Posts Tagged 'Bartok'

Ready, Set, Koh – Part I

Gypsy CurseBedecked in tails and a scarlet vest for the Oregon Symphony’s final show of the season, Maestro Carlos bounded out of stage right last night and picked up a mic to welcome the crowd and give props to Steve Price (a 41-year veteran of the viola section!) who was only a couple hours away from his retirement. The crowd cheered in appreciative admiration for this amazing musician, and the raucous applause segue-wayed perfectly into a rousing overture composed by Franz von Suppé. My apologies in advance for dropping an F-bomb so soon in this review, but there’s just one word, and one word only, that can adequately describe this opening number… a word that more conservative and learned reviewers usually avoid: FUN!

The joyous sounds of Suppé subsided and the stage was set for an utterly different kind of musical experience featuring 2012/13’s last guest soloist. Jennifer Koh’s elegant, strapless, floorlength gown of billowing indigo belied what was about to go down: Béla Bartók’s utterly primal Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra. The plucked harp strings that open this composition apparently conjure up some ancient gypsy curse, because without warning Ms. Koh was instantly possessed for the next 36 minutes by an untamed frenetic spirit. Her black bob cut bounced wildly atop her convulsive head as her fingers and her hands and her arms danced with supernatural speed and unearthly technique. Her fiddle shrieked and wailed as she shredded it with a bow that somehow did not break under the pressure of such vicious virtuosity. The mutual gratitude between Koh and the band was almost palpable following the concerto’s conclusion, as though everyone was relieved to have survived, unscathed by the brutal spell of Bartók. WOW!

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what’s on tap?

this saturday, sunday, and monday at the schnitz (and don’t forget tuesday in salem!) the oregon symphony will shine a spotlight on some of its own as 8 oso musicians take center stage as soloists in a variety of lil’ musical gems.  and to cap off their phenomenal 2010/11 season?  why it’s mr. béla bartók’s abso-fucking-lutely wicked concerto for orchestra!

why go?  well, for all those who couldn’t make it to carnegie, the same brilliant band will be playing the schnitzer concert hall – the war is over and it’s time to celebrate good times, c’mon!  seriously, eight of the best musicians in stumpland are gonna showcase their own musical chops and totally blow away the audience – the beav guarantees it.  joël on viola… alicia on flute and todd on clarinet… nancy on cello… niel and matt on percussion… játtik on tuba… jun [sigh] on violin… oh my.  i’m looking forward to hearing every single one of ‘em, especially the fabulous ms. ives who will somehow transform her cello into a country fiddle during tchaikovsky’s pezzo capriccioso.

go.  go.  go.  check out deets and grab your tix by clicking on this sentence.  see you there (for reals, if you’re going monday)!

hey mr. dj

for those of you who aren’t (yet) listening to *stumptown’s 89.9, let me just say it’s gotta be the most kick-ass classical radio station in the country.  seriously.  there are a million reasons why this is true, but without question, a key ingredient is the brilliant music director spinning all those oldies but goodies: john pitman.  i decided to pick mr. pitman’s brain about béla bartók’s concerto for orchestra which the oregon symphony will be playing saturday, sunday, and monday at the schnitzer (and tuesday in salem!).  mr. pitman, the floor is yours:

Some composers take a long time to appreciate.  Béla Bartók is pretty much near the top of my list for difficult composers.  Now, it’s not that I don’t “get” him, because I do (I’ve been listening to the guy’s music for over 25 years). Bartók is a tough nut to crack, and I think it’s because you can’t just listen to one of his works and know the whole composer.  But you can get a good sense of him by listening to the Concerto for Orchestra – arguably one of his greatest works, immediately identifiable and uniquely his own.

