Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Interview with Mattie Kaiser up at Oregon Music News

Bachxing Day returns! This year marks the fourth anniversary of Classical Revolution PDX's winter tradition of Bachxing Day, a musical celebration of the man and his music (on December 26th, Boxing Day.) No, there's no literal connection, but if you want to find out more about it, read our conversation here at OMN.

As a sidenote, I will be playing at Bachxing Day this year; on the mandolin a bouree from one of the cello suites and the top voice of one of the two-part inventions (however I will try to get someone else to play the other voice on another instrument) along with a prelude from another one of the cello suites but on the piano...yep, Bachxing Day is that kind of show.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Much Ado...

Haven't been blogging much lately; between life getting in the way and my natural need for a healthy amount of down-time, I haven't gotten much done by way of musicaloozings but no more excuses! Some updates about what I've been doing:

1. I have been posting reviews at Oregon Music News. That's been a good opportunity for me; it's got a wide readership and presents new challenges for me both from a writing and a technical blogging aspect. Haven't had anything up there in a while, but expect I will have more in the future.

2. Been doing some writing for the Hollywood Star--I should have a piece out in the November issue about LiveWire Radio, and one in December about Toastmasters International.

3. I wrote CD liner notes for a release by my friend Max Fuller, an excellent baroque cellist/gambist. It is his first CD, and is a recording of J.S. Bach's 3rd and 4th cello suites. I was honored Max asked me to do it; as much as I love Bach and respect Max's musicianship, this was a pleasurable undertaking.

4. I filled in for Brett Campbell doing the classical music calendar for the Willamette Week while he was on sabbatical for a month. I may have some more stuff there in the future as well.

5. Bach Cantata Choir Silent Auction! Always tons of work, and I could never accomplish it without the tireless efforts of my (much) better half, Kristin Sterling, and our partner in crime Judy Crockett. Loving the new wooden floors at Rose City Park Presbyterian church--what a live acoustic for the BCC concerts! If you haven't heard us sing in the new space yet, check us out again. I think you'll be amazed at the quality of sound the wooden floors allow us to generate.

6. Baroque Mandolin! I am playing my first mandolin recital on November 21st at Paramount Music on 60th and Stark with my teacher Jan De Weese, a man who plays more musical instruments than most people even know exist and who I feel very fortunate to study with. We are playing Bach's Invention no. 10, originally for clavier but transcribed for mandola and mandolin by Jan. I'm a little nervous, but have been practicing a lot and am excited by the way this is coming together.

So all of the above, plus a personal life (believe it or not,) a full-time job, and a college football season in which Oregon is the undisputed best team in the land and a clear favorite to play for the national championship (Go Ducks!), these have led me to neglect my little ol' blog for a while. Now a note on some things I haven't been doing:

1. I didn't get the National Endowment for the Arts Graduate Journalism Fellowship in Classical Music and Opera at Columbia University. That was pretty disappointing; I know I'm qualified for it but the candidate pool was too deep (always feels great when you get a polite letter telling you in so many words that too many people who applied were better than you.) Still, I may apply for it next year, if I feel my pride can stand another such wound...As a side note, I also got rejected for an archaeological dig in Arizona that I applied for. Gotta take your lumps sometime I guess.

2. I gave up the viola da gamba. I started writing about it in the hubris of my excitement, but it really is a hard instrument, and I began to question my dedication almost as soon as I started taking lessons. Nothing to do with my teacher, a fine and knowledgeable musician named Douglas Laing, whom I would highly recommend (as well as Max Fuller; see no. 3 above) to anyone wanting to know more about this ancient, beautiful instrument. However, it's still tops on my 'I will learn this instrument one day' list. I had some readers from Australia and Hungary asking me for an update on my pursuit of the viol, so sad to disappoint them, but thrilled to know that readers as far afield as that follow my blog, to some degree or other.

I decided instead to focus my energies on the mandolin, an instrument for which I felt I had much greater facility, and just didn't seem quite as daunting (although Jan has had to spend a lot of time having me unlearn things I've been doing wrong in teaching myself over the years. Still working on that one.)

