marc-andre hamelin

Oregon Symphony review: Study in contrasts

Oregon Symphony, guest conductor Nicholas Carter, and Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin collaborate in an exhilarating ride from the heroic to the monumental


“Since Beethoven’s time all so-called symphonies, with the exception of those by Brahms, have been symphonic poems. In some cases the composers have given us a program or have at least suggested what they had in mind; in other cases it is evident that they were concerned with describing or illustrating something, be it a landscape or a series of pictures. That does not correspond to my symphonic ideal.” — Jean Sibelius.

Marc-André Hamelin played Rachmaninov with the Oregon Symphony.

Marc-André Hamelin played Rachmaninov with the Oregon Symphony.

Sibelius’s Symphony No. 3, the Finnish composer’s shortest and least monumental, was ahead of its time in 1907. Amidst a sonic landscape filled with the likes of Mahler and Richard Strauss, played by increasingly huge orchestras, Sibelius confounded even some of his most ardent supporters, who had expected more of the lush, Romantic sounds that had characterized his first two symphonies. In contrast to both his previous efforts and those of other leading orchestral composers of the era, he made a conscious effort to step away from the programmatic tendency he wrote about at the time.

Sibelius’s Third, which the Oregon Symphony performed at their sold-out Sunday matinee performance on October 9 using a pared-down orchestra of 58 players and running to 29 minutes, is therefore “pure music.” Like the symphonies of Mozart or Haydn, it relies on its classical structure and inner relationships for any abstract “meaning.” In all three movements, the composer gets great mileage out of small choirs of similar instruments (woodwinds, horns, cellos plus double basses) poised against the body of the orchestra. But it is the haunting second movement Andantino, with its recurring melody in six beats — now divided into three, now into two — that makes this symphony unforgettable. Australian conductor Nicholas Carter brought out all this movement’s beauty in admirably understated fashion.


Marc-André Hamelin feeds the hungry, plus classical music gangsters

Pianist Hamelin plays his own work, and Maria Choban and company seduce classical music virgins

Marc-Andre Hamelin performed at Portland's Newmark Theater

Marc-Andre Hamelin performed at Portland’s Newmark Theater.


I had come to Marc-André Hamelin‘s March 3 performance at Newmark Theatre with great anticipation of Alban Berg’s sonata: How many times had I blasted Hamelin’s recorded Berg through my monitor headphones and felt the whole world shake? In contrast, Hamelin’s live performance in Portland Piano International’s recital series began surreptitiously, and his specific, high-resolution textures focused the listener’s attention on Berg’s intense questioning instead of his bombastic angst.

Nor did Hamelin perform Gabriel’s Fauré’s Impromptu no. 2, op. 31 and Barcarolle no. 3, op.42 in the usual perfunctory manner. While Hamelin did not neglect the humorous jig in Fauré’s Impromptu no. 2, op. 31, these pieces were obviously not meant to be fluffy palate-cleansers; nothing was ever overstated for the sake of a joke. His performance of the Barcarolle created the heartache of constantly searching for home without knowing if home actually exists.

These short pieces served to connect the listener’s ear to Ravel’s weightier “Gaspard of the Night.” For all the splashy temptations of “Ondine,” Hamelin’s humanizing portrayal of the poet lingered well beyond the showy disappearance of the water nymph; consequently, Hamelin startled me with the sudden tolling bells in “The Gallows.” In this movement, sound moves beyond a philosopher’s probing, beyond a female’s sensuous temptations, and becomes the last horrid attendant to a hanged body. Hamelin did not soften these blows; the music tries to escape, but with chilling insistence the bells nail every flourish firmly back to mortal earth. In the end you wonder if you’ll be able to breathe again. But a flash of a mischievous eye signaled Hamelin’s readiness to introduce us to “Scarbo.” His goblin hopped seditiously through the air until whipping out of sight at the last second.


ArtsWatch Guest Post: Jana Hanchett previews Marc-André Hamelin

Portland Piano International brings the renowned Canadian pianist-composer to Oregon.

Marc-André Hamelin performs at Portland's Newmark Theatre on Sunday afternoon.

Marc-André Hamelin performs at Portland’s Newmark Theatre on Sunday afternoon.


We could whet your musical appetite for Marc-André Hamelin’s  March 3 performance at Newmark Theater by dwelling on Hamelin’s illustrious technical prowess, his triumphant promotion of early 20th-century repertoire like Alkan, Busoni, Godowsky, and Kapustin, and his own witty compositions that entwine Romantic idioms with contemporary musical language. The Montreal-born, Boston-based Hamelin not only embodies virtuosic artistry, but through his compositions he also presents a contemporary classical idiom that is accessible to the culture at large.

But those notions won’t give you a sense of what you will experience in Hamelin’s Portland Piano International recital of the music of Berg, Fauré, Ravel, Rachmaninov, and yes, in Hamelin’s very own composition. At the name “Berg,” fears of schizzy woodwind calls, agitated brass clamors, and distraught string wails may flit through your mind; but fear not! Listening to this sonata, first premiered in 1911 and Berg’s first composition under Schoenberg’s tutelage, is akin to absorbing the tragic voice of Billie Holiday: you will hear agonizing chromaticism melt into lush chords that rise up again into virtuosic tumbles before dissipating into poignant questioning.


Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!