Brett Campbell

 

MusicWatch Weekly: out of the past

Oregon conference and concerts explore historical sounds, and there's new music onstage too

We sometimes imagine the past as a frozen portrait, but the early music movement that began accelerating a couple generations ago has revealed that our understanding of how music was performed and perceived in centuries past is ever evolving, thanks to the hard work of scholars around the world, including at the University of Oregon. Next week, the UO hosts a major recurring conference devoted to the continuing rediscovery of ancient music.

But unlike many such academic confabs, this week’s “Musicking: Cultural Considerations” has plenty to offer non academic music lovers, including concerts, theater showcases, masterclasses, lectures, panel discussions, even a Saturday family event where kids and their families can dress in costume and learn baroque dance basics — all free and open to the public. Unlike the recent American Choral Directors Association conference in Portland that, ArtsWatch’s Bruce Browne noted, missed a tremendous opportunity to bring new and old choral music to its host city by not publicizing its splendid concerts, Musicking provides a splendid example of how academia can connect to and enrich its supporting community.

Thursday’s Musicking concert brings world-renowned early music singer and recorder master Peter Van Heyghen from Belgium to perform early 17th century music from the Netherlands and Belgium with the UO’s own super-scholar/performer, baroque cellist Marc Vanscheeuwijck at the Oregon Bach Festival’s new Tykeson Concert Hall. Van Heyghen will also lead Saturday’s Beall Hall performance of a world premiere version of Mozart’s magnificent Requiem like you’ve never heard it before — because, well, you haven’t. There’s way too much more to chronicle here, so hie thee to the Musicking website and check out all the free music and knowledge emanating all week.

Portland Baroque Orchestra and Trinity Cathedral Choir play Bach Friday and Saturday.

Evolution of performance styles will also be on display in Portland Baroque Orchestra’s performances of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor Friday and Saturday at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Much-recorded English conductor David Hill leads a masterpiece of human artistic achievement, which the composer made a kind of compendium of some of his finest choral-orchestral music. It wasn’t performed until a century after his death, and even then and for decades later, those performances buried most of its beauty beneath bloated, Romantic-style choirs and orchestras and anachronistic tunings that obscured Bach’s magnificent music.

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Third Angle/Hand2Mouth, Bright Moments previews: pop goes classical

Music by Portland pop musicians Elliott Smith and Kelly Pratt meet classical and choral performers in Portland concerts this week

Portlanders of a certain vintage still swoon over the music of singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, a leader of Portland’s ‘90s indie-pop insurgency before he moved to LA and died too young just after achieving national fame, not least because of his whispery 1998 performance of Oscar-nominated ballad “Miss Misery” at the Academy Awards.

Smith’s renown has steadily grown since his death in 2003. Hand2Mouth Theatre director Jonathan Walters recently heard about a New York show in which classical musicians treated some of Smith’s compositions as so-called “art songs,” and thought: we could totally do something like that in Portland. 

He approached Third Angle New Music about collaborating on such a project, and, naturally, the project became much more than mere arrangements. The Portland ensemble enlisted a half dozen rising Brooklyn-identified composers (ringleader Robert Honstein, Jacob Cooper, Christopher Cerrone, Ted Hearne, Scott Wollschleger and LJ White) to transform their Smith faves into bona fide contemporary classical music, ranging from recognizable arrangements to stranger derangements, even some interludes. The composers cabal then conspired on a unifying concept that Walters & Co. transmogrified into a theatrical presentation, complete with choreographed movement, costumes, lighting and more. 

Elliott Smith

“It’s basically one work composed of many works,” explains Third Angle interim artistic director Sarah Tiedemann. “They came up with the feeling of the show and how it ebbs and flows, and choreographed the movement. They had some lighting designs in mind from the get go. It’s not like a process where one thing happened first. Everything was happening simultaneously.”

You can see the results Thursday and Friday at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre when singers Sam Adams, Hannah Penn, Chloe Payne and Daniel Buchanan join Digitus XX Duo keyboardist Maria Garcia, string players Valdine Mishkin and Holland Phillips, and Oregon Symphony clarinetist James Shields in the hour-long performance piece A Fond Farewell. Singer and Smithophile Amit Erez a/k/a The Secret Sea, will open with Smith songs. 

