ArtsWatch’s hit parade 2017

Readers' choice: From a musical fracas to rising stars to a book paradise, a look back on our most read and shared stories of the year

Here at ArtsWatch, it’s flashback time. It’s been a wild year, and the 15 stories that rose to the top level of our most-read list in 2017 aren’t the half of it, by a long shot: In this calendar year alone we’ve published more than 500 stories.

Those stories exist because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation.

Here, back for another look, is an all-star squad of stories that clicked big with our readers in the past 12 months:

 


 

Matthew Halls conducted Brahms’s ‘A German Requiem’ at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Josh Green.

The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival

In June Tom Manoff, for many years the classical music critic for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, looked at the severe drop in attendance and cutbacks in programming at the premiere Eugene music festival. He summarized: “Thinking ahead, I ask: If this year’s schedule portends the future, can OBF retain its world-class level? My answer is no.” His essay, which got more hits than any other ArtsWatch story in 2017, got under a lot of people’s skin. But it was prescient, leading to …

Bach Fest: The $90,000 solution. This followup that had the year’s second-highest number of clicks: Bob Hicks’s look at the mess behind the surprise firing of Matthew Halls as the festival’s artistic leader and the University of Oregon’s secretive response to all questions about it.

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New Expressive Works: Boundary pushing

Subashini Ganesan's resident choreographer program featured work by Tere Mathern, Madison Page, Crystal Jiko Sasaki, and Wolfbird Dance

New Expressive Works’ second set of resident artists for 2017 showcased their boundary-pushing new pieces this weekend. Founded in 2012 with the mission to support dancers of diverse backgrounds in developing original work, N.E.W. also provides accessible practice space and a variety of movement classes in a centrally-located, well-equipped studio.

Annually, the space serves 4500 audience members and students, and more than 200 independent performing artists have used the facilities for some aspect of their practice.The program has incubated many new projects and collaborations for its 37 resident artists choreographers working with at total of 100 collaborators.

Highlights have included:

  • Oluyinka Akinjiola forming her performance troupe, “Rejoice Diaspora Dance Theater” during her residency
  • The residency has attracted transplants such as Luke Gutgsell, James Healey, Dar Vejon Jones, Stephanie Lanckton and current residents Crystal Jiko and Madison Page who have gone on to be involved in local programs such as TBA, BodyVox, Headwater Theatre, and Skinner/Kirk.
  • Veterans Linda K. Johnson, Dawn Stoppiello, Catherine Egan, Stephanie Schaaf, and current resident Tere Mathern have produced new work and held critical feedback sessions.

Tere Mathern and Alison Heryer performed in N.E.W.’s 9th residency concert/Courtesy of New Expressive Works

Every six months, four choreographers (or in this case, three individuals and a team of two) are chosen for the residency program. They receive 144 hours of free rehearsal space, a modest stipend, and moderated, critical feedback in the form of Katherine Longstreth’s Fieldwork program. The works, whether they are finished or in progress, debut as 20-minute pieces at the end of the residency, as they did this weekend for the 9th session.

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’The Emerald Tablet’ and ‘Nonsense’ reviews: from playground to pulpit

A pair of Portland composer showcases range from the delightfully ridiculous to the seriously sublime

Last month saw two concerts of new, made-in-Portland music, each entirely devoted to a single Portland composer. Both create contemporary classical music music influenced by music from outside the classical realm.

And that’s about the only similarity between the music of Dan Brugh and Christopher Corbell. The former trained at a prestigious music academy (Interlochen) before matriculating at the University of Oregon, while the latter is mostly self taught. Brugh’s music incorporates electronic elements including synthesizers more commonly used in pop music, while Corbell, a folk-rock singer songwriter before embarking on the study and creation of contemporary art music, draws on ancient and modern folk and classical influences.

The music reflected the two composers’ divergent personalities too. Attending Brugh’s show was like jumping into his personal musical playground, a Brian Wilson sandbox of diverse musical and optical colors, cool synthesizers, imaginative sounds, absurdist verse, even giant mechanical flying fish.

Brugh, Wright and unidentified flying fish in “Nonsense.” Photo: Matias Brecher.

Corbell is as outwardly focused as Brugh looks inward. The former Classical Revolution PDX leader thinks and feels a lot about contemporary political and social issues, and passionately expresses his beliefs in his music and writings.

