Saturday, April 21, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Randall Thompson (1899-1984)
Leonard Warren (1911-1960)
Bruno Maderna (1920-1973)
Locksley Wellington 'Slide' Hampton (1932)
Easley Blackwood (1933) Lionel Rogg (1936)
John McCabe (1939-2015)
Iggy Pop (1947)
Richard Bernas (1950)
Melissa Hui (1966)

and

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)
John Muir (1838-1914)
Elaine May (1932)
Nell Freudenberger (1975)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1937, Copland's play-opera for high school "The Second Hurricane," was premiered at the Grand Street Playhouse in New York City, with soloists from the Professional Children's School, members of the Henry Street Settlement adult chorus, and the Seward High School student chorus, with Lehman Engle conducting and Orson Welles directing the staged production. One professional adult actor, Joseph Cotten, also participated (He was paid $10).

Friday, April 20, 2018

Bach's Mass in B Minor reaches heavenward inTrinity Music and PBO performance

Guest review by Phillip Ayers

What a joy it was to be in attendance at the first performance of the “Bach B Minor” that Trinity Music and the Portland Baroque Orchestra performed on Friday (April 13). Trinity Cathedral was packed to the brim. It would be interesting to find out from attendees what, exactly, were their reasons for being there. As Canon Matthew Lawrence remarked in his opening welcome, “This is a sacred space.” And sacred spaces are for anyone. All are welcome! So, whether or not this was a “spiritual” experience, as it certainly was for me, or not, it was an honor to be with all the others Friday.

This monumental work was presented with an intermission, which no doubt was a practical consideration; but I would have preferred an uninterrupted performance. Sure, it would be a long time in a sitting position, but the whole thing is “of a piece.” A few weeks ago, the Oregon Symphony performed Verdi’s "Requiem" without an intermission and I didn’t hear any complaints in the restroom afterwards!

The arrangement for a large-scale work such as this in a worship-space is problematical and this was coped with rather well. The soloists had to move forward from a side position when they sang, and members of the choir had to reposition themselves from their seats to where they would sing. But none of this was distracting. At first, I thought that moving the altar to one side, as it is for organ recitals sometimes, and having all the performers on the altar-level would have been better for the overall performance. But the acoustic is such that, if the choir are forward, the effect is better for the listener in the nave. Visibility of the performers was difficult as well. But, the altar stayed in place, thus emphasizing that the “B Minor,” concert-piece that it is, is very much a mystical, spiritual experience and calls for an appropriate setting.

Bruce Neswick, Canon for Cathedral Music at Trinity, introduced the performance and its conductor, David Hill, conductor of the Yale Schola Cantorum and the Bach Choir of London, as well as other distinguished positions in Leeds and Bournemouth. In doing so, Canon Neswick mentioned that it was a performance of the "Bach B Minor Mass" by the Bach Choir in 1847 that heralded the revival of this massive work.

For me, openings of large choral works always thrill and the opening of the Bach when the tenors begin the massive fugue in the Kyrie is no exception. It reminds me of the opening of the "Mozart Requiem" with the clarinet’s pungent introduction to the choral exclamations of Requiem aeternam and Kyrie. I sat mesmerized and almost in tears. The careful enunciation of the text, taken up by the altos, then the first sopranos, then the second sopranos, and finally the basses, etched an indelible impression upon me.

The care that singers and players gave to the entire production was admirable, and many things stand out. First, the singers: all five soloists were outstanding. The two sopranos, Trinity’s own Arwen Myers and Estelí Gomez sparkled especially in their duet in Christe eleison, German tenor Nils Neubert shone in the Benedictus and the bass Jesse Blumberg stood in the pulpit for Quoniam tu solus sanctus, declaiming the Most High in an expressive fashion. He also executed the wide range necessary to sing Et in Spiritum Sanctum in the Credo. Countertenor Daniel Moody’s crisp, clear (and high!) blessed instrument rang out in all of his arias. The whole ensemble alternated with the choir, providing a wonderful contrast in two places in the score.

Members of the Portland Baroque Orchestra were at their best, accompanying the Trinity Choir and the soloists, carefully tuning often. The solo violin (Carla Moore) in Laudamus te, playing 32nd notes with great ease, was a complement to the excellent singing of the soprano. Janet See, playing a wooden transverse flute, stood out in the Benedictus. But the surprise of the evening was hearing—and seeing—Andrew Clark play a corno da caccia in the Quoniam. This remarkable instrument has a bell that seems like it is a mile from the rest of the horn, and Clark played from memory using only his embouchure (lips, as there are no valves) to bring off this difficult music.

