Oregon ArtsWatch

 

Extradition Series preview: in the spirit of Pauline

Creative Music Guild concert presents spacious contemporary music inspired by the ideas of 20th century American music pioneer Pauline Oliveros

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

The music in Creative Music Guild’s Extradition Series shows a certain dispersed consistency: experimental, improvisatory, sparse, full of radiant silences and gentle chaos, irrepressibly non-traditional (ex-traditional?) in terms of timbre, tonality, rhythm, melody, and the use of acoustic time and space. The individual pieces of music sound radically different from each other, but they tend to sound more alike than they sound like anything else you’re likely to hear in Portland. And once you start getting into Extradition’s particular groove, it becomes one of those specialized tastes, like Indian food or durian or abstract art or free jazz or French Black Metal or early 20th-century atonal classical music. If it’s what you’re in the mood for, only that will do. Nothing else is gonna scratch that itch. Saturday’s concert celebrates one of Extradition’s forebears — Pauline Oliveros, another artist who provokes visceral, addictive responses — in performances of her music and works she inspired.

The quarterly series often includes the work of composers associated with Fluxus, the Wandelweiser Group, and other such mid-to-late-20th-century experimental scenes, all those collectives of artists and theorists and composer-performers who established–wait for it–new traditions of their own. These movements made “slow music, quiet music, spare music, fragile music,” and sometimes claimed Satie as their spiritual godfather. Much of the Real Work was done by people most of us have never heard of (or if you have, it’s as “Yoko Ono’s first husband” or “Rzewski’s mentor in Rome” or “the guy who did the I Am Sitting In A Room thing”), but it’s Cage who (until recently) has had the biggest name recognition outside these circles.

The Extradition Series takes place at Portland’s Leaven Community Center.

This time around, Extradition founder Matt Hannafin and company are honoring the recently departed accordionist, electro-acoustician, and Pioneer of Deep Listening: Pauline Oliveros. These concerts always have something of Pauline’s spirit in them, and they’ve performed Her music in the past, but now that She has entered the Spirit Realm, it seems extra-appropriate to honor Her and Her Great Work.

Continues…

Third Angle preview: spring planting, fall harvest

New music ensemble’s Saturday concert celebrates new music for voice and strings by emerging composers, including one with Oregon roots.

by GARY FERRINGTON

Collaboration is an underlying theme of the 21 October Third Angle New Music house concert with guest artist soprano Tony Arnold. The event, premiering works by six diverse composers from around the country, brings closure to a project that began last March at the very first Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music. It was at that spring residency the ensemble, Arnold, and invited composers, all of whom are early in their professional careers, planted the seeds for what is now a fall harvest of new compositions for voice and strings.

Academy participant and former Oregonian Brandon Scott Rumsey discovered his passion for composing while attending Lane Community College and the University of Oregon in Eugene and then went on to nurture his art at the University of Texas and University of Michigan. The Las Vegas born composer is currently an adjunct assistant professor at Michigan’s Madonna University, where he teaches music theory and counterpoint. A performing bassoonist, he serves as the artistic director for the Emblems Quintet, a teaching artist with the Trade Winds Ensemble, and an editorial assistant and engraver at the University of Michigan Gershwin Critical Edition.

Third Angle and soprano Tony Arnold play music by composers Dave Reminick (seated on floor) and Nina Shekhar (to the right of Gabriela Frank) this Saturday. Photo: Aric Hartvig.

For Rumsey, the concert will not only be the opportunity to have a new piece premiered, but also the chance to revisit Oregon, which has long been a home in spirit and where he has many colleagues and friends. It will also be a reunion with his fellow participants from the Academy’s inaugural class held on Frank’s beautiful country farms in Boonville, a small rural California community 115 miles north of San Francisco where the composers and guest artists participated in engaging seminar discussions, coaching sessions with master composer/mentor Gabriela Lena Frank and readings performed by guest artists Tony Arnold and Third Angle.

The Poetry of Presence

Rumsey’s Invocation (2017), dedicated to Tony Arnold and Third Angle, is based on American poet Geoffrey Nutter’s short poem of the same title. Rumsey, who earned a doctoral degree in composition from University of Michigan this past spring, has explored Nutter’s poetry for several years. “He frequently writes about mythology, nature, plainness and mundanity, and I return to his poems time and time again for his use of “motivic” language that tells a story while phrases wander, stall, and twist,” Rumsey says.

