This weekend’s Oregon Symphony concerts are going to be special – local snarky publication notwithstanding. First of all, there will be a world premiere of a new piece by Gabriella Smith, entitled Biolumnescence Chaconne. It’s fantastic. The orchestra likes it very much, and our audience in Salem Friday night loved it as well. There’s also an wonderful piece by Missy Mazzoli on the program, Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres), written just a few years back. In addition, one of my favorite violinists on the planet, Augustin Hadelich is back with the outrageous Paganini Violin Concerto No. 1. It’s a silly piece, but Hadelich’s approach is anything but. Virtuosic AF, as the kids say these days. If he plays the encore he did Friday in Salem, it will be magic. Incidentally, our Salem audience gave a standing ovation after the first movement of the Paganini. Not something I’m inclined to endorse, but it showed how effective his playing was! Finally, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, arr. Ravel. Not much to say about this one – you know what to expect here.
A few weeks ago I had this (most likely very unoriginal) thought: in programming/coding, the axiom goes “garbage in, garbage out”. In the orchestra world, it sometimes can follow that rule, but most of the time, at any level of professionalism, the opposite is expected: “garbage in, beautiful out”. This applies both to the raw materials (the score and the venue), and the conductor. If supplied with lemons, we’re told, don’t simply make lemonade, make a lemon drop. Not a rant – this is the reality for every single professional musician from the smallest semi-pro orchestra to the Chicago Symphony or the Berlin Philharmonic – but it does explain the low average level of job satisfaction in symphony orchestras.
It’s 2020! Now, there is some debate as to whether the new decade starts this year or next, but humans like round numbers, so I’m going with 2020 for the new decade, (and it’s a random Roman’s fault that we have this conundrum, anyway). Will this one roar or suck? Who knows! Not me. But this past decade was an interesting one for me, I’ll say.
Between 2010 and 2020, I lost both of my parents, got divorced, got remarried, bought a house, and broke my collarbone. It was a real Dickens sort of situation, the best of times and the worst of times, all rolled into one.
Musically, it was a less mixed bag. I literally played so much music that I cannot even begin to remember all of it. But here are some things that come to mind from each year.
In September 2010, I played my first concert with 45th Parallel, and took the show on the road with cowboy shirts to Pendleton, Oregon. It’s fun to look back at how young we were – and to think that the organization has grown into 45th Parallel Universe, and I’m one of the musician board members. Crazy!
In May 2011, the Oregon Symphony made its first trip to Carnegie Hall in New York City. It was an amazing trip, see my blog post here, and was a huge publicity boon for the orchestra. In fact, our concert there made Alex Ross’ performances of the decade list in the New Yorker as well!
In August 2012, I played my first concerts with the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival. I got to meet and play with some remarkable musicians, and to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the area. It was also my first two rehearsal Debussy quartet. Yikes!
In September 2013, the then Third Angle String Quartet played Georg Friedrich Haas’ Third Quartet – which is played from memory in total darkness – for the first time at the OMSI planetarium. It was a formative musical experience for me in my first full season with the group. We’ve gone on to play it several more times, most recently in Astoria this year as the Pyxis Quartet.
March 2014 brought a performance of the three string quartets of the great British composer Benjamin Britten at the Community Music Center. Three masterpieces, all played in one sitting. Exhausting, but also exhilarating!
April 2015 featured a performance at the Alberta Rose Theater of Third Angle New Music with renowned author and critic Alex Ross. Works of Cage, John Luther Adams, Henry Cowell, Steve Reich, and Lou Harrison. Alex Ross has long been a hero of mine, and it was fantastic to share the stage with him.
2016 had a lot going for it, but tops of that year for me was the US premiere of James MacMillan’s European Requiem at the Oregon Bach Festival, as well as a chamber orchestra concert under his direction that same week. The Requiem is and was a stunning masterpiece, and one that should be programmed in Oregon again soon. Hint, hint…
2017 brought the emergence of the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music, and Third Angle and soprano Tony Arnold were the first artists to be invited to work with her slate of young composers. Musically, it was incredibly challenging and rewarding, but emotionally it was earth-shaking. What a joy it was to be involved with this project!
2018 came with a collaboration with the Oregon Symphony Artist-in-Residence for that time period, percussionist Colin Currie. A string quartet of OSO musicians joined him for a mini tour to the University of Oregon and Oregon State University to play two works with him by Martland and Daugherty, as well as the String Quartet No. 2 by Quincy Porter.
And, finally, 2019. There was so much to love about the projects I did in this year, but for me my first traversal of Crumb’s monumental and phantasmagorical Black Angels with the Pyxis Quartet (for the local micro-festival Makrokosmos) has to win the prize. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it again!
Well, let’s see what the next ten years bring! Avanti!