season 22 begins

Season 22 – back to school!

It’s hard to believe, but yesterday marked the beginning of my 22nd season with the Oregon Symphony. Even though I’m closing in on the quarter century mark, there are still things that make me happy when I show up at the first rehearsal of the season.

First, my colleagues. Since we don’t have a summer season, the orchestra members scatter to the four corners of the globe doing summer festivals, vacations, and in some cases, other jobs. Because of this, we don’t get to see each other that much during our off time – even those of us who are close friends. Seeing everyone after the summer break is much like seeing one’s friends at school after the long break. It’s old home week, with lots of hugs and stories shared before rehearsal and during the break.

Second, the sound of a really great orchestra. With few exceptions, the summer festival orchestras we play in are not of the quality of the Oregon Symphony. They are fun, and good, but as festival orchestras, they are put together afresh each summer, often without the continuity of personnel that a full-time orchestra has. When we come back from the summer break, and I hear just how good we sound, even on the first day back, it makes me smile from the pleasure and pride of it.

Third, knowing I’ll be getting paid soon. Yeah, we don’t do it solely for the money, but the mortgage must be paid! In a less than 52 week orchestra, budgeting is a constant battle. Saving money from each paycheck to apply towards the summer bills, trying to figure out how much summer work there will be this year, etc. Some people rely on unemployment benefits to make it through the summer, but it has become so difficult to jump through all of the hoops that the state has in place that some of us – me included – have given up trying to collect benefits.

Today (Saturday), we perform at the Oregon Zoo in a program that has lots of audience favorites. The temperature will hit 99F today, with around 90 expected at concert time. Thankfully, no tuxedos or tails for us – it’ll be OSO polo shirts and slacks for us – and we have new water bottles to keep us hydrated, if not cool. Plus, there’s the 1812 Overture!

a mahler for the ages

Quick bulletin: if you don’t have plans for this Monday night (May 22), make a point of coming out to the Oregon Symphony’s closing classical concert of the season: Mahler’s Second Symphony. Judging by how the first two performances have gone, this final one should be epic. Onstage brass, offstage brass, brilliant woodwinds, amazing vocal soloists, teeming masses of roiling strings, a huge chorus – this piece has got it all. And to that guy who let out the “Whoop!” after the end of the first movement today, glad you could make it, and glad you loved it, buddy!

Enjoy some of the ‘big’ moments from various conductors:

rest of the season – my picks

It’s mid-February, and that means that there are 103 days left in the 2016-2017 season. The 2017-2018 season was announced just two weeks ago, and it focuses attention on the bright, shiny, and new season ahead. So, in that light, I decided that it would be worth a look at the concerts that I’m most excited about in the current season – and there is much great music to enjoy!

Jeff Kahane, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and John Adams

This concert contains three of my favorite things, musically: pianist Jeffrey Kahane, the Enigma Variations, and music by John Adams. Kahane will play the gorgeous and slightly schizophrenic Schumann Piano Concerto. The Enigma Variations of Edward Elgar follows – with its transcendent Nimrod movement. [An amateur violinist claims to have discovered the secret of the variations – read the article here.] The concert opens with a piece co-commissioned by the Oregon Symphony for its centennial season (my first), Slonimsky’s Earbox, a riotous showpiece for large orchestra that happens to have a huge viola solo! Returning guest Christoph König conducts.

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New work by Kenji Bunch, Souvenirs by Samuel Barber, and Dvorak’s Cello Concerto

This program presents three works linked by their being written in America. The big news on this concert is Portlander Kenji Bunch’s new work commissioned by the Oregon Symphony, Aspects of an Elephant. Here is a description of the work (which will be recorded for upcoming CD release) by the composer:

“I drew inspiration from the timeless parable of the so-called Blind Men and the Elephant, of which various versions have appeared throughout Asia and Europe since the 13th century. I especially liked the version in Rumi’s epic collection of sacred Islamic texts, The Masnavi. In this retelling, the men are not blind, but in a dark room with an elephant they can’t see; each man holds a small candle, which casts a faint light. They touch the mysterious beast in order to describe it to each other; naturally, they each come up with a very distinct impression of the elephant. For example, the man touching the tusk declares, ‘The elephant is a spear!’ while the man feeling a leg is convinced the elephant is a large tree. A heated argument ensues; each man believes his concept of the elephant is correct, and can’t imagine any other version being remotely accurate. There are six musical variations representing the different descriptions of the elephant. In each variation I feature small groups of solo instruments.

“This conflict escalates almost to the point of violence until the men realize the combined light of their individual candles has now revealed the true nature of the elephant, and that they were all partially correct in their assessments.

“I find this story engaging for a number of reasons. Without going into detail, its relevance to today’s deeply divided political climate is fairly obvious. Musically, it also seems to lend itself particularly well to the many different colors of the orchestra— which I feel is a compelling metaphor for a collection of diverse elements uniting to achieve a larger beauty. In addition to the different instrument families, I also feature some exotic percussion instruments, including five nested aluminum mixing bowls pitched low to high, of the kind you have in your kitchen. It sounds kind of like an Indonesian gamelan.

Aspects is, if not officially a ‘Concerto for Orchestra,’ certainly a celebration of the orchestra, and particularly the musicians of the Oregon Symphony, to whom this work is dedicated.”

Carlos Kalmar conducts.

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Gil Shaham plays Korngold

I’ve been lobbying for years to get Gil Shaham booked to play here, and though I gave up on that hope long ago, my wish has come true this season! His gorgeous, rich tone is perfectly suited to the fin de siecle decadence of ErichWolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto. The program is rounded out with equally rich works by some other famous composers with strong ties to Vienna, including Johann Strauss, Jr. and Richard Strauss. Carlos Kalmar conducts.

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Mozart’s Requiem

To tell you the truth, though I love Mozart’s Requiem, it’s not a piece that I find that rewarding to play. Be that as it may, it’s a towering masterpiece. It’s accompanied by Benjamin Britten’s transcription of a Chacony by Henry Purcell and Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements. Returning favorite Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducts.

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La Mer and Lansma

We don’t do enough French music, in my opinion, so it’s especially exciting to perform on of the greatest of French impressionist works, Debussy’s La Mer. Returning violinist Simone Lansma plays Benjamin Britten’s fantastic (and ever more performed) Violin Concerto. My jury’s out on what to make of Lansma. Her technique is so solid and beyond reproach that it’s almost impossible to take one’s ears off of that aspect of her playing to see what sort of depth she has as a musician. This piece will give us all a chance to find out! One of my favorite guest conductors, Jun Märkl conducts.

SoundSights returns with Stravinsky’s Persephone

Michael Curry, best known for his production design on the Broadway production of The Lion King, has created a production of Stravinsky’s seldom-performed ballet Persephone. The program begins with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 “Little Russian”. This should be a visual feast if the first two productions of SoundSights are any indication! Carlos Kalmar conducts.

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Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony

Not much to say about this one. Perhaps Mahler’s grandest spectacle, and certainly some of his greatest music. It’s hard for me to keep my eyes dry during the huge choruses of the final movement. A fitting end to the Classical season. Carlos Kalmar conducts.

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