So there it is, in a nutshell. In addition to the mandolin recital I will be singing the annual BCC Christmas concert, this year featuring Parts 1-3 of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, works by Praetorius (including the famous Es ist ein Rose entsprungen), what may be the U.S. premier (we aren't quite sure) of a cantata by Sebastian Knupfer, and more. If you haven't heard the opening chorus for part 1 of the Xmas oratorio, Jauchzet Frolocket, come check it out in our new's as good as anything in the Messiah, but...Bach, not Handel.

There it is everyone, and thanks for following my (mis)adventures in music and writing.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

CD Review: Portland Opera's 'Orphee'

This year saw a milestone in the Portland Opera's history with their first-ever commercial recording, a complete rendering of Philip Glass's Orphee. Recorded during Orphee's run in November of 2009, the surprise hit of Portland Opera's last season transfers admirably to this disc from Orange Mountain Music. Not only is this CD a first for the PO, but it is doubly important in that it is also the first complete recording of this opera, the last of Glass's triptych based on films by Jean Cocteau to be put to disc.

The production benefited from the previous experience with this work brought to the fore by conductor Anne Manson and principals Philip Cutlip (Orphee) and Lisa Saffer (La Princesse), all of whom performed this previously with the Glimmerglass Opera. The recording succeeds brillantly in capturing the crispness and concision of the dialogue, which was adapted by Glass from the script for the 1949 Cocteau film of the same name. Cutlip's rich, expressive baritone and soprano Lisa Saffer's moody Princesse seem to leap out from the recording with their sincerity and intensity. The dialogue moves along as in a film; i.e. no long expressive arias, so the singers have the challenge of both continuously advancing the plot while delivering enjoyable listening from a musical standpoint.

The oft-mysterious framework provided by Glass's orchestral underpinning comes through in delicious color, from the hurly-burly French cafe music to be found in the opening scene to the dark mystery of the journey to the underworld, and the ceaseless movement of the music seems to command rapt attention. Particularly poignant are the tender moments between tenor Ryan MacPherson as Heurtebise and Georgia Jarman as Eurydice, Orphee's sometimes-scorned wife, as well as Orphee's obsessive madness with the cryptic radio broadcasts that he takes to be the finest poetry in the world. The heart-rending decision by Heurtebise and La Princesse to defy the will of the underworld and return their loves to their former lives after the harrowing journey beyond the doors of death is as inspiring and beautiful as one could hope opera to be. As a side-note, the French diction is marvelously clear throughout.

Portland Opera has distinguished itself by releasing such a meaningful, high-quality recording by one of the world's most important living composers. In short, this is a brilliant recording of a brilliant work. It is one that will bear repeated listening, with new facets to be discovered at each turn.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Portland Viol Consort to present concert at Pacific University.

In conjunction with the Viola da Gamba Society of America's annual conclave, which is being held this year at Pacific University in Forest Grove, a free concert will take place tonight, July 29th, at the Taylor Meade Performance Arts Center in McCready Hall at 730 pm. In addition to the Portland Viol Consort, performing a set entitled "The Humors of Mr. Dowland" (featuring his Lachrimaes), Parthenia and Friends and Hallifax and Jeffery will also perform.

Information, including maps and driving directions, can be found at the VdGSA's website here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chamber Music Northwest Reviews: Many concerts, short time frame

I recently finished a project for Oregon Music News that consisted of me writing reviews of six concerts over a period of about three weeks at this year's Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival. This was a great opportunity to hear some fantastic, world-class musicians, hear some world premieres of new works by important composers, and participate in a festival that is one of the brightest stars in Portland's arts firmament.

Here are the links to the individual reviews; I look forward to hearing any comments you might have, either here or at the individual reviews at Oregon Music News.

