I’m not sure if it really is a November to remember – it’s hardly just begun – but the first week has had a lot to recommend it. At the Oregon Symphony, we just finished the second of two back-to-back classical series runs.
The first classical week ended on November 1st, so I guess that counts towards the month. The highlight of that concert was HK Gruber’s Frankenstein!! (A pan-demonium for baritone chansonnier and orchestra after children’s rhymes) with the composer on hand as the chansonnier. It’s a delightfully droll and tongue-in-cheek setting of modern-day children’s poems written by the Austrian poet HC Artmann which seem to combine the sensibilities of the brothers Grimm and Roald Dahl, with a bit of extra Austrian creepiness. It calls for members of the orchestra to sing, play toy instruments, and other hijinks. The sight of the plastic tubes waving about in the wind section at the close of one of the ‘songs’ was strange and delightful. I think the performance would have benefitted from supertitles rather than printed texts, but it’s a minor quibble.
The second concert of the two was to have been conducted by our newly appointed Principal Guest Conductor Jun Märkl, but COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented his entry to the US. Luckily, our new music director David Danzmayr was available to fill in on a tricky program on next to no notice. Our soloist for the week was the spectacular pianist Yefim Bronfman, playing the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto. What a spectacular talent he is! I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a sensitive, yet towering account of this concerto in my 26 years with the orchestra. Bronfman has that rare ability to play with a beautiful sound at any volume level – and let me tell you, he can play LOUD! Super control and beautiful phrasing were the order of the day. Each night he played a wonderful encore: Chopin’s D-flat major Nocturne Op. 27 no. 2; Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary’ Etude Op. 10 no. 12; and last night the final movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 ‘Appassionata’ – all gorgeously played, especially after playing the demanding beast that is Rach 3! Noteworthy in a not-so-good way was the audience member’s hearing aid that fed back for nearly the entire concerto. It could be heard all over the hall, including the stage, and the concentration that it must have taken for Bronfman to ignore the mosquito-like aural intrusion defies description – and it was hard for us in the orchestra to ignore as well!
More is on tap for this week – on Wednesday, November 10th the orchestra plays with the superstar rap artist Nas, which is going to be a learning experience for me (and no doubt many of my colleagues) – I have zero knowledge about rap music, but it’s sold out, so it’ll be an experience to remember!
On Thursday, November 11th (which happens to be Veteran’s Day in the US) I’m taking part in a Pyxis Quartet concert which features George Crumb’s seminal amplified string quartet Black Angels and which will be accompanied by the world premiere of a newly-commissioned companion piece by local composer Kenji Bunch, his String Quartet No. 4 after, life. It should be a stunning concert, tickets are available here.