Continues…

American Brass Quintet review: elevating chamber music for brass

Venerable ensemble traces the trajectory of music for brass instruments from the distant past to the present to the future

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

Near the beginning of the American Brass Quintet’s concert in downtown Portland’s Winningstad Theater last week, trumpeter Kevin Cobb stood up and talked a bit about the group’s history, starting with their founding date: 1960. “If you’re looking on stage to see who’s the original member” — cue laughter— “there are no original members.”

The founding members “tried to bring brass music to places that would normally have, say, the Juilliard Quartet,” he said. Their goal was to “elevate brass chamber music.” One of the great commissioning brass quintets of our time, they are also dedicated to the “promotion of brass chamber music through education” (like Akropolis Reed Quintet last year, ABQ also put on educational outreach programs the week they were here). Part of this pedagogical endeavor means reaching back through time and drawing together the roots of brass chamber music, developing a long view of the genre and situating modern pieces in a living historical contexts. Their Portland concert, presented by Chamber Music Northwest and Portland5, managed to represent both ends of this spectrum (and a bit of the in-between for good measure).

American Brass Quintet

To open, the group leapt immediately into a bunch of 500-year-old Elizabethan and Jacobean Consort Music — fun and spirited and beautiful—and perfectly brief. Brass instruments, like strings and choirs (and unlike, say, reed quintets and percussion ensembles), are by nature delightfully homogenous, meaning they can blend all manner of complex counterpoint into a well-integrated acoustic gestalt. ABQ played short pieces by William Brade (1560-1630), John Dowland (1563-1626), John Wilbye (1574-1638), and a few by Thomas Morley (1557-1602). The counterpoint blended perfectly, separate lines shining through whenever I paid precise attention, everything blurring into a tasty musical porridge whenever I let my ears take in the larger soundscape.

Other moments, like the Dowland pavane, gave ABQ a chance to show off their balanced chorale sound, another strength of brass ensembles. At times the trumpets (if not the players) sounded like they were still warming up: brass instruments are insanely taxing and far more physically demanding than anyone who’s never had their lips on a mouthpiece can possibly imagine. By the time the Brade canzon’s joyously rapid hemiolas came along everyone was ripping through the tricky rhythms and rapid fire hunting calls like it was no big deal.

Continues…

Oregon Ballet Theatre review: cheerful resistance

Choreographer Nicolo Fonte, Pink Martini, and pianists Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack team up to create a gay old time for everyone

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

Oregon Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Kevin Irving was addressing me personally when he took the stage and asked how many of us weren’t expecting to be there, which of us are the not-the-usual-ballet-audience people? Well, perhaps he was speaking to me and to many of the younger Pink Martini fans all around me. Like OSO & PCSO in recent years, OBT has been making a serious attempt to reach out to non-traditional classical audiences, people who maybe still want to see Balanchine’s Nutcracker for the zillionth time (hell, I’m going this year, aren’t you?) but who otherwise don’t have much feeling for the idiom. In Irving’s words: “OBT has never been afraid to put its own twist on ballet—it’s in our DNA.” Hey, that sounds like a song!

OBT with Pink Martini last night was possibly the gayest show I’ve seen all year. In a round 100 minutes that felt a lot shorter, OBT’s new resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte paired Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack’s two-piano expansion of Gershwin’s immortal Rhapsody in Blue with the return of his popular Pink Martini revue Never Stop Falling (in Love).

Now let’s get this out of the way right at the start: if you’re still using “gay” as a pejorative, it’s time to join the 21st century and show your fellow humans some respect.

The formerly more common meaning of “gay” was something like “happy and free-spirited,” as in The Gay Nineties or “Gay Paree”. The mighty Nietzsche translator and defender Walter Kaufmann, in the introduction to his 1974 translation of The Gay Science, discusses the troubadour origins of the word (Nietzsche’s original subtitle was “La Gaya Scienza”) and identifies this spirit of “light-hearted defiance of convention” as a bridge between the word’s older meaning and the new coloring it was acquiring at that time.

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. Even those of us who identify as some other variety of queer (bi, myself) are quite happy to look for inspiration and support to the culture of gay men, especially this world of artists and musicians which has shown us all so much joy and courage and taught us how to embrace the struggle of life and how to be jubilant whenever we can.

