Sunday, August 2, 2015

Chamber Music Northwest closes its Summer Festival with concertos by Bach, Mozart

Andre Watts
Sunday, July 26th saw the  grand finale of  Chamber Music Northwest's Summer Festival at the Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University. Festival musicians, members of groups playing at the festival and honored soloists all shared the stage in a varied program consisting of three concertos by J.S. Bach as well as Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K 271.

The chamber ensembles consisted of anywhere from 7-14 players including the soloist, and began with Bach's Concerto for Three Violins in D Major, BWV 1064 R, an arrangement by Rudolf Baumgartner. The soloists were Angelo Xiang Yu, Joel Link and Bryan Lee. They played a lively arrangement; spritely and not too thin. The balance was sometimes in question between concertante and ripieno, with the accompaniment often drowned out. The fiddlers three attacked the work with gusto, and a bit of a deliciously rustic technique. In the third movement the shared cadenza with tremolo being passed from one soloist to the next was exciting to hear.

The second work, Bach's Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041 was dramatically different in tenor and execution. It was immediately obvious that Soloist Yura Lee had an idea in mind for the entire work, and that idea was original and brilliant. Her deft explorations of dynamic intensity were captivating, and without the proper blend from the scaled-down, insightful and attentive chamber orchestra her interpretation could never have worked. In the Andante there was a moment were anyone who heard must have, as I did, waited with baited breath for the evolution of one single  note from niente to full strength, and all throughout her ability to create deep, meaningful phrasing, often through the use of extreme and intense dynamic variation, lent a rich and broad meaning to the piece. Her take on this well-known work was fascinating and original--daring overall, especially in its fearless restraint.
Yura Lee

Bach's Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor, BWV 1060R was a bit labored in the ripieno--there were slight but noticeable inconsistencies in tempo throughout, until the final Allegro was reached when all the players finally seemed to come together, displaying crisp part-work and integration with the soloists.

The second half consisted entirely of the Mozart piano concerto, with the venerable maestro Andre Watts taking the stage as soloist. The good-sized orchestra, featuring 13 players plus the soloist, featured some fine ensemble playing and equilibrium, and nice doublings between horns and oboes. Watts had a very free-flowing, almost carefree style. However, the piece as a whole would have benefited from a more brisk tempo and cleaner lines from the soloist--often important phrases felt muddied by over-pedaling on the piano. Though it is historical practice for the soloist to direct from the instrument, this piece could have used a non-performing conductor. Still, Watt's playing was sweetly sentimental and displayed an apt, melancholy longing during the Andantino that was a joy to hear.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Former Opera Theater Oregon Artistic Director Katie Taylor rejoins the company

Press Release:
Big changes ahead at Opera Theater Oregon
Portland’s first indie opera company celebrates 10 years, brings back Artistic Director Katie Taylor

Former Artistic Director Katie Taylor has rejoined Opera Theater Oregon, taking back the hot seat from Erica Melton, who replaced Taylor in 2011. Melton will stay on as Music Director, a role she previously held from 2008 to 2011. Jen Wechsler remains with the company as Film Director.

Taylor and company are in the process of redefining what OTO is and how it will work as it moves into its second decade. The company is preparing for a relaunch later this year.

Taylor, Melton and Wechsler collaborated on some of the company’s most memorable productions, including the Baywatch Das Rheingold, Out of Eden (an original adaptation of Jules Massenet’s Werther), Hercules vs. Vampires and the film short Dick’s In Space.

Taylor previously led Opera Theater Oregon as Artistic Director from 2006 to 2011 and was the artistic visionary behind the development of the company’s novel approach to opera, which emphasizes radical accessibility and playful experimentation. 

Melton, leading the company from 2011 to 2014, continued this approach with genre-bending productions that interwove opera with film, dance, cuisine and fashion, including the company's first outdoor production, The Cunning Little Vixen, performed at Wild Goose Farm on Sauvie Island. 

