Oregon ArtsWatch

 

Portland Baroque Orchestra & Trinity Cathedral Choir review: wise compromises

Performance of J.S. Bach’s immortal Mass in b minor deftly balanced historical authenticity with practical necessity

By BRUCE BROWNE

There are a few works of art whose merit is not debatable. J.S. Bach’s b minor Mass is one of these.

Yet this masterpiece is rarely performed as its composer probably intended. Various factors — choice of venue, availability of historically accurate performers and instruments, etc. — often require today’s performers to make compromises between original intention and modern practicality. Armed with best practices, conscientious performers pursue historically informed performance, not re-enactments. We then must concede the possibility of resolving difficulties of balance, nuance and tempi.

Under the lucid leadership of distinguished British conductor David Hill last weekend, the combined forces of the Trinity Cathedral Choir, the Portland Baroque Orchestra and five excellent soloists made the right choices. (See my interview with Mr. Hill below.) The value of this performance in the Trinity Music series – to singers, audience, the preservation of the choral arts and to the glory of God through music – was manifold.

Trinity Cathedral Choir and Portland Baroque Orchestra performed J.S. Bach’s ‘Mass in b Minor.’ Photo: Howard Luce.

The arias and duets were something special. Mr. Hill had at his disposal a stellar counter tenor, Daniel Moody; stentorian bass-baritone Jesse Blumberg; the jewel-voiced local soprano Arwen Myers; German-born tenor Nels Neubert; and versatile mezzo-soprano Estelí Gomez. Each of these singers carries a lengthy resumé of wide-ranging credentials, nationally and internationally.

In the aria “Quoniuam tu solus sanctus” (For you alone are holy), Mr. Blumberg was fulsome in tone, his voice cutting through the cathedral with well honed vowels. His principal Quoniam partner, horn player Andrew Clark, was quite simply the best I’ve heard in this piece, playing his part flawlessly, and without score.

Countertenor Moody possesses a refulgent tone, and was irresistible in his aria “Qui Sedes ad dexteram Patris” (You who sit at the right hand of the Father). This is a major talent; I was grateful that a real countertenor (as opposed to female alto) was Hill’s choice. More about that in a bit.

Ms. Myers sang with a sterling silver patina throughout, especially effective in the duets “Christe eleison” (Christ have mercy), with Ms. Gomez, and later “Domine Deus” (Lord God, King of Heaven) with Mr. Neubert. The latter pair were well matched, along with flutist Janet See, in phrasing and articulation. Mr. Neubert was also effective in the penultimate aria, “Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini” (Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord). In the “Laudamus te” (We praise you) Ms. Gomez confronted the challenges of matching the sparkling crisp 32nd-note duplets and runs in the violin, played expertly by Carla Moore.

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Out & About: ACMA Elevated

At Beaverton's innovative arts magnet academy, the dancing never stops. Photographer Joe Cantrell catches the invigorating whirl of it all.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL

One of the happier open secrets in the Oregon cultural world is the high-quality incubator of talent that is ACMA, the Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. Part of the Beaverton School District, it’s a rigorous public school for students in grades 6-12 that specializes in pre-professional training in dance, music, theater, visual arts, electronic arts, and creative writing. Its graduates routinely go on to top college programs and, often, professional careers.

ACMA’s advanced dance company, Dance West, will perform its spring program, Walk With Me, Thursday through Sunday, April 26-29, at the school’s Visual and Performing Arts Center, 11375 S.W. Center Street, Beaverton, with special performances Saturday night and Sunday afternoon by the Pacific Youth Choir. If track records mean anything at all, there’s going to be some good dancing and singing going on.

What will the program look like? We can’t say, exactly. But photographer Joe Cantrell was on hand in late January for Elevated, the ACMA dance program’s student choreography concert, with dancers from all levels, and he had his camera in overdrive. The program was inventive and exhilarating. There were solo dances, small-group dances, guest choreography from faculty member Kemba Shannon and ACMA alum Nick Jurica, now a student at The Juilliard School in New York. Some of the action whirled on and around a giant box, in one piece as several dancer/artists painted scenes on it.

We’ve selected eleven of Joe’s photos from that showcase to give you a sense of the verve and style of the school’s dance program and the work its students and teachers do.

 

Dancers Anna Williams, Olivia Frank, and Courtney Nunn in student choreographer Bridget Derville-Teer’s “Strange.”

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Friday Night Flute Fight

Champion French flutist loses in a TKO decision with an unprepared Oregon accompanist

By MARIA CHOBAN

I went to the Friday night fights and a flute recital broke out. Julien Beaudiment, on the left, wielding tone and dynamics with roundhouse and rabbit punches. As light on his feet as Muhammad Ali, the renowned French flutist danced around Portland accompanist Cary Lewis’s unpracticed, overpedaled, flabby playing, trying to give the audience the show it expected to hear.

