Monday, July 31, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739)
Robert Planquette (1848-1903)
Norman Del Mar (1919-1994)
Steuart Bedford (1939)
Reinhard Goebel (1952)
Randall Davidson (1953)

and

Mary Harris Jones, or "Mother Jones" (1837-1930)
Primo Levi (1919-1987)
Kim Addonizio (1954)
J. K. Rowling (1965)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Gerald Moore (1899-1987)
Meredith Davies (1922-2005)
Moshe Atzmon (1931)
Buddy Guy (1936)
Paul Anka (1941)
Teresa Cahill (1944)
Alexina Louie (1949)
Christopher Warren-Green (1955)

and

Emily Brontë (1818-1848)
Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)
Henry Moore (1898-1986)
William Gass (1924)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951)
Frank Loesser (1910-1969)
Charles Farncombe (1919-2006)
Avet Terterian (1929-1994)
Mikis Theodorakis (1925)
Peter Schreier (1935)
Bernd Weikl (1942)
Olga Borodina (1963)

and

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)
Don Marquis (1878-1937)
Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006)
Paul Taylor (1930)
T.J. Stiles (1964)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Rued Langgaard (1893-)
Rudy Vallée (1901-1986)
Kenneth Alwyn (1925)
Riccardo Muti (1941)

and

Ludwig A Feuerbach (1804-1872)
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
Beatrix Potter (1866-1843)
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957)
John Ashbery (1927)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Oregon Symphony reports its most successful finanacial season ever

From the press release:

(PORTLAND, OR) – President Scott Showalter announced today the results of the 2016/17 Season, his third as Oregon Symphony President. Titled “Like Never Before” for its groundbreaking SoundSights series, the season set all-time records in virtually every category, including number of concerts, audience attendance, subscription revenue, single ticket sales, the number of sold-out concerts, percentage of first-time ticket buyers, the amount raised at the annual Gala, total number of donors, total number of new donors, and the amount of overall contributions. These high-water marks resulted in the Symphony’s eighth consecutive balanced budget.

These numbers were propelled by a season that saw a 20% increase in the number of classical performances, three trailblazing SoundSights concerts (Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle with glass sets by Dale Chihuly; Messaien’s Turangalîla with animation by Rose Bond; and Stravinsky’s Persephone with puppetry and staging by Michael Curry), and the broadest-ever range of Special Concerts, from Boyz II Men and DeVotchKa to Renée Fleming and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The season additionally reached 1.3 million radio broadcast listeners via All Classical Portland as well as American Public Media’s SymphonyCast and Performance Today, and included two commissioned world premieres.

Artistic highlights included:
· The release of Haydn Symphonies, the fourth CD under Music Director Carlos Kalmar on the Pentatone label.
· The second year of percussionist Colin Currie’s three-year appointment as the Oregon Symphony’s Artist-in-Residence.
· Commissioned works – and their world premieres – from Kenji Bunch and Chris Rogerson.
·  A 20% increase in the number of classical performances.
The season drew historic attendance and ticket revenue:
· Total seats sold: 182,242 (up 18% over previous year and 38% over last five seasons).
· Total ticket revenue: $9,228,060 (up 21% over previous year and 59% over last five seasons).
· Total subscription revenue up 4% over previous year and 15% over last five seasons.
· Total single ticket revenue up 29% over 15/16 and 91% over last five years. 
· Classical attendance up 14% over previous year.
· Classical ticket revenue up 13% over previous year and 24% over last five seasons.
· 28 sold-out concerts, 30% of the season’s concerts.
· 26% of all tickets sold were to first-time buyers, a 12% increase over the previous year.

It also saw multiple records for contributed revenue:
  
· Highest-ever contributed revenue of $8,504,799.
· The annual gala broke the “glass ceiling” of $1 million, a 15% increase over last year’s record.
· More than $2 million in contributions from the Oregon Symphony Association and Foundation Boards.
· Support from more than 38 foundations and 30 corporations, including the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, Brookby Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, Oregon Community Foundation, Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, Collins Foundation, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Umpqua Bank, FamilyCare Health, Globe Foundation, Jay and Diane Zidell Charitable Foundation, Irwin & Renee Holzman Foundation, Richard & Janet Geary Foundation, and Wells Fargo Foundation.

The Oregon Symphony expanded its education and community engagement efforts, increasing the number of programs staged throughout the year by 4% and reaching 19% more people throughout the community:

·         The annual free Waterfront Concert drew 15,000 attendees, and featured more than a dozen performing ensembles, including BRAVO Youth Orchestras, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Portland Youth Philharmonic, and Portland Taiko. The Oregon Symphony’s performance reached additional listeners worldwide via broadcast by All Classical Portland.
·         An expanded musicNOW program – which sees Symphony musicians and therapists from Earthtones Music Therapy team up to bring music-making and movement to those living with age-related cognitive loss – engaged 240 residents, family members, and caregivers at two senior residences.
·         Artist-in-Residence Colin Currie reached 1,400 community members through nine free events, which included master classes with Metropolitan Youth Symphony and Portland Youth Philharmonic, and concerts at St. Mary’s Home for Boys, Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center, and Nordia House. The performance at Nordia House, featuring Symphony percussionists, highlighted innovative wearable technology developed by Intel.
·         As part of the SoundSights series, explorative discussion panels with artists and arts leaders reached an in-person audience of more than 500, with 7,200 additional viewers participating via Facebook Live.
·         14 Symphony Storytimes, 36 Kinderkonzerts, and 6 Young People’s Concerts reached a combined 18,200 K-8 students and family members.
·         The annual Gala included a free community concert for an audience of 2,500.
·         The Oregon Symphony’s brass ensemble returned to Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, where the CCCF choir joined them in a holiday performance for 235 inmates and staff.
·         Soloists Wynton Marsalis, Alban Gerhardt, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and Harriet Krijgh coached three area youth orchestras, as did Music Director Carlos Kalmar and Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik.
·         An expanded Link Up program saw 5,400 elementary students – double the participation over last season – making music alongside the Oregon Symphony, using curriculum provided by Carnegie Hall.

Additionally, 22,000 of the K-12 students reached throughout the season – about 60% of the total – participated for free, based on enrollment in the federal free and reduced lunch program. The Symphony also provided free bus transportation to the concert hall for Title I schools. 

