Thursday, June 28, 2007

Drew McManus reveals all - salaries of music directors, executive directors and more

If you want to know how much the music directors of major league and minor league orchestral organizations make, then you should take a look at Drew McManus' blog, Adaptistration. For example at the top of the pile among music director, you'll find Loren Maazel checking in a $2,638,940. For the executive directors Deborah Borah of the Los Angeles Philharmonic pulled in a cool $1,325,542.

The report also covers base pay for musicians, orchestra budgets, and percentage of increases or decreases over the previous year.

Read for yourselves...
Music Director compensation

Executive Director compensation

The compensation for music directors of regional orchestras is here.

The compensation for executive directors of regional orchestras is here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Portland Youth Philharmonic gives free concert before its Asian tour

Catch a free concert with the Portland Youth Philharmonic under the direction of its outgoing conductor Mei-Ann Chen in Pioneer Courthouse Square on Thursday, the 28th at noon. It's called the Bon Voyage Concert because the orchestra will take off on a tour of Taiwan and Korea this weekend. In Taiwan, the ensemble will play concerts in Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Taipei. In Korea, they will perform in Ulsan and Seoul. The Taiwan leg of the trip will mark a splendid homecoming for Chen, who is a native of that country.

After this tour, Chen leaves Portland to begin her duties with the Atlanta Symphony, where she will be the assistant conductor. The PYP will rotate four conductors during its 84th season. The first concert in November will be led by PSU's Ken Selden. Chen returns in December to conduct the Concert-at-Christmas. Alistair Willis will direct the March concert, and former PYP conductor Huw Edwards returns to wield the baton in the season-ending concert in May.

A short profile of Gregory Vajda in the Budapest Sun

I wrote a short profile of Gregory Vajda for the Budapest Sun and it's in today's online version. Vajda is conducting the Budapest Concert Orchestra MÁV at the National Museum this weekend. Since The Budapest Sun is Hungary's English language newspaper. Vajda is the resident conductor of the Oregon Symphony.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Columbia Symphony makes an historic concert

Portland's Columbia Symphony Orchestra will make an historic debut in the Gerding Theater in the renovated Armory building this Saturday evening at 7:30 pm. The CSO will become the first symphonic group to play in the new theater and they will be the first orchestra to play in the Armory since the days before 1920 when the touring orchestras used the big building for their concerts. The New York Symphony (predecessor to the New York Philharmonic), the Chicago Symphony, and the Minnesota Orchestra played in the Armory to very large crowds.

Conductor Huw Edwards leads the Columbia Symphony in the upcoming performance, which will be a celebration of the ensemble's 25th year. In this day of struggling budgets for orchestra, that's a good reason to celebrate.

"We are intrigued to hear how the theater will sound," said Edwards. "It’s a great chance for us to replay some of the pieces from the season. And the Pearl is a burgeoning and happening place. Lots of people like to walk there. We want to tap into the downtown , urban style."

The program features the March King Cotton by Sousa, a portion of Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony, the Brahms’ Tragic Overture, Bach's "Concerto for Oboe and Violin" with soloists Brad Hochhalter (oboe) and Dawn Carter (violin), and concludes with Rossini’s William Tell Overture.

The concert is a benefit for the South West Music School, which has been helping to support music education in the public schools for the past 12 years. Deb Postlewait is the new managing director of the South West Music School, and she is looking forward to this concert collaborating with the Columbia Symphony in the future.

"Kids need to have a goal beyond taking lessons," said Postlewait. "This concert is an excellent way for them to see and hear the results of years of study."

Postlewait and members of the South West Music School will be selling $50 raffle tickets at the concert. The winner will receive two airline tickets for a round trip within the continental US, and only 100 tickets will be sold.

Tickets for the concert cost $25 apiece for adults and $10 for students.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Chamber Music Northwest starts its 37th season

I just published a preview of Chamber Music Northwest's summer festival in The preview includes a brief interview of composer Tomas Svoboda. One of his works will be given its US premiere in one of the festival concerts. Here's a link to the article.

Adventurous programming award for PSU orchestra

The PSU Symphony Orchestra received the highest award for collegiate orchestras for its adventurous programming from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) . Coming in behind PSU were the Peabody Symphony Orchestra and the Standford Symphony Orchestra. You can read all about it here.

