Brett Campbell

 

Field of Dreams on the Emerald Isle

In "Hurl," Corrib Theater’s new production, an ancient sport becomes a metaphor for today’s struggles over immigration and diversity.

In Corrib Theatre’s Hurl, conflicts over immigration and race literally play out on the pitch of a rural Irish village. Led by the best one-two acting punch I’ve seen so far this season from co-leads Cynthia Shur Petts and Clara-Liis Hillier, it’s a well-timed shot of Irish theater whiskey sent over to warm Americans during our own new ICE Age.

In Irish playwright Charlie O’Neill’s fictional 2003 story, a group of immigrants from far-flung lands (Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Nigeria, Cuba, Vietnam, Argentina, inner-city Dublin), seeking to forge a community spirit,  assemble to play a centuries-old Gaelic sport distantly resembling lacrosse or field hockey. Initially rebuffed and discouraged by Rusty (a sublimely smarmy Petts), a local sports official, they finally manage to persuade a defrocked priest, Lofty (a sharp, unsentimental Hillier) to coach them in a village team that will compete against other community teams in a national amateur league.

At the outset, he’s “banjaxed” (drunk) and they’re disorderly, but if you’ve seen anything from Hoosiers to Bad News Bears and so many others, you pretty much know the standard sports-inspirational story that ensues: motley crew of underdogs takes on the big bad establishment. And you can guess the rest, right up to the climactic Big Game and its Inspirational Halftime Speech.

Teamwork: Wynee Hu (left to right), Falynn Burton, Kenneth Dembo, Clara Liis-Hillier, James Dixon, Alec Lugo, and Heath Hyun Houghton in Corrib Theatre’s “Hurl.” Photo: Adam Liberman

When O’Neill wrote Hurl, his country’s foreign-born population was in the midst of more than tripling to 17 percent, between 1996 and 2011. As a post-show talk back explained, there were important differences between Ireland’s and America’s experiences with recent immigration upsurges. But both there and then, and here and now, recently arrived immigrants sparked resentment from some native-born citizens. Conniving politicians manipulated fears about “differences,” darkly implying that the new arrivals threatened Our Traditional Way of Life — that instead of contributing vitality and diversity to their new home, “They” were somehow taking something away.

Rusty and Lofty respectively represent resistance to and celebration of racial and national diversity. In a brilliantly restrained and subtle performance from Shur Petts, Rusty, who keeps coming back throughout the show like a bad case of head lice, usually keeps the real reasons for the dispute carefully covert. Onstage here as in real life, most racists and nationalists seldom spell out their real reasons for resistance to change. Still, he’s a little too easy to dismiss as one of those backwater racists, not like us urbane good guys. As too many of us have belatedly learned, racism’s reality is less obvious and more pervasive than most of us well-intentioned theater-goers imagine, extending to our own neighborhoods and even assumptions.

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MusicWatch Weekly: human voices

Choral and vocal concerts take center stage this week in Oregon music

Portland’s big choirs once again present fans of choral music with some difficult choices. As happens too often — there’s a choral calendar that you’d think might help prevent this — several have scheduled shows on the same weekend, making it impossible to see more than a couple of shows, assuming your weekly music budget will stretch even that far. They’re all recommendable, and all feature contemporary as well as classic sounds. I just wish we didn’t have to choose.

Cappella Romana performed at St. Mary’s Cathedral in April.

• Best known for performances of ancient Byzantine music, Cappella Romana goes ultra-modern in Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation Saturday at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1716 N.W. Davis, and Sunday at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, 1112 S.E. 41st Ave. The concert features the premiere of a new setting of an ancient Orthodox psalm by six Orthodox composers — including Portland’s own John Boyer, the choir’s new associate music director, who’ll lead the performances. Read more about the new Psalm 103 project, and how the new piece connects to the recent discovery of the Higgs boson, here. I wish more groups originally devoted to being exclusively museums of old music by dead composers would open contemporary wings like this one and apply their historically informed insights to new music.

