Brett Campbell

 

Celebrating Schiff

Reed College pays tribute to the veteran Portland composer and music professor, who's retiring from its faculty, in two concerts of his music this week

Famed classical clarinetist David Shifrin recently commissioned Portland composer David Schiff to write a new piece for him to play at Chamber Music Northwest’s 2019 summer festival. After Schiff began working on it, he asked Shifrin if he had any suggestions.

Shifrin pondered. Schiff is a legendarily versatile composer whose past work has touched on everything from jazz to French Impressionism to klezmer, so Shifrin had a vast potential palette to choose from, ranging across several centuries and cultures. “I’d like,” the clarinetist replied, “a Baroque aria.”

“I already started it,” Schiff said. “We’re on the same wavelength.”

David Schiff speaks at Chamber Music Northwest’s 2017 Summer Festival.

No wonder. Shifrin and Schiff have been partners in music since shortly after the Bronx-born composer came to Portland to teach at Reed College in 1980. The following summer, he discovered CMNW and showed some of his scores to Shifrin, who had just begun his 40-year tenure as director. He asked Schiff to adapt music from his opera Gimpel the Fool into an instrumental chamber music work, and programmed it for the 1982 festival. It’s since become Schiff’s most-performed piece.

Shifrin and other CMNW colleagues will play it again Thursday in an all-Schiff concert commemorating both Schiff’s retirement from Reed this spring after 38 years, and Shifrin’s upcoming retirement as CMNW artistic director. Reed will also honor Schiff with a Tuesday concert of his music featuring Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic.

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MusicWatch Weekly: psychedeliclassical

Trippy visuals and more enhance Oregon classical music concerts

Classical music still lags a ways behind, say, the reggae community when it comes to appropriately celebrating 4/20. Admittedly, the some of the thrill has kind of, uh, gone up in smoke since Oregon finally ended the preposterous cannabis Prohibition, but it’s never too late explore the possibilities of imbibing ear-opening music with mind-altering visuals, and this week offers a couple of psychedelicious opportunities.

Radiance Orb prepares for its Hult Center trip.

On Thursday, the Eugene Symphony’s The Color of Sound concert spotlights Russian composer Alexander Scriabin’s notorious expansive voluptuous music, which partakes in both Romanticism and Impressionism. Whether or not he was actually gifted by synthesthesia, the crazy visionary Russian composer (like others then and now) “saw” sounds as colors — the note A was green, for example. His score for Prometheus included a part for a “light organ” that could display colors corresponding to the pitches in his music, but he was born a century or so too soon for technology to fully accommodate his vision. Fortunately, the mad scientist/artists at Eugene’s Harmonic Laboratory and Light at Play have arrived to help the ESO realize Scriabin’s vision for that proto-psychedelic 1910 piano concerto (subtitled Poem of Fire), with an eight-foot keyboard-controlled “Radiance Orb” suspended above the stage projecting tapestries of light around Silva Hall matched to the music.

The show also includes Scriabin’s famous 1908 fourth symphony, Poem of Ecstasy, which zooms from erotic to mystic to cosmic, plus short classical greatest hits by Handel, Grieg, Debussy, Pärt and more. ESO should sell edibles out in the lobby before this one.
Thursday, Silva Hall, Hult Center, Eugene.

• As should Cascadia Composers, whose 4/20 All Wired Up concert doubledose features more than a dozen of the region’s most accomplished composers, including some of its most promising next-gen voices. This mini festival of new electronic music includes original homegrown compositions for electric guitar and bass, keyboards, percussion, vocals, oboe, amplified trumpet and horn, piano, organ, and interactive fixed media. Then they add projections, modern dance, even an aerial drone. And that’s just the 4 pm show.

After a break (including an optional talk about “data-driven instruments” by prog/electronic/algorithmic composer percussionist Steve Joslin and electronic music and soundscape wizard Mei-Ling Lee), the video-enhanced 7 pm concert includes video/sound art for percussion, electronics, piano, electric guitar and fixed media. Composers include Timothy Arliss O’Brien, Dana Reason, Paul Safar, Brian Field, Greg Steinke, Nicholas Yandell, Matthew Andrews, Ted Clifford, Jennifer Wright, Tristan Bliss, Antonio Celaya, Stacey Philipps, Vivian Elliot, Mei-Ling Lee, Jeffrey Ericson Allen, Joshua Hey, Greg Bartholomew, and Daniel Brugh.
Saturday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., Portland.

