Friderike Heuer

 

Cappella Romana: unexpected sounds

Moving performance of 'All-Night Vigil' sparks a romance with Rachmaninov

Story and photos by FRIDERIKE HEUER

“On second thought, maybe I should go to the concert. Even if it is church music played in a church. Or maybe because it is church music played in a church – time to stretch yourself.”

Thus were my musings after a friend urged me to attend Cappella Romana’s The Vigil this weekend. Am I glad I did. I cannot even remember the last time I had goosebumps like this while listening to live music. Which tells you a) I had never before heard Cappella Romana, b) it was an unusually profound piece of music, sublimely performed all the way through (hard, because it is long and technically quite difficult) and c) I probably don’t go out to concerts often enough.

Cappella Romana performed Rachmaninoff’s ‘All-Night Vigil’ and other Russian Orthodox sacred music at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

And so I sat on a Sunday afternoon in a church attempting to hold back tears and racking my brain trying to remember what I knew about Sergei Rachmaninov, about his choral work All-Night Vigil, op.37 just so the emotions wouldn’t overwhelm me.

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PHAME: The Dignity of Risk

The innovative school of arts and performance for adults with developmental disabilities embarks on new horizons with Portland Opera

“I used to voice a tentative I’d like; now it is a firm I want.” This statement, told to me by Anne-Marie Plass during a conversation about the challenges of living with developmental or intellectual disabilities, registered deeply. The difference in wording might appear slight to you and me. The distinction is a world apart for people whose daily experience is governed by fear of being judged, deemed insufficient, and being rejected. The young woman credits her shift from hesitant hopefulness to assertive requests to her 10-year exposure to the education and demands by PHAME, an organization that exposes adults like her to arts and performance, and where she now serves as a member of the board.

Anne-Marie Plass, PHAME student, performer, and board member. Photo: Friderike Heuer

I first met Anne-Marie during rehearsal and performance of a concert that marked the beginning of a collaborative effort between PHAME and Portland Opera. The 18-month-long collaboration is geared toward teaching all aspects of creating a rock opera, from writing librettos for this subgenre of opera, to costume and prop design, to creating music with an iPad orchestra and, most importantly, performing the piece themselves, with choir and soloists trained all year long.

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Art on the Road: Slovenia

In Ljiubliana, the nation's capitol, monuments reflect historic strife and a contemporary art museum shows work that comments on the past

At first glance Ljublijana, the capital of Slovenia, appears to be one of the most picturesque, hospitable and laid-back places to be found in the Balkans. Situated near beautiful mountains, divided by a clean and slow-flowing river, the award-winning city prides itself for being “green,” both in the sense that it is shaded by trees and offers a vast number of parks and green spaces, but also in the sense that it has car-free zones all over the place, runs its buses on methane and has devised an underground system of garbage collection that leaves streets clean and encourages recycling (at one of the highest rates in Europe.)

The architecture is stunning for the perfectly restored blocks of art deco houses right next to baroque churches, all situated below a majestic medieval castle. The city owes much of its uniqueness to architect and city planner Joze Plečnik, who was given free reign in the 1920s to create a homogenous, distinct look for many of the city’s public buildings, squares, bridges, and market halls, their bright materials reflective of light and providing clean lines and a certain calmness against the huddle of the 17th century buildings. He also implemented sustainable solutions before anybody else talked about them. He was known to walk the city streets to create designs that focused on pedestrians – something the city’s current Vision 2025 plan is still following up on.

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Art on the Road: Trieste pilgrimage

Hordes follow James Joyce's trail to this Italian city. A fascinating pioneer of art history and archaeology has his own Trieste tale to tell.

TRIESTE, Italy –

Scores of people come to this ancient seaport town each year to pay homage to James Joyce, who wrote his Ulysses here. The city accommodates them by putting up plaques at about every corner, bridge, staircase, churchyard ever touched by his foot, seemingly not a millimeter of Trieste not once traversed by the master.

My first-day pilgrimage, though, honored a different man – one who is a serious contender on my who to take to a deserted island list. (Remind me to do a week of blogs about the rest of them.) Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the founder of art history and art criticism as we know it, and known as the father of modern archaeology, is buried here.

