Saturday, December 31, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Caroline Miolan‑Carvalho (1827-1895)
Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950)
Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940)
Nathan Milstein (1904-1992)
Jule Styne (1925-1994)
Jaap Schröder (1925)
Odetta (1930-2008)
Stephen Cleobury (1948)
Donna Summer (1948)
Jennifer Higdon (1962)


Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Nicholas Sparks (1965)
Junot Díaz (1968)

Friday, December 30, 2016

Today's Birthdays

William Croft (1678-1727)
André Messager (1853-1929)
Alfred Einstein (1880-1952)
Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987)
Paul Bowles (1910-1999)
Sir David Willcocks (1919-2015)
Bo Diddley (1928-2008)
Bruno Canino (1935)
June Anderson (1950)
Stephen Jaffe (1954)
Antonio Pappano (1959)


Theodor Fontane (1819-1898)
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Sara Lidman (1923-2004)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Pablo Casals (1876-1973)
Lionel Tertis (1876-1975)
Yves Nat (1890-1956)
Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912-1990)
Billy Tipton (1914-1989)


William Gaddis (1922-1998)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Christian Cannabich (1731-1798)
Francesco Tamagno (1850-1905)
Roger Sessions (1896-1985)
Earl "Fatha" Hines (1905-1983)
Johnny Otis (1921-2012)
Nigel Kennedy (1956)


Charles Portis (1933)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Sir John Goss (1800-1880)
Tito Schipa (1888-1965)
Marlene Dietrich (1904-1992)
Oscar Levant (1906-1972)


Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)
Charles Olson (1910-1970)
Wilfrid Sheed (1930-2011)
Chris Abani (1966)
Sarah Vowell (1969)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Leopold Mannes (1899-1964)
Maurice Gendron (1920-1990)
Thea King (1925-2007)
Earle Brown (1926-2002)
Phil Specter (1940)
Wayland Rogers (1941)
Harry Christophers (1953)
Andre-Michel Schub (1953)


Thomas Gray (1716-1771)
Henry Miller (1891-1980)
Jean Toomer (1894-1867)
Juan Felipe Herrera (1948)
David Sedaris (1958)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
Jean‑Joseph de Mondonville (1711-1772)
Chevalier de Saint‑George (1745-1799)
Cosima Wagner (1837-1930)
Lina Cavalieri (1874-1944)
Giuseppe de Luca (1876-1950)
Gladys Swarthout (1900-1969)
Cab Calloway (1907-1994)
Noël Lee (1924-2013)
Noel Redding (1945-2003)
Jon Kimura Parker (1959)
Ian Bostridge (1964)


Dorothy Wordsworth (1771-1855)
Clara Barton (1821-1912)
Rod Serling (1924-1975)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Peter Cornelius (1824-1874)
Nikolai Roslavets (1881-1944)
Lucrezia Bori (1887-1960)
Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946)
Sir Vivian Dunn (1908-1995)
Teresa Stich-Randall (1927-2007)
Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008)
Arnold Östman (1939)
Libby Larsen (1950)
Hans-Jürgen von Bose (1953)


Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)
Dana Gioia (1950)

and from The Writer'sAlmanac

Today is Christmas Eve. One of the best modern Christmas Eve stories is a true one, and it happened in 1914, in the trenches of World War I. The “war to end all wars” was raging, but German and British soldiers had been engaging in unofficial ceasefires since mid-December. The British High Command was alarmed, and warned officers that fraternization across enemy lines might result in a decreased desire to fight. On the German side, Christmas trees were trucked in and candles lit, and on that Christmas Eve in 1914, strains of Stille Nacht — “Silent Night” — reached the ears of British soldiers. They joined in, and both sides raised candles and lanterns up above their parapets. When the song was done, a German soldier called out, “Tomorrow is Christmas; if you don’t fight, we won’t.”

The next day dawned without the sound of gunfire. The Germans sent over some beer, and the Brits sent plum pudding. Enemies met in no man’s land, exchanging handshakes and small gifts. Someone kicked in a soccer ball, and a chaotic match ensued. Details about this legendary football match vary, and no one knows for sure exactly where it took place, but everyone agrees that the Germans won by a score of three to two.

At 8:30 a.m. on December 26, after one last Christmas greeting, hostilities resumed. But the story is still told, in a thousand different versions from up and down the Western Front, more than a century later.

On Christmas Eve in 1906, the first radio program was broadcast. Canadian-born Professor Reginald Aubrey Fessenden sent his signals from the 420-foot radio tower of the National Electric Signaling Company, at Brant Rock on the Massachusetts seacoast. Fessenden opened the program by playing “O Holy Night” on the violin. Later he recited verses from the Gospel of St. Luke, then broadcast a gramophone version of Handel’s “Largo.” His signal was received up to five miles away.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Boismortier (1689-1755)
Ross Lee Finney (1906-1997
Claudio Scimone (1934)
Ross Edwards (1943)
Edita Gruberová (1946)
Elise Kermani (1960)
Han-Na Chang (1982)


Harriet Monroe (1860-1936)
Norman Maclean (1902–1990)
Robert Bly (1926)
Carol Ann Duffy (1955)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787)
Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889)
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Franz Schmidt (1874-1939)
Edgard Varèse(1883-1965)
Joseph Deems Taylor (1885-1966)
Alan Bush (1900-1995)
Andre Kostelanetz (1901-1980)
David Leisner (1953)
Jean Rigby (1954)
Zhou Tian (1981)


Jean Racine (1639-1699)
Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982)
Donald Harrington (1935-2009)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

New comprehensive app for music lovers

From the press release:

 To celebrate the launch of its music history app for smartphones and iOS devices that’s taking the classical music world by storm, Informusic ( announces that it is pricing the app at just 99 cents through January 1, 2017.

Created by Drew Schweppe  and refined along with a select team of leading musicologists, performers, professors, and historians, Informusic is the all-in-one music history and composer resource that means that music students and classical music fans alike will now be able to access a wealth of detailed musical history facts and information with just the swipe of a finger. Now – even better – they can do so for just 99 cents (USD)! It’s the unbeatable holiday gift for classical musicians, teachers, students, and fans worldwide.

Informusic offers a huge array of detailed information on Western Art Music’s greatest composers and compositions, from the Medieval era, through the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras – and with more expansions yet to come. At the swipe of a screen, users can browse Informusic for such useful and fascinating information as composer biographies, quick facts, and complete works, along with program notes, sheet music, audio samples, and suggested further scholarship.

Informusic also features interactive timelines that enable users to scroll through the chronology of a composer’s life and greatest achievements, helping to contextualize musical events with other disciplines like art, literature, politics, and beyond. Users can also curate their searches with ease to filter by year, event type, or specific keywords. The app is constantly updated with ever-expanding content and composers as well.

The Perfect Holiday Gift for Music Fans & Music Students:
“With our special holiday pricing to celebrate Informusic’s launch, this means that anyone with a smartphone or iOS device can explore centuries of classical music history for less than a dollar, making it a fantastic gift or stocking-stuffer,” comments Informusic founder and director Drew Schweppe. “Informusic is an incredible resource for students and teachers, as it offers all of the tools a music student requires for their music history courses in a single app. But it also goes further – it’s a great gift for classical music fans, too. For instance, if you hear a particular piece by Beethoven at the symphony or on the radio, Informusic provides you with an incredible amount of instantly accessible information surrounding the piece, its composer, its influences and impacts, and more.”

Schweppe was inspired to create Informusic as a result of his intensive studies in music, while pursuing his Master’s degrees in Music and Music Industry Leadership from City University of London and Northeastern University (he also holds a Bachelor of Music in Composition degree from Ithaca College). As he became increasingly interested in music history, he quickly realized the advantages a comprehensive music history app for iOS devices might offer to performers, students and fans of classical music, and his quest to create Informusic began – a goal that would take more than five years of exhaustive research and development to achieve.

Purchase Info and Technical Requirements:
Informusic is compatible with the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, and requires iOS 8.0 or later. To celebrate its launch this holiday season, it’s currently available for a limited time through the New Year for just $.99 at the Apple iTunes Store, at

While Informusic currently features only Western Art Music, expansions for other genres such as Jazz are also in the works now.

About Informusic:
Informusic is the essential classical music history app for iOS that was created and founded by Drew Schweppe. Informusic provides a wealth of music history information that was specially created by experts in musicology, history, and performance. Its advisory board of PhD musicologists chaired by Dr. Mark A. Radice (Professor, Music Theory, History, and Composition at Ithaca College) ensures the app’s quality and accuracy as an invaluable learning tool for all. Learn more about Informusic at

Today's Birthdays

Zdeněk Fibich (1850-1900)
André Turp (1925-1991)
Frank Zappa (1940-1993)
Roger Lasher Nortman (1941)
Michael Tilson Thomas (1944)
András Schiff (1953)
Kim Cascone (1955)
Thomas Randle (1958)
Jonathan Cole (1970)


Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
Maud Gonne (1866-1953)
Edward Hoagland (1932)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
Gordon Getty (1933)
John Harbison (1938)
Roger Woodward (1942)
Mitsuko Uchida (1948)


Elizabeth Benedict (1954)
Sandra Cisneros (1954)
Nalo Hopkinson (1960)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Louis‑Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749)
Fritz Reiner (1885-1963)
Edith Piaf (1915-1963)
Dalton Baldwin (1931)
Phil Ochs (1940-1976)
William Christie (1944)
Marianne Faithfull (1946)
Olaf Bär (1957)
Steven Esserlis (1958)
Rebecca Saunders (1967)


Italo Svevo (1861-1928)
Constance Garnett (1861-1946)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

It’s the birthday of French chanteuse Édith Piaf (1915). Piaf was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville, on the outskirts of Paris. Her mother was a café singer and a drug addict, and her father was a street performer who specialized in acrobatics and contortionism. Neither of them particularly cared for Piaf, so she mostly grew up with her grandmother, who ran a brothel. Piaf was looked after by prostitutes and later claimed that she was blind from the ages of three to seven because of keratitis, or malnutrition, though this was never proved.

