Tag Archives: soloists

denk thinks, portland listens

One of my favorite music bloggers, the pianist Jeremy Denk, made quite a splash at the Portland International Piano Festival this past weekend – click here for a complete review by Oregonian classical music critic David Stabler. Here’s the lead-in:

Many piano concerts are like trips to the shopping mall: safe, predictable excursions with a commercial intent.

Not Jeremy Denk’s. Last weekend in Portland, the 37-year-old New York pianist took us to the edge of a precipice, lined himself up and jumped.

Denk’s piano recital was so daring, so fraught with peril that I expected to see hazard lights flashing around the perimeter of the stage. Men with walkie-talkies would warn us to keep our distance. Ambulances would be lined up to handle injuries. Gawkers would sell souvenirs.

Below him lay the abyss of Ivesian chaos (Charles Ives’ “Concord” Sonata), with its four movements of surging strife and transcendental difficulty. Beethovenian chaos followed (the “Hammerklavier” Sonata) with its own four movements of surging strife and transcendental difficulty. They are similar in intent, both ending where they began, making a dangerously brilliant pair.

Beauty and refinement — the customary rewards of recitals — ceased to exist. Instead, Denk took us to the heart of darkness with music that normally repels audiences: dysfunctional harmonies, chord clusters, lack of continuity, contradiction.

mstislav rostropovich, 1927 – 2007

Rostropovich plays at the fallen Berlin Wall - Reuters/NYTimes

[click photo to enlarge]
Photo [Reuters/NYTimes]: Rostropovich pictured playing at Checkpoint Charlie after the fall of the Berlin Wall in December 1989.

Rostropovich appeared with the Oregon Symphony only once during my tenure. He did a one night special with the orchestra, playing the venerable Dvorak Concerto.

It was a remarkable experience for all of us in the orchestra at the time. I recall him demanding such an extremely soft pp (pianissimo) dynamic from the orchestra in an accompanying passage. He essentially took the reins away from Jimmy [Depreist] and ran the rehearsal, and to great effect. We were truly in the hands of one of the titans of music of our century (and several others).

One of the lasting impressions was not in regards to the music-making, but in the fact that he held up the concert for 15 minutes while the microphones that we normally use for archival recordings were removed. He refused to perform unless they were taken down. Our sound engineer at the time had to go up to the Dress Circle level and reel in the microphones and remove them from their cables.

My wife (a very fine cellist) was greatly saddened by the news today, as Slava was one of her heroes. She wondered who there was to take up his mantle, and didn’t see an heir apparent in the wings.

Retired Chicago Symphony (and former National Symphony) executive Henry Fogel shares his remembrance here.

NYTimes obit

Google News collection of obit links

The Rostropovich Foundation

pacifica quartet concert impressions


Last night I was able to attend the second of two concerts by the Pacifica Quartet at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. It was a wonderful program (if a bit conservative) that showed what a wonderful young quartet the Pacifica has become. The program began with Mozart’s “Dissonant” Quartet, Kv. 465, from his set of six dedicated to Joseph Haydn. The Pacifica’s excellent ensemble, pure intonation and wide-ranging dynamics were given full show here, and their absolutely hushed, controlled, and beautifully blended pianissimos were what truly set them apart from many other accomplished ensembles. Whereas other quartets might bowl one over with their prodigious sound production, the Pacifica’s four members are each able to get down to the softest of sounds while still projecting to the back of the hall and keeping intonation and balance right on the knife’s edge of perfection. Continue reading

time to start practicing, again

The feedback from the recital has been coming in over the past day or so, and the response has been very gratifying, indeed.  I was alerted to a review on the blog of James Bash, a local writer who does a lot of arts coverage for the Willamette Week.  It was nice to find out that he was at the concert, though I’m glad that I didn’t know it before now!  You can find the review here.

A note of clarification: the CMC’s funding is not being completely cut by the city, but the cuts are significant.

the day after

Ah, the day after a recital! There is nothing quite like it, the feeling of total unabashed hedonism as one sits around in one’s p.j.’s all day without even a passing thought of the viola.

The concert went well – it wasn’t really so much a recital as a concert in which I played a part in every piece. Everyone played great – it was an honor to share the stage with just a small selection of the great artists and friends I have in the OSO.

The audience came out in force, I was told that it was the best benefit concert given to date at the Community Music Center, which was in no small part due to David Stabler putting a high profile notice in the Friday A&E section, and the excellent publicity work of the CMC staff and Gregory Dubay, the CMC’s director.

I’m happy to go back to being a face in the crowd for a while, and in planning the next Arnica Quartet concert. Thanks to everyone who came and said hi after the concert, it was great to see you, and I’m so glad you came!

josh bell plays the metro


A great article from the Washington Post about what would happen if a great violinist on a great instrument put out his hat and played during the morning commute at one of the busiest commuting hubs of the nation’s capitol. Too good for words!

I found the most interesting bit to be about the little boy who was the most interested (of the 1000+ people who passed by) in Bell’s playing, but wasn’t allowed to stop and check it out by his busy, harried mother. There’s a lesson in that: all children have an innate interest in the arts because they are novel to them, new. Feeding that interest, even if it means stopping to watch an unknown busker play some Bach, is the future of our classical music audiences and better citizens who appreciate the arts.

recital day

Well, it’s D-Day, now I’m just anxiously awaiting H-Hour: 7:30 tonight. It’s a difficult thing, to do a recital as an orchestral musician. Especially after 11 years of doing the orchestra thing. The span of concentration required, and the awareness that no one’s got your back for the difficult bits (which are every note of every piece to me right now!) makes it a real stretch. Continue reading