Posts Tagged 'dvorak'

a wolff in swan’s clothing – part I

compared to the titanic mahler 6 from two weeks ago, last night’s lean and clean symphony from papa haydn was practically chamber music.  (which sure as hell ain’t a bad thing.)  yep: franz joseph’s good ol’ number eighty-two is one of the earliest works the oregon symphony will play this season, and the band dutifully transformed itself into an elite force of classical technicians for the occasion.  buzzing with exposed skill, the schnitzer stage hummed along in perpetual motion through a delightfully tight network of melodic lines.  [yowza!]  although #94 bears the official nickname, i swear to god every symphony by haydn could be accurately called a “surprise” – and last night’s composition was no exception.  banging away on a smallish pair of old-school kettledrums, birthday boy jon “animal” greeney helped propel his comrades to a fun finish furnished with droning bagpipe basses, playful volume control, and unpredictable key changes.  viva la papa!  viva la papa!

antonín dvořák’s one and only piano concerto is so rare… [how rare is it?!]  um, it’s so rare the last time our oregon symphony performed it was over 22 years ago!  (compare that to Beethoven’s concerto #5 which we heard in 2010 ~ and we’ll hear it again later this season.)  having the good sense that pdx was long overdue for a reprise of dvořák’s rarity, *martin helmchen flew in from berlin to give us a taste of what we were missing.  unlike most other 19th-century concertos, uncle antonín discarded the prevailing piano vs. orchestra mentality and composed a truly collaborative piece of symphonic music that just happens to feature a giant-ass steinway front and center.  like a figure skater performing a perfect string of triple salchows by candlelight, mr. helmchen’s digital skillz were often blurred beneath the band’s overpowering symphonic shadow.  until the third movement, the beavs thought joe berger’s horn was the star of the program’s first half.  ah, but then an assertive piano kicked off the finale and it was clear whose name was on the schnitzer marquee.  with a dark, curly mop of hair bobbing above and a pair of black coat tails fluttering below, herr helmchen layed out some exquisitely wicked technique, his fingers dancing along the keyboard with slavonic joy and brutal virtuosity.  oh, yes.  viva la martin!  viva la martin!


what’s on tap?

this sunday and monday, the oregon symphony welcomes not one, but two (two!) guest musicians.  pianist martin helmchen and conductor hugh wolff join the best band in the western land to bring us papa haydn’s symphony #82, tony dvořák’s only piano concerto, and the fifth symphony from jean “the finn man” sibelius.

why go?  after staring down utter annihilation in the recent mahlerian extravaganza, the beavs can’t think of a more restorative program.  let’s just say that haydn, dvořák, and sibelius are 3 of the most sincere, warm, and heartfelt composers that i know, and to skip this show would be like missing out on a spa day for your soul.  seriously.  um, there is a lot to like about this program… find out for yourself.  hope to see y’all there!

for more deets, click on *the band’s website, call one of their lovely phone reps at (503) 228-1353, or stop in today or monday at their downtown box office at 923 sw washington.  just do it.

martin helmchen tackles 10 questions

*martin helmchen is a 30-year-old berliner who travels around the globe playing piano with the greatest orchestras.  in other words: he is totally awesome.  this sunday and monday, martin is hooking up with p-town’s rockstar band to perform a rare slavonic gem on the schnitzer steinway.  i’ll let him say more about that (and other things)…

mr. helmchen, you’re on deck to play antonín dvořák’s one and only piano concerto with the one and only oregon symphony ~ how would you describe this music?

It’s extremely original and unconventional, unlike any other Romantic piano concerto.  It’s very symphonic, less pianistic, and not openly virtuosic… though horribly difficult to play!  The 2nd movement is a unique nature painting, full of the most beautiful Slavonic spirit and expression.

can’t wait to hear it!  speaking of horribly difficult to play, what is your secret to mastering the piano trill?  it seems like a miracle to me everytime.

Find the smallest, most effortless, most effective motion possible.  It has to “trill” itself.  It’s a little bit like cycling: Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

got it.  hey, symphony #82 by joseph haydn precedes your performance on this program ~ any thoughts on that pairing?

