Tag Archives: Preu

You Can’t Get There from Here. MPBN and Music

Commentary by Christopher Hyde

As an ardent Brahmsian I have always been disappointed with the so-called Double Concerto (violin and cello). No matter who plays it, the work never seems to strike the right chord, so to speak.

I was doubly disappointed then to have missed the performance recently by the Portland Symphony Orchestra under Eckhardt Preu, one of the three finalists for the position of PSO music director.

Preu’s version of “American in Paris,” during his all-Gershwin program earlier this season, was little short of miraculous, revealing qualities in the work that I had never heard before. I thought that if he could do that with movie-music by Gershwin, he might be able to give the Brahms concerto the performance it deserved.

All was not lost, however. I learned that Maino Public Broadcasting was to air a recording of the PSO performance at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21. I have three computers and several good FM receivers, so I could listen to the performance in the comfort of my music room. How wrong I was!

First, as everyone knows, MPBN no longer plays classical music on its regular stations. It has been relegated to new positions on the dial, like a crazy uncle locked up in the attic. I have never listened to it there, being averse to segregation in any form. But hey, how difficult could it be? Find the new location, dial it up on a good receiver and turn on the stereo. Wrong again.

Either we do not have the right kind of receiver, or the signal from the nearest tower does not reach Pownal. There was absolutely nothing on the dial at the designated position.

By this time it was past 8:00 p.m., but I hoped that Preu would begin with the usual bit of fluff.

My wife recalled that we had stopped subscribing to MPBN when they prevented antenna-using listeners from viewing their programs unless they purchased a particular kind of digital box. Maybe they had done the same with classical music broadcasting.

There was still the computer and something called “live streaming,” I think. Boot up and see. Yes, there it was! IF you purchased a special app (whatever that is) for $99.00. There was a free trial, so we installed it, hoping against hope hat we could unsubscribe after the Brahms ( difficult to do in most circumstances).

There it was, the familiar strains of the vexed concerto, very faint and sounding as if being broadcast through a tin can. This lasted a few seconds and then vanished into the ether, never to return.
By this time,, the concerto was over, prompting a few choice words about MPBN, which has opted to join the talk radio gaggle.

If I want to hear loud, uninformed opinions, poorly and ungrammatically expressed, I can listen to any number of AM stations. If I want to read corporate news, sponsored by the CIA, I can subscribe to the Washington Post.

Enough vilification. The entire pubic broadcasting situation is too sad to contemplate, as organizations that should be supported by public funding turn to corporations for money, self-censor, and take on the coloring of their donors.

I long for the days when Robert J. began one’s day with the quirky “Morning Pro Musica;” when the radio was left on all the time for good music and occasional unbiased news; when the opera was broadcast every weekend; and no one believed they were a member of an intellectual elite just for listening.

So next time they tell you to silence candy wrappers because they’re recording at Merrill Auditorium, don’t believe it. You’ll never hear that concert again. Robert J. will never return, and most of his song birds are extinct.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

Preu Conducts Gershwin

Portland Symphony Orchestra
Merrill Auditorium
Sept. 30, 2017
by Christopher Hyde

Eckart Preu will be a tough act to follow. One of the finalists in the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s search for a new music director, he conducted an unbelievably fine all-Gershwin concert Saturday night at Merrill Auditorium, with about 3 hours of rehearsal time. The final “Rhapsody in Blue,” with pianist Terrence Wilson, was interrupted by deliberate applause in the middle of the performance, an almost unheard of occurrence.

Given the genius of Gershwin, perhaps the first impression is unfair, but Preu got things out of the orchestra, especially in “An American in Paris,” that I had never heard before, while remaining true to the spirit of the music. He admitted to a special affinity for Gershwin, who was one of the few American composers allowed to be performed in East Germany, where the future conductor grew up. He even did a passable remembrance of a few bars of “Summertime” in German.

To get back to “Rhapsody,” Preu and Wilson played off each other like jazz musicians, resulting in a version as close as possible to the improvisation that characterized Gershwin’s first performance of the work. Authentic it certainly was, but also the most exciting that I have ever heard. Wilson’s immensely long fermatas, as if he were the composer trying to think of what to do next, were heart-stopping.

The balance between piano and orchestra—a much more powerful band than Paul Whiteman’s original—was perfect, with the piano showing through in measures generally lost. Preu and Wilson had worked before on the Gershwin Concerto in F, and I would dearly love to hear that version.

Arrangements of Gershwin melodies from Broadway musicals and the great opera “Porgy and Bess,” were equally well played, but the show stopper was “An American in Paris,” which Preu divided into three movements that made sense: morning in Paris, Paris nights and hangover.

I had never cared for the work before, thinking it a piece of movie music, but Preu brought out beauties of form and detail that made me reconsider. The music became a unified entity rather than a pastiche, with use of recurring motifs that would have made Beethoven happy.

Just one example of many serendipitous details—the plaintive violin solo in the hangover movement, by assistant concertmaster Amy Sims.

Among the shorter pieces that stand out was the humorous clarinet solo, “Walking the Dog,” with principal Thomas Parchman, and a soulful big-band rendition of Gershwin’s last song, “Our Love is Here to Stay,” with soprano Jacqueline Bolier.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.