Posts Tagged 'Sarah Kwak'

Saluting 12/13

Saluting 2012-13Even though the Oregon Symphony’s 2012/13 season now belongs to the ages and most musicians have already slipped into summer vacation mode, Ol’ Beavey still finds himself daydreaming about the sonic glories revealed during the previous 16 programs. *heavy sigh* Old-school classics like Mahler’s brutal Sixth, Symphony No. 5 by Sibelius, and (of course) Beethoven’s epic Ninth… Contemporary gems like Andrew Norman’s Drip, Asyla by Thomas Adès, and Narong Prangcharoen’s trippy Phenomenon… Orchestral surprises like Antheil’s brilliant Jazz Symphony, Hindemith’s Concerto for Orchestra, and Mussorgsky’s kick-ass original version of Night on Bald Mountain… Visiting virtuosos like Alban Gerhardt, Jennifer Koh, James Ehnes, André Watts, and (of course) Stephen Hough… Oh, don’t get me started! Extra-special beavertail salutes go out to a pair of musicians who made this season extraordinary: Joe Berger on horn who produced so many astonishing sounds during 2012/13 that I simply lost track, and soprano Amber Wagner who graced the Schnitzer stage with Coach K. and Concertmaster Kwak to deliver the most transcendent moment of the year with her heart-rending, soul-searching, and mind-blowing performance of Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss. Oh my, what a season!

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Ready, Set, Koh – Part II

Alpine ActionFollowing intermission, Carlos & the Gang closed out 2012/13 with a classic, old-school gem: Brahms’ massive First Symphony. The oft-gruff composer took two decades to write this music, but it only took the Oregon Symphony about 45 minutes to knock it out of the proverbial ballpark and prove, once again, why they are Stumpland’s ultimate cover band. The stormy opening measures were underscored by the ominous timpani strokes of Jon “Animal” Greeney who (per the youzhe) held court with a kettle drum masterclass until the final roll of the rocking finale. Every freakin’ section demonstrated sublime moments of glory throughout… Captain Frank and the stand-up guys of the double basses… Mr. John Cox and the impressive array of alpine-infused horns… Evan ably leading the battalion of bassoonists… Jeffrey workin’ it with the sexiest line-up of brass you ever will witness. [Yowza!] And extra-special beavertail salutes go out to oboe god Marty Hebert, flute wonder Jess Sindell, and our kick-ass concertmaster Sarah Kwak: Um, y’all are simply brilliant. Period. Monday night proved to be the perfect capstone atop another transcendent Oregon Symphony season filled with surprises, loaded with talent, and chock-full of the most jaw-dropping music humanity has ever produced. I don’t know about you, but this rodent is already stoked for 2013/14 ~ YAY!

Sayonara Benaroya

OSO in the Queen CityNear the end of her performance last night in Seattle, the sexually assertive Storm Large sang one of humanity’s age-old queries: “What is the use? Beauty will perish and youth will pass away.” We are all left to decide for ourselves what’s the use of it all, but the beautifully youthful energy the Oregon Symphony generated with their opening number certainly gave this rodent a reason to carry on. I remember with great fondness when the band kicked off their 2010/11 classical season with Narong Prangcharoen’s impressionistic Phenomenon, and getting to hear it yet again was a total blast… especially within the acoustically charged confines of Benaroya Hall. Once more, the Mekong River marveled and the fireballs fizzled with mysterious intensity, thanks in large part to Concertmaster Kwak and her magical army of string players. Bravo!

Intermission was followed by Franz Schubert’s Symphony #8 – a bittersweet pair of movements brought to life gorgeously by P-Town’s orchestra, spearheaded by Chief Oboist Marty Hebert who seared miraclulous melodies directly into my soul. Maestro Carlos didn’t so much finish the famously unfinished symphonic wonder, but chose to submit a wonderfully colorful epilogue instead: Maurice Ravel’s La Valse (which followed Schubert’s two movements without pause for applause – a favorite artistic trick firmly lodged up Coach K.’s sleeve!) With downright Mahlerian creepiness, the work felt like a final late-night waltz around the dance floor with Death, who stubbornly insisted on taking the lead despite any futile attempts at resistance. Big beavertail salutes to the always spot-on percussion section, with extra-special props to Mike and his seductively subdued cymbals. Hearing Ravel is a revelation, and when it’s played live by our hometown band at the top of their game? Dear. God. I urge you gentle reader, for the love of all that is holy, catch this concert tonight or tomorrow at the Schnitz!

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.