June 25: Chamber Music Northwest features music for Piano and Strings; World Premiere by Stucky

June 26: Kreisler, Mozart, and tangos by Victor Steinhardt grace the June 26th CMNW presentation

July 2: Chamber Music Northwest mixes it up with Debussy, Strauss and Dvorak

July 3: Chamber Music Northwest: The Emerson Quartet presents an evening of Mozart (mostly…)

July 8: CMNW’s ‘Early 20th Century Masters’ highlights many masterful techniques

July 13: Chamber Music Northwest delivers Baroque favorites with popular Bach, Vivaldi concertos

Friday, July 16, 2010

Galen Huckins and Filmusik Collaborators to present the animation classic 'Gulliver's Travels' at the Hollywood Theatre

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm a huge fan of Huckins' work with his ingenious Filmusik project. I can't recommend it highly enough for music, film, and theater nuts, or anyone who just wants to have a great time seeing something really original. This should be a brilliant bit of fun, with or without the kids along. I will be reviewing this show on Friday July 23rd.

Following is a press release from Filmusik:

This summer Filmusik is turning a local movie theatre into a Hollywood Soundstage. A team of 30 Portland professionals from the field of movie soundtracks create the sound for a classic animation live in the pit. As the movie plays on the big screen, 4 cartoon actors give voice to the on-screen characters, sound effects artists create the noises from over a hundred foley props and the Filmusik Chamber ensemble performs the music from the film including many musical numbers and several sing-a-longs. For cartoon buffs, family, new music lovers and anyone who's ever wanted to know how they make that funny noise when Daffy Duck falls over. Filmusik: Gulliver's Travels is a new way to experience movies and sound. Incidentally, it's also the only place in town where you can sing along to a bouncing ball with a live orchestra and chorus backing you up!

Hollywood Theatre
July 16th, 21st, 23rd at 7pm
July 18th at 2pm
TICKETS $12/$10 Children, Students & Seniors

Tickets and more information available at
Also at the Hollywood Theatre box office at 4122 NE Sandy Boulevard
Or by calling (503) 281-4215

Oregon has always been particularly gifted when it comes to cartoon voice-over actors. Mel Blanc, graduate of Lincoln High School was the most widely recognized voice actor in the world, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and hundreds of others. Filmusik: Gulliver's Travels features 4 contemporary Portland talents: James Dineen, Todd Tolces, Chris Porter and Bill Barry. They have their hands full dubbing this cartoon with a cast of colorful singing Lilliputians. The voice-overs are directed by Sam A. Mowry, long time radio actor and Filmusik collaborator

“For the voice actor, everyone of us, it started when we watched the Saturday morning cartoons. We copied the voices, learned what made an exciting vocal choice or dynamic characters. Even before we knew thats what we learned. I’ve been lucky enough to work on some original animation projects and we have Todd Tolces, one of Will Vinton’s stalwarts during their heyday. Using your voice to add that final sparkle to such an amazing film is really quite magical. Recreating these classic cartoon legends with fidelity to the original, but being your own man, or king or giant for that matter is a dream come true for all of us. This is going to be amazing.”
- Sam A. Mowry – Voice-over Director

David Ian and his team of film Foley artists create the sound effects live. Tapping shoes together for footsteps, rattling doorknobs and crinkling cellophane. The props are flying as they keep time with the movie, matching every rattle, whistle and explosion.

"As a long time fan of the Fleischer Bros. work, it's a thrill for me to be able to work with this wonderful animation.
It's also a delight to be able to gently update some of the SFX while preserving that "vintage sound" that is so much part of the experience."
- Marc Rose - Sound Designer

The originally composed score by Galen Huckins draws on elements from the musical-toon era of the film with a more contemporary sensibility. The ensemble features strings, piano, clarinets and an arsenal of percussion.

"Music from animation tends to be very fast paced, the characters move with a musical rhythm of their own that the score adapts and transforms to its own purposes. It sounds a little schizophrenic played by itself, but its a lot of fun to perform.
- Galen Huckins - Composer

Fleischer's animated feature from 1939 tells Jonathon Swift’s travel adventure in a Betty Boop meets Moby Dick sort of way. There’s songs and dance, live sound effects, live voices and live music. It’s like Fantasia if Mickey Mouse were Goliath and the orchestra was right in your lap! With an original score performed live by the Filmusik Chamber ensemble and a cast of 20 performers. GULLIVER'S TRAVELS is a movie experience not to miss. It's a rare chance to see professional soundtrack artists at work. Get yourself some popcorn and be prepared to sing along!!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chamber Music Northwest Reviews up at Oregon Music News

