carlos kalmar

It’s sometimes necessary to restrict certain things: An interview with David Danzmayr

Talking music with the Oregon Symphony’s new Music Director

With over twenty years at the Oregon Symphony, Carlos Kalmar gave his farewell to Portland with the final cancelled season and their Grammy nomination. He will be joining the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music as the Director of Conducting and Conductor of Orchestras to train the next generation. The Symphony found an up-and-comer in David Danzmayr to take his place as music director for what will hopefully be a long tenure. 

Danzmayr comes to Portland via Austria. In Europe, he won a conducting scholarship with the Gustav Mahler Youth Symphony, where he studied under the greats Claudio Abbado and Pierre Boulez, and served as chief conductor of the Zagreb Philharmonic in Croatia. His work in the U.S. includes his tenure at the Illinois Philharmonic and with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio.

The Oregon Symphony concert he conducted as an unofficial audition was one of the highlights of the last season: Stravinsky’s Firebird, Colin Currie’s performance of the Akiho Percussion Concerto, and Ives’ Three Places in New England. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more difficult assortment of pieces from the repertoire for a young conductor. The Concerto is especially notable, a new work of staggering polyrhythmic complexity that Danzmayr handled with ease.

danzmayr
David Danzmayr.

The question is: what does it mean? Will Danzmayr’s conducting style differ radically from Kalmar’s? Looking through reviews of Danzmayr’s conducting, critics have praised his handling of the repertoire and his technical proficiency in fairly vague terms. From my listening, I’m struck by some of his bold interpretations. For instance, note how in this performance of the Blue Danube he savors the accelerando as the dance slowly builds momentum up to the climax. For one of the few classical works to gain massive cross-cultural popularity, he gives new life through his masterful conducting. He achieves a similar effect in this excerpt from Mahler’s First, letting each of the woodwind melodies pop out from the string texture like the bird songs they are evoking.

The circle of conductors is quite small and elite, as it remains such a specialized subject that it still needs to be taught one-on-one. As such, it’s no surprise that Danzmayr has run into former Oregon Symphony conductors before. Kalmar met him when David was a young man, and asked if Danzmayr was related to the composer Wolfgang Danzmayr. He said “yes, that’s my father.” Danzmayr also took part in a competition where James DePriest was judging. If nothing else, this says that he is of the same milieu of top-tier conductors the OSO has enjoyed for decades. 

The role of the conductor is a complex one. Danzmayr describes it well, and in a pretty humorous way in this video. Conductors don’t just get in front of a hundred musicians and wave their arms around: they guide the musicians in interpreting and shaping the music and help define the identity of the organization. As much as we love Kalmar’s dancing and swaying at the podium, he has moved on. This provides a chance for a new personality to rise to meet our orchestra and guide us into the future as it grows and gains more national recognition.

We wanted to get to know Danzmayr better and understand how his personality will guide the course of the symphony. So we sat down and spoke with him about the future of the Oregon Symphony, his background and his thoughts on music more generally.

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Classical Up Close 3: Tango Plus

A pair of shows in the series of free summer outdoor concerts spotlights Black and contemporary woman composers, and some tingling tango, too

From left: Robert Taylor, Erin Furbee, and Peter Frajola get in the swing. Photo: Joe Cantrell

On a comfortably warm Thursday evening about a hundred people gathered outdoors in Portland’s Hollywood/Rose City Park neighborhood for a decidedly different show in Classical Up Close‘s June series of intimate outdoor concerts – a breezy program of tangos, a little bit of Elgar and Haydn, some Duke Ellington (including his 1931 jazz classic It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing), and some movie music by John Williams from the Harry Potter films. As eclectic as the music was, the instrumentation was just as agreeably offbeat: two violins (Erin Furbee and Peter Frajola) and a trombone (Robert Taylor).

Indeed, the joint was jumping. “I think we had about a dozen tangos,” Frajola said in a telephone conversation the next day. “Mostly they’re two to three, maybe four minutes. What we played were more dance pieces than concert tangos. And then, some Astor Piazzolla, which are concert pieces.”

Not much, of course, is written for two violins and a trombone, which meant a lot of arranging needed to be done. Taylor mostly did the arrrangements, Frajola said, and did them well. The trombone took the bass lines, Furbee played the melodies, and Frajola emulated the inner chords of the piano to cover the range of compositional sound with the particular resonances of the three instruments. As Furbee noted in the brief program notes, “We had a lot of fun putting this together!”

