Posts Tagged 'Nancy Ives'

Fanfare for the Uncommon Manitoban

Platonic LoveFor the past three nights, P-town’s ultimate cover band ended their program with Aaron Copland’s Symphony #3 – a composition whose well-known brassy chorales of American triumph made it an easy dedication to the recently terrified people of Boston. What preceded this symphonic sympathy note, however, was a pair of works so filled with palpably resilient energy, they were more than equal reminders of what’s best about the human condition. Kicking off the show was A Jazz Symphony written by the über-intriguing figure of George Antheil. Its herky-jerky syncopation, unpredictable insanity, and super sick stylings resulted in 8 solid minutes of perma-grinning for over 2,000 folks. [In my book, the kick-ass piano chops of Carol Rich were independently worth the price of admission.] And the evening’s soloist was Manitoban genius James Ehnes, whose deft display of violin virtuosity throughout the entirety of Bernstein’s Serenade was almost unnerving. Even from Row Y in the Upper Balcony bleachers, my ears were struck by the cool brilliance and unstoppable technique of Mr. Ehnes and his 298-year-old Stradivarius. Glimpsing the sublime moments when Jimmy’s fiddle teamed up with Nancy’s cello or Jennifer’s harp or Mike’s xylophone was like capturing sonic encomiums of love, tenderly delivered within a Schnitzer symposium. Oh, what a night!


The Paper Bag Was On My Knee – Part II

DickGenerally speaking, the symphonic output of Shostakovich has all the charms of being waterboarded by a cackling Dick Cheney, and the composer’s final symphony is certainly no exception. Filled to capacity with haunting quotations, harsh angularity, and harrowing emotions, Symphony No. 15 by Dmitri Shostakovich is probably music best avoided if suicidal tendencies are at all an issue for you. This composition of uneasy listening was first played 41 years ago in Moscow, but the Oregon Symphony’s first performance wasn’t until Saturday night in downtown Portland. The work opens surprisingly with the bright clarity of a chiming glockenspiel and a deceivingly pleasant flute melody, but the playful façade is quickly destroyed by a stabbing onslaught of evil strings and an eruption of absolute percussive chaos. It’s freaking brilliant music. And to hear it played live by a technical army of 76 professional musicians? Shiiit. And as if the remarkable amount of solo time the composer offers to string goddesses Sarah and Nancy weren’t parting gift enough, the 65-year-old Shostakovich also left us with some insanely sick writing for symphonic percussionists. I’ll tell you what: Yoko & the Boys blew it up at the Schnitz, ripping through an arsenal of toys that included a bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, castanets, a whip (!), the xylophone, an entire vibraphone kit, four timpani, and a most ghostly celesta. Forty minutes of utter dread never sounded better. [whew!] Seriously.

dancing with the stars – part I

like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, watching the oregon symphony assemble on stage before a concert is one of my favorite things: jon pressing his ear to the drum… frank chatting with a pair of patrons… jen slouching in her seat… marty tweaking his reed… julie delivering the score… joël offering a last-minute bit of instruction… peter warming up his vocal chords… nancy glowing.  things like that.  well, all this (and more) was on full display yesterday night before the band’s performance, and the classical beaver was officially back in its happy place after four long months of summer dam-building.  as is customary, the first official program of the classical season kicks off with a rousing rendition of the star spangled banner, and the crowd offered a surprisingly full-throated delivery.  [a sure sign that folks in portland think our country is on the right track, eh?]

and then things got real.  real fun, that is.  the orchestra jumped into the swedish rhapsody #1 by hugo alfvén, immediately injecting each member of the schnitzer audience with one of the most tenacious earworms ever created.  [referring to the tune’s insidiousness, maestro carlos called it “a horrible melody” during his pre-concert chat.]  lilting swedish jigs were fiddled and threateningly dark turns were taken before the band twirled us ’round the ol’ midsummer pole to a stunningly bright and brassy finale.  with a buck-toothed smile on my face, just one thought occupied my mind: ahh… it’s good to be back!

rhythm nation, under god – part III

now before ol’ beavey rambles on about uncle camille’s organ, can i just say a few more words about those 23 string players accompanying nadja on her seasonal journey through buenos aires?  dear god.  quite simply, they are some of our town’s finest musicians ~ violinists, violists, cellists, and bassists of the highest order who have devoted their lives to their instruments ~ founding members of celebrated portland chamber ensembles like *third angle, *mousāi remix, and *fearnomusic.  it was a rare treat to hear these two dozen folks strut their tango-riffic stuff and let it all hang out, rhythmically and technically speaking (of course).  and the most wonderful surprise of the night?  getting to witness principal cellist nancy ives play this amazing extended solo during the final autumnal chapter… a solo so amazing and so extended (like, 2 minutes!) that ms. salerno-sonnenberg graciously stepped aside to ensure all eyes and ears were focused on that gorgeous cello sound.  when people ask me if there are any perks to writing this blog, my number one answer is the opportunity to meet the musicians of our orchestra.  and from the bottom of my tiny heart, i have to say i’ve met no one finer than ms. ives… an absolutely stellar musician consistently dedicated to her craft and a genuinely warm human being who inspires me to be a better rodent.  smooches to nancy and the whole string summit!  xoxo, cb