Today's Birthdays

Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829)
Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
Ernő Dohnanyi (1877-1960)
Harl McDonald (1899-1955)
Igor Markevitch (1912-1983)
Mario del Monaco (1915-1982)
Leonard Rose (1918-1984)
Carol Vaness (1952)

and

Joseph Mitchell (1908-1996)
Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007)
Bharati Mukherjee (1940)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1966, Alfred Hitchcock's thriller "Torn Curtain" opens in New York — without the film score that Bernard Herrmann had composed for it. The famous director fired Herrmann during the score's first recording sessions when Hitchcock discovered Herrmann had composed a "symphonic" score and not the "pop" score that Hitchcock had specifically requested.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Today's Birthdays

John Field (1782-1837)
Franz Xaver Mozart (1791-1844)
Francesco Cilea (1866-1950)
Serge Koussevitsky (1874-1951)
Ernest Schelling (1876-1939)
Georges Favre (1905-1993)
Tadeusz Baird (1928-1981)
Alexis Weissenberg (1929-2012)
Anthony Gilbert (1934)
Roger Smalley (1943-2015)
Mick Jagger (1943)
Kevin Volans (1949)
Angela Hewitt (1958)

and

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Carl Jung (1875-1961)
Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973)
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
Jean Shepherd (1921-1999)
Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

CMNW presents Mozart and a surprising Surprise by Haydn

Tuesday July 18th saw the Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival present performances by the Brentano and Calidore String Quartets, and guest musicians as well. The concert at the performance space in Portland State's Lincoln Hall consisted of works by Mozart and Haydn.

Mozart's Quartet for Flute and Strings in C Major, K 285b, opened the first half. Tara Helen O'Connor was the flutist, playing together with Mark Steinberg, violin, Misha Amory, viola, and Nina Lee, cello, all members of the Brentano Quartet. O'Connor played in a classic, dulcet Mozartian timbre, varying her sound and bringing out a husky aspiration in the lower register.  Crisp and spritely, O'Connor navigated her way through tricky sections with amazingly agile octave jumps. As an ensemble the group played with an incredibly light and airy blend, yet always with respect for the integrity of the composition. Lee took front and center in the Andantino with soaring bass lines, and Amory played the marvelous solo lines for the viola with a delicate poco saltando.

The String Quartet No 16 in E-flat Major, K 428 was next, and Serena Canin joined on violin. There were interaction issues on the more sparse, thinner passages; the playing felt almost too polite at times. The phrasing and dynamic shifts were somewhat predictable, and pitchiness kept cropping up as an issue. During the final allegro vivace the group rallied for a powerful, exuberant attack, and the phrasing became more engaging.

The second half saw the Calidore Quartet (Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan violin, Jeremy Berry, viola, and Estelle Choi, cello) joined by O'Connor and Andrea Lam on piano, to present a scaled-down version by Johann Peter Salomon of Haydn's Symphony in G Major, Hob I:94 'Surprise.' 

There was clear and concise execution from the first violin in the Andante, and a mellifluous cantabile.  In the Allegro Molto the violins balanced perfectly during the counterpoint, and throughout O'Connor continued to impress by balancing numerous roles--whether as soloist, accentuator, or stand-in for the entire wind band, she was always in control, keenly aware of the tricky place she occupied however rapidly the roles shifted. 

It was fascinating to hear this chestnut stripped down to such a spare ensemble. The group did not make the mistake of trying to convince the audience that they were a full-sized orchestra for this work--rather the impression they imparted was that just maybe this work was composed for a small chamber ensemble, and a fine and accurate impression it was. 

Today's Birthdays

Alfredo Casella (1883-1947)
Maureen Forrester (1930-2010)

and

Eric Hoffer (1898-1983)
Elias Canetti (1905-1994)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1788 that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart entered into his catalog the completion of one of his most beloved works, Symphony Number 40 in G Minor (sometimes called “The Great G Minor Symphony”). It was written in the final years of Mozart’s life, when things were not going well. An infant daughter had died a few weeks earlier, he had moved into a cheaper apartment, and he was begging friends and acquaintances for loans. But in the summer of 1788, he wrote his last three symphonies: Symphony Number 39 in E-Flat, Symphony in G Minor, and the Jupiter symphony. It is not known for sure whether Mozart ever heard any of these symphonies performed

Monday, July 24, 2017

Article in The Oregonian about Portland Opera double bill

The Oregonian printed my article online about the upcoming David Lang one-act works that will be presented by Portland Opera this weekend. The printed version will appear later this week.

Today's Birthdays

Adolphe Charles Adam (1803-1856)
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)
Robert Farnon (1917-2005)
Ruggiero Ricci (1918-2012)
Guiseppe de Stefano (1921-2008)
Wilfred Josephs (1927-1997)
Peter Serkin (1947)
Philippe Hurel (1955)

and

Jonathan Newton (1725-1807)
Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?)
Frank Wedekind (1864-1918)
Robert Graves (1895-1985)
John D. McDonald (1916-1986)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Today's birthdays

Franz Berwald (1796-1868)
Johann Vesque von Püttlingen (1803-1883)
Edouard Colonne (1838-1910)
Francesco Cilea (1866-1950)
Leon Fleisher (1928)
Bernard Roberts (1933-2013)
Maria João Pires (1944)
Susan Graham (1960)

and

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)
Vikram Chandra (1961)

and from the Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1829 that William Burt received a patent for the "typographer." It was a typewriter that looked more like a record player. It had a swinging arm that picked up ink and then printed a letter, and then the paper was manually adjusted to make space for the next letter.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Luigi Arditti (1822-1903)
Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962)
Licia Albanese (1913-2014)
George Dreyfus (1928)
Ann Howard Jones (1936)
Nigel Hess (1953)
Eve Beglarian (1958)

and

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)
Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Tom Robbins (1936)
S. E. Hinton (1948)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Anton Kuerti (1938)
Isaac Stern (1920-2001)
Cat Stevens (1948)
Margaret Ahrens (1950)

and

Hart Crane (1899-1932)
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Tess Gallagher (1943)
Garry Trudeau (1948)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Reporting from Santa Fe

I am in Santa Fe, New Mexico for the annual meeting of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA). Yesterday, we gave our inaugural Award for Best New Opera to Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek for "Breaking the Waves." Here is a photo that shows them with MCANA president Barbara Jepson and George Loomis:


Here's another photo of Mazzoli and Vavrek:



While in Santa Fe, the critics are attending concerts and operas. Last night, I saw an excellent production of Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Golden Cockerl" at Santa Fe Opera. This afternoon I heard a noontime concert presented by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

Tomorrow evening we will hear Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" and Friday night will be the world premier of "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs" by Mason Bates.

