Well, the Sunriver festival is now history for this year. It was a good run, very enjoyable in many ways. It was nice to have some time to hike (Newberry Crater trail) and bike (the 40 miles of bike paths in Sunriver) and just hang out with my friends and colleagues in the orchestra.
The highlight of the second week was undoubtedly the arrival and performance of violinist Rachel Barton Pine. She performed the monumental Beethoven Violin Concerto, and with great command and aplomb, I might add. She followed with two (!) encores: Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo and her own fiendishly inventive and difficult variations on the New Zealand national anthem. Unbelievable!!
I don’t know why she hasn’t yet appeared with the Oregon Symphony (especially since she recorded the Brahms and Joachim concertos with our music director Carlos Kalmar in Chicago, and appeared with him in Iceland) – but it is an omission that must be rectified as soon as possible. She is a true virtuoso, but without affectation, and is also a voracious musical omnivore.
Heather and I had a chance to catch up with Rachel (I’d met her about 10 years ago when we were both teaching for a week at Interlochen) and read some string trios on Saturday afternoon, and it was great fun. We’re hoping that some future collaborations might become possible, and we’ve been looking for an excuse to visit Chicago, so who knows?…
This past Friday (11 August) I was pleased to give my first public performance of the Martinu Rhapsody-Concerto with the Sunriver Festival Orchestra and conductor Lawrence Leighton Smith. I was quite happy with how it went (unusual for me, as those who know me well can attest), especially for a first time, and for it being the first time in a few years that I’ve gotten up in front of an orchestra. For those of you who have not had the experience of playing a concerto or concert piece with an orchestra, it’s a bit like dancing the tango with a piano strapped to your back. It’s going to be a bit easier if the orchestra is the Cleveland Orchestra or Berlin Philharmonic, but it’s a different animal altogether than playing with a pianist.
The orchestra played beautifully, and the major tutti sections came across tremendously well, which is good since they really form the backbone of the work, emotionally speaking. It was also my most painless concerto appearance – the orchestra was wonderfully flexible and responsive, and Larry Smith is perhaps one of the best accompanying conductors working today, which may have a good deal to do with his long parallel career as a solo and collaborative pianist. While I was glad that my performance went well, I was even more gratified to find that the Martinu was a hit with both the musicians of the orchestra and with the audience. I hope that this piece will find a real following in the States, as it is virtually unknown even to most performing violists in this country. It is a tuneful, gorgeous, well-paced, and well-written work which shows the viola to its best advantage (it does not stray above ‘B’ above the staff in treble cleff), namely in its chocolatey and throaty middle and lower registers.
Other works we performed this past weekend were the First Suite for Orchestra by Tchaikovsky, which features a Miniature-March for upper strings and winds which is very much reminiscent of the Overture to The Nutcracker, and a delight to listen to (if not to play – very high stuff for the fiddles), Haydn’s Symphony 82 “The Bear”, Weber’s Overture to Oberon, the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No 5, and Schubert’s Symphony No 2. Of special interest was the Mozart Piano Concerto No 22 with Christopher O’Riley as soloist. He played with a beautifully light and varied touch, and performed a last movement cadenza of his own composition, with the earlier cadenzas which I couldn’t identify, but will find out about, since they were so interesting. In particular, the first movement cadenza had snippets of the Rondo Finale’s theme forshadowed, which I particularly enjoyed.
This just in: a quirky, funny, and dead-on review of the O’Riley concert – here is the link to the article.
We’re back for just an overnight at home, then it’s off to Sunriver for some chamber orchestra action. The Methow Festival went very well. There were more than a few communication and logistical snafus, but given that Artistic Director and Pianist Lisa Bergman had to leave for Seattle during the middle of rehearsals due to a medical situation, it all came together very well, indeed!
Heather was to play the Chopin Pollanaise Brilliante with Lisa, and then four of us were to do the Brahms Piano Quintet with her as well. The Chopin got axed, as did the Brahms, and in place of the Brahms we filled out the second program with the Haydn “Lark” Quartet, on two day’s notice and without having ever played it together, no less! It was a great confidence booster to see that we’d jelled enough as an ensemble to tackle the intricacies of Haydn on short notice and very little rehearsal time.
The Mozart Quintet in g minor (Kv. 516a) was great fun, and it was such a pleasure to share the stage with our fellow festival artists Maria Sampen and Timothy Christie (violin and viola, and wife and husband), who also played the Bach Double Violin Concerto with us. The quintet really is such a staggering work of heartbreaking genius (with apologies to Dave Eggers) and it was incredible to get back in touch with it after years of only knowing it as a recording and excerpts from Alfred Einstein’s biography of Mozart harking to Gethsemane and the poisoned chalice. Great stuff!
We also did the Haydn Op. 20 no 4 ‘Sun’ – a work from the amazingly mature and interesting (if a bit underplayed by the major touring quartets) opus 20. The set gets its name from the title page illustration of the original edition. It also made a cool bookend to our last work, the titanic Beethoven Op. 59 no 2 of the Razumovsky set, which Czerny called an evocation of a great starry night sky and the music of the spheres.
As if there wasn’t enough musical and life drama during the week, the complex of wildfires known as the “Tripod Complex” was buring through over 57,000 acres of rugged backcountry forest a short distance north and east of the town of Winthrop, where the festival is held. The fire provided a dramatic backdrop to the concerts, and became even more so after dark. Timothy Christie noticed tongues of flame coming up from the crowns of newly ignited trees and christened the area Mordor, after the land of the evil wizard Sauron from The Lord of the Rings.
For those of you who might be interested in such things, we’ll be deciding repertoire for the coming season by the end of the month – so far Beethoven Op. 130 has a strong chance of being on our fall concert…