Brett Campbell


MusicWatch Weekly: August catch-up

A new month brings more music festivals to Oregon

Keeping up with even the segment of Oregon’s increasingly busy music scene ArtsWatch can afford to cover (and we’d love to do more, if our readers and Oregon music institutions will help us pay for it) is nearly impossible when the season’s in full swing. It’s all we can do to tell you what’s about to happen, so you don’t miss the stuff you want to hear. That’s why we prioritize previews and reviews of continuing productions, like multi-performance operas. Readers have complained about us piling too many music stories at once, so we try to keep it to a maximum of one per day, which is about all we can handle with our current resources anyway.

That often means that reviews of non-recurring shows get pushed to the end of the line, or rather the end of the season. Which is where we find ourselves this month. With a few notable exceptions, most classical and jazz music institutions pretty much shut it down beginning in June, when western Oregonians at last joyously receive parole from our rain-huddled winter and spring imprisonment and head outside. Most of the rest, like the Astoria and Oregon Coast and Oregon Bach Festivals and Chamber Music Northwest, also call it a season when the smoke begins to descend. Which gives our writers (many of whom are working musicians and/or have day jobs) a chance to catch our breaths (figuratively at least) and finally catch up on those reviews they hadn’t time and/or we hadn’t room to deliver earlier.

That’s why you’ve been seeing reviews of events stretching back to early 2018 lately, and will be seeing more in coming weeks as our writers, once again stuck inside avoiding wildfire smoke, continue working through their backlogs. We hope you enjoy the memories until the new shows commence.

English conductor Jeremy Summerly (center) led a vocal ensemble at the 2017 William Byrd Festival.

Which actually is, er, now! Yes, while a couple of major festivals close this weekend, no fewer than four more music festivals begin this week, including the annual William Byrd Festival, which runs August 10-26 at several Portland venues. Now embarking on its third decade of bringing Renaissance choral music to Portland, the annual festival includes public lectures, open-to-the-public choral performances at church services, an organ recital, and a pair of public concerts. Friday’s opening concert at Portland’s Old Church, directed by renowned English choral conductor Jeremy Summerly, features masterpieces from 1610-11 — the transitional period between the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

Friday also marks the opening of the annual Sunriver Music Festival, with a concert celebrating the centenary of one of America’s mightiest men of music, Leonard Bernstein. Along with his ballet score Fancy Free and joyously jazzy Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, the concert includes Rhapsody in Blue by one of Bernstein’s great inspirations, George Gershwin, and a brief, brash, bustling 1992 work by the American composer whose new Passion was premiered last month at the Oregon Bach Festival.

Composer Richard Danielpour works with the Oregon Bach Festival chorus in preparation for the premiere of his ‘Yeshua Passion.’

“While Toward the Splendid City was composed as a portrait of New York, the city in which I live,” Richard Danielpour has written, he actually began it during his year-long residency with the  Seattle Symphony, a Northwest sojourn which not surprisingly gave him “serious second thoughts about returning to New York. Life was always complicated in the city and easier, it seemed, everywhere else. I was, however, not without a certain pang of nostalgia for my hometown, and as a result Toward the Splendid City was driven by my love-hate relationship with New York. The work’s title comes from the heading of Pablo Neruda’s 1974 Nobel Prize address.” He wound up going back anyway.


MusicWatch Weekly: American classics

American songbook standards, piano classics, opera, and more in this week's Oregon music recommendations

Every summer, The Shedd’s Oregon Festival of American Music approaches its two-week series of concerts, films, talks and more from different angles, but the Eugene festival’s perennial subject — American pop music from the 1920s to just before the rise of rock — somehow remains inexhaustible. Wednesday’s opening sampler ingeniously takes the form of an innovation that emerged toward the end of songbook era and helped extend it: the TV variety show. Siri Vik leads a sextet of singers and Torrey Newhart directs a sextet of jazz musicians in songs by Loesser, Sondheim, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Rodgers & Hart, Edith Piaf standards, even an opera aria.

The festival’s production of Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls closed last weekend, but you can hear a different new production at Broadway Rose Theatre starting this weekend. And there’s more Loesser (sorry) Thursday afternoon in a concert featuring four vocalists and a dectet playing some of his greatest hits, including “Let’s Get Lost,” “Two Sleepy People,” “I Believe in You,” the recently controversial “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and more, including some Guys and Dolls standards.

That night, vibes master Chuck Redd joinsVik and an ace jazz quintet to play American Songbook standards and others refracted through a jazz prism by midcentury stars like Benny Goodman, Red Norvo, and Lionel Hampton. Vik returns with a quintet (including cello and violin) Friday afternoon for the major departure from the American-centric program: mid-centurystandards made famous by French chanteuse Édith Piaf.

Trumpeter Byron Stripling leads a standards-fueled jazz party and more at the Shedd.

