BICENTENNIAL BEETHOVEN is the theme this year for the 9th Annual Astoria Music Festival. While the Columbia River shore was in raw transition, a place of hope for immigrants and pioneers, a place of loss to American Indians, one of the world’s most influential composers was creating the stirring Symphony No. 7, known for its expression of spontaneity, and a favorite work of Beethoven himself. Written in 1811, Russian cellist Sergey Antonov, beloved returning festival artist, performs this ode to Astoria’s founding year with one of Ludwig’s most romantic themes and opens the festival on Friday, June 17.
A second theme stands out for AMF 2011. VOCAL EXPLOSION. And a third . . . AWARD Winners! This year the corridors of the Liberty Theater will fill with unadulterated vocal forte. Honoring the maturity of AMF, and its ever-growing respect for excellence in summer music festivals, 20 year Met vet, and one of America’s finest sopranos, and by all measures the embodiment of the Coloratura Diva, RUTH ANN SWENSON, makes a rare Northwest appearance. San Francisco Classical Voice describes her, “with technique to spare; power, agility, effortless projection!!!!!
Ms. Swenson will appear in solo with the Festival Orchestra on Sunday, June 19 in a concert of Mozart and Mahler. Not to miss. In addition, in a mid-week music event at the CCC PAC, Swenson and opera coach David Burnakus lead a rare public master class with AMF vocal apprentices, as they put the finishing touches on “The Marriage of Figaro.” (This year the Vocal Apprentice Program will return in July to stage the opera in OPERA FOR 5 BUCKS at the Astoria Arts and Movement Center.) The second part of the program will view the Academy Award winning film In the Shadow of the Stars, featuring Swenson and Burnakus in a behind-the-scenes view of the San Francisco Opera Chorus. In addition to AMF formal classical performances, these sideshows, so to speak, bring accessibility, and shear fun to the festival music.
The winner of the 2011 prestigious Richard Tucker award, is an up and coming soprano, born and raised in Centralia, Washington, ANGELA MEADE. The operative guideline for the Richard Tucker Award is that it be awarded to an American singer poised on the edge of a major national and international career. It is hoped that the award acts as a well-timed catalyst to elevate the artist’s career to even greater heights, in addition to a $30,000 cash award. Previous winners include Ruth Anne Swenson and Rénee Fleming.
Angela Meade will be featured in the festival season’s concert production opera selection, Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.” She is joined by principal and founding member of the festival and foremost American baritone Richard Zellar, (whose gutsy rendition of “Bill” from Carousel at AMF 2010 blew everybody joyously away). The duo, which performed last summer in Portland’s Washington Park have Oregonian critics steering audiences to this coming AMF performance.
VERDI’S IL TROVATORE tells of Gypsies, love triangles, unrelenting revenge and many a familiar opera theme, not excluding the ANVIL CHORUS. The North Coast Chorale will do the honors, as well the Coast’s favorite baritone Deac Guidi plays the role of Ferrando. Go early, at 6:30pm – Robert Kingston of the Portland Opera delivers a preview on the work. Go earlier and enjoy a Happy Hour Concert, ($10), featuring violinist Roy Malan, Ian Scarfe, piano and friends for Gypsy-inspired music. Saturday, June 25.
Astoria’s Music Festival Director Keith Clark is a busy conductor who graces the AMF stage with his conducting as well as his unmatchable charm and prowess when it comes to educating audiences in performance previews – bringing a fresh and always timely context to the works. This year due to his schedule, qualified stand-ins will continue the tradition, so important to Clark in expressing the connection to classical themes and to the significance of keeping symphonic music alive and well in the 21st century.
So important that Clark and last year’s AMF production of WOZZECK are semi-finalists in the new AMERICAN PRIZE, a national organization with a mission to bolster small company opera performance and conducting. AMF and Clark are the only West Coast candidates in the opera division.
The formation of the The American Prize, is based on excellence, not restricted to famous names, or any single city on either coast, or the most prestigious companies, but according to its chief judge David Katz is based on “talent, love of the art, hard work and commitment that makes the difference.”
In 2009, AMF saw a noted 15% in ticket sales. In 2010, a 20% increase in sales. And in 2011, an unprecedented increase in pre-sales. It has steadfastly become a summer opera opportunity par excellence on the west coast, while other opera companies are taking a rest.
President of the Board of AMF LEENA RIKER is happy to report these numbers. While funding is always the challenge in the arts, it is the people behind the organizations that either make it work, or it doesn’t. This is Riker’s third season. Riker is the person who makes sure the singers are coming, she is the business backbone behind the scenes. An all-volunteer position, Riker in her 70’s, proves that life experience is of the utmost value. In addition to a gracious commitment of time and care for this festival, you can’t really put a price on that. A collective operatic BRAVO to Ms. Riker for doing the hard work so that we can all reap the benefits of this amazing musical feat that occurs every June.
Ticket sales don’t pay the piper for any festival, but then again, they speak loudly to benefactors. And quality of performance speaks loudly to audience. This is why ticket buyers and critics are catching on to AMF. This publication puts the music festival on the cover every year. Yes, the publisher is a biased music lover – a biased music lover who voraciously encourages you to get some tickets. You have two weeks not to screw-up. Live orchestral music is on the up, as is acoustic music of all genres, and people dancing! Despite our new dependency on a different kind of lit screen – lets hope it’s our new version at a chance for more freedom to experience “human” potential, and that “art”remains our essential.
