Jeff Winslow

Jeff Winslow is a fourth-generation Oregonian who studied music and electronics at University of California-Berkeley, getting serious about composition in the mid-1990s as High Modernism finally relinquished its death grip on the world of art music. His work has been performed by fEARnoMUSIC, The Ensemble of Oregon, and the Resonance Ensemble, and also at Cascadia Composers, Seventh Species, Cherry Blossom Musical Arts, and Oregon Bach Festival concerts, as well as several other locations around the region, often with the composer at the piano. A recent piano work, “Lied ohne Worte (lieber mit Ligeti)” received honorable mention from Friends and Enemies of New Music, a New York-based composers’ group. He is a founding member of Cascadia Composers, a chapter of NACUSA centered on the lower watershed of the Columbia River.

 

Portland Baroque Orchestra: thoroughly unmodern Mozart

Vivacious historically informed performance reveals aspects of the composer’s mastery modern instruments can’t match

Photos by Jonathan Ley

No one considers Mozart a Baroque composer, but as Portland Baroque Orchestra Artistic Director Monica Huggett pointed out just before their all-Mozart concert at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium, a week ago last Sunday, it’s perfectly reasonable for the PBO to play his music. Mozart was born as the Industrial Revolution was just getting started, but it only arrived in his Austrian homeland decades after he died, so the sound of PBO’s pre-industrial design instruments would likely have pleased him more than a modern orchestra.

 PBO hornists Sadie Glass and Andrew Clark

Like any adventurous composer, Mozart was often dissatisfied with the instrumental limitations of his time, but he was also among the most practical of composers. He carefully deployed the available musical forces, and to the degree instruments have changed since then, playing his music on anachronistic modern ones risks losing his intended sound.

Take the first piece on PBO’s program, the E-flat major Serenade for winds, K. 375. Mozart’s smooth, expert blending of bassoons, horns, and oboes (two each), contrasting with the two clarinets’ distinctive tone, is evident even on modern instruments.  I’m not quite sure how he did this, but in the performance by the PBO wind players, the blend was so intimate that they often sounded like one instrument – maybe a small organ or harmonium. (A particular challenge of writing for modern wind quintet is blending all the different characteristic sounds into one unified soundscape.) Just as with modern instruments, the two clarinets stood out as if they were soloists.

PBO clarinetists Bryan Conger and Ed Matthew

The serenade also displays Mozart’s signature ability to weave any number of connoisseur-pleasing details into instantly appealing compositions. Excursions to distant keys, bits of intricate counterpoint, surprising melodic reminiscences – such as the poignant one by oboe in its own solo guise near the end of the Adagio movement – sailed by on a river of the brilliant tunes, runs, and fanfares typical of serenades of the time, all played with verve by the eight musicians.

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Chamber Music Northwest review: middle-age crazy

Opening summer festival mainstage concerts mix classic and contemporary music

Chamber Music Northwest, in its 48th season this summer, may be solidly middle-aged in people years, but unlike a lot of solidly middle-aged people, and as the Wall Street Journal noted last month, it’s becoming more and more interested in what’s new in its world. This season, for the first time since 2000, CMNW’s opening night concert – an occasion for making statements – featured the work of a living composer: Angel’s Fire (Fuego de ángel) by American composer Roberto Sierra. Comfortably sharing the stage was one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s finest violin and piano sonatas, and the charged late 19th-century Romanticism of French composer Gabriel Fauré’s op. 45 Piano Quartet.

A week later, this was echoed by a similar lineup: Mozart’s only trio with piano and clarinet, a brand-new work for nine musicians by Protégé Project composer J.P. Redmond, and the exotic Romanticism of the op. 7 Octet by George Enescu, a Romanian prodigy who spent most of his professional life in France. I caught both programs at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall.

McDermott, Kavafian, Wiley and Tenenbom played Sierra at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

By the time Mozart wrote his sonata K. 454, in 1784, he had already composed dozens of sonatas for violin and piano, and had become interested in something new – equal partnership between the musicians. Violinist Ani Kavafian and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott showed how it’s done, each in turn playing out for melodic lines, or receding into the background for accompaniment figures without ever giving a feeling of holding back. It sounds simple, but it’s a knack that eludes many for different reasons, from local yokels all the way up to world-famous names. Nor was there anything pedantic about the duo’s lively and lyrical performance.

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Angelo Xiang Yu & Andrew Hsu review: Brahms’s indiscretions

Hit Chamber Music Northwest duo deliver soul-warming performance of the German master’s heartfelt works for violin and piano

Johannes Brahms and his music both have forbidding reputations. Yet on his rambles around 19th century Vienna, the great Romantic composer would give away candy to children – who would keep on the lookout for “Papa Brahms.” And he wrote two of the sweetest, most amiable violin and piano sonatas you could ever hope to hear, plus a third bursting with passion. Brahms may have realized how much he let his guard down writing them; in a letter to a close friend he called the first sonata “my latest indiscretion.”

