Brett Campbell

 

MusicWatch Weekly: revolutionaries

Concerts celebrate 20th century geniuses

Oregon music this week features the work of a couple of revolutionaries from a century or so ago whose imagination has left its mark on the present and maybe even the future, enhanced by today’s technology. Tesla: Light, Sound, Color (Thursday-Friday Hult Center’s Soreng Theater, Eugene; Saturday, Newmark Theatre, Portland; Monday, Tower Theatre, Bend) brings the eccentric genius inventor/engineer to life via music, dance, digital imagery and even physics experiments. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch preview and Rachael Carnes’s ArtsWatch review.

This weekend’s Oregon Symphony’s concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall feature the revolutionary dance score that helped transform 20th century music, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, enhanced by digital projections.  We talked about it a lot on ArtsWatch during the centennial year. The rest of the program rocks, too —  Bartok’s fab, faux-lky second violin concerto and one of the middle-ish (but not middling) period Haydn symphonies we don’t hear often enough. His 70th was also innovative in its way, adding timpani and trumpets to the composer’s arsenal, which he would later use to great effect in other orchestral works.

Third Angle New Music’s Thursday and Friday shows at Portland’s Studio 2 @ N.E.W. shine the spotlight on cellist Marilyn de Oliveira and fellow musician family members and Oregon Symphony players in music by Portland’s own nationally renowned composer Kenji Bunch, 20th century British composer John Tavener, recent Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, and young New York phenom Andy Akiho.

Marilyn de Oliveira takes center stage at Third Angle’s concerts.

Baroque Rarities

Even without the arias and more elaborate orchestration of his famous cantatas, Bach’s half-dozen (depending on how you categorize them) surviving motets constitute some of his richest and most complex choral music. It takes exceptional singers to perform them with only one voice singing each part, which affords a wonderful intimacy and transparency, and that’s what The Ensemble of Oregon brings to three of these masterpieces Saturday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church, Eugene, and Sunday at Portland’s Old Church. This all-star team drawn from Portland’s finest choirs also sing arias from two Bach cantatas. A bonus Bach cello sonata provides an instrumental interlude.

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Music Notes

New music series, awards and honors, death and resurrection and other transitions in Oregon music news

As a new year begins, here’s one of our periodic roundups of recent news in Oregon music. This is only a smattering, of course. Got more news about Oregon music? Let us know, or leave it in the comments section below.

High Notes

On Sunday at its 40th Anniversary National Conference, Chamber Music America (CMA), the national network for ensemble music professionals, awarded longtime Chamber Music Northwest artistic director clarinetist David Shifrin its 2018 Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award, which annually  recognizes an individual or entity that has provided historic service to the small ensemble music field.

Chamber Music Northwest artistic director David Shifrin.

Congrats to Oregon music stalwarts Randy Porter and Nancy King. The superb pianist and Lewis & Clark College faculty member and legendary singer received a Grammy Award nomination for their new album Randy Porter Plays Cole Porter, special guest Nancy King (Heavywood).  “If Randy Porter played more widely outside the US Pacific Northwest, he would likely be lauded as one of the leading contemporary jazz pianists,” wrote eminent jazz journalist Doug Ramsey. “This new album of songs composed by his namesake Cole Porter could go a long way toward bringing about wide recognition of an artist with a record of achievement going back more than three decades. Porter has toured extensively in Europe and Asia [and] is known on the west coast well beyond his home base in the Portland, Oregon, area. Six of the nine tracks find Nancy King, at 77, as musicianly as ever—individualistic and expressive, one of the few vocalists capable of improvising with harmonic wisdom equal to that of experienced instrumentalists.”

Eugene-based production company AO Films and Eugene Concert Choir won “Best Documentary” from the Oregon Independent Film Festival for their collaborative film, ”The Story of Shadow and Light: Giving Voice to an Alzheimer’s Journey”’

As we reported before the original performance, Eugene Concert Choir was awarded a $125,000 Creative Heights Initiative grant from the Fred W. Fields Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation to help fund the commission of a new composition for chamber choir and orchestra by Portland composer Joan Szymko of Oregon, as well as the world premiere performance in the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall, professional concert video and audio recordings, and the film documentary of the artistic journey.