• The Creative Music Guild’s fascinating Extradition Series features 20th- and 21st-century experimental music that often blurs the imaginary line between composition and improvisation. The five pieces in Saturday’s concert leave many artistic choices up to the interpreters. A score by Bay Area composer Danny Clay consists of a large wooden box containing dice, playing cards, a clock, marbles, and instructions to the performers to turn the melange into music. Alexis Porfiriadis’s Happy Notes, Sad Notes gives performers ten “episodes” of graphic symbols and a series of questions regarding how they are to be interpreted (“Are these happy notes? Shall we play them?”) and invites them to take it from there. Performers include harpist Sage Fisher (Dolphin Midwives), clarinetist Lee Elderton, Branic Howard on guitar/electronics, pianist Matt Carlson, oboist Catherine Lee (oboe), cellist Collin Oldham, trumpeter Douglas Detrick, flutist Maxx Katz, percussionist Matt Hannafin, and more.
Saturday. Leaven Community, Portland.

Trotter & McNeal perform Friday and Saturday.

• In Golden Organ, Margaret McNeal and Stephanie Lavon Trotter use electronic and acoustic music and voice to “reclaim Opera.” This weekend’s “performative installation,” and there was a new voice which you slowly recognize as your own, includes original compositions, improvisations, multimedia and more. C
Friday and Saturday, Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave. Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: females in the foreground

Oregon concerts put women front and center

Women’s History Month just passed, but fortunately, times are changing enough that Oregon performers and presenters are no longer confining half the human race’s creative accomplishments to only one-twelfth of the calendar year. Several concerts this week focus on women’s voices and stories.

Preview: The Passion According to an Unknown Witness from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral on Vimeo.

The Ensemble of Oregon commissioned one of Oregon’s most nationally recognized composers, University of Oregon prof Robert Kyr, to create The Passion According to an Unknown Witness. The hour-long composition retells the famous Passion story set by Bach and many others — from the point of view of the women who journeyed with Jesus in the myth, including Christ’s mom and Mary Magdalene. Musicians from 45th Parallel and Trinity Choir join Portland’s all star small vocal ensemble, featuring some of Oregon’s finest singers in this world premiere. Pre concert talk at 4 pm, concert 5 pm Sunday, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th Ave, Portland.

Shirley Nanette, back in the day.

Shirley Nanette has been a prominent singer on Portland’s jazz and soul music scene for decades, with performances at national festivals, regional clubs, even with the Oregon Symphony. But like so much of the city’s African American cultural heritage, her breakthrough 1973 album, Never Coming Back, featuring some of the historically black Albina neighborhood’s top musicians of the day, sank into obscurity. Now, DJ/producer/record collector/radio host/ writer Bobby Smith, the African-American arts nonprofit World Arts Foundation, and their Albina Music Trust, are refuting the album’s title by bringing back this lost music in a live performance of the album by Nanette and the Albina Soul Revue Band, starring some of today’s top Portland soul men, who’ve played with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Prince to Bootsy Collins to Ages and Ages.
Saturday, Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St. Portland.

Chamber Music Amici contributes to redressing American classical music’s long-standing gender imbalance with first-rate music from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, featuring music by one of today’s leading American composers, Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon. Her colorful 2003 Piano Trio’s movements reflect their respective titles: the beautifully placid, Aaron Copland style “Pale Yellow” and the incendiary “Fiery Red.” The concert, which includes some of the Eugene area’s top classical players, also features an absorbing 1834 string quartet by that other Mendelssohn, Fanny, whose brother Felix regarded as a talent equal to his own, and Amy Beach’s ardent, late Romantic 1938 Piano Trio.
Monday, Wildish Community Theater, Springfield.

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MusicWatch Weekly: across the ages

Concerts span the centuries from Renaissance to 21st century sounds

Oregonians today are lucky to be able to hear live performances of music from several centuries, not just the narrow 150 year swath of Central European music that once dominated classical concerts. This week’s concert schedule includes music from the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and contemporary eras—- sometimes in the same show.