Her father reclaimed her when she was nine and Piaf began singing with him on street corners until he abandoned her again. She lived in shoddy hotel rooms in the red-light district of Paris and sang in a seedy café called Lulu’s, making friends with pimps, hookers, lowlifes, and gamblers, until she was discovered by an older man named Louis Leplée.

Leplée ran a nightclub off the Champs-Élysées. He renamed Piaf La Môme Piaf, “The Little Sparrow,” dressed her entirely in black, and set her loose on the stage. Piaf was a hit, and recorded two albums in one year, becoming one of the most popular performers in France during World War II.

Édith Piaf died on the French Riviera at the age of 47. More than 40,000 people came to her funeral procession. Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Karachkina named a small planet after Piaf; it’s called 3772 Piaf. Her songs have been covered by Madonna, Grace Jones, and even Donna Summer.

Édith Piaf’s last words were, “Every damn thing you do in this life, you have to pay for.”

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Edward MacDowell (1860-1908)
Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952)
Rita Streich (1920-1987)
William Boughton (1948)
David Liptak (1949)
Christopher Theofanidis (1967)


Saki - H. H. Munro (1870-1916)
Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Christopher Fry (1907-2005)
Abe Burrows (1910-1985)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Arthur Fiedler (1894-1979)
Ray Noble (1903-1975)
William Wordsworth (1908-1988)
Art Neville (1937)


John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939)
William Safire (1929-2009)
John Kennedy Toole (1937-1969)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

It's the day that The Nutcracker ballet was performed for the first time in St. Petersburg, Russia (1892). Czar Alexander III, in the audience, loved the ballet, but the critics hated it. Tchaikovsky wrote that the opera that came before The Nutcracker "was evidently very well liked, the ballet not. ... The papers, as always, reviled me cruelly." Tchaikovsky died of cholera less than a year later, before The Nutcracker became an international success.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Today's Birthdays

François Adrien Boieldieu (1775-1834)
Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)
Turk Murphy (1915-1987)
Steve Allen (1921-2000)
Dame Thea King (1925-2007)
Alice Parker (1925)
Kenneth Gilbert (1931)
Philip Langridge (1939-2010)
Trevor Pinnock (1946)
Isabelle van Keulen (1966)


Jane Austin (1775-1817)
George Santayana (1863-1952)
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Noël Coward (1899-1973)
V. S. Pritchett (1900- 1997)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Michel‑Richard Delalande (1657-1726)
Lotte Schöne (1891-1981)
Stan Kenton (1911-1979)
Ida Haendel (1924)
Eddie Palmieri (1936)
Nigel Robson (1948)
Jan Latham-Koenig (1953)


Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof (1859-1917)
Maxwell Anderson (1888-1959)
Freeman Dyson (1923)
Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000)
Edna O'Brien (1930)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Felder magical as Irving Berlin in one-man show

A grand piano, a Christmas tree, a fireplace, two big windows and snow falling outside… it made me want to reach for an eggnog, but I was at The Armory and settling into my seat when Hershey Felder walked out on the stage to begin his one-man show about the life and music of Irving Berlin, the great American songwriter. For the next hour and forty-five minutes, Felder held the SRO audience at Portland Center Stage spellbound as he retold Berlin’s remarkable life story, singing and playing the piano with such panache that you practically thought you were watching Berlin himself.

Starting with Berlin’s humble beginnings as a refugee from Russia where his family’s home was burnt to the ground because of rampant anti-Semitism, Felder embarked on a tour of Berlin’s life that was truly astonishing. Berlin rose out of the poverty-stricken tenements in New York City, parlaying his street-corner busking into a singing waiter job that helped him to sell his first song, “Marie From Sunny Italy.” That led to his first smash hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and the rest was history. But actually it wasn’t, because Berlin, like everyone, had his ups and downs. Of course, he had more ups than downs, but still the downs that Felder recounted were major, such as the death of his first wife, Dorothy. She contracted typhoid fever during their honeymoon in Havana and died five months later. Berlin took her death very hard. His melancholy ballad, “When I Lost You” was dedicated to her, and he did not marry again for twelve years. That was when he fell in love with the heiress Ellin Mackay, whose father disowned her after she married Berlin. They had four children, but their only son died on Christmas Day in 1928.

The show included Berlin’s hits during the First World War, the Second World War, his work in musicals and films. Felder performed several of them, including “My Wife’s Gone to the Country,” “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” “What’ll I Do?,” “Blue Skies,” “Supper Time,” and “There’s No Business Like Showbusiness,” and made sure to include the audience in “God Bless America” and “White Christmas.” He showed an impeccable ear and talent for mimicry when he spoke or sang in the style of others such as Ethel Merman, but his parrot voice for the last verse of “My Wife’s Gone to the Country” was the most surprising and funniest of all.

Felder related fun facts about Berlin, such as how he wrote all of his pieces in the key of F sharp and relied on his staff to transcribe them to other keys. He loved to work at night and into the early morning, thriving under pressure to find just the right words and create a new song. But his genius was not the center-point of the show, rather it was the wonderful embrace of humanity that embodied Berlin. He took care of his family, his friends, and others (for example, since 1940, all royalty payments from “God Bless America” have been directed to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.” He was not arrogant or disdainful of others, and he supported civil rights, giving Ethel Waters star billing in 1933 for his musical revue “As Thousands Cheer.” She became to first black woman to star in a white show on Broadway.

In his final years, Berlin became a recluse. He had been such a part of the nation’s life and breath that it was difficult for him to fathom the popularity of rock and roll. Felder had an excellent quip that summed it up: “I lived beyond my expiration date.” Well, Felder’s superb performances as Irving Berlin at The Armory are due to expire at the end of the month. Be sure to see this amazing show. It is life-enhancing.


PS: Felder directed “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” which will return to Portland Center Stage in June. For more information on that show, click here.

Today's Birthdays

Maria Agata Szymanowska (1789-1831)
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)


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

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

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)


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

Monday, December 12, 2016

Oregon Symphony creates superb "Turangalîla"

For the second of its SoundSights concerts, the Oregon Symphony uncorked an intense performance of Olivier Messiaen’s “Turangalîla-Symphonie” on Monday (December 5) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. One could hardly expect anything less after seeing the stage packed with musicians, a vast array of percussion instruments along the back left wall, a grand piano and an ondes martenot arranged in the front. The concert probably marked the premiere Portland appearance of the ondes martenot, a piano-like electronic instrument that can make sliding glissandos and other unusual sounds that are rarely heard live. Yet as part of its SoundSights presentation, the concert also featured special video animation created by Rose Bond and the Pacific Northwest College of Art to accompany the music. The undertaking of such a task was admirable, but in the imagery was mostly a distraction from the music which had plenty going on to engage the senses.

Inspired by the legend of Tristan and Isolde, Messiaen wrote “Turangalîla” as expression of various aspects of love – carnal, passionate, idealistic, tender, romantic, you-name-it – and death. Its ten movements take almost 80 minutes, and the Oregon Symphony with pianist Steven Osborne and ondes martenot specialist Cynthia Millar collaborated marvelously under the baton of Music Director Carlos Kalmar to deliver the myriad of sonic textures with integrity. But the softest passages were covered unfortunately by the sound of the video projector, which was positioned at the lip of the balcony.

Osborne’s fearless and impeccable playing of knuckle-crunching notes that often cascaded down the keyboard was one of the many highlights of the performance. Millar deftly added tones from the ondes martenot, but it was indeed strange to hear the high-pitched whistling sounds. The trombones and tuba created an imposing presence with the “Statue” theme. The trumpets hit dizzying high notes spot on. Oddly enticing woodwind combinations drifted in and out. The strings created a lush background when they were not zigging and zagging across the musical landscape (Nancy Ives even broke a string on her cello). The percussion battery made the most of gongs, cymbals, drums, chimes, woodblocks, xylophones, triangles, and other beatable items.

The video animation tried to match the tempo of the music. When things got faster, the imagery increased. When the tempo slowed down, so did the pace of images. The colors scheme started with white and gradually moved to vibrant colors at the end of the piece. The images of nuts, bolts, and screws seemed way out of context, but the plant-tendril silhouettes were appealing, and at the end of the piece there was a riot of colors. I found myself closing my eyes at times so that I could hear the music more closely. For me, the visual aspect didn’t enhance the music, but it seemed that the audience, in general, enjoyed the two together. The grandest impression I was left with at the end of the piece was the shimmering sound of the cymbals during the fire-alarm-level of forte in the final measures. That was one of the loudest finales I have ever heard anywhere.

Because “Turangalîla” draws on the legend of Tistan and Isolde, it was highly appropriate for the concert to open with the “Prelude and Liebestod” from Richard Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde.” The unhurried pace and slowly building tension was just delicious to the ears. The woodwinds excelled with their contributions (special kudos to Todd Kuhns, bass clarinet) as did the horns. Now if Kalmar and company could only have more strings to add to the rich and beautiful sound!

