In the Frame 3: Lens on artists

K.B. Dixon continues his photographic portraiture series with images of Oregon arts and cultural leaders

Text and Photographs by K.B. Dixon

Photography essentially began as the art of portraiture. With the daguerreotype the portrait—previously painted and available only to an aristocratic few—became relatively inexpensive and available to everyone. John Szarkowski, the legendary director, curator, and poohbah-emeritus at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, noted in Looking at Photographs (his survey of the museum’s extensive collection) that “of the countless thousands of daguerreotypes that survive, not one in a hundred shows a building or a waterfall or a street scene.” What they show is “an endless parade of ancestors.”

The portraits here are part of an ongoing project titled In the Frame—a parade not of ancestors, but of the talented and dedicated people who have made significant contributions to the art, character, and culture of this city and state.

As with the previous portraits in this series, I have tried to produce a decent photograph—a photograph that acknowledges the medium’s allegiance to reality; that preserves for myself and others a unique and honest sense of the subject; that provides the viewer additional context that enriches, however infinitesimally, the viewer’s experience, understanding, and appreciation of the work these people have done and are doing.

Taken in situ—that is, in the subject’s natural habitat—these are not formal portraits but casual ones, portraits that rely on a mystical synthesis of time, light, form, and feeling. No assistants, studio lights, make-up artists, hair stylists, set designers, costumers, animal handlers, or Photoshop retouchers were involved.

 


 

Kim Stafford

Oregon’s Poet Laureate. Director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College.

Continues…

Oregon Symphony Orchestra: Nightmares before Christmas

OSO film series presents two simultaneous dramas: one on screen, one hidden in the orchestra 

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

In my comfy balcony seat in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, I realized with a start that I was about to hear, for the first time ever, a real live orchestra performing the music of my favorite composer.

It was nine shopping days before Christmas, and the Oregon Symphony Orchestra was getting ready to perform Nightmare Before Christmas, synchronizing Danny Elfman’s score to the film, projected on a screen above the orchestra, same as OSO has been doing for years.

Oregon Symphony performed the live score to Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ in December.

I looked around: just like at last fall’s Star Wars concert —pure bliss— the audience was a little younger than the OSO’s usual Mahler-loving crowd. A whole lot of folks my age and younger, some with parents or friends or kids, most wearing some kind of Nightmare bling.

And, as with Star Wars, the place was packed. They’d had to add a fourth show to accommodate the demand for this weird animated hybrid holiday show, this bizarre 25-year-old stop-motion musical (directed by Portlander Henry Selick, who animated Coraline) with Weillisch songs and score by a guy who used to breathe fire in a gonzo horror pop band.

But while this Nightmare was a dream come true for me and the rest of the audience, it was a lot scarier for the orchestra and its conductor. As we enjoyed the antics of Jack, Sally and the rest, the Oregon Symphony faced a test as tough as any of the movie’s characters.

Continues…

Visual Arts 2018: The big picture

2018 in Review, Part 7: From museums to studios to brave new spaces, a recap of some of ArtsWatch's views and reviews from a year in art

The visual arts stories at ArtsWatch this year ranged far and wide and – as usual – didn’t even come close to covering all that went on in the world of Oregon art. While some may see that as a failure, we choose to see it as a windfall. We are fortunate to live in such an active arts community. If we could cover everything, it would mean a much smaller everything, and that doesn’t benefit anyone. Here is a neat (and incomplete) encapsulation of visual vrts stories in 2018.

We took you behind the scenes with interviews with Oregon artists that explored origins, processes, interests, and other machinations of established and emerging artists. Paul Sutinen interviewed, among others, Judy Cooke on the occasion of her fall show at Elizabeth Leach and Tom Prochaska on the occasion of his spring show at Froelick. Hannah Krafcik interviewed kiki nicole, and ariella tai about their work with the first and the last, an experimental film/video and new media arts project in Portland. Krafcik was then able to follow up in another interview with Jaleesa Johnston about her screening and workshop at the first and the last.

Judy Cooke, “Pink”, 2018, oil, aluminum, 14” x 10” x 1.5”

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: ringing out, ringing in

Year-ending classical concerts look forward as well as back

Celebrating a new year’s arrival is a perpetual affirmation of hope over experience. So it’s appropriate that some of Oregon’s end of year events represent elements we need more of in classical music: youthful vitality, widespread participation, inclusive American programming, laughter.

• Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Concert-at-Christmas showcases its entire roster of nearly 300 musicians, plus alumni spanning much of the organization’s 95-year history. Performers from seven to 80 years old, include PYP’s Wind Ensemble, Conservatory Orchestra, Young String Ensemble, and Alumni Orchestra. They’ll play a fun, affordable, family friendly program featuring Aaron Copland’s Buckaroo Holiday, Strauss’s Thunder and Lightning Polka, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, the march from John Williams’s Superman score, and more.
Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Concert at Christmas is Wednesday.

