summer catch-up

I can’t believe that it’s been nearly two months since my last post! Lots of stuff has been happening, musically. In early July I was at the Oregon Bach Festival in Eugene, Oregon. I played three orchestral concerts there, and two chamber music concerts. The orchestral concerts were a mixed bag of repertoire. The first concert consisted of the world premiere of The Passion of Yeshua by Richard Danielpour, conducted by JoAnn Falletta. The final orchestral concert was the Elijah oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn, conducted by John Nelson. In between was a hybrid orchestral-chamber music concert. It featured the music of JS Bach and Philip Glass. Our piano soloist in the Oregon premiere of Glass’ Third Piano Concerto and Bach’s G minor piano concerto was the incredible Simone Dinnerstein. We performed without a conductor per se, but with Simone leading as needed from the piano. The opening piece was Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, also without a conductor, led by OBF orchestra (and OSO) concertmaster Sarah Kwak. Then, in our festival debut, was the Pyxis Quartet (part of the new 45th Parallel Universe collective) playing Glass’ String Quartet No. 5. Glass was in attendance at the concert, and was also generous enough to give us a bit of time to play through some parts of the quartet the afternoon before the concert. It was a fantastic experience – very much a once-in-a-lifetime sort of musical happening!

Post quartet selfie with Philip Glass: L-R: Marilyn De Oliveira, Charles Noble, Philip Glass, Ron Blessinger, and Ruby Chen.

Then, after a week off at home, I was off to Coos Bay, Oregon for the Oregon Coast Music Festival. This festival has been going strong for 40 years, and this was my first time taking part. James Paul is the music director, and the orchestra comes from all over the western U.S. It was a blast from the past for me, as many in the orchestra played in the Cascade Festival orchestra which I took part in in Bend, Oregon for several years back in the late 1990’s. It’s a large orchestra, and the repertoire was sized to match – Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherazade, Brahms’ 4th Symphony, and Strauss’ Don Juan were the major works of the week’s classical concerts. It was a super fun and relaxed festival, and it was also much cooler than the nearly triple-digit temps that folks inland were dealing with during the week!

Now I’m home again, and getting ready for some chamber music concerts in the Oregon Wine Country. I’ll give you the low down on those later this week.

oregon bach festival 2016 wrap-up

Wow. What a festival this 2016 edition of the Oregon Bach Festival was! Playing OBF has always had its special moments over the years. Since playing my first OBF in the summer of 1996, I’ve seen so many fantastic singers and instrumentalists come through. Thomas Quasthoff, Yo-Yo Ma, Jeffrey Kahane, Nicholas Phan – the list goes on and on. The constant behind those big names? The truly world-class Berwick Chorus. Every year I go back thinking that last year’s chorus was the best there was and there would be no topping it, and every year I mentally eat crow. They keep getting better and better. It’s truly a testament to Kathy Saltzman Romey and her team (as well as the individual talents of the entire chorus) that the standard creeps higher and higher each year.

There were so many high points to this year’s festival that it’s hard to list them all, but I’ll do my best to recall the moments that struck me the most during my time there.

  • James MacMillan conducts MacMillan – It was a rare honor to play under one of my favorite composers, the Scottsman James MacMillan, with the OBF Chamber Orchestra. In particular, his Sinfonia was a remarkable piece, and playing Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony Op. 110a was a profound experience.
  • MacMillan Requiem – There are times when you have an experience where you know that you’ll be saying decades later “I was there”, and this was one of them. MacMillan’s A European Requiem is a bona fide masterpiece that should become a part of the repertoire immediately. The Berwick Chorus was so stunning in its intricate and difficult choral writing – breathtaking. Giving the world premiere in the presence of the composer was the highest of honors. [Review]
  • Kahane Conducts Kahane – Father and son Jeffrey and Gabriel Kahane took the stage for this concert. Jeffrey led the OBF Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard in a beautifully crystalline performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Then he played a heartbreaking encore improvisation on America the Beautiful that left few eyes dry. It was the perfect commentary on a very difficult and tragic week in America – proof that music can express the inexpressible. Gabriel took center stage for the second half with his 50 minute Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States, which celebrated the former diversity of regional America, warts and all, as written in 1930’s WPA travel guides. [Review]
  • Brahms Requiem – A piece that I’ve done several times – it was nearly a perennial favorite of OBF founder Helmut Rilling – and it never fails to move me deeply. OBF music director Matthew Halls kept the piece moving, and the Berwick Chorus (along with the Stangland Family Youth Academy Choir and UofO Chamber Choir) sang it beautifully. Before intermission, the OBF Orchestra played Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in an account that skipped much of the lugubriousness that can haunt this most beautiful and melancholic symphony. [Review]

So, another year is in the can, and several more festivals await me before my summer is done. This one will be hard to top, however.

Mahler time

1895-12-13-Mahler_ABPh_
Mahler in 1895, just after the premiere of his 2nd Symphony.

If it’s the end of the Oregon Symphony’s season, chances are it’s time to hear one of Mahler’s magnificent symphonies. This season it is his massive Symphony No. 3. It will be my second time playing this wonderful piece, the first having been back in 2003 under Maestro James DePreist. We’ll have a viola section of 12 players (!) instead of our usual 9-10. And 10 cellists, instead of our usual 7-8. There are more violins, too, but that doesn’t concern me so much. It’s a huge orchestra, and along with the instrumental forces, there will be young singers of the Pacific Youth Choir and the women, of the PSU Chamber Choir and Vox Femina. It’s going to be quite the spectacle, you won’t want to miss it!

My musical summer plans are coming along nicely as well.

Late in June and into July, I’m spending a good couple of weeks at the Oregon Bach Festival, playing works by James MacMillan (including the world premiere of his Requiem), Gabriel Kahane, and the great Brahms Requiem.

After a nice respite in Ashland seeing the sights, I’ll be back in the Methow Valley in the North Cascades of Washington to play at the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, which will include some fantastic pieces: Schubert’s Adagio and Rondo Brilliante, Mozart’s Horn Quintet, and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.

Then, it’s back to central Oregon for the Sunriver Music Festival, where the focus is on works inspired by nature and natural beauty.