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‘Brahms vs. Radiohead’: classical mashup

Oregon Symphony plays a program that pairs the composer's first symphony with the band's 'OK Computer'

Many American orchestras, desperate to attract younger and more diverse audiences, now have special programs aimed at pre-retirement age music lovers. Several — in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Colorado — have hired young conductor Steve Hackman to run them. Hackman noticed that when highly trained orchestra musicians would play the typical mix of a few tuneful classics and simplified symphonic treatments of rock songs, “In the very beginning I was juxtaposing classical and pop selections, and they often took that as a bait and switch,” the 30-something Midwest native remembers. “You’re using a popular artist to bait the audience in — and then playing our requisite Brahms. I found that the orchestra players would switch off and wouldn’t give concert their best Beethoven or Debussy. So I thought, ‘Let’s craft this in such a manner that they can’t tell when we’ve turned the corner.’”

So a few years ago, he came up with a solution: Brahms vs. Radiohead, which Hackman brings to the Oregon Symphony this Thursday, January 4, asks OSO musicians to do far more than saw away on simple background pop chords while an aging rock frontman (or worse, a pale imitation of the original) belts out the melody. Instead, he created a program that includes Brahms’s glorious first symphony, and interpolates songs from Radiohead’s classic 1997 album OK Computer performed by three guest vocalists  — with accompaniment arranged in Brahmsian style.

Conductor Steve Hackman. Photo: Tom Russo.

Hackman made an ideal instigator of such a mashup. He grew up in a Chicago suburb as a pop music fan who gravitated toward classical music relatively late, but quickly developed enough facility to win admission to Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute. There he met the musicians who’d go on to form Time for Three, one of the most impressive and entertaining young ensembles who are bringing classical music into the 21st century by infusing memorized performances with rock/pop energy, enthusiastic audience engagement, and repertoire that goes beyond hoary 19th century standards.

Hackman reunited with the trio a few years later after quitting his first-step-on the ladder assistant conducting gig, disillusioned by the fact that audiences were two or three times as old as he, and that the music he was conducting offered little to listeners of his generation who’d grown up on pop. The classical world seemed disconnected from his other passion. Hackman played in rock bands, wrote and recorded his own songs, and soon began arranging songs for Time for Three. (An accomplished a cappella singer, he even made it pretty far in an American Idol competition.) Soon he was working with everyone from classical choirs like Chanticleer and the Tallis Scholars to pop musicians like My Brightest Diamond, Arlo Guthrie, Aoife O’Donovan and more.

Radiohead

Hackman’s choice of OK Computer to pair with Brahms’s symphony wasn’t random. The British band’s members boast classical training (guitarist Jonny Greenwood has scored films and written for orchestras) and its relatively complex music has long been a favorite of classical musicians like pianist Christopher O’Riley and critics including the New Yorker’s Alex Ross. In both, Hackman discerned a dark, brooding density, contrapuntal passages, harmonic similarities and other musical and emotional commonalities. His arrangements don’t mess with Brahms; instead they tailor the eight songs to the symphony’s sound world.

“The craftsmanship and technique with which a symphony orchestra approaches this music is special, miraculous,” Hackman says. “Fans of Radiohead are going to hear this music they love through a different lens. And they’re gonna see it played by one of the best bands they’ve ever seen.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: classics meet currents

Oregon Symphony, Project Trio and others mix modern sounds with venerated classics

Oregon music gradually awakens from its holiday hangover, er, hibernation this week, serving up a few appetizers to whet your appetite for the ample main courses to follow in coming weeks. Feel free to recommend other music performances in the comments section below.

