Friday, June 23, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Carl Reinecke (1824-1910)
Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993)
George Russell (1923-2009)
Adam Faith (1940-2003)
James Levine (1943)
Nigel Osborne (1948)
Nicholas Cleobury (1950)
Sylvia McNair (1956)

and

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)
Michael Shaara (1928-1988)
David Leavitt (1961)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Today's Birthdays

Francesco Manfredini (1684-1762)
Étienne Nicolas Méhul (1763-1817)
Frank Heino Damrosch (1859-1937)
Jennie Tourel (1900-1973)
Walter Leigh (1905-1942)
Sir Peter Pears (1910-1986)
Hans-Hubert Schönzeler (1925-1997)
Pierre Thibaud (1929-2004)
Libor Pešek (1933)
Pierre Amoyal (1949)
Christopher Norton (1953)

and

Harriett Mulford Stone Lothrop (1844-1924)
Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970)
Billy Wilder (1906-2002)
Joseph Papp (1921-1991)
Meryl Streep (1949)
Elizabeth Warren (1949)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pacifica Quartet shines more with Schumann than with Brahms in new recording


Guest Review by Peter Schütte

The Pacifica Quartet's newest recording on the Cedille label features the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor (Op. 34) with Menahem Pressler and the Schumann String Quartet in A Minor (Op. 41, No. 1). The Pacifica Quartet is a great group, and they benefit by collaborating with Pressler, a man who thrives at his high age and is fully alive and full of music and grand experience.

Not very long ago I heard the Pacifica Quartet perform the same music as is on this CD with Pressler at the piano as well and had a very different experience - sitting in the audience during that live performance versus hearing the studio recording by the same superb musicians. It made me realize again that a live concert generated a warmth and thrill that did not reach me through this studio recording no matter how well it was played. Not fair, but I could not help experiencing that I missed that the thrill and tension and joy I felt in the live concert so much more.

But in listening to the recording of the Brahms Piano Quintet - right away with the first great statement the music exploded and then when Pressler joined in - I indeed did for a moment felt that rare tingle in my back. That's a good sign and I set down my cup of tea to listen what would follow. What followed was the Quintet but Brahms seemed not to be there. It is all excellent but.... would I think about this differently had I not been present at that live concert a few weeks ago? I decided to do something else for a while and then try again. But when I came back hours later I must admit that this is not the performance that took a hold of me. I have heard better I am sorry to say. One thought about is that this studio performance is perhaps lacking inspiration, drama? After all, a bare studio full with microphones can be not very inspiring!

Finally when coming into the fourth movement I felt much better with the excellent playing and the ensemble's building towards the ending of a very Brahmsian world of inner music-making. Still, the recording of this piece left me a cool bystander rather than a person listening, almost participating with passion and promise for more.

But when moving on to the Schumann Quartet, I heard the Pacifica players following Schumann in some of his swinging mood differences in a warmly and inspired performance. Frankly I was happily impressed by this performance. Not only did I feel a greater affection and musical joy in the playing, the beautiful dynamics, and general the by now well known excellence of these musicians was a welcome change. What also seems different is the acoustics. The sound is warmer, deeper and more alive. Suddenly I see each player perform like in the concert hall again and I am feeling surrounded by their music making where in the Brahms I did not have that feeling of anticipation and deep listening. A lovely Adagio third movement and an wildly and dancing presto bringing this great piece to an end. Schumann in his sharply contrasting moods but oh so full of inspiration and passion! And a finely balanced and full sounding recording probably in another venue and better acoustics as in the first Brahms piece.

I would take this Schumann alone for the fine performance and will listen again and again with pleasure. I do miss the warm applause after such inspired music-making and wished this would come more often with such a concert on a CD!

Postscript:
Peter Schütte is a career photographer and artist with a longstanding love of great music.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795)
Henry Holden Huss (1862-1953)
Hilding Rosenberg (1892-1985)
Harry Newstone (1921-2006)
Lalo Schifrin (1932)
Diego Masson (1935)
Philippe Hersant (1948)
Judith Bingham (1952)
Jennifer Larmore (1958)

and

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1972)
Donald Peattie (1898-1964)
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
Mary McCarthy (1912-1989)
Ian McEwan (1948)

and from the Composers Datebook

On this day in 1890. Richard Strauss's tone-poem "Death and Transfiguration" and "Burleske" for Piano and Orchestra were given their premieres in Eisenach, at a convention of the General German Music Association, with the composer conducting and Eugen d'Albert as the piano soloist in the "Burleske".