And after more than a year of Zoom meetings, maybe a little recording, and a lot of practicing on their own, there was something more than simply fun about the actual performing: The evening was as much of a breakthrough for the musicians as it was for the audience. After fifteen months of almost no live performances, “it was just so great to get out playing,” Frajola said. All three musicians are members of the Oregon Symphony (Frajola is associate concertmaster, Furbee is assistant concertmaster, Taylor is assistant principal trombonist), and with the symphony musicians set to gather September 1 after more than a year off for their first rehearsal of the new season, it felt like a door opening. “It’s just exhilarating to know we’re on our way back,” Frajola said. “Performing is what we do.”

With increased vaccinations and relaxed coronavirus restrictions, Thursday’s neighborhood concert felt like a door opening in a lot of ways: a recalibration of broken habits; a sense of emerging, if tenuously, from a social isolation; a reconnection with the act of gathering. “Most people in the crowd were a little closer together than a year ago,” when many of the Classical Up Close musicians performed in a series of very small porch and yard concerts, Frajola noticed. “A year ago, everyone carefully distanced.”

Is a new, or renewed, reality around the corner? “It just felt great to be in front of people,” Frajola said. “Trust me, it felt fabulous.”

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Jennifer Arnold, violist in the ensemble Mousai REMIX. Photo: Joe Cantrell

ON THE PREVIOUS EVENING on a spacious side yard in Northeast Portland’s Irvington neighborhood, a couple of miles away from the tango concert, the festival’s third concert broke away from classical music stereotypes in its own way. The program consisted of works by actual young and adventurous living composers (the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, violinist and singer Caroline Shaw’s Enre’acte; violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery’s Voodoo Dolls) and by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (String Quartet No. 1 “Cavalry”), a leading 20th century composer who, like many great Black musicians, spanned genres.

Perkinson, who was born in 1932 and died in 2004, was comfortable in the worlds of jazz, pop, dance, and classical music. He played piano for the great jazz drummer Max Roach, composed dance music for Alvin Ailey and Jerome Robbins, did arrangements for Harry Belafonte and Marvin Gaye. Shaw and Montgomery are active composer/performers who know this neck of the musical woods: Shaw’s performed with Chamber Music Northwest and the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival (see Matthew Neil Andrews’ ArtsWatch interview with her); Montgomery’s appeared with Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival (see Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch interview with her).

Wednesday evening’s concert attracted a crowd of neighborhood people and a goodly share of the city’s musical luminaries. The players were local luminaries, too: The Pyxis Quartet (violinists Ron Blessinger and Greg Ewer, violist Charles Noble, cellist Marilyn de Oliveira) and Mousai REMIX (violinists Shin-young Kwon and Emily Cole, violist Jennifer Arnold, cellist de Oliveira). The evening sounded something like America, in its roots and in its moment now.

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Classical Up Close Summer Festival 2021

The intimate concert series began June 1 and continues through June 14. You can see this year’s full Classical Up Close Festival schedule here. Coming up next:

  • Friday, June 4, 5-6 p.m.: 16306 Hilltop Road, Oregon City. Sarah Kwak, Chien Tan, Searmi Park, Ruby Chen, violin; Charles Noble, Vali Phillips, Kelly Talim, Leah Ilem, viola; Marilyn de Oliveira, Trevor Fitzpatrick, Antoinette Gan, cello; and Andy Akiho, percussion, play sextets by Brahms and Strauss, and four contemporary pieces by percussionist Akiho. Limited parking; carpooling suggested.
  • Saturday, June 5, 2-3 p.m.: 6318 S.E. Lincoln St., Portland. Rose City Brass Quintet (Joe Klause and Logan Brown, trumpets; Dan Partridge, horn; Lars Campbell, trombone; JáTtik Clark, tuba) plays music by Jennifer Higdon, Axel Jorgensen, Joyce Solomon Moorman, Joey Sellers, and Jack Gale’s arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story Suite.
  • Saturday, June 5, 7-8 p.m.: 2966 N.W. Telshire Terrace, Beaverton. Emily Cole, Ruby Chen, Shin-young Kwon, violin; Charles Noble, viola; Ken Finch, cello; Karen Wagner, oboe and James Shields, clarinet, perform Bartok’s Duo for Two Violins; Dohnanyi’s Serenade in C Major for String Trio, Op. 10; and Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F Major, K. 370 and Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581.
  • Sunday, June 6, 2-3 p.m.: 4037 S.W. Iowa St., Portland. Greg Ewer, Emily Cole, violin; Charles Noble, viola; Antoinette Gan, Marilyn de Oliveira, cello; Martha Long, flute, perform Fanny Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E-flat Major;  Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Assobio a Játo; and Mozart’s Flute Quartet in G Major.