Big Mouth’s Emily Lau

Big Mouth Society  has added a wonderful, welcome wild card to Oregon music. Headed by accomplished early music performer Emily Lau, the group combines theater, performance art, Renaissance, Baroque and contemporary music, and modern social concerns into singular shows that transcend standard concert format. In King of Monster Island: A Wild Memoir, Lau and another nationally renowned early musician, Tina Chancey, use viol solos, medieval music by Guillaume de Machaut, Irish hornpipes, Bosnian Sephardic tangos, “as well as juvenilia, parody, satire and a shameless reworking of tunes by Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Tom Lehrer and Flory Jagoda” to tell an eventful autobiographical tale.
Friday & Saturday, The Hallowed Halls, 4420 SE 64th Ave. Portland.

• Another ensemble that mingles ancient and modern, Dreamers’ Circus, came together, as so many happy combinations do, in a pub. Jazz pianist Nikolaj Busk had repaired to a Copenhagen bar after a concert and spotted a fiddler (Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen) and Swedish cittern (a Renaissance lute) player, Ale Carr, jamming on traditional Danish tunes. Busk joined on in the bar’s piano, and over the next decade, the trio found itself not only winning folk music awards but also working with classical music bands like Copenhagen Philharmonic and the renowned Danish String Quartet — Sorenson’s other band. His classical background, Busk’s jazz influence and Carr’s long roots in traditional folk music give the band a unique and musically vibrant place in the folk music world, as evidenced by the fact that this show is presented by Portland’s venerable classical organization Friends of Chamber Music.

Along with “classical” piano and violin, they’re liable to bust out accordion, cittern, kokle, ukulele, stomp board, clog fiddle and synthesizers. Their splendid new Rooftop Sessions album shows the band at its best. Here’s a clip of them performing with another great Swedish band, Väsen, which performs at The Shedd in Eugene next Wednesday, April 10. Read Daniel Heila’s ArtsWatch feature about their previous Oregon visit.
Sunday, The Old Church, Portland.

• Despite their name, the Tallis Scholars are far from musty or academic. Long recognized as one of the world’s finest choirs, the award-winning singers make sacred Renaissance music come alive with transparent, soaring performances that move today’s listeners. Over four decades, they’ve toured the world many times over, and won loyal audiences in previous Portland performances. This one is a greatest hits of Renaissance choral music, including Gregorio Allegri’s famous Miserere, and church classics by Josquin Des Prez, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and Cristóbal de Morales.
Sunday, St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1716 N.W. Davis, Portland.

• In Guitarology, the latest concert in the valuable (yet free of charge!) Celebration Works Series, Portland Guitar Duo also crosses the centuries in music, tracing the development of the guitar over half a millennium of music on a collection of historic lutes and guitars.
Friday, First Presbyterian Church, 1200 SW Alder, Portland.

Monica Huggett plays French music with Portland Baroque Orchestra musicians.

Baroque

• The most familiar Baroque music is either Italian (Vivaldi, Corelli) or German (Bach, Handel). But 18th century French music has its own elegance and charm. In Leclair, Rameau, and the Age of Enlightenment, Portland Baroque Orchestra’s new chamber music series brings two superstars of Baroque music, guest harpsichordist Byron Schenkman and PBO artistic director and violinist Monica Huggett, to join veteran PBO viola da gamba master Joanna Blendulf and violinist Toma Iliev, in graceful, spirited sounds by François Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and tragically short-lived Jean-Marie Leclair.
Saturday, First Baptist Church, 1110 S.W. Taylor St. Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: spring songs

Choral concerts showcase songs of peace, love, hope … and monsters

These dark days, it does indeed take a lot of audacity to hope, much more than it did when those words first inspired the nation. Portland Gay Men’s Chorus’s concert of that title includes pop faves like Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me” and “You Don’t Own Me,” plus other contemporary works including an original piece, “Face the Mirror,” by PGMC’s own Wesley Bowers.
Saturday and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus offers high hopes Saturday and Sunday.

• Along with hope, peace is another virtue in short supply, which makes Satori Men’s Chorus’s “Our Songs of Peace” 1820 NE 21st Ave. Portland, so welcome. Of course, every Satori show offers odes to peace, including “Peace Is a’Come,” and this one includes words and music by Leonard Cohen, Kahlil Gibran and Ysaye Barnwell, Robert Burns, Portland composer Joan Szymko and more.
Saturday, Central Lutheran Church, 1820 NE 21st Avenue, Portland.

