Oregon Music 2018: looking outward

Socially engaged sounds, multimedia productions, and other trends in 2018 Oregon music

Last year’s music roundup first looked homeward. ArtsWatch’s 2017 music coverage focused, as we have from the outset, on our state’s creative culture: music conceived and composed in Oregon. We touched a lot of other bases, too of course, and homegrown music remained a touchstone our 2018 coverage and this recap.

But as with other Oregon artists this year, Oregon music increasingly gazed outward — and often askance — at our nation’s continuing descent into turmoil, division, lies, and political corruption, starting right at the top and oozing down. Therefore, so did much of our music coverage. So we’ll start with what ArtsWatch’s David Bates called…

“Socially Engaged” sounds

Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic and choir Resonance Ensemble devoted entire seasons to contemporary classical music that responds to today’s social issues.

Resonance Ensemble preview: questions of faith
Choral organization’s ‘Souls’ concert is part of a season-long musical exploration of timely social concerns
Brett Campbell, February 23

‘Bodies’ review: Pride is a verb
Resonance Ensemble’s Pride Week concert commemorates LGBTQIA community’s struggles and celebrates its creativity.
Matthew Andrews, August 14

Resonance Ensemble

Resonance Ensemble: amplifying ‘Hidden Voices’
Vocal ensemble’s collaborative concert features musical responses to experiences marked by racism and resistance.
Matthew Andrews, November 17

Fear No Music: music of migration and more
New music ensemble demonstrates dedication to diversity and development.
Matthew Andrews, December 10

New music ensemble Fear No Music

Other classical music organizations also presented issue-oriented new music.

Oregon Symphony reviews: immigrant songs
Fall concerts include a world premiere theatrical commission and 20th century works by immigrant American composers
Matthew Andrews, January 9

Lawrence Brownlee preview: a journey
In a Friends of Chamber Music recital, the celebrated tenor sings a Romantic classic and a new, timely composition about America’s most pressing crisis
Damien Geter, April 2

Shredding it at “Pass the Mic” camp.

Portland Meets Portland
The innovative “Pass the Mic” summer music camp pairing music pros and young refugees and immigrants will give a free concert Friday.
Friderike Heuer, July 14

David Ludwig: telling the earth’s story through music
Composer’s Chamber Music Northwest commission inspired by ancient Earth, threat of extinction from human-caused climate change.
Matthew Andrews, July 27

Gabriel Kahane’s new oratorio confronts America’s empathy deficit
Commissioned, performed and recorded this week by the Oregon Symphony, ’emergency shelter intake form’ humanizes homelessness.
Interview by Matthew Andrews, August 28

Multimedia

Besides addressing today’s social issues, another trend among some classical music organizations in 2018 was updating their presentations by augmenting music with other art forms such as theater, literature, visual arts, and more. At ArtsWatch, we try to provide constructive feedback on how these often experimental productions worked, so we can help risk-taking artists move forward into unexplored territories — without leaving the audience behind.

Fin de Cinema’s “Beauty and the Beast”: spirit of discovery
Latest mix of classic film and Portland contemporary music captures Cocteau creation’s mix of beauty and grit.
Douglas Detrick, January 23

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Cappella PYP, Portland State choirs, and In Mulieribus perform Richard Einhorn’s ‘Voices of Light’ during a screening of Dreyer’s film Friday.

‘Voices of Light’ preview: trial by fire
Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus, Portland State University choirs perform Richard Einhorn’s popular oratorio ‘Voices of Light’ with Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc.’
Brett Campbell, January 25

“Tesla” lab report
Harmonic Laboratory’s ambitious experimental multimedia performance produces mixed results.
Brett Campbell, February 6

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MusicWatch Weekly: American holidays

Along with abundant traditional European Christmas music, Oregon concerts offer American angles on holiday music, music mixed with theater, film, dance, and more

Millions of Americans celebrate Christmas, but let’s face it, the Yuletide is hardly an American original. Sometimes it seems that about all we’ve contributed to a story that began in the Middle East and was St. Nicked by Europeans, is our characteristic commercialization of what was once a spiritual occasion.