A former principal at the Los Angeles Philharmonic who tours, teaches and is principal flute of the Orchestre de l’Opera National de Lyon, the 40 year old flutist, Beaudiment was the centerpiece of this year’s Greater Portland Flute Society Flute Fair: a Saturday seven hour extravaganza that takes place every year at Aloha High School featuring masterclasses, ongoing flute choir performances, competitions, and flute vendors.

Beaudiment giving a master class.

Sadly, this concert, the Friday night before the Saturday Fair, showed just one example of a much larger problem in our classical music culture. While the rest of the city has grown more sophisticated and accomplished thanks to the influx of new blood, too often, its classical music performances are weighed down by deadwood — by musicians who are unwilling or unable to devote adequate time to prepare their performances and consistently sound awful.

Lincoln Hall at Portland State University was full of flutists who were focused on Beaudiment’s technically strong performance, with all the right dynamics, textures, phrasing. But the non-flutists who paid to see the show couldn’t miss the accompanist dragging down the performance as a whole. Beaudiment spent the match — er, concert — jousting or step-dancing over Lewis’s limp, bodiless playing, and late attacks.

Too many of the performers who dominate the scene here habitually deliver embarrassingly unprepared performances like this one, so bad that when I asked Beaudiment later if he’s be coming back to Portland anytime soon to perform, he surprised me with his abrupt “Non.” I fear what he’ll say when other European stars ask whether they should perform here.

What’s really sad is that he’ll never know that Portland actually does have plenty of fine musicians who he would have enjoyed playing with instead of tussling against. Here are five stellar pianists that should have been on stage with Julien Beaudiment (in alphabetical order): Colleen Adent, Janet Coleman, Asya Gulua, Monica Ohuchi, Doug Schneider. There are probably others. Everytime I hear these five pianists they are practiced, well rehearsed with their ensemble, and they bring their own unique personality and musicality to the performance.

Instead, we got a fight.

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Grownup stories; Mercury rising

Courtney Freed's tribute to Freddie Mercury and Rosalinde Block's "grownup" tales explore the possibilities of the solo show

By ANGELA ALLEN

Something poignant resonated from the one-woman musicals Don’t Stop Me Now and Drama of the Gifted Grownup that appeared recently in Portland.

The shows’ stars—Courtney Freed in Don’t Stop Me Now and Rosalinde Block of Drama of the Gifted Grownup — never took breaks during their breathless 90-minutes cabaret performances. They were so immersed and invested in material that they had created, and in Block’s case, lived through, that they risked others not finding these close-to-their-hearts shows as interesting as they did. And though touching, their pieces were far from Broadway productions (as were the $20 ticket prices).

But these two performers, if not megastars like Barbra Streisand or Carole King, were talented and utterly sincere, and they exuberantly conveyed those values to their small audiences.

Courtney Freed, cutting loose on Freddie Mercury songs.

 

Don’t Stop Me Now

Freed, the Portland creator and center-stage performer of Don’t Stop Me Now: The Freddie Mercury Experience that played April 4-8 at the 95-seat wraparound Coho Theater, loves the late and great Queen performer. Freddie Mercury tops her list of voice role models though she doesn’t quite have his three-plus-octave range. You couldn’t have stopped Freed’s admiration for the rocker during the show any more than you could have stopped the slick, sweet Mercury from aching about love a few decades ago.

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New World to Real World

An Oregon classical bassist steps toward the future in Miami with the legendary Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony

By ANGELA ALLEN

In February, I joined several other members of the Music Critics Association of North America at the New World Symphony in South Miami Beach, Fla. For three days we heard concerts and rehearsals, wandered around the building designed by architect Frank Gehry, and spoke to “fellows” and to the institute’s leaders, including Michael Tilson Thomas, the forward-thinking NWS artistic director.

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Kyle Sanborn, a gifted musician, knows he’s on his way to playing many more Beethoven symphonies and Brahms concertos in his orchestra blacks. Born and reared in Portland, he is a first-year fellow – don’t call him a student – at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Fla., a laboratory in its 30th year of educating classical music’s next generation.

A “fellow” compares more closely to a post-doc (or post-doctoral fellow) than to a student. New World Symphony fellows are taking hold of a real-world orchestral experience in Miami – and being paid a generous stipend for it.

Miami’s New World Symphony performed in February. Photo: Angela Allen.

Sanborn, 26, plays the bass and joins 86 other accomplished musician-fellows (audio, directing, and library fellows are part of the mix) on a clear and steady track to classical music careers. The art is alive and well, if the NWS signals its future. Fellows have finished college or conservatory, some have completed graduate school, and all are taking the next strides in their musical lives. The average age is 23 to 27, though there’s no age limit on applying for these coveted and competitive spots. About 1,000 musicians apply for 30 to 35 spots that open every year.

No question, those talented and driven enough to be accepted to NWS are on the path to become the 21st century’s first-class musicians. Of the 1,050 alumni recorded in the most recent annual report, 90 percent make their living from music, and many play for top-drawer orchestras.

