Bedecked 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!
Published January 9, 2013
classical music , Portland
Tags: 50, 89.9, All Classical Portland, Club Mod, hilary hahn, jennifer higdon, Jennifer Koh, robert mcbride, soprano saxophone, String Poetic, violin concerto
Ol’ Beavey just assumed the first do-not-miss arts event of 2013 was going to be this upcoming Oregon Symphony program featuring legendary pianist André Watts. I was wrong. The actual event already took place Saturday night over the airwaves: Robert McBride’s latest broadcast of Club Mod on All Classical Portland. Long-time readers of the blog know this rodent considers Club Mod some of the best radio happening on the planet these days, but when Mr. McBride welcomes composer Jennifer Higdon to co-host the show, things get real brilliant real fast. With her southern drawl only slightly dampened by two decades of teaching in Philadelphia, Ms. Higdon is utterly delightful to hear, not only for her accent, but for her insights into life, music, and the task of being a classical composer in the 21st Century. The totes engaging program showcases many of her compositions, all of them gems: the ethereal middle movement of String Poetic featuring violinist Jennifer Koh… a super fun bluegrass/classical mash-up… a vocal wonder entitled O magnum mysterium for chorus, 2 flutes, 2 crystal glasses (!), and chimes… a soprano saxophone concerto with wind ensemble… and last (but certainly not least) her track-and-field inspired Violin Concerto composed for and played by virtuoso Hilary Hahn – a work that earned Higdon the Pulitzer Prize a few years ago. What’s that? You missed the show Saturday night? Well, through the miracle of modern technology, you can still listen to the entire episode whenever you want over the next week and a half. *Click here to access All Classical Portland‘s free streaming, click on the Audio Archive button, and select this week’s episode of Club Mod. Voilà ~ Enjoy!
rather unapologetically, the classical beaver remains basking in the glow of james ehnes and his performance of max bruch’s violin concerto numero uno monday night. wowee – what an incredible show! we here at the cb home office want to give a quick shout-out not only to mr. ehnes, but to all the insane violinists who have played with the band this crazy-good season… to ms. skride, ms. koh, and ms. hahn… a very sincere xoxo.
btw, the classical beaver finally got an oregon symphony cellist to tackle 10 questions… check in monday to find out who!
when that bundle of energetic joy (otherwise known as gregory vajda) is on the podium, i have found it’s impossible not to smile… especially when he’s introducing one of his very own babies. the dreamy duevoe was composed by maestro gregory and proved to be chock-full of ambient gypsy sounds, fitting perfectly into last night’s program. as soon as the saxophone helped kick off the piece (something a classical reviewer says approximately once in a coon’s age), i began to imagine ornette coleman stirring a gently simmering pot of hungarian goulash. unbeknownst to the crowd, this performance also served as the official-very-early-kick-off of pica’s tba festival: go ahead, ask anyone in attendance about the tuxedo-clad gentleman perched in the choir loft violently swinging a paddle ball in front of a microphone. i just can’t make this shit up [oops, sorry mary].
the fragrance of paprika still hung in the air as jennifer koh, elegantly dressed in a spicy pink gown + black bow, confidently strode onto the schnitzer stage accompanied by her 284-year-old fiddle. with a raise of the baton, ms. koh and the band simultaneously dove into the lush violin concerto of american samuel barber. now unless a Beethoven symphony is on the program, pretty much every piece of music that the symphony performs is new to me, and the beaver will now be bold and declare its blossoming love for mr. barber, and this concerto in particular. not long into the music, its swelling strings, soul-wringing contemplation, and bittersweet playfulness tug at the heart. not to mention two beautifully unassuming little melodies that have now been officially diagnosed as a pair of earworms burrowing in and out of my brain’s convoluted folds. ms. koh appeared both enraptured and anguished throughout, swaying convulsively to the gorgeous score. perhaps she was mentally preparing herself for the finale? sounding like demonic dance music for laurey’s dream sequence in oklahoma, the final four-minute movement is a non-stop virtuosic fireball, evoking nightmarish hoedowns and big budget action movies. [go jenny, go!] frankly, i’m not sure how she found the courage and energy to return after intermission.