Emblems Wind Quintet preview: fresh breezes

Young ensemble’s concert brings 21st century music to Eugene

By GARY FERRINGTON

When the Emblems Wind Quintet lands in Eugene for a performance at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance on June 3, it will be a homecoming for two of its members. Bassoonist Brandon Scott Rumsey and clarinetist Clarissa Osborn are former Eugene and Damascus residents and 2012 and 2013 graduates of the University of Oregon.

Emblems Wind Quintet performs Sunday in Eugene. Photo: Chris O’Brien.

Although Osborn now lives in Portland, the other members come from various corners of the world: Canadian-born flutist Merryl Neille (Monard) grew up in South Africa and, like Rumsey, now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the ensemble was founded in 2016. Las Vegas resident Alex Hayashi (oboe) has roots in Hawaii. Michigan native Caroline Steiger (horn) now calls San Marcos, Texas home.

When they converge in Oregon, the ensemble will be bringing music written by members of the first generation of mature 21st century composers. “A key component of our mission,” Rumsey notes, “is to share with the world fresh, exciting wind quintet gems that did not have a long life after their first performance or, in the case of commissions, have never been heard before.” That includes works by contemporary composers as well as composers who have been historically overlooked or brushed aside.

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Spotlight on: Eisele & Stone

The two young stars of Lauren Gunderson's "I and You" at Artists Rep have talent to burn, and nothing to fall back on but each other onstage

Emily Eisele and Blake Stone are making their move. When you meet these bright and talented young actors the energy coming off them is palpable: youth, excitement, the new epiphany of their own creative power. Together, they comprise the entire cast of Artist Repertory Theatre’s final show of this season, Lauren Gunderson’s I and You, which opened Saturday.

After a season of fire and brimstone, epics and politics, illusion and disillusion, I and You is something entirely different – and yet, of a piece. It’s a quiet play, but its victories and connections are no less profound for that. Gunderson, “the most produced playwright in the country,” writes in her program notes that Anthony is African-American and Caroline is white but then says, “The race of each character can be altered. The only essentiality is that the characters not be the same race.” It’s a quiet statement, fully in keeping with the rest of Artist Rep’s season but not as in your face. Eisele and Stone are the perfect vessels for such a message, laden as they are with talent, charm, and charisma in abundance.

Emily Eisele and Blake Stone in “I and You.” Photo: Russell J Young

Eisele (pronounced eye-slee), a native of Fort Collins, Colorado, lived in Portland for about five years. Though she hasn’t had a lot of formal training, she’s been learning her trade on the boards since she was a kid. When she arrived in the Rose City she knocked around for a couple of years, not really making any headway until she became an apprentice at Third Rail Repertory. Her year at Third Rail proved a game-changer. “It was a great way to meet other young passionate artists that wanted to collaborate,” she says. “I was really lucky my year because the majority of us were really dedicated and really wanted to be there and created a lot of our own opportunities together and that’s built a lot of lasting relationships for me.” Along the way, and since then, Eisele has starred in Band Geeks at Broadway Rose and made her Artists Rep debut in last season’s American Hero. Since that production, Eisele has chosen to take her talents to Chicago and make a name for herself there.

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A punch to the civic jaw

Rich Rubin's "Left Hook," set in Albina when urban renewal was tearing the black district apart, packs a personal tale in a political wrapper

Rich Rubin’s Portland boxing drama Left Hook, set in the 1970s era of urban renewal when the city’s vibrant Albina black neighborhood was largely clear-cut for a hospital development that never occurred, had its world premiere Thursday at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center as part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival, and the timing was propitious. Earlier in the day President Trump had issued a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the early 20th century heavyweight boxing champion who was convicted of the crime of transporting a white woman across state lines for immoral purposes – or, more frankly, of being a free black man in America who openly reveled in his wealth and talent and refused to “stay in his place.”

It was a put-up job, frankly racist, and without a shred of justification. The woman in question was one of Johnson’s many lovers, accompanying him willingly, and the irony is thick that after more than a century of politicians floating like butterflies away from the issue the president who finally pardoned him is a man who has used race- and immigrant-baiting code words to build a fervent following of angry white voters. (You can also say that however welcome the pardon is – and it is very welcome – the word “pardon” itself seems somehow insufficient, implying as it does that the person in question was guilty of a crime but is forgiven out of the goodness of the forgiver’s heart. “Exoneration,” stating clearly that a wrong has been committed and that the fault lies not with the accused but with the state that was the accuser, seems much more to the point.)

Damaris Webb directs Rich Rubin’s play “Left Hook,” running May 24-June 10, as part of Vanport Mosaic. The cast includes Anthony Armstrong, Kenneth Dembo, Jasper Howard, Shareen Jacobs, Tonea Lolin, and James Bowen II. Photo: Shawte Sims

The crimes against the habitués of Ty’s boxing club and their Albina neighbors in Left Hook are softer (indeed, in legal terms there is no crime at all) but of equally disruptive, perhaps even devastating, consequence. What occurs is a potent blend of money, ambition and politics, a triumvirate that often sees high opportunity in the displacement of the poor and underrepresented. In Portland, urban renewal already had resulted in the bulldozing of Italian, Jewish, and working-class neighborhoods at the south end of downtown; the removal of miles of homes and other buildings to push three freeways through a thicket of neighborhoods, dissecting and isolating them in the process; and the destruction of a bustling black community and the jazz and nightclub scene that went with it to build Memorial Coliseum (the Portland Trail Blazers’ original home) and other “civic improvements.”