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Rogue Valley Symphony preview: season of renewal

For its 50th anniversary season, southern Oregon orchestra commissions five new compositions, concluding this weekend with new work by Ethan Gans-Morse

by GARY FERRINGTON

Oregon arts outside Portland “don’t get,” as the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield might say, “no respect.” Or, at least the press coverage they should. Having grown up in Portland, it took me some time, actually until I moved to Eugene, to realize that the arts thrive elsewhere in the state and that we Oregonians have a rich cultural landscape to embrace and celebrate.

So it has been with little fanfare heard beyond the southern Oregon communities of Medford, Ashland, and Grants Pass, that the Rogue Valley Symphony orchestra has been enthusiastically celebrating its 50th anniversary. The nearly 70-member orchestra of professional musicians, formed in 1967 by Southern Oregon College (now University), conductor and violin professor Frederick Palmer, began its golden anniversary season in September under the musical direction of Martin Majkut. It has since performed four newly commissioned works (more than all of Oregon’s other orchestras this season combined) and concludes its season this week with its fifth, How Can You Own The Sky? by Southern Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse. The symphonic poem honoring native wisdom features poetry by Tiziana DellaRovere and narration, singing, and drumming by Brent Florendo, and the Dancing Spirit ensemble.

Rogue Valley Symphony’s 50th anniversary celebration culminates in this weekend’s concerts.

The orchestra wanted a new work that would “simultaneously celebrate the unique beauty and the people of Southern Oregon while also creating an opportunity for meaningful conversations to address urgent social questions in that community,” Gans-Morse told ArtsWatch. Social questions permeated Gans-Morse’s opera The Canticle of the Black Madonna, which premiered in September 2014 in Portland’s Newmark Theatre. (Read my ArtsWatch interview with Gans-Morse.) That opera’s social outreach efforts, which addressed the challenges of reintegrating and addressing the emotional wounds of veterans with PTSD, inspired recently retired Rogue Valley Symphony executive director Jane Kenworthy and music director Martin Majkut to approach Gans-Morse and his wife and collaborator Tiziana DellaRovere, to write a proposal for a symphonic work.

He and DellaRovere, whose non-profit Anima Mundi Productions’  mission is to “heal the soul of the world through the arts,” proposed an 8-12 minute piece about Native American history of the region, to celebrate the Valley while “honoring a population that is all too often invisible in our society.” Gans-Morse recalls. The orchestra counter-proposed that the work be 30-minutes long and stand alone as the opening portion of the April concerts, with Beethoven’s Symphony #9 after intermission.

Gans-Morse notes that there is some “precedent nationally for large symphonic works on Native American themes by both Native and non-Native composers, including Michael Daugherty’s Trail of Tears, Rob Kapilow’s Summer Sun, Winter Moon, and James DeMars’ Two World Concerto.” In naming his new piece How Can You Own The Sky? A Symphonic Poem Honoring Native Wisdom, the creative team wanted to create an opportunity for the southern Oregon community to honor the original inhabitants of the region, to seek them out and champion their presence in Oregon, and through music to facilitate “concrete actions to remedy what has been quite frankly a murderous history, which culminated with Oregon’s own Trail of Tears, essentially a forced death march to reservations hundreds of miles away.”

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By HEATHER WISNER

Questioning gender politics in the tradition-minded and competitive world of ballet “can feel particularly risky—both emotionally and career wise,” former New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan told The New York Times in January. She was speaking after longtime NYCB artistic director Peter Martins retired from the company following accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse [https://nyti.ms/2lBqZno] by several NYCB dancers.

But as in other fields, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, dancers are beginning to take the risk. Last fall, choreographer Alexei Ratmansky sparked a firestorm with a Facebook post reading: “There is no such thing as equality in ballet: women dance on point[e], men lift and support women. women receive flowers, men escort women off stage. not the other way around (I know there are couple of exceptions). and I am very comfortable with that.” Several high-profile dancers shot back, among them NYCB principal dancer Ashley Bouder, in an April 9 Dance Magazine op-ed titled “It’s Time for Ballet to Embrace Feminism.”

Meanwhile, Montreal’s Les Grands Ballets Canadiens drew so much ire for its spring show Femmes, touted as a tribute to women but choreographed exclusively by men, that one choreographer quit, and the company wound up changing the program’s name and theme entirely.

Emily Parker and Christopher Kaiser performing Nicolo Fonte’s “Left Unsaid,” one of five ballets presented in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s MAN/WOMAN, April 12 – 24, 2018 at the Newmark Theatre. /Photo by James McGrew

Which brings us to Oregon Ballet Theatre’s spring program Man/Woman, running through April 21 at the Newmark Theatre. The show, as OBT artistic director Kevin Irving explained in his program note, is a collection of work that allows gender to “speak” through dance, which it does, although what’s missing may be as telling as what’s there.

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