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Concert rediscovers the music of Lou Harrison

Judging from the assortment of gongs, gourds, flowerpots, coffee cans, a huge spring, bells, brake drums, marimbas, drum sets, cymbals, xylophones, wood blocks, metalophones, cymbals, and other instruments that arranged on the stage in Lincoln Recital Hall, the audience at CeLOUbration concert on Friday evening (June 16) knew that they were going to hear something unique. The program consisted of works by composer Lou Harrison, who was born in Portland a hundred years ago and new pieces inspired by Harrison. The intrepid listeners heard intoxicating sonic combinations that easily showed how much Harrison’s influence reverberates today.

The concert was the first of two that were held on the campus of Portland State University in celebration of Harrison, who passed away in 2003 at the age of 85. It was also the first chance for the general public to purchase a spanking new copy of “Lou Harrison, American Musical Maverick” (Indiana University Press) and get the autographs of co-authors Bill Alves and Brett Campbell. While Alves is on the music faculty at Harvey Mudd College, Campbell teaches journalism at PSU and was instrumental in putting together the two-day CeLOUbration. Their book, which I have just begun reading, is well-written and researched, making it an essential item for any Harrison fan.

The concert was the first of two that were held on the campus of Portland State University in celebration of Harrison, who passed away in 2003 at the age of 85. It was also the first chance for the general public to purchase a spanking new copy of “Lou Harrison, American Musical Maverick” (Indiana University Press) and get the autographs of co-authors Bill Alves and Brett Campbell. While Alves is on the music faculty at Harvey Mudd College, Campbell teaches journalism at PSU and was instrumental in putting together the two-day CeLOUbration. Their book, which I have just begun reading, is well-written and researched, making it an essential item for any Harrison fan.

Cellist Diane Chaplin and harpist Kate Petak delivered a lovely performance of Harrison’s “Suite for Cello and Harp.” Melodic threads wove back and forth between the two instruments, ending with a sequence that was totally soothing. The Portland Percussion Group played Harrison’s “Song of Quetzalcoatl” incisively, starting with a big kaboom before tiptoeing through intricate passages that transitioned into some very lively material and finishing in a more delicate space. Flutist Sydney Carlson and percussionist Florian Conzetti gave a fine interpretation of “First Concerto for Flute and Percussion,” which Harrison wrote when he was 22 years old. It had a slightly exotic feel that hinted at Harrison’s the direction he would travel.

One of the most interesting pieces of the evening was the “Double Music,” which Harrison wrote with John Cage. The Portland Percussion Group handled an oddball assortment of instruments that included a cymbal that was halfway immersed in a tub of water, a big sheet of metal (perhaps tin). When raised from the water and struck, the cymbal created a low shimmery sound. The metal sheet emitted a soft tremolo. The last couple of notes of the piece didn’t line up together, but perhaps it was meant to be that way.

The concert featured Susan Alexjander’s “Three Little Multiverses (For Lou),” which was inspired by and incorporated poetry that Harrison had written. The text, wonderfully sung by mezzo-soprano Hannah Penn, was accompanied by cor anglais (Catherine Lee), cello (Chaplin), and harp (Petak). The word painting in the music was fairly direct and the sentiment of the piece was hopeful. A quartet of percussionists gave Lisa Marsh’s “Changing Winds” a thrilling ride as the music changed from motoric to more heavily rhythmic.

Paul Safar’s “Refugium” included visual slides that were projected on a screen behind the performers: flutist Carlson, violist Sharon Eng, and percussionist Brian Gardiner, who deftly moved between several different instruments and lightly vocalized, too boot. The piece was an ode to nature that abruptly stopped after a sequence of rising notes. The Portland Percussion Group had fun with Greg Steinke’s “Diversions and Interactions” whose members got to shout “Hey Ha Ja” periodically. The rapid play of spoons on the knee was a real treat amidst a variety of interesting sound effects that the ensemble created with precision.

Overall, the festive sounds of the concert was a joy to hear and may generate more Harrison-inspired events. In the meantime, readers will enjoy the new Harrison biography that Alves and Campbell wrote.

