Tag Archives: charles noble

*Mozart Sinfonia concertante

Denise Dillenbeck and Charles Noble perform Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante in E-flat major, K. 364 (320d) with the Student Orchestras of Greater Olympia. Sibelius Symphony No. 2 is also featured.

Call 360.753.8586, or go to http://www.washingtoncenter.org/event/sogo-winter-concert/ for tickets.

musical gut check

The post title says musical gut check – and by that I mean gut strings! Sunday evening, I made my debut on a period instrument! I kind of cheated a little. I used a chin rest and my own modern bow. But the strings were gut, the ‘A’ was pitched at 430 Hz, and my two partners in crime were both seasoned period performance pros. It was an interesting experience (and ultimately, a very enjoyable one), and I thought it might be of interest to my readers to know what this adjustment was like for me.

What: A performance of Classical string trios on period instruments.
Where: The workshop of Darrell Hanks, bowmaker, Pearl District, Portland, OR.
When: Sunday, October 9th, at 7:30pm

Pitch, man.

First of all, the pitch issue. In modern performance, the A that ensembles tune to [the A between C4 and C5, also known as a’] is between 440 and 442 Hz (vibrations per second), most European orchestras tune to A442, while most German orchestras are now at A443. Early music performers most often tune to A415, which is a half-step flat to modern pitch. Between the Baroque period and the present day, pitch has gradually crept upward – markedly so when instrumental music became something other than an accompanimental genre [for a fascinating read – including the fact that concert pitch in the 18th century actually rose to a minor third HIGHER than current concert pitch – see this Wikipedia article]. The accepted convention now is that Classical period music is often performed at A430, just about half way between Baroque and modern pitch.

So, how does that affect perception of intonation? It plays severe havoc with it (at least in my case)! When I hear the open strings on the period viola, tuned to 430, it feels incredibly out of tune because everything is a quarter-tone flat. The instrument doesn’t ring that way my ear expects it to, after 39 years of playing at 440. Plus, gut strings don’t stay on pitch with any degree of reliability like modern steel and synthetic core strings do. If one has time to devote to just playing at one pitch level for a period of time, the ear can settle into the new normal. However, my preparation period for this concert didn’t allow that. At all.

Musical ping pong.

The week of the concert was the rehearsal period for the Oregon Symphony’s second classical series concerts. So I was ping-ponging between 430 and 440, not to mention two dissimilar violas, all week, every day. The day of the concert, we had an OSO matinee at 2pm, sandwiched by a dress rehearsal for the trio concert at Noon, and followed by the trio concert at 7pm – with a sound check in the space at 6pm. Not how I would have planned it if everyone had free schedules – but when does that ever happen?

So, with all of that tuning nonsense aside, it was really a fun experience. First of all, cellist Shirley Hunt, whose idea this was, and violinist Adam Lamotte are both exceptional musicians, and we all get along with each other – both musically and personally – very well. Sometimes that’s more than half the battle! Secondly, the repertoire was hard to top.

Schubert’s junk mail?

We began the evening with the single movement String Trio in B-flat major, D. 471, which is pure tuneful Schubert at his best. Shirley dug up the factoid that Schubert was at this time sharing an apartment with a man named Franz Schober, which begs some sort of zany sitcom, doesn’t it? I’d bet they were each getting junk mail meant for the other, too.

A not-so-Divertimento

The next piece on our Viennese Classical survey was Mozart’s E-flat major Divertimento, K. 563. Divertimenti were most often occasional pieces, written to be performed for courtly functions, and not necessarily for the formal concerts to which we are largely used to today. Mozart may have been joking with is title, as this piece is one of the largest and most technically demanding trios in the repertoire. We played the opening Allegro movement and the Andante variations movement. Such great music!

Beethoven in training

Finally, we played our one complete work for the evening, Beethoven’s Op. 9, no. 1 in G major. Beethoven was very much learning the ropes of string chamber music through the composition of his five string trios. Everything that one loves in the extraordinary fifteen string quartets to come is already there in the compositional DNA of these trios. In particular, the gorgeous E major Adagio and concluding D major Presto foreshadow some great moments in his later output.

