purse!
From attending festivals all over the world, I’ve found that people tend to gear-up more readily (masochistically?) for a vertical blitz of concerts than for programs stretched-out across many weeks. That's why a day for night like Saturday the 8th has SIX events for the most hearty of festspiel goers!
You are kicking things off in cinematic fashion with a showing of A Clockwork Orange at Cinema 21.
Priest: Yes and I’m calling the opening evening's fare Ears & Eyes Wide Open. Film continues to have a dramatic impact on my life. I guess it's fair to call me a closet film maker without the camera, crew, training, and budget! One of the pictures that is key to my entire esthetic is A Clockwork Orange because of the way it employs traditional and highly familiar music in both a literal and somewhat twisted way. In this case, Wendy Carlos has stitched together Beethoven's 9th Symphony and other music by Purcell, Elgar, Rossini, and herself to form a fresh and deeply iconic sound tapestry. The show starts at 11pm, and the first 20 "droogies" get in for free. I’m hoping that some folks will come in costume. Maybe a few will even dress up as Beethoven!
Then, the very next morning (actually, a mere 7-ish hours later), the Independent Artists of Milepost 5 present a 24-installation of Nine Beet Stretch - Beethoven’s 9th Symphony stretched to 24 hours at pitch. The Norwegian sound artist, Leif Inge, took an actual recording of the 9th and fed it through a rather complex computerized system that you can read more about by going to Leif's website. Essentially what happens here to be heard, felt and lived is that "9 Beet" winds up being more than 18 times slower than normal. It’s the sonic equivalent of looking under a high-powered microscope and seeing a whole slew of cells and molecules dancing & morphing about. You will literally reside inside Beethoven's micro sound world (whirled?) as you experience multiple layers of strange harmonics, inner vibrations, glacially-paced melodic fragments and suchnesses there-like that you would never hear otherwise. People worldwide have signaled "9 Beet Stretch" as a life changing encounter with musical protoplasm!
There will also be a visual art component to this "experience" and refreshments will be available. You can come and go, doze, meditate and BYO-sleeping bags if y'all would like to curl up and/or stretch out with the music. Downbeat is 9am on Saturday the 8th and lasts for 24 hours until 9am on Sunday! In other words: Number 9, Number 9, Number 9...
Well, while "9 Beet" drones on across town, there’s also a Soundwalk led by composer Susan Alexjander at Mt Tabor Park beginning at noon. This was a very successful and enlightening walkabout last year, and we are looking for another good turnout for this unique MMM offering. One of many free MMMings, do remember to dress for the occasion as Susan will NOT be deterred by any sort of PDX weather of the mmmoment.
Then, at 2 pm, you can drift over to a concert of new music by the Contemporary Portland Orchestra Project and the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble at AudioCinema. This program features works by Justin Ralls, Emyli Poltorak, Sam Reising, Jay Derderian, Fred Rzewski and Terry Riley (his mesmerizing "In C").
MMM ambles on at 4pm with another freebie, PDX NOIR: Photo Images From Our Global Village, curated by Guy Swanson and Chris Leck at Three Friends Coffee House. This intimate and cozy setting serves as MMM Centrale or Grounds Zero during this year's festival. Here, one can find fellow MMM attendees in various stages of advanced caffeine-addled revery and conversation.
Still on Saturday, at 7:30 pm, electro-dynamic host with the most, Leo Daedalus mounts a special edition of his signature avant variety show The Late Now at a gloriously gussied-up Vie de Boheme in SE. A wildly eclectic evening of whip-smart mayhem, instruction in musical Kama Sutra will be on the bill under the loving guidance of some of PDX's most advanced practitioners of musical, comedic, and poetic ecstasy. Ah . . .
