ArtsWatch Weekly: fires fading and rekindling

As national theater leaders descend on Portland, big questions rise in New York, the Oregon Jewish Museum makes a splash, and Don Quixote hits the opera stage

Listening to the New York Philharmonic’s radio broadcast Sunday evening of the Verdi Requiem on All Classical KQAC, all seemed right with the world. Conductor and music director Alan Gilbert had the orchestra in a heady balance of precision and emotion, with a superb sense of pacing and the ebbs and flows of a great score. The soloists (including Metropolitan Opera star and Northwest favorite Angela Meade, who’ll be kicking off the Astoria Music Festival with a recital this Sunday; see Brett Campbell’s comments below) were superb. This was music the way music was meant to be.

Angela Meade: opening the Astoria Music Festival

But appearances, including aural ones, can be deceiving. Gilbert, at just age 50, was at the end of what turned out to be an eight-year run at the head of the Philharmonic, although when he signed on it was expected to be much longer. What happened? As he told Michael Cooper for a revealing, lengthy and essential story in the New York Times, the fire waned: “To a degree, I lost my stomach to fight for things.” Cooper’s story is well worth reading in its entirety, as is Anthony Tommasini’s more narrowly focused and admiring assessment, also in the Times.

For music lovers and for people interested in the culture in general, Gilbert’s rise and self-imposed fall bring up essential questions. In a nutshell, Gilbert found himself frustrated by the inertia of a large cultural organization, which balked at his efforts to balance the great music of the past with the living presence of new and recent music. Often, the fear of losing money on the unknown was at the base of the institution’s objections – a fear that is known (and often itself feared) by nearly every decision-maker in any arts organization. If the mighty New York Philharmonic can’t solve such riddles, what about smaller organizations in smaller cities? What about the many orchestras (for instance) whose idea of contemporary programming is Bartok and the occasional Benjamin Britten? And how, if you almost never present the music of late 20th and 21st century composers, so your audience becomes familiar with their work, can you expect your audience to respond knowledgeably (let alone favorably) on the rare occasion that you do program something new? In chicken-and-egg terms, how can you expect younger composers to write music for symphonic orchestras when they know the chances of actually having them performed are negligible?

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The Philharmonic’s situation echoes a puzzle faced by nearly every arts organization in every community, large and small: How should we engage with the messy, divisive, ambitious, invasive, cruel, compassionate, dangerous, endangered, wondrous, self-destructive world in which we find ourselves? If we don’t respond in some substantial way to the realities of the culture (and there are many, many possible ways to respond) how can we expect to survive? Should we survive?

Such questions are bound to be front and center this week when TCG, the Theatre Communications Group, holds its 2017 national convention in Portland, drawing hundreds of artistic directors, managers, designers, techies, marketers, board members, and others who drive the engine of the American theater. The convention begins with some early events on Wednesday and then does the full-tilt boogie Thursday through Saturday.

For theater, as an art of language and social exploration, the questions that Gilbert found so consuming at the New York Phil can seem even more compelling: In a way, the theater is a more immediate mirror of its culture. And what culture is it reflecting? What colors, what range of ideas, what passions, what subcultures, what conflicting modes of thought, what balance between the personal and the public? All of these questions, and more, will be investigated and debated at the convention, and the tentative answers that conventioneers take home with them will help shape what audiences across the country will see. ArtsWatch will be on hand, taking it all in, writing about what we discover. Watch for our reports.

 


 

A FEW THINGS TO CONSIDER IN THE COMING WEEK:

 

Avenue Q. Triangle Productions is reviving its 2012 production of Broadway’s monster musical hit, an inventive puppet show for grownups. Here’s what we had to say about the 2012 show. Thursday through July 1.

Kúkátónón 2017 Showcase! The bright and shining children’s African dance troupe celebrates with dancing, drumming, and guest groups Sabe Kan (the West African dance troupe) and Baramakomo (the African drumming ensemble). Friday, Jefferson High School auditorium.

Oregon Jewish Museum’s grand reopening. The museum and Center for Holocaust Education have their grand opening Sunday in their new digs, the much bigger and more centrally located former home of the late Museum of Contemporary Craft. Several permanent exhibits have been installed, and the opening temporary show is Russian artist Grisha Bruskin’s Alephbet: The Alphabet of Memory. Free; noon-4 p.m. Sunday, 924 N.W. Davis St.

Good With People. Our Shoes Are Red/The Performance Lab is producing this play by the talented David Harrower, which sounds to be very much about the sort of sharp cultural divides that are dominating contemporary life. In a small coastal Scottish town, a barbed wire fence separates the town from the nuclear base that is its largest employer. A man who grew up on the base has an encounter with a woman who grew up protesting outside its gates. Now what?

Ashland summer shows. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s been busily running shows since February, but for a lot of people the season really kicks in when the three big shows on the open-air Elizabethan Stage start running in rotating rep. This year’s are in previews now: The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Odyssey, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – the latter of which is bound to raise the hackles on a significant slice of festival followers, and please the pants off another significant contingent.

The Reunion. Carol Triffle, cofounder of Imago Theatre and co-creator of such hits as Frogz, ZooZoo, and La Belle: Lost in the World of the Automaton, is also known for her own absurdist stageworks such as Hit Me in the Stomach and Francesca, Isabella, Margarita on a Cloud. Her newest, The Reunion (subtitled Six Characters in Search of the Punch), is “lightly cloaked in this existential comedy of bad manners at a high school reunion.” Imago Theatre, Friday through June 24.