I recently had a chance to review two concerts in Chamber Music Northwest's summer festival. Among other works, I heard two pieces by Mozart and two world premieres: a piano/string quintet by Steven Stucky and a new tango by Victor Steinhardt. The first review is here; the other one should be up shortly. I will be reviewing 4 more concerts from this spectacular festival, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hercules vs. Vampires review up at The Gathering Note

I've reviewed Filmusik and Opera Theater Oregon productions a number of times for NW Reverb and at my blog MusicalOozings, so for their latest endeavor I posted an exclusive review at the Gathering Note, a great classical music blog based in Seattle. You can read it here.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Beethoven Piano Concertos with the Oregon Symphony

I reviewed last night's concert of pianist Arnaldo Cohen playing the second Beethoven piano concerto with the Oregon Symphony, as well as Cohen with Jun Iwasaki and Quirine Viersen in the Beethoven 'Triple' concerto. The review appears here at Oregon Music News.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dvorak Cello Concerto Review up at OMN

My first piece for Oregon Music News posted today; it's a review of last weekend's Oregon Symphony concert featuring Quirine Viersen in the Dvorak Cello Concerto. You can read it by clicking the link.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Opera Theater Oregon in 'Hercules vs. Vampires.'

Following is a press release from Opera Theater Oregon

Hercules vs. Vampires:

Technicolor opera slays bloodsuckers with song

Nine mighty operatic wailers and a 14-piece orchestra rattle Hollywood Theater, giving voice to a big, gaudy 1961 screen classic that pits mythology’s greatest hero against legions of Hell fiends!

PORTLANDOpera Theater Oregon and Filmusik have hatched a two-headed mythological monster, soon to claw its way, amid a clamor of horns and operatic wailings, into the main auditorium at Hollywood Theater May 14-21. "Hercules Vs. Vampires" syncs a Technicolor cult classic with live performance of a new opera by Patrick Morganelli. Picture ‘Clash of the Titans’ with a singing Kraken, and you’ve got the idea.

“’Hercules’ is OTO and Filmusik’s love child – a big, freaky combination of the best of both of us,” says OTO Artistic Director Katie Taylor. “Working together, we’ve managed to create something grander and more thrilling than either of us could have done on our own.”

OTO and Filmusik both hit the scene with ambitious live performance/film projects back in 2007. Filmusik’s ‘Superman Orchestra’ paired up old Superman cartoons from the ‘40s with new scores by a brace of talented local composers and live voiceover by Willamette Radio Workshop. OTO came out the same year with ‘Opera Cinema: Carmen,’ a screening of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1915 ‘Carmen’ with live performance of the Bizet opera and live sound effects.

Five teams submitted proposals to compose the new opera that soundtracks ‘Hercules.’ The winner was LA’s Patrick Morganelli, a seasoned film composer whose resume includes work with Oscar-nominated screenwriter, director and producer Randall Wallace (BRAVEHEART, PEARL HARBOR, WE WERE SOLDIERS) and producer Stephen Zapotoczny (WE WERE SOLDIERS, FIGHT OR DIE), and with composers Christopher Young (SPIDERMAN 3) and Michael Giacchino (LOST, STAR TREK).

“This is a labor of love for Patrick,” says Taylor. Morganelli is, as it turns out, a huge fan of director Mario Bava and was very excited to resoundtrack one of his films.

The project, one of the most ambitious ever attempted by OTO or Filmusik, was made possible by a grant from REGIONAL ARTS AND CULTURE COUNCIL and WORK FOR ART.

ABOUT THE FILM: "Hercules Vs. Vampires" was one of many American titles given to the 1961 Italian sword and sandals epic, “Ercole al Centro della Terra” (‘Hercules at the Center of the Earth’), directed by horror legend Mario Bava (BLACK SUNDAY, FASHION HOUSE OF DEATH) and starring horror legend Christopher Lee (LORD OF THE RINGS, STAR WARS EPISODES II and III, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE).