Previous stories:

Festivals of the future

Oregon Symphony’s reborn season, examined

With over a million vaccine doses delivered and summer looming, the Oregon Symphony has announced their return to the Schnitz for a 2021-2022 season. This isn’t simply a re-formulated version of the cancelled 2020-21 season, though a couple of pieces reappear. You can investigate the whole season for yourself right here.

There are two other exciting pieces of news, one of which is the hiring of new music director and conductor David Danzmayr (stay tuned for our interview with Danzmayr in the coming weeks). The other is the Schnitz’s acoustic renovations; the OSO has been coy about that so far, so we eagerly await more details. What we know is that the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust generously donated the $1 million that will pay for the renovations. 

Despite their season being cancelled last March, the symphony has adapted to the moment with their Essential Sounds series, the Storytime series and “minute for music” (listen to them all on Youtube here). Considering how poorly some organizations treated their musicians near the beginning of the pandemic, the Oregon Symphony has done a good job keeping their musicians employed over the last year.

This video may be the best musical primer for the new season: Danzmayr conducting Gabriela Lena Frank’s Elegía Andina, which we will hear at the first concert of the season, alongside a premiere by local violist and composer Kenji Bunch and Mahler’s death-defying Second Symphony.

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Making music, symphonic & Black

ArtsWatch Weekly: Oregon Symphony picks a new leader; we begin a Black-music column; finale for Fertile Ground

THE BIG NEWS IN OREGON ARTS THIS WEEK WAS VERY BIG: The Oregon Symphony has picked its new music director. The Austrian conductor David Dansmayr will assume the artistic post at Oregon’s largest musical organization for the 2021/22 season, becoming only the third musical director for the symphony since 1980. He’ll replace Carlos Kalmar, who led the orchestra from 2003 until this season; Kalmar replaced James DePriest, who had held the top job for 23 years. 
 

The Austrian conductor David Dansmayr takes over the top artistic spot at the Oregon Symphony. Photo courtesy Oregon Symphony Orchestra.

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2020 in review: At last, over & out

2020? Perish the thought. The ups, downs, disasters, trends, outrages, and occasional triumphs of Oregon's arts & culture in a tortuous year.

2020? Perish the thought. Good riddance to bad rubbish: We’re gonna wash that year right out of our hair. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Or, as the old curse has it, “may you live in interesting times” – but not quite this interesting, thank you very much.

The Year That Should Not Speak Its Name led pretty much everyone, including all of us here at Oregon ArtsWatch, on a frantic and astonishing chase. It was discombobulating, because for the most part we were chasing in isolation inside the confines of our own homes, like cats in a cardboard box desperately racing after our own tails. Oh, sure, there were those fair-weather walks through the neighborhood, and the masked-up trips to the grocery store. But, really: Things might’ve been new, but they were far from normal.


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


Normality, of course, is how the year began. Even optimism. On Jan. 1, 2020, a year ago today, ArtsWatch strode brashly into the Brave New Year with the first dispatch in Vision 2020, an ambitious series of 20 interviews over 20 days with a cross-section of Oregon arts figures who agreed to talk with us about how things looked from their corners of the cultural world, and what they hoped to see in the coming year and decade. They had some terrific insights and ideas, and the series makes for some fascinating reading: From Rachel Barreras-Kleeman’s tale of why she teaches dance to low-income kids on the Coast, to Dañel Malan’s vision of creating bilingual arts through Teatro Milagro, to 18 compelling stories in between, you can find all 20 interviews here. But nobody – least of all those of us at ArtsWatch Central, in our eager editorial innocence – anticipated what was lurking just around the corner.

In January Maya Vivas and Leila Haile talked with Martha Daghlian for ArtsWatch’s “Vision 2020” series about the joys and challenges of running an adventurous art gallery on North Mississippi Avenue featuring work from a wide range of artists who identify as QTPoC (Queer Trans People of Color). Because of the Covid-19 crisis, their Ori Gallery has since shifted to an online presence. Photo courtesy Ori Gallery

And how could any of us have? Yes, news reports buried on the inside pages of the newspapers alerted us to some new virus very far away, but it didn’t seem like much to get alarmed about. Then things began to build, until, come March, the virus was all very real, and all over the place, and in spite of a determined right-wing campaign to persuade people that it was all fake news and the disease was a hoax, the world began to shut down.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Virtual Classical

Deprived of live shows, Oregon musicians take their talents to the interwebs

Oregon musical performances may be suspended, but Oregon music plays on. Oregon classical musicians aren’t letting a little thing like a deadly pandemic and total cancellation of live performances stop them from bringing the sounds. Tonight, Friday May 8, at 10 pm, for example, the latest worthy project from 45th Parallel Universe, Portland Social Distance Ensemble, debuts with a performance of that seminal (or, as one of my fellow feminist friends used to say, “ovular”) work of contemporary classical music, Terry Riley’s In C. Tune in at their Facebook livestream or YouTube livestream.