• Classical Revolution PDX’s annual Bachxing Day is, like so much of that essential community organization, insistently inclusive: any local musician, regardless of conservatory cred, is invited to propose a solo or small ensemble performance, as long as it’s — well, I can’t express the philosophy better than the organization itself: “Bachxing day is our Annual Celebration of ALL THINGS BACH. (And puns. See above.) We like J.S., but also expect to hear J.C., C.P.E., P.D.Q. and X.Y.Z – pretty much anything that has “Bach” in the name. All styles of interpretation and instrumentation are up for grabs, including historically inspired performance, molto schmaltzando, and Bach on kazoo.” The culminating number: JSB’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.
Wednesday, Artichoke Music, 2007 SE Powell Blvd. Portland.

New Year’s Eve

• Florestan Trio has been Portland’s stalwart classical chamber ensemble since Auld Lang Syne (times long past) — more than four decades. The current stellar lineup of pianist Janet Goodman Guggenheim, violinist Carol Sindell, and cellist Hamilton Cheifetz has been together for many years and are familiar figures on Oregon classical music stages and PSU classrooms. For this New Year’s Eve concert, Friends of Chamber Music pairs the venerable threesome with another Portland classical music veteran, pianist John Strege (who was music director at Trinity Cathedral for almost as long as the Florestans have been around) and baritone Kevin Walsh in a characteristically delightful divertimento and piano trio by Haydn, John Williams’s famous theme from his score for Schindler’s List, and more, plus dessert and champagne.
Monday, The Old Church, Portland

The Florestan Trio performs in Friends of Chamber Music’s New Years Eve concert.

• As usual in recent New Year’s Eves, the Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony, abetted by singers from Portland State University, Oregon Repertory Singers, and Pacific Youth Choir plus vocal soloists. As is unfortunately not usual but is most welcome, the concert also includes orchestral music by 20th century African American composers better known for jazz. Best known as the father of Harlem stride piano, James P. Johnson was one of jazz’s 1920s pioneers. But starting in the 1930s, he began writing symphonic music, which was neglected by the racist white classical music establishment of his time. Eugene Symphony music director Marin Alsop (who now leads the Baltimore Symphony) recorded all of it for the first time in 1994, and the Oregon Symphony will play two of Johnson’s orchestral works: the symphonic poem Drums and the brief Victory Stride. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s hip, fun version of Nutcracker ballet music is more than just another orchestral arrangement, featuring jazzy solos, complete reorchestration, swing rhythms, even new titles for the famous dances. It’s a sweet, sly revelation that merits hearing even if you’re surfeited with sugar plum fairies by now — an ideal combo of American and European holiday cheer.
Sunday and Monday. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven, Ellington, and James P. Johnson Sunday and Monday.

•  3 Leg Torso and the Krebsic Orkestar
Portland’s favorite world chamber ensemble, 3 Leg Torso and Alex Krebs’ fiery dozen-member Balkan brass band, the Krebsic Orkestar, host a tangorrific New Years Eve party. You don’t have to know how to tango, but do be ready to dance like no one’s watching. DJ’d dance party follows.
Tango Berretin, Portland

• As 2018 mercifully closes, there’s so much wrong in our country that a significant portion of the music and theater being created today seems to be responding, often with outrage, to depredations perpetrated by our ruling class. A century and a half ago, the British Empire produced a similar share of evils, and artists responded.

Continues…

Seeing with fresh eyes

ArtsWatch’s Coast correspondent reflects on what she learned covering the arts in 2018

An editor once told me the best way to learn anything is to write about it. That lesson was driven home this year as I took on the beat covering arts on the Oregon Coast. Prior to that, I would have told you that, yes, the arts are alive and well on the edge of the Pacific. At other times, I could have been heard grumbling that there was nothing to do here. Then admitting, grudgingly, that even when there was, I didn’t do it. I might have said it was a case of “been there, done that.”

In truth, after so many years of covering breaking — often tragic — news, lightened by the occasional feature, and even then hamstrung by the rules of conventional journalism, I kind of forgot about art and just how much it encompasses. I forgot that art unites us, teaches us, makes us better people. That art brightens the world.

Newport’s Nye Beach neighborhood once hosted more rats than visitors.

And so, when the offer came to write this weekly column, I was sorely tempted to say no. Other than living here, I didn’t think I had the connections. But I thought about it and I wavered — yes, no, maybe, well OK, at least for now. I had this idea that it could be a chance to broaden my horizons, to move from that place of stagnation, and start growing again. It was an enticing thought, but really, I had no idea what I’d happened upon.

I soon learned that you can’t write about the arts in a place like the Oregon Coast — a place where one of the largest cities has roughly nine traffic lights — and not come away inspired. Again and again, I have been awed by what people in these small towns accomplish through sheer will, generosity of time and spirit, and the absolute refusal to give up.