Guest conductor Hugh Wolff might have more to say on that, but I feel they match perfectly.  Haydn was, like Dvořák, very interested in the traditional music of Eastern Europe and worked for most of his life for the Hungarian Esterházy family.  The composers also share a great sense of humor and an endless creativity in their unique, distinctive styles.  Maybe Dvořák’s piano concerto is particularly close to Haydn’s world – it’s a playful way to interweave and deal with motives, fragments, and patterns.

ooh, i love that answer!  just when the beavs thought it couldn’t possibly love papa haydn anymore.   alright, so… does any non-classical music excite you these days?

I’m fascinated by electronic music, for which Berlin is probably something like the world capital.

when you’re not listening to electronic music, do you have a favorite piano to play in your hometown of berlin?

A Steinway that I’ve used for my Schumann solo recording.  (And one in the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam… but it might also be the incredible acoustics of that hall.)

would love to hear it for myself someday.  wow, if you weren’t a musician, can you even imagine what career you might have pursued?

Probably something in theology or philosophy.

well, cheers to being a piano player instead!  i’ll buy you a drink ~ what’ll you have?

I just saw Skyfall yesterday, so a vodka martini.  Tomorrow you’d get a different answer.

hmmm… yuja wang just tweeted her recommendation for that movie!  what is it with mr. bond and you pianists anyways?  wait, don’t answer that… it’s hypothetical.  um, suppose you could invite 3 composers to dinner ~ who would you choose?

J. S. Bach, Schubert, and *Jörg Widmann.  I’d take them to one of my favorite places in Berlin, like *Clärchen’s Ballhaus.

mmm… i hear their saddle of deer with turnips is delightful.  alright, in your opinion, what’s so great about experiencing classical music live?

For me, it’s the greatest way to experience the magic and intensity of the moment.

a simple and eloquent answer.  very sweet!  okay, last query: have you worked previously with guest conductor hugh wolff?

I’ve never worked with him before.  It’s always an amazing experience how you get into the music, and maybe into an intense connection with somebody you don’t know at all.  But we’ve all been taught by the music for all our lives.

well, here’s to an intense connection sunday and monday nights!  martin, thank you sooo much for taking the time to chat with this rodent – i really, really appreciate it.  oh, and come back if you can for tomorrow’s interview with maestro wolff ~ yay!

i heart gerhardt

during his visit last season, cello-playing phenom alban gerhardt was gracious enough to tackle 10 questions with the classical beaver… *click here now to check out that archived edition.  i’ll restrain myself this time ’round by posing a mere 3 queries:

when you played with the oregon symphony last november, the beavs noticed after your turn as soloist you sat in with the cello section during dvořák’s ninth symphony – something i’ve seen only once before!  what made you decide to sit in with the band?

Last month I played a fundraiser for Rhapsody in School – a children’s project me and many other musicians in Germany have created.  In interviews on stage we all tried to make points why music is such an important tool for young people, and [rockstar violinist] Christian Tetzlaff said something which I completely agreed with: Parents should push their kids to play an instrument and then quickly try to find them an opportunity to play in a group, a band, or a youth orchestra.  Christian played in an orchestra from 11 years of age until 22.  I only did from 15 to 18, but this experience was absolutely crucial for me.  My father was an orchestra musician by conviction, 45 years in the Berlin Philharmonic, and I grew up with going to their concerts all the time.  My dream was to become a member myself.  Why this didn’t happen has many reasons, but in my heart I am just a musician, for me there is no difference in being an orchestra musician, chamber musician, soloist, teacher – I love all the facets of being a musician.  That’s the reason I often ask the orchestra to accept me to join them in the second half, if it is a piece which I know well.

with that response, i think you just became an honorary member of portland’s “yes on measure 26-146” campaign!  um, this saturday and monday at the schnitzer, you’re on tap to play tchaikovsky’s variations on a rococo theme ~ how would you describe this music?