Summer Splendors. NW Dance Project enters summer with a world premiere by artistic director Sarah Slipper and the return of its Chopin Project, with choreographers Slipper, Lucas Crandall, Rachel Urdos, and Tracy Durbin creating works set to music performed by pianist Hunter Noack. Thursday through Saturday, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University.

 


 

BRETT CAMPBELL’S MUSIC PICKS OF THE WEEK:

 

“Man of La Mancha,” opening Friday at Portland Opera.

 

Mitch Leigh and Dale Wasserman’s quintuple Tony-winning 1964 setting of Don Quixote follows Showboat, Sweeney Todd and other musical classics to receive the operatic treatment from Portland Opera — an “Impossible Dream” no longer. Jason Howard stars as Cervantes/Don Quixote, with Reggie Lee (Sergeant Wu on the just-ended set-in-Portland television series Grimm) as Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza. Opens Friday, repeats Sunday and June 15 and 17. Keller Auditorium.
One of jazz’s most honored tenor sax titans and bandleaders has gathered Grammies and Downbeat and Jazz Journalist awards by the caseful, played with most of jazz’s leading living lights, and sold out his terrific co-headlining date with John Scofield at last year’s PDX Jazz Festival, and this week’s early show. However, you can still catch his late show, which features his own quartet, whose recent concerts have taken a chronological bent, exploring the history of midcentury jazz from swing through bop. Thursday, Fremont Theater.
This free concert by one of South Korea’s top professional choir celebrates the 30th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Portland and Ulsan.
Friday, Newmark Theatre.
Actually it’s a quintet this time, as guest musicians violinist Nelly Kovalev and violist Hillary Oseas join the core piano-cell0-violin trio in one of chamber music’s most popular works, Dvorak’s Quintet in A, plus music by Schubert and Mozart.

ViVoce women’s choir, 2016. Portland Revels photo

 

Portland Revels’ 21-voice women’s chorus is one of the most distinctive and enjoyable vocal groups in a town that teems with them. What sets their shows apart is their emphases on music outside the usual central/Western European axis and on storytelling and poetry. This summer solstice concert featuring tunes from Polish, Welsh, Bulgarian, African-American and British traditions, along with pieces from Renaissance Europe and the Shapenote tradition, also includes guest singer Diane Dugaw, the well-known University of Oregon folklore scholar who grew up on a Pacific Northwest ranch. Saturday and Sunday, St. Michael and All Angels Church, 1704 N.E. 43rd Ave., Portland.
It’s unfortunately been a week, nay a year for mourning hereabouts, and a couple of concerts feature some of the most consoling choir music ever written. This one includes Maurice Durufle’s 1947 Requiem and the Lux Aeterna by one of the world’s most popular and performed composers, Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen, who’s been working with conductor Jason Sabino and the Hillsboro-based choir and organist on this performance of what’s become a choral classic, premiered in Portland 20 years ago. Saturday & Sunday, Bethel Congregational Church, 5150 SW Watson Ave., Beaverton.
Before moving up to the Oregon Chorale, Sabino cut his conducting teeth from 2014-15 with this choir, and in this free concert conducted by current director Tim Havis, it’s also performing one of the great requiems, by Gabriel Faure, with help from soloists and Portland chamber musicians.  First Christian Church, 1314 S.W. Park Ave.
Sunday’s opening concert features one of the Northwest’s most famous musicians, Metropolitan Opera singer Angela Meade in her Oregon debut recital. Pianist Danielle Orlando accompanies her in songs and arias by Handel, Liszt, Bellini, Verdi, and Strauss. On Tuesday, the festival’s baroque soloists (including sublime soprano Arwen Myers) play music by Handel and Purcell on period instruments.
Sunday, Liberty Theater and Tuesday, Grace Episcopal Church, Astoria.

 

 


 

ArtsWatch links

 

Todd Van Voris in “Thom Pain (based on nothing).” Photo: Russell J Young

At last, Thom Pain’s back in town. Marty Hughley traces the fascinating and fertile history in Portland of Will Eno’s brilliant stage monologue Thom Pain (based on nothing), right down to Todd Van Voris’s magnetic current performance of it for the new Crave Theatre. That show closes Sunday at the Shoe Box Theatre,

Deep End: funny without trying. A.L. Adams dives beneath the surface of improv virtuoso Domeka Parker’s bustling new theater in Southeast Portland.

Unlimited creativity. “American audiences embrace the dynamic rhythms and energy of Cuban jazz, with its variety of instrumentation and diverse percussion,” composer Christina Rusnak writes. “But we are much less familiar, ignorant even, of the ‘classical’ music tradition of the Cuban people through the 20th century into the 21st.” A recent concert by FearNoMusic , presented by Cascade Composers, created a welcome crack for audiences in that misunderstanding, and prompted Rusnak’s memories of her own trip to Havana last year and what she learned about the nation’s thriving music scene.

Bukowski in Bardoville. Mitch Ritter traces the steps of his “pilgrim’s progress” toward the premiere of the “intermedia performance ritual” that is Bardoville. Yes, Bukowski was there – or at least, his evocation.

Noguchi, no Dark Meadows. Martha Ullman West, looking back on the Martha Graham Company’s recent performance in Portland that closed the White Bird dance season, praises the performers. But without the sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s essential set pieces for Graham’s 1948 classic Dark Meadows, she wonders, is it still Dark Meadows?

Lee Kelly, pointing toward Asia. Paul Sutinen conducts a fascinating interview with Kelly, the 85-year-old sculptor and painter who has looked over his six-decade career toward the cultures and philosophies of the East for his inspiration.

Lee Kelly in his studio/shop. Winter Garden at Muktinath in process at left.

 

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