This afternoon we heard a terrific panel discussion about "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs" with some of the artistic staff and performers: stage director Kevin Newberry, scenic designer Victoria "Vita" Tzykun, conductor Michael Christie, librettist Mark Campbell and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke.  Here is a photo of the panel, plus music critic John Fleming with the microphone.

Chamber Music Northwest presents terrific works by Tower, Zwilich, Shaw, and Smith

Calidore String Quartet and the Claremont Trio | Photo credit: Tom Emerson
Chamber Music Northwest topped off its weeklong celebration of music by women composers with a doozy of concert on Saturday evening (July 15) at Kaul Auditorium. The program presented impressive works by Joan Tower, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Caroline Shaw, and Gabriella Smith for a variety of string ensembles. I was excited to hear works by the two veterans Tower and Zwilich, and rising star Shaw, but CMNW’s protégé composer Smith surprised me again (see New@Noon concert review) with another fascinating piece that was right up in the same league as her colleagues.

Even though Smith’s piece had the seemingly innocent title of “Carrot Revolution,” (2015) the music that she devised had tantalizingly complex rhythms and lots of brief melodic detours. Played by violinists Tomas Cotik and Rebecca Anderson, violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, and cellist Nancy Ives, the music launched with Ives patting a pulsating beat before being joined by her colleagues in a series of slip-sliding sounds – some of which seemed scratchy. The cello led the way with a bluesy motif and another round of tapping that was followed by a herky-herky and folksy-fiddly section for the entire ensemble. Soulful melodic lines for the viola and cello, throbbing, vibrant passages for the foursome, and a hypnotic section that sounded as if the entire collective were melting down and changing keys along the way – was pretty awesome. The finale arrived on a zippy note that made me want to hear it all again… or at least ask the ushers for a glass of carrot juice.

The Calidore String Quartet (violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry, and cellist Estelle Choir) performed Shaw’s “Entr’acte" (2011) with terrific finesse. The dance-like opening contained some deliciously thin pauses and a delicate whispery section in which no real tone could be distinguished. A steady tic-toc passage gave way to an extended pizzicato section that moved into a series of sighs After returning to the first theme, the piece concluded with a strumming cello. I liked the piece, but it seemed to rely on experimentation for experimentation’s sake.

In introducing “White Water” (String Quartet No. 5) (2011), Tower said that she wanted to explore speed and weight. As played by the Calidore String Quartet, the music definitely conveyed that feeling. In the first few minutes, there seemed to be the sound of a spring bubbling upwards followed by splashes that erupted out of a mountainside. Edgy rivulets of sound sprang up and flowed down quick tempo. Wild glissandi seemed to underscore the untamed nature of the piece. High violins whined against a slower current from the viola and cello and after a while the piece rested calmly in harmonically-resolved waters.

One of the cool things about Zwilich’s “Septet for Piano Trio and String Quartet” (2008) was the arrangement of the Claremont Trio (violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin, and pianist Andrea Lam) on the inside and the Calidore String Quartet on the outer corners. The music for the two ensembles took off with the Claremonters racing and the Calidorians playing the role of the Steady Eddies. That all got changed around with pianist Lam being an instigator-agitator. One of the themes in the second movement was slightly sinister, and it was countered in the third by a sprightly melodic line. One of the highlights of the fourth movement (“Au revoir”) was how the instruments passed the same note from one to the next all the way across the collective ensemble. That was a real treat. It seemed like some of the ends of phrases in this piece needed a little more tightening up. But overall, it was a delight to hear the two ensembles play this challenging piece.

Today's Birthdays

Gaston Carraud (1864-1920)
Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921)
Gunnar de Frumerie (1908-1987)
Vilém Tauský (1910-2004)
Michael Gielen (1927)
Nam June Paik (1932-2006)
Hukwe Zawose (1938-2003)
Carlos Santana (1947)
Bob Priest (1951)

and

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374)
Pavel Kohout (1928)
Cormac McCarthy (1933)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Boyd Neel (1905-1981)
Louis Kentner (1905-1987)
Klaus Egge (1906-1979)
Peggy Stuart-Coolidge (1913-1981)
Robert Mann (1920)
Gerd Albrecht (1935-2014)
Nicholas Danby (1935-1937)
Dominic Muldowney (1952)
David Robertson (1958)
Carlo Rizzi (1960)
Mark Wigglesworth (1964)
Evelyn Glennie (1965)
Russell Braun (1965)

and

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930)

and from the Composers Datebook

On this day in 1942, Arturo Toscanini conducts the American premiere of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 ("Leningrad") on a NBC Symphony broadcast. The world premiere performance by the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra had occurred on March 1, 1942, in Kuybishe, the wartime seat of the Soviet government.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747)
Pauline Viardot (1821-1910)
Julius Fučík (1872-1916)
Kurt Masur (1927-2015)
Screamin' Jay Hawkins (1929-2000)
R. Murray Schafer (1933)
Ricky Skaggs (1954)
Tobias Picker (1954)

and

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)
Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979)
Harry Levin (1912-1994)
Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933)
Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005)
Elizabeth Gilbert (1969)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Portland Opera’s production of "Così fan tutte" updated with Keep Portland Weird vibe

Photo credit: Cory Weaver
Sasquatches, virtual reality goggles, bean-bag chairs, dreadlocks, jumbotron, and REI chic were all part of the mix on opening night (July 14th) in Portland Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte,” giving it a “Keep Portland Weird” vibe that was fun but also distracting. Opera purists were certainly shaking their heads at this concoction, but the mashup of styles that was unleashed by director Roy Rallo fell mostly into the silly storyline of the opera. The only problem with the onslaught of visual imagery was that it sometimes took the attention away from the music, which was some of the best Mozart ever wrote.

Perhaps the visual diversions were seen as a way to keep audiences involved in the opera, which, with intermission, lasted about three and a half hours. The oddities started right away when a Sasquatch, wandered onstage during the Overture. After changing into the garb of a gentleman from Eighteenth Century, it turned out that the Sasquatch was Don Alfonso (Daniel Mobbs), the friend of Ferrando (Aaron Short) and Guiglielmo (Ryan Short). All of them initially wore traditional clothing as did their fiancés Fiordiligi (Antonia Tamer) and Dorabella (Kate Farrar). But after the wager between the men was made, Ferrando and Guiglielmo reappeared as dreadlocked dudes, sporting plaid suits and bearing Voodoo donuts. Fair enough, the men were supposed to be exotic Albanians. Okay, maybe exotic Portlandia-Albanians. After being rejected by the women, the men in despair drank poison and were then revived via virtual reality goggles, which the women wear also – with all of them collapsing onto big bean-bag chairs. Despina (Mary Dunleavy) controlled their VR world with a joystick before taking a drag on a vaping cigarette with Alfonso.