Today's Birthdays

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


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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Today's Birthdays

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


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

Saturday, December 10, 2016

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)


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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Today's Birthdays

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)


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.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Vancouver Symphony goes to the movies with gusto

Young audience member with the Star Wars tribe in the lobby before the VSO concert
On Sunday (December 4) Skyview Concert Hall was packed with kids, young adults, and folks who were geared up for an evening of movie music delivered by the Vancouver Symphony. Many of them had already posed in the lobby with characters from the Star Wars movies, including Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, and several Imperial Stormtroopers. It was the perfect prelude for Salvador Brotons and his forces who presented a program of movie music classics, marking the first time that the VSO has given a pops concert during its regular season.

The orchestra opened the concert with the extremely brief fanfare that always precedes a 20th Century Fox movie and followed it with “Star Trek through the Years” by Alexander Courage and Jerry Goldsmith in an arrangement by Calvin Custer. Besides the impeccable contributions of pianist Michael Liu, the brass and percussion distinguished themselves with their responsive and enthusiastic playing.

The “Tribute to Henry Mancini” (also in an arrangement by Custer) that juxtaposed the loosey goosey “Baby Elephant Walk” from “Hatari,” the snappy theme from the “The Pink Panther,” and wah-wahing brashness from “Peter Gun” with expansive and lush theme music of “Charade” and “The Days of Wine and Roses.” Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” in an arrangement by John Barry included familiar strains from “Dr. No” and “Live and Let Die.” Next came James Horner’s “Titanic Suite” in an arrangement by John Moss that featured a lovely solo for principal flutist Rachel Rencher that invoked the Scottish Highlands.

Music that John Williams wrote for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in an arrangement by Jerry Brubaker was highlighted by woven textures from the violins and foreboding French horns. Hans Zimmer’s music from “The Gladiator” in an arrangement by John Wasson contrasted a relentlessly driving theme with a lovely melody for cellos and violas as well highlighted passages for Rencher and Dunn.

After intermission, the trumpets led the way in John Williams’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which was followed by the soaring “Star Wars Suite,” which had separate movements for Leia’s Theme, T e Imperial March, Yoda’s Theme, and the Throne Room. The audience got swept away by the shear wash of sound and erupted in a standing ovation after the very grand finale. This was followed by a delightful encore, Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” with Dunn creating the neighing horse sound at the end.

Many European conductors are rather stilted when it comes to conducting pops or music that is jazzy, such as Gershwin, but Broton handled all of the piece with panache and let the orchestra play out. The orchestra members seemed to have as much fun as the audience and got into the photo action with the Star Wars characters during intermission. It was a smooth ride for all and, because of the large crowd, it looks like another pops concert might be on the horizon for next season.

Today's Birthdays

Claude Balbastre (1724-1799)
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)
Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)
Gérard Souzay (1918-2004)
James Galway (1939)


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

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Live music at Club Mod a real hit

Club Mod uncorked a special live show at the studios of All Classical Portland on Saturday evening (December 3) that was delightful, informative, and extremely well played. The show was part of the Messiaen Mélange Musique festival that celebrated music created by or connected with Olivier Messiaen. Composer/impresario Bob Priest, who studied with Messiaen in Paris, created the MMM festival. Priest was a special guest of the Club Mod show, which was emceed by Club Mod host Robert McBride. McBride, who has one of the smoothest radio voices that you’ll ever hear, interviewed Priest before each set of pieces were played, which added tremendously to the context of the program. To top that off, Ronnie Lacroute read poems in French and English that related to theme of the music.

Amelia Lukas started the concert portion with a lyrical and blithe performance of Debussy’s “Syrinx” for the alto flute. Also lovely were a series of descending notes that she played with a pillowy softness. Next came “Le Merle Noir” (“The Black Bird”), Messiaen’s first piece based on bird song. This time, Lukas played the typical C flute and created all sorts of sounds that reminded me of fluttering birds that pecked about now and then. Pianist Monica Ohuchi supported Lukas with a forest of notes and the piece had a wonderful, improvised feel.

Kaija Saariaho is one of today’s preeminent composers, and her “Cendres” (“Cinders”) for piano, flute, and cello received its Portland premiere with Ohuchi, Lukas, and cellist Valdine Mishkin. The music in this piece ranged far and wide. The players used several extended techniques: Ohuchi reached inside the piano to fashion a harpsichord-like sound. Lukas and Mishkin produced a shimmer of half-tones. One passage for cello sounded like a squeaky door. It had lyrical and crystalline moments as well, and it ended quietly – just as ashes usually do.

Because Messiaen’s father was a scholar of Shakespeare’s work, Priest commissioned five pieces – each lasting one minute – inspired by Ariel’s song from “The Tempest.” Entitled the “Full Fathom Five”project, each piece was written by a different composer, beginning with Nancy Ives chant-like “Sea Change” for cello. That was followed by Linda Woody’s somber “The Bells Are Rich and Strange” for flute and cello. Next came Ken Selden’s questioning “Full Fathom 5.5” for flute, cello, and piano, which was followed by Antonio Celaya’s enigmatically lyrical “Something Rich and Strange” for flute and piano, and finally a wild and demonstrative “Sea-Changed” for piano by Jeff Winslow.

Bob Priest’s arrangement of Messiaen’s “Le Sourire” (“The Smile”) for flute, cello, and piano was delicate and lovely. I wish that it could have been extended somehow. Messiaen’s “Louange a l’eternite de Jesus” from his “Quartet for the End of Time,” received a wonderfully evocative performance by Mishkin and Ohuchi. Ohuchi played Messiaen’s “Ile de Feu I” (“Island of Fire”) with passion and élan. It was an excellent segue to a fine recording of “Turangalîla-Symphony” that closed out the evening.

McBride mentioned that Club Mod was in its ninth year. So it was high time to present a live concert, and this one was exceptional. Maybe we could hear more compositions from Northwest composers in the near future done in this kind of live format.

Today's Birthdays

Bernardo Pasquini (1637 - 1710)
Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945)
Ernst Toch (1887-1964)
Rudolf Friml (1879-1972)
Daniel Jones (1912-1993)
Helen Watts (1927-2009)
Harry Chapin (1942-1981)
Daniel Chorzempa (1944)
Tom Waits (1949)
Kathleen Kuhlmann (1950)
Krystian Zimerman (1956)


Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)
Willa Cather (1873-1947)
Joyce Cary (1888-1957)
Noam Chomsky (1928)
Susan Isaacs (1943)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703)
Ira Gershwin (1896-1983)
Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)
Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929-2016)
Henryk Górecki (1933-2010)
Tomas Svoboda (1939)
John Nelson (1941)
Daniel Adni (1951)
Bright Sheng (1955)
Matthew Taylor (1964)


Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529)
The Encyclopedia Brittanica (1768)
Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995)

Monday, December 5, 2016

University research shows the listening to classical music successful again dementia

Research at Colorado State University has shown that classical music listening has actually reversed cognitive decline in people with dementia. Click here to read about this study.

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762)
"Little" Richard Wayne Penniman (1935)
José Carreras (1946)
Krystian Zimerman (1956)
Osvaldo Golijov (1960)


Christina (Georgina) Rossetti (1830-1894)
Joan Didion (1934)
John Berendt (1939)
Calvin Trillin (1935)
Lydia Millet (1968)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Today's Birthdays

André Campra (1660-1744)
Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1949)
Alex North (1910-1991)
Yvonne Minton (1938)
Lillian Watson (1947)
Andrew Penny (1952)


Thomas Carlyle (1795-1891)
Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
Cornell Woolrich (1903-1968)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Nicolo Amati (1596-1684)
André Campra (1660-1744)
Antonio Soler (1729-1783)
Émile Waldteufel (1837-1915)
Anton Webern (1883-1945)
Halsey Stevens (1908-1989)
Nino Rota (1911-1979)
Irving Fine (1914-1962)
Charles Craig (1919-1997)
Paul Turok (1929-2012)
José Serebrier (1938)
Matt Haimovitz (1970)


Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
Anna Freud (1895-1982)
Zlata Filipović (1980)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Cabaret songs survive the din of the Waypost

It was still Happy Hour when I stepped up to the bar at the Waypost to order a draft IPA. Besides libations, the Waypost, located on North Williams Avenue, has an intimate concert space with seating that is barely separated from the bar area. It’s definitely a non-traditional venue for musicians who don’t plan to use amplification. That was the intent of the cofounders of Northwest Art Song – soprano Arwen Myers, mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, and pianist Susan McDaniel – who bravely tested the cozy confines of the Waypost with baritone Deac Guidi on Sunday (November 27) for an evening of cabaret songs.

The professionalism of the performers was of the highest order, because they gave an outstanding performance in spite of the constant din of noise from the patrons near the bar. Anyone who sat in the first four rows probably heard most of the words, but it was difficult beyond that arc – especially when the music was mezzo piano or quieter.

Still there was much to be enjoyed, starting with Thoreson’s singing of four William Bolcom numbers, including a sultry “At the Last Lousy Moments of Love” and an enticing “Amor.” Myers didn’t miss a beat in her set of Britten tunes, excelling with the witty “Tell me the Truth about Love” and the pell-mell “Calypso.” Guidi brought down the house with his terrific singing of Cole Porter’s “The Tale of the Oyster.” All three collaborated in singing Bolcom’s “Minicabs,” with its delightful non-sequiturs.