• That’s exactly what one of Portland’s most promising new musical additions, Big Mouth Society, does in Saturday and Sunday’s Portland premiere of The Gonzales Cantata at Mercy Corps Action Center, 28 SW 1st Ave. When Australian-America composer Melissa Dunphy cooked up her neo-baroque cantata (scored for choir with soloists, string orchestra and harpsichord) back in 2009, she couldn’t have imagined the even more operatic, scandalous senatorial outrage we’ve all just endured. It’s based on the 2007 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, which disclosed improprieties that ultimately forced his resignation in disgrace (though somehow didn’t disqualify him from becoming an NPR commentator and law school dean). The senators (including Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, Orrin Hatch et al) are portrayed by reverse-gendered singers from Curious Voices, and performers include students from Willamette University and Reed College. During performances, Big Mouth Society will host Oregonians United Against Profiling, a coalition opposing Measure 105, which would repeal Oregon’s anti-racial profiling law and allow local law enforcement resources to be diverted to federal action against immigrants.

David DeLyser leads Choral Arts Ensemble.

• In Everlasting Voices, Saturday and Sunday at Rose City Park United Methodist Church, 5830 NE Alameda St., Choral Arts Ensemble celebrates its 50th anniversary season with a retrospective that looks both backward (classical composers like Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Copland) and forward, with some of the 21st century’s hottest young choral composers, including Ēriks Ešenvalds and Jake Runestad.

Gil Seeley at Oregon Repertory Singers concert

• Oregon Repertory Singers opens its 45th season with a new CD and a concert. Shadows on the Stars features one of America’s most-performed composers, Beaverton-born Morten Lauridsen, who splits his time between his teaching duties at the University of Southern California and Waldron Island. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Portland’s First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. He returns to accompany the 100-voice choir’s performances of his compositions Sure on this Shining Night and Ya Eres Mía. Accompanist Naomi LaViolette takes the keyboard in Lauridsen’s Mid-Winter Songs, which sets poems by Robert Graves. The second half features another venerated choral master, this one from Estonia. Oregon Repertory Singers was the first American choir to bring Veljo Tormis, who died last year at age 86, to the United States. ORS emeritus conductor Gilbert Seeley returns to lead Tormis’s moving music.

• Portland Symphonic Choir also opens its season this weekend with exciting news: the world premiere of a new spiritual by Portland composer Judy Rose, I’ve Found Me a River. Saturday’s well-rounded concert at Portland’s Tiffany Center also includes Brahms’s Love Song Waltzes and Eric Whitacre’s popular 2001 composition Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine.

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MusicWatch Weekly: American landscapes

October's Oregon music schedule gets off to a Big Bang, explores American natural wonders, and welcomes a Chinese music master among other highlights

Composers from around the country are commemorating the 50th anniversaries of the National Trails System Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by writing new music inspired by American landscapes. Like so many of the rest of us here in the Northwest, members of Cascadia Composers spend lots of time enjoying our wilderness areas, but they also draw creative inspiration from it. Sunday afternoon’s concert at Portland’s Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., includes world premieres of new works for small chamber ensembles, composed in direct response to the places protected by these landmark laws.

Part of a nationwide series of concerts, the show includes compositions by Oregonians Brent Lawrence, Christina Rusnak, and Linda Woody inspired by Oregon’s Owyhee and Deschutes Rivers, and the people and landscape of the Oregon Historical Trail, along with music by non-Oregonians inspired by Georgia’s Chattooga River, the North Country Trail (stretching from North Dakota to Vermont), Arizona and California’s Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, and a wildfire ravaged area along a Klamath River tributary.

• Portland chamber music organization 45th Parallel Universe opens its tenth season with a Big Bang, a new leader (former Third Angle artistic director and violinist Ron Blessinger is interim executive director), new ensembles, and a new, but not exclusive, emphasis on contemporary music. Friday’s show at Portland’s First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St., features no fewer than four new ensembles. Helios Camerata, its new conductor-less chamber orchestra, plays music by Britten, Haydn, Rossini, and contemporary composer Jimmy Lopez. Arcturus Quintet wind ensemble plays a quintet by 20th century American composer Elliott Carter. Gemini Project plays a percussion duo by Robert Marino. And Pyxis String Quartet (the former Third Angle String Quartet) plays a movement from a quartet by leading American composer Aaron Jay Kernis. Matthew Andrews has a full preview tomorrow.

Pipa virtuosa Min Xiao-Fen, performs this weekend solo and with Oregon Mozart Players.