This gorgeously-produced Technicolor gem is action-packed and wildly operatic in scope. The film follows a quest through hell by Hercules (Mr. Universe 1958, Reg Park) and Theseus (George Ardisson) - the object to rescue the beautiful Dianara (Leonara Ruffo) from eternal enslavement by the vampire-master, Lyco (Christopher Lee).

“I get to be the voice of Christopher Lee??? Freaking awesome!”

–baritone Bobby Ray of Electric Opera Company, on tap to sing vampire master Lyco

Director, screenwriter and cinematographer Mario Bava is one of the greatest names from the golden age of Italian horror films, known for his stunning, sometimes unsettling visuals. His work influenced an entire generation of directors and cinematographers, including Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton and Frances Ford Coppola. ‘Hercules’ represents a slight departure from the horror genre for Bava. It is widely recognized as the best of the popular and prolific ‘Hercules’ series that poured out of Italy in the ‘60s.

WHAT IS ‘SWORD AND SANDALS?’: Italian-made adventure or fantasy films dating from about 1957-64 with contrived plots based very loosely on Greek and Roman mythology, legions of lumbering papier mache monsters, and stars drawn from a seemingly bottomless pool of doe-eyed pageant winners and body building superstars.

THE CREATIVE TEAM: OTO and Filmusik’s ‘Hercules vs. Vampires’ stars baritone Michael Miersma (Hercules), soprano Camelia Nine (Dianara), tenor David Simmons (Theseus), mezzo soprano Claire Craig Sheets (Persephone), baritone Bobby Ray (Lyco), soprano Helen Funston (Zarathusa), tenor Ian Timmons (Keros), bass Paul Sadilek (Procrustes, the Rock Monster) and OTO Artistic Director Katie Taylor (Medea, the Oracle)...and features the glamorous girls and boys of the Opera Theater Oregon-Filmusik Technicolor Orchestra.

New operatic soundtrack composed/text adapted by Patrick Morganelli. Music direction by OTO Musical Director Erica Melton. Technical direction by Filmusik Artistic Director Galen Huckins. Produced and directed by OTO Artistic Director KatieTaylor.

THE NUTS AND BOLTS: Tickets, $15 general admission, $12 students and seniors, are available by calling PDXTix at 503-205-0715, or online at All shows are all ages. Concessions are allowed in the auditorium and available throughout the evening. Group rates are available. Call 503-234-4515 for details. This world premiere production of “Hercules vs. Vampires” is generously supported by a grant from REGIONAL ARTS AND CULTURE COUNCIL and WORK FOR ART, and by the support of individual donors. Special thanks to BetaFilms.

ABOUT Opera Theater Oregon

Opera Theater Oregon's mission is to bring opera back into pop culture through creative editing and adaptation. Affordable, entertaining, and commonly available (bars, movie theaters, online), OTO helps more people connect with classical music in a way that feels relevant to their lives. OTO is a 501c(3) tax exempt organization, IRS Section 170b(2)iii for both federal and state tax purposes.

ABOUT Filmusik

Based out of Portland, Oregon. Filmusik is a collaborative performance group of musicians, composers and actors creating a unique movie experience by performing a new soundtrack for classic films live in the pit.

WHAT: Opera Theater Oregon and Filmusik present “Hercules vs. Vampires,” a 1960s cult classic brought back to the big screen with all the dialogue turned into opera by composer Patrick Morganelli and performed live by nine glorious voices and a 14-piece chamber orchestra.

WHEN/WHERE: May 14, 18, 20 and 21 at 7:30pm/May 16, 2:00pm (matinee). ALL SHOWS ALL AGES (run time 90 minutes). Hollywood Theater, 4122 Northeast Sandy Boulevard, Portland, OR.

WHO: Produced by Opera Theater Oregon and Filmusik; new commissioned opera and adaptation of libretto by composer Patrick Morganelli; original 1961 film directed by Mario Bava (Black Sunday, Fashion House of Death); musical direction by OTO Musical Director Erica Melton; produced and directed by OTO Artistic Director Katie Taylor; technical direction by Filmusik Artistic Director Galen Huckins.