Friday night’s jazz concert is based on a book — a famous 1970s collection of jazz arrangements of standards from musicals by Rodgers & Hart, Porter, Jerome Kern and more that inspired the career of longtime Shedd pianist Vicki Brabham. That afternoon’s talk by fellow Shedd vet Ian Whitcomb also contains a recital of his top ten 20th century songs — most from the 1910s and ‘20s, few that make most other lists of standards.

Saturday night’s jazz quartet concert features classics by George Gershwin, including pianist Ted Rosenthal’s solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue and jazz versions of Gershwin tunes. Saturday afternoon boasts a community singalong, and Sunday afternoon a cabaret-style jazz party/jam led by Redd that samples songbook standards from the rest of the fest and more.

The Tuesday August 7 show is sort-of curated by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, whose (sometimes fluffy) faves inform the American Songbook program put together by trumpet master Byron Stripling and performed by singers Vik and Julliette Holliday with octet. Remember that the festival also offers a host of free talks, films of the era, and more.

A scene from Portland Opera’s production of Gluck’s ‘Orfeo ed Euridice.’; Photo: Cory Weaver/ Portland Opera.

Portland Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice closes Saturday at Newmark Theatre, ending the company’s summer festival season. The tragedy of the irresistible singer Orpheus and his lover and their journeys to hell and back has tugged human heartstrings since long before the ancient Greeks transformed it into one of the world’s most enduring myths. One of the most popular musical settings is Christoph Gluck’s 1762 opera, with its hit single Dance of the Blessed Spirit. Sandra Piques Eddy and Lindsay Ohse star in the title roles, with resident artist Helen Huang singing the role of Amore, the god of love. This new production also features full chorus, ballet, and lots of rose petals, sung in Italian with projected English translations. Stay tuned for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review.


MusicWatch Weekly: comings and goings

Summer festivals open and close, and Oregon's musical week also features other concerts indoors and out

Portland’s summer music scene would feel incomplete without Portland SummerFest Opera in the Park, the annual free, family friendly opera performance in Washington Park Amphitheater, with the audience arrayed on their blankets gazing down at singers and orchestra on the amphitheater stage. In Saturday’s Tosca, veteran conductor Keith Clark leads an abridged concert performance (that is, no props, just singing and playing) that features singers who’ve starred on stages at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and beyond. Soprano Angela Brown (who’s also sung with many major orchestras and opera companies) sings the title role in Puccini’s popular perennial, with Portland’s own Met vet Richard Keller as the villainous Scarpia, bass baritone Deac Guidi, tenor Allan Glassman, chorus and orchestra.

Angela Brown stars in ‘Tosca’ at Portland SummerFest.

Portland Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice, which opens Friday at Newmark Theatre, closes its summer festival season. The tragedy of the irresistible singer Orpheus and his lover and their journeys to hell and back has tugged human heartstrings since long before the ancient Greeks transformed it into one of the world’s most enduring myths. One of the most popular musical settings is Christoph Gluck’s 1762 opera, with its hit single Dance of the Blessed Spirit. Sandra Piques Eddy and Lindsay Ohse star in the title roles, with resident artist Helen Huang singing the role of Amore, the god of love. This new production also features full chorus, ballet, and lots of rose petals, sung in Italian with projected English translations.

Portland SummerFest brings ‘Tosca’ to Washington Park. Photo: Tasha Miller.

One of Oregon’s summer music treasures, Portland Piano Summer Festival, begins Monday and runs through August 3 at Lewis & Clark College. This year’s festival adds a new series of Kaleidoscope Lectures that “explore the world of music as it relates to science, language, and art, guided by experts in relevant fields,” including subjects like music and the brain, the birth of Romanticism, and, on Monday evening, Constance Jackson’s talk on Music and Meaning. The annual summer immersion in pianistic performance this time includes acclaimed pianist Tanya Gabrielian playing Handel, Beethoven, Schumann, Gershwin, and Chopin on Monday. The next evening, she talks about composers and mental illness before Alexander Shtarkman tackles a great Beethoven sonata, Brahms’s quartet of Ballades, and Chopin’s two dozen Op. 28 Preludes. We’ll tell you about the rest of the fest next week.

The view from Mt. Angel Abbey.

Another Oregon summer music glory, the Mt. Angel Abbey Bach Festival, returns for its 47th season at the beautiful abbey near Silverton. Wednesday and Friday’s concerts have been sold out for awhile, but tickets remain Thursday’s performances by excellent Portland organist Douglas Schneider (featuring that most famous organ work by JS Bach) at 6 pm and for the evening concert by the Canadian duo of cellist Yegor Dyachkov and pianist Jean Saulnier, featuring more Bach, plus music by Schumann and one of Beethoven’s great cello sonatas.