Photo credit: Cory Weaver
As the costumes became more modern – men in REI camo and women wearing modern hairdos with garish colors – they seemed to be removing the outer layers of custom and tradition while playing the game of seduction. The scenery, designed by Daniel Meeker and built by Oregon Ballet Theatre for Portland Opera, included a large back wall with spacious panels that magically framed the wonderful video projections of Paul Clay. The imagery of the projected videos augmented the text with terrific imagination for the most part. But the paintings of nude women apparently went too far for the lady sitting next to me because she had brought her young daughter and they left after intermission. The videos of lips, hands, feet, and humans were magically interwoven, and the best sequence was one that showed of paisley patterns melting into human forms.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver
The problem with all the ingenious imagery was that sometimes it didn’t compliment the music, but rather distracted everyone. The most obvious case occurred after intermission during the jumbotron segment when Ferrando brought out a video camera and directed it at the audience. Everyone got engrossed watching themselves on the big screen (the panels on the back wall) and totally forgot about the beautiful aria that Guiglielmo sang.

Did I mention singing? Oh yes, there was plenty of that and all was very well done by the cast, four of whom are members of the company’s resident artist program. Tenor Aaron Short, in particular, has excellent voice for Mozart’s music: smooth and gentle with no hard edges. Yet all of the young professionals – baritone Ryan Thorn, soprano Antonia Tamer, mezzo-soprano Kate Farrar – were excellent, and they expertly collaborated with the veterans Mary Dunleavy and Daniel Mobbs. The “Soave sia il vento” (“A Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage”) trio was gorgeous, and there were many heart-stopping arias that were sung with absolute conviction. Dunleavy captivated the audience with her persuasive arguments for the women to have a little fun, and Mobbs easily conveyed the cynical side of one who has seen it all

The orchestra pit at the Newmark seemed to have been enlarged to accommodate a twenty-seven piece orchestra. The musicians played well under the direction of Nicholas Fox, although there were a couple of exposed passages for the violins that were a tad rough. The chorus sang with gusto, but when they appeared in underwear, it seemed incongruous with the outdoor setting. Perhaps that is why they had to change to Sasquatches at the end. Another oddity was Ferrando kneeling in a skirt while trying to win over Fiordiligi. The final scene, in which the back wall was lifted into the fly space, revealed the tech crew and packing crates surrounded by a chorus of Sasquatches. That was pretty absurd. Yet it sort of went well with Portland, which is proud of its eclectic reputation – like the fellow who wears a skirt and a Darth Vader mask while peddling a unicycle and playing flaming bagpipes. Ah... "Così fan tutti frutti."

World premieres of music by Agóc and Lash highlight two CMNW concerts

Claremont Trio playing Agóc's "The Queen of Hearts"
I am not sure if Chamber Music Northwest has ever programmed two world premieres for the same concert, but it did so and with smashing success for the performance on Thursday, July 13th at Kaul Auditorium. The concert presented brand new works by Kati Agócs and Hannah Lash that CMNW commissioned. How audacious was that! To top that off, CMNW sponsored a second round of performance the next day (Friday, July 14th) in its New@Noon series to a capacity audience at Lincoln Recital Hall. Holy smokes!

To the benefit of my own ears and understanding, I attended both concerts. I have to admit that hearing a brand new piece twice is really beneficial. Upon hearing the works by Agócs and Lasha second time, I had more appreciation for their music. Both pieces resonated well with the audiences, which responded with standing ovations.

Agócs’s “The Queen of Hearts” beguilingly wove a five note chaconne (that constantly changed) against a melodic line. The rhapsodic and very emotional one-movement work was played with intensity by the Claremont Trio (violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin, and pianist Andrea Lam). The piece offered a lot of dynamic contrast and ended on high notes triumphantly.
CMNW septet in Lash's "Form and Postlude"

Lash’s “Form and Postlude” had an impressionistic feel that evoked a lush flower-garden and an aviary. Written for a septet of strings and woodwinds, the beginning of the piece was laced with a series of ascending lines that bubbled up freely. The players (harpist Lash, flutist Joana Wu, clarinetist David Shifrin, violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, violinists Rebecca Anderson and Emily Bruskin, plus cellist Julia Bruskin) achieved an excellent balance throughout. Lash led the way with her emotionally-charged harp playing, which included some of very focused and loud notes. One of the terrific oddities of the piece involved a phrase played in unison by Wu and Shifrin. There seemed to be a reference to Debussy’s “Afternoon of a Faun” and another to something by Ravel.

For the concert on Thursday night, Ravel’s “Introduction et Allegro” followed Lash’s piece, which could have been too much of a good thing, yet in the hands of the same septet, it brought everything to a close perfectly. Again the instrumentalists did a fine job of listening to each other while playing and again showed an excellent blend and balance throughout the piece.

Friday’s New@Noon concert also included Bonnie Miksch’s “Song of Sanshin” (2012) and Ngwenyama’s “Sonoran Storm” (2016). The Claremont Trio graced “Song of Sanshin” with gentle, sliding glissandos over a pentatonic structure, creating an Asiatic atmosphere that was calm and reflective. “Sonoran Storm” took listeners in a completely different direction with its propulsive, repetitive rhythms that were overlaid with a melodic line. This virtuosic piece was played with stunning technique and artistry by Ngwenyama. The music conjured storm over the desert with a double-stopping Bach-like drive interspersed with restful passages that included eerie half-tones. This was a stunning piece!

Thursday’s concert opened with the Claremont Trio performing Fanny Mendelssohn’s “Piano Trio in D Minor.” The wonderfully sweet sound from the violin matched up well with the rich tones from the cello and the supporting color from the piano. The fiery finish to the first movement was breathtaking, and wonderfully set up the graceful and slower, second movement. The piano overwhelmed the cello for some of the last movement, but the ensemble recovered in time end the piece with a flourish and to thunderous applause.

Today's Birthdays

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Sir Donald F. Tovey (1875-1940)
Eleanor Steber (1914-1990)
Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976)
Peter Schickele (1935)
Michael Roll (1946)
Dauwn Upshaw (1960)

and

Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970)
Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946)
Erle Stanley Gardner (1899-1970)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

New music, composers, performers, and venues - celebrated via Chamber Music Northwest

Over the past few years, Chamber Music Northwest has explored new territories, such as new venues, new compositions, new composers, and new performers. I got to hear all of these elements combined in one concert on Wednesday evening, July 12, at the Alberta Rose Theatre in Northeast Portland. Originally a movie theater from the 1920s, the theater has a full bar in the lobby, an adequate stage for small ensembles, decent acoustics, and seating for 400 people. The space was fairly full for the concert, which featured works by Rebecca Clarke, Helen Grime, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Clara Schumann.

