Oregon ArtsWatch

 

Tallis Scholars: perfect storm of singing

Renowned English choir’s Portland performance declares high ‘C’ –son for Sistine Chapel music 

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

The Tallis Scholars are never going to disappoint, especially in an early-music-loving city like Portland. At St. Mary’s Cathedral this past Sunday, the pews were filled and the renaissance polyphony floated above.

Established 46 years ago and still conducted by founder Peter Phillips, the esteemed English vocal ensemble delivered a brilliant program in all respects: use of the space and of the singers, and choice of literature, with a focus on music of the Sistine Chapel in the high Renaissance. The afternoon was a revelation in capturing an audience’s mind.

The Tallis Scholars sang at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

As described by Portland singer and Renaissance music scholar Dr. Kerry McCarthy, whose exemplary skills in academic engagement were evident in the pre-concert lecture, “international” was a key word in the Sistine Chapel choir. During this period (c. 1575 – 1600), the loft was chock full of singers from Spain, France and of course Italy. This theme was mirrored in the Tallis Scholars’ program, which included music from Spain (Morales), Burgundy (des Prez) and France (Carpentras).

Peter Phillips cleverly programmed a composite Palestrina Mass, interweaving five sections of the ordinary from five different Mass settings by the great Italian Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. These served as linchpins, pulling us back each time to what we perceive as the classic Sistine Chapel polyphony. These were my favorites, especially the Kyrie Missa Assumpta est Maria (God has Assumed the Virgin Mary to the Heavens) and the “Credo,” from the Missa Papae Marcelli (Mass in Honor of Pope Marcellus).

Another attraction of this concert was the way in which Mr. Phillips deployed his forces, using almost as many formations as the Dallas Cowboys. With a base of 10 singers, the choir reduced to only four in Quam pulchra es (How Beautiful and Fair) of Italian composer Costanzo Festa, then expanded to six singers for Lamentations by French composer Elzea Genet Carpentras, and the aforementioned “Credo”.

This fourth Sunday in Lent was normally a day to relax a bit from the rigors of the Lenten season, but the Tallis Scholars’ singers’ schedule offered little respite. Finishing up a six-in-a-row US concert jaunt, they performed in Seattle on the previous night, vanned to Portland and began to tune at St. Mary’s Cathedral late Sunday morning. Somewhere in there they probably caught a few winks.

Continues…

Carola Penn, longtime Portland artist, dies

Wide-ranging subjects and provocative arrangements captured urban life, landscapes, politics, abstracts, and childhood memories

Carola Penn, a leading Pacific Northwest artist whose paintings were rooted in landscapes both political and personal, has died. She was 74.

Penn, who was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, spent most of her life in Portland, where she lived quietly, dedicating her days to her work. She was laconic by nature; prolific and disciplined.

Carola Penn artist

Carola Penn in her studio. Undated.

Continues…

Terry Longshore: percussion and collaboration

Southern Oregon professor and percussionist makes music from a vast range of influences and instruments

by ALICE HARDESTY

The rumor in Southern Oregon is that Terry Longshore can play anything. In addition to innumerable conventional percussion instruments, he also plays buckets, trashcans, sculptures, washing machines, mix-masters, and a variety of plants including the cactus. He also composes and records extensively. Key words to describe his work could be “inter-disciplinary, multi-media, collaborative, co-creative.”

As a Professor of Music at Southern Oregon University, Longshore draws students from all over the world, many of whom have embarked on distinguished careers themselves. He has concertized internationally, and it seems that every week or so he is forming a new duo or group with a new theme. His current ensembles include Left Edge Percussion, Caballito Negro flute and percussion duo,  Left Edge (multi-media), and the flamenco groups Flamenco Pacifico and Dúo Flamenco, all based in Southern Oregon and traveling extensively.