The second half of the show began with several arrangements of popular numbers by Bob Kingston, who served as Portland Opera’s historian and lecturer for many years. Thoreson delivered the bitter sweet vibe of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” Guidi put a light touch on “The Way You Look Tonight.” Myers sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow” with heartfelt poignancy that actually got the people in the bar to stop talking and listen. Rounding out Kingston’s offerings – all premieres – were lovely arrangements of “I’ll be Around,” “A Foggy Day,” and “Lush Life.”

To conclude the concert were three numbers from Bernstein’s “Candide.” Myers positively bubbled with “Glitter and Be Gay,” touching all of the high notes with a delightful élan. She teamed up with Thoreson to give a wonderfully funny “We are Women,” and Thoreson and included some sly gestures. With Guidi and an unnamed tenor, Thoreson and the ensemble did a smashing job with “I Am Easily Assimilated.” That got the crowd off their feet, so Myers and Thoreson topped it off with the “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” with a hilarious alternative text that riffed on music like “You say staccato and I say legato.” It was a great way to end the evening with ovations for all, including McDaniel, who provided masterful accompaniment for each piece.

Today's Birthdays

Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949)
Harriet Cohen (1895-1967)
Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970)
Robert Moevs (1920-2007)
Maria Callas (1923-1977)
Jörg Demus (1928)


Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-1891)
T. Coraghessan Boyle (1948)
George Saunders (1958)
Ann Patchett (1963)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Today's Birthdays

François‑Xavier Richter (1709-1789)
Agathe Grøndahl (1847-1907)
Gordon Crosse (1932)
Lou Rawls (1933-2006)
Bette Midler (1945)
Rudolf Buchbinder (1946)
Leontina Vaduva (1960)


Alicia Markova (1910-2004)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Carl Loewe (1796-1869)
Charles Valentin Alkan (1813-1888)
Ray Henderson (1896-1970)
Klaus Huber (1924)
Gunther Herbig (1931)
Walter Weller (1939-2015)
Radu Lupu (1945)
Semyon Bychkov (1952)


Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
L(ucy) M(aud) Montgomery (1874-1942)
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
Jacques Barzun (1907-2012)
David Mamet (1947)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)
Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967)
John Brecknock (1937)
Chuck Mangione (1940)
Louise Winter (1959)


Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)
Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Messiaen Mélange Musique - MMM Festival

If you are an adventurous listener, the following concerts - courtesy of Bob Priest - will interest you:

Friday, December 2nd at 7:30 pm
Community Music Center - Free

Pianist Maria Choban performs:
Igor Stravinsky - Tango
Maria Choban - Wanna Dance?
Antonio Celaya - Chongos Morongos

Karlheinz Stockhausen - Sagittarius - from the "Zodiac" music box

Soprano Hannah Penn and pianist Jeff Payne perform:
Olivier Messiaen - Harawi

Saturday, December 3rd, at 8 pm
Club Mod - hosted by Robert McBride
All Classical Portland 89.9 FM 

Messiaen, Debussy, Saariaho, and The Full Fathom Five Project

Sunday, December 4th, at 7 pm
Community Music Center - Free

Free Marz String Trio and Friends
James Harley - Sonnet Quartet
Karlheinz Stockhausen - Sagittarius - from the "Zodiac" music box
Claude Debussy - Pickwick Prelude  (arr. Elizabeth Dyson)
Olivier Messiaen - Rechant IV (arr. Bob Priest)
Bob Priest - Smile
Alfred Schnittke - Quartet
Richard Wagner - Tristan Prelude (arr. Jeff Winslow)
Michel Serres - Genesis
Henryk Gorecki - Genesis I: Elementi

For more information, see MMM.

Today's Birthdays

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)
Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838)
Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894)
Pamela Harrison (1915-1990)
Berry Gordy Jr. (1929)
Randy Newman (1943)
Diedre Murray (1951)


John Bunyan (1628-1688)
William Blake (1757-1827)
Friedrich Engels (1820-1895)
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)
Alan Lightman (1948)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-1678)
Franz Krommer (1759 - 1831)
Sir Julian Benedict (1804-1885)
Charles Koechlin (1867-1950)
Leon Barzin (1900-1999)
Walter Klien (1928-1991)
Helmut Lachenmann (1935)
Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)
David Felder (1953)
Victoria Mullova (1959)
Hilary Hahn (1979)


Anders Celsius (1701-1744)
Charles Beard (1874–1948)
James Agee (1909-1955)
Marilyn Hacker (1942)
Bill Nye (1955)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

In the article that became Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Agee wrote: “A human being whose life is nurtured in an advantage which has accrued from the disadvantage of other human beings, and who prefers that this should remain as it is, is a human being by definition only, having much more in common with the bedbug, the tapeworm, the cancer, and the scavengers of the deep sea.”

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Earl Wild (1915-2010)
Eugene Istomin (1925-2003)
John Sanders (1933-2003)
Craig Sheppard (1947)
Vivian Tierney (1957)
Spencer Topel (1979)


Eugene Ionesco (1909-1994)
Charles Schulz (1922-2000)
Marilynne Robinson (1943)

Friday, November 25, 2016

All-French program under Morlot travels from the sedate to spheres that scintillate

Conductor Ludovic Morlot made his debut with the Oregon Symphony last Saturday (November 19) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, leading the orchestra in a program of music by French composers that ranged from quietly sublime to wild exuberance. For the first half of the program, Morlot, Music Director of the Seattle Symphony since 2011, delved into the beautiful subtleties and stately music of Claude Debussy and Ernest Chausson. In the second half he moved into the flashier realm, collaborating with pianist Stephen Hough in a brilliant performance Camille Saint- Saëns Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”) before concluding the evening with an stunning interpretation of Maurice Ravel’s “La Valse.”

Hough has made an award-winning recording of all Saint-Saëns concertos under the Hyperion label, and played the Egyptian Concerto with the Oregon Symphony in 2001. So it was perhaps no wonder that he would again give an impeccable performance of the Saint-Saëns with the orchestra once again. Right off the top, Hough fashioned immaculate runs that sparkled with joy and, augmented by the orchestra, created surging phrases that glowed with warmth. In the second movement, he accented the Nubian love song with voicing that sounded as if a woodwind was playing with him. He tore up the keyboard in the last movement, cruising through tricky rhythms and polishing the filigree with élan. After finishing the piece, Hough was recalled back to the stage several times by the audience, and he then transfixed everyone with a simple, quiet encore, Jules Massenet's "Crépuscule ("Twilight").

The orchestra under Merlot’s direction gave Ravel’s “La Valse” a luminous performance with outstanding attention to dynamics and nuances, such as accelerating quickly and slowing down straight away, to give the music a fresh spontaneous feeling. Wonderful glissandos from the strings, gliding woodwinds, cranking contra-bassoon (Evan Kuhlmann), and snappy sforzandos were expressed with a genuine spirit de corps. The instrumentalists kept a keen eye on Morlot, who, conducting the piece from memory, got so caught up in the music making that he dropped his baton and ended up using his elbows, shoulders, and head to accentuate the swirl of the waltz into a riotous finale.

Debussy’s “Cortége air de danse” from his one-act cantata “L’enfant prodigue” (“The Prodigal Son”) received a marvelously intimate performance by the orchestra. Delightfully languid phrasing by principal flutist Martha Long highlighted the delicate nature of the music, making many listeners wish that the piece wouldn’t end so quickly.

Chausson’s Symphony in B-flat Major opened somberly with Wagnerian overtones that were terrifically expressed by the orchestra. After the orchestra broke into a spring-like melody, it seemed that we were clearly taken into the heart of French Romanticism, but the beautiful sonorities of second movement, “Très lent,” were sleep inducing and caused many heads in the audience to bow before being awakened by a glorious brass choir and the timpani. Principal clarinetist James Shields principal trombonist Daniel Cloutier, and principal trumpeter Jeffrey Work deserved praise for their evocative playing in the final movement, which ended in a stately and subdued way that was anticlimactic. It was fun to hear the little snippet of melody that Dvořák may have lifted directly into his Ninth Symphony (Morlot pointed that out in his opening remarks). But Chausson’s Symphony made me wonder about the direction of the piece – where did the music intend to go?

Outside of the Ravel, Morlot conducted with an economical yet evocative style that seemed to connect well with the orchestra and the audience. It would be terrific to get him back with a program that would go beyond the boundaries of his homeland (he was born in Lyon).


PS: After exchanging email with Jim Fullan at the Oregon Symphony, I found out that name of the encore that Hough played. So I've corrected the review to reflect that.