In 2010, Taylor led a coalition of arts and humanities groups and a pro bono architect/engineer team in an ambitious campaign to lease and restore downtown’s Guild Theatre, which would have become home base for OTO. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the effort got the attention of Mike McMenamin, who offered OTO a two-year residency at The Mission Theatre (OTO is now resident at the Hollywood). 

Hercules vs. Vampires, an original OTO production conceptualized by Taylor and Galen Huckins of Filmusik and composed for OTO by Patrick Morganelli, was remounted by LA Opera in April this year.

OTO was founded in 2005 by Angela Niederloh and Amy Russell. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Interview with composer Kenji Bunch

Oregon Music News has just posted my interview with Kenji Bunch. It was supposed to have appeared at the beginning of the month, but that schedule was re-arranged. Better late then never.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Portland Opera offers Free Street Fair and Simulcast of "The Elixir of Love" this Saturday

From the press release:

Portland Opera’s 50th anniversary season concludes with a community-wide celebration featuring a Street Fair and free simulcast on August 1, 2015.

To coincide with its last performance of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love taking place in the Newmark Theatre, Portland Opera is hosting a daylong Street Fair on SW Main Street between the Antoinette Hatfield Hall and the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Festivities will include family-friendly activities, Portland Opera To Go performances, a live band, and a free simulcast. The Elixir of Love will be sung in Italian with supertitles projected in English.

“We saved the best for last,” says Portland Opera’s General Director Christopher Mattaliano of the Street Fair and of Donizetti’s beloved bel canto work, The Elixir of Love. “With this celebration, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all of the volunteers, donors, patrons, artists, board members, and staff–both past and present–who have given so generously to make Portland Opera into one of the leading regional opera companies in the United States.”

Portland Opera’s Street Fair and simulcast are the finale in a year of programs that included five main stage productions, a new bilingual production of The Barber of Seville for the annual Portland Opera To Go education and outreach tour, the 20th anniversary of the Broadway Across America series, the 10th anniversary of the Resident Artist program, the fifth anniversary of the free Open Chorus rehearsal in Director Park, a new film series, workshops, public lectures, and more.

Noon-10:00pm | SW Main St. between the Antoinette Hatfield Hall and the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall | Free
Noon-1 pm
Children’s Activities
Crafts, face painting, and selfies in front of the Wells Fargo stage coach
1-1:50 pm
Opera Improv Performance
Help create a “mini-opera” in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” format. Lively, informative, interactive, unexpected—and most of all—fun!
2-3 pm
Children’s Activities
Crafts, face painting, and selfies in front of the Wells Fargo stage coach
3-3:50 pm
Opera Improv Performance
Help create a “mini-opera” in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” format. Lively, informative, interactive, unexpected—and most of all—fun!
4-5 pm
Children’s Activities
Crafts, face painting, and selfies in front of the Wells Fargo stage coach
5:30-6:45 pm
Live Band: Will West and the Friendly Strangers
In a nod to the Wild West setting of Portland Opera’s production The Elixir of Love, Portland bluegrass band Will West and the Friendly Strangers will set the tone for the night with a performance that will transition the outdoor festivities from Street Fair to simulcast.
The Elixir of Love, Gaetano Donizetti
The cowpoke Nemorino goes from doormat to dreamboat and wins the hand of high-falutin’ Adina, thanks to a double dose of Dr. Dulcamara’s 40-proof love potion. The Elixir of Love will be set in the American Wild West of the 1880s, a delightfully inventive and uniquely appropriate locale for the action.

Thank you to our sponsors
Support for The Elixir of Love is provided by the James F. and Marion L.Miller Foundation, RACC, Work for Art, the Oregon Arts Commission, Meyer Memorial Trust, and the Collins Foundation. The Street Fair
celebration is sponsored by Wells Fargo.