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The Great White SquarePants

The Great White Way? With the Tonys looming and "SpongeBob" and "Mean Girls" leading the pack, Broadway looks like Nostalgia Lane

NEW YORK – Staged with nonstop brio by Tina Landau, and adorned with a phantasmagorical set and Technicolor costumes, deliriously energetic performers and a peppy but largely forgettable pop music score by hitmakers ranging from Aerosmith to John Legend to Lady Antebellum, SpongeBob SquarePants is yet another lucrative Broadway show drawn from a pop-culture phenom in another medium. In this case, it’s a long-lived cartoon series on TV’s Nickelodeon network.

The show exemplifies one of two kinds of pop-culture nostalgia going head to head in a Broadway season that aims to keep its aging Baby Boomer audience happy – while luring their adult children and grandchildren in, too.

On one end of the generation spectrum you have some well-regarded revivals of golden-era Broadway shows many Boomers grew up watching with their parents, or at least hearing on the family hi-fi (back when record players weren’t especially hip, just ubiquitous). Those can be fond memories, triggered by the well-reviewed mountings of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel by director Jack O’Brien, Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady staged by Bartlett Sher, and Jerry Zak’s take on Hello, Dolly! (which actually opened last season, with Boomer favorite Bette Midler in the lead).

Also, for the lucky few who can score tickets, there’s nostalgia attached to aging rock legend Bruce Springsteen’s smash one-man show, and even some ‘70s glitter memory-dust sprinkled on the tepidly received jukebox disco-tuner, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.

The company in Broadway’s bright, splashy “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Photo © Joan Marcus

Throwback fare that appeals to their offspring, the Gen-Xers and Millennials is also well-represented by SpongeBob SquarePants and new movie makeovers of Mean Girls and Frozen. And the sole new hit drama on Broadway this season? Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a dramatization that’s a sequel to the wildly popular J.K. Rowling Harry Potter novels – especially beloved by droves of Millennials and their kids.

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FilmWatch Weekly: Kubrick, Basquiat, Clouzot bring culture to summer

The beginning of summer movie season offers more than mere spectacle

Memorial Day Weekend was, until fairly recently, considered the start of the summer movie season. More refined fare would give way to popcorn entertainment for the masses. These days, the summer movie season feels like it runs from March through January, but fortunately it’s still possible to find movies that aspire, however imperfectly, to something more than blunt sensory spectacle and finely-honed witticisms. (Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things!) Playing this week in Portland are a pair of documentaries about the artistic process, a couple of British films set about 150 miles apart, and two gripping early efforts form the director known as “the French Hitchcock.”

Sometimes it feels, among the community of hardcore cinephiles, like there’s a competition to see who can live a life most consumed by movies. Bleary-eyed participants undertake film-fest endurance tests, watching four, five, even six movies in a day. (I know, I’ve been one.) Blogs and social media posts testify to the central, even borderline unhealthy, role the seventh art plays in the lives of its most dedicated cultists. But in terms of devotion to the art, and in particular to its most obsessive practitioner, no one can top Tony Vitali and his single-minded service to the vision of Stanley Kubrick, as chronicled in the compelling documentary “Filmworker.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: flood & mosaic

A look back, a look ahead: This week, the big news is the Vanport Mosaic Festival

SEVENTY YEARS AGO ON MAY 30 FLOODWATERS SWEPT IN from the Columbia River and burst through a 200-foot section of dike just north of Portland, inundating the city of Vanport, killing 15 people and wiping the city off the face of the Earth. Vanport was Oregon’s second-largest city at the time, with a population of 40,000 at its wartime peak before falling off after the end of World War II.

Henk Pander, “Vanport,” watercolor, 40 x 60 inches, 2018. On view at Cerimon House through Sunday in his Vanport Mosaic exhibition “Artworks of Henk Pander: War Memory, Liberty Ships, Vanport.” It then moves to the White Stag Building May 29-June 12.

Vanport was an “instant city” created primarily to house workers in the Kaiser shipyards and their families. It was for a time the most racially integrated city in the state, with a large African American population and many Asian Americans, too. Many white workers moved out after the war; black workers and their families largely stayed because of exclusionary housing practices in neighborhoods across Portland. The memory of Vanport remains strong in the city’s African American community.

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‘Rituals’ review: ambient tension

Contemporary classical music ensemble Sound of Late's dive into ambient sounds achieves incomplete immersion

by TRISTAN BLISS

“Listen closely to the cycles of your breath as you sink deeper into a universe of sound.” As that promotional quote for its May 19 show Rituals at Portland’s N.E.W Expressive Works indicates, Sound of Late invited us to lose ourselves in the spatial and immersive qualities of sound. Unfortunately, while waiting for this “universe of sound” to engulf me, Rituals played out as a fringe avant-garde chamber music concert that I would be cautious about who I invited to. The promised sound world was almost tangible and the show was teetering on something more, if only Sound of Late had believed in the validity of their vision and not sacrificed it to composers’ isolated visions of their scores.

Sound of Late’s ‘Rituals.’ Photo: Carlin Ma Photography.

Sitting in a circle, the audience’s experience centered upon the sound oscillating from inside to outside the circle. The Portland/Seattle new music ensemble performed Sequences by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Gjallarhorn by the Oregon electrical engineer/composer Chet Udell, in the speaking silence by Oregonian Andrea Reinkemeyer, and Et Nunc by Brooklyn based Alvin Singleton inside the audience circle. In between each of these pieces, a passage from Thirteen Changes by Pauline Oliveros would be played from outside the audience.

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