the learning continues

After this past week’s rehearsing and performing at the Portland Piano International Festival, I learned, or re-learned several things.

First, I learned what the Dutch expression “mierenneuken” means (nit-picking is the least offensive way I can explain it) from former Concertgebouw Orchestra concertmaster Alex Kerr. (It came up in the context of the American system of orchestral auditions, which is notorious for being incredibly myopic in its focus on an insane level of perfection.)

Photo: Portland Piano International
Justin Bartlett, Sarah Kwak, Nancy Ives, Jason Schooler, Alex Kerr and Charles Noble play Liszt. Photo: Portland Piano International

Second, I re-learned that simple score study with a recording can make my life much, much easier. I forget this from time to time, especially when the music I’m playing doesn’t present much in the way of technical challenges. I discovered this to my chagrin in the dress rehearsal for the Chopin First Piano Concerto. Lesson learned, score studied, performance humiliation averted.

Photo: Portland Piano International
Sarah Kwak, Alex Kerr, Charlie Albright, Nancy Ives, and Charles Noble play Chopin. Photo: Portland Piano International

Third, I learned (and likely re-learned) that a performance is not just the playing of the notes. It’s projecting an involvement in what is happening even when one is not playing. Even when I’m nervous about my counting, or remembering what figuration this pianist is playing in his left hand, or just feeling plain crappy, just the act of acting like I’m involved and enjoying what’s happening always leads to me actually being involved and enjoying what’s happening. That adage “Fake it ’til you make it” isn’t an old saw for no reason. It works.

Photo: Portland Piano International.
Arnaldo Cohen, Alex Kerr, Sarah Kwak, Nancy Ives, Charles Noble after Brahms Quintet. Photo: Portland Piano International.

I took the day off today to head out to Hood River for a day of R&R. Tomorrow, I buckle down again and get ready for my first concert of the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival, which is a chamber orchestra concert under the direction of Sir James MacMillan. It should be fantastic, I’ll send dispatches from the road as I have time. Onward!

it’s the people, stupid

This past week I’ve been rehearsing and performing at the Portland Piano International Festival as part of the Festival String Quartet.

The quartet is quite a collection of people to play with! Violinists Alex Kerr, concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony and professor of violin at Indiana University, Sarah Kwak, concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony, and Nancy Ives, principal cellist of the Oregon Symphony. What I love about working with people of that caliber is that they are usually always wonderful people to work with. So professional, true, but also easy going, confident, and pleasant. I often suffer from a major case of imposter syndrome, so having such amazing musicians being such supportive chamber music partners made me feel right at home.

Sarah Kwak rehearsing Sarasate with Arnaldo Cohen.

The first concert, on Friday, June 17, was with pianist Justin Bartlett, featured JS Bach’s Concerto No. 1, BWV 1052, and Franz Liszt’s Malediction, S. 121. Both were done with the accompaniment of the Festival String Quartet and double bassist Jason Schooler (Liszt).

The second concert, on Saturday, June 18, was a chamber music soirée with festival artistic director and pianist Arnaldo Cohen. Each of the members of the quartet played a piece from the Golden Age of Piano (1870-1930), which is the theme of this year’s festival. I opened the program with Liszt’s only work for viola, Romance oubliée (Forgotten romance), followed by Sarah playing Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantelle, Nancy playing Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise Brilliante, and Alex with Brahm’s FAE Scherzo. Arnaldo played a Brazilian solo piece that I wasn’t able to get the name of, and then we all joined together for the first movement of Brahms’ great Piano Quintet, Op. 34.

Nancy Ives plays Chopin with Arnaldo Cohen.
Nancy Ives plays Chopin with Arnaldo Cohen.

Tonight, Sunday, June 19, we join pianists Charlie Albright and Alexander Kobrin for an all-Chopin concert. With Charlie, we’ll be doing the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, and with Alexander, the Piano Concerto No. 1. It’s quite tricky work, managing all of the rubato and the thick filigree of ornamentation that Chopin throws at us, but it should be a wonderful show. Tickets are available here.

busy times

As we edge our way into November, and I reflect on what’s going on in the classical music scene here in Portland, I’m finding it remarkable what all has happened already, and what’s about to happen. At the Oregon Symphony, we’ve just completed our third Classical series concerts. The Vancouver Symphony opened its 40th season of concerts. Opera Theater Oregon has just finished a highly successful run of The Beggar’s Opera. The Portland Opera did a run of La Boheme, and is just about to embark upon Philip Glass’ Orphée. OHSU’s noon chamber series presented its first concert (featuring the Arnica Quartet), as did Salem’s Camerata Musica. Third Angle New Music Ensemble presented music from modern-day China, and fEARnoMusic played its most fearless concert yet (and launched a new website). The Borealis Quartet played Friends of Chamber Music‘s season opener, and Thomas Hampson opened their vocal series. Van Cliburn Gold medalist Haochen Zang and Jonathan Biss played their recitals for Portland Piano International‘s series. The Portland Chamber Orchestra played their first concert of the new season with soloist Carol Wincenc, flute. The Portland Columbia Symphony opened their season with Beethoven and Sibelius. On the horizon? Rumors are that Portland Opera will be recording Orphée. There’s a new chamber music series starting up in January – 45th Parallel. It seems that classical music is alive and well in Portland, after all.