45th Parallel musicians perform live on the internet Friday

The eight musicians will be playing live, in real time, from six different houses, all in sync through the magic of what must be a really fast internet connection to overcome the latency problem that plagues so many attempts at simultaneous playing from scattered locations. “We’ve built a live digital platform that allows us to collaborate remotely online,” enthuses 45th Parallel’s Ron Blessinger. “No one else is doing anything even close to this. This is as close to a live performance as anyone is able to do with players playing in their own homes. Next, we’ll try it with players in Poland and Holland too.”

Riley’s proto-minimalist masterpiece is a canny choice for this test run, as it allows the individual musicians a degree of latitude that makes absolute precision not quite as important to the musical outcome. 45th Parallel plans to repeat it, with a different program each Friday from 6-6:30 pm, at the same websites above. Next week’s program by the organization’s Pyxis string quartet includes music by two of America’s greatest living composers, Philip Glass and George Crumb, and more.

PSDE is a commendably bold and fascinating experiment, so do have a little patience with this debut performance, and join us in admiration for their willingness to take a risk. Tough times demand bold responses. 

Like so many other Oregon classical performers, 45th Parallel had to cancel its spring shows, so it’s nice to see them bouncing back undaunted. They’re not the only musicians livestreaming events this month.

• Legendary Portland club team DJ Anjali and The Incredible Kid celebrate the seven-year anniversary of their Tropitaal Desi Latino Soundclash party over livestream  next Saturday, May 16.

• On May 22, Portland State University’s Sonic Arts and Music Production’s Laptop Ensemble will livestream several new quarantine-appropriate pieces, including Social Distance, a live music performance with 20 networked laptops, and Inside Voices, a pre-recorded piece written in series by the ensemble. This one, sponsored by the vital Portland club Holocene, requires a ticket purchase.

• Portland’s Creative Music Guild has moved its fascinating Outset Series online, starting a series of live streamed shows this month via its YouTube channel. Next up: Jamondria Harris this Tuesday, May 12. It’s an excellent way to get familiar with a vital but hard-to-describe segment of Portland’s less conventional music scene.

We’ll do our best to keep you apprised of others — please let us know about other Oregon livestream music at music@orartswatch.org. Meanwhile, here are some other — what shall we call online presentations of chats and archived performances, as opposed to the livestream concerts listed above? “Deadstreams” sounds a little harsh….

• On May 8, 9 and 10, Lincoln City Cultural Center’s Center’s Creative Quarantine Studio program present a Siletz Bay Music Mini Festival smorgasbord featuring jazz, classical, chamber and family offerings with some of the festival’s favorite artists,  including jazz clarinet master Ken Peplowski, pianist Rosanno Sportiello, artistic director Yaacov Bergman, cellist Nancy Ives, pianist Mei Ting Sun, violist Miriam Ward English and her family, and more.

• Also this weekend, KWAX (FM 91.1) re-broadcasts the Eugene Symphony’s January 23 concert featuring music by Missy Mazzoli, Brahms and Sibelius. You can also see a video of the Eugene Symphony’s photo-enhanced Four Seasons of the McKenzie River concert from February on YouTube. 

• ESO music director Francesco Lecce-Chong has been offering weekly online Watch Parties in which he talks about classical music masterpieces and instruments. You can catch up on past episodes on his YouTube channel, and the series resumes at month’s end, when he returns with new episodes from his childhood home in Boulder, where he and his fiancé are sheltering.

• On May 11, Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar is starting his own series of weekly chats, Mondays with the Maestro, accessible on Artslandia website or Facebook.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Director Raúl Gomez hosts a daily YouTube show “MYS Virtual Hangouts” from Tuesday-Friday at 4pm on the MYS YouTube Channel. He and guests (so far including Oregon Symphony Artist-in-Residence Johannes Moser and principal cellist Nancy Ives, composers Gabriela Lena Frank and Kenji Bunch, and more) chat about life stories, musical advice and even include world premiere collaborations with local artists.