Both concerts mostly succeeded in reaching beyond their inventive creators’ own fertile imaginations and connecting with audiences. While Brugh’s was mostly about the wild, sometimes wacky world in his own head, Corbell’s looked outward, to the equally tumultuous world around him, and us.

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Portland Symphonic Choir review: happy homecomings

Holiday concert features guest conductor recently returned to his native territory and new homegrown music by an Oregon composer

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

Samuel Barbara has come home for the holidays and more. The Portland native shared his pleasure at relocating to the Pacific Northwest with the audience earlier this month at the second season concert of Portland Symphonic Choir. Dr. Barbara, who studied with the late Roger Doyle at University of Portland, took his doctoral degree at USC, traveled and taught worldwide before returning to Portland to assume the choral directorship of Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus. And then, lo, arose the vacancy for the artistic director of PSC and the reason for his guest conductor role in the choir’s seasonal program.

Samuel Barbara conducted Portland Symphonic Choir’s Wintersong concerts. Photo: Toni Wise.

The venue was Portland’s Rose City Park Methodist Church, the program predictably holiday-ish yet eclectic, the presentation wonderfully well paced. Dr. Barbara assembled the repertoire well and then maintained the momentum from the podium. Holiday concerts seem to go in only a couple directions: a stand alone larger work such as Handel’s Messiah or a duo of medium-sized works, Magnificat by Bach or Britten’s Ceremony of Carols OR a “bits and pieces” collection of the conductor’s choice. Not to say folks don’t enjoy the latter, but sometimes it can just get a bit saccharine. But Dr. Barbara chose to anchor this concert with the John Rutter Gloria and offered up a creative variety of known/unknown and downright brand spanking new holiday fare.

Featured for added interest were Carl Thor’s hammered dulcimer (not a reference to overdoing the eggnog, but to distinguish it from bowed or electronic) played as accompaniment and solo, with eight jolly good brass players and percussion, engaged throughout in the Rutter; renowned Morman Tabernacle Choir’s Mack Wilberg’s Tres Cantus Laudendi (Three songs of Praise, second movement); and Italian late Renaissance composer Giovanni Gabrieli’s polychoric Hodie Christus Natus Est (Today Christ is born).

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DanceWatch Weekly: a world, a world

An interview with Linda Austin on the culminating chapter in her series on memory and movement, plus "Nutcrackers" and more

Happy Holidays, Happy Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and a Merry Christmas.

Jamuna Chiarini

Hold onto your hats, dance lovers, because you have a dizzying 11 dance concerts to choose from this week! And, because we are especially strapped for time in this accelerated period of the year, I’m going to attempt to make this week’s performance listings briefer-ish, except for an extended preview of Linda Austin’s a world, a world, which I caught a glimpse of last week. In this version of DanceWatch you’ll need to click on the links for performance information.

Continuing for a second week at the Keller Auditorium is George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre accompanied live by the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra.

Candace Bouchard dances in The Nutcracker one last time before retiring from Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

The students of The Classical Ballet Academy, directed by Sarah Rigles, Candalee Wrede, and Sissy Dawson, will perform an assortment of holiday-themed dances for different tastes and attention spans, from a full-length version of The Nutcracker to a contemporary version of A Christmas Carol, as well as a condensed Nutcracker and an even more condensed version called The Nutcracker Sweet Suites to be performed by the youngest dancers. You can catch all of it at Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University.

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MusicWatch Weekly: with a little help from their friends

Collaborations decorate Oregon concert stages this weekend

December is a terrible time to go on a diet. Look at last week’s MusicWatch, which relapsed into obesity after the previous week’s promise to slim down. Oregon just offers too many rich  musical treats this time of year. So we’re making a New Year’s resolution to make these previews more easily digestible.

Speaking of slimming down, how about a multi-course meal featuring a single entree? That’s what famed fiddler Christian Tetzlaff will deploy Saturday when he plays all of JS Bach’s magnificent solo partitas and sonatas for violin at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel.

Over at Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge on Friday, San Francisco-based guitarist/ producer/ composer/ electronic musician Christopher Willits wraps you in his Envelop technology: an immersive, software-driven multi-speaker setup that allows you to experience the full spatial effects of his new ambient Horizon album. Willits has released over two dozen albums, worked with atmospheric musicians like Tycho and Ryuichi Sakamoto, created open source software to advance his sonic vision and even teaches meditation as well as enabling it through his ambient sounds.

