45th Parallel review: Horror show

Expertly programmed concert's dramatic arc makes for scary-fun entertainment

by MARIA CHOBAN

When you’re deciding what you’re doing tonight and your options are:

  • Blazers game
  • Fantastic horror flick like Dead Snow, Norway, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  • Beer at ABV

chances are a niche chamber music concert titled “Classical Crossroads” won’t even register. Unless you group it under horror flicks to stay away from because you’ll probably die of boredom.

I had to go. A friend’s piece was on the program.

Show time. Players walk to their seats. We applaud. They fuss with their instruments and prepare to play the first note.

Bliss blasts Ross. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

B A M ! ! !

Whathefuck??????????? Whatjustfell???????????

“I hate ‘classical music!’”

OMG, YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tristan Bliss, the Salem friend whose piece is being played on this show, just interrupted with a bang, flinging a book to the floor then dramatically reciting the opening words from Alex Ross’s essay “Listen to This.”

NOW I’M AWAKE.

Done ranting after what seemed like microseconds, the four musicians start scraping and pulling at their strings for real. An homage to the Marquis de Sade, New York composer John Zorn’s Cat o’ Nine Tails plucks my guts every time the players pick at their stringed instrument. The churning tickly sensation in my abdomen stops after three minutes. After another three days, enduring polite insider tittering from the audience  and cute too-subtle ad hoc moves (like pretending to fall asleep) by the players, I’m ready to turn Juliette on Zorn’s over-extended gimmick. Luckily the violist beats me to it. He’s had enough, stands up and air-lashes viciously at the others with his bow.

Third Angle String Quartet whips it good. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

OMG, YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hallowe’en by Charles Ives sneaks in with layers of sound, a creepy merry-go-round where new players phantasmagorically enter with each verse. This Hallowe’en felt more wacky than scary because the under-rehearsed players had to conduct the performance with clown-big gestures in order to stay together.

Just as I rolled my eyes at the lack of preparation, they stopped. They weren’t even finished!

Come play with us, Danny.

Remember the ghost twins in The Shining? 

At the back of the darkened stage appeared Portland composer Thomas DeNicola, a young ghost at an upright piano, a single moonbeam of light on his back, playing his eerily serene Notturno. I wanted to stay and listen. I wanted to run away. Scared of what was coming.

DeNicola’s “Notturno.”

Of course Hallowe’en bombasted back from the dead like every great villain from Freddy Krueger to Chucky in beloved cheesy cult flicks. Tristan Bliss and the show’s producer, Greg Ewer, carefully architected this show for maximum horror.

Serene like dead Ophelia, I’m floating downstream, white light bathing DeNicola — this time playing Paul Safar’s Geese in the Moonlight. He makes it sound so vulnerable, so sad. I float past cellist Marilyn de Oliveira at the front of the stage, the moon focusing on her luscious strokes, playing Nicholas Yandell’s And the Surface Breaks. I can’t shake the portent of Yandell’s disturbed ripples. Sadness mingled with terror.

DeNicola and de Oliveira play Safar and Yandell. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance! Ezekiel 25:17 according to Jules – Pulp Fiction

You don’t see it coming. The distraction nearly eclipses the kill. Violinist Ewer fucked with our heads, shredding “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (Guns ‘n Roses/arr. Adam DeGraff). Burning followed. Composer Chen Yi’s musical reaction to 9/11 starts like John Zorn but plows into the Twin Towers like a feather. It’s over before you can process the fatality. Unsentimental, brutal in a real-time, real-sound, real-dead way. No film-bullet-reverb, no drawn out opera death. I couldn’t breathe and kept pulling at the front of my bra to give my ribs more room to expand.

Composer Tristan Bliss. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

Having seen the score, I understood why Tristan Bliss’s Requiem for a Tradition ended the show. Had it worked, it would have exploded in a surreal catharsis of meteor-hits-earth-and-nothing-matters-anyway. But the microphones on the violin and cello never cut in except for about two seconds of cello near the end. I never heard the unremitting industrial chords that should have been pounding from Doug Schneider at the piano. The drums dominated. Too bad! Scored for multi-generations of instruments from classical strings, French horn, through pop drumset and onto electronica, what a fitting good-bye to civilization.

A few flubs aside, this was one of the funnest horror shows I’ve lived through!

Wanna get me out more?

  • Take me for a RIDE! I don’t give a shit about contrasting sonorities or chronological order or other left brained nonsense.
  • Arc your show as though it’s a movie script/storyboard.
  • Rehearse everything including tech stuff until you don’t need a score or an excuse.
  • Take chances!

Or hire team Bliss-Ewer.

Maria Choban is ArtsWatch’s Oregon ArtsBitch. This story originally appeared on her new entertainment site, CatScratch.

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

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