Oregon ArtsWatch

 

Audrey Luna: on a high note

Portland State alumna returns home for a recital after soaring to the heights of the opera world

by BRUCE and DARYL BROWNE

A shock –a frisson of emotion, of sheer joy amidst a fountain of favorite songs –was the prevailing feeling among audience members Sunday afternoon at the vocal recital of Audrey Luna at Portland State University Recital Hall.

Luna’s name has popped into opera junkie conversation since singing her record-breaking A above high C (A6, do not try this at home) in the premiere of contemporary British-American composer Thomas Adès’s opera The Exterminating Angel (with Ms. Luna in the role of Leticia) at the Metropolitan Opera. We scoot forward on our seats in anticipation of more magical record-breaking notes. But there is so much more in the total package on stage, including acting, vocal endurance and, at times, gymnastics, as in another Adès opera, The Tempest.

Luna as Leticia in ‘The Exterminating Angel’

At her PSU recital, Ms. Luna, partnered with PSU faculty pianist Chuck Dillard, offered us the vocal works of three composers: Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy in the first half, and just one song, one glorious rhapsody, by Samuel Barber in the second. These three composers happen to be her favorites.

The five Strauss songs, plucked from three different song cycles, demonstrated his proclivity for athletic vocal lines, with leaps and coloratura for the singer, and a wide palette of harmonic colors. Strauss’ romantic-era vocal works are, according to English soprano Susan Gritton, “a sumptuous wave for the voice to surf, with wonderful opportunities for timbre and line.” Ms. Luna loosened as she rode those waves.

She and Dr. Dillard adhered like velcro on each song. Dillard’s tinkling scales and arpeggios in “Herr Lenz” were a delight. Professor Dillard heads the Collaborative Piano program at PSU, and his work in this recital defines “collaborative” and acknowledges the level plane upon which recital partners exist.

Dillard and Luna performed at Portland State.

The first of several selections from Six Songs (Sechs leider), “Ich wollt ein Strausslein binden,” set to the poetry of German/Austrian Clemens Brentano, was most compelling in tone and expression. “Amor,” from the same cycle, was Ms. Luna’s final offering on the recital, a fireworks display of vocal maneuvering.

With the Debussy, we were lifted even further by Ms. Luna’s rapturous voice and elegant delivery. “Quatre chanson de jeunesse” sets the work of three different poets, each evoking dreamy impressionistic landscapes populated with typical French characters of the time: Harlequin, Pierrot, Cassandre and Columbine. Luna’s command of the language, the images of each word of poetry, was a magic carpet of vocal line, peppered with particularized articulation of each word.

For me, Samuel Barber‘s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 was the perfect capstone of the afternoon. A song may be elevated three times over: first by the poet of the original text, second by the music of the composer and last, but not least, by the singer. It was a perfect illustration of a happy wedding of words and music, further heightened by the artistry of Ms. Luna.

There’s not a wrong word by the author, James Agee, a wrong note by Barber, nor was there a misstep by Ms. Luna. The work is new in her repertoire, but it sounded like an old friend. She captured perfectly the essence of the young boy questioning his identity, and wove a magic spell around the stunningly evocative text of Agee. With suave inflections and an afterburner of vocal range, Ms. Luna made us believe and we left transformed. That’s all one can ask.

Continues…

Catching up with art critic Chris Kraus in Portland

The local connections of the Los Angeles-based critic were on the surface during her January visit to PNCA

By SHAWNA LIPTON

Chris Kraus is a prolific Los Angeles-based writer, art critic, and editor, but her latest collection of writing published by Semiotext(e) in 2018, Social Practices, has an origin story linking it to Portland, Oregon.

The seed of the book was a piece called “Kelly Lake Store and Other Stories” composed when Stephanie Snyder, the curator of Reed College’s Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, asked Kraus to contribute a monograph to the gallery’s Companion Editions series. “Kelly Lake Store” includes a rejected application for a Guggenheim Fellowship requesting funds to operate a general store staffed by art students in a remote small town. Kraus was earnest in her desire to provide the town with such a store, but the application was also satirical, in that she does not really view such an undertaking as “social practice art.”

The title of Social Practices is similarly tongue in cheek. Kraus is skeptical of what is called social practice art, wondering why students would go to art school to pursue what might otherwise be considered hobbies or trades such as gardening or cooking. She is critical of the industry that has grown up around MFA programs and their centrality in the LA-art scene. She contends that not every occupation needs an art degree to grant it legitimacy.

Chris Kraus, Social Practices, Semiotext(e), 2018
ISBN: 9781635900392

However, I am not sure if this thesis truly comes through in the book, or if it has been imposed retroactively as a talking point in order to provide a through line for this eclectic mix of writings, mostly composed of catalogue essays and other short works of Kraus’s art criticism commissioned over the past 13 years. Some of the artworks and events she responds to took place even earlier, and she did not make editorial revisions to the pieces since their original publication, except in cases where they had been altered from her original intent.

