Sunday, January 21, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977)
Webster Booth (1902-1984)
Placido Domingo (1941)
Richie Havens (1941-2013)
Edwin Starr (1942-2003)
Suzanne Mentzer (1957)
Frank Ticheli (1958)

and

Louis Menand (1952)

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Fantastic images, personal interpretations mark Oregon Symphony's 'Rite of Spring'

Elina Vähälä
The Oregon Symphony set out to give the audience what it wanted (quite literally) on its Rite of Spring weekend, and appeared to succeed admirably. After engaging with the OSO listening public and various community partners, the result was the 'Sounds of Home' series, that "pairs exhiliarating repertoire with stunning visual displays to explore timely issues in the Portland community and beyond," according to OSO.  The series opening on January 13 was bold and challenging, both in terms of repertoire and visual elements.

One of the hallmarks of the evening seemed to be personal interpretations; Maestro Kalmar, whose natural charisma and vast knowledge alway make for engaging and edifying remarks, seemed even more intimate in his speaking and conducting.  The incredible personal touches from violinist Elina Vähälä and the visuals by multimedia experience designer Matthew Haber added to this in that all the images he used were from Oregon, and so personal to our state.  In keeping with that spirit I shall be incorporating a few personal touches in the form of memories and observations to this review.

The opening piece was Haydn's Symphony No. 70 in D Major, one reason for its choosing being that it is not one of the better-known chestnuts from this voluminous oeuvre.  Its opening was spritely and almost terpsichorean; clean, bright and balanced. A surprisingly bold attack on the menuet in the third movement was refreshing, and the Allegro con brio finale contained a crisply executed contrapuntal section. This fugue served as a reminder of the incredible transitional period that was the span of Haydn's life (1732-1809)--as a young man, his early compositions were written when old Master Bach and other great maestros of the high baroque were still composing, and he lived through the gallant and Viennese classical on through to the first whisperings of the Romantic, some of which can be heard in his last works.

The second work of the first half was a titanic violin concerto, Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2. Vähälä opened with a full frontal assault--almost transgressive in her chordal attack. Kalmar expertly brought the orchestal dynamic down when they began to overshadow Vähälä's pianissimo trills. There followed a loud, almost vulgar tremolo from winds and strings and a saucy glissando from the soloist. Vähälä leaned heavily on a melodic minor motif which produced an incredible effect of maximum dissonance.  The soloist opened the theme and variations of the second movement began with a very sere exposition, a sort of poco mezzo saltando that was affecting and delicious. The strings had some great slapping, snapping pizzicato fun, and Vähälä delivered a haunting siren song seemingly out of nowhere with sorcerous ability, and closed the work with bacchanalian fervor.

The usual backdrop behind the stage at the Schnitz  was a stylized, mountainous series of screens covering the dingy old choir loft, the self-same loft where I have spent many an hour over the years as a bass waiting for the fourth movement of the Beethoven 9 to begin. 'The long sit,' I've always called it. Leading to the bad old joke about how the choir occupies its time while waiting--'it's the bottom of the 9th and the basses are loaded.'  But tonight the space was being used for something much different. 

As Stravinsky's seminal Rite of Spring began, scenes of flowers budding and seedlings sprouting accompanied the delightful woodwind cacophony.  Haber's images were kaleidoscopic--distracting from the music at first it seemed but maybe only to a reviewer trying to take notes? At any rate it soon seemed to mesh more smoothly. The images changed to cityscapes as the music grew bolder.  Ephemeral wisps of smoke devolved into human, plant and animal shapes before quickly dissolving.  The OSO played this difficult piece high and tight as one would expect from this group, displaying incredible subtlety and cocksure boldness in equal measures. Infectious, beautiful and arrestingly violent, the music then began accompanying disturbing images of fungal spores waving and bobbing like heads in a crowd. With weeping slime molds and spores blossoming in an uncomfortable reminiscence of mushroom clouds, the work finished showing the magic of decay.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630)
Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
Julius Conus (1869-1942)
Józef Hofmann (1876-1957)
Huddie William Ledbetter (Lead Belly) (1889-1949)
Walter Piston (1894-1976)
Eva Jessye (1895-1992)
Yvonne Loriod (1924-2010)
David Tudor (1926-1996)
Antonio de Almeida (1928-1997)
Iván Fischer (1951)

and

George Burns (1896-1996)
Alexandra Danilova (1903-1997)
Federico Fellini (1920-1993)
Edward Hirsch (1950)
Tami Hoag (1959)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Louis‑Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749)
George Frederick Bristow (1825-1898)
Fritz Reiner (1885-1963)
Paul Dessau (1894-1979)
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)

and

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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Today's Birthdays

César Cui (1835-1918)
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)
John Laurence Seymour (1893-1986)
Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996)
Anthony Galla-Rini (1904-2006)
John O'Conor (1947)
Anthony Pople (1955-2003)
Christoph Prégardien (1956)

and

Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869)
Rubén Darío (1867-1916)
A. A. Milne (1882-1956)
Oliver Hardy (1892-1957)

FYI: Roget's "Thesaurus" has never been out of print since it was first published in 1852.

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1958, "What Does Music Mean?", broadcast, the first of a series of televised New York Philharmonic "Young People's Concerts" on CBS-TV hosted by Leonard Bernstein. The series continued until 1972, with 53 different programs hosted by Bernstein.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
John Stanley (1712-1786)
Johann Gottfried Müthel (1728-1788)
François‑Joseph Gossec (1734-1829)
Henk Badings (1907-1987)
Oscar Morawetz (1917-2007)
Annie Delorie (1925-2009)
Donald Erb (1927- 2008)
Jean Barraqué (1928-1973)
Sydney Hodkinson (1934)
Dame Gillian Weir (1941)
Anne Queffélec (1948)
Augustin Dumay (1949)
Nancy Argenta (1957)
Gérard Pesson (1958)

and

Anne Brontë 1820-1849)
William Stafford (1914-1993)
Luis López Nieves (1950)
Sebastian Junger (1962)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1919, Polish composer and pianist Ignaz Jan Paderewski becomes premiere of Poland.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Niccoló Piccinni (1728-1800)
Daisy Kennedy (1893-1981)
Ernesto Halffter (1905-1989)
Roger Wagner (1914-1992)
Ernesto Bonino (1922-2008)
Pilar Lorengar (1928-1996)
Marilyn Horne (1934)
Richard Wernick (1934)
Gavin Bryars (1943)
Brian Ferneyhough (1943)
Katia Ricciarelli (1946)

and

Robert Service (1874-1958)
Anthony Hecht (1923-2004)
William Kennedy (1928)
Susan Sontag (1933-2004)
Mary Karr (1955)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (1980)

Monday, January 15, 2018

Today's Birthdays

Ivor Novello (1893-1951)
Elie Siegmeister (1909-1991)
Malcolm Frager (1935-1991)
Don "Captain Beefheart" Van Vliet (1941-2010)
Aaron Jay Kernis (1960)

and

Molière (1622-1673)
Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872)
Andreas William Heinesen (1900-1991)
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1941 Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" was premiered at Stalag VIII-A, a German prisoner of war camp in Görlitz (Silesia), with the composer at the piano and fellow-prisoners Jean Le Boulaure (violin), Henri Akoka (clarinet) and Etienne Pasquier (cello).