Finally, MMM's 6-spot Saturday concludes with an 11 pm mixed-media staging of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music at Three Friends Coffee House. Gifted local writer Amanda Sledz will read a brand new prose piece just before the maelstrom begins that will be danced in candle light by three Seattle Butoh artists: Joan Laage, Sheri Brown, and Alan Sutherland. Metal Machine Music is a virtual hour long wall of layered and wailing feedback. Lou Reed assembled his "godfather of industrial noise" music collage of multiple electric guitars panning explosive sound across the stereo spectrum back in 1975. Essentially a giant drone piece with finely detailed micro activities, your experience of Reed's MMM will likely relate back to and cross-fertilize with "9 Beet Stretch" in that you will once again live somewhat inside the highly saturated sound. It’s an immersion experience with the music pretty pumped. Now, lemme be honest here, OK? This gig really is NOT for the faint of ear, eye, mind and/or spirit! So, now that I've warned you into REALLY wanting to attend, try to arrive a bit early as seating is intimate and limited. Then, after Metal Machine Music is over close to 1 am, you can crosstown traffic your way back over to Milepost 5 to catch the last "few" hours of "9 Beet Stretch!" Come on, muchachos, ride the night out & ring in the day! You can tell your grandkids about this lovably nutso all-nighter as a bedtime story during a long March night to come . . .
Anyway, moving further into Sunday the 9th, there will be a noon exhibit of art by local and regional artists inspired by the anatomical drawings of Andreas Vesalius. This exhibition is called Andreas Vesalius at 500. It was commissioned by Peter Rossing and will be held at Muse Art and Design on Hawthorne. Vesalius was a 16th century physician that dabbled in grave robbing in order to enlist the cast of characters that are featured in his highly influential treatise on the human body. Artists, composers, students of anatomy and doctors still draw heavily upon his, uh, ground-breaking work!
The Tardis Ensemble will perform on Sunday. I’ve not heard of this ensemble.
Priest: The Tardis Ensemble is a relatively new group formed by the wonderful Canadian oboist Catherine Lee, who recently moved to Portland. Tardis' program will feature works for flute, oboe, violin, double bass, and percussion by Louis Andriessen, Peter Maxwell Davies, David Lang and the great French-Canadian composer Claude Vivier. His "Pulaw Dewata" is a very beautiful, gamelan-inspired work – very motoric with lots of ringing percussion. The concert will take place 2pm at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church. By the way, one can find all MMM venues mapped on our website; www.marchmusicmoderne.org.
Extending the gamelan theme a bit further, the Resonance Vocal Ensemble will collaborate & beautifully blend with the Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan in a program entitled Gongs + Songs at The Armory. The main work on this molto delicioso 5 pm program is Lou Harrison’s “Gending in Honor of Aphrodite,” written for choir, gamelan, and harp. Harrison was a Portland native and is the subject of a book that music critic and Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan member Brett Campbell is currently writing.
Sunday's MMM marathon concludes with a concert by PDX's vital and crazily energetic Classical Revolution PDX. C-Rev's program is devoted to modern LGBT composers including Pauline Oliveros, Lou Harrison, and Peter Maxwell Davies. "Max" is one of MMM's focus composers this year as he celebrates his 80th birthday. Pauline is a terrific American composer and sound meditator that plays accordion and is co-founder of the Deep Listening Band with fellow sonic wizard, Stuart Dempster. I'm told that one of Pauline's works will include inviting audience members to join in by singing pitches and passing them around the room to each other. This concert will take place at Holocene at 7:30 pm.
That’s a lot of events for the first three days!
Priest: You bet. And, guess what? Yeah, that's right, droogies, more comin' your way soon, so, please stay 'tooned . . .
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
The big draw on program was the Rachmaninoff piece, which is one of the most popular piano concertos ever written because of its gorgeous themes. The first few minutes of the performance on Saturday evening got off to a robust start, but the orchestra was just a tad too loud for the first few minutes until Cohen got to the first theme. From that point on, a mind meld between soloist, conductor, and orchestra occurred and the performance became pure magic. Cohen effortlessly dazzled the audience with playing that sparkled and shimmered in the fast sections and became tantalizingly dreamy in the slow ones. The orchestra augmented his playing with stellar dynamics that kept the piece moving forward. Brilliant solos by principal horn, John Cox and principal clarinetist, Yoshinori Nakao added to the luster of the performance. The audience practically jumped up to applaud the performers after the glorious finale and was rewarded with an encore that splashed through the finale again.
