ArtsWatch’s hit parade 2017

Readers' choice: From a musical fracas to rising stars to a book paradise, a look back on our most read and shared stories of the year

Here at ArtsWatch, it’s flashback time. It’s been a wild year, and the 15 stories that rose to the top level of our most-read list in 2017 aren’t the half of it, by a long shot: In this calendar year alone we’ve published more than 500 stories.

Those stories exist because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation.

Here, back for another look, is an all-star squad of stories that clicked big with our readers in the past 12 months:

 


 

Matthew Halls conducted Brahms’s ‘A German Requiem’ at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Josh Green.

The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival

In June Tom Manoff, for many years the classical music critic for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, looked at the severe drop in attendance and cutbacks in programming at the premiere Eugene music festival. He summarized: “Thinking ahead, I ask: If this year’s schedule portends the future, can OBF retain its world-class level? My answer is no.” His essay, which got more hits than any other ArtsWatch story in 2017, got under a lot of people’s skin. But it was prescient, leading to …

Bach Fest: The $90,000 solution. This followup that had the year’s second-highest number of clicks: Bob Hicks’s look at the mess behind the surprise firing of Matthew Halls as the festival’s artistic leader and the University of Oregon’s secretive response to all questions about it.

 


 

“Instruments of Power,” Thomas Hart Benton. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art

The poisoned art of Donald Trump

Published right before the presidential inauguration in January, this personal essay was ArtsWatch’s most-shared story of the year. Using American narrative art as a guide, Bob Hicks argued that the new president’s mastery of storytelling and ability to twist its techniques to his own purposes had brought him to power: “In brief, Trump has stolen the story …. Love him or loathe him, we are in Trump’s thrall.”

 


 

Artist and subject, subject and artist: the mutual gaze.
Photo: Friderike Heuer

Eye to Eye

Friderike Heuer’s remarkable photo essay about her dual portrait sessions with the artist Henk Pander drew a huge response from near and far. Heuer recorded Pander and his process with her camera as he created a version of her with his paintbrushes, and both artists went deep as they explored the meanings of the artistic gaze.

 


 

Francesco Lecce-Chong conducting the Eugene Symphony Orchestra at the Hult Center.

Eugene Symphony music director search: next star?

It was a big year on the music scene in Eugene, and readers gobbled up Brett Campbell’s introduction of the three finalists and assessment of why the symphony’s search for a new leader was important. It was “big news in Oregon, of course, but it’s also national news. That’s because the orchestra in a middling sized town far from cultural centers has launched the careers of three important American conductors” – Marin Alsop, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, and Giancarlo Guerrero.  Brett’s story led to …

Eugene Symphony music director search: clear choice. Tom Manoff, upon hearing all three candidates with the orchestra, declared Francesco Lecce-Chong “the clear choice.” Lecce-Chong got the job.

 


 

Isaac Lamb works the crowd. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

Brilliant? Let us list the ways

Isaac Lamb’s solo performance at The Armory in the play Every Brilliant Thing, about a guy whose obsessive listing of the simple pleasures in life gets him through the tough parts, captivated audiences, many of whom got pulled into the action. Our review picked up a big following, too.

 


 

L-R: Aida Valentine as Small Alison, Allison Mickelson as Alison and Sara Masterson as Medium Alison in “Fun Home” at The Armory. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Fun Home review: tragicomic

“To create a successful adaptation, you need an abundance of two qualities: audacity and love,” Matthew Andrews wrote. He found both in the musical-theater adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s popular graphic-novel family drama at Portland Center Stage.

 


 

Playwright Edward Albee, in an undated photo. UH Photographs Collection, 1948-2000/Wikimedia Commons

Who’s afraid of a casting switch?

Portland producer Michael Streeter’s plans to present a revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? were percolating nicely until they hit a fatal snag: When the estate of playwright Edward Albee discovered that Streeter had cast an African American actor, Damien Geter, to play Nick, it refused to grant production rights. The story went international, and Hailey Bachrach’s account dug deep.

