Oregon ArtsWatch

 

Choral Arts Ensemble & Cappella Romana: many ways of being many 

Portland choirs sing music programmed and created by diverse and unified voices

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

Portland’s choral scene is so abundant it has its own calendar. With such an bounty of choirs, it’s no surprise that they represent many different ways of singing together. Two concerts in October—Choral Arts Ensemble’s season opener on October 13 at Rose City Park United Methodist Church, Cappella Romana’s Heaven and Earth on October 14 at St. Stephen Catholic Church—showcased two quite distinct approaches to creating choral music.

For CAE, it was their varied assortment of choral works, chosen collaboratively from their vast repertoire as a celebration of the ensemble’s long history of singing together; most of the selections, from Bach and Brahms to Ēriks Ešenvalds and Randall Thompson, were comfortably familiar, in a Western classical sort of way.

Cappella Romana performed ‘Heaven & Earth’ at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

For Cappella Romana, on the other hand, the collaborative element was a matter of composers and singers working together within a unique and unified spiritual musical tradition—Orthodox Christianity and Byzantine Chant, traditions which are neither overly familiar (at least to Westerners) nor especially comfortable. Both approaches are valid, of course, but more importantly both demonstrate a crucial sense of unity-in-diversity, spiritual-musical solidarity, e pluribus unum, many voices coming together as one voice, seeking spiritual solace and satisfaction.

Choral Arts Ensemble: Fifty Years of Singing Together

In the opening performance of the the first concert of their fiftieth season, I was immediately struck by Choral Arts Ensemble’s brilliant tuning of even the simplest chords. This would emerge as their forte, a vertical sense of intonation, melodies and chords integrated in a way totally distinct from, say, Franco-Flemish Renaissance polyphony. It’s easy to hear a connection between the group’s democratic vibe and their approach to style, tuning, repertoire, and tradition. It probably wouldn’t be going too far to call it a distinctly Protestant attitude.

Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland opened its 50th anniversary season with a concert at Rose City Park United Methodist Church.

That big, resonant, vertical sound carried all through the concert, from the opening work—Schubert’s Gloria, its reverberant opening cadences turning on finely-tuned leading-tones—down through the full sound of English composer Colin Mawby’s 1995 Ave Verum. On Joshua Shank’s 2007 Sleeping out Full Moon, on a text by poet and WWI veteran Rupert Brooke, colorful Whitacrey harmony illuminated the lines “to all glory, to all gladness, to the infinite height.”

The chords got all melty and romantic on Josef Rheinberger’s 1855 Abendlied (Evening Song), and although their handful of Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzer (Love Song Waltzes) were perhaps not as lucid in this full choir setting as the quartet version we heard from The Ensemble a few seasons back, they were instead all lush and brimming with sehnsucht. In Ēriks Ešenvalds’s Only in Sleep, on a text by the Pulitzer-winning American poet Sara Teasdale, choir and soloists sang major thirds to make your eyes water. Offsetting Ešenvalds and Teasdale’s melancholy, the choir brought out a bright, poppy, Swingle Singers sound for Jake Runestad’s jolly John Muir song, Come to the Woods.

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Visions of art and science

A collaboration between a painter and neuroscientist at Ford Gallery

By MALLORY PRATT

How do we understand what we see? Inquiring minds have been considering this question for millennia, ever since early Homo lineages started making marks on cave walls. With the rise of empirical science in the past two hundred years, art and science became separate disciplines, a trend Leonardo di Vinci definitely would not have understood.

Into A Study represents a decisive step toward reuniting these disciplines by asking the question “How does viewing art help us understand how we see?” This collaboration between Paul Rutz, a painter, and Amanda Hampton Wray, a neuroscientist, aims at nothing less than integrating scientific and artistic inquiry as seamlessly as possible. As with all joint ventures, the success of the project rests on a foundation built from long association, mutual respect and rigorous, thoughtful compromise.

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‘La Traviata’: fallen woman rises again

Sterling singing and strong direction distinguish Portland Opera's latest production of Verdi's tragic perennial

by BRUCE BROWNE

It is 1840s Paris and the population is booming. Just outside the gaslight’s glow, the new urban lady of the evening offers her talents. She is a courtesan and her life will become a fascination in the literary, visual and performing arts.

“La Traviata” translates as “The Fallen Woman,” hardly royalty or swashbuckler. Giuseppe Verdi put her center stage, and opera goers continue to enjoy her life of glorious highs and tragic lows.

Verdi fast-tracked Alexander Dumas’s La Dame aux Camélias, taking the 1848 novel/1852 stage play to an operatic premiere in March of 1853. It was not well received. Fortunately for Verdi, however, his hugely successful Il Trovatore (which premiered two months earlier) provided a cushion. Verdi was able to regroup, recast the anti-heroine Violetta and the now-beloved opera was off and running by 1855.

Dumas’ novel, with the fictional “lady of the camellias” Marguerite, was based on his own love affair with Marie Duplessis (alias), a respected courtesan in the Paris society of the early 1840s. The legitimizing – the humanizing – of this courtesan has spawned dozens of “Camille” movies (e.g. Theda Bera, 1917, and Greta Garbo, 1936) and ballets. Julia Roberts launched her career as a “Pretty Woman” of New York. Dumas wrote a good story and both it and its protagonist have survived and thrived.