Friday, July 24, 2015

CMNW's Summer Festival closes out Beethoven series with the mighty 'Kreutzer' Sonata

Augustin Hadelich
Thursday July 16 saw the finale of Chamber Music Northwest's Summer Fesival's three-concert series of the complete Beethoven violin sonatas. Each concert presented a different pair of musicians, and the sonatas were not presented chronologically. The July 16 program consisted of Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Major Op. 12, No. 1, No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 23, and No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47, the famous 'Kreutzer' Sonata. Violinist Augustin Hadelich and pianist Inon Barnatan were the artists.

Opening with Sonata No. 1, there were some deft exchanges between performers. Of particular interest were the moments when violin and piano briefly shifted roles with Hadelich playing accompaniment to Barnatan. Hadelich especially seemed to relish these moments, holding back and seeming to enjoy being out of the spotlight for a moment. Although Barnatan had a tendency to overpower the violin from time to time, there were deft and perfect call and response passages in this first movement. Hadelin played with a well-rounded tone, rich and full, which was needed with the rather loud piano. In the final movement he employed a bold saltando in some memorable passages that further helped balance the sound. Sonata No. 4 was rather pacific; warm and friendly. However, it felt rather muted at times.

Inon Barnatan
The entire second half consisted of the mighty Kreutzer sonata, immortalized in literature and film as well as in the concert hall since its debut. The opening Adagio Sostenuto - Presto really took flight in the presto portion, with Hadelich's lightning-fast spiccato highlighted by difficult and brilliantly-executed chordal passages from the piano. There were moments of high drama, Beethoven's famous sturm und drang, yet the players were not completely swept up: light, almost comedic moments were delivered with as much gusto as the boldest of storms.  The hopping melodic content of the Andante con variazione Hadelich rendered in a cavalier, almost gentile fashion. There was real transportative beauty here, times when one is caught up and surroundings seem to fade. Not an easy task to accomplish.

There were some instances, mostly in the first half, that felt overly restrained, but this in part may have been due to the violin sometimes being subsumed by the piano, not an ideal situation for a violin sonata needless to say. As a Beethoven lover, though, there was not much to find fault with here. By and large, Hadelich hit this one out of the park.

The CMNW Summer  festival concludes Saturday and Sunday the 25th and 26th with the Concerto Festival Finale.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fantastic singing and acting in Wild West version of Portland Opera’s “The Elixir of Love”

Photo credit: Cory Weaver
“The Elixir of Love” received outstanding performances from a posse of young singers plus one savvy veteran on opening night (July 17) at the Newmark Theatre. They were the centerpieces of Donizetti’s rustic comedy, which Portland Opera set in the Wild West of the 1860s with a new production that was brilliantly designed by Curt Enderle and topped off by the superb directions of Ned Canty.

Because the Newmark has a small orchestra pit, Portland Opera used a new arrangement by Bryan Higgins that required only 26 musicians. The reduction in forces balanced extremely well with the principals, who came primarily from the company’s strong resident artist program.

Soprano Katrina Galka had a field day as Adina, the prosperous landowner/businesswoman who coolly ignores the naïve, young man (Nemorino) who is in love with her until he becomes the hottest number in town. Galka sang with ebullience and vocal purity, articulating numerous runs and thrilling high notes that she tossed off with ease.

In the role of Nemorino, Tenor Matthew Grills gave a stellar performance with ardent singing and acting that was perfectly matched. The fearful and stilted way that he attempted to hand a bouquet to Adina, juxtaposed wonderfully with his bubbling confidence from Dulcamara’s elixir and the adoration of the town’s women later in the story. And if anyone wondered, Grill’s delivery of the famous “Una furtive lagrima” aria was world class.

