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aalto library concert photos

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Tom Emerson Photography

This past weekend, I played six performances of Magnus Lindberg’s craggy and forbidding (and insectile) Clarinet Quintet with my colleagues of Third Angle New Music (with the magnificent Louis DeMartino on clarinet) at Alvar Aalto’s magnificent library at Mount Angel Abbey. The reviews were glowing, and equally glowing are the photos that  photographer/architect Tom Emerson delivered from the event – take a peek in the slideshow here.

 

last festival, great scenery

Looking west towards Bend and the mountains beyond. Photo: ©Charles Noble

Looking west towards Bend and the mountains beyond. [click to enlarge]

Another week, another festival! In this case, my last of the 2015 summer season. I’m here in Central Oregon for the Sunriver Music Festival, of which I’ve been a part since 2000. We’re off to a good start, with a sold-out pops concert on opening night, and a very well attended first classical concert last night in the Great Hall at Sunriver Resort. It’s a great place to be for a festival, with so much hiking and biking available to do in one’s spare time. If you’re in the area over the next ten days, do check out the festival’s website and come to a concert, we’d love to have you!

vacation!

Ok, it’s been a little bit crazy these past couple weeks. I got back from the Methow festival a week ago Wednesday, then headed out to the Blue Mountains for a camping trip, my only real vacation time of the summer. I got back yesterday, and tonight I head to the Sunriver Music Festival for ten days. Granted, I spend much of my summer in vacation settings, but I’m usually working at the time. This was a great trip to be free of the viola, obligations, and electricity and running water. Here are a few photos from the trip.

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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.

third angle’s tango sensation

 

maria-banner

I’m so proud to be a part of this wonderful concert! Third Angle New Music is presenting an extravagant production of Astor Piazzolla’s tango operetta Maria de Buenos Aires tonight at the Wonder Ballroom (128 NE Russell St, Portland, OR 97212) at 7:30pm. It’s a multi-faceted production – the ensemble’s fourth performance of this masterpiece in their 30 year history – with extraordinary tango dancers, brilliant lighting design, top notch vocalists, and perhaps the greatest living bandoneon player, Coco Trivisonno. It is going to be an amazing show, and last I checked there were less than 50 tickets left to be sold!

krebs

 

is a far cry the ensemble of the future?

 

a far cry chamber orchestra

a far cry chamber orchestra

 

I’m not a professional writer of concert reviews, or much of anything, for that matter. I have written some program notes for the Oregon Symphony on occasion, but my skill set has more to do with performing music than with critically listening to others performing music (unless I’m giving a lesson or a coaching, that is). But sometimes there is a concert that just cries (sorry, no pun intended) out for a response, and so, without any sort of agenda on my part, here is my response.

If I were to characterize this concert in one sentence, I would do so as follows:

A Far Cry’s Sunday afternoon concert demonstrated that the future of classical music does not necessarily lie only in what music is performed, but also in how it is performed.

Here is what I mean by that statement. The concert was fairly conventional in terms of how its program was laid out. Active, fun, curtain-raiser piece (in this case Ljova’s Vjola Suite) which took various and sundry middle- and Eastern European folk idioms for a quick, and largely delightful, run around the park. Followed by a concerto (the Concerto for Violin, Double Bass, and String Orchestra by Kip Jones, who was also the violin soloist) which featured an unusual pairing of solo instruments, a tutti orchestra who sang while simultaneously playing, and some extended jamming by the two soloists. After the intermission, there was a short, meditative, work by Charles Ives (Largo cantabile: Hymn from A Set of Three Short Pieces), which was followed by a major work from the 19th century canon, an arrangement for string orchestra of Dvorak’s massive Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 97 “American”. So there was the very standard arrangement of light/short opener, concerto, short filler piece, major work that most chamber groups and symphony orchestras deploy on a regular basis as their template for a standard concert program.

The program was entitled “Melting Pot”, and in reflecting that theme, it was entirely successful. It was a program that worked beautifully on the page – music that reflects both immigrant and native influences on American music, and how these influences cross-pollinate to produce a sound and point of view that is uniquely ‘American’. If only the pieces had been strong enough to provide the emotional and intellectual underpinning that such a program really depends upon to provide an experience that is not only enjoyable, but is vital, vibrant, and life affirming.

The first half of the program was admirable in what it attempted to do, but, at least for myself, it did not quite succeed. Two pieces by living composers – young living composers, no less – is a boon, and I am of the belief that every major classical music presenter should include at least one contemporary piece of music on every program of their season, especially if they take public money as part of their funding. But I wished for pieces that were edited a bit more carefully – these two, especially the concerto, seemed to out stay their welcome by a good third of their length, to my ears. However, they were played with refreshing verve and virtuosity by both the orchestra and the two soloists, and they made as compelling a case as could be made for these two pieces, and I hope that their collaboration with Ljova and Kip Jones continues to bear fruit with music that both deepens and expands its sophistication.

The second half was another matter, as these were two masterpieces in their respective genres. The Ives was a new piece to me, and I would have loved to have heard the other two movements of the set on the program. The beautiful solo cello work of Karen Ouzounian was a highlight. The Dvorak quintet arrangement which closed the concert had me of two minds. While I enjoyed very much – as with the entire concert – the extremely high quality of the playing: full of musicality and focus, energy and contemplation – I must confess that I am rarely pleased with the expansion of chamber works into versions for string orchestra. The only example that I think truly works is Schoenberg’s own orchestration of his Transfigured Night, originally for string sextet, into a version for large string orchestra. There was a moment towards the close of the sublime Larghetto movement where the forces were pared down to the original five instruments, and I found myself relaxing and relishing the sound of the ensemble as originally intended by the composer.

So, back to my one sentence statement. What was revelatory about this performance? It wasn’t the repertoire, though that was interesting, and admirable in its intent. What I loved, and saw as vital in this performance to the future of classical music, was the energy and joy expressed in the music making. Here was an ensemble that was fully as fun and engaging to watch as any of the great chamber ensembles (and admittedly, not all of them – there are some great ensembles of the past and present that are a decided yawn to watch perform). They made use of the different levels of the stage platform at First Unitarian Church during the exuberant encore, making a moving tapestry of active performance, in stark contrast so many static performances that one is likely to encounter. Performers smiled as they played, exchanged knowing glances with one another, played off each others impulses, reacting with split-second timing with that instinctual musical impulse that cannot be taught or learned, but is the essence of the ‘gift’ of talent. There really is nothing worse that going to a concert and seeing people looking as though they are digging a ditch or asking if you’d ‘like fries with that’. Live performance is as much a visual experience as an aural one, and the Criers, who clearly have everything needed to produce the musical goods, also brought the joie de vivre that is essential to build and sustain classical music audiences long into the future.