Terry Longshore

Longshore’s groups have performed frequently in Portland as well as Ashland. His duo, Caballito Negro with flutist Tessa Brinckman performed the music-with-poetry piece, Alone |Together, in February 2018 at Abbie Weisenbloom Presents (see Matthew Andrews’ ArtWatch review). Last September, Caballito Negro included flutist Elizabeth McNutt, Portland Percussion Group co-founder Chris Whyte, and SOU graduate percussionist Jared Brown to perform John Luther Adams’s evocative Songbirdsongs, first in Ashland, and later in Portland, and he’s involved in a major Ashland concert this Tuesday featuring new music by Oregon and Mexican composers. Longshore and and I recently met for a chat at ReMix, one of Ashland’s favorite coffee houses.

Continues…

Suzanne Haag plays with fire

"The Firebird" tests the former Eugene Ballet dancer's transition from performer to choreographer

By GARY FERRINGTON

On a recent flight home to Eugene, former Eugene Ballet dancer Suzanne Haag struck up a casual conversation with the man seated next to her. He asked her the questions non-dancers usually ask: What are pointe shoes made of? What’s a typical workday like? Then he asked her what it was like to retire after dancing with the company for 15 seasons, and whether she had any regrets. It wasn’t the first time she has fielded that question, Haag told ArtsWatch: “I keep getting asked ‘How do you feel, you know, now that you are done?’”

In retrospect, she said, there are things she might have done differently: working out and practicing more on her days off, asking for additional feedback and guidance on how to improve, seeking different roles.  But, she concluded, “… that’s not regret, just my older, more experienced self assessing my work.”

As the plane prepared to land, Haag acknowledged to her seatmate that while her life in dance was indeed about to change, it wasn’t about to end. Reflecting on her career made her realize that she had been preparing for this transition since she was a young dancer.

Suzanne Haag (left) coaches Reed Souther and Yuki Beppu in "Surrounding Third." Photo by Antonio Anacan
Suzanne Haag (left) coaches Reed Souther and Yuki Beppu in “The Surrounding Third.” Photo by Antonio Anacan.

Continues…

‘As One’: e pluribus unum

Portland Opera production dramatizes inner journey to self-knowledge

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

Portland Opera’s As One is, on one hand, about one type of transgender experience (there are many); on the other hand, it’s not really about being transgender, any more than the Barber of Seville is about being a barber. The story—yet another hero’s quest—traces a journey to self awareness; it’s a story about how we integrate the disparate elements of our fragmented selves into a unified personal identity.

The idea has deep roots in esoteric philosophy. Alchemical traditions around the world speak of uniting the various parts of the initiate’s fragmented soul, and we hear echoes of the same idea in Whitman‘s “I am large, I contain multitudes,” Lilly’s “Responsibility starts with a satisfactory coalition between one’s self and the demanding 10 trillion cells of one’s own body,” and in headier science fiction such as Gene Wolfe’s sci-fi puzzle box Book of the New Sun, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Jungians call it individuation.

Hannah Penn and Lee Gregory star in Portland Opera’s production of ‘As One.’ Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.

The libretto by Pulitzer-winner Mark Campbell and documentary filmmaker Kimberly Reed (who also contributed filmed backgrounds in lieu of backdrops, a practical and entertaining staging strategy that should become the norm in these pocket operas) presents a raw and honest and refreshingly subtle series of vignettes exploring one modern woman’s journey (fictional, but inspired by Reed’s life). As One is fundamentally a coming-of-age and coming-out story, so the hero’s journey encompases not only youth-to-maturity and closet-to-pride but also male-to-female: Hannah is transgender, and the two singers portray her before and after her transition. Local mezzo Hannah Penn (whom we last heard as The Fox in Opera Theater Oregon’s production of The Little Prince) plays Hannah After; bass-baritone Lee Gregory plays Hannah Before.