Actually, Americans have over the years made the mid-winter holiday — like so many other cultural artifacts that originated elsewhere — our own through music, and you can hear some of it on Oregon stages this week.

• Based on the memoir by iconic Portland stripper / author Viva Las Vegas, Viva’s Holiday scored a surprisingly young and diverse audience in its 2015 and 2016 performances. Set in her family’s Minnesota home during a Christmas visit, Portland composer Christopher Corbell’s intimate, one-act Christmas opera recounts Viva’s declaration of independence from family expectations, socially approved careers, and occasionally clothing — a perfect Portland-style twist on standard holiday themes. Already revived once, Corbell’s lyrical music, which embraces both classical traditions and his own singer-songwriter background, has now received a splendid recording by a twelve-piece orchestra and four opera singers conducted by former Opera Theater Oregon artistic director Erica Melton. This Cult of Orpheus concert (i.e. unstaged) performance includes all the music, minus costumes, sets and stage action, plus a set by Portland’s early French sex music trio Bergerette (which has a close connection to Viva), plus a chance to buy the newly released CD. Let’s hope Santa brings a full re-staging during a future holiday season. Read ArtsWatch’s review and feature story about the original production.
Saturday, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland.

• Violin deity Mark O’Connor, who’s developed an entire music ed curriculum that introduces American kids to music using our own folk traditions rather than centuries-old European pedagogy. Possibly the world’s greatest fiddler, the Seattle-born star brings the sound of his popular “Appalachia Waltz” combo to holiday music when his crack band and singer Brandy Clark perform the music from his hit 2011 album An Appalachian Christmas this week in Portland and Eugene. The Grammy-winning fiddle virtuoso (who’s also won major awards for his guitar and mandolin skill) composer (nine concertos, two symphonies, three string quartets and counting), studio musician, and educator may have worked with some of the world’s most renowned musicians, from Yo Yo Ma to Earl Scruggs to Wynton Marsalis, but he really enjoys playing with his family and friends. What better time to do that during the holidays? His O’Connor Band features his wife and fellow fiddler/ singer Peggy, champion mandolinist son Forrest, national flatpack champ guitarist Joe Smart, banjoist/bassist Geoff Saunders giving carols and other holiday standards given a warm, all American bluegrass/folk inflection.
Wednesday, McDonald Theatre, Eugene, and Friday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Mark O’Connor Family Band performs “An Appalachian Christmas” Wednesday in Eugene and Friday in Portland. Photo: All Classical Portland

Music & Theater & More

Along with Viva’s Holiday and Portland annual Christmas Revels, which is more theatrical than musical though worth seeing on both counts, on Sunday, Eugene Concert Choir presents its fully staged musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. A Dickens of a Christmas includes plenty of seasonally appropriate sounds that you nevertheless don’t hear ad nauseam in stores and commercials everywhere this time of year. ECC artistic director Diane Retallack has placed the ghost of Christmas Past’s setting in a Renaissance Feast, with appropriate madrigals and carols performed by the costumed “Lords and Ladies” of Eugene Vocal Arts in Elizabethan attire and accompanied by Byrdsong Consort. The ghost of Christmas Present inhabits Dickens’s mid-19th century Britain, with English carols and other music of the period, including Arthur Sullivan’s (of Gilbert &) Handelian Festival Te Deum, accompanied by Eugene Concert Orchestra. The ghost of Christmas Future appears in a “raucous, kitschy look at contemporary culture” with flash mob, break dancing, circusy acrobatics, an Elvis impersonator, and Churchill High School’s Concert Choir. This colorful experience is more than just a concert, featuring costumes, sets, theatrical lighting and sound, action, pageantry, choreography and of course Dickens’s immortal story of Scrooge and the rest.

Eugene Vocal Arts members don Renaissance garb at Eugene Concert Choir’s ‘A Dickens of a Christmas.’

And don’t forget about this weekend’s concluding concerts in a couple other music-meets-theater runs we’ve told you about in earlier MusicWatches:

• Portland Opera to Go’s kid-friendly, bilingual production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, at Portland’s Hampton Opera Center, 211 SE Caruthers Street, and

 The Shedd’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, at Eugene’s Jaqua Concert Hall, 285 E Broadway.

