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Pianist Gabriela Montero made her two-year-delayed first appearance with the Spokane Symphony at The Fox on Saturday, and the fire and charm of her performance made the wait seem worthwhile. The orchestra was led by its music director, Eckart Preu, who provided orchestral dividends in works by Janacek and Debussy.
Mozart rules! That was the Spokane Symphony’s message in a dramatic performance of an all-Mozart program Saturday night at The Fox. Conductor Eckart Preu opened the concert with the overture to “Don Giovanni,” a work the conductor described as his personal favorite among Mozart’s operas. Preu’s deliberate pacing of the three powerful chords that open the overture allowed the subsequent drama to unfold with increasing tension. Overtures are often simple throwaways in a concert setting. Not this time.
The 33rd annual Northwest Bach Festival ended Saturday at St. John’s Cathedral with a stunning survey of 160 years of keyboard music. Pianist Randall Hodgkinson brought a brilliant technique and probing musicality to this immense repertoire before, after and including Bach. Hodgkinson began Saturday’s recital with William Byrd’s “Pavan and Galliard – Kinburgh Goodd” written sometime before 1591, a century before Bach. The pianist admitted that he had not known much of Byrd’s music at all before festival director Gunther Schuller asked him to learn the work. But Byrd’s music seemed like an old friend as Hodgkinson quickly established the somber mood of the Pavan followed by the springing step of the Galliard.
The first two concerts of this year’s Northwest Bach Festival celebrated the net Bach cast over the musical world. Bach knew music written long before his birth, and Bach’s compositions extended his influence well after his death. Conductor Gunther Schuller and the musicians of the 33rd Annual Northwest Bach Festival hauled in a significant catch of the music in that net Tuesday and Saturday at St. John’s Cathedral.
Guest conductor Daniel Hege led the Spokane Symphony in a program that let the players’ range of colors and flow of energy illuminate every piece. Both the orchestra and the audience gave Hege an enthusiastic ovation at the Saturday performance I heard. Guest conductors always want to make a good impression. Some take the safe route of familiar works done in an easily conventional way. Not Hege. He chose challenging works and challenged the players to dig deep into their workings.
The Spokane Symphony’s Casual Classics concert Friday started life as a quirky marketing ploy. The program was advertised as “CSI Spokane: Unusual Composer Deaths.” But the evening blossomed into some beautiful music-making with works that are seldom heard. Morihiko Nakahara, the orchestra’s resident conductor, clearly had fun talking about the idea of investigating composers’ deaths, or deaths arranged by composers, and composers’ attitudes toward death. But near the end of the concert, Nakahara reminded the audience that “in the end, it’s all about the music.”
The Spokane String Quartet Tuesday, Nov. 18, The Met Romantic music can be powerful stuff, or merely beautiful. The Spokane String Quartet opened its 1997-98 season Tuesday night at The Met with gripping performances of two of the most intense masterpieces of the 19th century. Neither beauty nor power was sacrificed in either performance. Franz Schubert's last string quartet, the Quartet No. 15 in G major, is a long piece, taking about 45 minutes to play. But it summarizes Schubert's emotional world - the drama, the sweetness, the anger, the playfulness - in a way no shorter work could contain. It is hard to imagine this quartet as the work written by a 28-year-old. It was a daring move to begin any concert, let alone a season opener, with a work so emotionally and physically exhausting. The dare paid off.
The Spokane Symphony Orchestra Sunday, Nov. 2, The Met The Spokane Symphony seems to have a little secret known only to a small group of concert goers. Its concert at The Met Sunday featured some excellent playing by the orchestra led by associate conductor Jung Ho Pak, an outstanding soloist and an interesting, unhackneyed program. But, my, there were lots of empty seats in The Met's 740-seat auditorium. Violin soloist Martin Chalifour made an outstanding impression Sunday as much for what he did not do as for what he did. What he did was obvious. He gave a splendid performance of Mendelssohn's familiar Violin Concerto.