Kudos are in order for, Ken Selden, who took over conducting the orchestra this year. As an example of how Selden has set tempo for this ensemble, the final concert of the season featured works by Silvestre Revueltas, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Felix Mendelssohn. PSU concerto competition winner Eric Allen played Shostakovich’s virtuosic Cello Concerto.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Go West Alex Ross! Go West!

If you haven't read the most recent article by Alex Ross, the classical music critic who writes for The New Yorker, you should take note of his most recent piece, On the Road. In this article, Ross hits the highway to hear three orchestras that do not make tours to Carnegie Hall: the Indianapolis Symphony, the Nashville Symphony, and the Alabama Symphony. With his characteristic insight Ross writes positively about each ensemble, reviewing three concerts in two days and concluding that "Great performances can happen anytime skilled players respond with unusual fervor to a conductor whose vision is secure."

It would be great to have Ross come to Portland to hear the Oregon Symphony. I think that he would have some encouraging things to say.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Composer Kevin Walczyk wins AMC grant

Today, the American Music Center gave Oregon composer Kevin Walczyk a monetary award to help him cover the performance costs of his recent piece Concerto Gaucho. The AMC awarded a total of $35,050 to 25 composers; so we're not talking about a big pile of money here. If the money was evenly split, then each composer received about $1,400. But hey, JS Bach received nada for his Brandenburg Concertos.

So congratulations to Dr. Walczyk, who teaches music at Western Oregon University. Walczyk's work has been performed by many orchestras and ensembles, including the Oregon Symphony, the Portland Youth Philharmonic, and the Third Angle New Music Ensemble. His Concerto Gaucho was premiered by the Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra in May at the Kiev World Music Festival.

The AMC was founded in 1939 by Aaron Copeland and Howard Hanson and a number of other composers to help promote new music.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ruddigore at Mock's Crest tickles the ancestral funny bone

The Mock's Crest production of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Ruddigore" wittily pokes fun at etiquette, ancestor worship (in a loose sense), mariners, and our innermost compunctions (distress over finding the right partner, what the neighbors might think, etc.). The performance I attended on Saturday night featured a strong cast who knew how to have fun with a silly story, yet it was the inventive direction of Kristine McIntyre that made this production come to life. The confines of the small stage at the Hunt Theater Center seemed to release her creative juices as bridesmaids, soldiers, noblemen, their ancestors, and a host of others strutted around. And amidst the commotion, no one fell into the front row of the audience.

The action takes place at the Ruddigore Castle in the year 1820. A bevy of bridesmaid ooze charm and beauty as they impatiently wait to honor the someone who is about to get married. Anne McKee Reed, as the fetching village maiden, Rose Maybud, is spot on. She refers to her book of etiquette whenever she needs advice (for example, a lady can't speak until she has first been spoken to and it is most unladylike to hint). This hinders her from communicating with the bashful Robin Oakapple, played by Thomas Prislac Jr., who is in love with her.

Prislac gives an outstanding performance as the country bumpkin who is actually an aristocrat with an unbearable curse. Prislac has an resonant baritone that is easy to hear, his diction is solid, and it didn't matter how fast the patter songs few by, he remarkably kept apace of the wickedly fast tempi.

David Simmons in the role of Richard Dauntless (Robin's foster brother who has spent 10 years at sea) also did an exceptional job. Simmons did a whirl of sailor jigs and poses all over the stage and sang with aplomb. In one or two numbers, he constantly switched from being on his knees or supporting someone resting on his knees. Needless to say, his athleticism is tour de force.

Alexis Hamilton made an ultra-dramatic entry as Mad Margaret and effectively used over-the-top gestures to generate waves of laughter. Hamilton skillfully used her beautiful and powerful mezzo to convince us that she was out of her mind after having been refused in marriage by one of the evil Ruddigore barons.

As Sir Despard Murgatroyd of Ruddigore, John Vergin, looked sort of like Hector Berlioz with his pile of wild hair, Vergin has an incredible sense of comic timing, and he brought down the house when he was pair in a two-step dance with Hamilton. He was less success with his patter delivery, but that should only improve through the run.