Today's Birthdays

Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991)
Virgil Thomson (1896-1989)
Sir John Drummond (1934-2006)
Jean-Claude Malgoire (1940)
Håkan Hagegård (1945)
Yvonne Kenny (1950)
Gilles Cachemaille (1951)


Andrew Carnegie (1835- 1919)
Helen Hooven Santmyer (1895-1986)
Lewis Thomas (1913-1993)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Scott Joplin (1868-1917)
Norman Walker (1907-1963)
Erik Bergman (1911-2006)
Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998)
Maria Chiara (1939)
Chinary Ung (1942)
Tod Machover (1953)
Jouni Kaipainen (1956)
Edgar Meyer (1960)
Angelika Kirchschlager (1965)


Laurence Sterne (1713-1768)
Margaret Anderson (1886-1973)
Nuruddin Farah (1945)
Arundhati Roy (1961)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

PSU Opera superb in world premiere of "The Place Where You Started"

Hannah Consenz
It is a rare day when a college music department presents the world premiere of an opera, and even rarer still that such a production would be timely, relevant, and superbly done, but Portland State University’s opera program brought it all to fruition with its performance of “The Place Where You Started” on Friday, November 18th at the Lincoln Hall Studio Theater. Written by Mark Lanz Weiser with a libretto by Amy Punt, “The Place Where You Started” deftly handled themes that dealt with love, loss, illegal aliens, and fear. Delivered by six singers and a pianist, the music subtly blended dissonance with harmonic lines and worked naturally with the outstanding stage directions of Kristine McIntyre.

The story begins with Meredith, a screenwriter who lives with her boyfriend Steve, a computer programmer. While Meredith struggles to write a romantic script for a vapid vampire movie, she gets pressured by her agent Samantha to write compelling dialog as quickly as possible to meet the studio deadline. Between bouts of writer’s block, Meredith meets her gardener Macario, learns about gardening and finds that they both have an abiding interest in literature. She also finds out that Marcario is an illegal alien from La Paz, Bolivia where he had been a professor. In the meantime, Brianne and Brendan, friends of Meredith and Steve, think that Meredith’s interest in Macario has become an affair. Brendan admonishes Steve to report Marcario to the immigration authorities, and because he fears losing Meredith, Steve makes the phone that dooms Macario to deportation.

Hannah Consenz sang the role of Meredith with terrific conviction, bringing the audience into her character’s conflicted world. Darian Hutchinson created a poignant and understanding Macario. Grace’s Skinner played the self-assured, cell-phone wielding Samantha to the hilt. Alexander Trull’s Steve had a spot-on shallow geekiness. Saori Erickson marvelously conveyed the overbearing parental concerns of Brianne. Adam Ramaley upped the ante as Brendan. Both Erickson and Ramaley also excelled as movie actors and as immigration agents.
The intimate confines of PSU's studio theater worked exceptionally well for the singers. Only Trull’s voice sounded strained. All of the singers found their pitches despite relatively few noticeable leading notes. The piano was expertly played by Chuck Dillard, who was also the Music Director of the production.

Mike Gamble’s evocative projections enhanced the production with excellent visual cues, such as portions of the movie script that Meredith was working on. One of McIntyre’s best directions involved Meredith typing and mouthing the words of her characters (Lucinda/ Erickson and Roland/Ramaley) as they sang them.

According to the program notes by PSU Opera’s director, Christine Meadows, “The Place Where You Started” was written with Rossini-like speed by Weiser. Weiser, a member of the music faculty at the University of southern California’s Thornton School of Music, wrote the opera in a few months, somehow finding time to collaborate his efforts with those of librettist Amy Punt, a playwright and essayist who lives in Los Angeles. The libretto is not dry. It moves all over the place, incorporating humor, poetic language as well as harsh accusations to move the story. The story speaks incredibly well to our time, and our current political scene in which fear of people from the "wrong" countries is on a steep rise.

The opera ends on a hopeful note with Meredith finding Marcario somewhere south of the border. The ending made me wonder if the story would have more impact, if Meredith and Marcario didn’t meet again.

In any case, PSU Opera is taking its production of “The Place Where You Started” to China, where it will be performed at Soochow University and the Suzhou University of Science and Technology. Kudos to Meadows and all involved in this effort. Hopefully, those performances will serve as a springboard for more productions of this remarkable opera.

Hannah Consenz and Darian Hutchinson

Today's Birthdays

Pierre Du Mage (1674-1751)
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
Jerry Bock (1928-2010)
Vigen Derderian (1929-2003)
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933)
Ludovico Einaudi (1955)
Thomas Zehetmair (1961)
Nicolas Bacri (1961)
Ed Harsh (1962)


Paul Celan (1920-1950)
Jennifer Michael Hecht (1965)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Weimann and PBO excel with Handel organ concertos

Guest Review by Phillip Ayers

First, a disclaimer: I am not an instrumentalist unless, as one of my teachers reminded me, my voice is an instrument. But I've played piano and organ, and even cello. In college, I had to take private violin lessons because the required string methods classes clashed with my practice teaching schedule. (I have to admit that that semester of violin lessons taught me more about correct intonation than I'd ever learned from voice lessons and from singing in various choirs from the age of nine.) Yet I love listening to instruments play, in both solo and ensemble settings.

In more than choir I have sung in, the director has admonished us, especially when we were performing a joyous work, to let the audience know by our facial expressions and even bodily movements the joy we were experiencing as singers of great music. On Friday (November 18) at First Baptist Church, I watched as the ensemble players in the Portland Baroque Orchestra quite naturally, it seemed, enjoyed the music they were playing. It made an impact upon me, and I daresay upon the audience who heard such gorgeous music as we did. The PBO is anything but a dour group of professionals.

Alexander Weimann, the guest conductor and soloist, is an unabashed professional and played most everything flawlessly in the two Handel organ concerti and in another concerto by C.P.E. Bach. His continuo playing in a Concerto for Bassoon by Capel Bond, another 18th century composer, was first-rate. Weimann also shone brightly in one of Mozart's "Epistle" sonatas for organ and strings and in a sinfonia to one of J. S. Bach's cantatas. The point I wish to make here is that Weimann so obviously enjoys playing this music and bringing it to life for the audience. He pays close attention to it all, and from my vantage-point in the balcony directly above him, I could not help but notice his facial expressions as he got involved with the music. From time to time, he would raise one hand to conduct the ensemble players, sometimes both hands if not at the keyboard – no easy feat, believe me.

It was pertinent that the program opened and closed with Handel organ concertos. It opened with Op. 4, No. 3, HWV 291. Movements from these concertos were often played in between portions of Handel's oratorios or operas. And often entire concertos were offered in that context. One can imagine an 18th century London audience, hearing a premier performance of Handel's latest work, and being treated to a little gem of an organ concerto now and then. It must have made for a long evening, but we have to realize that this was long before the days of electronic reproduction and broadcasting. As Weimann notes in the program, Handel was "reanimating a practice he had used in his early oratorio "Il trionfo del tempo" in 1707, during his Grand Tour to Italy. Later in London, when playing and directing his organ concerti, he had found the perfect forum to excel as composer-performer in one."

No. 3 in Handel's first set of concerti is delightful in every respect. The organ is a solo instrument, rather in the manner of a first player in a group of peers, as Weimann says. It is written in the style very much like an Italian concerto grosso (a group of soloists, often referred to as concertino, pitted against a larger group, the ripieno). The listener readily saw that Handel, like most Baroque composers, freely borrowed from other works, as part of this concerto is identical with a trio sonata of Handel's.

Nate Helgeson, a very tall and young bassoonist, subtly played Capel Bond's concerto. Bond was organist at St Michael and All Angels parish church, that later became Coventry Cathedral. He knew Handel's oratorios well, having directed some of them, and was clearly influenced by Handel's adept use of the bassoon's more lyrical tenor register. Weimann notes, "the galant bassoon concerto in four movements gives us a charming picture of the wider musical scene in England at the time."

As Weimann notes J.S. Bach "had four genius musicians we know of amongst his children [twenty in all]." Everyday life can't have been easy." Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, one of his sons, came up with over fifty keyboard concertos, without always being specific about the intended instrument, be it harpsichord, pianoforte, or organ. This work features marvelous cadenzas, well executed by Weimann. The first movement is varied, full of surprises, with tricky keyboard work. There is lively dialogue between violins and organ in the third movement. Throughout are many chromatic passages with contrasting dynamics. C.P.E.'s music is decidedly in the more "Classical" genre than the Baroque and at times, the listener wonders how far the son roamed from the father! But I think Papa would be proud of how his son's music developed, though he died when his son was thirty-six.

J. S. Bach's cantata BWV 35, "Geist und Seele wird verwirret" ("Spirit and Soul become confused," an interesting theological concept), was composed shortly after Bach was in the position of Kantor at Thomaskirche in Leipzig. The two parts of the cantata begin with elegant concerto movements for solo organ, woodwinds and strings. These two movements delight the ear, as do all of Bach's concertos. This particular cantata is written for solo alto voice and orchestra, with the organ prominently heard throughout.

Another Handel work performed Friday, Trio Sonata Op. 2 No. 5, shares an identical Allegro movement with the organ concerto heard earlier in the program. Another part is from an aria from Handel's opera "Rinaldo." Baroque composers always borrowed from themselves (and others), so this should be no surprise. This was performed by two oboes, played by Stephen Bard and Brandon Labadie, with Helgeson returning as bassoonist, and organ.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once said that "The organ … is in my eyes and ears the king of all instruments." He wrote for organ, but not extensively, and what has survived to this day includes seventeen delightful sonatas that were written to provide a respite for the priest between the Kyrie and Gloria and the Gospel in introduce the Epistle reading for a Roman Catholic High Mass. Hence, their moniker "Epistle Sonatas." Weimann and two violins and bass performed one of them, in C Major, KV 336. In these sonatas the organ is not always prominent, but it is in this one and it is utterly delightful.