Starring a cast of rising operatic talent, including baritone Michael Miersma (Hercules), soprano Camelia Nine (Dianara), tenor David Simmons (Theseus), mezzo soprano Claire Craig Sheets (Persephone), and baritone Bobby Ray (Lyco). Made possible by a grant from REGIONAL ARTS AND CULTURE COUNCIL and WORK FOR ART.

TICKETS: $15 (general admission). Call PDXtix at 503-205-0715, or go online to Group rates available. Contact Katie at Opera Theater Oregon for details: 503-234-4515,

WHY: Because it is awesome to watch Mr. Universe 1958 crush boulders on the big screen while appearing to sing beautiful music.

Editor's Note: It's no secret that I love OTO and Filmusik to death--film lovers, music lovers, novelty seekers alike will find something to love about these performances. --Lorin W.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

CD Review: Silvius Weiss Lute Music II

BIS Records recently released a CD by Swedish lutenist Jakob Lindberg playing music of the German composer Silvius Weiss. Weiss was an almost exact contemporary of J.S. Bach, whom he met and challenged to a counterpoint competition--Bach on the harpsichord, Weiss on the lute. That says quite a lot about Weiss' abilities on the lute, and Lindberg's rendering of this difficult music leaves nothing to be desired by way of technique or interpretation. The odd title of the release is in reference to that fact that this could be considered a companion CD to an earlier release by Lindberg of Weiss' lute music.

The Ouverture to the first work, Sonata No. 39 in C Major, gallops forward in a bold, declamatory style, briskly paced and featuring a succinct realization of the contrapuntal outworkings that is delightful to hear. Lindberg's ability to so cleanly voice the numerous entwined melodies is stunning, and gives one great appreciation for Weiss' virtuosity on the lute (and an understanding of why he may have had the cheek to challenge Bach.) The Sarabande is truly delectable, full of an unrequited longing that Lindberg savors, note by note.

The Tombeau sur la Morte de M. Comte de Logy takes the form of a peripatetic allemande that is all grief, a slow, singing journey through the sadness that Weiss felt at the death of this great lutenist. Lindberg reveals a keen understanding of the subtle colorations required to prevent this somber dirge from becoming agonizingly dull, which can happen to pieces of this kind in lesser hands. Instead he yields a work that is engaging and full of the sincere, grave pathos that came to flower in the high Baroque.

The entire disc is fantastic, a true revelation of Weiss' genius as a composer and Lindberg's singular skill as a lutenist. It is an absolute delight, a treat for the ear as well as the soul.

Crossposted at NW Reverb

Monday, March 1, 2010

CD Review: Brookly Rider--'Dominant Curve'

The NYC based string quartet Brooklyn Rider covers a lot of ground with their newest release from In A Circle Records, Dominant Curve. From Debussy to arrangements of John Cage and featuring compositions by the musicians themselves, Brooklyn Rider shows deep artistic maturity and a spiritual essence bordering on the psychedelic.

This disc, centered around Debussy's monumental String Quartet No. 1, featured music by, inspired by, or in the spirit of Debussy. Achille's Heel, by violinist Colin Jacobsen, opened with a spare threnody that hinted little at the chaos to follow in the second movement. Every trick in the book was pulled out: harmonics, glissandi, multiple stops and col legno combined to produce an intense sonic mind-warp, varied and somehow hypnotic despite the dynamic extremes. The third movement, Loveland, was simple and beautiful, featuring sighing violins and pizzicato cello playing in closely-layered modalities that occasionally intersected to create lush cadences. Finishing with a dragonfly's flight of fancy on a ceaseless moto perpetuo, the music heaved and seethed in impossible quadrangles and dying suns.

The extremely atmospheric (Cycles) what falls must rise by Kojiro Umezaki (who also played shakuhachi and electronics) was an eerie soundscape of very different character. Redolent with Japanese imagery and mystery, it moved ceaselessly, sound colors shifting in and out like a ghost coming in from a cold gray electronic fog. The piece closed with a perplexing coda, a more conventional string quartet playing with the shakuhachi. It seemed awkwardly appended to the end of an otherwise marvelous piece. Thematically it was enjoyable but did not seem to fit in the slightest with the rest of the material; it served to unnecessarily break the spell.