Several summers back, I decided that I wanted to get to know Bartók’s music better.  So I bought two 2-CD sets and listened to them over a few weeks whenever I was just puttering around the house, listening to the music while watering the hostas and astilbes, under the shade of tall trees.  It may not have been what Bartók had in mind.  Still, considering he ventured out into the countryside in his young adulthood to record folk music before it was lost forever, maybe Bartók among the foliage was the right setting after all.  Anyway, the plants didn’t die, and I gained a much greater appreciation for this guy’s stuff, including his Concerto for Orchestra, which I generally thought was thorny and thistly.  OK, enough with the garden analogies…

Part 1: Structure ~ It’s easy to follow.  The Concerto for Orchestra was written as a showcase for the various sections of the symphony orchestra, including strings, winds, brass and percussion.  Though it’s a 20th century work, you can follow this piece just as easily as any Haydn symphony.  It’s called A-B-A (not the Swedish pop band).  A-B-A simply states a theme, you hear a second related theme, and then the original theme somewhat altered.

Part 2: Fun and Games ~ Hey, this piece is actually kind of funny sometimes! Bartók named the second movement Giuoco delle coppie (Game of the couples). Bartók uses different intervals for the bassoons, oboes, clarinets, flutes, and trumpets, with a side drum beating out a rhythm at the beginning and end. Well, it sounds funnier than I can explain it.

Part 3: Pathos ~ The central third movement is a kind of sad song sung by the orchestra.  Bartók’s own word for this movement is “lugubrious.”  You can’t have the comedy without the tragedy.

Part 4: Satire ~ The Intermezzo has a great back story to it.  Bartók was in a convalescent home when Shostakovich’s 7th symphony had its radio debut. The march theme in the first movement (depicting Nazi armies invading Leningrad) sounded so superficial to Bartók, that he lampoons it in this movement.  What I don’t think Bartók knew is that Shostakovich was doing his own lampooning – the march theme was based on one of Hitler’s favorite melodies.  Now that puts a little different spin on things, doesn’t it?

Part 5: Finale ~ One of the greatest openings to a final movement in classical music, ever, IMHO.  A fantastic brass fanfare, followed by rapid-fire string work and a synthesis of all the qualities of Bartók’s music that we’ve experienced so far throughout the work: mastery of orchestral techniques, those Hungarian rhythms and colors, and most all, that language I called Bartókian.  It sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard.

koh 2 koh – part II

scene: romania, 1908.  characters: béla and his loveable sidekick zoltán.  synopsis: we follow the harrowing mountain journey of two young musicians on a quest to record native folk dances in remote transylvanian villages.  reads like a screenplay, right?… perhaps orlando bloom as bartók & jake gyllenhaal as zoltán?  well, i can’t make this shit up [oops, sorry again mary].  as unbelievable as it sounds, that’s exactly what béla bartók and zoltán kodály did when they were both passionate 20-somethings.  can you imagine lugging all that huge-ass equipment around in b.f.e. romania?!  oy, i would have loved to been there.  and get this: they later incorporated the gypsy music into their own classical compositions.  coming back from intermission, the crowd was treated to one of mr. bartók’s ethnomusicological gems, featuring a fully recharged, relocked, and reloaded jennifer koh on fiddle backed up by the best band in stumpland (sans cimbalom).  the second half of this rhapsody also features a tune that’s a deadringer for “simple gifts” – from here on out, i’m calling the piece bartok’s carpathian spring.

music by one more slavonic gentleman capped off the night: antonín dvořák’s symphony #7 (in d minor, for those of you working on your box scores).  its first half passes as thickly germanic and stormy; only in the last half does antonín fully get his slav on… a whirling polka connected to a melodramatic, czech-o-riffic march of triumph.  viva la vie boheme, indeed!

oh yeah, the classical beaver would be sorely negligent if it didn’t give a heartfelt shoutout to all the brilliant windfolk who totally blew it (in a very good way), and to jon “animal” greeney, a one-man drum circle displaying cylon-like precision in every frackin’ piece.

what’s on tap?

this sunday and monday, resident maestro vajda will lead the band in one of his own compositions.  as if that wasn’t enough, violinist/english lit major jennifer koh will tackle a pair of musical gems – one by sam barber and one by béla bartók.  the night ends with symphony #7 written by antonín dvořák.

why go?  jeez-o-man… it’s a violin twofer!  we’ll be going koh-to-koh with some of the best fiddle numbers on the planet.  oh, and after listening to dvořák’s symphony 3x yesterday, i can’t tell you how much i’m looking forward to hearing it live.  it’s good.  real good.

additional deets?  click here.