Ka-ching: Money for the NEA

Bucking the Trump administration's call to eliminate federal funding for the arts and humanities, Congress approves a slight raise for each

FRIDAY, MARCH 23 UPDATE: It’s a done deal. President Trump signed the spending bill into law after first threatening to veto it on Friday morning in a move that “left both political parties in Washington reeling and his own aides bewildered about Mr. Trump’s contradictory actions.”

*

Money makes the world go ’round, as the song from Cabaret puts it, and that includes the cultural world, which seems perpetually a day late and a dollar short in the distribution of it. It tends to be a case of trickle-down in reverse: Because museums and performance organizations generally exist on lean budgets – especially in the United States, where government cultural support pales compared to that in most European countries – ticket prices spike and the artists themselves are often poorly paid.

The museum world has been abuzz about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s decision to charge non-New Yorkers $25 for admission, scrapping a decades-old policy of charging a “suggested” donation that allowed people of limited means (plus a few freeloaders) to engage with great art. The museum responds, in a nutshell, that it has no choice: It has to cover its costs.

Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey performing “Money Makes the World Go
‘Round” in the 1972 movie version of “Cabaret.”

Ticket prices on Broadway are routinely high enough to scrape the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but in the sellers’ market for a hot property like Hamilton they soar to obscene levels, mitigated slightly in national touring productions like the one that settled into Portland’s Keller Auditorium on Tuesday. (Look for T.J. Acena’s ArtsWatch review soon, and catch Amy Wang’s interview in The Oregonian with Joseph Morales, who stars as Hamilton in this version and began his theatrical career at Southern Oregon University, playing the Emcee in Cabaret.)

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: March modness & more

Chamber, choral, orchestral, piano and other classical music on Oregon stages this week

The big musical news this weekend is the return of March Music Moderne, and you can read all about it in our separate preview. But it’s hardly the only musical magic happening in Oregon this week. Still, compared to the abundant new music on offer at MMM, some of this week’s other classical offerings look positively Jurassic.

Chamber Music

On Thursday at Portland’s Old Church, Friends of Chamber Music hosts another in its entertaining Not So Classic series shows devoted to performers who add a touch of fun, folk, pop, and/or world music spice to the usual heavy duty chamber music menu. Janoska Ensemble’s special sauce is sparkling arrangements of Gypsy, tango and pop music for its two violins-piano-and bass lineup. The Bratislava-born quartet has performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Royal Albert Hall to Sydney Opera House, often joining non-classical champs like Bobby McFerrin and Palo de Lucia as well as classical stars. This show features cheeky arrangements of classics by Massenet, Kreisler, Johann Strauss Jr., Bizet, Piazzolla, Mozart, Paganini and more, along with the band’s original compositions in the same spirit.

On March 25 and 27 at Eugene’s United Lutheran Church, Delgani String Quartet plays a pair of chamber classics by Sergei Prokofiev and Alexander Borodin, plus a swinging contemporary piece that the fine New York violist/composer Ljova (Russian-born Lev Zhurbin) wrote for Brooklyn Rider. Culai, named after the founder of the great Gypsy ensemble Taraf de Haïdouks, ripples and sways with Roma dance rhythms.

Portland Piano International brings Dénes Várjon to Portland State University.

Portland Piano International brings much-respected and -recorded Dénes Várjon to Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall Saturday to play bagatelles by Beethoven, various works by Bartok, nocturnes by Chopin, and Ravel’s great Gaspard of the Night. On Sunday, along with a Mozart sonata and a fantasy piece by Schumann, he tackles one of the all-time biggies by another Hungarian master: Liszt’s Piano Sonata in b minor.

Vocal Music

Portland all star choir The Ensemble brings two of its star singers and chamber ensemble to perform a pair of Italian Baroque classics on March 24 at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church, and March 25 at Portland’s Old Church. Giovanni Pergolesi’s famous Stabat Mater belongs on any list of 18th century sacred music masterpieces, but it’s often performed by much larger forces than it was written for. When you strip it down to the basics, those singers better be fantastic because there’s nowhere to hide. Fortunately, Catherine van der Salm and Laura Beckel Thoreson are among the Northwest’s finest classical singers. They’ll also perform a less-well known Italian masterpiece of the period, Giovanni Battista Ferrandini’s dramatic Il pianto di Maria, which sounds so much like early Handel that it was long mistakenly attributed to him.