• For audio-only streams, check Portland’s essential classical music resource, All Classical FM, whose Andrea Murray devoted the current episode of her valuable Club Mod program — streaming for the next two weeks — to Portland composers), while Christa Wessel’s excellent Thursdays @ 3 program is bringing live performances from Oregon musicians’ home studios. Cellist Diane Chaplin, singer Arwen Myers and Oregon Symphony flutist Martha Long’s performances are currently available, as are recordings of earlier live performances on the station’s Played in Oregon program by Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Music Northwest. 

• The Creative Music Guild‘s Extradition Series has started a Social Distancing Project, with videos of performances recorded during the current period of isolation by some of Portland’s most accomplished improvising musicians.

• You can also find pre-pandemic performances of Oregon music streaming at Cascadia Composers YouTube channel. Portland Baroque Orchestra and Cappella Romana offer online recordings of their recent concerts on YouTube, the University of Oregon is releasing archived concerts from Beall Concert Hall, and many other Oregon music institutions are streaming videos of earlier performances or even home-grown (more literally than ever) current music making, like Artslandia’s happy hours

This is far from a comprehensive list. Check your own favorite organization or band’s website often to see what online offerings, from playlists to archived concerts and more, might appear in this fast-changing environment. Since most is free to stream, think of this troubled moment as an opportunity to virtually test-drive Oregon music makers you’ve missed or never gotten a chance to hear live. That way, when the live music resumes, you might have a lot more items to add to your musical agenda. And feel free to share more streaming links to Oregon music in the comments section below. 

News & Notes

Meanwhile, the cascade of classical cancellations continues. The latest series to fall victim to the virus: Chamber Music Northwest, which yesterday announced cancellation of its upcoming spring concerts and all Summer Festival concerts and events — a bitter pill for what would have been the 50th anniversary season of one of Oregon’s most valuable classical music events.

But CMNW won’t leave listeners entirely bereft. Beginning May 21 and running through June 21, All Classical Portland 89.9 FM will air a new five-part series of music and interviews from recent Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festivals on Thursdays at 7 pm, repeated on Sundays at 4 pm. The series will feature the Verona Quartet, Imani Winds, Opus 1 Piano Quartet, Harlem Quartet, and more.

Chamber Music Northwest also hosts a free Virtual Summer Festival June 22 – July 26 featuring highlights from recent seasons and special live concerts, including performances by CMNW regulars including the Emerson, Miró, and Dover Quartets, Ida and Ani Kavafian, Andre Watts, Edgar Meyer, Peter Schickele, and David Shifrin, who this summer would have celebrated 40th and final festival as artistic director. The organization earlier decided to send this summer’s scheduled musicians 50 percent of their pay for the festival immediately, to help out with pressing needs since so many have lost so many gigs, and specified that the money was theirs to keep “regardless of what happens this summer.”

• Along with CMNW and the Oregon Bach Festival, Bend’s Sunriver Music Festival canceled this August’s edition, which would have been the tenth and final season for artistic director and conductor George Hanson.

• And Jacksonville’s Britt Festival canceled its August classical music season, vowing to return in 2021 with the same lineup, including the festival orchestra’s premiere of acclaimed American composer Caroline Shaw’s new experiential, site-specific Hiking the Woodlands inspired by the Jacksonville Woodland Trails. Even though this summer’s live attractions are fading fast, at least we have plenty to look forward to next year.

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A Tempest in the Schnitz

With a vivid storm of Shakespeare's words and Sibelius's music, The Oregon Symphony pairs two artists in their twilights for a last hurrah


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL
STORY BY BOB HICKS


It was a storm for the ages Saturday night in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as the musicians of the Oregon Symphony swept into the swirling seas of The Tempest, the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’s vivid 1925/26 score for William Shakespeare’s great late romance about an island, a magician, a belly full of betrayals, an awakening of young love, and a resolution of forgiveness. Ah, but first, the storm: blowing, whistling, reeling, slipping and sliding in a chaotic cascade of rhythms and notes – an unsettling of sound that whirls and clatters and destroys and yet also somehow sets the scene for fresh wonders and reawakened hope.

As the orchestra urges the action forward, Caliban (Tobias Greenhalgh), seeing freedom if he switches allegiance from Prospero, cavorts with his new hopes, the drunken butler Stephano (Benjamin Taylor, middle) and jester Trinculo (Andrew Stenson). It’s not Caliban’s wisest decision.

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