The Claremont Trio, an up-and-coming ensemble that was making its first appearance at CMNW’s summer festival, played most of the pieces on the program. Consisting of twin sisters Emily Bruskin (violin) and Julia Bruskin (cello), and Andrea Lam (pianist), the group did a terrific performance of “Four Folk Songs for Violin, Cello, and Piano (2012), which was written for the trio by Gabriela Lena Frank in homage to her mother’s homeland, Peru. I can still hear the bells of the Maria Angola church (the cathedral in Cusco, Peru) from the first movement reverberating across the cityscape. The second movement, “Children’s Dance” marvelously evoked kids skipping, chasing, screaming, and having a great time with each other. The “Serenata” movement used a lot of pizzicati that was fairly loud, eliciting the guitar and vocal duo that are common in restaurants. The final movement hearkened back to the warlike yet artistic Inca past with edgy, nervous energy.

The Claremonters wonderfully conveyed Helen Grime’s abstract yet tender “Three Whistler Miniatures” (2011). The dynamics were often placed on the extreme edges with szforandos and highly dynamic contrasts, ending with sad glissandos. I have to admit that I just didn’t grasp the work, perhaps because it was so short (ten minutes), but I would enjoy hearing it again.

The concert concluded with Clara Schumann’s “Piano Trio in G Minor,” which the Claremont Trio played with verve. It featured strong thematic content, lots of Sturm und Drang-like emotion, soaring melodic lines, exciting races up and down mountainsides, and a fugue to end all fugues. The members of the ensemble seemed transfixed in their playing – with Emily Bruskin moving about so animatedly that it made me marvel at how she could keep control of her instrument. The ensemble plumbed the depths of the piece emphatically and that really resonated with the audience.

Violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama and pianist Lam, kicked off the concert with Clarke’s “Sonata for Viola and Piano” (1919), diving into its bold opening statement with gusto. The duo explored the exotic touches of the piece expertly that were oddly contrasted with rough and tough qualities going on at the same time. It seemed that Lam played a tad too loudly whenever the music moved into forte territory. That might have been due to lack of rehearsal time in the venue, which has a fairly decent acoustic for an old movie house.

One-woman show advocates for Nannerl - "The Other Mozart"

Occasionally, at a concert featuring W. A. Mozart’s music, I’ll read program notes about him having performed with his sister, Maria Anna Mozart, who is usually referred to by her nickname Nannerl. An additional statement might point out that she was an accomplished pianist, but nothing more. Well, I found out a lot more about this remarkable woman after experiencing Sylvia Milo’s dramatic monologue on Monday night, June 11, at Lincoln Performance Hall. Entitled “The Other Mozart,” Milo’s monodrama was a lively, well-paced account of Nannerl Mozart’s life and how frustrating it was for her in an era when women were expected to get married and have children but not have a career in the arts even when they had experienced a lot of initial success.

Drawing on newspaper accounts, letters, and other biographical material, Milo channeled into Nannerl’s personality. Her animated behavior showed a vivacious and artistically gifted person who became an accomplished at the keyboard and might have done equally well with the violin had her father allowed it. Yet after Wolfgang Amadeus was born and quickly displayed incredible musical talent, her father’s attention was almost entirely diverted to him. For a while the two siblings travelled from city to city giving concerts, and they enjoyed doing so immensely. Nannerl was even given top billing at performances and received glowing reviews, but as her brother’s reputation grew, she was gradually ignored and then asked by her parents to stay at home and learn domestic responsibilities. She reluctantly accepted her fate even to the point of marrying a much older and wealthier man, raising his children in a provincial town, and having her own set of children. Yet in the end, she was absolutely frustrated at not having developed her artistic pursuits.

Milo told Nannerl’s story mostly while stationed atop a huge, white dress that covered much of the stage. Now and then, she would pull out a sheet of music, a mirror, a toy piano, a book, embroidery, a music box, letters, and other props from the ruffles of the dress. By modulating her voice and accent, she portrayed members of her family and Wolfgang’s wife Constanze. Sometimes it was difficult to understand exactly what Milo said, but the majority of her monologue came through clearly.

Even though Milo’s theater piece was not meant to be a documentary, it would have been nice to have had a fact sheet with names and dates – just to give a little more context. Looking back on a time and culture that seems so far removed from today, one could easily see that Nannerl’s life would have taken a different trajectory had she been born today. Kudos are in order for Chamber Music Northwest, which presented Milo’s monodrama. Hopefully, it will return again to Portland someday in the near future.

New music for violin celebrated in Chamber Music Northwest's New@Noon concert

Eugene Drucker and Gloria Chien in action
Since its inaugural concert two years ago, Chamber Music Northwest’s New@Noon series with its emphasis on contemporary works has been steadily gaining traction. Lincoln Recital Hall was around three-quarters full for the performance that I attended on Friday, July 7th, which featured pieces by Kaija Saariaho, Augusta Reed Thomas, Gabriella Smith, CMNW’s protégé composer, Philip Setzer, and Eugene Drucker (the latter two are well-known members of the Emerson String Quartet).

Smith’s piece “tapin~ 517/tapout~” was the one on the program that I found most intriguing. Based on her dabbling with a software program used for music, Smith wrote an acoustical piece for an ensemble of five violinists so that the first violinist triggered effects from the four violinists. If I understood her introductory explanation correctly, 517 refers to the number of milliseconds after she tapped into the program before taping out again. In “tapin~ 517/tapout~” Smith used that extremely short distance as a springboard for an arresting piece that ricocheted and reverberated around the violinists. For this world premiere performance, Rebecca Anderson expertly served up volleys as the trigger, and her comrades – Bella Hristova, Soovin Kim Nokuthula Ngwenyama, and Arnaud Sussmann – created a beguiling array of sounds. The variety of overtones alone was intoxicating.

The other works on the program were somber works of an elegiac nature. Saariaho’s “Nocturne” was written in 1994 for solo violin in response to the death of Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski. Before playing the piece, violinist Setzer explained that it would have some strange sounds of someone who struggled in sleep before dying, and indeed, the raspy tones (sometime two different ones at the same time), wiry and tearing effecting did evoke the image of a person struggling with each breath.