Jeffrey Beruan sang and acted superbly as Sir Roderic Murgatroyd. He easily altered between an almost overpowering voice of the ancestor who can revel in placing an ancestral curse to a very smooth and tender voice of the ancestor who is still in love with Dame Hannah, played wonderfully by Beth Madsen-Bradford.

Jasmine Presson as Zorah (a professional bridesmaid) and Brian Bartley as Old Adam Goodheart (Robin's servant) were top notch. I liked how the group of ancestors gave Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd (formerly Robin Oakapple) the finger (index finger) when they were putting the family hex on him.

The Empire era costumes designed by Sue Bonde matched the black and white, Edward Gorey-inspired scenery - created by Lawrence Larsen - perfectly. The choreography of John Szenszen was remarkably entertaining.

Conductor Roger O. Doyle relied on con brio tempi to keep everything moving along. It's uncanny how the cast can follow him, because he conducts from a loft at the rear of the stage, and they have their backs to him. But that is just part of the magic of this production.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Economic impact of the arts in Portland!

Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett in Crosscut reports that $318 million of economic activity are generated by the arts in Portland. She found this tally in a study recently released by Americans for the Arts, a non profit organization dedicated to "advancing the arts in America."

To quote Hartnett's article:

"The study this week by Americans for the Arts found that the arts in metro Seattle generate $330 million of economic activity a year. Well, if that's a bunch of hooey, Portland's hooey is every bit as impressive, maybe more so considering it's a smaller place: $318 million a year changes hands in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties courtesy of paintings, performances, and other pastimes. And that doesn't include tickets, money spent on dress and painful shoes, bohemian-black separates, or parking citations."

There's more information in Hartnett's article - with links to the study and to the local groups that are trumpeting this info. Those of us involved in the arts know how valuable the arts are! Now we've got some data to back it up. And it's interesting to note that we are on the level with Seattle, which I thought spends a heck of a lot more on arts than we do.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Several critiques of what I heard at Spoleto USA

While in Charleston last week, I took in a production of Kurt Weill's opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, two chamber music concerts, a symphony concert featuring works by Ravel and Brahms, and The Constant Wife, a theater piece by Somerset Maugham.

The first performance I experienced (May 30th) was Mahagonny at the Sotille Theatre, which seats 800. Spoleto brought this production of Mahagonny from Opera de Lausanne, and Spoleto's charismatic music director Emmanuel Villaume conducted both productions. Villaume and his forces did well to conquer this challenging work, which contains a flurry of scenes changes, jabs and uppercuts at our capitalistic society, and artists who are equally adept at singing and acting.

The star of the show was Richard Brunner in the role of Jimmy Mahoney. Brunner's easily projected his voice over the orchestra and could throttle it back when needed to blend with the other singers. His diction was superb and his presence commanding -- even when he hung lifeless in the last act.

As the prostitute Jenny Hill, Tammy Hensrud sang strongly but needed more bite to create a more compelling character. Karen Huffstodt's Leokadja Begbick had plenty of verve, but Huffstodt's vibrato was out of control.

Beauregard Palmer made an outstanding Fatty, one of Begbick's con men. Timothy Nolen adroitly created the other con man, Trinity Moses, but Nolen couldn't always be heard when the orchestra played loudly. As Alaska Wolf Joe, Kirk Eichelberger displayed a beautiful bass baritone voice and was totally convincing. John Fanning used his big baritone to great effect as the avuncular yet unfeeling Moneybags Billy.

The cardboard-like cartoon cutouts of a an old truck, an ocean liner, and the hotel facade crisply defined the transitory location of Mahagonny, the city of gold. The disco ball and loud, clown-like costumes infused the story with a garish atmosphere. Lighting by Christophe Forey was top notch, and directions by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser were superb.

The orchestra played at a high level throughout, but some of the tempi seemed to drag. For example, Villaume took the "Alabama Song" at a leisurely pace. This took some momentum away from the production, but all in all, it was a winner.


The following day, I heard two chamber music concerts at the Dock Street Theatre, which has a seating capacity of 436. Each concert lasted about 75 minutes, depending upon how long pianist and emcee Charles Wadsworth chose to speak. Wadsworth's charming personality and witty commentary add a dash of spice to each program. He is a necessary component, announcing each program from the stage. That is, attendees are not given a list of what is to be played or who is performing. This style of presentation gives the concert a carefree and impromptu ambiance. Oh, in the lobby there's a small blackboard (or greenboard) with the selections written in chalk. Unless you scribble that on a sheet of paper or into your Blackberry, you must listen up to what Wadsworth says.