Hunter Noack performs at Timothy Lake.

Tosca isn’t the only outdoor classical music event this week. On Thursday, Portland State University prof Ken Selden leads the Vancouver Symphony in a family-friendly, free outdoor concert in downtown Vancouver’s Esther Short Park band shell featuring Shostakovich’s aptly titled Festive Overture, some of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, Copland’s Hoe Down (from his ballet score Rodeo) and music from Sleeping Beauty and Star Wars. And on Saturday, with Mt. Hood looming in the background, Portland pianist Hunter Noack brings his Steinway, wireless headphones, and engaging In a Landscape project to Cove Amphitheater on Timothy Lake.

Still another summer musical treat commences with Jacksonville’s annual Britt Orchestra Season, part of the Britt Music & Arts Festival. There will be one difference this year: due to wildfire smoke, these Britt Orchestra concerts have been moved to the North Medford High School auditorium. Wednesday’s opening night concert features classics used in film, from Mozart, Wagner, John Williams, and more.


MusicWatch Weekly: indoor opera, outdoor jazz

Operas, musicals, and sounds from China to South America lure listeners in from the heat, while jazz beckons them back outside

When Portland Opera switched to a summer season last year, one stated reason was to avoid competition with other similar events. But operas and their American-born cousins, stage musicals, seem to be proliferating this summer.

There’s no glass slipper or fairy godmother, but Rossini’s classic operatic recounting of the Cinderella story returns in the company’s family friendly production of La Cenerentola, which runs through July 28 at Portland’s Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway. Read Bob Hicks’s ArtsWatch review.

All dressed up and somewhere to go: From left, Laura Beckel Thoreson, Alasdair Kent (kneeling), Ryan Thorn, and Helen Huang in Sue Bonde’s costumes. Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.

Speaking of comic opera that involves class divisions, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro highlights this weekend’s Aquilon Music Festival program. Barbara Day Turner conducts a chamber orchestra and Daniel Helfgot directs the action in Friday and Saturday nights’ fully staged performances at Linfield College’s Marshall Theatre.

“[O]ne of the very few lyricists who were genuinely funny,” writes Stephen Sondheim in Finishing the Hat, “[Frank] Loesser was able to perform the rare trick of sounding modestly conversational and brilliantly dexterous at the same time….Most impressive to me are the ideas behind Loesser’s songs. The lyrics need not be brilliant in execution; they can ride on their notions alone and bring the house down. Which they did, and still do.”

Now being staged in a new production at The Shedd in Eugene, Loesser’s Guys and Dolls follows the adventures of a trio of petty gamblers who need a spot to continue “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.” With a plot contrived from short stories by Damon Runyan, whose stories captured the colorful characters and slanguage of 1920s New York’s gamblers, gangsters, and other hustlers, Guys and Dolls turned out to be one of the great success stories in American musical theater. It earned unanimous critical raves, running for 1200 performances in its first production, scoring five 1951 Tony Awards (and more in subsequent revivals) and being cheated of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama only by right-wing, red-baiting McCarthyism.


‘Beyond the Cultural Revolution’ preview: cultural confluence

Chamber Music Northwest celebrates contemporary music by composers of Chinese heritage

Two decades ago, Chamber Music Northwest artistic director David Shifrin, the clarinetist who still leads the Portland festival, had admired a clarinet quintet written for him by Bright Sheng, one of China’s finest composers, who’d moved to the United States in 1982. Shifrin asked Sheng to compose a new music theater piece for CMNW and other classical music presenters.

Inspired by a legend from his native China, Sheng’s The Silver River premiered at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in 1997 and went on to acclaimed performances in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, London, and beyond.

A scene from Bright Sheng’s opera, “The Silver River” at the John Jay College Theater, presented by the Lincoln Center Festival 2002. Photo: ©Stephanie Berger.

But not in Portland. Back in the 1990s, CMNW administrators, then accustomed to little more staging than a few chairs, music stands, and maybe a piano, looked at the forces required for Sheng’s opera — singers, dancers, actor, choreographer, stage director, classical chamber ensemble, pipa (the banjo-like Chinese lute), props (eventually including a huge heated water tank in which the actors performed), costumes, et al — and blanched.

“We determined we couldn’t afford to produce something that large,” says current CMNW executive director Peter Bilotta. But it remained on Shifrin’s “bucket list” to bring to CMNW before he retires in 2020. With the organization expanding and diversifying as never before, says Bilotta, “we decided to make the resources available and do it.”

On Saturday and Sunday at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland audiences will at last get to experience the work CMNW helped create — with the composer in town to see it.

CMNW also decided to use The Silver River as the tentpole for a broader celebration of Chinese-influenced music. Beyond the Cultural Revolution comprises seven events happening this Thursday through Sunday, including the two opera performances, coffee with the composer, and premieres of new works commissioned by CMNW from composers of Chinese heritage.


