Tag Archives: Tomas Svoboda

A Monday quick chatter

Art Scatter hereby congratulates the winners (and the nominees, for that matter) of this year’s Oregon Book Awards, especially Steve Patterson, whom we track on his Splattworks blog, for winning the drama award for his “Lost Wavelengths.” If you think doing theater is hard in the provinces, writing theater is even less rewarding, and Steve had written something like 25 plays (per his website). So, bravo Mr. Patterson. UPDATE: We recommend that you link to Mr. Mead’s pupu platter for a longer take on Mr. Patterson!

Two other items grabbed our attention in our Monday morning Oregonian. First, Marty Hughley’s unabashedly positive review of Thom Pain (based on nothing) and its star Matthew DiBiasio, which requires us to go to Beaverton to see Will Eno’s one-man rumination about, well, pain.

Second, we were happy to see that James McQuillen concurred (mostly and more learnedly) with our happiness over Tomas Svoboda’s new string quartet and much of the rest of the Third Angle show. Art Scatter needs all the validation it can get for its musical taste, so thank you for that Mr. McQuillen. On a side note, in a comment to our original post on Svoboda below, Jane Jarrett mentioned that Bill Eddins had blogged about it. Well, our report of Eddins’ performance yesterday afternoon with the Oregonian Symphony couldn’t have been more positive — a full and interesting sort of lecture-demo of Brahms’ first symphony.

Hail! A new quartet by Tomas Svoboda!

Third Angle New Music Ensemble gave the world its first listen to Portland composer Tomas Svoboda’s newest quartet, String Quartet no. 10, Opus 194. I’m not adept enough to enter it very deeply from that one encounter, but I liked its spirit and its invention. The program notes said that it is dedicated to violinist Lubomir Havlak of the Martinu Quartet, which recorded eight of Svoboda’s earlier quartets in Prague recently, and so “positive, energetic and playful with harmonic language of Bohemian flavor.” Which all seemed plausible at this first hearing.

Svoboda has Czech roots himself — his parents were Czech, though he was born in Paris in 1939 and spent the war years in Paris, returning to Prague in 1946 (according to his website), where he continued the musical studies begun in Boston. He was a sensation. He completed his first symphony at 16, and it was performed by the FOK Prague Symphonic Orchestra. He impressed the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu enough for him to leave his unfinished work to the young Svoboda at his death in 1959. Svoboda’s family moved to the U.S. in 1964, and he went to U.S.C., before coming to Portland State University in 1969 to teach. Here, he’s conducted a wide-ranging musical exploration, from brilliant and edgy small chamber works to a marimba concerto.

I bring up this all up simply to make the point that the occasion of a new quartet by Svoboda is a big deal and that I wish more of us had been at the Old Church last night to hear it: the rhythms that Hamilton Cheifetz dug out of his cello, the seemingly simple melodies that violinist Ron Blessinger started to toss off, only to have them complicate and deepen considerably, the sonorous trade-offs between cello and Brian Quincey’s viola that mirrored the activity in the upper registers between Blessinger and violinist Peter Frajola. Every time things started to get, well, obsessive and aggressive, Svoboda gave us an escape, a little musical gesture maybe, a touch of whimsy, even the crankier third movement. And the last movement, which started almost inaudibly with a melody that did indeed sound like a folk song, rolled into a full-throated barn dance that Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor would have been proud of. Terrific stuff.
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