Andrew Hsu and Angelo Xiang Yu performed at Portland’s Old Church concert Hall. Photo: Kimmie Fadem.

The last Sunday in October, that most amiable of duos, international prize-winning violinist Angelo Xiang Yu and rising star pianist Andrew Hsu, offered up all three plus a youthful scherzo as part of Chamber Music Northwest’s 2017-2018 season. CMNW artistic director David Shifrin tried to let on that the pair were, unbeknownst to him, only joking when they suggested the all-Brahms program as an encore for their standout performance at CMNW’s 2016 summer festival. Maybe so, but the full house at the Old Church in Portland was obviously glad he took them seriously. Yu and Hsu gave us an afternoon of serious beauty, holding at bay all thoughts of upcoming Halloween spooks. It might have been transcendent, but for one consistent problem.

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Angelo Xiang Yu & Andrew Hsu review: Instant chemistry

Chamber Music Northwest duo's intuitive aesthetic accord produces memorable music

It was really about the best that could be hoped for when musicians meet to rehearse together for the first time only a few days before a performance. That’s typical for Chamber Music Northwest concerts, in which top musicians from New York and beyond converge on Portland for five weeks, usually with time for only a few rehearsals. Luckily, as violinist Angelo Xiang Yu assured the audience during his July 27 two-man show at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre with pianist and composer Andrew Hsu, the two intuitively agreed on their interpretations.

Their simpatico styles may explain why the tightest works were a Mozart sonata (K 378) and CMNW Protege Project composer Hsu’s own piece, Sea Meadows. The Mozart is relatively easy to put together, and that enabled them to pump real life and personality into it despite the whirlwind rehearsal schedule. Sea Meadows was deliciously atmospheric, pulseless with an easy-sounding piano part. It really just needed a top-notch violinist, and Yu was all of that, executing lots of harmonics and double-stops, all seemingly flawlessly and with feeling.

Violinist Angelo Xiang Yu and composer/pianist Andrew Hsu performed at the The Alberta Rose Theatre. Photo: Jonathan Lange.
Violinist Angelo Xiang Yu and composer/pianist Andrew Hsu performed at the The Alberta Rose Theatre. Photo: Jonathan Lange.

The other performances were a mixed bag. Claude Debussy’s violin sonata had plenty of spirit but didn’t really jell, in some elusive way. Cesar Franck’s famous sonata was full of passion as it should be, with lots of dynamic and tempo contrasts, but the short rehearsal told in details, such as the piano covering up the violin here and there, and a few phrases that would have gained needed intensity from lingering over them or adding even more energy. On the other hand, the end of the stormy second movement was way exciting. It’s a bit tricky because Franck didn’t give the last piano run a lot of oomph, but the duo made it careen right into Hsu’s last big thunderous chord.

For some reason the crowd took it into their heads to applaud in between each movement of everything, even tepidly after slow and soft movements. They were about ready to burst after this dramatic conclusion, but the pianist immediately hit the chord opening the slow movement, cutting them off. It was an understandable move, but it had an anticlimactic side effect. Applause there would have been good for scene setting, and was also richly deserved.

The very end was more elegant than explosive, but the crowd just went crazy; you’d hardly know the hall was less than half full. People didn’t just hoot and holler, there were calls of “more!” “more!” Hsu and Yu wound up doing two potboiler encores: Vittorio Monti’s gypsy fluff Csárdás and Edward Elgar’s Romantic fluff Salut d’Amour. The audience would have stayed for at least one more. Finally, during the curtain call after the second encore Yu smiled and mouthed at people “go home,” which slightly diminished what had been a total class act. People just laughed, though.

Hsu & Yu at CMNW. Photo: Jonathan Lange.
Hsu & Yu at CMNW. Photo: Jonathan Lange.

Yu seems quite a character. He talked to the crowd a little, just after intermission, and had them almost eating out of his hand. At one point he said he was envious of Hsu because he looked so hot. That got a big (seemingly appreciative) laugh. He didn’t always have the sweetest tone, or invariably play precisely in tune, but somehow his “lapses” seemed like part of his intended expression. He achieved quite a bit of expressive variation in tone quality by bowing in different places along the string, without ever getting right on the bridge or over the fingerboard. In another performer, it might have seemed like lack of control, but the force of his personality made me believe in him. What matters is that it worked for me and the audience.

Lack of rehearsal time seems to be an unavoidable evil of the festival format, when the practicalities of busy top-notch artists’ schedules are considered. The result, too often, is a good, smooth, but lackluster performance, which CMNW patrons admittedly happily tolerate in return for the concentrated variety of festival repertory. Sometimes though, when interpersonal chemistry, skill, and attitude are right as they were here, magic can still happen.

Jeff Winslow is a Portland composer and pianist who serves on the board of Cascadia Composers. 

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