As a choir singer myself, I’m always on the lookout for how a choir works with a conductor, particularly one who is a guest, such as Mr Hill. The choir was expertly prepared by Canon Neswick and his assistants, Christopher Lynch and Arwen Myers (one of the soprano soloists) well in advance of this performance. Hill had only three rehearsals last week before the first performance to bring his particular skill and expertise to the group, and the final result was stupendous. It was noticeable that a few times the conductor pointed to his eye as though to signal the chorus to watch him more closely, and a few singers were careful about that. However, having sung this work before, I would have to say, “This is a lot of music!” It is also complex and requires the utmost in attentiveness to notes, dynamics, shaping of sound, and the conductor’s requirements. So, noses in music result! It must also be said that this choir is made up of both professional singers, many of whom are salaried, and “your regular amateur” singer. (Remember that “amateur” means “lover.”) Also, the choir had just come off of a heavy Holy Week and Easter schedule, singing for all the liturgies that go with it.

A small omission in the program was that of the organists’ names who played with the continuo: none other than Bruce Neswick and Chris Lynch.

Two outstanding moments come immediately to mind to acknowledge the choir’s hard work: (1) Crucifixus was stunningly sung, the ending quietly elegant; (2) Dona nobis pacem at the work’s conclusion was glorious. During this movement, I was immediately reminded of two recent events, one global and the other local. The global: President Trump’s announcement that very day (Friday) of the missile strikes in Syria; the local: carrying my sign at the March 24 anti-gun demonstration downtown which read: “Dona Nobis Pacem!” Give us peace, now and always!

Today's Birthdays

Nikolai Miaskovsky (1881-1950)
Lionel Hampton (1908-2002)
Christopher Robinson (1936)
John Eliot Gardiner (1943)
Robert Kyr (1952)

and

Pietro Aretino (1492-1556)
Harold Lloyd (1893-1971)
Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Sebastian Faulks (1953)

And from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1928, in Paris, the first public demonstration of an electronic instrument invented by Maurice Martenot called the "Ondes musicales" took place. The instrument later came to be called the "Ondes Martenot," and was included in scores by Milhaud, Messiaen, Jolivet, Ibert, Honegger, Florent Schmitt and other 20th century composers.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Alexandre Pierre François Boëly (1785-1858)
Max von Schillings (1868-1933)
Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983)
Ruben Gonzalez (1919-2003)
Dudley Moore (1935-2002)
Bernhard Klee (1936)
Kenneth Riegel (1938)
Jonathan Tunick (1938)
David Fanshawe (1942-2010)
Murray Perahia (1947)
Yan-Pascal Tortelier (1947)
Natalie Dessay (1965)

and

Sarah Kemble Knight (1666-1727)
Etheridge Knight (1931-1991)
Sharon Pollock (1936)
Stanley Fish (1938)

and from the New Music Box:

On April 19, 1775, William Billings and Supply Belcher, two of the earliest American composers who at the time were serving as Minutemen (militia members in the American Revolutionary War who had undertaken to turn out for service at a minute's notice), marched to Cambridge immediately after receiving an alarm from Lexington about an impending armed engagement with the British.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674)
Franz von Suppé (1819-1895)
Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977)
Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995)
Sylvia Fisher (1910-1996)
Penelope Thwaites (1944)
Catherine Maltfitano (1948)

and

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)
Bob Kaufman (1925-1986)
Susan Faludi (1959)

Also a historical tidbit from (the former) Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1906 an earthquake struck San Francisco. The earthquake began at 5:12 a.m. and lasted for a little over a minute. The world-famous tenor Enrico Caruso had performed at San Francisco's Grand Opera House the night before, and he woke up in his bed as the Palace Hotel was falling down around him. He stumbled out into the street, and because he was terrified that that shock might have ruined his voice, he began singing. Nearly 3,000 people died.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729)
Jan Václav Tomášek (1774-1850)
Artur Schnabel (1882-1951)
Maggie Teyte (1888-1976)
Harald Saeverud (1897-1992)
Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976)
Pamela Bowden (1925-2003)
James Last (1929-2015)
Anja Silja (1940)
Siegfried Jerusalem (1940)
Cristina Ortiz (1950)