Continues…

Cappella Romana: Straddling Worlds

The superb vocal ensemble's "Christmas in Ukraine" was ancient and modern and a breath of life. Next up: The Lost Treasures of Armenia.

Story and photographs by FRIDERIKE HEUER

Cappella Romana opened its 2018/19 season announcement with the words, “Prepare to be engaged, moved, and inspired.” Consider it done. You could add an occasional “made breathless” by the sheer beauty of the singing. One of the main themes of the glorious vocal ensemble’s Saturday concert Christmas in Ukraine at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland was the notion of breath. Breath as the source of life handed down from above, and breath as the source of praise sent back up.

Cappela Romana, in full voice.

Presence and absence of breath was just one of the many dichotomies that came up at St. Mary’s (the program had played the night before in Seattle, and repeats in San Francisco on Jan. 5) while listening to and thinking about this chorus, its guest conductor Marika Kuzma, the music on offer, and the thoughts evoked by any mention of Ukraine these days.

Continues…

Oregon & Vancouver Symphony Orchestras: reanimating the exquisite corpse

Enjoyable but uneven fall concerts spotlight orchestras but suggest untapped potential for traditional concert format

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

Two Northwest orchestras—one in Portland, one in Vancouver—recently put on a couple of concerts epitomizing the Perfectly Ordinary Symphonic Concert. In November, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performed music by Hector Berlioz, Aram Khachaturian, and Felix Mendelssohn; in December, Oregon Symphony Orchestra performed Anders Hillborg, William Walton, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Each concert offered one take on the standard three-beat symphonic concert formula: Overture—Concerto—Symphony. It’s a little like a good date: Dinner—Show—Bed. The concerts followed that routine pretty closely, showing off each orchestra’s strengths, giving the spotlight in turn to guest soloists, individual orchestral soloists, and “the four sections” (strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion). And, aside from the invariable maleness of the compositional pool, each concert featured a good balance of musical voices—classical through modern to contemporary—and a variety of musical moods.

Salvator Brotons led the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

The result was entertaining, and although it didn’t make me question the usefulness of a concert formula many find tired (I’m conservative in this regard, I guess), it did raise questions about how we modernize and humanize it.

VSO: barbarous overdrive

VSO’s November 4 concert opened with a Gallic bit of fun from Hector Berlioz, his Roman Carnival Overture. It’s not a very interesting piece of music, and not as appropriate for a blustery northwest November evening as, say, a Shostakovich overture (or maybe a little Britten). But Berlioz knew how to write for orchestra and the VSO—especially English horn soloist Kyle Mustain—sounded good warming up on his music. Bassoons and trombones built to a big showy finish, whereupon music director Salvador Brotons, with his big corny smile, hand in the air, held out the last chord Bugs Bunny style, and then with a quick twist of his wrist snatched it out of the air. Silence, applause, a skip to the microphone.

Brotons introduced the evening’s soloist: Tbilisi-born, Vancouver-based pianist Dimitri Zhgenti, whom the Skyview Hall Auditorium audience welcomed with enthusiastic familiarity (after the concert, we caught him hanging around Skyview’s banal high school lobby, chatting with some local friends and thanking them for coming out). Zhgenti’s playing on Khachaturian’s hoary Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was balanced and careful. His sense of melody—oh so important in this score, driven as it is by folk song—was bold, attentive, and dynamic, but his overall approach was a matter of restraint and clarity, giving the composer’s vital voice the space to carry through on its own strength. Zhgenti didn’t need to oversell it, and so he didn’t, even during the long solo in the first movement, and the tasteful bombast made his performance that much more compellingly nuanced.

The orchestra, warmed up after the Berlioz overture, kicked into barbarous overdrive on the Khachaturian concerto. The strings played with a big fat sound all throughout, a rich, full tone, one of the band’s signature features. Principal oboist Alan Juza shone in the first movement’s playful secondary theme; bass clarinetist Barbara Heilmair gloomed it up all gorgeously throughout the second movement; and percussionist Dianna Hnatiw played the second movement’s keening Caucasian melody in unison with the high strings using a flexatone of all damned things — an impressive feat, I assure you; usually that part is played on a saw or omitted altogether, and it’s crazy difficult to nail individual pitches on either instrument.

High, sweet horns and low, booming brass ranged from grim pastorales to creepy circus chorales, that whole conflicted Soviet sound, song-like and nasty, twisted and heroic, modernism hiding under conservatism hiding under populism. The only problem with this concerto is that there’s really too much of it—this was Khachaturian’s first mature composition, after all, and probably could have benefitted from about a 10% reduction. But Zhgenti, Brotons, and the band sounded way too good for me to complain.

Continues…