Art critic Chris Kraus gave a public talk at PNCA earlier this month/Photograph by Matthew Bowers

Although “Kelly Lake Store and Other Stories” contains her personal joke about opening a rural general store on Guggenheim’s dime in the name of parodying social practice art, the book also contains many examples of socially-engaged and community-based art she finds profoundly meaningful. One example is the artist and “debt resistor” Thomas Gokey’s “Rolling Jubilee” established in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which purchased defaulted debt on the secondary market and forgave it as a liberatory political act.

This is where Kraus’s art writing shines, in her intellectual excitement and enjoyment of subversive, politically engaged art and creative work. Kraus excels, not just at satirizing works she finds pretentious and self-important, but at writing about things she takes pleasure in, including work by her own friends, produced in communities she is a part of, proving a critic does not only need to “critique” but can also channel and communicate the spirit of the work using her own formidable literary talent.

Continues…

‘Sons of the Soil’ preview: setting a new standard

Don't know any black classical composers? Start with these

by DAMIEN GETER

Joseph Bologne (Chevalier de Saint Georges), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, and Daniel Bernard Roumain. None of these composers are household names but all are finally starting to get the attention they deserve. On Friday, in celebration of Black History Month, 45th Parallel Universe presents Sons of the Soil, a concert featuring music by these black composers performed by the all female string quartet mousai REMIX. (Read ArtsWatch’s concert preview.) There is no need to compare these greats to their white counterparts, but chances are if you are a fan of some of the more established masters, you will like these folks, too.

Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier De Saint George (1745-1799)

For fans of: Mozart, and Haydn

Who was he: Joseph Bologne, who later in life became known as the Chevalier de Saint-George, was a contemporary of Mozart’s and rumored to be the Austrian composer’s arch nemesis. Born in the French owned Caribbean colony of Guadeloupe, Joseph was the child of a planter and his wife’s young slave, who was most likely from Senegal. Joseph’s father sent him to France for his education, where he excelled in a number of areas including music (a violinist) and fencing. He became a noble fixture in France including a close friend to Marie Antoinette, but because of his African heritage, he was met with discrimination throughout his life. An advocate for ending slavery in France, he founded the Society of Friends of Black People and was a colonel of the first black legion in Europe.

Bologne penned a sizable body of compositions which included symphonies, string quartets, violin concerti, symphonie concertante, quartet concertante, and operas. Unfortunately, not many of his works survive, and even after France abolished slavery in 1794, new restrictions on black folks reemerged during Napoleon’s reign which moved Bologne’s music into a forgotten chapter of history until its recent revival.

Start with this: Ouverture, L’amant anonyme

This three-part overture (part 2, part 3) to Bologne’s surviving opera L’amant anonyme, mirrors early symphonic form. Its light textures and balanced melodies place it soundly in the Classical era and right in line with the traditions and compositional techniques of other Europeans who were composing during that time.

Also check out: George Bridgewater

Continues…

TaiHei Ensemble: garden reflections

New music by University of Oregon composers inspired by Portland's Lan Su Chinese Garden premieres in Eugene and Portland concerts

by GARY FERRINGTON 

A new day at Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden begins. The morning’s multi-hued sky reflected in a koi filled pond is accompanied by the sounds of birdsong and the gentle trickling of a waterfall hidden in a bamboo alcove. This walled-in botanical oasis of Chinese native flora, art, architecture, and calm — one of the most authentic Suzhou-style gardens outside China — was the destination last October of a cadre of University of Oregon graduate students beginning a year-long music composition project.

Organized by Eugene’s student-managed TaiHei Ensemble, the “One Day in a Chinese Garden” project immersed ten invited composers from the Oregon Composers Forum in a day of Chinese art and culture. The highlight was a 45-minute docent-led walking tour of the garden that ended at the teahouse, where composers heard a program of traditional Chinese music performed on authentic instruments by members of the Portland Wisdom Art Academy.

Lan Su Chinese Garden Reflective pond with Moon Locking Pavilion. Photo: Jared Knight

After a full day of sensory exposure to a multitude of cultural experiences, the participants composed, based upon their garden visit and further individual research into Chinese culture and music, a 5-8 minute piece for TaiHei Ensemble, known for exploring and enacting international dialogs across the Pacific Rim through music. On Tuesday, TaiHei performs the music in the first of three 2019 concerts. Like the image of the sky in the garden’s reflecting pool, their compositions reflect aspects of the garden’s physical attributes as well as the ideas it signifies and other notions gleaned from their experience in the garden.