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792)
Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)
Wilfred Pelletier (1896-1982)
Chet Atkins (1924-2001)
Ingrid Haebler (1926)
Eric Dolphy (1928-1964)
Arne Nordheim (1931-2010)
Mickie Most (1938-2003)
Brian Wilson (1942)
Anne Murray (1945)
André Watts (1946)
Lionel Richie (1949)

and

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)
Lillian Hellman (1905-1984)
Josephine Winslow Johnson (1910-1990)
Vikram Seth (1952)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Today's Birthdays

François Rebel (1701-1775)
Johann Wenzel Stamitz (1717-1757)
Carl Zeller (1842-1898)
Alfredo Catalani (1854-1893)
Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915)
Guy Lombardo (1902-1977)
Edwin Gerschefski (1909-1988)
Anneliese Rothenberger (1926-2010)
Elmar Oliveira (1950)
Philippe Manoury 1952)

and

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
Pauline Kael (1919-2001)
Tobias Wolff (1945)
Salman Rushdie (1947)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pirates, maidens, cops, and the Major General cavort in Mock's Crest production of "Pirates of Penzance"

Guest review by Phillip Ayers

This summer’s Gilbert and Sullivan offering by the Mock’s Crest organization is "Pirates of Penzance" and the performance on Friday evening (June 16) at the Mago Hunt Theater was great fun. Somehow, G & S never fails to please and some would go so far as to say that an “acquired taste” really isn’t necessary to enjoy these operettas. Others would call the G & S “canon” operas but that might be cause for discussion or dispute. I won’t quibble in this review, simply because I thoroughly enjoyed it, having played “Samuel” in a performance in a local civic theater in Michigan in 1998. I fell in love with this work, having known only "Trial by Jury" and "HMS Pinafore" intimately enough to make a sound judgement.

Readers might be interested, as was I, about how the pirate-theme came to be so attractive to Gilbert and Sullivan. What I surmised is that plays and books about pirates were popular in the 19th century and that no doubt attracted them. There’s something splashy, swashbuckling, romantic, intriguing, and just plain enjoyable about piracy and its depiction. George Bernard Shaw believed, as a "Wikipedia" article states, that Gilbert drew on ideas in "Les Brigands" for his libretto, including the businesslike bandits and the bumbling police. But I was more interested to find in that same article that the work’s title is a “… multi-layered joke." On the one hand, Penzance was a docile seaside resort in 1879, and not the place where one would expect to encounter pirates. On the other hand, the title was also a jab at the theatrical ‘pirates’ who had staged unlicensed productions of "HMS Pinafore" in America.” Most of us are aware that satire played a huge role in Gilbert and Sullivan’s works, and it takes only a minimal amount of digging to find where the satire is aimed. It is worth mentioning that "Pirates" premiered, not in England, but in the USA, mainly to avoid any pirating of the music and libretto.

The story is simple and easy to follow. Frederick, a young pirate, is about to be out of his indentures as an apprentice, having reached his 21st birthday. Ruth, the “maid of all work,” reveals that she mistakenly apprenticed Fredrick to the group of pirates because she is hard of hearing. The music that surrounds this little bon mot is a play on “pilot,” (which Ruth thought she was getting her charge into) and “pirate.” Because he has never seen another woman, Frederick thinks Ruth is beautiful. The pirates know otherwise and suggest he take her with him. He also informs them that once released from servitude, because of his strong sense of duty, he will devote himself to their extermination. He also points out that the pirates are not very successful because of their softness for orphans. The word has got out and many ships they attack claim to be completely crewed by orphans.

The pirates, leave and Frederick spies a group of beautiful young girls approaching and realizes that Ruth has lied to him and sends her away. After initially hiding, Frederick reveals himself, to their shock and surprise. The eldest of these girls, who are sisters, Mabel, appears and chides the others for their lack of charity and offers Frederick pity. They instantly fall in love. Frederick warns them about the pirates being nearby, but before they can flee the pirates appear and capture all the girls, intending to marry them. Mabel warns the pirates that their father is Major General Stanley, who then arrives and introduces himself. He appeals to the pirates not to take his daughters who are his only comfort in his old age and then pretends to be an orphan. The softhearted pirates release the girls and make the Major General an honorary pirate.

Before giving the synopsis for Act 2, some comments on the production thus far might be in order. The playful nature of the characters is evident right at the outset with the pirates pouring sherry, funny asides, and one of the pirates heaving a barrel around the stage, generating much laughter from all corners of the hall. When the maidens appear, one in particular, played by Jack Wells, is swatting insects and desiring to get near to Frederick. Ruth, played by Rachelle Riehl, has terrific facial expressions and engaged the audience in her appearances. Her voice, a nice contralto, did have some passagio problems in higher registers. The ensemble is good, especially in relating to the audience. One could tell that there were really only one or two on stage who weren’t truly “present,” perhaps because they got lost in the patter-songs. The set is unremarkable, but adequate, so this allowed the drama and the music to hold forth without distraction. The University of Portland does these productions with professionals, semi-professionals, and university students.