A thanks to Hanks, et al

A special thanks must go out to Darrell Hanks for his making his bowmaking studio available for concerts such as this! There will be several more throughout the coming concert season, and I’ll try to make sure to publicize them on the blog’s performance calendar as I find out about them. This would also include thanks to our wonderful audience of 20 chamber music fanatics, who gave us such undivided attention (even with the groaning table of wine and cheese close by!) and peppered us with some really intelligent questions afterward. Also, a huge thanks to Adam Lamotte for the use of his wonderful Testore model period viola. I hope I didn’t beat it up too much with my modern bow! And finally, much love and thanks to Shirley Hunt, who thought up this whole crazy idea, and brought her wonderful playing and smiling face (and fervent love of La Croix water) back to her hometown of Portland, all the way from Boston!

Correction: Franz Schober’s name was originally spelled ending with a ‘t’. It does not.


third angle: mozart revisited

PeoplemoverPosterDo you remember the People Mover from Future World at Disneyland? It was a wonderful idea. Little trains of self-contained cars that were envisioned to whisk 1950’s nuclear families to their destinations in style, while allowing them to read, nap, or just enjoy the scenery, free of the onerous duty of driving. Steven Mackey’s 1997 piece “Humble River” is much like that now defunct People Mover. Mackey himself described the piece, which is meant to be performed with portions of the Mozart Flute Quartets interspersed between its movements, as “a river with islands of Mozart.” There are some wonky music theory concepts that bind the Mozart and the Mackey together, but one doesn’t need to know those to enjoy them both. Instead, see the Mozart ensemble as both salve and muse to the Mackey ensemble. Mozart encourages Mackey to sing, which he never quite does, but instead he responds with ever greater rhythmic vitality.  The Mackey contains a set of ideas, presented primarily in the opening Prelude, which set the tone for the rest of the piece. There is a texture which he calls “a collection of broken toys”, a West Side Story-like jazzy riff, and a motive that to me sounds like the opening portion of the Westminster chimes. Together, these become a seamless tapestry – almost stream of consciousness, but meticulously worked out as rhythms morph in and out of each other in ingenious (and for the performer, extremely challenging) ways.


Steven Mackey

Mackey has said that he is very interested in the role of memory both in the act of composing and in the act of listening. In Humble River, he both foreshadows and recalls motives in various guises, calling on our memories to fill in the blanks in between. As an even further leap, he then suggests movements of the Mozart flute quartets be played in between each of the work’s four sections. The Mozart, as an island, or as I prefer to see it, a series of flashbacks, both clears the palate and primes the memory for what is to come. Mackey says in his notes “Humble River can also be performed continuously, without comment from Mozart. I imagine one would gain a clearer sense of the overall evolution from repressed to ecstatic, from modest spring to raging rapids and sea of sound. But one would loose the intermediate tensions resulting from the interweaving of the two worlds of experience.”

Zachariah Galatis, flute

Zachariah Galatis, flute

It has been a challenge to get this work under our fingers, with its fluid rhythms and not a few unconventional extended techniques, but it is a highly rewarding piece to play as its knotty passages are ‘untied’. We hope you enjoy hearing as much as we enjoy playing it for you!





Who:  Zachariah Galatis, flute; Ron Blessinger, violin; Charles Noble, viola; Marilyn DeOliveira, cello.

Tickets: Click Here

When: Thu & Fri Feb 12 & 13, 2015 @ 7:30 PM

Where: Studio [email protected], 810 SE Belmont

Humble River,(1997)
for Flute, Violin, Viola, Cello
By Steven Mackey
Commissioned by The Rotterdamse Kunstichting for Leonore Pameijer and friends, Boosey & Hawkes 1998

Mozart A Major K. 298 Movement 1:
Thema Andante– Variazioni I-IV
Part 1
Mozart G Major Quartet K. 285A Movement 2:
Tempo Di Menuetto
Part II
Mozart D Major Quartet K. 285 Movement 3:
Part III
Mozart C Major Quartet K. Anh. 171(285b) Movement 2:
Thema: Andantino– Variazioni I-IV

Zachariah Galatis, flute
Ron Blessinger, violin
Charles Noble, viola
Marilyn DeOliviera, cello

Click HERE for program notes.

Generously funded by David & Julie Machado

three big piano quintets, one cool concert

old church concert poster

This Friday evening – May 30th – at 7:30pm, four of my favorite chamber musicians (and myself), will perform three seldom-heard piano quintets as the Astoria Music Festival Piano Quintet in a prelude concert to the 2014 Astoria Music Festival.

