Thursday, December 14, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Maria Agata Szymanowska (1789-1831)
Joseph Jongen (1873-1953)
Georges Thill (1897-1984)
Spike Jones (1911-1965)
Rosalyn Tureck (1914-2003)
Dame Ruth Railton (1915-2001)
Ron Nelson (1929)
Christopher Parkening (1947)
Thomas Albert (1948)
John Rawnsley (1949)

and

Shirley Jackson (1919-1965)
Amy Hempel (1951)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Alexis de Castillon (1838-1873)
Josef Lhévinne (1874-1944)
Eleanor Robson Belmont (1879-1979)
Samuel Dushkin (1891-1976)
Victor Babin (1908-1972)
Alvin Curran (1938)

and

Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882)
Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972)
James Wright (1927-1980)
Lester Bangs (1948-1982)

And from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1836, at a musical soiree at Chopin's apartments in Paris, the female writer "George" Sand, determined to make a good impression with her host, arrives wearing white pantaloons and a scarlet sash (the colors of the Polish flag). Paris Opéra tenor Adolphe Nourit sings some Schubert songs, accompanied by Franz Liszt. Liszt and Chopin play Moschele's Sonata in Eb for piano four-hands.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Watts stumbles with Grieg in all-Nordic program with the Oregon Symphony

André Watts has been one of the most popular artists over many, many years with the Oregon Symphony. I can still recall him riveting the audience with an electrifying performance of one of Beethoven’s piano concertos with the orchestra when they still played in Keller Auditorium (then called Civic Auditorium). Watts has consistently been one of the very best soloists to play with the orchestra. That’s why it was sad to see him experience problems in playing Grieg’s piano concerto with the orchestra at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday (December 2), due to apparent memory slips.

According to Wikipedia, Watts suffered from a subdural hematoma in 2004 and has more recently recovered from prostate cancer, but whatever the reason, the famous piano encountered noticeable problems when he got lost in the cadenza in the first movement. He recovered and found his way out of it, receiving encouraging applause after finishing it. But his playing in the slow second movement had some missed notes and he was not to be able to get into the flow of the lyrical music. In the third movement he continued to struggle with passages, and seemed to get angry with himself, making some of the quieter phrases too loud. Conductor Carlos Kalmar took care of the situation by giving Watts a few helpful cues just in case. After the piece concluded someone from the audience brought a bouquet of flowers to the stage, and there was plenty of applause, but there was a lot of talk during the intermission as to what had happened. Being one of America’s favorite pianists, one can only how that the performance was just a brief aberration to an otherwise brilliant career.

The Grieg was to centerpiece of an all-Nordic program with works by Jean Sibelius, Carl Nielsen, and Joonas Kikkonen. British conductor Leo Hussain was scheduled to lead the program, but a family emergency interrupted. So Kalmar, the Oregon Symphony’s music director, stepped in to save the day.

The surprisingly delightful piece on the program was Kokkonen’s “Symphonic Sketches,” a short work in three movements that began with a slow, unrelenting heartbeat from the percussion section, which stayed in the background as the strings painted a lush landscape that became slightly exotic – accented by the bassoon (Evan Kuhlmann) in an oddly high register. The second movement was brief and agitated with lively rhythms that bounced along. The third created a ponderous atmosphere with a high, spun sound from the strings, a stately brass choir, followed by long lines from the strings and the return of the quiet heartbeat in the percussion.

The orchestra superbly performed Sibelius’s “Valse triste” with the softest, most exquisite tone – as if playing in a faded, grand ballroom from a bygone era. They followed it with an incisive performance of Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony. A relentless, bristling march impelled by the snare drum (Niel DePonte), signaled the ominous threat of war in spite of the calmer and more harmonious sounds from the orchestra, such as the woodwinds evoking the sound of fluttering birds. That exchange of peaceful and warlike sounds continued throughout the first movement, ending with a plaintive glimmer from the clarinet (James Shields) against the warning of an offstage snare drum. The second movement escalated into a near cacophony of sound with trumpets rising above it all. The strings were scintillating as they flew through lightning-fast passages. A wild ride by the clarinet (Shields) cried out in jubilation followed by alovely, lyrical melody for the strings, indicating a triumph of the good and positive.

Today's Birthdays

Andrey Schulz‑Evler (1852-1905)
Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974)
Frank Sinatra (1915-1998)
Philip Ledger (1937-2012)
Donald Maxwell (1948)
Margaret Tan (1953)
Jaap van Zweden (1960)
David Horne (1970)
Evren Genis (1978)

and

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)
Edvard Munch (1863-1944)
John Osborne (1929-1994)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
Joseph Jongen (1873-1953)
Mieczyslaw Karlowicz (1876-1909)
Leo Ornstein (1893-2002)
Elliott Carter (1908-2012)
David Ashley White (1944)
Neil Mackie (1946)

and

Grace Paley (1922-2007
Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006)
Grace Paley (1922-2007)
Jim Harrison (1937-2016)
Thomas McGuane (1939)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1918, Russian-born conductor Nikolai Sokoloff leads the first concert of the Cleveland Orchestra at Gray's Armory, presented as a benefit for St. Ann's Church. His program included Victor Herbert's "American Fantasy," Bizet's "Carmen" Suite, two movements of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, Liadov's "Enchanted Lake," and Liszt's "Les Préludes".