Continues…

DanceWatch Weekly: Katie Scherman on having it all

Before leaving town for Japan, choreographer Katie Scherman presents a concert of collected works on her experience of being female

Today is the first day of spring. It’s bright and sunny but cold, and I am meditating on the movement style and choreography of dance artist and BodyVox artist-in-residence Katie Scherman. Scherman’s company, Katie Scherman + Artists, an all female cast collected from Portland, Seattle, New York City, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco, will debut three works this week at BodyVoxAssez, Complicated Women, and To Have it All (a world premiere in collaboration with composer and pianist Michael Wall). The works show Scherman’s evolution as a choreographer and explore the complexities of what it means to be female, including what it means “to have it all.”

When I watch Katie Scherman dance I see a fern delicately but forcefully unfurling its fronds in every direction. When Scherman dances, she is a container of contradictory/opposing forces and I can see her “working it out” in real time. Her movements are smooth and silky, but powerful, heavy and large. They can also be small, detailed, and delicate, and she seamlessly/effortlessly transitions between highs and lows, sometimes appearing to move in all directions at once. Strong technique is present, but it doesn’t overshadow the movement. These are the forces present in her choreography as well.

Continues…

DramaWatch Weekly: An Equinox Mid-Monther

Spiders, Mermaids, and the joys of mid-run theater, when shows are gliding along at their heights

The date: March 21. The weather: rain, thunder, and sun. The shows: small ones opening, biggies mid-run. We’re over the Ides. We’ve driven out the snakes. But we await the full flowering of the resurrection. Will you meet me halfway in an Equinox Mid-Monther?

The Mermaid Hour, (previewed adeptly last week by TJ Acena), opens at Milagro mañana with a few utterly unique circumstances to recommend it: it’s hand-picked by the National New Play Network for a Rolling World Premiere; it’s directed by the masterful Sacha Reich (of Jewish Theatre Collaborative); and in an ongoing and hotly charged theater community conversation about who gets to play transgender characters, it’s something of a clap-back: cast as writ, with a trans adolescent actor in the lead. Represent.

Kevin Jones, Ben Newman, and Val Landrum in “Between Riverside and Crazy.” Photo: Russell J Young

Between Riverside and Crazy is mid-run at Artists Rep. By the same playwright as The Motherf-cker with the Hat (which I quite enjoyed), it’s resonating on many levels with Marty Hughley, who calls it “a deceptively complex and artfully constructed play, delivered here with terrific verve and attention to detail.”  Local luminary Kevin Jones stars as a curmudgeonly ex-cop clinging to his longtime apartment in a rapidly changing neighborhood and “fronting” that everything’s fine. Sounds relatable AF right about now.

Continues…

Brief affair, puzzling twist

Triangle's intimate, beautifully performed family story "Our Mother's Brief Affair" jumps the expositional tracks, and it's difficult to care

By ALIA STEARNS

Children view their parents as sexless creatures, even though a child’s entire existence is the product of raw parental sexuality. And, it is mothers more often than fathers who are placed on a rigid, unearned pedestal of purity and selflessness by their offspring. In Our Mother’s Brief Affair, at Triangle Productions, author Richard Greenberg explores the life of Anna (Michelle Maida), a mother who is neither selfless nor pure, and her relationship with her twin children, Seth (Alex Fuchs) and Abby (Deanna Wells).

Deanna Wells, Alex Fox, Twig Webster, Michelle Maida: intimate mysteries. Photo: David Kinder/Kinderpics

Anna steps onto the stage before the lights go low, sitting on one of the two benches that make up the entirety of the set and occupying herself quietly as the audience continues murmuring pre-theater chatter. When Seth steps on the stage, he launches into the first of the night’s bouts of exposition. An obituary writer by trade, he has trouble fully capturing his mother as he has come to know her. She isn’t a cold woman, exactly, but she also isn’t the sort prone to affectionate behaviors like assigning nicknames to her children. Anna is also what Seth terms “an average situational liar but not at all a maker of fables.”