The 11 am concert on May 31 featured a variety of musicians and works. The first piece was Debussy's Première Rhapsodie, arranged by clarinetist Todd Palmer. Joining Palmer were flutiest Tara Helen O'Connor, harpist Catrin Finch, bassist Edward Allman, and the members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Palmer guided this piece with silky smooth playing, and the ensemble captured the spirit of Debussy with evocative phrasing and a lush sound. It was outstanding.

Next, soprano Courtenay Budd sang lulabies by Dvorák ("Ukolébavka") and by Canteloube ("Bresairola"), which she has recorded in a recently released CD entitled "Sleep is behind the door" (the proceeds of which will benefit disaster relief). For the Dvorák number, Budd teamed up with Wadsworth. For the Canteloube piece, she was accompanied by O'Connor, violinist Daniel Phillips, and cellist Christopher Costanza of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Both pieces were exquisite. It didn't matter if you knew what Budd was singing, she instinctively seems to be able to draw an audience into the realm of each lullaby.

Before the St. Lawrence String Quartet launch into Schumann's String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Wadsworth teased violinist Geoff Nuttall about his fashionable gray shoes and his second-hand clothing. But after the laughter died down, Nuttall and his colleagues played the heck out of this pieces, adding fine nuances in phrasing, volume, and rhythm. They were completely together, playing cleanly, crisply, and artistically.

Of special interest during the SLSQ's performance was the super animated style of Nuttall. He looks like a nervous cat or someone who is desperately trying to control his bladder. He'll raise one foot then the other, arch his back, put his body in all sorts of contortions, and all the while he gets a perfect sound. It looks impossible!

The concert finished with an octet version (again by Palmer) of Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation to the Dance. Besides Palmer, ensemble consisted of O'Conner (who doubled on the piccolo), Finch, Allman, and the SLSQ. Palmer's delightful arrangement received a wildly enthusiastic ovation from the audience, and everyone left the theater in high spirits.


At 1 pm, the same day, I returned to the Dock Street Theatre to hear another chamber music concert. The program began with Wadsworth, and cellist Andres Díaz accompanying Budd in works by Handel and Allesandro Scarlatti. The selections were "Tone sanft," from Handel's Alexander's Feast, and "Sono guerriera ardita," an aria from one of Scarlatti's operas. Again Budd sang brilliantly, and her bright voice was matched beautifully by her colleagues.

Daniel Phillips and pianist Wendy Chen followed with a performance of Dvorák's Four Romantic Pieces (Opus 75). Phillips and Chen played terrifically -- as if they had been performing together since childhood. Well we know that couldn't have happened because Phillips was a soloist at Spoleto USA in 1977 and Chen was just a toddler at that time.

Chen, Díaz, and violinist Chee-Yun ended the concert with a wonderful performance of Schubert's Piano Trio No. 1, in B-Flat. I thought that Díaz might have had a problem with a couple of notes, but that didn't disturb the over-all effect of this masterpiece.


Again the same evening I heard Emmanuel Villaume conduct the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra in a concert of Ravel and Brahms. The program was played without intermission, so it began at 8 pm and ended shortly after 9 pm, allowing concert goers to end a bit more of the evening than they would normally expect.

The festival orchestra is composed of very accomplished young musicians. It looked as if no one was older than 25 or so. In any case, everyone was bowing furiously when I took my seat about 10 minutes before the concert began. That the orchestra played an extra Tribute concert to Menotti (Spoleto's founder who died in February) may have resulted in reduced rehearsal time.

However, when Villaume took his place on the podium, the musicians were ready. They opened the concert with Ravel's Ma Mère l'oye (Mother Goose) Suite. Everyone excelled at this piece, but the concertmaster, the principal violist, and the principal clarinetist were outstanding. (I couldn't find their names listed anywhere.) Also, the brass section and the woodwind section were radiant.