Handel and His Mad King • Sat June 18
This promises to be an exciting evening as AMF 2010 tenor John Duykers returns. Duykers memorably portrayed the Captain in AMF’s Wozzeck, and is a prominent American operatic tenor, known for his work in modern and contemporary opera. Duykers career has involved testing the waters on new projects.
One of his most celebrated roles was that of Mao Tse-Tung (an extraordinarily testing part) in the 1987 world-premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China, which was televised (winning an Emmy Award), and recorded (winning a Grammy Award).
AMF 2011 Duykers brings to the stage, EIGHT SONGS FOR A MAD KING. This is a staged theater piece for singing actor and instruments. Composed in the 70’s by Peter Maxwell Davies, it was written specifically for a South African actor who specialized in advanced vocal technique. It requires the performer to sing in both bass and alto registers as well as produce a vast range of other sounds. In essence, to express madness. In an interview with Davies, he stated it was not a piece that he had considered for additional performances, and thus the work has probably not been performed too frequently. The inspiration behind the piece was a musical box, with which George III (who did eventually die through a long mental illness), had reputedly tried to teach his birds to sing. Classical reviewer Robert Hugill describes it as a music-theatre piece that gives a visceral thrill in performance.
Also on the performance roster for the eve, is music by Handel, (the Kings favorite composer) with SOPRANO AMY HANSON, ORGANIST JULIA BROWN and the North Coast Chorale; Music from Solomon and Samson and Organ Concerto in F Major, (a virgin instrument to AMF 20011). A Prelude show at 6:30pm features Amy Hanson singing English Lute Songs. Featured concert at 7:30pm at the Liberty Theater.
ON the Road with Mozart: An Evening of Words and Music
Thur. June 23
Coast Community Radio’s Joanne Rideout tells the story of “Mozarts Journey to Prague, ” a romantic fantasy depicting the composer and his wife on the way to the opening night of Don Giovanni. Funny, moving, the story paints a picture of Mozart’s creative genius – it heights and depths. The work is based on Edward Morike’s masterpice of German Literature. Joanne is joined by soprano Amy Hanson, Baritone Deac Guidi and the Festival Chamber Players. 7:30pm at the CCC PAC. Tickets are available at the door, $15.
Too Much Coffee Man • The Comic Book Opera
Tues. June 27
Its back – with a refill! AMF 2010, Too Much Coffee Man stole the show, as they say, and charged up even the decaf drinkers in the audience. Comic book author SHANNON WHEELER collaborated with opera composer Daniel Stevens Craft, and debuted the work to sold out audiences at the Portland Center for Performing Arts in 2006. Since then there has been a sequel, and for those who attended last years performance, there’s more. The brilliantly funny comic chamber opera is certainly worth a second cup, sequel or not. (and yes, we find out what happens to the hot Barista).
Too Much Coffee Man, is a caffeine-addled Superhero-Everyman who’s in love with his barista. Trouble brews when Espresso Guy, a cynical opportunist, also makes a play for the ambitious but frustrated young barista. The characters must resolve the age-old dilemma: Can coffee and relationships co-exist?
Accompanying the trio of performers is a trio of musicians; piano, string bass and clarinet. The score is refreshingly modern, and quirky. STACEY MURDOCH ( a former AMF opera performer), embodies the anxious-ridden, over-the-top Coffee Man with continual internal dialogues on love and insecurities, (sporting a very large mug on his head and red lycra body suit). Murdoch is a talented singer with a healthy set of pipes and dollops of comic genius. Its one thing to put on a ridiculous get-up, and another to give it life.
A treat this year for comic book enthusiasts, author Shannon Wheeler will be in Astoria for the performance and will sign copies of Too Much Coffee Man. AMAZING STORIES Comic Book Store in Astoria will have fresh copies in soon. Wheeler is also currently up for a 2011 EISNER COMIC BOOK AWARD.
7:30pm, CCC PAC, 16th & Franklin, $15.
Kid Classics 4 Kids • Sat., June 18, June 25
Family Concert and Troll Radio Review Radio Broadcast
Musical stories for kids of all ages hosted by Debbie Twombly and featuring Astoria Music Festival musicians, the Troll, Stinky Toadwort, and the Troll Radio Review Theater Troupe. Broadcast live on Coast Community Radio, KMUN and KTCB. 11:00am. Both dates. Clatsop Community College Performing Arts Center. Free admission with a contribution of canned goods to the Clatsop County Action Food Bank at the door.
Chamber Music At the Churches • Sun., June 19, 26
Enjoy short informal recitals of chamber music at Astoria Historic Churches at 11:30pm. FREE and post concert refreshments. First Presbyterian Church, 1103 Grand, and First United Methodist Church , 1076 Franklin, respectively.
This year the Music Festival honors Steve Forrester, Publisher/Editor of the Daily Astorian and leader in the Liberty Theatre Restoration. This is a tradition closing AMF, with music and dinner, this year to be held at the Bankers Ballroom following the Beethoven X3 Grand Finale Concert on Sunday, June 26.
AMF Tickets and Full Schedule
The AMF office in downtown Astoria is located at 1271 Commercial in Astoria. 503.325.9896. You can pick up a brochure with a full schedule of events to help you pick and choose events. SINGLE TICKETS are available ranging from $15 – $35. FIRST AND SECOND WEEKEND PASSES are available – these are Best Seat Tickets for 3 events, $80. A Platinum Card includes ALL 9 EVENTS including the Awards Dinner, $250. Festival Gold, ALL 9 EVENTS $175.