The concert began with Debussy’s “Nocturnes,” which is divided into three movements that evoke Clouds, Festivals, and Sirens. In the first movement, it was easy to imagine clouds adrift as the orchestra painted a mysterious and serene mood. The rising sequence of notes from Kyle Mustain’s English horn added a beguiling, hypnotic element. The second movement featured pulsating sounds from the woodwinds, a rolling series of notes from the flutes, a procession emanating from harps and timpani, and a fanfare of trumpets from afar. The choir of women in the final movement placed a radiant thread of ahs on the sonic tapestry of the orchestra. The overall effect was soothing and enchanting and worthy of the sirens of Greek legend.
The first half of the concert ended with a lively interpretation of Haydn’s Symphony No. 53 (“L’Impériale”). The strings of the orchestra shone in all facets of the piece, whether they fashioned passages of smooth elegance or skipped along playfully. Their blend was exceptional, and they explored all sorts of little dynamic nuances along the way. It was a delight to hear and a reminder of how exceptional this orchestra has become in playing pieces from every era of the classical repertory.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
PSU Opera Presents: A Midsummer Night's Dream
(by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., publisher and copyright owner)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the most beguiling and enchanting of all Benjamin Britten’s operas. It is a work with spellbinding atmosphere that inhabits a truly unique dreamlike world.
April 26, 27M, 29; May 2 and 3, 2014 at 7:30pm
(April 27, 3pm matinee)
Lincoln Performance Hall
1620 SW Park Ave
Tickets & Information
PSU Box Office: 503-725-3307503-725-3307
Monday, February 17, 2014
Photo by Sim Canetty-Clarke
Opening with Witold Lutoslawski's Symphony No. 4, the OSO wasted no time getting right into a meaty program. The opening was spookily inviting and immediately engrossing--uneasy atmospherics, an ominous, discordant clarinet coming in almost like an afterthought but steadily growing more insistent, and scritching, toneless glissandi on the harp all added to the effect. Later it continued with a plaintive meowing on the violin and a ghostly tootling on the portative that was almost not there at all. All throughout Lutoslawski paints a gloriously inviting sound picture, intuitively realized by the OSO. What does one make of it all? Listening to a piece like this reinforces the importance of live music: as much as I enjoyed this work, it wouldn't be first on my list of CDs I wanted for Christmas. But listening to the work live, it works its way into the consciousness on a subterranean level, demanding to be heard--it will not accept anything less. It is more like Pollock than Rembrandt...maybe it does or doesn't represent something specific, but boy does it command attention.
The Schumann Concerto in A minor for Cello was a stark contrast to the opening work. Moser brought intensity and passion to a remarkably controlled and deft touch. He was not afraid of bold attacks and employed a delicious, ungainly decussation of his cello to achieve certain effects. During the more rapid pieces he stared directly at the violins, as if challenging them to meet him for a duel in the midst of the tempest, and from an ensemble perspective this was nicely done--the final accelerando was as natural and unforced as one could want. Despite occasional pitchiness from the soloist, this was more interesting and enjoyable than Schumann typically is for me.