The performance of Brahms' Symphony No. 4 seemed to start a little slow out of the gate but surprisingly gained a lot of momentum and ended triumphantly. Some of the ends of phrases didn't seem quite as crisp as they should have been, but Villaume energetic leadership captured the ensemble's imagination and put a smile of the lips of the audience at the end.

The beep beep beep of a truck that was backing up in the street outside the concert hall marred several soft and delicate minutes of the Ravel. Unfortunately, one of the walls of the Sotille leads directly to the street. There is no buffer to loud street noise. I thought that I heard a police siren at the beginning of the fourth movement of the Brahms, but whatever I heard passed by quickly.


On Friday, June 1st, I saw an incredible production of The Constant Wife in a production by The Gate Theatre of Dublin, Ireland. This play (written by W. Somerset Maugham) explore the problem of infidelity in humorous and thought provoking way. The cast was very strong, but it was the over-the-top performance of Simon Coates who puts the play into outer orbit. As the non-monogamous husband, John Middleton, Simon jumps around like someone who is coming out of his skin when he finds out this his wife is going to assert her economic and sexual independence. But Simon does it in such a funny and convincing way that he wins over the audience, and at the same time, he delivers his lines perfectly. I would like to see the Oregon Shakespeare Festival take on this play some day in the future.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Reporting on the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina

I spent a few days last week at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina where air conditioning is state of the art. The Festival, now in its 31st year runs from May 25th to June 10th, presents about 150 performances involving opera, chamber music, symphonic music, theater, world music, dance, jazz, and the visual arts. It's sort of like Charleston cuisine that features some grits in every dish, only in this case, Spoleto offers an artistic experience for everyone in the space of 17 days.

I was in Charleston during this time in order to attend a music critics conference. I'm a member of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA), which consists mainly of newspaper and magazine critics, and we can obtain press tickets to a number of events. I heard two chamber music concerts, an opera, a symphony concert, and a play.

You can get a serious dose of culture during the festival, because that is part of its intention. The critics were treated to an hour-long discussion with Nigel Redden, general director of the festival. He told us that the budget of this year's festival is $7.5 million. Wow! That is quite a pile for a city that only has 120,000 residents and a metropolitan area of less than 500,000. Redden said that $2000,000 in funding for the festival comes the City of Charleston and another $800,000 from corporations. I'm not sure where the remaining $6.5 million comes from, but a hefty amount is from ticket sales which has been trending steadily upward for the past seven years. I assume that the state of South Carolina ponies up some cash and perhaps some other governmental agencies and an endowment figure into the final tally as well.

Redden mentioned that coming up with the artistic schedule each year is something "like making sausage." There are many variables to consider and sometimes an invitee will cancel and that causes the management to scramble. Redden did rail against the current visa process for artists who are foreigners. "The visa process is out of control," he told us. "It's a big hassle to comem to the US. It's very expensive and complicated. For example, if you need to use premium processing to speed things up, that costs $1,000. Getting artists from some parts of the world is a nightmare, because some nations are considered terrorist nations, and if an artist comes from that country, then it's..."

Regarding the attendance figures, Redden said that 60% of the attendees come from outside the Charleston area. Dock Street Theatre, which holds about 460 people, will close down after this year's festival in order to undergo a multitude of repairs, so the festival management will hopefully have Memminger Auditiorium, which is undergoing a total restoration process, ready in some form or fashion to take up the slack.

As general director of festival, Redden is obliged to attend a lot of parties. "I went to 45 parties in 17 days," he mentioned. "I'm sacrificing my liver for the arts." Redden is also the general director of Lincoln Center Festival, so his liver surely undertakes serious challenges in NYC as well.

The success of Spoleto Festival USA makes me wonder what Portland could do. We have a much larger city and metro area. We have access to more money. A collaborative festival of this kind would really help to boost Portland. But it would probably take a big name with a big vision to kick things off. Spoleto Festival USA started in 1977 because of the effort of Gian Carlo Menotti, and has survived some ups and down because of Redden who rejoined the festival in 1995.

Beethoven's 9th with the PSC and the PCO

The Portland Symphonic Choir teams up with the Portland Chamber Orchestra for an evening of Beethoven at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall this Friday, June 9th at 7:30. I think that this is the choir's first collaboration with the PCO in many, many years, and it should be an excellent concert with Beethoven's Choral Fantasy and his 9th Symphony on the same ticket.