The man’s life reads like a Russian novel. Born into extreme poverty in Prussia, his father a cobbler, he dug his way out by his wits. Scholarly excellence landed him at a number of universities, studying first theology, then medicine, but ultimately falling in love with ancient languages and developing a passion for Greek art. He devised a system of learning new languages in what is claimed six weeks, eventually able to converse in 12 of them. He was appointed to ever more prestigious posts as researcher/librarian/envoy for German aristocrats and then various Italian cardinals who opened their ancient art collections to him and enabled him to participate at the digs of Pompeii and Hercanuleum. As papal antiquarian and later secretary to Cardinal Albani he had found a space that allowed for his intellectual acumen to blossom. And, one might add, his homosexuality to be silently tolerated.

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Art on the Road: North Holland

Bergen's Museum Kranenburgh highlights Leo Gestel's eloquent mysteries and Ans Wortel's "organic allegories of people"

Most people who travel to Holland and are interested in art congregate in one or more of Amsterdam’s major museums. Outside of the city you can find some small jewels off the beaten path, though, that warrant a closer look. They provide introductions to Dutch art movements that are perhaps less well known but worthwhile getting to know. As a bonus you also escape the throngs of people you meet everywhere else, particularly during the summer months where the entire world seems to descend on this small country.

Leo Gestel, “Woman Between Flowers,” 1913, oil on canvas, collection Germeentemuseum Den Haag; at the Kranenburgh. Photo: Friderike Heuer

A 40-minute drive north of Amsterdam lies the small village of Bergen. Close to the North Sea, nestled among pine forests and dunes that are now a national nature preserve, the village was historically an artist colony, home to the Bergen School, a group of painters in the early 1900s who embraced cubism and expressionism and shared a taste for rather dark colors. Two museums in the area have large permanent collections of this School. One is the Stedelijk Museum in Alkmaar, about three miles south of Bergen, which also houses an amazing number of exquisite 16th and 17th century paintings.

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Portland Meets Portland

The innovative "Pass the Mic" summer music camp pairing music pros and young refugees and immigrants will give a free concert Friday.

It used to be that a piece of good news brought some cheer and then I’d move on. I don’t know if it is true for you or not, but these days a piece of good news makes me also feel a palpable sense of relief that not all is bleak in this world of ours. That is particularly true if it concerns issues around refugees and immigrants, a domain where misery and heartbreak dominate the current news cycle.

So share my joy in reporting about the newest venture by Portland Meet Portland, a young organization that provides one-on-one professional mentoring, citizenship and language classes, youth leadership development, and cross-cultural dialogue for immigrants and refugees: It calls itself “a cultural exchange right in your backyard.”

Shredding it at “Pass the Mic” camp.

It also offers music, in the new summer camp Pass the Mic, which will culminate in a free, open performance on Friday, July 20 by the youth bands taking part in the camp. Twenty-five young musicians, originally from Africa, India, and South America, have been at the camp, working with 10 experienced Portland musicians.

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A Diasporist, etc.,etc.

R.B. Kitaj's striking and memorable exhibition "A Jew, Etc., Etc." at the Oregon Jewish Museum splays open the experience of exile

Last summer the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education celebrated the opening of its new home with a stunning exhibit, Grisha Bruskin’s ALEFBET: The Alphabet of Memory. In case anyone was wondering if such quality could see repeat performances, the answer is a resounding: Yes!

The current exhibit, R.B. Kitaj, A Jew, Etc., Etc., is a marvel in more ways than one. Smartly curated by Bruce Guenther, whose deep knowledge about and passion for the artist can be heard and felt during his exhibition tours, the art on display covers a wide range of Kitaj’s changing preoccupations. But it also brings home the underlying constant in his works since the 1970s, his identification as a Jew in the diaspora and his embrace of commentary, the historical means of keeping knowledge intact and learning alive for all Jews, no matter where.

R.B. Kitaj, “The Jew, Etc., Etc.,” 1989–2004, oil on canvas, 36 ¼ x 36 ¼ inches, R. B. Kitaj Estate.

 

R.B. Kitaj, “Self-Portrait (Black Sheep),” 2001-2003, oil and charcoal on canvas, 24 x 24 inches, R. B. Kitaj Estate.

Kitaj was born in 1932 in Cleveland, Ohio. His mother remarried an émigré Austrian Jew after her divorce who took the boy under his wing. It was not a religious household but one that cherished culture in the vein of the Central European middle class. After some years in the merchant marine, Kitaj began to study art at Cooper Union, moved on to the Akademie in Vienna, and eventually ended up in London, where he soon joined a circle of up-and-coming painters, Hockney, Freud, and Auerbach among them. Alone with two small children after the suicide of his first wife, he eventually remarried a 15-year younger woman, a gifted painter in her own right, Sandra Fisher, with whom he had another son.

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