• There’s also new music on Olga Kern’s Saturday concert at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave. The dynamic Russian-American pianist soared to international acclaim after winning top prize at the famous Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, and has impressed audiences in her Portland appearances since then. Programmed by founder Harold Gray, temporarily back in charge after the departure of Portland Piano International’s most recent artistic director, the first of her October recitals features some of the usual pianistic suspects — Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Schubert, Scriabin — but also a rare and most welcome PPI world premiere: James Lee III’s Window to Eternity’s Threshold.

• Another Oregon music institution not hitherto best known for new music opens its season with a concert dominated by it. Saturday’s Oregon Mozart Players concert at the University’s of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall sports an ideal blend of classic (Haydn’s tempestuous 64th symphony) and contemporary sounds. Kevin Lau’s pounding, bounding Artemis is a musical portrait of the Greek goddess of the hunt. Daniel Schnyder’s jazzy, dramatic Concerto for Pipa expertly mixes a quintessentially Asian instrument with a Western orchestra. Zhou Tian’s upbeat Viaje (Voyage), featuring the brief return from her new Nashville home of longtime University of Oregon prof Molly Barth, one of the world’s finest flutists, reflects the Chinese-American composer’s travels in Spain. While our century’s cross-cultural interactions terrify insular souls into supporting racists and nationalists, they inspire artists to broaden their horizons and open creative new worlds to audiences.

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MusicWatch Weekly: centennial celebration

Symphonic tributes to composer/conductor/crossover king Leonard Bernstein and other American sounds highlight this week's Oregon music scene

Has any musician ever had a year like Leonard Bernstein did between November 1943 and December 1944? The 25-year-old wunderkind won national fame for fill-in conducting the New York Philharmonic on short notice in a nationally broadcast concert from Carnegie Hall, conducted the premiere of his first symphony and the recording of his scintillating first ballet, Fancy Free (which the New York City Ballet premiered that year and which Eugene Symphony performs in November), wrote a hit for Billie Holiday, and saw his first musical open on Broadway. Whew!

That debut musical, On the Town, is best known for “New York, New York, a hell of a town,” but the rest of the score sparkles just as brightly. On Thursday at Eugene’s Hult Center, its dance episodes open Eugene Symphony’s season-long celebration of Bernstein’s centenary, which orchestras and ensembles throughout Oregon and the world are also honoring this year.

Leonard Bernstein

The rest of the program is equally compelling. Shostakovich’s magnificent fifth symphony was a Bernstein fave he did much to popularize in the West, and Lenny recorded Ernest Bloch’s popular cello concerto Schelomo (King Solomon) twice. The Swiss-born composer wrote his “Hebraic rhapsody” in 1916, just before he moved to the US (where it premiered), long before he settled in Agate Beach in 1941. (He died in Portland in 1959.) Soloist Julie Albers stars.

The Vancouver Symphony’s opening concerts Saturday and Sunday at Skyview Concert Hall also laud Lenny with excerpts from his great stage scores Candide and West Side Story. Tchaikovsky Competition gold medalist Mayuko Kamio stars in another American masterwork, Samuel Barber’s vibrant Violin Concerto. The show opens with a low-blowing new piece the orchestra commendably commissioned from a local composer: one of its bassoonists, Nicole Buetti.

Inon Barnatan performs with the Oregon Symphony

This weekend’s Oregon Symphony concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall feature the world premiere of 27-year-old Katherine Balch’s whispery Chamber Music, which deploys a variety of percussion instruments along with the usual strings and winds to create, she says, “a very intimate, intricate music intended for close listening and made among friends.” One of Joseph Haydn’s popular “Paris” symphonies, nicknamed “The Hen” because of some clucked-up first movement violins, offers another chance to hear the orchestra excel in the magnificent music of a composer whose symphonies have become one of its specialities. Aaron Copland’s Jazz Age Piano Concerto followed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto into then-sketchy (for symphony orchestras) jazzy territory. Nearly a century later, it sounds like a lot of fun, and a sleek vehicle for excellent Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan before the concert arrives at its final destination: Brahms’s mighty fourth symphony.

A highlight of last week’s OSO concerts was a new work by one of America’s most appealing living composers, Kevin Puts. His Beethovenian 2007 Trio-Sinfonia highlights Saturday’s Chamber Music @ Beall performance by the excellent Eroica Trio at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. They’ll also play Bach’s famous “Chaconne” from Partita in d Minor; the equally famous Adagio in g minor by 20th-century musicologist Remo Giazotto still infuriatingly and falsely attributed to Tomaso Albinoni by record companies, program writers and classical music announcers who should know better by now, and Mendelssohn’s c minor Trio.