Aurelia Florian as Violetta in Portland Opera’s production of Verdi’s ‘La Traviata.’ Photo: Cory Weaver

Verdi’s (and librettist Piave’s) operatic version of the drama is expertly sculpted. The emotional highs and lows, the hypocrisy, the social/political landscape, the tension and ecstasy of young love… it’s all there – along with Verdi’s marvelous music, of course – and last Sunday afternoon, Portland Opera Association staged and performed all aspects of the epic work to full effect. Scenery and costumes were scintillating; orchestra and chorus were joined at the hip, and the solo roles, fervently and beautifully sung. Every solo singer was in fabulous voice; it was as balanced a total cast as I have ever heard in a Portland Opera performance.

Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian, in the role of Violetta, sings with a flexible, vibrant voice, capable of a variety of nuances in dynamics and color. After a few fluttery vocal moments in the first Act, she settled into the persona of Violetta. She was captivating in the entire aria “È Strano” (It is strange) and the succeeding “dialog” with Alfredo, her potential lover, by taking on a Scarlett O’Hara-like naiveté. Such a lovable coquette.

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By BRIAN LIBBY

When Portland’s Memorial Coliseum (as it was originally known) was completed in 1960, America was entering perhaps its most tumultuous decade, one of both tragedy and promise. The country sent its first troops to Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Jr., was arrested for leading nonviolent demonstration for the first time, and John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard Nixon to win the presidency.

As Kennedy would declare in his inaugural address the following January, a torch had been passed. Optimism abounded as the nation enjoyed unprecedented economic growth, explored outer space, and saw revolutionary ideas transform music and visual arts.

Avantika Bawa, “Coliseum 07”, 2017. Graphite and pastel on paper, 40 x 94 inches/Courtesy Ampersand Gallery

Veterans Memorial Coliseum, as it was renamed in 2011, embodies its time even as it remains timeless. That Avantika Bawa’s drawings, on display at both the Portland Art Museum and Ampersand Gallery, depict the Coliseum so beautifully owes first to her artistic talents, but the building’s simplicity and translucence are undoubtedly conducive to such portrayals.

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Byrd Ensemble review: corona of sound

Seattle vocal ensemble bathes Portland audience in clear, clean choral singing

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

When a choral tone bath is washing over me, I smile broadly, sometimes even giggle. Can’t help it. It’s a visceral reaction to a corona of sound. It envelops the audience, draws us in.

I smiled a lot Sunday afternoon, October 28 at Portland’s St. Stephens Catholic Church. The Byrd Ensemble, using just 10 singers, poured a program of motets that was clear and balanced in every way. The Seattle-based choir’s sound is clear, clean, never manufactured, without a wayward wobble in the pitch. The singers collectively exploit a brighter part of the color palette, enabling perfect intonation and balance.

Seattle’s Byrd Ensemble sang Renaissance and contemporary music in Portland.

This is clearly conductor Markdavin Obenza’s sound ideal. The sound is not an accident. It is cultivated. Several of these artists, including Mr. Obenza, had their start in the Northwest Boy Choir, and that, much like the English boychoirs in cathedrals over the years, is formative in their listening and the sound production they bring us.

Not to say they are trying to sing “like” a boy choir. This is an adult sound with a boy choir temperament. When excellent singers sing with their ears, sing into the mini acoustic among their colleagues, something magical can happen. A macro acoustic like St. Stephens is the perfect venue for a small group like this. And so, at the beginning tones of William Byrd’s Ne Irascaris Domine, I nearly giggled. At the end of the motet, the audience gave this opening piece a 30-40 second ovation.

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An Introvert’s Guide to Portland Book Festival 2018

Advance preparations for the Portland Book Festival are advised.

By KATIE TAYLOR

As a typical book-loving wallflower, I find festivals overstimulating and at times overwhelming, but when it comes to books, they’re important. In America, things loved by quiet people have a way of being ignored, shouted over, trampled on and phased out. Events like Literary Arts’ Portland Book Festival (formerly Wordstock) make a dazzling public smile their umbrella over a very private love, and by doing that, help keep that love safe, strong and thriving.

The Portland Book Festival can start to close in on the bookish introvert. But you can beat this! Preparation is the key./Photo courtesy Portland Book Festival

With some 62 book-related events loaded into a single 10-hour day, Portland Book Festival is an unparalleled opportunity, even for those of us who don’t like to leave our couches, teapots and teetering stacks of books. So gird your loins and screw your courage to the sticking place, my friends—you still have a few days to prepare. And prepare you must!

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Art review: Resistance begins inside

The six artists in 'The Work Continues' at PCC Sylvania’s North View Gallery respond to the political crisis by investigating their own identities

By LUSI LUKOVA

The Work Continues, at PCC Sylvania’s North View Gallery (the exhibition closed on Saturday), emerged from a unanimous functional depression felt by its six artists and two curators. We may easily guess the source of this unrest, even without curator Sam Hopple’s explanation that this artistic survey first took form in 2016 as a direct response to a numbness following the Presidential election.

“The Work Continues” (installation view), 2018; PCC North View Gallery/Image courtesy of Maria T.D. Inocencio

However, the manner in which these six artists chose to further engage with this unsettling environment—through a complex exploration of identity—gives this show its place in contemporary art activism. Each of these artists, through their own respective processes and mediums, toggles the question of “Who are we?”—as artists, as advocates, and as humans. Tapping into something deeply personal, each piece in this show is a vulnerable and raw demonstration of art that does not compromise.

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