audrey luna

Audrey Luna: on a high note

Portland State alumna returns home for a recital after soaring to the heights of the opera world

by BRUCE and DARYL BROWNE

A shock –a frisson of emotion, of sheer joy amidst a fountain of favorite songs –was the prevailing feeling among audience members Sunday afternoon at the vocal recital of Audrey Luna at Portland State University Recital Hall.

Luna’s name has popped into opera junkie conversation since singing her record-breaking A above high C (A6, do not try this at home) in the premiere of contemporary British-American composer Thomas Adès’s opera The Exterminating Angel (with Ms. Luna in the role of Leticia) at the Metropolitan Opera. We scoot forward on our seats in anticipation of more magical record-breaking notes. But there is so much more in the total package on stage, including acting, vocal endurance and, at times, gymnastics, as in another Adès opera, The Tempest.

Luna as Leticia in ‘The Exterminating Angel’

At her PSU recital, Ms. Luna, partnered with PSU faculty pianist Chuck Dillard, offered us the vocal works of three composers: Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy in the first half, and just one song, one glorious rhapsody, by Samuel Barber in the second. These three composers happen to be her favorites.

The five Strauss songs, plucked from three different song cycles, demonstrated his proclivity for athletic vocal lines, with leaps and coloratura for the singer, and a wide palette of harmonic colors. Strauss’ romantic-era vocal works are, according to English soprano Susan Gritton, “a sumptuous wave for the voice to surf, with wonderful opportunities for timbre and line.” Ms. Luna loosened as she rode those waves.

She and Dr. Dillard adhered like velcro on each song. Dillard’s tinkling scales and arpeggios in “Herr Lenz” were a delight. Professor Dillard heads the Collaborative Piano program at PSU, and his work in this recital defines “collaborative” and acknowledges the level plane upon which recital partners exist.

Dillard and Luna performed at Portland State.

The first of several selections from Six Songs (Sechs leider), “Ich wollt ein Strausslein binden,” set to the poetry of German/Austrian Clemens Brentano, was most compelling in tone and expression. “Amor,” from the same cycle, was Ms. Luna’s final offering on the recital, a fireworks display of vocal maneuvering.

With the Debussy, we were lifted even further by Ms. Luna’s rapturous voice and elegant delivery. “Quatre chanson de jeunesse” sets the work of three different poets, each evoking dreamy impressionistic landscapes populated with typical French characters of the time: Harlequin, Pierrot, Cassandre and Columbine. Luna’s command of the language, the images of each word of poetry, was a magic carpet of vocal line, peppered with particularized articulation of each word.

For me, Samuel Barber‘s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 was the perfect capstone of the afternoon. A song may be elevated three times over: first by the poet of the original text, second by the music of the composer and last, but not least, by the singer. It was a perfect illustration of a happy wedding of words and music, further heightened by the artistry of Ms. Luna.

There’s not a wrong word by the author, James Agee, a wrong note by Barber, nor was there a misstep by Ms. Luna. The work is new in her repertoire, but it sounded like an old friend. She captured perfectly the essence of the young boy questioning his identity, and wove a magic spell around the stunningly evocative text of Agee. With suave inflections and an afterburner of vocal range, Ms. Luna made us believe and we left transformed. That’s all one can ask.

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MusicWatch Weekly: winter light

Portland State University performances highlight Oregon's music calendar

Welcome to the light edition of MusicWatch! Like everybody else, our New Years resolutions included slimming down both spending and girth. You could trim down your musical meanderings and expenses this week by confining them to the campus of Portland State University, which offers several rewarding shows, some offering free admission.

Some are part of the Portland Winter Light Festival happening around town and centered this year on the PSU campus Feb. 7-9, and including Classical Revolution PDX, Portland Opera singers, a geodesic dome, dance, vaudeville performers, and much more.

The shadows of PSU faculty musicians will be projected in the Winter Light Festival’s Ombra Musici performance

• PSU prof and violinist Tomas Cotik plays some of the most beloved Baroque hits: some of JS Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo and the Winter concerto from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Thursday’s performance will be live streamed. Saturday’s performance is part of Cotik’s shadowy new project Ombra Musici, in which the colossal shadows of Cotik and other PSU faculty musicians will be projected on the walls of the PSU library as they play. He writes:

Ombra Musici is an example of something I like to call massive media: it’s a combination of architecture and media that together transform our perception of space…. The medium is video and sound, the moving image. These aspects add an element of change, of contingency, which serves to capture attention. Architecture that is normally consumed in a passive state of attention becomes a focal point…

Furthermore, the content of the projection mimics some of the earliest and simplest examples of the projected moving image, the shadowplay. Ombra Musici harkens back to the earliest beginnings of cinema and looks forward to a future of expressive architectural surfaces and a mass spatialization of cinema in urban environments.

Noon Thursday and 7 pm Saturday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University

Lisa Ann Marsh’s music highlights Portland’s Winter Light Festival.