Allegro Tuesday, Oct. 7, The Met Allegro opened its season Tuesday with a concert featuring enough musical characters to populate a Hogarth engraving. "Handel's London" was the title of the concert. But the music was composed by three Germans, an Italian and a Fleming (nary a Brit in sight) - a typical musical cross-section of 18th-century London. Allegro's directors - oboist David Dutton and harpsichordist Beverly Biggs - were joined by bassoonist Barbara Novak and guest artists flutist and recorder player Gwyn Roberts and lutenist and theorbist Richard Stone. These players combined historical awareness of the styles of music heard in Georgian London with a lively delight in showing off their virtuosity. The evening's composers included John (formerly Jean Baptiste) Loeillet, Frances co Maria Veracini, Sylvius Leopold Weiss, John Christian (formerly Johann Christian) Bach and the greatest of them all, George Frideric (formerly Georg Frederick) Handel. Only the young Bach did not quite belong in this company; he moved to London after Handel's death. Biggs played one of the numerous sonatas J.C. Bach wrote for Queen Charlotte and children. In 10 minutes this little sonata demonstrated the change of style away from the intensity and sophisticated technique of Bach's father, Johann Sebastian, and of Handel better than a year of music history lessons. Of all the players on Tuesday's concert, the one I longed to hear more from was Stone. His virtuosity was exceptional. But only one work, Sylvius Leopold Weiss' Concert for Lute and Transverse Flute, allowed Stone to show what he could really do. This piece, long-known to lute players in incomplete form, was performed Tuesday for the first time since the 18th century in Stone's newly reconstructed version. It sounded absolutely convincing, and wonderfully played. Perhaps Allegro can coax a solo recital from Stone in some future season. Allegro's concerts use a mixture of the modern form of some instruments (the oboe and bassoon) and the older form of others (recorder and transvere flutes, lute and theorbo, and harpsichord). That's a two-edged sword. The greater dependability in pitch accuracy of the modern wind instruments makes painfully obvious the tendency of the recorder and early transvere flute to slip flat in the lower register and in soft passages. And modern instruments simply play louder than their 18th-century counterparts, making balance a tricky issue - one not always successfully addressed in Tuesday's Allegro performances. Still, the concert gave a rare glimpse into the variety of chamber music from the London scene that furnished us with Handel's familiar oratorios and concertos.
The Makers song "Small Town Depression" sets the tone for the Spokane band's latest raucous album, "Hunger."
Spokane String Quartet Tuesday, May 13, The Met Steven Staryk sure can play the violin. What else can I say? Anyone at The Met Tuesday night would bear me out. Guest artist on the final Spokane String Quartet concert of the season, Staryk, in fact, performed solos the entire first half with the accompaniment of pianist Kendall Feeney. The program varied from late-Baroque to the 20th century including Sonatas by Jean-Marie Leclair and Prokofiev, and a movement by Brahms.
Spokane Symphony with baritone Frank Hernandez Saturday at The Met Frank Hernandez began his concert career here in Spokane. A large and enthusiastic audience gave the 26-year-old baritone a hearty "welcome home" Saturday. Hernandez, who had a warm, beautiful voice even in his student days here, demonstrated the kind of increased polish produced by a couple of years of singing professionally. Hernandez sang four arias from a range of operatic roles that included the jealous Count in Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro," the arrogant soldier Belcore in Donizetti's "Elixer of Love," the hapless Riccardo in Bellini's "I Puritani" and the haughty King of Castille in Donizetti's "La Favorita."
Spokane Symphony and pianist Benedetto Lupo Opera House, Friday evening The Spokane Symphony has played host to an extraordinary series of pianists recently. Lee Luvisi's magisterial authority in Beethoven, Arnaldo Cohen's sure-fingered virtuosity in Rachmaninoff and Andre Watts' charismatic vitality in Brahms - each was stunning in a distinctly personal way. Benedetto Lupo, Friday's soloist with the symphony, gave a captivating account of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2, a marvel of subtlety. He did it despite some annoying interference.
Spokane String Quartet Tuesday, March 11, The Met At The Met Tuesday, the Spokane String Quartet performed as well as a group as I have heard them. They dug in deep for a diverse program that included music by Beethoven, Smetana and David Jones.
Allegro Tuesday, March 4, The Met If you are going to steal tunes, steal from the best. This was the message relayed over the centuries by Allegro in the final concert of its Met series on Tuesday night. The first half of the performance could not have existed if it weren't for the early 19th-century practice of transcribing and arranging the popular melodies from hit operas to be played by instrumentalists. Following that tradition, guest artist William Davis provided enough material for the entire second half of the show with his new arrangement of music from Rossini's "Cinderella."
Spokane Symphony Orchestra Sunday, Jan. 12, The Met Like many others in the near-capacity audience at The Met Sunday, I was looking forward to hearing one of my favorite musicians perform with the Spokane Symphony. Leon Atkinson, a versatile guitarist whose solo recitals and club appearances have always been such a pleasure, was scheduled to play concertos by Vivaldi and Villa Lobos with the Spokane Symphony. The Villa Lobos Concerto would have had the added interest of one of the composer's best advocates, conductor Fabio Mechetti.
Allegro Tuesday, Jan. 7, The Met Allegro has had their Schubertiad. A handful of musicians welcomed a large Met audience into their virtual living room Tuesday, and sustained the deception with a casual and intimate presentation. Of foremost importance, if a modern grand piano had been substituted for the period fortepiano and everything else in the performance had remained the same, it would have been an entirely different and lesser concert. With the same musicians and quality of performance, the introduction of the steel-framed behemoth we have come to know and love would have seemed overbearing by comparison.
FROM FOR THE RECORD (Saturday, December 14, 1996): Correction The birth date of the late Hans Moldenhauer, Spokane musicologist and author, is Dec. 13. The date in a music review in Friday's IN Life section was incorrect.
Big Head Todd and the Monsters Friday at The Met You get the sense that Colorado rock band Big Head Todd and the Monsters has traversed a few highways. Because it's a feeling of travel and being out on the open road that occupies a palpable presence in the band's music.