Earlier that day and not far away, at their free show at Eugene’s Hope Abbey Mausoleum, Ensemble Primo Seicento (three singers and historically informed instrumentalists on harpsichord, viola da gamba, and cornetto) sings and plays music by Sigismondo D’India, Legrenzi, Sances, Riccio, Benedetti, Barbarino, Corradini, Merula, Hume, Cima and of course Monteverdi himself.

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‘Ann’: sketchy portrait

One-woman show about the feisty Texas governor misses what made Ann Richards great

Holland Taylor’s one-woman tribute, Ann, which Triangle Productions is staging through September 29, brought back memories of a politician I both criticized and admired. I covered Ann Richards and Texas politics during her last term as elected state treasurer and through her successful campaign for governor, writing and editing at Texas’s leading progressive magazine, The Texas Observer, probably best known here as the launching pad and lifelong forum for one of my predecessors, Molly Ivins.

Because I saw a preview performance, I can’t really review Triangle’s production, as star Margie Boule, who’s been getting raves, was understandably still settling into the part. But no production can save a scattered script that fundamentally lacks a story, real conflict (beyond the family drama of who gets paired with whom in the family game of Charades), dramatic structure or tension. It goes on too long and tries to end three times — none satisfactory and the last drearily bathetic, with Richards joining her mom and pop at the great ranch in the sky. The first and only play written by Taylor (an Emmy-winning TV actor best known for her roles in sitcoms Bosom Buddies and Two and a Half Men) to perform herself, it’s more like a character sketch an actor might prepare than an actual drama.

Ann gives us little understanding or even discussion of her life’s work or what motivated her not-politically correct (for most of Texas of her time) liberalism. After an expositional opening scene relaying her history through a college graduation address, Richards spends the next hour or so in a tedious series of phone calls: making travel arrangements, chatting with her old buddy Bill Clinton, micromanaging the family holiday gathering, dealing with reporters, reserving boats for a fishing trip, pondering a stay of execution for a developmentally disabled death row inmate, etc. Taylor’s apparent strategy is to show how Richards juggles the business of state as well as family duties through the multitasking that moms know so well.

“In fact, motherhood is splendid training for politics,” her friend and my colleague Ivins wrote in her obituary in our magazine. “All good mothers know what to do when there’s two kids and one cookie, and all good mothers know what to do when there are two kids in the back seat hitting each other, each one of them claiming the other one started it. All political problems are merely variations of those two situations.”

But the multitasking takes up most of the play. My date, who’s not from Texas, was mystified by what was at stake, why it mattered, and/or what obstacles and choices Richards faced. Such context is crucial to Taylor’s goal: imparting a sense of Richards’s character.

Originally subtitled “an affectionate portrait,” Ann comes off as shallow fangirl worship, unworthy of Richards’s substantive achievements political and personal. The script, which Taylor intended to praise Richards, winds up burying her greatness in trivialities. Instead of the powerful political leader she actually was, we get the kind of wisecracking celebrity she might have looked like from Hollywood. 

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MusicWatch Weekly: time of the season

As autumn approaches, Oregon orchestras and ensembles play seasonal sounds and more

Yes, the Zombies no doubt played their iconic 1967 hit at Monday’s show at Revolution Hall, but there’s more seasonal music in the air this week. One of those iconic Portland fall traditions is to bring the family and some blankets and marvel at the annual cyclonic return of the migratory Vaux’s Swifts to that chimney at Northwest Portland’s Chapman Elementary School. In their season-opening Song of the Swifts shows, FearNoMusic brings one of New York’s best known new music pianists, Kathleen Supové to play music that touches on themes of migration — and not just by birds.

Kathleen Supové.

Musicians and other artists have joined the response to Republican politicization of immigration, which turned human suffering into human tragedy. For the last year or so, the Portland new music ensemble has been programming contemporary classical music that squarely or obliquely addresses some of today’s most pressing social issues. This time it’s migration. Supové, who grew up in Portland, plays three world premieres (by Portland’s own Jay Derderian, her partner and well known composer Randall Woolf, and Paula Matthusen), composed for Sunday’s pop up concert, which happens a few blocks from the Chapman School chimney that has long been a gathering place for the birds, and for Portlanders who love watching them circle, cavort and finally take the plunge. The performance also features video and visual art.