MusicWatch Weekly: pan man returns

Steel pan master and composer Andy Akiho's Chamber Music Northwest appearances highlight Oregon's sizzling musical weekend

Andy Akiho’s previous Chamber Music Northwest appearances with percussionist pal Ian Rosenbaum revealed both performance virtuosity — on the 39-year-old New Yorker’s unlikely instrument, the steel pan — and also a distinctive and appealing compositional imagination. In one of the summer festival’s highlights, Akiho’s Wednesday night Alberta Rose Theatre showcase of originals written over the past decade combines his steely pan with various other instruments: flute, marimba, violin, magnets (!). His half-hour long LIgNEouS Suite features string quartet and marimba, sometimes played with dowels, and a really big rubber band.

Andy Akiho joined other Chamber Music Northwest musicians at Alberta Rose Theatre last year. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Akiho’s LIgNEouS Suite repeats at Thursday’s CMNW concert at Reed College featuring the Dover Quartet, along with one of Haydn’s spirited Op. 20 string quartets and Borodoni’s second quartet. Akiho’s Deciduous repeats at Friday’s New@Noon program at Portland State, which includes recent music by contemporary composers, including a pair of thirty-somethings: Roger Zare’s Escher Triptych for violin and cello, inspired by three M.C. Escher prints, and William Neace’s jazzy little Variance for solo trumpet. The show also includes Steven Hoey’s Other Voice for solo bassoon and renowned Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov’s haunting Mariel for cello and marimba.

CMNW’s weekend concerts Saturday at Reed College and Sunday at Portland State look way back to the early 20th century in French music, including compositions by that Russian exile, Igor Stravinsky. His delightfully Faustian narrated septet Soldier’s Tale ranges from rags to Russian folk to faux jazz and other devilish rhythms. Along with Stravinsky’s three little clarinet solos from the same period, the show features another theatrical arrangement, Jacques Ibert’s The Gardener of Samos, Debussy’s slinky Syrinx for solo flute, and a rarity by another early 20th century French composer who died too young (26), Jean Cartan’s perky, Poulencian Sonatine for flute and clarinet.

Composer Andy Akiho.

More Debussy — his powerful valedictory Violin Sonata — highlights CMNW’s Monday and Tuesday shows, along with still another welcome new Andy Akiho original, Lost on Chiaroscuro Street for clarinet, violin, cello and piano — the same instrumentation Messiaen famously used for his landmark Quartet for the End of Time, which partly inspired Akiho’s melodious creation. Alexander Sitkovetsky and CMNW’s own sterling clarinetist David Shifrin lead a strong cast of performers.


Third Angle New Music: New directions

New music ensemble's leadership transition offers opportunity for reboot

Third Angle New Music’s final 2017-18 season concert was titled “A Fond Farewell.” The title came from an Elliott Smith song, appropriate for a concert devoted to re-imaginings of the late Portland singer/songwriter/guitarist’s music.

But it was appropriate for another reason: the season’s end also marked the end of the 17-year tenure of 3A’s artistic director, Ron Blessinger, who had run the organization for more than half of its existence. (Given the abruptness of the February 20 announcement and his departure, I’m not so sure about the “fond” part.)

Whatever the circumstances, Blessinger has a lot to be proud of. Board president David Machado praised Blessinger’s “innovative programming” and extensively chronicled his and the organization’s joint achievements during his tenure, including recordings, dozens of commissions of new works, residencies with leading composers, a new record label and commissioning fund, tours to Asia and New York, collaborations with other arts institutions, and much more.

Former Third Angle artistic director Ron Blessinger is now directing 45th Parallel.

For me, another hugely valuable contribution that took place during his tenure was the Frozen Music series that reimagined where and what a concert could be. Third Angle’s team of Blessinger, executive director Lisa Volle and all its musicians and staffers, going back to its previous incarnation as Virtuosi Della Rosa, deserve credit for making Third Angle one of Oregon’s most valuable musical assets, one of the two longtime beacons (along with its younger comrade FearNoMusic) of contemporary classical music — and a sustainable, forward-looking Oregon arts institution we should all care about.

But after 17 years, it’s time for a new direction. The position announcement was circulated nationally, the organization’s board of directors has appointed a selection committee to winnow the applications, and the board will choose the next AD this summer.

As with any turnover in leadership, this one presents a tremendous opportunity for organizational reinvention. Whoever succeeds Blessinger at Third Angle will bring a new vision, and I hope they choose one that acknowledges several important changes—and challenges—in Oregon’s musical landscape since the last search 17 years ago.

None of these challenges and shortcomings are unique to Third Angle; they plague most of our classical and contemporary classical music institutions. But Third Angle is a special institution in Oregon arts, and its rare impending leadership change presents a dandy opportunity to discuss them.