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Resonance Ensemble: amplifying ‘Hidden Voices’

Vocal ensemble's collaborative concert features musical responses to experiences marked by racism and resistance

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

It’s a testimony to Portland choral group Resonance Ensemble’s sense of community that they collaborate with and share their concerts with other artists—sometimes several. At Resonance’s October 21 Hidden Voices concert, the choir shared the spotlight with journalist-turned-poet S. Renee Mitchell, BRAVO Youth Orchestra, and local gospel choir Kingdom Sound. Together, they performed music by a pair of composers both born in 1980: Australian Melissa Dunphy and Resonance’s own Damien Geter.

“Remain Hopeful”

Reverend Terry McCray-Hill welcomed the packed, restless audience to Northeast Portland’s Bethel A.M.E. Church, where the mix of Resonance enthusiasts and regular Bethel churchgoers made for a gathering more diverse—racially and religiously as well as across age and class boundaries—than most Portland concerts, an integrated solidarity which has become especially important in these fractured times. “I dream a world,” McCray-Hill said, “where hidden voices can find a comfortable place to scream out who they are.”

Kingdom Sound gospel choir performed at Resonance Ensemble’s ‘Hidden Voices.’ Photo: Rachel Hadiashar

Resonance Ensemble’s founder and Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon described the group’s commitment “to presenting powerful performances of music that will, hopefully, make change happen in the world.” This season—their tenth—continues Resonance’s tradition of socially conscious music making, each concert spotlighting timely issues: upcoming concerts focus on women’s voices and the health challenges of childhood and parenthood, and Hidden Voices focused on experiences marked by racism and resistance.

“Today we celebrate artists of color, composers of color,” FitzGibbon continued. “We have some music today that is really challenging; I think music should challenge us,” she said, warning the audience of the presence of violence in the music, and closing with a promise of hope. “What a gesture it is to remain hopeful.”

She’s right: collaboration, consistency, and commitment are all acts of resistance against complacency, a way of meeting challenges and overcoming them.

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Cult of Orpheus: lyrical music

Saturday concert offers a five-year retrospective of Portland composer Christopher Corbell's creative reboot

About a decade ago, after his last band finally called it a day, Christopher Corbell, who’d played punk, folk, and other pop music for a couple of decades, faced a turning point. “I finally got to the point that I felt too constrained by the verse-chorus format,” the Portland singer/songwriter/guitarist remembers, “and once that group wound down, I decided I’d had this notion in my head for awhile that I wanted to write an opera.”

In 2015, he did. Corbell’s one-act opera Viva’s Holiday, which set to music a scene from the memoir of famed Portland stripper/author Viva Las Vegas, drew enthusiastic crowds to Old Town’s decidedly non-operatic Star Theater. It was one of many projects emerging from Cult of Orpheus, a production vehicle Corbell created to bring his new, poetically focused music to Portland audiences, which staged its first concert at northeast Portland’s The Waypost club in 2013.

On Saturday, Corbell and various local classical musicians and singers celebrate the Cult’s fifth anniversary with a retrospective concert featuring music from Viva’s Holiday and other poetic songs he’s composed over this five-year stretch.

Christopher Corbell conducts Cult of Orpheus musicians at this summer’s album release concert at Portland’s TaborSpace.

Even while creating non-classical music, “There was never a time I wasn’t doing something with notated music on the side, [like] writing classical guitar pieces,” Corbell remembers, “but it was never my main focus.” Now he wanted to make music in which the words shaped the musical form. “I was really drawn to the lyrical architecture of music that flows out of poetic utterance,” Corbell explains. “I wanted to start with art song as kind of a training ground” before embarking on an opera.

Creative Barriers

But he felt stymied — not by classical music itself but by the apparatus around it. Corbell had studied music in college but, coming from a lower-income background, felt he didn’t fit in what seemed to him the classical establishment’s elitist, hierarchical system. “Classical music has a tendency to still be a white supremacist patriarchal institution,” he says.