A couple of major Portland symphonic spectaculars kick off 2018, starting with the Oregon Symphony’s Brahms v. Radiohead show Thursday, January 4 at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Composer/conductor Steve Hackman has recently contrived a series of fascinating fusions pairing a classical masterpiece with a contemporary pop music classic. He weaves orchestral arrangements of contemporary songs into full performances of symphonic works so that both inhabit the classical masterpiece’s sound world. In this performance, the Oregon Symphony plays Brahms’s complete 1876 first symphony and orchestral versions (plus a trio of singers) of songs from Radiohead’s classic 1997 album OK Computer. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch preview. Note: neither Brahms nor Radiohead actually appear.

Project Trio, the charismatic Brooklyn based cello, bass and beatbox flute threesome, has electrified audiences in past Portland performances (not to mention 80 million YouTube viewers) with their energetic blend of audience friendly European classics, covers of rock, hip hop and jazz, and compositions by all three members. Thursday’s show at Astoria’s Liberty Theatre features music by Bach (the famous flute arrangement by Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson), Charlie Parker, Prokofiev’s Peter & the Wolf, Brahms and more, including their own compositions. On Sunday’s Friends of Chamber Music concert at Portland’s Newmark Theatre, they join members of Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony for orchestral and chamber music, including most of the above music plus works by Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and their own originals.

Friends of Chamber Music brought PROJECT Trio to Portland’s Old Church in 2014. They’re performing this week with Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony. Photo: John Green.

Speaking of contemporary sounds, Monday’s Fear No Music concert at Portland’s Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Avenue, features “Locally Sourced Sounds IV,” the Portland new music ensemble’s annual showcase of contemporary music by Oregon composers. Instead of focusing exclusively on veteran Portland composers, this edition includes new contemporary classical music by a Portland State student, a Grant High student (and participant in FNM’s valuable Young Composers Project), a Portland composer better known as a radio announcer (All Classical’s Robert McBride), and a Corvallis composer/violinist, Jayanthi Joseph. The show does boast a new work by one of the city’s most vital experienced composers, Lewis & Clark College’s Michael Johanson.

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ArtsWatch Year in Music 2017

ArtsWatch chronicles a year that showcased women's music, natural inspirations, and institutional evolution

Oregon music is surging, and this year, Oregon ArtsWatch has been your personal surfboard to keep you on top of the tide instead of inundated by it. And to bring you views of the powerful creative forces beneath the waves. This roundup is in no way a comprehensive or even representative sample of the dozens and dozens of music-related previews, reviews, features, interviews, profiles, and more we presented in 2017. Instead, we’ve chosen mostly stories whose value transcends a particular concert, leaned toward Oregon rather than national artists (who can get plenty of press elsewhere), favored music by today’s American composers instead of long-dead Europeans, and tried to represent a variety of voices and approaches. We hope this roundup gives a valuable snapshot of an eventful, fruitful moment in Oregon’s musical culture.

Homegrown Sounds

Although we also write about jazz and other improvised music and other hard-to-classify sounds, ArtsWatch’s primary musical focus has always been contemporary “classical” (a term we’d love to replace with something more accurate) composition by Oregon composers, and this year presented a richer tapestry than ever. As always, Cascadia Composers led the way in presenting new Oregon music in the classical tradition, but others including FearNoMusic, Third Angle New Music, the University of Oregon and even new entities like Burn After Listening also shared homegrown sounds. ArtsWatch readers learned about those shows and composers from accomplished veterans like Kenji Bunch to emerging voices such as Justin Ralls.

Wright, Brugh, Clifford, Safar, and ?? play with toys at Cascadia Composers’ Cuba concert.

Cascadia Composers and Crazy Jane fall concerts: Spanning the spectrum
Quartet of concerts reveals rich diversity in contemporary Oregon classical — or is that ‘classical’ ? — Music. JANUARY 20 MATTHEW ANDREWS.

Kenji Bunch: Seeing the Elephant
After returning to home ground, the Portland composer’s career blossoms with commissions from the Oregon Symphony and Eugene Ballet. MARCH 7 BRETT CAMPBELL.