Those three premieres repeat at Monday’s concert at the Old Church, which also pairs Supové with FNM musicians in migration and/or bird-related music by young Portland composer Katie Palka, the great Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, Michi Wiancko, and Takashi Yoshimatsu.

Tomas Cotik performs with Portland Chamber Orchestra.

• As we head into fall, Portland Chamber Orchestra combines the most famous Four Seasons (Vivaldi’s familiar violin concertos) with an equally colorful 20th century successor. In The Eight Seasons, Portland State prof and Astor Piazzolla expert Tomas Cotik joins the ensemble in his fellow Argentine’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which uses Vivaldi’s model and Piazzolla’s own pulsating nuevo tango music to paint a vibrant musical portrait of his bustling hometown. The Sunday afternoon show at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel also features longtime Oregon coast resident Ernest Bloch’s moving Prayer for Cello and Strings (with more Bloch coming next week) and Edvard Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies.

• The Oregon Symphony opens its classical season Sunday with maybe the world’s starriest soprano, Renée Fleming, and it’s a credit to both that instead of the usual familiar arias, the concert presents an attractive, substantive program of 20th century classical and theater music along with Richard Strauss’s 1888 tone poem Don Juan. The big news is Kevin Puts’s orchestral song cycle, Letters from Georgia, composed for Fleming in 2016. Puts, a Pulitzer Prize winner who’s one of the most listener friendly of contemporary classical composers, sets five letters the great American painter Georgia O’Keeffe wrote to her future husband Alfred Stieglitz or her close friend Anita Politzer that describe New Mexican desert beauty, her own feelings about love and music, and more. What I’ve heard would certainly appeal to Aaron Copland fans, and there’s actual Copland (tunes from his opera The Tender Land) on the program too, as well as a pair of stirring American overtures: Samuel Barber’s 1931 overture to The School for Scandal, and Leonard Bernstein’s inevitable, and irresistible, Candide overture, plus show tunes from Sting, Kander & Ebb, Meredith Willson, Stephen Sondheim, and more — that rare star program that would be almost as appealing even without the star’s celebrity name and talent.

Renée Fleming and Oregon Symphony conductor Carlos Kalmar take their bows.

• While the Oregon Symphony goes mostly American, Portland Columbia Symphony trends Russian in its Friday and Sunday shows at Portland’s First United Methodist Church and Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theater. There’s yet another seasonal number, “Autumn” from Glazunov’s The Seasons, Rachmaninoff’s big second piano concerto starring Robert Henry, and a suite from Stravinsky’s enchanting The Firebird ballet score.

• Rachmaninoff takes center stage — or is that altar? — at this weekend’s Cappella Romana concerts Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, respectively. The superb choir sings one of the 20th century’s choral masterpieces, All-Night Vigil, (sometimes called Vespers) along with psalms and hymn settings by Rachmaninoff’s Russian predecessors, placing the composer’s music in the context of a more complete Orthodox Vigil.

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Cascadia Composers at ten

Saturday's tenth anniversary season-opening concert celebrates a decade of showcasing and stimulating community creativity

After Dan Brugh came back from music school, whenever he’d be back on Mount Tabor, near where he grew up, “I always wanted to play music there and bring in other composers,” the Portland composer remembers. But back then, there was no organized way for composers to make events like that happen, and showcases of original music by Northwest contemporary classical composers were rare. Then, a decade ago, a new organization arrived. And thanks to Cascadia Composers, Brugh is making that old wish a reality.

Brugh and Jennifer Wright are the main curators for this Saturday’s Caldera, the first of ten concerts in the regional composers’ organization’s 10th anniversary season — the most programs they’ve ever produced in a single year. In that decade, says founder David Bernstein, Cascadia has grown by a factor of ten — from the original eight members to 80 today — into the largest of the ten chapters in the National Association of Composers USA.

Cascadia Composers (l-r) Ted Clifford, Paul Safar, David Bernstein, Jennifer Wright, Dan Brugh in Havana. Photo: Nadia Reyes.

Over the last decade, “we have given 66 different concerts with over 500 works,” primarily by Northwest composers, Bernstein says. “None of the other chapters can compare with what we’ve done.”

Saturday’s season opening concert is an overture to the group’s most ambitious season ever, and a culmination of a steady rise in quality and scope. 

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