Which brings us to OBT and its collaboration with Thomas Lauderdale and Pink Martini. I personally haven’t spent a whole lot of time at the ballet: the last time for me was probably OBT’s Stravinsky Project (featuring Stowell’s Rite of Spring) almost a decade ago. What’s worse, I was (until last night) a complete Pink Martini Virgin. I’m happy to say I’m now a believer in both.

Continues…

Northwest Screendance Exposition preview: moving shadows on the wall

Third annual Eugene-based festival celebrates the collaborative artistic efforts of filmmakers, choreographers and sound artists

by GARY FERRINGTON

A quintet of ballerinas in a kitchen fling clouds of flour into the air in choreographed harmony. A cadre of dancers create a percussive soundscape by pounding their feet against a warehouse wall. These and many other moving images and sounds appear onscreen this weekend in the University of Oregon’s Dougherty Dance Theater when the third annual Northwest Screendance Exposition takes center stage October 13 and 14 in Eugene.

Screendances aren’t mere recordings of stage performances but instead a distinctive art form in which cinemagraphic techniques that manipulate time and space are woven together with the techniques of dance choreography. The result: a unique visual and audio time-based arts experience in which dance and cinematography are equal partners.

Still from student film “Camatori.” Photo: Angela Challis.

The movement of the human body through time and space has been the subject of filmmakers dating back to the origins of cinema, including early experimental films such as painter Emlen Etting’s Oramunde (1933) or Maya Deren’s A Study in Choreography For Camera (1946). Unlike in decades past, today’s filmmakers and dancers have access to relatively inexpensive digital technologies that facilitate screendance productions at all levels of capability. A celebration of this evolving form of collaborative expression, this year’s festival, sponsored by the UO School of Music and Dance’s Dance Department, includes 24 films by filmmakers living in Canada, China,  Italy, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, UK and the USA were selected for screening, chosen from 57 films submitted from 17 countries.

Continues…

Narayana Katha Bharatanatyam review: enchanting dreamscape

South Indian dance performance with live music provides a plenitude of bliss

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

I walked into Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall just in time to catch the emcee making a joke: “If there’s anyone who just comes to these shows for samosas and chai, you’ll be disappointed because there’s no intermission tonight.” I’ve been to dozens of shows put on by Portland Indian arts organization Kalakendra, but it’s been awhile and I didn’t know how much I missed their delicious samosas and chai until I heard those magic words.

It turns out there was no reason for disappointment. The Portland presenting organization does have another show tonight after all, one of their more traditional Hindustani Classical recitals, and I assume there will be samosas and chai at that one (no guarantees though). And I’m glad there was no intermission, because the Narayana Katha Bharatanatyam dance performance I witnessed in Lincoln Hall last Saturday took me into another world, an enchanting dreamscape of light and sound and color and gods and holy movement. Samosas in the lobby would have felt intrusive.

Kalakendra Performing Arts brought Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon to Portland State University.

The music started up and a narrator read the auspicious opening line: “Yes, mankind is fortunate indeed.” Dancers Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon took the stage with a joyous verve, detailed and exuberant body movements, fine flowing costumes in radiant colors, ankle bells jangling in precise rhythmic counterpoint with the live musicians. Vocalist Deepu Nair, mridangist P.K. Siva Prasad, and violinist Easwar Ramakrishnana, sat on a little rug stage right performing raga-based dance music, all beautifully evening-sounding. I thought I heard a lot of puriya kalyan and maru bihag, or rather their Carnatic equivalents, but I’m a little more accustomed to slower classical styles like dhrupad that spool out their melodic material over an hour or more of slow, deliberate singing. By comparison, Bharatanatyam music, like most southern Indian musical styles, is freer, dancier, and at times a great deal more rhythmically complicated than its northern counterparts. And I didn’t know you could lead a band with a tiny pair of cymbals, but bandleader Udayasankar Lal N.U. nailed it.

The lighting was vivid and elegant over the almost entirely bare stage, and a few of the eight dance numbers had simple backgrounds projected behind and above them. The simplicity of the entire thing impressed me: as with Kalakendra’s classical recitals, the pragmatic humility of the setting belies the exemplary and disciplined artistry of the performers.