As noted above, the program closed with the first concerto for organ and orchestra in Handel's Opus 7. In this work, there is plenty of liberty for the soloist to improvise in the first movement, a set of variations on a ground. Before this work was performed, Weimann announced that it would be in an alternate version in three movements, rather than five, as in the printed program. The first movement was a tema ed variazione (theme and variations), the second an adagio with a remarkable "walking bass," and the finale a Bourée.

In Weimann's informative and witty program notes he speaks personally of his fascination since childhood with the church organ. "Its countless pipes, keys, often multiple keyboards, the pedal, sometimes more buttons and switches ... than on the flight deck of a big aircraft; the fact that it challenges the whole body and all available mental skills to master the tricky task of coordinating all limbs … clearly, my attraction to this particular instrument was initially boyish, but it still persists, and today I am very excited to share my passion with you in a program of some of the finest writing for solo organ and orchestra." I am most happy to report that Alexander Weimann delivered! Many in the audience could readily identify with Weimann's passion, including this reviewer.

A nice corollary of the evening was talking with Cliff Fairley, now retired from the Bond Organ Co., the maker of the small three-rank instrument that was used in this performance. Fairley was largely responsible for its crafting and was obviously thrilled to hear his opus used as a solo instrument. He and I sing with the Bach Cantata Choir and this very organ is used as a continuo instrument, but once was featured in a performance of another Handel concerto, "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale," Opus 4, No. 13 of Handel's played by John Vergin.
Post Script: As admitted above, my foray into organ playing once took me down the path of a dare to myself that I would one day play Handel's Organ Concerto, Op. 4, No. 1 in g minor. And, in my fifties, I actually accomplished it! It was a sort of gift to the organist in my parish (I am a cleric) at the time, who was celebrating his 20th anniversary in the post. I gathered together the string quartet from the local high school that included his daughter as the first violinist, and imported his son, an excellent string bass player, to form an "orchestra," really a quintet. I played the organ solo, doing reasonably well, sweating all the while and taking the tempos slower than I'd heard on recordings. But it brought me the greatest joy, so much that I hope for that kind of joy for anyone, involved in music-making or not!

Today's Birthdays

St. Cecilia
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784)
Edgard Varèse (1883-1965)
Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981)
Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Gunther Schuller (1925-2015)
Jimmy Knepper (1927-2003)
Hans Zender (1936)
Kent Nagano (1951)
Stephen Hough (1961)
Sumi Jo (1962)


George Eliot (1819-1880)
André Gide (1869-1951)

And from The Writer's Almanac:

It’s the feast day of Saint Cecilia, who was the patron saint of musicians because she sang to God as she died a martyr’s death. She was born to a noble family in Rome near the end of the second century A.D.

It wasn’t really until the 1400s that people really began to celebrate her widely as the patron saint of music. Then, in the 1500s, people in Normandy held a large musical festival to honor her, and the trend made its way to England in the next century. Henry Purcell composed celebratory odes to honor her, and the painter Raphael created a piece called “The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia.” Chaucer wrote about her in the Second Nonnes Tale, and Handel composed a score for a famous ode to her that John Dryden had written.

Today, Saint Cecilia is often commemorated in paintings and on stained glass windows as sitting at an organ.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933)
Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969)
Bernard Lagacé (1930)
Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003)
James DePreist (1936-2013)
Idil Biret (1941)
Vinson Cole (1950)
Kyle Gann (1955)
Stewart Wallace (1960)
Björk (1965)


Voltare (1694-1778)
Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944)
René Magritte (1898-1967)
Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991)
Marilyn French (1929-2009)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Today's Birthdays

René Kolo (1937)
Gary Karr (1941)
Meredith Monk (1942)
Phillip Kent Bimstein (1947)
Barbara Hendricks (1948)


Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014)
Maya Plisetskaya (1925-2015)
Don DeLillo, (1936)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Preview of "A Soldier's Tale" in The Columbian newspaper

Yesterday, The Columbian newspaper published my preview of Stravinsky's "A Soldier's Tale," which will be performed as part of the Vancouver Symphony's chamber music series. That concert will take place on Sunday, November 20th, at 3 pm at Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver (WA).

Today's Birthdays

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (1663-1712)
Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859-1935)
Jean‑Yves Daniel‑Lesur (1908-2002)
Géza Anda (1921-1976)
Maralin Niska (1926-2010)
David Lloyd-Jones (1934)
Agnes Baltsa (1944)
Ross Bauer (1951)


Allen Tate (1899-1979)
Sharon Olds (1942)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

On this date in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was four and a half months after the devastating battle, and it was a foggy, cold morning. Lincoln arrived about 10 a.m. Around noon, the sun came out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours. Everett described the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once. When Everett finished, Lincoln spoke.

Now considered one of the greatest speeches in American history, the Gettysburg Address ran for just over two minutes, fewer than 300 words, and only 10 sentences. It was so brief, in fact, that many of the 15,000 people that attended the ceremony didn't even realize that the president had spoken, because a photographer setting up his camera had momentarily distracted them. The next day, Everett told Lincoln, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes."

There are several versions of the speech, and five different manuscript copies; they're all slightly different, so there's some argument about which is the "authentic" version. Lincoln gave copies to both of his private secretaries, and the other three versions were re-written by the president some time after he made the speech. The Bliss Copy, named for Colonel Alexander Bliss, is the only copy that was signed and dated by Lincoln, and it's generally accepted as the official version for that reason.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Jean‑Baptiste Loeillet (1680-1730)
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)
Amelita Galli‑Curci (1882-1963)
Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985)
Lillian Fuchs (1901-1995)
Compay Segundo (1907-2003)
Johnny Mercer (1909-1976)
Don Cherry (1936-1995)
Heinrich Schiff (1951)
Bernard d'Ascoli (1958)


Louis Daguerre (1787-1851)
W.S (William Schwenck) Gilbert (1836-1911)
George Gallup (1901-1984)
Margaret Atwood (1939)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes cameo debut in "Daughter of the Regiment"

The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post reviewed Washington National Opera's recent production of Donizetti's "The Daughter of the Regiment" in which Supreme Court Justice and avid opera fan Ruth Bader Ginsburg played the Duchess of Krakenthorp, a small speaking role, at the Kennedy Center. Both articles have photos of RBG in period costume.

Today's Birthdays

Ernest Lough (1911-2000)
Leonid Kogan (1924-1982)
Sir Charles Mackerras (1925-2010)
David Amram (1930)
Gene Clark (1941-1991)
Philip Picket (1950)
Philip Grange (1956)


Shelby Foote (1916-2006)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski recovering from stroke and surgery

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Conductor Laureate of the Minnesota Orchestra is in stable condition after surgery following a stroke on Sunday. Skrowaczewski, age 93, is scheduled to lead the Dallas Symphony next weekend. He led the Oregon Symphony in concerts last November.

Today's Birthdays

Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831)
W. C. Handy (1873-1958)
Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Burnet Tuthill (1888-1982)
Lawrence Tibbett (1896-1960)
Earl Wild (1915-2010)
David Wilson-Johnson (1950)
Donald Runnicles (1954)


George S. Kaufman (1889-1961)
José Saramago (1922-2010)
Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)
Andrea Barrett (1954)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Portland Youth Philharmonic delivers dynamic world premiere of Svoboda’s Second Symphony with élan

The scene outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday evening (November 12th) was the one of the most unusual ones that I have ever witnessed. A police vehicle filled with anti-riot police was positioned right by the front doors of the hall and loudspeakers told anti-Trump protesters to move away from the Park Blocks or they would be arrested. The air was tense, but as I entered the lobby of the concert hall, the atmosphere relaxed and brightened considerably because it was the opening night of the Portland Youth Philharmonic’s 93rd season. On the stage were 108 young and very talented instrumentalists who were busily reviewing a myriad of passages from the music that they were about to perform. I was impressed by the focus of the musicians, who were gearing up with intensity for a program of music by Wagner, Bruch, and De Sarasate, plus a world premiere of Tomáš Svoboda’s Symphony No. 2 (Op. 41).

In his remarks to the audience, Music Director, David Hattner, told how a Camerata PYP successful premiere of Svoboda’s “Folk Concertino for Seven Instruments” led to the opportunity to play his Second Symphony. Svoboda, a prolific Czech-American composer whose work has received a Grammy nomination, wrote the symphony in 1963, but it had never been played because he fled his native country in 1964 to come to the United States, and that caused the premiere to be cancelled.

Consisting of four movements, the Svoboda’s Second Symphony opened with some massive sonic textures that involved the entire orchestra. Periodic whams from the bass drum added to the din, which then vanished, leaving a menacing fog of sound that was punctuated by the snare drum. Delightful conversations among the woodwinds with wandering flute lines alternated with another series of loud, expansive, and tragic-sounding passages that involved the entire orchestra. The initial measures of the second movement were somber and quiet, allowing for beautiful sonorities between Concertmaster Fumika Mizuno and Assistant Concertmaster Daniel Tang. The romantic theme transferred to the flutes and oboes before being handed off to the viola (Co-Principal Samuel Zacharia). Ominous, throbbing sounds from the orchestra threatened the lovely melody that had been established, but the romantic sensibility returned and after a plaintive clarinet solo (Principal Alex Lee) closed the movement in a gentle, restful state. The third movement began with a propulsive drive that crecendoed and decrescendoed against a highly-wire line of violins. Mutterings from the brass developed into larger blasts that were followed by an extended pizzicato line from the bass violins, and the movement ended with a line that was slowly built into a huge crescendo. The fourth movement featured a lovely bassoon solo, lots of intricate phrases for the woodwinds, a gorgeous melody for the strings, a fanfare for the brass, explosive sounds from the timpani, and a brief excursion for the piano before fading quietly away.