They approached the Debussy with a vigorous attack that seemed at times like almost too much, but Debussy always sounds right to me when played at the very edge of the emotions; his music inhabits a world of dreams and half-light, of terror and overpowering surges of innate divinity. Brooklyn Rider made the most of this titanic work, throwing caution to the wind with bold tempos and unabashedly dramatic dynamics. Yet there was something old-fashioned there too; the whole thing had a sepia-tone timbre to it, like listening to a recording from the thirties. The third movement ended with a gentle, rapturous ascent, rendered as prayerfully as anything by Messaien.

It closed with two more contemplative, dreamy works in keeping with the overall feel of the release: niente by Dmitiri Yanov Yanovsky and an arrangement of John Cage's In a Landscape. Exciting and fresh, Dominant Curve is full of worthwhile new material as well as a valid and imaginative interpretation of the Debussy string quartet.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Imani Winds give a remarkable concert at Kaul Auditorium

Occasionally one attends a performance where the the musicianship is of such high caliber, the selections are so varied and engrossing, and the personality of the performers is so engaging that the feeling of it lingers long afterward, like the faint ghost of a warmly remembered dream. The concert by the acclaimed Imani Winds on Saturday night, February 20th in the Kaul Auditorium at Portland’s Reed College, was just such an event.

The performance marked the end of the Imani Winds’ residency at Reed, and was part of Chamber Music Northwest’s ’09-’10 Encore series. All of the music presented was from the 20th and 21st centuries, and three of the night’s offerings were composed by the group’s flutist Valerie Coleman, as well as two with arrangements by the horn player Jeff Scott. ‘Personality’ was a watchword of the evening, referenced by several of the group as each of the five performers stood, one before each work, to speak about the piece to follow.

The only un-introduced work of the evening was the opener, Coleman’s Afro Blue, which began with oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz wandering nonchalantly onto the stage to begin singing a loud, exuberant melody, rough edges gloriously exposed, based (as was later explained) on the Afro-Cuban religion Santería. One by one the rest of the group filed out and they began playing their instruments in a wild aural jumble, seemingly heedless of each other. Eventually the work developed into a series of arguments, first clarinet vs. oboe, then those two against the flute with bassoon and horn rumbling in the background as if egging on the row. Towards the end the composer invited the audience to join in a call-and-response, which was enthusiastically picked up.

The next work was by Czech composer Karel Husa, a programmatic piece called Five Poems, each of which was based on something to do with the life of birds. It was more than a recitation of bird song notation, though the composer wrote that he used that effect. Put simply, the work presented the spiritual and emotional life of birds. Rapt silence greeted the first poem, Walking Bird, an abstract yet easily idiomatic rendering of birds strolling down the beach—jerky, alien yet humorous. In Interlude: Lamenting Bird and its companion With a Dead Bird, the music turned intensely atmospheric and spooky, a weird, muted wailing emanating from the horn. Fighting Birds was a cacophony of toots, whistles, squawks, shrieks and burps, as well as incredible delicacy from the horn. The group closed the half with a piece commissioned early in their career, Aires Tropicales by Paquito D’Rivera, a piece redolent with Latin American rhythms and themes such as Habanera and Vals Venezolano.

The second half opened with a brutally difficult work by Györgi Ligeti, Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet. A bewildering forest of rasping dissonances, penetrating unisons, sonic experiments and textural adventures, the movements rarely lasted more than a minute or so but were more intense and memorable for their brevity. Forget about tonality; only occasionally did the listener glimpse brief snatches of what could even be called melody. Bassoonist Monica Ellis was intriguing all throughout the evening, bringing forth sounds from her instrument that were nothing short of amazing: angry exclamations, aspirant chuffs, and a muffled tootling enabled by a cloth stuffed into the end of her instrument were just a few of the skills she brought to the Ligeti. The last movement ended with a joke played on the audience. The music came to a pause and the performers all leaned forward, brows furrowed, eyes locked, bodies tensed in preparation for what must surely be a simultaneous explosion from the whole group…then they relaxed, and sat back laughing without sounding another note. It was over.