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Today's Birthdays

César Franck (1822-1890)
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
Morton Gould (1913-1996)
Sesto Bruscantini (1919-2003)
Nicholas Kynaston (1941)
Julianne Baird (1952)
Kathryn Stott (1958)
Sarah Chang (1980)

and

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Melvil Dewey (1851-1931)
Adolf Loos (1870-1933)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

PSU Opera recreates a Parisian salon and blends poignancy with humor in “Cendrillon”

Maeve Stier and Luke Smith
With charming ingenuity, Portland State Opera created the atmosphere of a fin de siecle Parisian salon and topped it off with fine and spirited production on Friday evening (December 1) of Pauline Viardot’s “Cendrillon” (“Cinderella”). The cozy confines of the Lincoln Studio Theater was the perfect place for the cast of young singers to engage and enchant a full house with a rare operetta that probably had never before been performed in Portland. Directed by Brenda Nuckton with an arrangement for piano trio by Chuck Dillard, the singers delivered an outstanding performance that put a smile on the faces of the audience.

Viardot (1821-1910) was a famous mezzo-soprano who studied singing with her mother, piano with Franz Liszt, and composition with Antoine Reicha. She enjoyed a successful career in Europe and Russia and set up a renown intellectual salon in Paris, hosting the eminent composers and writers of the day from Berlioz and Chopin to Dickens and Turgenev. In her later years, Viardot taught singing and composed around 200 songs and a number of operettas. Her “Cendrillon,” which she wrote in 1894, is an elegant and witty retelling of "Cinderella."
Maeve Stier and Megan Uhrinak
Dressed in period costume, PSU Opera’s singers invited the audience into the studio theater with its stage set as Viardot’s Parisian salon. One of the singers witty announced that the space was renamed the “Potato Theater where a single potato can be a veritable feast” and encouraged listeners to donate to the PSU food pantry. That worked perfectly with the Cinderella story later in the show, because Cinderella was generous with the poor.

The salon continued in the spirit of a variety show. Cellist Hasan Abualhaj gave an outstanding performance of the Prelude to Bach’s Cello Suit No. 1 in G major. This was followed by a series of charades in which the audience guessed which opera was pantomimed (“Tosca,” “The Barber of Seville,” “Carmen,” and “Romeo and Juliet”). An elegant dance featuring two PSU students and a game musical chairs involving to participants from the audience then led to Madame Viardot (Megan Uhrinak) handing out sheets of music for an impromptu performance of “Cendrillon” to her salon guests.
Jereme Wilkie
As the scores were gradually discarded, the operetta unfolded, magically drawing everyone into the Cinderella story. Led by the splendid singing and acting of Maeve Stier in the title role, the entire cast gave an outstanding performance. Sisters Magelonne (Rebecca Yakos) and Armelinde (Kaitlyn Lawrence) were convincingly haughty, and Baron Pictordu (Jonathan Roberts) had just the right degree of superficiality and arrogance. The dashing and perfect Prince (Luke Smith) was countered by the swagger of Barigoule who wonderfully got carried away venturing into a row of audience members. The Fiary Godmother (Uhrinak) delivered her lines with a wink and a nod, and Footman (Eric Olson) made sure that everything was served up with a dash of élan.

At one point, the freeze-frame action added a touch of poignancy, but that was balanced with excellent humor throughout the production, including a reverse-dance sequence, disco-mirror-ball projections, stuffed mice instead of horses, and toy lizards for footmen. Excellent diction by the singers conveyed the text, in English, very clearly so that no projected titles were needed, and the piano trio (pianist Dillard, violinist Jonathan Gray, and cellist Abualhaj) accompanied the singers with great sensitivity.

The production of “Cendrillon” once again proved that Christine Meadows, director of PSU Opera, has an uncanny ability to find works that match up very well with each new crop of students in the PSU Opera program. She has the magic wand!

Today's Birthdays

Emile Waldteufel (1837-1915)
Joaquin Turina (1882-1949)
Conchita Supervia (1895-1936)
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (1915-2006)
Dennis Eberhard (1943-2005)
Christopher Robson (1953)
Donny Osmond (1957)
Joshua Bell (1967)

and

John Milton (1608-1674)
Joel Chandler Harris (1848-1908)
Léonie Adams (1899 - 1988)
Ödön von Horváth (1901-1938)

From the Writer's Almanac:

Milton coined more than 600 words, including the adjectives dreary, flowery, jubilant, satanic, saintly, terrific, ethereal, sublime, impassive, unprincipled, dismissive, and feverish; as well as the nouns fragrance, adventurer, anarchy, and many more.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Claude Balbastre (1724-1799)
Frantisek Xaver Dussek (1731-1799)
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)
Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)
Gérard Souzay (1918-2004)
Moisei Vainberg (1919-1996)
James Galway (1939)

and

Horace (65-8 B.C.)
Diego Rivera (1886-1957)
James Thurber (1894-1961)
James Tate (1948)
Mary Gordon (1949)
Bill Bryson (1951)