and

Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen (1885-1962)
Thornton Wilder (1897-1975)
Brendan Kennelly (1936)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1906 - on tour in San Francisco with the Metropolitan Opera touring company, the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso sings a performance of Bizet's "Carmen" the day before the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Federico Mompou (1893-1987)
Mischa Mischakov (1895-1981)
Henry Mancini (1924-1994)
Herbie Mann (1930-2003)
Dusty Springfield (1939-1999)
Stephen Pruslin (1940)
Leo Nucci (1942)
Richard Bradshaw (1944-2007)
Dennis Russell Davis (1944)
Peteris Vasks (1946)

and

John Millington Synge (1871-1909)
Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)
Merce Cunningham (1919-2009)
Sir Kingsley Amis (1922-1995)
Carol Bly (1930-2007)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The magical and the idyllic evoked in Oregon Symphony concert

One of the best things about the Oregon Symphony concert on Saturday evening (April 7) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall was how well John Corigilano’s percussion concerto, “Conjurer,” complimented Maurice Ravel’s ballet music, “Daphnis and Chloe.” The Corigliano piece, featuring the orchestra’s artist in residence, Colin Currie, was remarkably subtle and soft, which allowed the Ravel to be more expansive yet maintains its refined character.

Corigilano divided “Conjurer” into three movements defined by types of percussion instruments. The first, “Wood,” offered an array of pitched wood instruments such as the marimba, xylophone, and wood blocks that Currie tapped, struck, hammered, prodded, and scratched. The assortment of tones, separated at times by brief pauses, worked especially well against the string accompaniment.

In the second movement, “Metal,” Currie created a layered web of sounds by playing the vibraphone, cymbals, tubular bells, and tam-tams (gongs). The notes seemed to lengthen and then decay into a contemplative and almost static stance. The third, “Skin” involved several drums, including timpani and a big bass drum that Currie played with his hands rather than with drumsticks. Accented with kick drum and sporadically charged up by the orchestral brass, the music became stirred up before it all subsided and settled down with little pauses to almost mirror the beginning, as if coming out of nowhere.

Unlike previous percussion concertos, Currie didn’t have to dash between the large setups of instruments. Between the first and second movements he seemed to move in slow motion from on percussion battery to the next while Music Director Carlos Kalmar kept conducting, and that caused some chuckling from the audience.

The orchestra has performed the suite from “Daphnis and Chloe” many times, but the concert marked the first time that it chose to do the entire hour-long ballet. Because the music tells a idyllic love story of a shepherd and shepherdess (with some pirates tossed in), it would have been advantageous to have some supertitles to indicate each movement. Otherwise, it was easy to close one’s eyes and ride the sonic ebb and flow and picture a seascape with birds flying about. But Ravel did have the story in mind, and the sensuous arabesques of sound were nonetheless deftly delivered by the orchestra, including a wonderfully effective wind machine (aeoliphone) in the percussion section and choruses from Portland State University (prepared by Ethan Sperry).

Aside from the lush and gorgeous sound of the orchestra, high points included the “Grotesque Dance of Darcon,” which had a wonderfully odd wa-wa from a trio of trombones. Another point was the percussive slap that shot over the orchestra to signal the abduction of Chloe. Virtuosic playing from Concertmaster Sarah Kwak, and principals in the woodwinds and brass added to the enchantment. Overall, the strings shimmered, the myriad of ascending and descending lines flowed like a rushing stream, and the final sonic abandon brought the piece to a fantastic conclusion.

The choruses, consisting of the Portland State Chamber Choir, Man Choir and Vox Femina, were confined to the loft area behind the orchestra, which was disadvantageous, because their sound, while blending nicely with the instrumentalists didn’t have a lot of volume or intensity. More singers would have given the performance the requisite sonic weight to make the evening more memorable.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758)
Karl Alwin (1891-1945)
Bessie Smith (1894-1937)
Sir Neville Marriner (1924-2016)
John Wilbraham (1944-1998)
Michael Kamen (1948-2003)
Lara St. John (1971)

and

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Henry James (1843-1916)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1931, Copland's "A Dance Symphony," was premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. This work incorporates material from Copland's 1923 ballet"Grohg," which had not been produced. The symphony was one the winners of the 1929 Victor Talking Machine Company Competition Prize. The judges of the competition decided that none of the submitted works deserved the full $25,000 prize, so they awarded $5000 each to four composers, including Copland, Ernest Bloch, and Louis Gruenberg, and gave $10,000 to Robert Russell Bennett (who had submitted two works).