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)!

nancy’s thumbs

back in the day, the beaver relied heavily on siskel & ebert’s opposable thumbs.  now, my primary source for movie-viewing suggestions is the principal cellist for the oregon symphony.  soylent green?  check.  when *nancy ives mentioned the scene where Beethoven #6 serves as the soundtrack for an assisted suicide, i knew i (finally) had to see this movie.  while the king’s speech still holds the award for best use of Ludwig in a motion picture, soylent green was better than i had anticipated, and not just for its use of the pastoral symphony.  thumbs up for the brilliant cinematography, lighting, and of course, edward g. robinson’s quite moving final performance.  while i won’t give an outright thumbs down to the sometimes hokey special effects and the not-so-subtle objectification of women, it’s best to be mentally prepared for some serious cheese.  and speaking of fromage, i’m still thinking about chuck heston’s outrageous overacting (he kinda makes william shatner look respectable).  the fact that this somewhat creepy über-man was a major box-office draw the year i was born explains a lot about my childhood.  at least a new drinking game was developed: everytime mr. heston dramatically put on or took off this ridiculous neck scarf, bottoms up.  sure was glad i didn’t have to work the next day.  thanks nancy!

networking beaver

according to this random free online encyclopedia site you’ve probably never heard of, carl nielsen’s sixth symphony (say it 10x fast) is the least performed symphony by a rarely performed danish composer.  after checking out a recording of it, i could understand why.  to me, he sounded like mahler without any redeeming qualities.  what was i to do?  well, i threw out a question to some os musicians on this random free online social networking site you’ve probably never heard of, and here’s the latest status of the conversation in its entirety:

the classical beaver: help! in preparation for your concert, i’m really trying to like mr. nielsen’s symphony #6.  or at least appreciate it.  i’m finding it difficult. nothing helps.  any suggestions?  thanks.
*warning: some or all of your replies may be intercepted by the classical beaver and published on the interwebs

Ron Blessinger (an actual violinist with the symphony, btw): Nielsen just wasn’t the same composer after Airplane…

Charles Noble (xo of the mighty viola section, btw): and stop calling me Shirley!

the classical beaver: so, thanks to ron & charles for their contributions… any other musical insights?

Marty Hebert (chief-of-oboes, btw): Many musicians, when studying a piece they’ve never played, like to listen to recordings of the work.  I do it myself. But, sometimes, I like to learn by doing, absorbing the work in flagrante, and by osmosis.  So, I haven’t heard the Nielsen before, except in our first rehearsal.  I’m sure by the end of the week I’ll have a much more informed opinion – and maybe even an earworm or two.  First impressions?  I imagine that the work is challenging to listen to because parts of it are strongly polytonal, with musical lines in 2 and even 3 different keys at once.  Also, there’s a section in the ‘waltz’ variation in the last movement where strings and woodwinds are in a waltz in 3, while the brass and piccolo are in a brisk march in 2.  Other parts of the symphony are much more in line with my experience of Nielsen’s musical language – in particular the Woodwind Quintet, a spectacularly good example of the genre.

Nancy Ives (principal cellist, btw): I feel the same as Marty about listening to recordings of unfamiliar (to me) works before rehearsals start.  This time, I did go through it with a recording to be better prepared, mostly because we have one fewer rehearsal than usual with Carlos — and because I was tired and wanted a leg up!  This piece is quirky.  It’s quite unusual.  It’s a standard symphonic package spiked with some very distinctive sounds and ideas.  To me it sounds like Haydn’s “Toy Symphony” meets Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony” in a Hindemith-ian harmonic realm with Bruckner-ian earnestness!  (Thanks to Charles Noble for pinpointing the last two resemblances)  I hear the “Toy Symphony” because of the frequent use of high-pitched percussion, and the “Classical Symphony” because of a seemingly quasi-satirical referencing of older styles, although I don’t think Carl Nielsen meant that.  The program notes online at say that he meant the symphony to be child-like and joyful, but refers to a grim and sardonic quality found in much of the piece.  Apparently, Nielsen was facing his mortality, and judging by the music, he was clearly not in the acceptance stage!  He also intended to explore “pure sound,” as opposed to programmatic music I assume, but that isn’t the effect either.  There are many places that paint pictures or make very specific comments, like the brass playing over and out of sync with the waltz.

I already have an earworm, by the way — the Waltz…around and around…

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