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Classical Up Close 9: A wet finale

The company of elite musicians closes its two-week festival of human-scaled outdoors concerts on a high note – and in the rain

Classical Up Close‘s June festival of free outdoor concerts wrapped up in style on Monday with one violin, two violas, one cello, one bass, one clarinet, two horns, one bassoon, three chamber compositions, and several buckets of rain.

The festival had been playing peekaboo with the rainclouds for several days, but had managed to duck all but a few drops. At Monday’s festival finale, at noon along the east bank of the Willamette River in Milwaukie, music and weather finally bumped into each other for real. The clouds burst, and the rain came tumbling fast and furious.

In their element in the elements: Classical Up Close’s performers make music amid the cloudburst in Monday’s final concert in the 14-show outdoor series. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Well, maybe not that fast and furious. “It was a light rain,” violinist Sarah Kwak, the executive director of Classical Up Close and concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, said on Tuesday. “The skies didn’t get dark and ominous. It was a summer rain.”

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Behind facades: David Danzmayr, continued

In which we discuss rage, suffering, authenticity, Metallica and Mahler with the Oregon Symphony's new music director

No musician or composer grows up in isolation. Even the most abstract and obtuse artists become so by reacting against prevailing music norms. The extent to which we are molded by our society–and by some sort of “soul” or internal essence or Being–has vexed philosophers for millenia. But I’m glad that we are bringing this discussion into the world of classical music, which can sometimes forget about the influence of popular culture on its most imposing figures. 

One consistent theme in our discussion with David Danzmayr, future artistic director for the Oregon Symphony, is artistic authenticity. It can be intimidating for young musicians to hear “just be yourself!” over and over again from teachers and mentors, but it eventually sticks and becomes clear: it is a life-long process that all musicians strive for.

Oregon Symphony Artistic Director David Danzmayr.

Danzmayr’s father was a composer, and growing up in Austria he was surrounded by the historical legacy of the classical tradition. At the same time, he listened to hard rock and metal as a teenager: Metallica, Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine. I also grew up listening to these bands, among other bands of that generation, although I am a bit younger than Danzmayr. 

We closed last week’s discussion talking about the importance of such cultural influences, which is where we now return to our story.

As before, Danzmayr’s answers have been edited and condensed for clarity and flow.

David Danzmayr: The idea that a composer shouldn’t be influenced by their environment is a purist idea I never understood. The biggest composers were influenced by what’s around them. You should use the cultural influences that you have!

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Classical Up Close 8: Emergency

Pianist Cary Lewis has a "critical heart incident" in mid-concert and is carried away by ambulance to a hospital, where he undergoes emergency surgery

UPDATE: Cary Lewis was diagnosed with an aortic dissection – a tear in the inner layer of the large blood vessel leading to the heart – and underwent emergency open-heart surgery. On Tuesday he was still in the hospital’s intensive care unit, but was also able to sit up in a chair.

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The high-powered trio of violinist Sarah Kwak, violist Vali Phillips, and pianist Cary Lewis on keyboard was deep into the opening piece of Friday afternoon’s 12th concert in Classical Up Close’s June series of 14 free outdoor shows when something went wrong. Lewis, the veteran and highly regarded classical pianist, was in pain.

“I was sitting right next to the stage in case the wind blew Vali’s music off his stand,” Nancy Ives, the principal cellist of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra and a co-founder of Classical Up Close, said the following morning. “I could see that Cary was having problems with his right hand.” She thought it was a flareup from an old climbing injury that sometimes still causes him problems. “And then I heard him say, ‘I can’t even quite lift my right arm’.”

Something was very wrong. “Real life, you know, gets in there,” Ives said. The music stopped. Somebody called an ambulance, which rushed Lewis off to the hospital. Everyone, fellow musicians included, was stunned. “It’s just surreal,” Ives said. “Here you have a friend having a crisis, and you don’t even know. I just know without asking, Cary had that ‘the show must go on’ thing. He is a trouper among troupers.”

Lewis is reported to have had “a critical heart incident” and was taken into emergency open heart surgery. A report on Saturday from a friend of the family said that “it seems that they have been able to manage the situation.”

Pianist Cary Lewis and his wife, cellist Dorothy Lewis. Photo via Facebook. The Lewises were founding members of the Lanier Trio, and Cary has remained in demand as an accompanist for solo performers and as a pianist in chamber groups. He’s been a frequent festival musician across the country. Here’s a review of his 2019 duo concert in Hawaii with Martin Chalifour, principal concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

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Classical Up Close 7: Brass & sass

As the festival of free and casual outdoor concerts enters the home stretch, the brasses come out to play and the tango music does an encore

Garage band: Horn player Joe Berger (left), trumpeter Jeffrey Work (center) and tuba player Ja’Ttik Clark in front of garage door. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Classical Up Close’s June series of free, casual, intimate neighborhood concerts in and around Portland entered the home stretch on Wednesday and Thursday with a pair of shows that shifted from trumpets to tango and brass to sass.

Wednesday’s concert, beneath a brooding but ultimately benevolent sky on the driveway of trumpeter Jeffrey Work’s Southwest Portland home, was a brassy sort of thing. It featured Work, principal trumpeter of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra; and four fellow members of the orchestra’s brass section: assistant principal trumpeter David Bamonte; associate principal horn player Joe Berger; assistant principal trombonist Robert Taylor; and principal tuba player Ja’Ttik Clark; plus orchestra percussionist (and assistant principal timpanist) Sergio Carreno.

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What you see & what you get

ArtsWatch Weekly: Richard Brown's photographic tales of Black Portland; picturing Pride; symphony's new chief; words of the poets; more

PHOTOGRAPHS TELL STORIES – all sorts of stories, in all sorts of ways. What seems like a simple process – point a camera, click, catch an image of the reality right in front of you – can take on much more varied and creative form in the hands of an artist. Yes, sometimes great photographs seem to come out of nowhere, as if by accident. But, like any other artists, great photographers have visions of their own, and the camera is the instrument of their vision. 

Father and child. Photo by Richard Brown, from his memoir “This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience.” 

Portland photographer and activist Richard Brown, who was born in Harlem in 1939, is one of those visionaries, as Maria Choban makes clear in her fascinating essay Brown in Black and White, written on the occasion of the release of Brown’s memoir, This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience, which he wrote with Brian Benson. The book, which contains two dozen of Brown’s remarkable photographs of Black life in Portland and elsewhere, suggests the complex and creative interplay of art and action and community in Brown’s life. 

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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 6: Noble sounds

The festival of free outdoor concerts soars past its halfway point with a pair of shows – and violist Charles Noble's in the middle of the mix

If a songbird were flitting from bush to bush across greater Portland, bent on catching every musical note of this month’s Classical Up Close festival of free outdoor chamber concerts, it would hear and see a lot of Charles Noble. How many of this year’s 14 public concerts is he playing in? On Monday morning – the day after he’d played an afternoon concert in Portland’s Southwest Hills built around Fanny Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, and before picking up his viola again for the concert he and his musician wife, Stephanie Noble, were hosting that evening outside their Milwaukie home – he needed to stop to figure it out.

Cellist Nancy Ives and violist Charles Noble, performing Witold Lutoslawski’s Bucolics for viola and cello, outside at Noble’s Milwaukie home on Monday. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Let’s see: Sunday was No. 4; Monday’s show would be No. 5. And then, coming up were shows on June 12 and the finale on the 14th. “Seven,” he concluded – or, half of this summer’s shows. “It’s kinda nuts,” he added. “At some point I guess I thought, ‘I’m busy enough already. I may as well just keep saying ‘yes’.”

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