Composer Laura Kaminsky writes in a vivid, plain-spoken American idiom that reminds me of Caroline Shaw and Lou Harrison: the music flows and surges and is generally quite tonal and beautiful. When it gets scary, it gets really scary; when it gets funny, it doesn’t get too funny. Her score for As One is theater music as much as it is opera, and as much a song-cycle as either: a dense 75-minute coming-of-age story scored for two singers and string quartet and an occasionally singing conductor.

Continues…

FearNoMusic: Musical Terroirists

New music ensemble’s Locally Sourced Sounds concert provides tasty sampler of locavore sounds

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

Kenji Bunch is either an oenophile or he’s been reading Jeff VanderMeer. The Fear No Music artistic director introduced the ensemble’s fifth annual Locally Sourced Sounds concert post-concert Q&A with a discussion of the somewhat esoteric term terroir, used to describe the interlinked ways in which wines, cheeses, cannabis, and other such creations are influenced by the myriad regional factors that help condition their development. Bunch defined terroir (actually it seems likely he got the term from Darrell Grant) as “the taste of a place” and asked the gathered composers, “is there a sound to composers living in the Northwest?”

Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi at Locally Sourced Sounds

The January 21 concert at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall gave us a chance to find out, with a tasting menu of six Pacific Northwest composers.

Kids these days

FNM’s artistic and executive leadership team of Bunch and Monica Ohuchi opened the concert with the world premiere of recent Reed College graduate Yiyang Wang’s Converse, a sparse and cloudy mood piece, awash with open strings and rhythmic tappings on Bunch’s viola over tinkly jazz arpeggios and Liszty swirls on Ohuchi’s piano. At one point Bunch carefully set down the viola to sneak around to the piano’s low end, hiding behind Ohuchi’s arched shoulders, where he pounded out a few bass tones. FNM usually likes a slow start, and although Converse didn’t command my rapt attention the way Wang’s piano trio Color Studies did in 2017, her atmospheric little duet opened the show on a pleasantly conversational note.

Next up was another duet, Music for Four Hands by Ryan Francis, a youngish Juilliard-trained composer whom we have seen around the halls at Portland State University, where he’s been teaching theory. Ohuchi and Jeff Payne provided the titular hands, spinning out polyrhythms in wistfully melancholy GlassGuaraldi harmonic language similar to Portland composer Jay Derderian’s The People They Think We Are (performed on this same piano a few months back by Kathleen Supové). And because this was Ohuchi and Payne—one of the finest piano duos in Portland — the polymeters and the wistful melancholy were uncommonly graceful, immersing the audience in elegant waves of auditory bliss the way John Luther Adams is supposed to.

Continues…

Letter from NY: Broadway report

What's been lighting the lights on the Great White Way? A Choir Boy, a Mockingbird, Sam Shepard, and a Prom.

By MISHA BERSON

NEW YORK – Somewhere between the dead of winter and the rebirth of spring, Broadway takes a breath. It’s before a stream of shows hoping to vie for Tony Awards take up residence near Times Square.  And it’s after a lot of productions, including really great stuff like last year’s Tony Award for best original musical, The Band’s Visit, prepare to depart.

Yet for a Broadway-bound visitor to New York there is still enough to attract your attendance, if you choose wisely.

During a recent East Coast journey I was able to put together a smorgasbord of shows that included a riveting contemporary drama,  an engrossing play revival, a play based on an American literary classic and – oh, right – a new musical.  (And it wasn’t Cher.)  I watched several screen stars in live action, revisited an old favorite script, and witnessed the flowering of a young African-American writer who is helping revitalize serious American drama on Broadway.

*

Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy.” Photo: Matthew Murphey

LET’S START WITH THAT LAST ONE: Choir Boy, by Tarrell Alvin McCraney. Though it debuted Off Broadway in 2013, this adrenalin- and music-fueled play set in a black all-male prep school made its Broadway debut only this year, after some revision.  If its author sounds familiar, maybe that’s because McCraney collected an Oscar for his screenplay for the valuable film Moonlight. He also wrote the touted new Netflix baseball drama High Flying Bird.

Continues…