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MusicWatch Weekly: black voices matter

Major works for voice by contemporary African American composers highlight this week's Oregon music

One of the top tenors of his generation, Philadelphia’s Lawrence Brownlee has drawn rapturous acclaim for his performances at all the world’s great opera houses, from the Met and La Scala on down, especially in the agile roles of early 19th composers. He’s also performed with some of the world’s finest orchestras. But he’s also forged a separate career performing smaller scale works, from African American spirituals to art song, and that’s the focus of this recital with pianist Myra Huang that includes a major new composition, Cycles of My Being by one of today’s most renowned new music voices, Tyshawn Sorey, with text by poet Terrance Hayes. He’ll also sing Schumann’s iconic song cycle The Poet’s Love. Read Damien Geter’s ArtsWatch preview, which includes an interview with Brownlee.

Another leading contemporary African American composer, William Averitt, is coming to Eugene from Virginia to introduce his shimmering setting of Langston Hughes poems, The Dream Keeper, which Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble performs Friday at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. Some address the dream of overcoming racial injustice, which the great Harlem Renaissance poet would probably be appalled but maybe not surprised to discover persists today. “Bring me all of your dreams,” Hughes writes. “Bring me all of your Heart melodies, That I may wrap them in a blue cloudcloth, away from the too rough fingers of the world.”

Eugene Vocal Arts members don Renaissance garb for the first half of their spring concert.

The concert also includes R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird,” and one of choral music rock star Eric Whitacre’s greatest hits: the inventive, dramatic Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, which draws on devices from madrigals to minimalism. EVA singers don their annual Renaissance garb to sing music for the birds, featuring madrigals and other songs that use avian imagery, including the great French composer Clément Janequin’s “The Song of the Birds” and other soaring compositions by Thomas Morley, John Dowland, Thomas Weelkes and other English composers, plus more Renaissance masters like Arcadelt and Banchieri.

Percussionist Colin Currie performs with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

More choral music graces the Oregon Symphony’s weekend concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, featuring a rare complete performance of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe augmented by the international award winning Portland State Chamber Choir, Man Choir, and Vox Femina. Although it was eclipsed a bit amid all the uproar attending the next big ballet that opened at its premiere venue, little thing called Rite of Spring, Ravel’s epic, magical 1912 ballet score is one of the 20th century’s finest. Alas, the world premiere of a new Percussion Concerto commissioned from one of today’s hottest young composers, Andy Akiho, was postponed, but the orchestra’s artist in residence, scintillating Scottish percussionist Colin Currie, will instead perform American composer John Corigliano’s colorful three-movement 2007 percussion concerto Conjurer, written for another great Scottish percussionist, Evelyn Glennie.

Chamber Music

Speaking of the Oregon Symphony, about this time last year, the orchestra performed aquatic music by Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa, and his music is back in Oregon Tuesday the Faure Piano Quartet’s Tuesday concert at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall. The Friends of Chamber Music concerts also include quartets by Brahms and Mahler on Monday, and a quartet by Schumann as well as Hosokawa’s marvelously mysterious The Waters of Lethe (which like Daphnis grew out of an ancient Greek myth) on Tuesday. They’ll play quartets by their namesake, the wonderful 19th century French composer, both nights.

Spring is barely here, but we can look forward to the real sunny season at Chamber Music Amici’s Monday concert at Springfield’s Wildish Community Theater, which features the sunny Summer Trio by Oregon’s most venerated living composer, Portland legend Tomas Svoboda. The current and former University of Oregon music faculty members also play the lovely Piano and Winds Quintet that Mozart himself regarded as one of his finest creations — plus a characteristically sparkling piano trio by the fab 20th century French composer Francis Poulenc.

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MusicWatch Weekly: piano playground

Second annual Piano Day highlights a skimpy week in Oregon live music

Spring break may have broken Oregon’s music calendar this week, but there’s still something to celebrate. Portland is celebrating the international Piano Day again. Last year, Portland Piano International brought the worldwide event, which was started by German pianist Nils Frahm (who happens to be coming to Portland this week too!) in 2015, to Oregon for the first time. This year, it’s sponsoring  performances at a half dozen locations in the metro area. Pianists of diverse ages and skill levels signed up to play pianos at each spot, and asked friends to sponsor them, with all funds raised going to support PPI’s valuable education programs. Check the website for the ebony and ivories nearest you.

There’ll be ten — count ’em! — pianos onstage at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall when Michael Allen Harrison’s annual Ten Grands show returns Saturday night. From Portland cops to prodigy pianists and composers to blues and jazz masters  to renowned players like Tom Grant and the founder himself, a parade of pianists will help raise funds for Harrison’s admirable Snowman Foundation and the Play It Forward Program, which helps bring music education and instruments to organizations that serve disadvantaged youth in the Northwest.

Speaking of Frahm, the visionary composer is indeed performing Tuesday at Revolution Hall, but the show’s been sold out for weeks. You can and should check out his latest, splendid album, though, or really any of them.