Looking strikingly like General George Custer, Alexander Elliott’s Belcore preened and posed with convincing self-absorption. His voice was especially effective in the upper register where other baritones would fear to tread. Steven Condy played the quack doctor Dulcamara to the hilt. His deprecating asides elicited buckets of laughter, and his basso voice was nimble and engaging. Valery Saul made the most of her role as Giannetta, the charming gal who was in the know.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver
Transposing a Basque village to a frontier town of the Wild West era, was just plain fun to see. Scenic designer Curt Enderle tucked in all sorts of details with “Wanted” signs and posters that advertised Dulcamara’s medicine show. One of the storefronts, denoted as the M & F Emporium, was a wonderful nod to Portland’s past (Meier and Frank), and emblazoned across the top of Dulcamara’s wagon was “Oregon Indian Medicine Company.”

Nicholas Fox, making his debut as an opera conductor, expertly led the orchestra, played the harpsichord, and prepared the chorus. Lighting designer Don Crossley was especially good at damping the background and drawing a bead on the meditative solos.

The only drawback in this production was the arid acoustic of the Newmark Theatre. If there were an way of getting some warmth and a little smidgen of reverb, that would have brought everything to an even higher level. But right now, it is highly recommended to get a ticket and hear some of the best young voices that you’ll ever hear anywhere. There are just four more performances left: July 23rd, 25th,and 30th and August 1st.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Emerson String Quartet delivers Mozart and Ravel in Chamber Music Northwest concert

Emerson String Quartet with Paul Neubauer | Photo by Tom Emerson
A lot of excitement was in the air on Saturday, July 11th, at Chamber Music Northwest. The vaunted Emerson String Quartet was about to enter and play before a sold out crowd at Kaul Auditorium, which, according to Reed College seats 760. Winners of numerous accolades, including nine Grammys, three Gramophone Awards, the Avery Fisher Prize, and Musical America’s “Ensemble of the Year,” the Emerson String Quartet has earned a big fan base in Portland and drew an SRO audience for its performance on the following evening as well.

For the first half of its concert, the Emerson String Quartet played two Mozart works, leading off with the String Quartet No. 14 in G Major (K. 387) and finishing with the String Quintet in E-flat Major for Viola and String Quartet (K. 614). The String Quartet No 14 (aka the “Spring” quartet) was one of Mozart’s early quartets and part of a group of six that he dedicated Haydn.

Because he may have wanted to impress Papa Haydn, Mozart, who was only 26 when he wrote the Spring quartet, threw in some inventive ideas. The most memorable of these was the accenting of notes on the off-beat during a climbing phrase (played wonderfully by violinist Philip Setzer) in the second movement. That surely would’ve tickled Haydn who was noted for injecting humor into some of his works. The Emerson String Quartet delved into the many nuances of the piece, feathering diminuendos the end of phrases, maintaining a terrific balance of sound while letting the leading voice come through, and creating a sprightly and fun ending.

The only odd thing that happened was that they had to retune before beginning the second movement. This may have been due to the capacity audience, which can affect the temperature of the hall even with the air conditioning running at full blast. They had apparently tuned their instruments before coming out to play.

Violist Paul Neubauer joined the Emerson String Quartet to play Mozart’s String Quintet in E-flat Major (K. 614), which was the last chamber music that Mozart wrote. He finished it eight months before he died in 1791. Violinist Eugene Drucker led the ensemble with nimble playing, making all of the fast runs and trills sound like the easiest think in the world. Robust hunting horn sounds from the violas (Lawrence Dutton and Neubauer), the dance-like tunes, the poignant pauses, and the galloping finale were played with panache. Overall, the lovely voice of Paul Watkins’s cello didn’t come through strongly enough.

The second half of the program featured Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major, which took the audience on a different music journey. Played brilliantly by the Emerson String Quartet, the piece (written in 1903) established an entirely different atmosphere right away. The first movement established wonderfully eerie, enchanted, nighttime music. The second continued the mood with a bit more of an edgy sound. The third created a slow, lyrical, and melancholic feeling before ending at an ethereal precipice. The fourth went wild with evocative jagged lines that seemed to dash off in different directions. It was a sensuous and inspired performance, and the electrifying end of the journey brought the audience to its feet, sending the Emerson String Quartet out into the night with thunderous applause.