45th Parallel preview: from conflict to collaboration
ArtsWatch review provokes contention, then cooperation as ensemble invites writer to co-curate a concert featuring music by young Oregon composers. MARCH 29  BRETT CAMPBELL. Also read Maria Choban’s review: 45th Parallel review: Horror show .

Burn After Listening: Stacy Phillips, Lisa Ann Marsh, Jennifer Wright.

‘Fire and Ice’ preview: accessible adventure
New Portland composers’ collective’s debut performance includes aerial dance, sculpture, poetry, icy instruments — and a close connection to audiences. APRIL 27 BRETT CAMPBELL

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MusicWatch bi-Weekly: holiday traditions

Oregon serenades 2017 to an end — and none too soon — with Celtic, French, Spanish, Indian and more music from across the globe and the centuries

While everyone hunkers down for the holidays, the music plays on, but not nearly as often as usual, so MusicWatch is taking the rest of the year off as part of its musical fasting treatment for 2017’s overindulgence in Oregon’s musical overabundance. Meanwhile, here’s a few solstice-brighteners to take us through the end of the year.

In Mulieribus

Tickets have long been sold out for Wednesday’s “Vivaldi’s Magnificat and Gloria,” a historically informed performance of a pair of Italian baroque classics by the period instrument performers (from Portland Baroque Orchestra and others in the region) presented by Northwest Baroque Masterworks at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, but click the link above and see if someone cancels. One of the best shows of every holiday season, though, In Mulieribus’s annual concert, does have seats available. On Wednesday at Vancouver’s Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater and on Friday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, the sublime Portland women’s vocal ensemble this time takes a French twist, with medieval carols, nativity songs and other music from the Renaissance and earlier by Binchois, Dufay, England’s John Taverner, and more.

Another annual Oregon holiday tradition, if a five-year run can qualify for that status, comes to a close Friday when Mark O’Connor and his 2017 Grammy winning musical family band bring their final Appalachian Christmas show to Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Oregon Symphony cellist Nancy Ives, who wrote about it for ArtsWatch last year, returns, and another family, the Seattle (O’Connor’s hometown) trumpet and piano team of Allen and Laura Vizzutti open for the multi-Grammy award winner who may be the world’s greatest fiddler, who’s played with many of the planet’s finest musicians and again brings his Americana-tinged holiday tunes to Oregon one last time.

Speaking of Americana holidays, Oregon Mandolin Orchestra plays seasonal tunes at Portland’s luminous Festival of Lights at the gorgeous Grotto on Saturday. Lots of other bands and choirs are performing there throughout the holidays, so click the link to check ‘em out.

ArtsWatch has covered this combined music and theater event elsewhere, but here’s another reminder to catch the merry pianist and Liberace channeler David Saffert with Jillian Snow Harris in A Liberace & Liza Christmas at Portland’s Coho Theater December 21-30, with guest artists including singer Susannah Mars, star thespian Isaac Lamb, and more.

Next week at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland Youth Philharmonic’s annual day after-Christmas concert takes a mostly Spanish turn with music Enrique Granados adapted from his piano pieces inspired by Francisco Goya’s paintings, Goyescas; Albeniz’s musical depiction of Seville’s famous Corpus Christi Day procession, and some of the finest ballet music of the 20th century, a suite from Manuel de Falla’s colorful The Three Cornered Hat. An unrelated bonus: music from John Williams’s score to the reptilian screen classic Parque Jurassic. 

On December 30-31 at Portland’s Community Music Center, another annual holiday music tradition, Oregon Renaissance Band’s holiday concert, goes all Celtic, with a baker’s dozen specialists on wonderful archaic instruments like sackbutts, viola da gamba, cornamusen, krummhorns, racketts, tartold, bagpipes, spinettino, tabor, and even early recorders and violins playing and singing ancient tunes by Turlough O’Carolan, William Byrd, John Playford, Thomas Weelkes and more.