Not that classical music is unique in that respect. The music-industrial complex in Nashville, where Corbell spent his adolescence and began performing music, he discovered, had its own hierarchies and gatekeepers that seemed more oriented toward commercial success than non-standardized personal expression or social concerns.

“Studies of social dominance show that every culture that’s ever had an economic surplus has established social dominance groups based on [factors like] gender, race, national origin,” he explains. Those hierarchies, Corbell believes, have produced competitive, cynical social structures that suppress the universal artistic urge to make something beautiful and share it.

“There’s this notion that art is either about selling stuff or a hierarchy of credentials and achievement,” he says. “That’s not why I do art. I do it to grow, to share meaning, to be part of a community.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: Music Notes

Rounding up spring and summer news in Oregon music

The annual summer slowdown in Oregon’s live music season gives us a chance to catch up on some recent news. Do check out other events this week we’ve already previewed elsewhere, including a pair of vintage shows: an encore of a Aquilon Music Festival opera Thursday in Dundee, and Willamette Valley Music Festival’s closing weekend concerts (Saturday’s is sold out but Sunday’s has tickets available) featuring a string quartet by Rebecca Clarke, cello and violin duets by Philip Glass (from his Double Concerto), and one of the pinnacles of 19th century chamber music, Schubert’s Cello Quintet. Read Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch preview.

Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival concludes Sunday.

Arrivals

Third Angle New Music has selected Sarah Tiedemann as its fifth artistic director. After a national search, the Portland flutist, educator and arts administrator, who’s been interim artistic director since the organization abruptly parted ways with longtime AD Ron Blessinger (who quickly landed at 45th Parallel Universe), won the position over a couple dozen well qualified applicants. In addition to several performances with the 33-year-old Portland new music ensemble, Tiedemann has played with the Oregon Symphony, Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra, Chamber Music Northwest and Salem Chamber Orchestra. Read my ArtsWatch story about Third Angle’s future, including an interview with Tiedemann.

Sarah Tiedemann performed on a different instrument at a Third Angle concert. Photo: Jacob Wade.

PDX Jazz, Portland’s jazz music presenting organization, has named Christopher Doss its first executive director. A former managing director of Monterey Jazz Festival founding marketing executive of Dallas’s AT&T Performing Arts Center, Doss has worked in performing arts for two decades, and will work alongside veteran artistic director Don Lucoff.

Laurels

• Oregon composer Andrea Reinkemeyer was one of only three American composers to receive $15,000 Women Composers Commissions from the League of American Orchestras. (The Linfield College music professor’s fellow honorees, Stacy Garrop and Robin Holcomb, are well known in contemporary classical music circles.) Reinkemeyer’s new composition will be premiered by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in January 2019. Let’s hope an Oregon orchestra performs it soon. What we’ve heard of her music in Oregon makes her one of the state’s most promising compositional voices.

Composer Andrea Reinkemeyer.

• Speaking of prestigious premieres, Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, one of the great East Coast classical music summer events, featured the world premiere of a new commissioned work (his second for the festival) from Oregon composer Kenji Bunch at its August 5 concert in the Hamptons. The festival teems with Chamber Music Northwest regulars; maybe we’ll get to hear it there someday.

• Another rising young Portland composer, Justin Ralls, won third place in the American Prize student composition competition for his Tree Ride.

Cult of Orpheus composer Christopher Corbell has been awarded a Career Opportunity Grant from the Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Community Foundation to support the recording of a full-length album of original vocal works by Corbell, featuring Cult of Orpheus troupe singers and chamber musicians. Read my ArtsWatch story about the Cult and preview of its Saturday show, a five-year retrospective of Corbell’s music at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre.

• University of Oregon alum Huck Hodge, who now teaches at the University of Washington, won the $200,000 Charles Ives Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chosen by a panel of distinguished American composers, the award aims “to free a promising American composer from the need to devote his or her time to any employment other than music composition.”

Michael Harrison

• Still another UO alumnus, the great New York composer Michael Harrison, received a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship to create a new work for the terrific new music band Alarm Will Sound. Harrison, who grew up in Eugene, won the UO’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2014. Read my Oregon Quarterly profile.

