Posts Tagged 'Martin Helmchen'

Adieu to You, and You, and You

beaver photoAll things must come to an end, and the time has arrived for this large, surprisingly industrious, semi-aquatic rodent to hang up its blogging cap for good. Gentle readers, the past 3+ years have been an absolute hoot because of you, and I can’t say thanks enough for your constant support and encouragement. Extra-special beavertail salutes go out to all the victims musicians who agreed to tackle my inane questions this season, including pianist Jon Kimura Parker, violinist Yossif Ivanov, high-flying cellist Alban Gerhardt, percussionist Sergio Carreno, pianist Martin Helmchen, conductor Hugh Wolff, bassoonist Adam Trussell, soprano Katherine Lefever, pianist/hero Stephen Hough [sigh], conductor Hannu Lintu, violinist Benjamin Schmid, the entire Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, and rockstar fiddler James Ehnes. Trust me… the pleasure was all mine. And it may go without saying, but just in case: Thanks most of all to Maestro Carlos and the kick-ass musicians of the Oregon Symphony. Witnessing 76 (or so) brilliant technicians perform some of the greatest music ever composed with such passion and precision week after week will never get old. Seriously. Smooches to each and every one of you! Already looking forward to 2013/14, tell you what.

And speaking of next season, if you find yourself hankering for some bon mots from the classical beaver, feel free to drop in on *my Twitter account, which is quite possible even if you ain’t officially on Twitter. I’ll be sure to supply the best in orchestral coverage with 140 characters or less, guaranteed.

Let’s see… Express gratitude? Check. Plug my twats? Check. Well, I guess that’s it for this 474th and final post. Arrivederci from the Upper Balcony! xoxo, cb


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.

hugh wolff tackles 10 questions

back-to-back interviews?!  yup.  this sunday and monday, the oregon symphony welcomes a pair of guest artists and this rodent was lucky enough to score interviews with both of them!  hugh wolff will be conducting the band in a program i’m getting more and more stoked about, and the urge to pick his brain was downright irresistible.  so i didn’t resist:

maestro, you’re on deck to perform the fifth symphony of jean sibelius ~ how would you describe this music?

Romantic, evocative, and dramatic.  Sibelius himself wrote in his diary about the grandeur of swans flying overhead his rural home: “They circled overhead for a long time, then disappeared into the solar haze like a gleaming silver ribbon — the Fifth Symphony’s Finale melody.”

sooo looking forward to hearing you and the band play this work!  i notice a symphony by haydn opens that program… what 3 words best describe the music of this amazing composer?

Witty.  Inventive.  Energetic.

nice ones!  boy-oh-boy, sibelius and papa haydn?  this beaver is very eager this program.  so i’m wondering: do you play an instrument yourself?

Piano.  Chamber music only, at this point.

sweet!  in addition to conducting all over the world, you’re also a faculty member of the new england conservatory of music!  what are your major duties there?

I teach three graduate students in orchestral conducting and am in charge of four orchestras with over 320 students.  I really enjoy the youthful enthusiasm and willingness to take risks of today’s music students.

awesome!  hey, speaking of orchestras, do you see any major differences working with a european orchestra versus an american one?

These are generalizations, but Europeans (except in the UK) schedule more rehearsal time and therefore one can dig a little deeper.  Americans on the other hand are often quicker and more efficient.

must be that git ‘er done ethic of ours.  [ahem]  alright, i asked mr. helmchen about berlin, so i’ll ask you about frankfurt: suppose i had 48 hours in that city ~ what do you recommend?

Visit the Römerplatz, walk along the Main river, and go to the excellent art museums along the south bank of the river.

oh, i do lurv me some *ernst ludwig kirchnerviva die brücke!  sorry.  um, what’s so great about experiencing classical music live?

It takes you out of your everyday life and transports you to a new place.

amen to that.  okay, another random query: how many batons to you travel with?

Two.  One I have used for quite a while and one spare.  They are made of carbon fiber and virtually never break.  That’s an innovation by the baton maker which he probably regrets!

ha!  um, time for my mandatory question: if i could buy you a drink, what would you order?

A tasty wheat beer.

hmmm… may i recommend the *upright brewing #4?  wow, last question already: what are you expecting from our fair portlandia?

A beautiful city, an exciting orchestra, and a fun week.

well, ol’ beavey thinks you’re gonna get all 3 wishes fulfilled!  maestro wolff, thanks so much for taking time out for this interview – me and my readers really appreciate 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!

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