The orchestra, behind a scrim which unfortunately didn’t allow them to acknowledge the applause at the end of their hard work, was very good, although the winds and brass overpowered at times the strings in the overture . There were some glitches, such as Frederick’s sash coming partially undone. And Joshua Randall’s (Frederick) eyes could be a play in themselves. It has been said that Mabel should always be played by a coloratura, and Cassi Q Kohl fulfilled that well in the quasi-Verdian passages. Kevin-Michael Moore, as the Major General, affected Robin Williams somewhat in his portrayal, with a nasal sound and wonderful little asides to the audience. Samuel Hawkins as Samuel affected an Irish accent and did it well. Swordsmanship by Bobby Winstead (The Pirate King) and others was well-executed and right in context.

In Gilbert and Sullivan, second acts often begin more “softly and quietly” than the first, and "Pirates" is no exception. This could produce somnolence in an audience, but here there was enough to keep everyone attentive. The act starts with the Major General, in a nightshirt, sitting in the ruined chapel on his estate. He is tortured by his conscience because of the lie he told about being an orphan. (And, in the first act, the play on “orphan” and “often” is hilariously done). The sergeant of the police and his corps appears and announce their readiness to arrest the pirates. The girls all express their admiration for the policemen. The choreography and comedic acumen of the actor/singers who play the policemen is superb and funny.

Frederick, left alone, encounters the Pirate King and Ruth who inform him of a paradox (another occasion for a musical word-play).They realize his apprenticeship was worded as to bind him until his 21st birthday and since he was born on February 29 he will not actually achieve that birthday until he is in his eighties. Because of his sense of duty, he tells the Pirate King about the General’s deception. Revenge will be swift and terrible. Frederick lets Mabel know of his change of fortune and she agrees to wait for him. She then steels herself to lead the police against the approaching pirate band. The police hide as the pirates appear. Major General Stanley appears, which causes the pirates to hide. The police hide as the pirates appear and when the Major General appears the pirates hide. The girls appear and the battle begins. The pirates easily subdue the police and the Pirate King urges the Major General to prepare for death. However, the Sergeant has a plan. He demands the pirates yield in Queen Victoria’s name. Here, as well as “Hail Poetry in the first act,” the chorus/ensemble shines and this is likened to a Mozart symphony in its sonority. Ruth appears and reveals that the pirates are all noblemen gone wrong. The Major General, waving the flag (always left to almost fall, but grabbed by someone), yields and love wins the day.

One skillfully written portion of the second act can easily be bungled, but these players did it flawlessly – and that is “With cat-like tread,” when the pirates and Samuel are going to burglarize the General. The police are hiding as the pirates enter, but not with cat-like tread: they’re very noisy! “Let’s vary piracee / With a little burglaree!” they sing. “Burglarious” tools are passed out among the pirates, including a “skeletonic key.”

The romantic leads are excellent in both their acting and singing. I noticed a few young boys two rows ahead of where I was seated, who at times were throwing their arms up in the air, either for exercise or in boredom in the love-scenes. Still, I was glad these kids were there and there was plenty of action for them to enjoy. They probably didn’t “get” the nuances, which are many in G & S: as in the Major General’s opening patter-song with the play on “hypotenuse,” and in the “Doctor of Divinity” portion which is really a choral patter-song and not easy to bring off.

The production runs five more times, so get a ticket and go see it before it ends on June 25th. You’ll be richly rewarded!

Today's Birthdays

Antonio Maria Bononcini (1677-1726)
Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831)
David Popper (1843-1913)
Sir George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987)
Edward Steuermann (1892-1964)
Manuel Rosenthal (1904-2003)
Eduard Tubin (1905-1982)
Paul McCartney (1942)
Hans Vonk (1942-2004)
Anthony Halstead (1945)
Diana Ambache (1948)
Eva Marton (1948)
Peter Donohoe (1953)

and

Geoffrey Hill (1932)
Gail Godwin (1937)
Jean McGarry (1948)
Chris Van Allsburg (1949)
Amy Bloom (1953)
Richard Powers (1957)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Today's Birthdays

John Wesley (1703-1791)
Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Hermann Reutter (1900-1985)
Einar Englund (1916-1999)
Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006)
Sir Edward Downes (1924)
Christian Ferras (1933-1982)
Gérard Grisey (1946-1998)
Derek Lee Ragin (1958)

and

M. C. Escher (1898-1972)
John Hersey (1914-1993)
Ron Padgett (1942)