Continues…

Marginal Consort: sound and silence

Japanese ensemble’s Portland performance focuses more on improvisatory process than musical product

By LUSI LUKOVA
Photos by Taz Coffey, courtesy of PICA

The performance began simply enough, with Marginal Consort’s Kazuo Imai using a giant sheet of paper to break the silence and commence the one-night-only concert at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), like a gun fired to set off a race.

Kazuo Imai playing the paper snapper at Marginal Consort’s January concert at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

In a workshop the previous night, Imai taught the simplicity of creating what they’ve dubbed “the paper snapper” out of mundane craft paper. Once built, we were all asked to “snap” our instruments unabashedly. The cacophony that this produced, the varying tones based on the strength and speed of each snapper built up to an eruption like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Opening the January 23 concert with this definite sound subdued any conversation, and focused all attention on the four members of Japan’s renowned musical ensemble.

Continues…

“Gr*mmy Show”: spoofing the stars

Saturday’s University of Oregon variety show provides an evening of comedy, theater, and music.

by GARY FERRINGTON

A few years ago, jazz pianist and University of Oregon music professor Toby Koenigsberg approached trumpeter and fellow faculty member Brian McWhorter to help him create a mixed genre concert series he was trying to put together. McWhorter suggested a show in which Grammy-nominated songs were performed right before “Music’s Biggest Night.” But by the time the project was ready to go in 2014, McWhorter found that he could no longer play trumpet due to a performance injury.

Koenigsberg and McWhorter host the Gr*mmy Show Saturday.

That didn’t stop them. With Koenigsberg’s encouragement, McWhorter, who is recognized on and off campus for his wit, sense of humor, and more than a bit of showmanship, realized he could emcee instead of playing. And that decision turned the project into “a kind of variety show, with comedy, theater, and music all included,” Koenigsberg recalls. The UO School of Music and Dance’s satirical production of the “Gr*mmy Show,” a zany, fun-filled evening with McWhorter as MC and Koenigsberg as musical director, was finally ready for primetime. (They changed its original name from “Grammy Show” after The Recording Academy sent the team a cease and desist letter.)

Wrong song Jack. Photo: Gary Ferrington

The Gr*mmy Show has evolved into a much-anticipated evening of variety acts. Show-stopping edutainment sketches have always been included, such as a humorous analysis of the seemingly complex voting process for Grammy award winners, and exploring the “fun side” of Schenkerian analysis — a music theory subject as exciting as burnt toast. Academicians always tend to get a good ribbing on this night as when music theorist Jack Boss “mistakenly” began to pontificate about the musical structure… of what he would quickly learn from emcee McWhorter was the wrong song.

Stage band performs nominated songs. Photo: Gary Ferrington

Balancing out the humorous academic side of the evening is the performance of many musical selections nominated for the Grammys, including not only Song of the Year, but also pieces from other categories such as New Age, Pop, Jazz, Rap, Reggae, World Music and the Best Classical Contemporary Composition and Best Musical Theater album.

Continues…

The unexpected potential of venetian blinds in the forest

A review of Rebecca Reeve's "Sun Breathing" at Upfor Gallery

By LUSI LUKOVA

New York-based artist Rebecca Reeve debuts new photographic work in Sun Breathing, her first solo exhibition at Portland’s Upfor Gallery. In her archival pigment prints, Reeve imposes grid-like forms or painted elements on the natural environment. She then photographs these optic interventions, intentionally muddling the internal and the external as a means to explore the dichotomy between restraint and unbounded potential.

Readily recognizable foliage and nature scenes form the crux of Reeve’s content. The addition of vibrant reds, yellows, and blues made by Reeve’s brushstrokes and not readily visible in the prints, are what distort these standard photographs into more fantastic and illusive scenes. Organized chromatically on the three main walls of the gallery are two sets of two prints and one of three, each grouping separated by the primary colors painted into them. On the wall opposite the set of two red prints is the final piece of the exhibition, Sun Breathing #8 (2018), which is the only work that combines all three of those colors to create an artificial rainbow resting on the vegetation. Although the inclusion of these vivid colors obfuscates the realistic quality of the land forms, they simultaneously serve as bold hooks that drive the audience deeper into the image. Where naturally-colored foliage typically camouflages itself in the wild, allowing for a much hastier overall portrait, the reds, blues and yellows painted by Reeve and then photographed in situ make the viewer precisely aware of each individual leaf and twig that might otherwise have been missed. Pushing against unfocused, cursory glances, the longer one studies these landscapes the more forcefully the applied colors come to feel as natural as the background shades of green.

Rebecca Reeve, “Sun Breathing #4,” (2018) archival pigment print, 30 x 37 inches, edition of 5. Photo by Mario Gallucci, courtesy the artist and Upfor.

Continues…