Homeward Bound – Part I

Grad TidingsGoot Eevnink… The first words out of Maestro Kalmar’s mouth last night were not only welcoming, they were prophetic.  Turns out the evening was going to be very good indeed – the final performance of a 3-day homestand featuring the band’s intrepid music director back on the podium and soprano Amber Wagner back in the Beaver State.  It was a special occasion after all, so the program appropriately kicked off with some occasional music from Mozart: his “Posthorn” Serenade No. 9 to be precise.  What could have been utterly forgettable classical Musak® in the hands of most composers, the recessional accompanying Salzburg Benedictine University’s latest batch of grads in 1779 was penned by a 23-year-old hometown genius, and we humans still find ourselves playing the music without any expectation of turned tassels or tossed caps.  Elegantly joyful and perfectly crafted, Wolfgang’s episodic serenade served as a brilliant showcase for the elite group of orchestral musicians assembled.  On flute and oboe, principals Jess Sindell and Marty Hebert stuck every complicated landing, flawlessly illustrating the technical marvel that is the Oregon Symphony woodwind section.  And what about those strings?!  [sigh]  The violins never sounded sweeter, once again weaving sonic wonder, skillful precision, and powerfully surprising emotions under the leadership of newly minted concertmaster Sarah Kwak.  After seven movements of absolute acoustic pleasure, the Schnitzer crowd was dismissed for intermission, instilled with a great spirit of encouragement and expectation for the very, very near future.  O ~ the Joy!

My Winner With André – Part I

Orchestral TwisterIf someone asked me a year ago who the heck Paul Hindemith was, I probably would have guessed astrophysicist, movie director, and congressman before discovering the guy was actually a 20th-century composer and violist from Germany.  I know this now thanks to the Oregon Symphony, who kicked things off last night with Hindemith’s Concerto for Orchestra in their very first program of the new year.  [And if this music is any indication, 2013 is gonna be a wild ride with the band… Ooh-Whee!]  The incredible 12-minute work blasts off in a whirlwind of strings, and immediately seized the Schnitz like a single-wide trailer twirling helplessly inside an orchestral cyclone.  At times, the eye of this ferocious twister would pass over, making space for an absolutely insane trio of violin/oboe/bassoon that offered little consolation amidst the storm.  [Big beavertail salutes go out to Carin, Marty, and Concertmaster Kwak for blowing and bowing me away!]  Pure, spontaneous applause broke out after the second movement, giving guest conductor Christoph König a chance to catch his breath.  Built like a gymnast and dressed like a priest, Maestro CK-2 displayed fascinatingly fluid movements on the podium all night, slyly drawing out moments like Jess and Zach’s utterly magical flute-and-piccolo duet in Hindemith’s slower middle movement.  [Um, Wow!]  The composition ended with a powerful percussive punch right in the cochlea which left last night’s crowd a bit dazed.  Conductor König eased us into an ovation, deftly inviting particular musicians to momentarily rise for the applause before finally asking the entire band to stand.  This unusual conclusion (along with the clapping that peppered the piece earlier) made for the most organic and authentic audience reaction this rodent has ever witnessed, unexpected yet strangely reassuring – sorta like Hindemith’s Concerto for Orchestra.

the top ten of twenty-twelve

enjoying a beaver tailwell faithful readers, we’ve just about made it to another new year, so you know what that means: the 2012 golden beavertail awards!  every december, we here at the home office gather ’round the yule log and hash out the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the top of the heap of portland’s all-time best classical moments of the year.  after much civilized debate (and a few instances of uncivilized fisticuffs), here are the classical beaver’s picks for the most spine-tingling moments of twenty-twelve:

#10 ~ guest conductor hugh wolff flying into p-town like some glorious swan to lead the oregon symphony in a brilliantly crisp performance of sibelius’ fifth symphony  [november 19]

#9 ~ fiddler stefan jackiw skipping the kilt but bringing some stellar violin chops to the scottish fantasy by max bruch  [february 6]

#8 ~ mahler 6… ’nuff said  [november 5]

#7 ~ arnica quartet and 45th parallel teaming up to unearth an unforgettable octet from max bruch at the old church  [november 13]

#6 ~ the best band in the land busting out a brilliant bit of benjamin britten: four sea interludes and passacaglia  [may 14]

#5 ~ coach k. and the oregon symphony testing the arlene schnitzer concert hall’s seismic fortitude with a heart-pounding fifth symphony from dmitri shostakovich  [april 2]

#4 ~ violin powerhouse nadja salerno-sonnenberg whirling into stumptown and delivering a knockout show with ástor piazzolla’s the four seasons of buenos   aires  [april 30]

#3 ~ our beloved orchestra swelling its ranks with the portland symphonic choir, 3 vocal soloists, and sarah kwak in the concertmaster seat (for the very first time!) to re-create the creation oratorio by joseph “papa” haydn  [january 21]

#2 ~ fear no music celebrating the john cage centennial like no one else in the country with a thought-provoking, musical happening at the gorgeous yale union building… a one-night-only, never-to-be-duplicated, veritable postcard from heaven!  [february 17]

#1 ~ sax god timothy mcallister sitting in with the insane oregon symphony to deliver a shockingly intense, mind-blowing performance of city noir by american composer john adams  [may 21]

oh dear, please tell me you witnessed at least one of these miracles!  as always, my furry little ears are perked up to catch your two cents as well, so feel free to leave a comment here, or on the facebook, or on the twitter.  one thing that isn’t debatable: ’twas one helluva year, eh?  see y’all in 2013!