Unlike Willits and Tetzlaff’s shows, many of this week’s concerts involve teamwork. Trinity Episcopal Cathedral welcomes lots of musical friends for Friday’s annual Christmas Concert & Wassail Party, featuring  Resonance Ensemble’s Katherine FitzGibbon leading some of Portland’s top singers and members of the Oregon Symphony in Ottorino Respighi’s Laud to the Nativity, Benjamin Britten’s lovely Ceremony of Carols, music by Giovanni Gabrieli and John Rutter and more.

Enjoy holiday music and wassail at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Friday.

Cappella Romana’s holiday concert, A Byzantine Christmas: Sun of Justice, features early and contemporary Greek, Arabic and English seasonal sacred music chanted by some of the world’s finest performers of this mesmerizing repertoire, drawn from across North America, plus Lebanese star soloist John (Rassem) El Massih. They’re performing Thursday at Salem’s Blanchet High School, Saturday at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, Sunday at Gresham’s St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, and on their new CD of this music.

Big Horn Brass’s always fun The Night Before Christmas Sunday afternoon at Mt. Hood Community College Theater this year brings the fine Portland blues singer LaRhonda Steele to join the band in its annual brassy renditions of holiday classics. And that same night at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Oregon Symphony’s Comfort and Joy program with its own new guest, Hillsboro’s revitalized Oregon Chorale, includes prime cuts from JS Bach’s Christmas Cantata, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and lots of familiar seasonal songs.

On Saturday, Portland Gay Men’s Chorus brings its “Most Wonderful Season” program to Eugene’s First United Methodist Church. The award-winning 150-voice chorus knows all about cultural oppression, so instead of focusing on a single religious tradition, this concert presents songs celebrating not only Christmas but other seasonal holidays including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and the New Year.

On Sunday afternoon at the Hult Center, the Eugene Symphony is the backing band for Cirque de la Symphonie, which combines colorful, spectacular acrobatics with seasonal classical music like those ever-ebullient dances from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet, “Sleigh Ride,” and more.

On the jazzier side, a pair of Portland’s finest funky jazz institutions, Trio Subtonic and guitarist Dan Balmer, release their new collaborative CD at their show Saturday night at Portland’s Goodfoot, with help from Seattle jazz organ trio McTuff.

Another pair of popular Portland jazz masters, singers Rebecca Kilgore and Mia Nicholson, join forces tonight at Portland’s Jack London Revue. And Friday at McMenamins Mission Theater, guitarist Chance Hayden celebrates the half century anniversary of a famous album made before he was born: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

There’s so, so many more musical treats to feast on this winter week, but we’re on a diet! So you’ll just have to pack more musical nutrition into the comments section below, where it doesn’t count against our word limit.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

10,000 Roses Later: Sarah Meyohas’s ‘Cloud of Petals’

Sarah Meyohas’s film and Virtual Reality installation at Disjecta asserts the beautiful at a time and with technology we've begun to consider terrifying

By PAUL MAZIAR

It’s easy enough to rely on traditional painting and sculpture to be the go-to vehicles of creativity—to show, maybe, what’s it’s like to be alive in the world, or at least what it’s like to look at it. But what is the world anymore, and are those modes sufficient to show how complex and strange it all is, how “cloud-based”? Trompe-l’œil seems more and more a fat chance. It goes without saying that conventional art mediums and the old idyllic scenes aren’t enough. And, like it or not, technology is as much a part of life today as, well, oil and clay. We’ve seen it all, we’ve felt it all, and now it’s being played back to us in every media there is. But what does it want from us, this tech? Our big data, our little faces, our identities? What do we give up to the people who run it, to get to use or convene with it; who are we now? New York artist Sarah Meyohas seems to be considering these things in her new exhibition at Disjecta, Cloud of Petals, her first show in Portland.

In Cloud of Petals, virtual-reality, film, and sound-scape come together as an orchestration, a symphony that, no matter how mediated (media can be rendered moot in such an immersive experience), is intensely pleasurable. This feat is achievable because of Meyohas’s consideration of living forms in their relation to each other, and relative then to technology and its ramifications. The exhibition explores concepts that hinge upon the supremely familiar, “natural” subject of roses—redolent of “love” to the point of the most persistent cliché, thanks, poets—as well as human bodies.

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