• Friday’s festival show, The Light of Music, features the music of one of Portland’s most broadly appealing composers, PSU prof Lisa Ann Marsh, plus lights, night sky images, illuminated dancing, and ice instruments. Ten guest performers and five guest artists will join Marsh on stage for a retrospective of her favorite compositions.
7:30 pm Friday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University

BRAVO Youth Orchestras annual Benefit Concert at PSU’s Lincoln Hall, features a pair of Venezuelan born musicians, Oregon Symphony and FearNoMusic fiddler Inés Voglar and cuatro (four-string guitar) master Freddy Vilches, leading performances of Venezuelan music. One of the world’s greatest Irish fiddlers, Kevin Burke, joins fellow fiddler Betsy Branch in traditional Irish music, and Portland neo-soul songwriter Blossom unleashes steel drums from her native Trinidad and Tobago, accompanied by BRAVO students. The Oregon Supreme Court’s first African-American Justice, Adrienne Nelson, will speak.
4 pm Saturday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University

• Opera-heads got all excited when soprano Audrey Luna sang the highest written note (a stratospheric A) on the Metropolitan Opera stage last year. Let’s hope that striking but gimmicky feat doesn’t define her career, because her performance in the American premiere production of Thomas Adès’ new opera The Exterminating Angel as well as in the British composer’s previous The Tempest also displayed impressive vocal versatility, compelling acting skills, and eagerness to take chances on new music rather than merely repeating the usual coloratura classic roles as so many opera stars do.

Audrey Luna teaches and sings at PSU.

Oregonians should also hope that Luna’s ascent (vocal and career) doesn’t overshadow the fact that before she sang at the world’s leading opera houses (the Met, Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House, Lyric Opera of Chicago et al) and with major orchestras (Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic) Audrey Luna sang her first opera role right here at Portland State University: Pamina in The Magic Flute. The Salem native got her bachelor’s degree here in 2001 before moving on to conservatory, apprenticeships at US opera companies, and on to world renown. She’s returning to her alma mater to present a master class and sing a recital that features late Romantic music by Richard Strauss, symbolist sounds by Debussy, and American composer Samuel Barber’s ravishing, nostalgic Knoxville: Summer of 1915, based on James Agee’s novel.
3 pm Sunday, Lincoln Recital Hall.

• Luna is also singing arias with Portland Concert Opera next Wednesday, Feb. 13 in Agnes Flanagan Chapel at Lewis & Clark College.

• Portland Piano International recitals often happen at PSU, too, but this time, 22-year-old Italian pianist Filippo Gorini plays Bartok, Beethoven and Chopin at Resound NW, 1532 SW Jefferson St. Portland Saturday, Hood River Columbia Center for the Arts, 215 Cascade Ave, Hood River Sunday, and Providence St. Vincent Hospital, 9205 SW Barnes Rd. Portland Monday. The two PDX performances are free.

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Music Notes

New music series, awards and honors, death and resurrection and other transitions in Oregon music news

As a new year begins, here’s one of our periodic roundups of recent news in Oregon music. This is only a smattering, of course. Got more news about Oregon music? Let us know, or leave it in the comments section below.

High Notes

On Sunday at its 40th Anniversary National Conference, Chamber Music America (CMA), the national network for ensemble music professionals, awarded longtime Chamber Music Northwest artistic director clarinetist David Shifrin its 2018 Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award, which annually  recognizes an individual or entity that has provided historic service to the small ensemble music field.

Chamber Music Northwest artistic director David Shifrin.

Congrats to Oregon music stalwarts Randy Porter and Nancy King. The superb pianist and Lewis & Clark College faculty member and legendary singer received a Grammy Award nomination for their new album Randy Porter Plays Cole Porter, special guest Nancy King (Heavywood).  “If Randy Porter played more widely outside the US Pacific Northwest, he would likely be lauded as one of the leading contemporary jazz pianists,” wrote eminent jazz journalist Doug Ramsey. “This new album of songs composed by his namesake Cole Porter could go a long way toward bringing about wide recognition of an artist with a record of achievement going back more than three decades. Porter has toured extensively in Europe and Asia [and] is known on the west coast well beyond his home base in the Portland, Oregon, area. Six of the nine tracks find Nancy King, at 77, as musicianly as ever—individualistic and expressive, one of the few vocalists capable of improvising with harmonic wisdom equal to that of experienced instrumentalists.”

Eugene-based production company AO Films and Eugene Concert Choir won “Best Documentary” from the Oregon Independent Film Festival for their collaborative film, ”The Story of Shadow and Light: Giving Voice to an Alzheimer’s Journey”’

As we reported before the original performance, Eugene Concert Choir was awarded a $125,000 Creative Heights Initiative grant from the Fred W. Fields Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation to help fund the commission of a new composition for chamber choir and orchestra by Portland composer Joan Szymko of Oregon, as well as the world premiere performance in the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall, professional concert video and audio recordings, and the film documentary of the artistic journey.

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