The second half was Beethoven's beloved Symphony No. 7 in A major. The OSO brought a crispness to the tone and tempo--no malingering over favorite phrases was allowed. When done properly, it's always fun to hear an old chestnut dusted off--no need for showing off or grandstanding from performers, and as a listener it's most enjoyable to leave off contextualizing in these circumstances--let the rest of the 19th, 20th and the infantile 21st century stand aside, and one can hear the music for just what it is, to hear it as when one was a child. The conductor and orchestra must provide the space for that to happen, and guest conductor Mark Wigglesworth certainly allowed for that. The deftness with which OSO approached this--not belaboring Beethoven's elemental use of syncopation letting it live right where it's supposed to in the music--'it is what it is,' to use the parlance of our times. The glorious swelling and receding of the dynamics in the first movement, the solemn chanting from the low strings as the counterpoint reveals itself in the second, and the way the third snaps us out of our reverie with its unflagging pace and exuberance--these are all things we expect from such a well-known work, and perhaps the greatest praise one can say about a performance is that everything that should have been there was, and in its proper place and time. When that happens, the music is glorious, important and satisfying, and Wigglesworth along with the OSO provided all that in this outing.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
|Elizabeth Futral as Lucia in Portland Opera's Lucia di|
Lammermoor. © Ken Howard / Portland Opera
Though sparse, the atmosphere in the lobby of the Keller was decided buoyant, with people dressed mostly in business casual plus sturdy footwear. One Portland Opera staffer was managing the ticket booth all by herself until the company’s general director, Christopher Mattliano, and the director of production, Laura Hassell, came to the rescue.
As I found my seat on the main floor, I took note of the low attendance and then noticed one thing that was strikingly absent: there was no sound from the musicians in the orchestra pit warming up. That made me get up and walk down to take a look. Ah! There was no on in the orchestra pit, except for one man sitting at a grand piano and looking over a score. That’s when I took this photo of the audience.
Within the next few minutes, Mattaliano came to the front of the curtain and explained that since the members of the orchestra come from all around the Portland metro area, they were unable to get to the auditorium because of the inclement weather. He invited everyone in attendance to come forward and fill the front area as much as possible. The principals were ready to go and they would be flying out of Portland to their next gig the next day… weather permitting. He also said that chocolates would be handed out gratis in the lobby during intermission.
After the reassembling ourselves closer to the stage, the lights went down, conductor George Manahan appeared in the opera pit and took a bow, and the production was underway with chorus master Nicholas Fox at the keyboard. For anyone who has read this far but doesn’t know the story of “Lucia di Lammermoor,” here’s a brief synopsis. Lucia is a noblewoman whose brother, Enrico, wants her to marry a wealthy man, Arturo, who she does not love. She loves, instead, Edgardo, the rival of Enrico. But some years beforehand, Enrico killed Edgardo’s father and usurped his family’s land to boot. Using a forged letter, Enrico convinces Lucia that Edgardo is unfaithful. So she reluctantly signs the wedding contract, but on her wedding night, she goes mad, murders Arturo, and then dies. Crushed by the news of Lucia’s death, Edgardo takes his own life. The action takes place in 17th Century Scotland and was inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s “The Bride of Lammermoor,” which was loosely based on a real tragedy between two families in Scotland.
|Carl Halvorson as Normanno, Elizabeth Futral as Lucia,|
Weston Hurt as Enrico in Portland Opera's Lucia di Lammermoor. © Ken
Howard / Portland Opera
The chorus, which seemed to be missing a fair number of women, more than held its own, and Manahan kept the enterprise afloat with spot-on gestures and a wonderful pace that worked well on all sides. But the real hero of the day was Fox, who, with his agile and evocative playing, represented an entire orchestra. I went down to the orchestra pit during intermission and saw him looking over the score with the utmost concentration. I’m not sure that he had much warning that he would be the accompanist that evening. In any case, he really saved the day.
|Scott Ramsay as Edgardo, Weston Hurt as Enrico in|
Portland Opera's Lucia di Lammermoor. © Ken Howard / Portland Opera
Another high point of this production was the wonderful use of lighting, designed by Scott Zielinski and recreated by Scott Bolman, from the front of the stage. It projected ominous shadows of the principals on the huge walls in the background.
Everyone in the production seemed to be giving 150 percent, and that made this “Lucia” a rewarding experience. Before the start of the second act, Mattaliano announced that Tri-Met had stopped the Max lines. So it was no wonder that as the cast came out for its bows, the chorus didn’t appear. They had already gone home.
Here's a photo of opera patrons at the chocolate table.