Setzer’s “Elegy for Violin and Piano” (1976, revised 2000) offered lots of contrasting extremes with one instrument in its lowest register while the other was at its highest. In the hands of violinist Setzer and pianist Gloria Chien, the piece explored the emotion of loss and grief before ending with a sense of grace.

Augusta Read Thomas wrote “Incantation” in 1995 to honor a friend who was dying of cancer. Played by Drucker, the piece (about five minutes in length) was somber and reflective and finished with an air unresolvedness – as if life were intended to go on elsewhere.

“But Then Begins a Journey in My Head” (2014) by Drucker, drew from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets with nine short movements. Performed by Drucker and Chien, the piece ran the gamut from bold and striking to gloomy and moody and introspective. For example, “Lust” (Sonnet 129) matched up with a tempestuous spirit while A Journey in my Head” (Sonnet 27) was slow and contemplative. Overall, it was a well-paced piece and Chien seemed an ideal accompanist.

Today's Birthdays

Antoine François Marmontel (1816-1898)
Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931)
Fritz Mahler (1901-1973)
Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003)
Bella Davidovich (1928)
Bryden Thomson (1928-1991)
Geoffrey Burgon (1941)
Pinchas Zukerman (1948)
Richard Margison (1954)
Joanna MacGregor (1959)
James MacMillan (1959)
Helmut Oehring (1961)

and

Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)
Roald Amundsen (1872-1928)
Ginger Rogers (1911-1995)
Tony Kushner (1956)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Ronald Binge (1910-1979)
Jack Beeson (1921-2010)
Julian Bream (1933)
Sir Harrison Birtwistle (1934)
Geoffrey Burgon (1941-2010)
Linda Ronstadt (1946)
John Casken (1949)
Gérard Lesne (1956)

and

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
Thomas Bulfinch (1796-1867)
Walter Benjamin (1892-1940)
Iris Murdoch (1919-1999)
Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
Arianna Huffington (1950)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)
Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)
Piero Bellugi (1924-2012)
Eric Stokes (1930-1999)
Unsuk Chin (1961)

and

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Owen Wister (1860-1938)
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)
Frank Raymond Leavis (1895-1978)
Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991)
Irving Stone (1903-1989)
Arthur Laurents (1917-2011)


And from The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Woodrow Wilson — aka "Woody" — Guthrie, born in Okemah, Oklahoma (1912). Woody Guthrie never finished high school, but he spent his spare time reading books at the local public library. He took occasional jobs as a sign painter and started playing music on a guitar he found in the street. During the Dust Bowl in the mid-1930s, Guthrie followed workers who were moving to California. They taught him traditional folk and blues songs, and Guthrie went on to write thousands of his own, including "This Train Is Bound for Glory." In 1940, he wrote the folk classic "This Land Is Your Land" because he was growing sick of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."

Woody Guthrie once said: "I hate a song that makes you think that you're not any good. [...] Songs that run you down or songs that poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or your hard traveling. I am out to fight those kinds of songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Sir Reginald Goodall (1905-1990)
Carlo Bergonzi (1924-2014)
Jeanne Loriod (1928-2001)
Per Nørgård (1932)
Albert Ayler (1936-1970)
Jennifer Smith (1945)

and

John Clare (1793-1864)
Isaak Babel (1894-1941)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Portland cuts funding for Oregon Symphony's Waterfront Park Concert - Now Canceled

The Oregonian has reported that the City of Portland has cut out the funding needed to run the Waterfront Park Concert at the end of summer. Traditionally, the concert has drawn huge crowds to the park and has been a showcase for The Oregon Symphony and other arts organizations, such as Oregon Ballet Theater, Portland Youth Philharmonic, and Portland Opera that have participated. So, the Oregon Symphony has cancelled the concert. In light of the fact that the City has reported a large surplus of money ($12-13 million), it seems shortsighted to stop funding this concert, which brings in a lot of people who spend money at local businesses and has become a highlight of the summer.

Today's Birthdays

Anton Arensky (1861-1906)
George Butterworth (1885-19116)
Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962)
Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960)
Van Cliburn (1934-2013)
Richard Stolzman (1942)
Roger Vignoles (1943)

and

Julius Caesar (100 BC - 44 BC)
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
George Eastman (1854-1932)
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Antônio Carlos Gomes (1836-1896)
Liza Lehmann (1862-1918)
Nicolai Gedda (1925-2017)
Herbert Blomstedt (1927)
Hermann Prey (1929-1998)
Francis Bayer (1938-2004)
Liona Boyd (1949)
Suzanne Vega (1960)

and

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
E. B. White (1899-1985)
Harold Bloom (1930)
Jhumpa Lahiri (1967)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1798, in the nation's capital of Philadelphia, President John Adams signed an Act of Congress establishing the United States Marine Band. (The original "32 drummers and fifers" assisted in recruiting and entertained residents.)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Emerson Quartet delivers triumphant Shostakovich and Beethoven at CMNW

The Emerson String Quartet
Photo by Lisa Mazzucco
Sunday, July 9 at the PSU's Lincoln Performance Hall saw the world-renowned Emerson Quartet present a spectacular and varied concert featuring works by Purcell, Beethoven and Shostakovich. This year's artists-in-residence for Chamber Music Northwest, the Emerson Quartet (Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violins, Lawrence Dutton, viola, and Paul Watkins, cello) showed once again why they are among the best of the best, and how fortunate CMNW is to have such a prestigious ensemble as
artists-in-residence for an entire year.

Opening each half were two short fantasias by Henry Purcell, No. 8 in D Minor, Z. 739 to start the concert, and No. 11 in G Major, Z. 742 in the second half. Originally written for viols, in the first fantasia the group presented a fascinating study in timbre, as the group played with an extremely light and delicate bow such that at times, with one's eyes closed it was easy to imagine listening to a chest of viols. The G Major contained wistful, dreamy baroque melodies, and both were over almost as soon as they began.

Shostakovich's famous String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 110, provided the meat of the first half. In this piece there is so much 'air,' compared to a structurally denser work such as the Beethoven, and the Emerson Quartet used this to spectacular effect. The early threnody by the first violin over a long, sustained chord from the other instruments was a great example of this: subdued, yet full of color. This tribute to the victims of war gave the impression of a nameless ghost from a nameless atrocity, one among millions, wandering, lost.  The ferocity of the attaca into the Allegro Molto was terrifying, transforming into a ceaseless energico, the main theme bandied back and forth with each performer offering something new. An almost gay dance of the dead gave way to a sadness beyond tears, a bone weary exhaustion, like death by slow heartbreak. The brief cloud break late in the work was surrounded again by a thunder that was never far off.