Continues…

‘Death and the Maiden’ review: a history of violence

Bag & Baggage's production of Ariel Dorfman's play about confronting the consequences of repression makes more persuasive political analysis than drama

A man bound and gagged. A woman pointing a gun at him. Confess his crime against her, or else.

You can’t ask for a much tenser set up than that. Death and the Maiden keeps the audience wondering throughout: did he do it, and will she do it? One of those questions will be resolved before the show is over.

But although they drive the plot, those aren’t the main questions raised by Ariel Dorfman’s provocative 1990 play now running at The Vault Theatre in Hillsboro. How do people, and by extension society, heal from past violence? Is confession enough? Or confession plus repentance? How about vengeance? Or should we just leave the past buried and move on?

Mandana Khoshnevisan as Paulina and Anthony Green as Roberto in Bag & Baggage Productions’ ‘Death and the Maiden.’ Photo: Casey Campbell Photography.

Dorfman’s play purports to dramatize this recurring conundrum by reducing it to three characters: A vengeful victim, blindfolded, tortured and raped years before by minions of a now-deposed military dictatorship. Her maybe-victimizer, whose voice resembles that of the man who, during the depths of the repression, tortured her to the recorded strains of a string quartet.  Her husband, who happens to be involved in the country’s efforts to confront its repressive past.

But even as the plot, and the ethical arguments, unfold, Dorfman’s script, and this production, leave those characters pretty much where they started. While Death and the Maiden poses some still-urgent questions, here it dutifully proceeds more like a combination formula thriller and a detached classroom ethics debate than an emotionally gripping character drama.

Continues…

March Music Moderne preview: celebrating Debussy

Festival commemorates the creativity and influence of composer Claude Debussy with concerts of his music and new works by Oregon composers

While everyone is checking their brackets for one kind of March Madness (go Ducks!), some of us are equally excited by the return of another crazy rite of spring. March Music Moderne has been on hiatus for while, so it’s even more thrilling to welcome back one of Oregon’s most fascinating music melanges, because it spotlights music you can’t hear at other Oregon classical music concerts, primarily composers who write or wrote music in the modernist tradition. And unlike most overpriced classical music concerts, March Modness is always free, subsidized by Priest (whose wealth lies in his musical generosity rather than negotiable currency) himself.

Actually, though, this edition of MMM superficially resembles Ye Olde Classical Music in at least one way: what I call necromusicophilia, the worship of dead composers. Classical music institutions, desperately needing a news hook to provide an excuse to pay more than usual attention to composers who aren’t going to be releasing any albums of new material or embarking on tours, tend to focus on round number birthdays or, more macabrely, death days.

Claude Debussy, 1908.

For Claude Debussy, that day came exactly 100 years ago Sunday, when the French composer died of cancer during World War I as German shells exploded near his Paris home. But why would the generally mid-20th century March Music Moderne’s three concerts this weekend at Portland’s Community Music Center, and associated other activities this month, commemorate Debussy’s demise?

One answer may be that it was one of his groundbreaking works, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, that turned MMMpresario Bob Priest onto classical music, rescuing him from rock music’s gutters and vaulting him into the palace of — nah, not really. Priest still cherishes Jimi Hendrix, Prince and other rock and pop deities. And as we’ll see, this festival includes far more new music — and by Oregon composers — than old.

But Priest is far from alone in his Debussy devotion. This isn’t the only centennial commemoration of his death happening around the world this year. There are days when he’s my favorite composer too. And it’s a sign of Debussy’s artistic significance and variety that he’s legitimately claimed as a major inspiration by many if not most composers who followed — modernist, post-mod, and otherwise, including one of Priest’s prime mentors, Olivier Messiaen. That’s how rich was his palette — from La Mer’s turbulent seascapes to Children’s Corner’s playful naivete to Pelleas and Melisande’s shadowy moods and so much more. And that’s why Debussy makes an appropriate centerpiece of a modern music festival: not just for his past accomplishments, but also for his future impact, which continues here and now.

Continues…