oregon bach festival 2016 wrap-up

Wow. What a festival this 2016 edition of the Oregon Bach Festival was! Playing OBF has always had its special moments over the years. Since playing my first OBF in the summer of 1996, I’ve seen so many fantastic singers and instrumentalists come through. Thomas Quasthoff, Yo-Yo Ma, Jeffrey Kahane, Nicholas Phan – the list goes on and on. The constant behind those big names? The truly world-class Berwick Chorus. Every year I go back thinking that last year’s chorus was the best there was and there would be no topping it, and every year I mentally eat crow. They keep getting better and better. It’s truly a testament to Kathy Saltzman Romey and her team (as well as the individual talents of the entire chorus) that the standard creeps higher and higher each year.

There were so many high points to this year’s festival that it’s hard to list them all, but I’ll do my best to recall the moments that struck me the most during my time there.

  • James MacMillan conducts MacMillan – It was a rare honor to play under one of my favorite composers, the Scottsman James MacMillan, with the OBF Chamber Orchestra. In particular, his Sinfonia was a remarkable piece, and playing Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony Op. 110a was a profound experience.
  • MacMillan Requiem – There are times when you have an experience where you know that you’ll be saying decades later “I was there”, and this was one of them. MacMillan’s A European Requiem is a bona fide masterpiece that should become a part of the repertoire immediately. The Berwick Chorus was so stunning in its intricate and difficult choral writing – breathtaking. Giving the world premiere in the presence of the composer was the highest of honors. [Review]
  • Kahane Conducts Kahane – Father and son Jeffrey and Gabriel Kahane took the stage for this concert. Jeffrey led the OBF Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard in a beautifully crystalline performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Then he played a heartbreaking encore improvisation on America the Beautiful that left few eyes dry. It was the perfect commentary on a very difficult and tragic week in America – proof that music can express the inexpressible. Gabriel took center stage for the second half with his 50 minute Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States, which celebrated the former diversity of regional America, warts and all, as written in 1930’s WPA travel guides. [Review]
  • Brahms Requiem – A piece that I’ve done several times – it was nearly a perennial favorite of OBF founder Helmut Rilling – and it never fails to move me deeply. OBF music director Matthew Halls kept the piece moving, and the Berwick Chorus (along with the Stangland Family Youth Academy Choir and UofO Chamber Choir) sang it beautifully. Before intermission, the OBF Orchestra played Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in an account that skipped much of the lugubriousness that can haunt this most beautiful and melancholic symphony. [Review]

So, another year is in the can, and several more festivals await me before my summer is done. This one will be hard to top, however.

Mahler time

Mahler in 1895, just after the premiere of his 2nd Symphony.

If it’s the end of the Oregon Symphony’s season, chances are it’s time to hear one of Mahler’s magnificent symphonies. This season it is his massive Symphony No. 3. It will be my second time playing this wonderful piece, the first having been back in 2003 under Maestro James DePreist. We’ll have a viola section of 12 players (!) instead of our usual 9-10. And 10 cellists, instead of our usual 7-8. There are more violins, too, but that doesn’t concern me so much. It’s a huge orchestra, and along with the instrumental forces, there will be young singers of the Pacific Youth Choir and the women, of the PSU Chamber Choir and Vox Femina. It’s going to be quite the spectacle, you won’t want to miss it!

My musical summer plans are coming along nicely as well.

Late in June and into July, I’m spending a good couple of weeks at the Oregon Bach Festival, playing works by James MacMillan (including the world premiere of his Requiem), Gabriel Kahane, and the great Brahms Requiem.

After a nice respite in Ashland seeing the sights, I’ll be back in the Methow Valley in the North Cascades of Washington to play at the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, which will include some fantastic pieces: Schubert’s Adagio and Rondo Brilliante, Mozart’s Horn Quintet, and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.

Then, it’s back to central Oregon for the Sunriver Music Festival, where the focus is on works inspired by nature and natural beauty.

hot, hot, hot


It’s hot here in Oregon. How hot? Well, it’s 10 a.m. and it is already 80 degrees F, with a high of around 100 expected. I was in Eugene the past two days for my first concert run with the 2015 Oregon Bach Festival.

Storm Large

Last night was our opening concert for the ‘modern’ orchestra, a celebratory affair with the powerhouse (and very hot) performer Storm Large. She joined us for Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins, which she’d previously done with the Oregon Symphony back in 2013 in preparation for our scrapped Carnegie Hall appearance that year (she went on to do the performance with our replacement orchestra, the Detroit Symphony). We also played Icarian Rhapsody by Mason Bates, and Copland’s inescapable Appalachian Spring. A late night drive back to Portland followed.

This afternoon I’ll be taking part in the Third Angle New Music’s final 2014-2015 event, Porch Music, playing a portion of Jay Derderian‘s Frozen Smolder, with spoken word by the author of the text, poet/librettist Sandra Stone, winner of the Oregon Book Award. It should be a very warm, yet enjoyable experience. You can find more information here, please join us!