Posts Tagged 'Stephen Hough'

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

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!

Bucket Liszt – Part II

Hough-a-gramWhile many patrons occupied themselves with slamming wine and sneaking cigarettes during Monday night’s intermission, the Oregon Symphony roadies were busy positioning a gorgeously sleek 9-foot-long Steinway onto the Schnitzer stage, prepping for the imminent performance of Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto #2. After triumphantly tackling the same composer’s first piano concerto back in 2010 with our band, the returning soloist on deck was Stephen Hough: a 21st-century Renaissance man recognized the world over as a veritable keyboard ninja. [sigh] Gliding into view from stage right wearing his customary all-black Asian-style shirt, Mr. Hough greeted the applause and sat attentively at the bench, ready and willing to open up a can of pianoforte whoop-ass for us lucky souls in the crowd. Liszt’s composition begins slyly with a languid woodwind entrance and reveals itself rather mysteriously over the course of 22 brilliant minutes, alternating its character often with romantically sensuous interludes sandwiched between flashes of raging intensity. Surprising no one, @houghhough displayed an unbelievable array of technical marvels throughout with his miraculous foot-long fingers, slamming out some muddled goulash in the piano’s low register one moment, caressing the upper ivories like an attentive lover in the next, and bringing the piece to a playful climax with four (!) double-handed glissandi. [sigh] And as if Mr. Hough needed to seduce us further, the already-quivering audience was treated to an arrangement of *this beautiful song as an encore. Dear. God. Along with the concert halls, chocolate shops, and haberdasheries of Stumplandia, the classical beaver is hoping it won’t have to wait too, too long for the next return visit from this remarkable human being. [sigh]

Stephen Hough Tackles 10 Questions

Peter and Ben celebrating #Britten32Chief cultural blogger for The Telegraph of London. Prodigious recorder of well over 50 albums. MacArthur genius. Theologian. Poet. Queer activist. Composer. The guy wears a lot of [size 60] hats, but first and foremost: Stephen Hough plays piano and will forever and ever reign at the high altar of my personal pianoforte pantheon. [sigh] Our beloved Oregon Symphony is thankfully hosting the indefatigable pianist for a program featuring Liszt’s sometimes romantic/sometimes explosive Piano Concerto #2. In honor of his return visit to the City of Roses, here is Mr. Hough tackling 10 of my sometimes inane questions:

First things first: Why is the piano so awesome?

It’s an orchestra at the hands of one player. It can whisper, roar, and everything in between.

This Saturday and Monday, you’re on tap to play the Second Piano Concerto of Franz Liszt ~ How would you describe this amazing work?

Liszt’s 2nd is really like a wonderful, long romantic cadenza from start to finish – a great lyrical, dramatic improvisation. It’s brilliantly constructed because it’s in one movement but in many sections, and most of the material comes from a few small cells which Liszt develops in subtle, skillful ways. It’s a story but I don’t think you need to know the plot. Plenty of excitement too…

So stoked! I’m guessing some of the excitement comes in the form of piano trills (which, to us mere mortals, seem impossibly difficult). What’s your advice for mastering this superhuman skill?

The longer the trill the more important it is to use the wrist rather than the fingers. Short, decorative trills can be shaken with fingers, but really we need to have a flexible wrist for evenness and strength. *Click here for blog posts I wrote on the subject.

Sweet! Speaking of your kick-ass blog, I just read about your recent stop into San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. In all your globetrotting, what’s the most beautiful church you’ve visited?

Very hard to say. In London, I love the Jesuit church at Farm Street – but I also love the harsh brilliance of Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral.

Okay… Hypothetical Alert! If you could invite a composer or two over for dinner, who would you choose?

Well, we’d have to go out because I never cook, even for myself! I think Poulenc would have been great fun. Liszt I would have been fascinated to meet. But I’m not sure they would have worked so well together. Maybe I would have to plan a number of tête-à-têtes with individual composers.

What, no invite for centennial boy Benjamin Britten?

He wouldn’t be one of the dinner guests, I fear. I know people who knew him and he was tricky, moody — and not a generous colleague. I hope to get the chance to hear more of his music this year. I love it and there are operas I’ve not seen. I’m keeping my eye open!

I was happy to have discovered you share your November 22nd birthday with Mr. Britten ~ Do you feel any special cosmic connection with this composer?

Actually I do. He’s an influence on my own compositions in some ways, in particular the way he uses and distorts tonality to invoke poignant moods. When I was in my first year at high school we sang his Missa Brevis and it was both my introduction to the Latin text of the Mass as well as its Gloria being my first piece performed in 7/8 time. I think he was also the first person whom I was told was ‘homosexual’.

Seems like your House of Commons is celebrating #Britten100 by approving same-gender marriage. Any words of encouragement for us queers in America?

You’ve never had it so good in history… and let’s make good relationships of love and commitment. This is the best argument for equality.

Word. Stephen, you’ve already got 50+ albums under your proverbial belt. What differences do you detect in your playing when it’s for a recording, instead of a live audience?

With a recording you tend to think the long term – that this is going to be around for a long time. You want your interpretation to cover all the bases in a way, to be a summation of everything you’ve thought about the piece. In a concert part of the fun is highlighting one side of a work, one character in the play.