Nils Frahm is playing in Portland but if you don’t have a ticket already, you can participate in the Piano Day he created. Photo: Alexander Schneider.

You missed out on Hamilton tickets in Portland and Seattle — but you can catch the Hamilton of the ‘70s when A Chorus Line arrives this weekend at Eugene’s Hult Center. The 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama (which also scored nine Tony awards including Best Musical) was the longest running show in Broadway history till that time. ACL set the template for many of the most successful musicals that followed. Marvin Hamlisch’s sparkling score, one of the most memorable ever composed for a musical, still moves the heart, as does the story of 17 veteran dancers auditioning for spots on a Broadway chorus line just before they age out of a tough business.

If Patrick McCulley’s ArtsWatch review of Moon Hooch’s most recent Oregon appearance set your antennae a-quiver, you’ve got another chance to catch the incendiary horn-and-percussion trio on their latest tour, which alights at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom Thursday.

Anglophiles will titter politely at the news that Portland State University faculty baritone Harry Baechtel, the SF Bay-area based historically informed ensemble Sylvestris Quartet, and pianist Michael Seregow will perform early 20th century pastoral settings of English poetry.  Friday’s concert at PSU’s Lincoln Hall includes Ralph Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge, a placid 1909 setting of six poems from A. E. Housman’s evocative A Shropshire Lad, and American composer Samuel Barber’s ardent setting of Matthew Arnold’s haunting Dover Beach, plus Eddie Elgar’s a minor Piano Quintet, written in the wake of what was then thought to be the Great War, and of course you can’t play Barber’s chamber music without throwing That Famous Movement from his string quartet.

Finally, Saturday offers a feliz chance to hear a wide range of Brazilian music at the tenth anniversary of the Old Church’s annual Sounds of Brazil PDX show. As always, the focus is on choro, the rootsy Brazilian analog of American jazz, conceived from a different but equally enchanting mix of African, European, and indigenous American influences, typically played on flute, mandolin, clarinet, or violin with various acoustic guitars and pandeiro drum. But the show presents other classic Brazilian sounds, from bossa nova to Brazilian jazz to samba and more), and features several acts, including solo guitar, guitar and mandolin duo, piano and guitar duo, and ensemble.

Got more musical recommendations? Slap those suckers in the comments section below.

Piano Day 2018 from Portland Piano Int’l / SOLO on Vimeo.

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MusicWatch Weekly: March modness & more

Chamber, choral, orchestral, piano and other classical music on Oregon stages this week

The big musical news this weekend is the return of March Music Moderne, and you can read all about it in our separate preview. But it’s hardly the only musical magic happening in Oregon this week. Still, compared to the abundant new music on offer at MMM, some of this week’s other classical offerings look positively Jurassic.

Chamber Music

On Thursday at Portland’s Old Church, Friends of Chamber Music hosts another in its entertaining Not So Classic series shows devoted to performers who add a touch of fun, folk, pop, and/or world music spice to the usual heavy duty chamber music menu. Janoska Ensemble’s special sauce is sparkling arrangements of Gypsy, tango and pop music for its two violins-piano-and bass lineup. The Bratislava-born quartet has performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Royal Albert Hall to Sydney Opera House, often joining non-classical champs like Bobby McFerrin and Palo de Lucia as well as classical stars. This show features cheeky arrangements of classics by Massenet, Kreisler, Johann Strauss Jr., Bizet, Piazzolla, Mozart, Paganini and more, along with the band’s original compositions in the same spirit.

On March 25 and 27 at Eugene’s United Lutheran Church, Delgani String Quartet plays a pair of chamber classics by Sergei Prokofiev and Alexander Borodin, plus a swinging contemporary piece that the fine New York violist/composer Ljova (Russian-born Lev Zhurbin) wrote for Brooklyn Rider. Culai, named after the founder of the great Gypsy ensemble Taraf de Haïdouks, ripples and sways with Roma dance rhythms.

Portland Piano International brings Dénes Várjon to Portland State University.

Portland Piano International brings much-respected and -recorded Dénes Várjon to Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall Saturday to play bagatelles by Beethoven, various works by Bartok, nocturnes by Chopin, and Ravel’s great Gaspard of the Night. On Sunday, along with a Mozart sonata and a fantasy piece by Schumann, he tackles one of the all-time biggies by another Hungarian master: Liszt’s Piano Sonata in b minor.