Beethoven's titanic String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131 provided a distinct contrast from the Shostakovich, and displayed the depth that the Emerson is known for. Keen insight and judicious restraint, accompanied by downright explosive oubursts, yielded incredible passion. As a listener, to almost forget that music is being played, and is not something that simply exists in and of itself is an incredible experience. The Emerson quartet forged such a tight synchronization that at times it felt like one instrument. There were many great moments, from the sublime melody by the first violinist in the Allegro Moderato to a comical molto pizzicato that had the audience giggling, to snatches of melody from the viola that cried out ferociously and then as suddenly subsided. As the work progressed they somehow kept eliciting more and more and more sound, yet with no loss of quality, and still even the most whispering pianissimo was as rich in timbre as anything. During the galloping Presto the rapidity of the dynamic shifts and coordination of the infinitesimally delicate filigree was absolutely stunning. The Emerson Quartet's incredible range of timbres, colors, emotions and technique was put to the full test in this ambitious program, and no one in the audience was left wanting for anything.

Today's Birthdays

Henri Weiniawski (1835-1880)
Carl Orff (1895-1982)
Ljuba Welitsch (193-1996)
Ian Wallace (1919-2009)
Josephine Veasey (1930)
Jerry Herman (1931)
Arlo Guthrie (1947)
Graham Johnson (1950)
Béla Fleck (1958)

and

John Calvin (1509-1564)
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)
Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
Saul Bellow (1915-2005)
Alice Munro (1931)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)
Dame Elizabeth Lutyens (1906-1983)
David Diamond (1915-2005)
David Zinman (1936)
Paul Chihara (1938)
John Mark Ainsley (1963)

and

Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823)
Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961)
Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)
David Hockney (1937)
Dean Koontz (1945)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Percy Grainger (1882-1961)
George Antheil (1900-1959)
Billy Eckstine (1914-1993)
Susan Chilcott (1963-2003)
Raffi Cavoukian (1948)
Zhou Long (1953)

and

Philip Johnson (1906-2005)
J. F. Powers (1917-1999)
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004)
Anna Quindlen (1953)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007)
Cor de Groot (1914-1993)
Doc Severinsen (1927)
Joe Zawinul (1932-2007)
Ringo Starr (1940)
Michaela Petri (1958)

and

Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958)
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Robert Heinlein (1907-1988)
David McCullough (1933)

And from The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Gustav Mahler (1860), born in Kalischt, Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic. His father was an Austrian Jewish tavern-keeper, and Mahler experienced racial tensions from his birth: he was a minority both as a Jew and as a German-speaking Austrian among Czechs, and later, when he moved to Germany, he was a minority as a Bohemian. His father was a self-made man, very fiery, and he abused Mahler’s mother, who was rather delicate and from a higher social class. Mahler was a tense and nervous child, traits he retained into adulthood. He had heart trouble, which he had inherited from his mother, but he also had a fair measure of his father’s vitality and determination, and was active and athletic.

Mahler began his musical career at the age of four, first playing by ear the military marches and folk music he heard around his hometown, and soon composing pieces of his own on piano and accordion. He made his public piano debut at 10, and was accepted to the Vienna Conservatory at 15. When he left school, he became a conductor, and then artistic director of the Vienna Court Opera. He became famous throughout Europe as a conductor, but he was fanatical in his work habits, and expected his artists to be, as well. This didn’t win him any friends, and there were always factions calling for his dismissal. He spent his summers in the Austrian Alps, composing.

1907 was a difficult year for Mahler: he was forced to resign from the Vienna Opera; his three-year-old daughter, Maria, died; and he was diagnosed with fatal heart disease. Superstitious, he believed that he had had a premonition of these events when composing his Tragic Symphony, No. 6 (1906), which ends with three climactic hammer blows representing “the three blows of fate which fall on a hero, the last one felling him as a tree is felled.” When he composed his ninth symphony, he refused to call it “Symphony No. 9” because he believed that, like Beethoven and Bruckner before him, his ninth symphony would be his last. He called it A Symphony for Tenor, Baritone, and Orchestra instead, and he appeared to have fooled fate, because he went on to compose another symphony. This one he called Symphony No. 9 (1910); he joked that he was safe, since it was really his 10th symphony, but No. 9 proved to be his last symphony after all, and he died in 1911. Most of his work was misunderstood during his lifetime, and his music was largely ignored — and sometimes banned — for more than 30 years after his death. A new generation of listeners discovered him after World War II, and today he is one of the most recorded and performed composers in classical music.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920)
Hans Eisler (1898-1962)
Dame Elizabeth Lutyens (1906-1983)
Dorothy Kirsten (1910-1992)
Ernst Haefliger (1919-2007)
Bill Haley (1925-1981)
Maurice Hasson (1934)
Vladimir Ashkenazy (1937)
Stephen Hartke (1952)


and

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Eleanor Clark (1913-1996)
Hilary Mantel (1952)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1913, inParis, the Grand Prix de Rome music award is given to 19 year-old French composer Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), the first woman to be so honored

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Josef Holbrooke (1878-1958)
Wanda Landowska (1879-1958)
Jan Kubelík (1880-1940)
Gordon Jacob (1895-1984)
Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984)
George Rochberg (1918-2005)
János Starker (1924-2013)
Kenneth Gaburo (1926-1993)
Matthias Bamert (1942)
Alexander Lazarev (1945)
Paul Daniel (1958)
Isabelle Poulenard (1961)

and

A. E. Douglass (1867-1962)
Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)
Barbara Frischmuth (1941)
Craig Nova (1945)

From The Writer's Almanac:

It’s the birthday of the Polish-French harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, born in Warsaw (1879). She’s been called the “rediscoverer of the harpsichord,” because she revived interest in the instrument during the first half of the 20th century.

Landowska’s father was a lawyer and an amateur musician; her multilingual mother was the first person to translate Mark Twain into Polish. Landowska studied piano from the age of four. As an adult, she taught piano and harpsichord in Paris and Berlin. She began collecting antique keyboard instruments, and scoured libraries all over Europe for old musical manuscripts, which she copied. In 1903, she gave her first public performance on the harpsichord, and began a concert tour of Europe; in Russia, she performed for Leo Tolstoy. Although several composers wrote harpsichord pieces just for her, she was particularly fascinated by Johann Sebastian Bach and wanted to play his music in the most authentic way possible. In 1933, she made the first recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the harpsichord. Her longtime companion, Denise Restout, later described feeling “stunned” when she heard Landowska play the Variations. “It was like being in front of one of the greatest works of nature,” she wrote.