The Rococo Variations for me are the most beautiful set of variations possible – one of the best pieces by Tchaikovsky.  They are pretty short (20 minutes) which is a plus, because he manages to say all he wants to say in a very condensed manner.  These seven variations are perfect little character studies with technical fireworks, gorgeous melodies, charming gestures, tragic depth – all rather difficult to perform as the change of characters and technical challenges are very quick and demand the highest concentration.

something tells me you’re up for the challenge.  okay, last question: you are officially the oregon symphony’s first artist-in-residence ~ anything you are especially looking forward to during your time in p-town?

I have come to Portland now for some years and I love this city, the Oregon Symphony, the entire organization, and especially my friend Carlos Kalmar, so it is a very special honor for me to be their first artist in residence.  As a matter of fact, it is not only their first artist residency, but also mine – I have never done it, so I am absolutely thrilled to come and try to be a worthy first candidate, bringing classical music not only to the concert hall but in unusual places as I have done several times in Germany… and also *once in Cleveland.  I am very curious how this will be received, but from my past experiences I am very hopeful!

well, whether it’s with the band or in the tram, ol’ beavey is confident that stumptown is gonna absolutely eat you and your cello up!  alban, thank you so much for taking time to chat… sooo looking forward to *all the festivities this week.  herr gerhardt is in da’ house, yo!

fight for your rite – part III

with the los angeles skyline slowly receding over the horizon in the rearview mirror, monday night’s crowd returned from intermission for a bedtime story.  dvořák’s nocturne for string orchestra was the only selection on this final program offering musical warmth and security – a brief respite during an evening of floating coffins, mobsters, and human sacrifice.  we all knew this lullaby was bullshit, though… stravinsky’s barbaric tour de force was just 10 minutes away.  it was as though maestro carlos was collectively tucking us in for the night, whispering softly in the most creepy austrian accent he could muster: don’t let ze bedbugs biteh.  besides, this audience had already proven itself much too restless and fidgety for a quiet serenade.

but then it happened.  with humble violins, violas, cellos, and double basses, an undersized tribe of musicians (led by chief iwasaki) gathered onstage and offered the kind of uncomplicated tenderness that only antonín dvořák could compose.  the final minute of this work is pure heaven – an extended softness that managed to hold 2,600 folks in hushed rapture.  as the band held still bows against strings, motionless, the final notes of the nocturne were allowed to simply evaporate before us.  the beaver was breathless, slack-jawed, immensely grateful for the final silence of the season.

what’s on tap?

tomorrow and monday night, the oregon symphony offers p-town its final program of the season, featuring john adams’ take on a liszt piano piece, john adams’ take on the city, antonín dvořák’s take on a lullaby for strings, and igor stravinsky’s take on sacrificial virgins.

why go?  yo: it’s the last concert of a freaking remarkable 2011/12 season, jun iwasaki (fresh from carnegie) is back on the concertmaster hotseat, a freshly-trimmed coach kalmar is on the podium, the show is gonna be recorded, and the program features not one but two (!) works by the brilliant left-coast composer john “not-our-second-president” adams.  only have time for a single reason?  well, when this season was unveiled over a year ago, the beavs asked every musician it could get its paws on what he or she was most looking forward to performing.  without fail, stravinsky’s rite of spring was at the top of their lists.  word.

*click here to get tix nowit’s gonna be a riot.

what’s on tap?

this saturday, sunday (mother’s day matinee!), and monday, the oregon symphony brings home its penultimate concert with a matching set of operatic interludes by benny britten, the last symphony written by finnish phenom jean sibelius, the massive piano concerto #1 by tchaikovsky, and a capricious joke delivered by antonín dvořák.

why go?  well, if you’ve been wanting to get to the symphony before the 2011/12 season is kaput, this show’s got it all: four wide-ranging works by four brilliant composers (all 30 minutes or under!), coach kalmar on the podium, microphones recording a future album, and pianist arnaldo cohen – the final international guest soloist to sit in with the band this season.

do yourself (and a loved one) a favor and grab some tix if you haven’t already.  call the symphony’s box office at (503) 228-1353 or click on *their website to get ‘er done.

[two years ago after the Beethoven festival, mr. cohen played *this tango for an encore… it also happens to be the perfect accompaniment for a sunny friday.  enjoy!]

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