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Kimberly Reed: Always in Transition

Filmmaker's life story inspired libretto for Portland Opera's 'As One'

When Kimberly Reed was growing up in Helena, Montana, “it was hard to be an opera fan,” she remembers. There were no major opera companies around, but she did have one portal to opera.

“My father listened to the Metropolitan Opera every Saturday on Montana [National Public Radio], and I was right there with him,” Reed recalls. “My dad loved Turandot. He was a farm boy who went to school in St. Louis and saw a couple of operas that changed his life and that got passed down to me. [Opera] was always there — it was part of me growing up.”

‘As One’ film designer and co-librettist Kimberly Reed

Reed, who’s co-librettist and video projection designer for Portland Opera’s As One, now playing at Portland’s Newmark Theatre, didn’t grow up to be an opera singer. Instead, she gravitated to filmmaking — which “just seems like the same discipline as opera — the roots are apparent if you go back in history. Film grew out of theatrical presentation.”

Now, with her chamber opera As One (inspired by her life),  and other projects, Reed is making the transition from filmmaker to opera maker — the latest in a lifetime of transitions that inspired As One, which the Chicago Tribune called “the hottest new American opera of recent years.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: spring awakenings

As a new season arrives, concerts awaken Oregonians to stories about gender, migration, cross cultural encounters, and more

As 21st century America belatedly recognizes that gender isn’t always a binary phenomenon, artists have increasingly illuminated its fluid, spectral reality, as Oregonians have seen in recent Time Based Art Festival performances, last fall’s Contralto show by Third Angle, and more. Now comes the most produced contemporary opera in North America since its 2014 premiere. As One is inspired by the true story of its scenic designer and co-librettist. Kimberly Reed became the first commercially released transgender filmmaker with her breakthrough film Prodigal Sons, which chronicled her journey from star Montana high school quarterback to award winning film director. In this chamber opera co-created by American composer Laura Kaminsky and renowned co-librettist Mark Campbell, two singers tell the coming of age story of the fictional trans protagonist, Hannah — one playing before her gender transformation, one after. Her journey is depicted against the backdrop of Reed’s sometimes abstract, sometimes realistic imagery, projected on five screens. Stay tuned for my profile of Reed and Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch review.
Friday-March 30, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland.

• More theatrical music comes from Light Opera of Portland (LOoP), whose original, romantic musical We Met in Moscow is based upon events in the lives of Ralph Bunch, a professor emeritus from Portland State University, and his wife Eleanora Andreevna, head of cybernetics at the Kremlin in the 1990s. Portland composer John Vergin did his own treatment of the story just a few months ago, and now writer/lyricist Dennis Britten and composer Kevin Lay give the musical treatment to this Oregon/Russia love story.
Friday-March 29, Alpenrose Dairy Opera House 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.

• Over the past few years, Portland classical music organizations have belatedly begun to redress the inexcusable gender imbalance on their concert programs by finally including a few works by female composers. Now, Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic does something similar for women’s words as well as music. Because Of Her, We Make Songs features musical settings (by female and male composers) of text by women poets from around the world (Emily Dickinson, Emma Lazarus, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Elinor Wylie, Pulitzer Prize-winner Amy Lowell, Gabriela Mistral), including songs by the excellent Northwester composer Alex Shapiro, Ricky Ian Gordon, Florence Price, Grammy and Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon, and more. Oregon’s 2019 Poetry Out Loud Champion and Runner-Up, Belise Nishimwe of St. Mary’s Academy and Nicole Coronado of Lake Oswego’s Lakeridge High School, also perform.
Monday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland.

To celebrate the Portland premiere of ‘As One’, Portland Opera commissioned award-winning photographer Gia Goodrich to create a series of portraits and interviews celebrating 11 transgender individuals in Portland’s community. Portrait from “As I Am” exhibition by Gia Goodrich.