The audience responded with enthusiastic applause, not only for the outstanding performance by the orchestra, but also for Svoboda, who was sitting in the lower balcony with his wife, Jana Demartini. As Hattner suggested in his introduction, the music did seem to fluctuate between an expression of love and the fear of militarism and oppressive authority – with love surviving it all in the end.

Violist Samuel Zacharia, winner of PYP’s soloist competition, gave an outstanding performance of Max Bruch’s “Romanze.” He brought nuance to the piece, playing with a sweet tone and shaping each passage with impeccable taste. The orchestra accompanied him with terrific sensibility.

After intermission, the orchestra blew the listeners away with Pablo De Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen,” which usually features a violin soloist. But for this concert, Hattner divided up the soloist’s part so that 19 of his budding violin virtuosos had a crack at a devilish passage. Besides the fleet filigree, the musicians deftly negotiated combinations of double stops, pizzicatos with both hands, and glissandos. The exchange of the soloist’s line was handed off seamlessly with each violinist standing up quietly to play. Their performance was a flat-out foot-stomping crowd pleaser, and I think that the audience would have enjoyed hearing it a second time.

The concert opened with a robust performance of the Prelude to Richard Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.” The ensemble played it with gusto, but the only problem was a balance issue caused by the fact that there were so many strings. But wow, the strings sounded terrific!

Kudos again to the PYP, and the ability of young musicians to make great music. Perhaps a recording of Svoboda's symphony by them will be available in the near future.

Today's Birthdays

Annunzio Paolo Mantovani (1905-1980)
Petula Clark (1932)
Peter Dickinson (1934)
Daniel Barenboim (1942)
Pierre Jalbert (1967)


Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946)
Georgia O'Keefe (1887-1986)
Marianne Moore (1887-1972)
Ted Berrigan (1934-1983)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)
Fanny Hensel (1805-1847)
Rev. John Curwen (1816-1880)
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Leonie Rysanek (1926-1998)
Jorge Bolet (1914-1990)
Narciso Yepes (1927-1997)
Robert Lurtsema (1931-2000)
Peter Katin (1930-2015)
Ellis Marsalis (1934)
William Averitt (1948)


Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002)
William Steig (1907-2003)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Jan Zach (1699-1773)
Louis Lefébure-Wély (1817-1870)
Brinley Richards (1817-1885)
George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931)
Marguerite Long (1874-1966)
Joonas Kokkoken (1921-1996)
Lothar Zagrosek (1942)
Martin Bresnick (1946)


St. Augustine (354-430)
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
George V. Higgins (1939-1999)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Principal wind players show their stuff in Oregon Symphony concert with guest conductor Hans Graf

Seven principal wind players from the Oregon Symphony delivered an impressive performance of Frank Martin’s “Concerto for Seven winds and Orchestra on Monday evening (November 7) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. They were the main attraction in a concert that also featured Hans Graf, the Conductor Laureate of the Houston Symphony, in his debut with the orchestra. Martin’s quirky piece, which some scholars have described as a blend of Stravinsky and Ravel, was placed between two Romantic constructs: Schumann’s “Overture, Scherzo, and Finale” and Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (“Pastoral”). All three pieces were played with keen sensibility by the orchestra, but fine performances by the soloists in the Martin deserved highest praise.

The soloists in the “Concerto for Seven Winds and Orchestra” were Martha Long, flute, Martin Hébert, oboe, James Shields, clarinet, Carin Miller Packwood, bassoon, John Cox, French horn, Jeffrey Work, trumpet, and Daniel Cloutier, trombone. They conveyed the fragmentary and percussive musings of the piece with élan. In a way, it was an elegant series of mutterings, stutterings, and sporadic utterings that came across as a conversation with the orchestra. There were no lyrical phrases to hang your hat on. The soloists expressed brief statements in pairs (for example, flute and clarinet or oboe and bassoon), trios, and other groupings. Most of the soloists deftly played at least one series of treacherously high notes that were way out of the normal range. Shields executed several ultra-smooth and soft entries. Cloutier wonderfully created the mellow and almost sad trombone line at the end of the second movement. Work delivered a lick that reminded me of a circus number. To top it all off at the end of the piece, Jonathan Greeney expertly handled a wicked timpani part.

The concert began with Schumann’s “Overture, Scherzo, and Finale” which he didn’t classify as a symphony because it doesn’t have a slow movement. The orchestra deftly conveyed the ponderous opening before breaking free into lovely melody followed by a series of sweeping phrases that are dotted with rising glissandos. The third alternated smartly between a stuttering march and a gentle bucolic melody. The third was vigorously playful and ended with a strong, joyful finale. Throughout the piece, the orchestra seamlessly transitioned from smooth, elongated phrases to sudden, punchy ones that jabbed left and right, giving Schumann’s music a polished and glowing interpretation.

Graf showed a somewhat restrained style as he guided the musicians through Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. He didn’t use big round-house gestures during the famous thunderstorm movement, but one of his most overt gestures was to the bass violins to play louder towards the end of the final movement.

The orchestra responded to Graf with great depth and feeling. Some audience members might have noticed that the principals who had played in the Martin got the night off… well, everyone except Shields who filled in at second clarinet. Lovely lyrical playing by the entire ensemble created the brook-side setting, including some impeccable bird songs by the woodwinds. The rustic barn dance had a good-nature stomp to it, topped off by sections with lighter footwork. The thunderstorm was bracing and expertly set up the tables for the smooth ride into the final movement.

Today's Birthdays

Alexander Borodin (1833-1887
Jean Papineau-Couture (1916-2000)
Michael Langdon (1920-1991)
Lucia Popp (1939-1993)
Neil Young (1945)


Roland Barthes (1915-1980)
Michael Ende (1929-1995)
Tracy Kidder (1945)

From the New Music Box:

On November 12, 1925, cornetist Louis Armstrong made the first recordings with a group under his own name for Okeh Records in Chicago, Illinois. The group, called Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, recorded his original compositions, "Gut Bucket Blues" and "Yes! I'm In The Barrel" (Okeh 8261) as well as "My Heart" composed by his wife Lil Hardin who was the pianist in the band. (The flipside of the 78rpm record on which the latter was issued, Okeh 8320, was "Armstrong's composition "Cornet Chop Suey" recorded three months later on February 26, 1926.) Armstrong's Hot Five and subsequent Hot Seven recordings are widely considered to be the earliest masterpieces of recorded jazz.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Bernhard Romberg (1767-1841)
Ernest Ansermet (1883-1969)
Jan Simons (1925-2006)
Arthur Cunningham (1928-1997)
Vernon Handley (1930-2008)
Harry Bramma (1936)
Jennifer Bate (1944)
Fang Man (1977)


Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)
Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012)
Mary Gaitskill (1955)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Martin Luther (1483-1546)
François Couperin (1668-1733)
Graham Clark (1941)
Sir Tim Rice (1944)
Andreas Scholl (1967)


Oliver Goldsmith (1730 - 1774)
Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)
Vachel Lindsey (1879-1931)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Pierrette Alarie (1921-2011)
Piero Cappuccilli (1929-2005)
Ivan Moravec (1930-2015)
William Thomas McKinley (1938-2015)
Thomas Quasthoff (1959)
Bryn Terfel (1965)


Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)
Hugh Leonard (1926-2009)
Anne Sexton (1928-1974)
Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Sir Arnold Bax (1883-19530
Lamberto Gardelli (1915-1938)
Jerome Hines (1921-2003)
Richard Stoker (1938)
Simon Standage (1941)
Judith Zaimont (1945)
Tadaaki Otaka (1947)
Elizabeth Gale (1948)
Bonnie Raitt (1949)
Ana Vidović (1980)


Dorothy Day (1897-1980)
Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)
Raja Rao (1908-2006)
Kazuo Ishiguro (1954)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Ethereal harp concertos elevate Vancouver Symphony's all-French program

Valerie Muzzolini Gordon, Principal Harpist of the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Opera, delivered sublime performances of concertos by Gabriel Pierné and Claude Debussy with the Vancouver Symphony on Saturday afternoon (November 5) at Skyview Concert Hall. Her playing highlighted an all-French program that featured Debussy’s “Nocturnes” with the women of the Vancouver USA Singers and the Suite No. 2 from Maurice Ravel’s ballet “Daphnis and Chloé.” All of the works were led by the orchestra’s Music Director, Salvador Brotons.

Muzzolini Gordon’s interpretation of Pierné’s “Concert Piece for Harp and Orchestra” was a pure delight. Her impeccable playing elicited lovely melodies and a lush, translucent quality that was heavenly. The brief cadenzas and the softest sections of the piece added to the enchantment. The simultaneous video projection of her hands onto the large screens on either side of the stage combined marvelously with the beautiful music to entrance the audience. No one coughed while she played.

After intermission, Muzzolini Gordon delivered a magical performance of Debussy’s “Sacred and Profane Dances.” The radiant chords of the sacred portion of the music evoked a divine timelessness. The profane or secular portion had the feathery lightness of a waltz. Superb accompaniment by the orchestral strings allowed Muzzolini Gordon to bring out many dynamic nuances, which made the music immensely enjoyable. Again, the listeners were totally mesmerized by her facile technique, and she drew sustained, enthusiastic applause after the piece ended.