South India’s Carnatic tradition is just as venerable as all these European early music shows, and Oregon is fortunate to boast a family of musicians whose lineage on the beautiful, ancient long-necked veena lute stretches back eleven generations. Renowned India born veena virtuosi Sreevidhya Chandramouli and Chandramouli Narayanan join their sons Kapila and Sushruta Chandramouli and ghatam (clay pot) percussion master Ravi Balasubramanian December 30 for a Carnatic classical concert at Portland’s Christ United Methodist Church.

The Oregon Symphony plays music from Beethoven’s Symphony #9 on New Year’s Eve at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

On December 30 and New Year’s Eve at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, “Pink Martini New Year’s Extravaganza” returns with Portland’s own retro-Latin-Euro big band’s annual joint venture with the Oregon Symphony, now expanded to three performances, but tickets remain for only the last, late night bash. Along with orchestra-enhanced hits from throughout Pink Martini’s career and recent CD Je Dis Oui!, the Oregon Symphony will perform the glorious final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony #9.

For a smaller scale NYE, catch Portland’s venerable Florestan Trio, 41 years old and counting, as they precede a champagne and dessert reception with an hour of chamber music classics by Franck (from his famous violin sonata, Mendelssohn, Poulenc, Rachmaninoff, Falla and more at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall.

The Florestan Trio performs in Friends of Chamber Music’s New Years Eve concert.

The Christmas myth is many things, but one of them involves a resurrection story, which should resonate with fans of Eugene Opera, which just arose from its most recent near-death experience. Its New Year’s Eve opera buffa, Rossini’s 1816 The Barber of Seville, also has some here-and-now resonance, with its story of a powerful older man trying to coerce a much younger woman into an abusive relationship. Eugene Opera’s cast mixes a pair of Met vets (baritone Malcolm MacKenzie and mezzo Heather Johnson) with local stars Jake Gardner, Bill Hulings, recent arrival Craig Phillips (the New York Polyphony singer now at the UO) and more, all conducted by Andrew Bisantz, who’s added the title of artistic director to his EO portfolio. Maybe the triumph of true love over sexual predation will get 2018 off to a better start than the year it’s replacing.

After some post holiday dieting, the slimmer, sleeker MusicWatch will return in 2018, and don’t worry, in the meantime, ArtsWatch will have a few other music stories to tingle your ears as we bid a pffft! farewell to a troubled year. Meanwhile, here’s a new video from Oregon singer Marti Mendenhall to put you in the holiday mood.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

’The Emerald Tablet’ and ‘Nonsense’ reviews: from playground to pulpit

A pair of Portland composer showcases range from the delightfully ridiculous to the seriously sublime

Last month saw two concerts of new, made-in-Portland music, each entirely devoted to a single Portland composer. Both create contemporary classical music music influenced by music from outside the classical realm.

And that’s about the only similarity between the music of Dan Brugh and Christopher Corbell. The former trained at a prestigious music academy (Interlochen) before matriculating at the University of Oregon, while the latter is mostly self taught. Brugh’s music incorporates electronic elements including synthesizers more commonly used in pop music, while Corbell, a folk-rock singer songwriter before embarking on the study and creation of contemporary art music, draws on ancient and modern folk and classical influences.

The music reflected the two composers’ divergent personalities too. Attending Brugh’s show was like jumping into his personal musical playground, a Brian Wilson sandbox of diverse musical and optical colors, cool synthesizers, imaginative sounds, absurdist verse, even giant mechanical flying fish.

Brugh, Wright and unidentified flying fish in “Nonsense.” Photo: Matias Brecher.

Corbell is as outwardly focused as Brugh looks inward. The former Classical Revolution PDX leader thinks and feels a lot about contemporary political and social issues, and passionately expresses his beliefs in his music and writings.

Both concerts mostly succeeded in reaching beyond their inventive creators’ own fertile imaginations and connecting with audiences. While Brugh’s was mostly about the wild, sometimes wacky world in his own head, Corbell’s looked outward, to the equally tumultuous world around him, and us.

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