Projected lighting effects, designed by expert dance and theater collaborator Murugan Krishnan, set the scene better than props would have anyway. Soft blue light and a gentle full moon image in the fourth number illuminated the tale of a disabled woman (Menon) who is taken out dancing by a god (Nambiar), which all reminded me of an old favorite Bollywood number. Green lights over zigzaggy shadows suggested the fifth dance’s forest scene. In the sixth number, Nambiar portrayed four different wrestlers, dashing about in the darkness and popping up under spotlights in different parts of the stage, skillfully giving each wrestler a distinct personality through movement alone.

My favorite dance was the seventh, a timeless love story–not the usual thing about falling in love but about the quests we undertake for love. As a narrator explained before it started, Nambiar is a man who hates wealth, but he has to go find a job because his wife, Menon, is hungry. Nambiar goes out on his heroic quest and returns with food, which he shares with his wife. A simple enough story, but the music and the lights and gorgeous dancing imbued it with a mythic, transcendental quality.

The show ended on a hymn to “the plenitude of bliss” and a prayer: “O Lord of the Universe, may this hymn reach thy ears, conferring long life, good health, and happiness.”

Afterwards, Menon came out, thanked the musicians (“it is every dancer’s dream to have good music; without them it wouldn’t have been possible”) and the lighting designer, and expressed her happiness at performing at PSU: “It is like coming home every time we come to Portland.” Her gratitude is reciprocal: we are all fortunate indeed to hear so much Indian music in Portland thanks to organizations like Kalakendra and Rasika. With or without samosas.

Kalakendra has two concerts coming up in the next few weeks. This Saturday, October 7, santoor player Tarun Bhattacharya and sitarist Indrajit Banerjee are joined by Subrata Bhattacharya on tabla at First Congregational Church in downtown Portland. On November 4, Chitravina N. Ravikiran — the “Mozart of Indian Music” and originator of melharmony — performs at First Baptist Church (also in downtown Portland) with violin and mridangam accompaniment.  And fans of south Indian dance have another opportunity to experience it this Saturday with local choreographer Jayanthi Raman’s latest show, Dance of the Hummingbirds, which sounds like a pretty grand production and will also feature the work of (and a performance by) Oregon poet laureate Paulann Peterson. Read Jamuna Chiarini’s Arts Watch preview here.

Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, singer, percussionist, and editor at Portland State University, and serves on the board of Cascadia Composers. He and his music can be reached at monogeite.bandcamp.com.

Want to read more about Oregon dance and music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Alison Saar: Racial history and its implications

Alison Saar's exhibition of prints and sculpture at PNCA deals with layers of racial history and current realities

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

In its simplest form, an exhibition consists of a selection of work pulled from a collection by a curator. The show Crepuscular Blue: Prints and Sculpture by Alison Saar from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation currently at the Center for Contemporary Culture (CCAC) at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) is the result of a far richer process. Instead of a collection and a curator, this show’s generation involved an artist, a daughter, a printer-turned-curator-turned-collaborator, and a fortunate institution.

This exhibition brings together 19 of Saar’s prints from Schnitzer’s extensive collection and four sculptures and one woodcut from the L.A. Louver Gallery in Los Angeles. The curator, Paul Mullowney, is a Master Printer and owner of Mullowney Printing Company in San Francisco. Mullowney met Saar through her daughter, Maddy Leeser, a PNCA alumna and former student of Mullowney’s. Mullowney was already set to curate a show from Schnitzer’s collection when he met Saar and soon shifted his approach so that the show concentrated solely on her work.

Alison Saar, “High Yella Blue”,lithograph/Courtesy of Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation

Saar and Mullowney collaborated on three of the prints in the show during the summer of 2017 at Mullowney’s studio (Muddy Water, Topsy and the Golden Fleece, and Eclipse). Both Mullowney and Saar were at PNCA in mid-September and worked on High Cotton alongside students in PNCA’s MFA program in Print Media. Saar gave a lecture at PNCA on September 19 as part of Schnitzer Visiting Artist Lecture Series. Crepuscular Blue continues at PNCA’s 511 Gallery through October 14.

Saar is a sculptor who is also a printmaker and consummate collaborator. Her work engages with racial stereotypes, American history, Modernist tropes, Greek mythology, and contemporary events with equal tact and finesse. Saar is the daughter of an artist but, in turn, she is the mother of artists. No element or identity is treated as more or less worthy of consideration in her work; all are of value.

Continues…