Photo: Joe Cantrell

Photo: Joe Cantrell

The three works include none of the famous Big Three piano quintets (Brahms, Dvorak, and Schumann), but rather three works which are equally deserving of a place in the repertoire. Here is pianist Cary Lewis’ preview of the three works we’ll be playing:

The Dohnanyi Op 1 is probably the best known of the three quintets on the program.  In my humble opinion, it is every bit as good as the Brahms Quintet, with the added attraction of being less familiar even to sophisticated audiences.   The final movement is very sassy, and with the words we have made up to go along with it, somewhat scatological.   This is the piece for those listeners who wish Brahms had written more than one quintet!

The Korngold Quintet, Op 15 was written when the young prodigy, (whose heirs, as you know, live here in Portland) was about 22.   It is over-the-top music, full of color and drama, foretelling his ability to paint sound pictures that served him so well in his later, totally unanticipated life in Hollywood.   Bold, heroic melodies, heartbreakingly tender moments, and flashes of humor abound.  This piece was a biggy in German-speaking Europe before it became a literally fatal flaw to be Jewish, and somehow it never recovered its former and well-deserved glory.  Traditional harmonic practice is pushed to the very limits of its capabilities, leaving atonality as the only course of action for music to progress.   It is quite hard and busy,  with all kinds of instructions to the performers, but the listener can just sit back with eyes closed imagining the block-buster movie that is playing.

The Schickele 2nd piano quintet is pure Schickele.   I’ve played enough of his non PDQ Bach music to realize that even though Prof Schickele has his own persona, it is hard to spend a lifetime studying and promoting the works of a mythical composer without being influenced.   This is clearly American music with some very tricky rhythmic intricacies that will keep all participants on their toes.  I don’t expect too many long faces when this piece bounces to an end.

If you purchase your tickets online before Friday, you save $5 off the same day ticket price of $20. Tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com.

oh captain! my captain!

Today has been a long day of grief, resurfacing memories, and of music, above all.

I auditioned for the Oregon Symphony in May of 1995. I played my first two rounds, and then came the finals.

There sat the great man himself. James DePreist. The Maestro. Jimmy.

He asked me about my time in Philadelphia, laughed about the legendary Joseph DePasquale (with whom I’d studied at one time), and asked me how long I expected to stay with the Oregon Symphony. Somewhat taken aback, I mouthed some mealy phrases about seeing how things went, maybe trying to get into the Philadelphia Orchestra someday (my dream job at the time). I left the stage and was later welcomed to the orchestra by Jimmy personally. Thus began my eight years under him at the Oregon Symphony.

Jimmy was perhaps best described as “the people’s maestro”. He seemed to appeal to just about everyone. Blazers fans, cab drivers, parking attendants, random people on the street – they all knew about Jimmy, and were fans of what he did with the Oregon Symphony – even if they never set foot in the concert hall. He was a fearsomely intelligent man, but never came across as erudite (unless he needed to be). He loved television, and seemingly was on top of most pop culture topics of the day, unlike many other maestri.

At one of my first rehearsals, I forget what piece we were rehearsing, but he stopped the orchestra and said “Do you know that new Les Schwab [tires] commercial that’s on right now? Where the car is driving calmly along, and suddenly there’s ice around the next corner, and the music for the commercial gets very tense and foreboding? That’s how I want you to play this passage.” We all laughed, but we also knew exactly what he was going for.

Jimmy came up in the classical music world with some of the greatest artists of the day, and worked with the next generations at the Aspen Music Festival. They became regular soloists with the Oregon Symphony, and the interplay and delight that came across in their collaborations were often highlights of each concert. Such artists were Andre Watts, Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg, Lynn Harrell, Itzhak Perlman, and many more.

Jimmy was a maestro in the old school sense, at least in terms of his repertoire. No one would ever accuse his Mozart of being his calling card, for example. He would do the major Mozart symphonies, dutifully, but with not so much passion. His passion lay with the Romantic repertoire. The performances that absolutely stand out for me as the highlights of my time with him were such  works as the symphonies of Sibelius, Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp major, Bruckner’s Fourth and Seventh Symphonies, Mahler’s First, Third, and Fifth Symphonies, Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony and Symphonic Dances, and perhaps even more impressive the Roman trilogy of Ottorino Respighi. He had such a seamless conception of these large-scale works, he knew how to manage the emotional and structural content over the long term, and the big climaxes of these works were almost painful in their intensity and emotional payoff.

He also enjoyed conducting newer works. He gave one of the (if not the) first professional commissions to now renowned composer Jennifer Higdon (her work Shine) for the Oregon Symphony’s 100th season and in honor of composer Morton Gould. He commissioned major works by John Adams (Slonimsky’s Earbox) and conducted works of David Dzubay, Gubaidulina, Kanchelli, Daugherty, Lees, Persichetti, Hersh, and many more, during his tenure with the Oregon Symphony and around the world.

Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony was considered the orchestra’s signature piece during Jimmy’s tenure, and I had the great fortune to play it with him several times during my first eight years with the orchestra. In particular, when I was acting principal viola during my first season, we played the Second for a live television broadcast to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Oregon Symphony. I take great pride in getting him to crack up on camera during the octave leap the violas have in the opening lines of the symphony, complete with a DePasquale slide to the upper octave. He always loved it when the strings did stuff like that. For him, the sound was paramount – he wanted fullness, lushness, and an opulent conception of sound from the strings, very much in the vein of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy.

On a personal note, Jimmy was an extraordinary communicator, whether it be a one-on-one conversation or an address to thousands of patrons. In particular, he had a remarkable gift for handling hot-under-the-collar musicians. I remember going into his dressing room more than once, outraged by something, and having him listen to my complaints and I would in turn feel like I’d been listened to, and my concerns would be fully addressed. Then I would leave the meeting and realize a couple of minutes later that he’d promised me nothing in the bargain – he just let me have my say and feel better, and we each went on our way. It’s a rare (and sometimes infuriating) quality to find in any leader, never mind in a music director.

He took particular delight in meeting the new offspring of his musicians. This delight was so genuine and contagious – the baby often seemed as delighted to be met as he was to meet her! And the parents would be so full of pride to have their new loved one doted over by such a massive and intimidating maestro! Today there are doubtless many photo albums being hauled out to see those photos of Jimmy with a now-grown child, all smiles and affection.

I know that I will never again have the opportunity to work under and have the privilege of knowing a person of such character, integrity, and depth as James DePreist. It scarcely seems possible that he is no longer with us. He was always immortal in my heart of hearts – he dodged so many health bullets in his life, especially in his last years with the Oregon Symphony, that it seemed that nothing would ever truly fell him. Avanti, my dear Jimmy. You will be so missed.

octetlandia tonight (11/13)!

Tonight, the excellent, young (two years old) 45th Parallel ensemble joins forces with the Arnica Quartet to perform three octets by three very different composers. The concert is at 7:30 p.m. at the Old Church [map + directions]. You can purchase tickets online here, or at the door before the show.

Octet concerts don’t happen very often. There are two very good reasons for this:

  1. There are not that many really good octets that have been composed. Please, spare me the emails or comments, I know that there are a lot of octets, but not many of them are good.
  2. It’s really difficult to get eight busy musicians together for adequate rehearsal time.

Luckily for us, we had discovered an online scheduling tool called Doodle. It allowed us to quickly see which dates and times for which we were all available.

Rehearsing itself can be a challenge – you’ve got to find a location that’s big enough for eight string players, first of all. Then you need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively (difficult when you’ve got chatty-Cathy cellists) when eight people all have their own ideas. Luckily, we left most of the communicating to our intrepid first violinists for each piece – Bruch: Adam LaMotte, Shostakovich: Fumino Ando, and Mendelssohn: Greg Ewer. Hearing each other in a very loud rehearsal space can also present challenges. So, last night we took our first foray out of Greg’s living room and went to the Community Music Center to use their hall as a fill in for the Old Church. Predictably, we couldn’t hear much of anything, which is close to what it will be like in the Old Church, but worse. So that will hopefully clear up some of the “help, I can’t hear a thing!” vibe at the performance tonight.

These are the three octets we’ll be playing tonight:

  • Max Bruch – Octet, Op. posth. (1920)
  • Dmitri Shostakovich – Two movements for string octet, Op. 11
  • Felix Mendelssohn – Octet, Op. 20

It should be a great show, with fabulous musicians all around:

  • Greg Ewer, violin
  • Fumino Ando, violin
  • Adam LaMotte, violin
  • Shin-young Kwon, violin
  • Hillary Schoap, viola
  • Charles Noble, viola
  • Justin Kagan, cello
  • Heather Blackburn, cello (Shostakovich, Mendelssohn)
  • Ted Botsford, double bass (Bruch)

program notes for this weekend

Here’s a link to my notes for this weekend’s concerts of the Oregon Symphony – Schubert’s Incidental Music to Rosamunde and Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Though they are credited to Elizabeth Schwartz (the orchestra’s excellent full-time annotator), I wrote them. Enjoy, and let me know what you think of them – I’m always trying to improve!