Vocal Music

Portland all star choir The Ensemble brings two of its star singers and chamber ensemble to perform a pair of Italian Baroque classics on March 24 at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church, and March 25 at Portland’s Old Church. Giovanni Pergolesi’s famous Stabat Mater belongs on any list of 18th century sacred music masterpieces, but it’s often performed by much larger forces than it was written for. When you strip it down to the basics, those singers better be fantastic because there’s nowhere to hide. Fortunately, Catherine van der Salm and Laura Beckel Thoreson are among the Northwest’s finest classical singers. They’ll also perform a less-well known Italian masterpiece of the period, Giovanni Battista Ferrandini’s dramatic Il pianto di Maria, which sounds so much like early Handel that it was long mistakenly attributed to him.

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‘Death and the Maiden’ review: a history of violence

Bag & Baggage's production of Ariel Dorfman's play about confronting the consequences of repression makes more persuasive political analysis than drama

A man bound and gagged. A woman pointing a gun at him. Confess his crime against her, or else.

You can’t ask for a much tenser set up than that. Death and the Maiden keeps the audience wondering throughout: did he do it, and will she do it? One of those questions will be resolved before the show is over.

But although they drive the plot, those aren’t the main questions raised by Ariel Dorfman’s provocative 1990 play now running at The Vault Theatre in Hillsboro. How do people, and by extension society, heal from past violence? Is confession enough? Or confession plus repentance? How about vengeance? Or should we just leave the past buried and move on?

Mandana Khoshnevisan as Paulina and Anthony Green as Roberto in Bag & Baggage Productions’ ‘Death and the Maiden.’ Photo: Casey Campbell Photography.

Dorfman’s play purports to dramatize this recurring conundrum by reducing it to three characters: A vengeful victim, blindfolded, tortured and raped years before by minions of a now-deposed military dictatorship. Her maybe-victimizer, whose voice resembles that of the man who, during the depths of the repression, tortured her to the recorded strains of a string quartet.  Her husband, who happens to be involved in the country’s efforts to confront its repressive past.

But even as the plot, and the ethical arguments, unfold, Dorfman’s script, and this production, leave those characters pretty much where they started. While Death and the Maiden poses some still-urgent questions, here it dutifully proceeds more like a combination formula thriller and a detached classroom ethics debate than an emotionally gripping character drama.

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March Music Moderne preview: celebrating Debussy

Festival commemorates the creativity and influence of composer Claude Debussy with concerts of his music and new works by Oregon composers

While everyone is checking their brackets for one kind of March Madness (go Ducks!), some of us are equally excited by the return of another crazy rite of spring. March Music Moderne has been on hiatus for while, so it’s even more thrilling to welcome back one of Oregon’s most fascinating music melanges, because it spotlights music you can’t hear at other Oregon classical music concerts, primarily composers who write or wrote music in the modernist tradition. And unlike most overpriced classical music concerts, March Modness is always free, subsidized by Priest (whose wealth lies in his musical generosity rather than negotiable currency) himself.

Actually, though, this edition of MMM superficially resembles Ye Olde Classical Music in at least one way: what I call necromusicophilia, the worship of dead composers. Classical music institutions, desperately needing a news hook to provide an excuse to pay more than usual attention to composers who aren’t going to be releasing any albums of new material or embarking on tours, tend to focus on round number birthdays or, more macabrely, death days.

Claude Debussy, 1908.

For Claude Debussy, that day came exactly 100 years ago Sunday, when the French composer died of cancer during World War I as German shells exploded near his Paris home. But why would the generally mid-20th century March Music Moderne’s three concerts this weekend at Portland’s Community Music Center, and associated other activities this month, commemorate Debussy’s demise?

One answer may be that it was one of his groundbreaking works, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, that turned MMMpresario Bob Priest onto classical music, rescuing him from rock music’s gutters and vaulting him into the palace of — nah, not really. Priest still cherishes Jimi Hendrix, Prince and other rock and pop deities. And as we’ll see, this festival includes far more new music — and by Oregon composers — than old.

But Priest is far from alone in his Debussy devotion. This isn’t the only centennial commemoration of his death happening around the world this year. There are days when he’s my favorite composer too. And it’s a sign of Debussy’s artistic significance and variety that he’s legitimately claimed as a major inspiration by many if not most composers who followed — modernist, post-mod, and otherwise, including one of Priest’s prime mentors, Olivier Messiaen. That’s how rich was his palette — from La Mer’s turbulent seascapes to Children’s Corner’s playful naivete to Pelleas and Melisande’s shadowy moods and so much more. And that’s why Debussy makes an appropriate centerpiece of a modern music festival: not just for his past accomplishments, but also for his future impact, which continues here and now.

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