When the Nazis invaded France, Landowska’s house was looted and all of her instruments and manuscripts were stolen. She and Restout fled the country. She didn’t think the Nazi invasion would last long, so she only brought a couple of suitcases with her. Following an indirect route, they ended up on a ship to the United States, arriving on December 7, 1941. Ellis Island was chaotic because hundreds of Japanese people were being detained there. Landowska finally found a battered piano, and said, “We don’t know why we’re here or how long we’ll be here, so I can work.” They were finally allowed in the country after several prominent musicians wrote letters of support, and they eventually settled in Lakeville, Connecticut, where Landowska would live for the rest of her life.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Organist Paul Jacobs talks about his upcoming concert at the Oregon Bach Festival

This week, Paul Jacobs returns to the Oregon Bach Festival where he will direct its Organ Institute and perform an all-Bach recital. That’s a big deal, because Jacobs is considered America’s leading organist. He is the only organist to have won a Grammy Award (2001 for Olivier Messiaen’s “Livre du Saint-Sacrement”), appears with orchestras all over the nation, premieres works by contemporary composers on a regular basis, and teaches at Juilliard where became the chairman of the organ department in 2004 at the ripe old age of 23. That was at that same time that he played from memory Bach’s complete organ works in an 18-hour marathon performance. Such an undertaking would probably cause other organists to lose their minds, but Jacobs is going on as strongly as ever before, and you can hear him play an all-Bach program ex memoria at 7pm on Thursday, July 6th at Central Lutheran Church in Eugene. The program consists of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565), the Trio Sonata in E-flat Major (BWV 525), the Prelude and Fugue in D Minor (“Fiddle”) (BWV 539), the Trio Sonata in C Major (BWV 529), and the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major (“St. Anne”) (BWV 552).

I talked with Jacobs about his work at the Oregon Bach Festival and his upcoming performance. Here is part of our conversation:

How many years have you been associated with the Oregon Bach Festival and can you tell us something about the Organ Institute?

Jacobs: This is my fifth year to participate in the festival and my fourth year directing the Organ Institute.

We cap the participants at eight but we accommodate a dozen or so auditors. It’s a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable group. The challenge has been to accept everybody who would like to join us for the Institute. The quality of applicants is so high that it is difficult to make a decision of whether or not he or she can join us.

The festival has had a strong educational component. The organ has only become more visible as part of the festival’s offerings over the past several years. That might be surprising considering that the organ was central to Bach’s creative output and life. So we are all very happy that there is more organ music at the festival now.

For those of us who don't play the organ, what are the special challenges of playing such an instrument?

Jacobs: Organists have a number of mechanical considerations that other musicians don’t deal with. An organist must spend countless hours on an instrument when preparing for a concert. Each organ differs dramatically oftentimes from one to the next. You have to spend time with each instrument to figure out what sounds it can produce. But it is all worth the effort!

Tell us about the performance you will give. How did you select the program?

Jacobs: Organists have a vast arsenal of programs that we can play, and I’ve exposed some of that at the festival over the past years. This year, I am returning to an all-Bach program for the concert that I will give at Central Lutheran on its Brombaugh organ, which is an exquisite instrument.

Bach’s overall output for the organ is enormous. He composed pieces of all sizes and lengths, scale, color, mood, emotion... Everything that the human being can experience emotionally and spiritually is captured within these structures of sound.

The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565, is perhaps the most famous organ work of all time. But surprisingly it has not been played at the Oregon Bach Festival in quite a few years. So it will make an excellent opening for this concert.

The Toccata and Fugue along with the two Prelude and Fugues will be the weightier parts of the program. They will contrast nicely with the light and sparkly two Trio Sonatas. The Trio Sonatas are weightless pieces – absolutely dazzling, light-hearted and joyful. They are also quite challenging for the organist. They have three independent lines of music. The right hand is on one keyboard while the left plays a different melody on another keyboard, and the feet play an independent line. The texture is light and clear and beautiful, but it is very easy to take a wrong turn in such pieces, especially when playing from memory.

The Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, also known as the “Fiddle, is a curious work. Violinists would recognize it because the fugue was originally written for solo violin from Bach’s Violin Sonata in G Minor. Bach then arranged the work for organ, filling out counterpoint and thickening the texture.

The concert will conclude with the massive Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major, “St. Anne”, BWV 552. The subject bears a resemblance to the familiar hymn tune “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” which is known as St. Anne. It is a spectacular triple fugue in three sections – three themes. It was orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg. His flamboyant orchestration is worth a listen.

It’s great to watch the footwork when you do these works!

Jacobs: You’ll be able to see my feet. In Central Lutheran Church, the organ is up in the gallery. So the festival provides a video camera that projects the performance to the audience in the nave.

The visual aspect of live performance is very important. No other musician would be expected to play hidden from the audience. In the past, organists have been hidden, but thanks to modern technology the audience can see what the organist is doing.

What will you be doing after the Oregon Bach Festival?

Jacobs: I will travel to Shanghai in September for the first international organ festival and competition in China. I am looking forward to that. I love playing the organ. I can’t imagine a day without music or doing anything else with my life.

Today's Birthdays

Louis-Claude Daquin (1694-1772)
Stephen Foster (1826-1864)
Roy Henderson (1899-2000)
Flor Peeters (1903-1986)
Mitch Miller (1911-2010)
Tibor Varga (1921-2003)
Cathy Berberian (1925-1983)

and

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
Lionel Trilling (1905-1975)
Neil Simon (1927)
Tracy Letts (1965)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Theodore Presser (1848-1925)
Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)
George M. Cohan (1878-1942)
Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)
Meyer Kupferman (1926-2003)
Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004)
Brigitte Fassbaender (1939)

adn

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992)
Sir Tom Stoppard (1937)
Dave Berry (1947)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Christoph W. Gluck (1714-1787)
Earl Hawley Robinson (1910-1991)
Frederick Fennell (1914-2004)

and

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803)
Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)
Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971)
Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Thomas Andrew Dorsey (1899-1993)
Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012)
Andrae Crouch (1942-2015)
Philip Brunelle (1943)
Sioned Williams (1953)
Nikolai Demidenko (1955)

and

George Sand (1804-1876)
Jean Stafford (1915-1979)
William Strunk Jr. (1969-1946)
Twyla Tharp (1941)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1897, the Music Division of the Library of Congress is founded in Washington, D.C.