FearNoMusic is also the house band for Cascadia Composers’s 10th anniversary concert. Until the group arrived, ambitious Northwest composers who wanted others to hear their original contemporary classical music usually had to take an academic job and hope for the occasional performance by students, or move to New York or other cultural cosmopoli. Since forming a decade ago, the organization has provided Portland and other Northwest composers showcases for their music (10 concerts this year alone, over 500 new works and 100 world premieres over a decade), networking, mutual support and info, even exchanges with composers in other countries. Now the largest and most active local group in the National Association of Composers/USA, Cascadia has become a vital part of Portland’s creative music scene. This 10th anniversary concert includes music for percussion, voice, strings, flute, and piano written by the organization’s founding composers: David Bernstein, Tomas Svoboda, Greg Steinke, Gary Noland, Jack Gabel, Dan Senn, Bonnie Miksch, and ArtsWatch contributor Jeff Winslow, whose styles range widely across the spectrum of 21st century classical music.
Friday, Lincoln Hall Room 75, Portland State University. Streaming here.

Svoboda and Gabel in 1999. Photo: Françoise Simoneau.

Orchestral Music

Today’s weapon of choice in humanity’s quest to destroy life as we know it is human-caused climate change, perpetrated by the greed of our retro-industrial complex and enabled by their lackeys in Washington and right-wing media. But before that, our preferred means of self-inflicted catastrophe was (and possibly remains) nuclear weapons. The man most responsible for turning them into potential planet killers was the anguished central figure in Pulitzer Prize winning American composer John Adams’s 2005 opera Dr. Atomic: American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who supervised the Manhattan Project that created the nuclear bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Based on Richard Rhodes’ book The Making of the Atomic Bomb, the story of a great scientist’s Faustian bargain seemed a great subject for contemporary opera by one of my favorite composers, but the overlong world premiere I saw in San Francisco failed to ignite onstage, even when choreographer Lucinda Childs sent dancers sprinting across the stage for no apparent reason in a desperate attempt to inject some action to dispel the dramatic inertia. What did work was Adams’s tense, urgent music, inspired by everything from minimalism to the science fiction movie sounds of the 1950s. He later assembled its best music into a symphony, which the Oregon Symphony performed last month, and which the Eugene Symphony plays Thursday, along with Robert Schumann’s Manfred Overture and another Romantic classic, Brahms’s passionate Violin Concerto, starring rising prodigy Julian Rhee.
Thursday, Hult Center’s Silva Hall, Eugene.

See and hear “Coraline” Friday with the Oregon Symphony.

• Speaking of the Oregon Symphony, it performs Bruno Coulais’ score to Portland-based Laika Studios’ delightfully dark Coraline, based on the Neil Gaiman story, Friday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert hall, while the film is projected on the giant screen for its tenth anniversary. On Saturday and Sunday, the orchestra then welcomes award winning singers Denzal Sinclaire and Dee Daniels to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of the greatest singers who ever lived (and a sparkling, influential jazz pianist to boot), Nat King Cole, with some hits from his late daughter Natalie too. And the rebranded Newport Symphony Orchestra at the Ocean plays piano concertos by Clara Schumann and Sergei Prokofiev (starring Amy Yang), plus music by the taken-too-soon French composer Lili Boulanger, Claude Debussy (Spring Rounds), and George Gershwin’s ever-jolly An American in Paris Saturday and Sunday at Newport Performing Arts Center.

Chamber Music

Speaking of film music, German late Romantic composer Richard Strauss wrote a whole lot more music than the familiar five-note opener used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey decades after he died. 45th Parallel Universe’s Helios Camerata plays some of his theater music (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme), opera tunes arranged for string sextet (Capriccio) and a rarely heard Double concerto for clarinet and bassoon.
Thursday, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Ave.

Helios Camerata plays Strauss Thursday.

• In 2017, Eugene’s Delgani Quartet played Portland composer eminence Tomas Svoboda’s blistering sixth string quartet, an homage to his idol, Dmitri Shostakovich that left the audience cheering. Ranging from bleak to ominous to tense, it fully captured the Russian composer’s spirit without resorting to mere imitation. An ideal match of magnificent music, appropriate acoustic, and committed performers, it was one of the most powerful chamber music performances I’ve heard in Oregon. They’re playing it again this weekend, along with earlier Czech music by Dvorak (his final quartet), and a dance-inspired composition by Erwin Schulhoff, whose legacy of infusing classical and Czech traditional music with jazz, Dada, and other forward looking influences was cut short when he died in the Holocaust.
Saturday, Christian Science Church, 935 High St SE, Salem, and Sunday, The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 SW 11th Ave, Portland.

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