a look back, a look forward

This May marked the end of my 22nd season as a member of the Oregon Symphony. It’s not an auspicious number – it doesn’t end with a zero or a five, and it’s not 30 years or more. But it’s my number, and you make do with what you’ve got. This year just sort of flew by, and it seemed like a good thing to look back and take stock of what was really good about this season, and maybe take a look at what I’m looking forward to the most next season.

The Takeaway:

The orchestra is sounding better than ever. Lots of star players in our principal ranks, and lots of depth in the sections as well. People show up prepared and ready to work. We are all getting along really well, too. People hang out and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. That is something of a rarity in the orchestral world, I hear.

Last Season:

The Mahler Seventh that ended our season could qualify. This particular Mahler symphony has long eluded me, but our performances this year opened up more of what was good in the piece for me. It’s taken three sets of performances for me to get to this place of uneasy coexistence with the piece, and it’s still not in my top five list. But … the performances were still powerful and memorable.

Gabriel Kahane‘s piece commissioned by the OSO emergency shelter intake form was astounding. A major political statement (without being overtly political) that deals with the issues around homelessness in America. So much to love about this piece – even on a first hearing. Distinctive orchestrations, arching melodies, virtuosic close-harmony vocal work. Immediately accessible, but also worthy of a deep-dive examination, too. Kahane’s is a major new voice in the world of music as activism and art. I very much hope that the orchestra is able to record this piece. It deserves a wide hearing in the times we find ourselves.

Violinist Augustin Hadelich‘s Beethoven Violin Concerto was further evidence that he will likely take his place in the pantheon of great violinists. A performance that was virtuosic, but not showy, with a tone that hovered between luxurious and silvery as the music demanded it, and all completely to the service of the music itself. And the Paganini encores didn’t hurt.

Pianist Kirill Gerstein came to town and performed a concerto double-bill: Arnold Schoenberg’s formidable (yet very Viennese) Piano Concerto, and George Gershwin’s perennial favorite, Rhapsody in Blue. The Gershwin he’d played here before, and it was as fantastic as ever. But the Schoenberg was a revelation to me. I actually kind of have a strange fascination with the music of the Second Viennese School, and to have this work put into such clear focus for me – the very Viennese-ness of it made obvious (in a good way) – was one of the artistic and intellectual achievements that will long stand in my memory. Audiences, of course, didn’t give a shit, but that didn’t matter to me. It was an important piece for them to hear, and I think that most people were pleasantly surprised at how much they came away with from that contact.

John Adams’ Absolute Jest, which featured the St. Lawrence String Quartet as soloists, was a fiendish delight. Among the chief thrills for me was seeing this great quartet of long-standing play with such conviction and energy – sometimes verging on the savage – only a few feet away! And the piece itself was so much fun to play (when not counting like crazy!), I’d love to get another chance to play it before I get too old to do it justice! And the brief pre-performance ‘roadmap’ lecture-demo led by first violinist Geoff Nuttall was the perfect example of brevity, wit, and some really first-rate Beethoven!

Next Season:

The season opening gala (Sep 23) brings diva Reneé Fleming back to Portland, and that’s always something to look forward to! The program isn’t yet set, but that doesn’t much matter.

Our first full Classical series set (Sep 29-30) is one that I’m very much looking forward to. Why? Two words: Brahms Fourth. Love, love, love it. Plus soloist Inon Barnatan plays the rarely-heard Copland Piano Concerto, and guest conductor Jun Märkl is a favorite, too.

The following set of Classical concerts (Oct 13-15) also looks promising. Stellar violinist Karen Gomyo returns after a lengthy absence to play the Sibelius Violin Concerto, which is also a favorite piece of mine. And Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony will show off the orchestra as well.

Not to say that next season is front-loaded, but I’m also very much looking forward to Jeffrey Kahane‘s performance of Andrew Norman‘s piano concerto Split (Oct 27-29). Kahane is one of my favorite pianists, and Norman is one of the hottest composers on the scene right now. The bad: Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. I want to scream every time I see that on our schedule.

If you enjoyed the spectacular visual feast that Michael Curry designed for Stravinsky’s Persephone last season, the new staging of Petrushka (Nov 3-5) by Doug Fitch promises to be even more impressive, not the least because the music is by far superior.

Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony (Jan 26-28) is one of my favorites, and it’s been a long time since I’ve played it, and that puts it on my list. Violinist Viviane Hagner makes her OSO debut playing the Violin Concerto by Korean composer Unsuk Chin, who is – gasp – a woman! I’m really looking forward to hearing her piece (which won her the hugely prestigious Grawemeyer Award in 2004) played by the violinist who gave its premiere. She’s a composer that I’ve heard a lot about, but haven’t been much exposed to her music. That I will remedy this year!

Next season brings another big work of John Adams (Feb 23-25), this time his Doctor Atomic Symphony. It’s essentially a reworked suite of his opera Doctor Atomic, which centered around the controversial and conflicted scientist Robert Oppenheimer. Stunning music that I can’t wait to tackle!

John Corigliano‘s Symphony No. 1 “Of rage and remembrance” (Apr 6-8) hasn’t been performed in Portland since I started work here in 1995. It is long overdue.

The season ends with the now traditional Mahler symphony – this time his Symphony No. 1 “Titan” (May 18-20). It was the first piece of his that I ever played. So much fun to play, and is also paired with the return of force-of-nature vocalist Storm Large in Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins, which we were to have performed at our abruptly cancelled second Carnegie Hall performance in 2013.

Until September…


UPDATE: travel oregon spot features oregon symphony soundtrack

Here’s a bit more background on the project from animation blog Cartoon Brew.

“We thought Oregon deserved better than just another travel ad,” said Wieden+Kennedy agency art director Nick Stokes. “So we turned to animation to try and capture its magic. We’re very proud of the work, and I’m honored to represent my home state in such a unique way.”

The spot depicts popular outdoor activities in Oregon like mountain biking the North Umpqua Trail, swimming at Trillium Lake, and hot air ballooning over Willamette Valley wine country.

Animation was produced by Psyop and Sun Creature Studio, with an original score performed by the Oregon Symphony.

Here is a side-by-side set of photos showing the settings that inspired the various scenes in the campaign.

A few weeks ago 50 members of the Oregon Symphony played a recording session at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. It was for a new series of spots for Travel Oregon, a campaign titled “Only Slightly Exaggerated”. It’s a whimsical and Disney-esque Anime-inspired portrait of Oregon’s natural splendor, and it sounds pretty good, too. The score was composed by James Dooley and orchestrated by Tim Davies.

more random musings

I come up with these ‘random musings’ posts every now and then. What do they mean? Mostly they mean that I’m thinking about what I’m doing in a new way and becoming more engaged in my music making. Or I am just bored and want to write something. Take your pick.

This week we’ve been rehearsing a wonderful (if very traditional) program of Glanert, Mozart, and Brahms with a stellar young violinist (Benjamin Beilman) and excellent guest conductor (David Danzmayr). So, some observations relating to the rehearsal period and first two concerts. Tickets here.

  • Mozart is really, really hard to play. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do, immediately discount any of their other opinions as completely worthless. Part of the difficulty, as I see it, is that Mozart’s writing is so perfectly symmetrical and logical. One’s phrasing and musicianship must be equally as impeccable to pull off a performance better than merely solid. Beilman really has the goods here. Lustrous tone, beautifully in tune, interesting ideas.
  • It’s been just under five years since we last played Brahms’ First Symphony, and I’m struck by a number of things. First, our woodwinds, playing as a choir as they must often do in the works of Brahms, are simply phenomenal. Such blend and unanimity of phrasing! And their solo work is also good – Martha Long in her big solo in the last movement, Martin Hebert in his leaping, yet sinuous solo in the first movement, John Cox with the gorgeous alphorn call in the last movement. And our brass in their chorale, etc. Deep bench and more than a few star players. We’re so lucky here.
  • There is little as terrifying as the pizzicato entrance and accelerando in the last movement introduction. So much can go so wrong and be so audible to everyone! But when it comes off well, it’s electrifying!
  • In the string chorale (reminiscent of Beethoven’s 9th finale) in the last movement, there is nothing better than playing the descending counter line in the violas. Especially when the section is allowed to really play. So much fun!

Those are my musings for today. Hope to see you at one of our concerts!