 


 

Christopher Rauschenberg, Warsaw, 2016: Beauty where it isn’t obvious.

Christopher Rauschenberg: the beauty of the bucket

“Your job as a photographer is to get yourself to actually pay attention, and to actually see what’s ahead of you, on either side of you, what you’re standing underneath, whatever. … it’s not easy at all. It’s the task of a lifetime.” Paul Sutinen sat down for a fascinating interview with the distinguished Portland photographer about his globe-trotting career and achievements such as co-founding the internationally acclaimed Blue Sky Gallery and creating the Portland Grid Project.

 


 

Vernae and Rhodes onstage together in “An Octoroon.” Photo: Russell J Young

Spotlight: Rising actors Andrea Vernea and Kailey Rhodes

Bobby Bermea profiled two young and relatively new-to-town stars of Artists Repertory Theatre’s hit production of An Octoroon, Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ provocative Obie-winning play about race relations: “Their transition from newcomers to appearing in Portland’s most talked-about production has been fast. But like most such stories, it was years in the making.”

 


 

The electrifying Ching Ching Wong. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2015

Ching Ching Wong says goodbye

Jamuna Chiarini talked with the dynamic star of NW Dance Project, a Princess Grace Award winner and an audience favorite, as she prepared to strike out on her own on the international dance scene: “Something inside me stirred, and now I’m willing to turn my life upside down.”

 


 

Big art: Nelson Stevens’ “Spirit Sister” in the exhibit “Constructing Identity” at the Portland Art Museum. 2013, serigraph, 31 1/2 x 30 1/2 in. © Nelson Stevens. Licensed by the Experimental Printmaking Institute, Easton, PA.

Black art: a neverending story

Constructing Identity, the sprawling overview of the depth and diversity of African American art from the late 19th century to now, drew large crowds to the Portland Art Museum, and our review drew wide readership.

 


 

Annie Zhang soloing in “Ikarus Beyond the Stars: at Portland Youth Philharmonic’s spring concert. Photo: Brian Clark

Portland Youth Philharmonic, Metropolitan Youth Symphony: among the young stars

Terry Ross took a listen to the “embarrassment of riches” in these two youth orchestras and declared that if they are any indication, the city’s musical future is in excellent hands.

 


 

Thomas Lauderdale performing with OBT dancers in the premiere of Nicolo Fonte’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Photo: Christopher Peddecord

Oregon Ballet Theatre: cheerful resistance

“To be defiantly cheerful in an era of uncertainty and de-/re-/op-pression (1890s, 1970s, 2017) is an act of fruitful resistance, an insistence on loving whom and how we will.” Reviewer Matthew Andrews had a swell time as OBT’s dancers strutted out with Thomas Lauderdale and Pink Martini.

 


 

Composer David Lang. Photo: Peter Serling

Portland Opera review: Two faces of David Lang

Bruce Browne and Daryl Browne reviewed Portland Opera’s “bravura effort” to join the front lines of 21st century offer with a pair of works by composer Lang, who rose to stardom as founder of Bang on a Can. He won a 2008 Pulitzer Prize with one of the two, The Little Match Girl Passion (“a success,” the Brownes declared), which the opera paired with The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (“a knockout”).

 


 

Love among the stacks at Powell’s City of Books. Photo: K.B. Dixon

Portland’s Grand Central Station

Photographer K.B. Dixon and his camera spent a lot of time inside Powell’s City of Books (“It is not ‘a’ bookstore – it is ‘the’ bookstore,” he says. “It has been my bookstore for more than thirty years.”) and came away with a handsome and revealing look at the inner workings not only of the store but also of the culture it’s inspired. As the accompanying essay puts it, Powell’s is “the teeming crossroads of the city’s cultural life: not just one of the nation’s great commercial repositories of literature and language, but a busy transit center of people and ideas.”

 

 

 

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