The next work was a composition of Coleman’s, adapted from a multimedia presentation about the life of chanteuse, dancer and humanitarian Josephine Baker. It consisted of four movements, each telling the story of a different phase of her life. Ol’ St. Louis began with what Coleman described as the music Baker would have heard as a young girl in St. Louis, when street-corner bands were playing the earliest distillations of a new music that would later become jazz. There was great work here for Scott on the horn and Mariam Adam on the clarinet, as they spilled out tune after saucy tune in the old, ‘dirty’ jazz style. In Paris 1925 Coleman gave a nod not only to Baker’s years as Europe’s most popular burlesque dancer, but also conveyed the wide-eyed wonder of a young African American woman encountering a place where the rigid cruelty of American segregation did not apply. The evening closed with Scott’s dexterous arrangement of Astor Piazzola’s popular Libertango.

There was never a doubt that the audience would settle for anything less than an encore, which turned out be another composition by Coleman, an exuberant African-based piece entitled Umojaa, Swahili for ‘unity.’ The performers spoke about personality, their own and that of the music, several times throughout the night. When it is precisely that personality which stands out in the face of such brilliant, difficult music so expertly and sensitively performed, then it was a memorable concert indeed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Opera Theater Oregon sends up Wagner in 'Das Rheingold'

Photography by Bob Ison of Ice Wolf Photos

On Wednesday night at the Clinton Street Theater in SE Portland, Opera Theater Oregon debuted what must surely be the world premier of any Wagner opera to be set as an episode of the once-popular, vapid TV series Baywatch. Das Rheingold may not seem at first like a suitable thematic partner for a show whose main claim to fame was a horde of buxom young women and bronzed, muscled men running around the beach (often in slow motion) rescuing people, preventing crime, and solving mysteries, but glimpse underneath the surface dissimilarities and a surprising mesh occurs.

The production was impressive considering all the work needing to be done by director Katie Taylor, at the helm of a scrappy young company like OTO. The score was arranged by musical director Erica Melton, and consisted of two ensembles: an orchestra with piano, harp, clarinets and brass (provided by Festival Brass), and in lieu of strings (and some of the winds) was a small army of electric guitars (the Electric Opera Company) and percussionists off to the right of the stage, in addition to live foley artists.

Baritone Michael Miersma had the leading role as Larry 'Loomin' Large (Alberich the Dwarf,) who determines that the only way to gain the glory and power that rightfully belongs to him is to come into possession of the perfect tan, which stood in for the Ring. He was great fun to watch; he brought with him the boldness and brash confidence that have marked his past roles, qualities that served this farce well because anything less than over-the-top would not have been enough. His madman histrionics, communicated through strong facial acting, were beyond the pale, absolutely hysterical.

The singing as a whole was remarkably well-done; Benjamin Bell's Wotan (Mitch (David Hasselhoff)), David Simmons' Matt Brody (Loge) and Emily Kinkley as Freia (CJ Parker (Pamela Anderson)) all acquitted themselves admirably from a vocal standpoint in these demanding roles, as did the chorus and those singing supporting roles.

The dialogue was ridiculous, much like the TV show. Sample:

'You're making fun of me!'
'No duh.'
'I'm going to barf.'

I can't say I'm familiar enough with Baywatch to know whether that was lifted directly from the script, but it makes its point. In all it was a riot, the Baywatch theme serving as a clever vehicle with which to roast the self-importance of Wagnerian opera. The orchestral reduction was sensitively done; surprisingly it felt like there wasn't much missing from a harmonic or textural standpoint. The fuzzy, wailing, Baywatch theme that kept recurring from the electric guitars, as well as the quotation of MC Hammer's 'Can't Touch This' are more examples of the cornball antics that Taylor fearlessly employed.

The production runs through February 28th at the Clinton Street Theater, and is preceded by Leitmotif Bingo 30 minutes before the beginning of each show. It's another example of Portland's avant-garde, alternative classical music scene, and perhaps the only thing in the world that could bring hardcore Baywatch and Wagner fans together--at long last.

Crossposted at NW Reverb