• More Third Angle news: the organization has received a $90,000 grant from the Creative Heights Initiative of the Oregon Community Foundation to produce Sanctuaries, an original contemporary chamber opera composed by Portland composer/educator/pianist Darrell Grant set to the rhythms of jazz and slam poetry, which explores gentrification and the displacement of residents of color in Portland’s historically African-American Albina district.

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MusicWatch Weekly: festival season

Summer festivals bring old and new sounds to Oregon -- including music by Oregon composers

It’s not just the thermometer that’s heating up — summer music festival season is officially underway, bringing with it music by Oregon composers.

Wednesday’s Astoria Music Festival concert at Astoria’s Clatsop Community College Performing Arts Center, 588 16th Street, features a dozen works by Cascadia Composers, including David Bernstein, Daniel Brugh, Paul Safar, Jennifer Wright, ArtsWatch’s own Jeff Winslow and Matthew Andrews, and more. Some of the performers — including Delgani String Quartet, pianist Asya Gulua, singer Catherine Olson and more — are among Oregon’s finest.

Monica Huggett and Adam LaMotte headline Astoria Music Festival’s baroque concert.

Other Astoria shows feature a whole lotta Bach, including Saturday’s highly recommended all-Bach concert featuring Portland Baroque Orchestra violinist and director Monica Huggett, fellow PBO violinist Adam LaMotte, star baroque flutist Janet See, and excellent keyboardist Janet Coleman on harpsichord. Chopin Competition gold medalist Ilya Kazantsev and award winning cellist Sergey Antonov play more Bach Saturday, with live painting by Astoria’s own Darren Orange. Antonov and pianist Cary Lewis perform Bach’s viola da gamba and harpsichord sonatas on equal tempered cello and piano Tuesday. Kazantsev plays a Rachmaninoff recital Thursday, and joins other festival stars in Shostakovich and Schubert Friday. Puccini’s classic opera Tosca Sunday afternoon at lovely Liberty Theatre features several Met soloists including Richard Keller and Angela Brown.

The other major highly recommended, locally sourced concert this week is Saturday night’s Cult of Orpheus album release at southeast Portland’s TaborSpace. The new album from one of Oregon’s most distinctive musical voices, Portland composer Christopher Corbell’s splendid new Sacred Works I: The Emerald Tablet touches on subjects from Sufi song cycle to medieval mystery cults and more. Check out some tracks at the Cult’s YouTube channel.

Resonance Ensemble brings to a close a fascinating season that squarely and obliquely addressed some of today’s most pressing issues with “BODIES” Sunday afternoon at northeast Portland’s Cerimon House, 5131 NE 23rd Ave. An official event of Pride Northwest, the program includes selections from a major recent work Considering Matthew Shepard, by Craig Hella Johnson, who directs the superb Austin-based vocal ensemble Conspirare. Other highlights include music from Dominick DiOrio’s The Visible World, a composition about marriage equality from diverse historical perspectives and from composer Laura Kaminsky’s As One. Along with the top-notch Resonance regulars, guests include erstwhile Portlander Stephen Marc Beaudoin back on a visit to sing pieces by gay composers, pianist David Saffert, and Resonance poet in residence S. Renee Mitchell performing an original work written for this show.

Resonance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon at Portland’s Cerimon House.

Astoria isn’t the only coastal musical extravaganza. Siletz Bay Music Festival tees off at Lincoln City Cultural Center with a Wednesday recital featuring violinist Asi Matathias and pianist Victor Stanislavsky in sonatas by Grieg, Mendelssohn, Saint Saens and more. Tuesday’s show offers Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata and Oregon Symphony concertmaster Sarah Kwak with pianist Mei-Ting Sun in Cesar Franck’s ever-popular Violin Sonata. Sun returns for Friday’s all-Beethoven piano recital and Sunday’s chamber music concert featuring 20th century sounds by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Francis Poulenc’s sparkling Clarinet Sonata featuring the great jazz clarinetist Ken Peplowski. Kwak then joins the fun for Schumann’s famous Piano Quintet.

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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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