In the orchestra’s performance of the Second Suite from Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloé,” it was easy to imagine the rising of the sun over a pastoral landscape. The fluttering flutes created babbling brooks and birds flying about. The orchestra suggested the outline of a story that depicted the love between the young shepherd Daphnis and the beautiful shepherdess Chloé. The wildness of the general dance that celebrates their love went a bit awry with the oboes, but it did get off the ground and the orchestra succeeded in generating an enchanting swirl.

Brotons rearranged the program order, starting the concert with Debussy’s “Nocturnes,” an atmospheric piece with contrasting orchestral colors. In the first movement, “Clouds,” the orchestra created impressions of light and dark shadows that slowly changed. Mysterious rising tones from the English horn, and the expert playing of Principal Flutist Rachel Rencher helped to evoke the changing sky. The second movement, “Festivals,” was peppered with perky woodwinds and a brash brass section. The third, “Sirens” meshed the wafting sonorities of the women of the Vancouver USA Singers with the sounds that ebbed and flowed from the orchestra. Some slippage in the intonation of the violins and cellos in the first movement interfered with the sonic texture, but the spirit of the music still managed to shine.

Today's Birthdays

Efrem Kurtz (1900-1995)
William Alwyn (1905-1985)
Al Hirt (1922-1999)
Dame Joan Sutherland (1926-2010)
Dame Gwyneth Jones (1937)
Joni Mitchell (1943)
Judith Forst (1943)
Christina Viola Oorebeek (1944)


Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Albert Camus (1913-1960)
Stephen Greenblatt (1943)

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Review of Portland Symphonic Choir's performance of Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil

Guest review by Phillip Ayers

On a somewhat rainy Sunday afternoon (October 30), a sell-out crowd entered the rather obscure premises of the Adrianna Hill Grand Ballroom in downtown Portland. This hall, never mentioned in the printed program, proved to be, if not the best place for this performance, then certainly an interesting one, causing some whom this reviewer spoke with to remark "Well, it's a 'first'!" The Portland Symphonic Choir has performed Sergei Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil both at St. Mary's Cathedral and St. Mary's Church in Mount Angel, each church with far better acoustics than we experienced this weekend.

As of last season, the choir is performing in various venues around town, where before St. Mary's Cathedral provided space for most of the choir's concerts. Still, it was a grand performance in that small, tight, non-airy space (windows were opened before Sunday's performance, probably to avoid what had happened the night before when a singer fainted). This reviewer sat in the balcony, dimly lighted and draped with some sort of netting, next to a bar. Surrounding me were concert-goers sipping glasses of wine. Whether or not this is conducive to attentive and active listening to such an important, profoundly moving work of music is up for grabs. One could wax cynical here, but I digress ….

To the music itself, then. No effort is spent to realize, as the person next to me did as she was hearing this for the very first time, that this is a choral work that can move one to tears if open to its power to enchant (and I'm not speaking only of the Znammenny, Kiev, or Greek chants!) and move one emotionally. Tears came right away, as I've sung this twice with the choir when I was a member in my previous life. This music simply "hits you squarely" right away with a wonderful "call to worship" (in Reformed parlance): Steven Zopfi, the choir's Artistic Director and author of the full and excellent program notes and analyses, wrote that each invocation of this "call" begins with the marmoreal sound of full, loud chorus. I had to look up marmoreal in a dictionary when I got home: it comes from the Latin for "marble." So, marble-like sound? Yes, and marble floors in the hall would have resounded with that rich sound far better than wood did.

This opening movement, as well as much of the whole work, requires the choir's "wall of sound," about which I have written in every review of the choir's performances that I've been privileged to hear and to review. Sadly, I did not perceive that "wall" Sunday afternoon, as much as before when in larger performance venues. Still, the tears came to my eyes and I settled in for the next hour and a half (including an intermission, which I found totally redundant and distracting. I suppose there had to be an interval to allow people have a respite and to guzzle more wine).

Guest mezzo-soprano, Ruth Ginell Heald, performed her solos in front of the choir, entering from the side. In the second movement, "Bless the Lord, O My Soul," she was a bit overpowered by the chorus. At times, the final syllable in the "Alleluiyas" was too much, and accuracy in pronunciation and attacks was lacking at times in this movement. Outside noise, through the open windows behind the choir, was distracting as well; but we weren't feeling stuffy either, which was probably a good thing.

In the fourth movement "Gladsome Light," the Phos Hilaron at Vespers or Evensong/ Evening Prayer in the Anglican tradition, was gloriously sung. Tenor Daniel Morrill, a member of the choir's tenor section, shone here, as well as his other work in the concert. It is surprising and delighting to read in his biography in the program that he had his first voice lesson six years ago and became a paid staff singer with the choir two years later. He possesses a fine instrument and presence. In this particular movement, he stayed at his place in the choir, moving to the front later on. This movement is one the oldest hymn-texts in Christian liturgy and it was sung to Kiev melody. Rachmaninoff indulged in a departure from "traditional" sounds here, as noted by Zopfi in his notes.

The following movement, with the text known to Western Christians as the Nunc Dimmitis, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace" - Simeon's song as the Savior was presented in the Temple. In Old Slavonic it works just as well as the Latin or the English, in fact more authentically, in the Kiev melody. The tenor soloist again provided a touching, lovely ambiance to this canticle. This part ends with the lowest note in the Vespers: a B-flat below low C; it was executed subtly and well by a few basses, not groaned out as is often the case in other performances. I told a bass friend after the performance that it was as though I was seated at the table of a lovely gourmet meal, tasting a subtle, rich morsel!

"Rejoice, O Virgin," as Zopfi notes is the quietest of the five numbers that form the Vespers portion of the vigil liturgy. It is a hymn to the Virgin Mary, named in Orthodoxy, Theotokos, or God-Bearer. And it could have been even more quietly than it was. Tenor and alto sectional "solos" were touching, again moving me to tears as they were so carefully and subtly executed.

"Six Psalms," the seventh movement, is the Western Gloria in excelsis, or song of the angels at the birth of Jesus. The pealing Slavas (or "Glories") from the choir are sung to harmonies which would have seemed suspiciously modern in 1915, the year of composition, as Zopfi notes in his commentary.

If tempted to sleep during the quieter movements, the eighth would awaken the deepest sleeper. Khvalite imya, gospodne. Alliluiya! it begins: "Praise[Laud] ye the name of the Lord, Alleluia!" This movement is part of Matins, a night Office of prayer, anticipating dawn. Here again was Znamenny chant in bold octaves, sung by basses and altos while tenors and sopranos accompany it. The driving rhythms are bold and hold attention, riveting the listener.

The Resurrection of Christ from the dead is central to Orthodox Christianity and it is obviously declaimed in the ninth movement, "Blessed Art Thou O Lord." It is a lively narration, using various forces of the full chorus and occasional tenor solo. The mood-change with Zelo rano mironositsy techakhu (Very early came the myrrh-bearing women) is striking and one can almost envision the angel at the tomb saying "The time of your mourning is past; do not lament any more, but go and tell the apostles that he is risen." The wonderful folk-like chant Svyat, syvat, syvat, yesi Gospodi. I nyne, I priso, I vo veki vekov, Amin' (Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Sabaoth …) is sung by the men, joyfully and strongly.

Men and women alternate in verses of the tenth movement, a hymn in praise of the resurrection. Unison and harmonic singing alternate as well; it ends in a blast of sound with a coda that is to die for, Smertiyu smert' razrushi (Conquering death by death)! This is followed by what the Western Church calls Magnificat (My soul magnifies the Lord), with basses singing the melody while the scherzo-like refrains are sung by the sopranos, altos and tenors. Rachmaninoff carefully harmonized each refrain differently. There were some small intonation problems here, maybe caused by fatigue or over-concentration.

The longest and most complex movement in the liturgy followed, Slava v vyshnikh Bogu (Glory be to God on high), the Western Gloria in excelsis with added prayers at is end. There is a marvelous segue from the Gloria to the prayers that contain portions of what Western Christians know as portions of the Te Deum (We praise Thee, O God), "Let thy merciful kindness, O Lord, be upon us, as our trust is in Thee"). Fragments of Psalms 119 and 90 close this movement, followed by the familiar Trisagion (Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal One, have mercy on us) with a Gloria Patri. Nothing but pure, unadulterated praise here!

Three hymns close out the work, the first two dealing with the resurrection and the last with hymning the Virgin. The fourteenth movement is so serene that the listener craves more of it, and the whole work closes with a jolly Greek chant melody, a hymn to the Theotokos, the God-Bearer, "Heaven-elected chieftain of triumphant hosts … thou who bearest God!" This movement really belonged to the sopranos, who shone like stars, drawing this heavenly work to its close.

Even with a few "wobbly" intonations, quickly righted, the general discomfort in that setting, the wine-swilling, and the not-so-present-as-before Wall of Sound, I gladly stood with the rest of the audience in applause and bravi, in joyful acclamation and thanksgiving for the choir's performance. Much goes into performing this work: careful pronunciation of the Old Slavonic liturgical language - not pronounced like modern Russian; attention to so many nuances in vocal technique; and the peculiar exposure of a non-accompanied lengthy piece of music. Gleefully greeting some dear and old friends who persevere in the choir directed by one of the best choral directors, Steven Zopfi, my afternoon drew to a brilliant close. What a joy it is to listen to PSC! And you can, over and over, by purchasing the CD that the choir produced in 2008!