Alright, last question already: Have you discovered a favourite piano on this planet of ours?

I really don’t have a favourite. I avoid finding the perfect piano which then I can’t play again or play in public. Also pianos change all the time One slight voicing from a different tuner and the instrument is like new. And humidity from month to month alters the sound, the feel. It’s not at all like a stringed-instrument where there’s a soul lasting over the centuries. Nevertheless very occasionally there’s a piano which seems to be unusually special. One of the pianos Horowitz played which a friend of mine owned had that quality. It just seemed to sing, to soar.

Brilliant! Mr. Hough, thanks so much for everything you do. And gentle reader, if you happen to be in Portland this Saturday or Monday evening, do yourself a favor and experience this amazing pianist singing and soaring live with the equally amazing Oregon Symphony!

happy days are here again

holy schnike ~ the oregon symphony’s official classical season is knock, knock, knockin’ on portland’s door!  and while it is most certainly tempting to survey the upcoming brilliance of 2012/13 in all its orchestral glory, this rodent will do its darnedest to stay in the present moment.  sorry y’all, but future highlights like gustav mahler’s epic symphony #6, alban gerhardt’s inaugural turn as artist-in-residence, Beethoven’s always thrilling ninth, and mr. stephen hough’s cacao-fueled reappearance behind the steinway (currently 162 nights away) will just have to wait patiently.  now is the time to celebrate: just one more week until my furry little behind is once again planted in a lower balcony seat… just one more week until a baton-wielding maestro carlos summits the schnitzer podium… just one more week until p-town’s ultimate cover band blows my mind and breaks my tiny heart!  um, “eager” does not even begin to describe the current emotional state of this particular beaver.  everyone here at the home office agrees there is no better way to kick off 2012/13 than with an interview ~ and lucky for us we’ve got a doozey.  tune in wednesday night when the classical beaver chats with the oregon symphony’s first guest soloist of the official classical season!  yay!

if you’re happy and you know it – part III

i’m not sure if there was a specific ah-hah moment for the beavs that sparked its torrid obsession with the oregon symphony, but monday, december 8th, 2008, around 8:21 p.m. is a definite contender.  ‘twas an all-tchaikovsky program and a piano player named stephen hough had just begun tearing into something called “concerto number two” for the crowd.  dear god: the piano looked like it was made by lexus, the performer looked as though he might have an aneurism, and the band looked like some well-attired army able to conquer any score you put on their stands.  and the music that night?  oh my.  let’s just say that before mr. pyotr tchaikovsky’s music entered into my soul, life was pretty much a joyless, uninspired, and tepid affair.

monday, may 14th, 2012, around 9:07 p.m. or so, a packed schnitzer was treated to another tchaikovsky piano concerto – this time ‘round his famous numero uno, performed by arnaldo cohen who returned to p-town after festively knocking out all 5 Beethoven concertos in 3 days time 2 seasons ago.  oh my, the excitement was palpable as professor cohen marched onstage to warm applause, his coattails fluttering behind him [check it, ms. arnold].  and then, ka-boom: swelling strings and a pounding keyboard kicked off the work as a shocking wave of instant recognition swept over us all… i daresay only Beethoven’s fifth symphony trumps this intro in terms of popularity.  after a brief soak in a warm, melodic cliché, the opening movement barreled on for 20 more minutes (!) in a fantastically rich display of pianistic fireworks, including this insane gershwin-on-acid solo riff.  ol’ beavey’s totes favorite moment of the night?  seconds before the climactic finale of this epic first movement, the stately mr. cohen briefly held onto the corners of the bench, tugged out his shirt cuffs, and pushed up his glasses, discreetly readying himself before unleashing a rapid-fire torrent of brubeckian block chords in a dramatic culmination that was 100% tchaikovsky.  (it’s a good thing arnaldo has the biggest hands i have ever seen.  seriously.)  wowee ~ we clapped without reservation after the the first movement, i tell you what!  we were happy.  we knew it.  sometimes, convention can just eff off.

saved by the bell

now, if someone asked the beavs to name the top 3 most-thrilling moments for violin & orchestra, it would finally have an answer: #1 has to be tchaikovsky’s opening movement for his (only) violin concerto, #2 is Beethoven’s final movement for his (only) violin concerto, and the newly-crowned #3 is what josh bell & the band played last night at the arlene schnitzer concert hall: the final movement of the (only) violin concerto composed by jo-jo brahms.  and i have to confess the thrill-factor was most certainly upped yesterday by the presence of the most famous fiddler on the planet: mr. joshua bell.  when this violinst’s name is on the program, not even the looming threat of sno-pocalypse 2012 could prevent a packed schnitz.  and for very good reason: the guy is very fucking good.  like, great.  like, um… like stephen-hough good.  [yes, that good.]  jesus h. christ, monday night was the last performance of a four-day gig and it was delightfully obvious that bell and the band were pouring out everything they had to give both technically and emotionally for this sublime music.  not to mention the brassy fireworks of the second half’s brilliant handel/janáček mashup.  and carlos was conducting.  and it was (finally) time to officially introduce the band’s brand new flute captain, ms. jessica sindell.  [c-town, represent!]  wow, please tell me you were there.  please?