george li

Musical Fire in the Rogue Valley

Southern Oregon music festival features three weeks of classical music new and old

by ALICE HARDESTY

The Rogue Valley is home to the Britt Music and Arts Festival, which takes place in July and August every summer. The Britt Festival Orchestra’s music director, Teddy Abrams, is hugely popular among music lovers here and in his home city of Louisville, where he directs the Louisville Orchestra. That affection is reciprocated, he assures us. “I immediately fell in love with Jacksonville, with the region, and with the orchestra from the first time I came here to conduct. That was seven years ago, the year before I started my first season as music director. I’ve been associated now with this festival for a good solid percentage of my life if you think about it.” Fortunately for Southern Oregon, Abrams has renewed his contract for four more years.

Young Teddy

While some of us might say that seven years is only an eye-blink, when you’re just 32 that’s a good percentage of your life. Abrams started his musical career early. He was improvising on the piano at age three, beginning lessons at five, and got interested in conducting after attending a San Francisco Symphony concert at age nine. He began studying conducting and musicianship with Michael Tilson Thomas at the age of twelve. At sixteen he started a bachelor of arts program at the San Francisco Conservatory for Music and went on to the Curtis Institute of Music and later to the Aspen Music Festival and School. At both of the latter institutions he was the youngest conducting student ever accepted, and he is currently the youngest conductor of a major orchestra in the U.S. By now he has conducted orchestras around the world, and he also performs frequently as a pianist and clarinetist. And, in his spare time, he composes!

Mission and challenges

I’m sure Teddy Abrams has been labeled “wunderkind” sometime along the way. But unlike many prodigies, his flame continues to burn brightly, and his creative energies are unstoppable, proof of which lies in the successful rejuvenation of the Louisville Orchestra and in the number and quality of the programs he has created for the Britt Festival Orchestra.

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Today seems a good time to introduce you to one of our newest correspondents, C.S. Eliot. When the movie Kedi: The Cats of Istanbul prowled into town (it’s landed at Cinema 21 after a couple of sold-out screenings at the Portland International Film Festival) we found ourselves looking for just the right sort of writer to respond to the film’s unusual subject matter, a writer with inside knowledge of the peculiarities of the feline world. And C.S. made a poetic plea to speak up.

Well, all right, it was a yowl. C.S., we regret to report, is an imperious sort, given to stark pronouncements and prone to making unseemly demands on the management. Thus, forthwith, C.S.’s first dispatch for us, ‘Kedi’ review: Turkish delight.

The streetwise cats of Istanbul.

To tell the truth, this partnership is a work in progress. We’re not sure C.S. understands the concept of objectivity at all. But C.S. makes no bones about his opinions (he prefers to leave the bones for the dogs), and C.S. will speak out. There’s no stopping him, really, although you can slow him down if you put out a bowl of tuna juice. Let’s stipulate that a good writer is not necessarily a saint.

In the case of Kedi, not only is C.S. an expert on the subject, he also has a talented collaborator, longtime ArtsWatch correspondent Maria Choban. She speaks Cat semi-fluently and is adept at translating the pith of C.S.’s opinions. We see their partnership as vital to our coverage of the next touring production of Cats to hit town (lyrics and original concept by C.S. Eliot’s distant relative T.S.), and to the Puss in Boots scene in Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. And if someone in town will please put up a production of the musical Archy & Mehitabel, C.S. likely will be our representative in the reviewer’s box. We’ve tried, but we just can’t seem to come up with a literate cockroach who’ll work for what we can pay.

 


 

A GLIMPSE INSIDE THIS WEEK’S DATEBOOK:

 

Companhia Urbana de Dança at White Bird. Photo: Renato Mangolin

Companhia Urbana de Dança. White Bird brings the energetic Brazilian dance troupe to the Newmark Theatre for shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. Born in the shanty towns and suburbs of Rio, the company blends hip-hop, urban, and contemporary dance into an Afro-Brazilian stew.

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George Li review: Miracles aplenty

Stellar Portland Piano International recitals reveal classical piano's next star

by TERRY ROSS

I could hardly believe my eyes. At intermission, the audience members were calmly milling around the Lincoln Hall lobby, chatting and buying refreshments and talking on their phones, as if they had just seen the first half of any old concert. Didn’t they realize what they’d just heard? I wanted to shake them out of their nonchalance and yell in their faces, “Don’t you have ears? This kid is great!”

George Li. Photo: Christian Steiner.

To call pianist George Li a kid is no exaggeration. But although short and baby-faced at 21 years of age, he’s nevertheless elaborately experienced, having given his professional debut at age 10 in Boston and won the silver medal at the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition, among other honors. His onstage aplomb at his Portland Piano International recital on Saturday afternoon, February 11, at Portland State University, was immaculate. Before beginning each piece, Li paused over the keys as if meditating, raised his hands very slowly, and then plunged immediately into the rhythm of the music. Once underway, he looked as if he were concentrating intensely while also dreaming; his hands never stopped.

During the opener, Josef Haydn’s Sonata in B Minor, Mr. Li showed technique to spare and seemed to negotiate the music with no real effort. Fast and slow music alike emerged under his fingers with exemplary clarity. And with his phrasing and expression, he succeeded in making each of the three movements a little mini-sonata of its own, and this in a piece that although programmed more frequently than most of Haydn’s other five dozen sonatas, is not especially memorable. I thought to myself, if he can make this Haydn piece sing like this, what miracles might he produce with Chopin’s Second Sonata, the next piece on the program?

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