Friderike Heuer

 

Cappella Romana: Straddling Worlds

The superb vocal ensemble's "Christmas in Ukraine" was ancient and modern and a breath of life. Next up: The Lost Treasures of Armenia.

Story and photographs by FRIDERIKE HEUER

Cappella Romana opened its 2018/19 season announcement with the words, “Prepare to be engaged, moved, and inspired.” Consider it done. You could add an occasional “made breathless” by the sheer beauty of the singing. One of the main themes of the glorious vocal ensemble’s Saturday concert Christmas in Ukraine at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland was the notion of breath. Breath as the source of life handed down from above, and breath as the source of praise sent back up.

Cappela Romana, in full voice.

Presence and absence of breath was just one of the many dichotomies that came up at St. Mary’s (the program had played the night before in Seattle, and repeats in San Francisco on Jan. 5) while listening to and thinking about this chorus, its guest conductor Marika Kuzma, the music on offer, and the thoughts evoked by any mention of Ukraine these days.

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Bach for Christmas: Jubilant

In the audience for Portland Baroque Orchestra and Trinity Cathedral Choir's Christmas Oratorio: For a music lover, it's pure pleasure

Story and photographs by Friderike Heuer

There are limits, but also advantages, to being a moderately educated music lover – like yours truly – rather than a professionally trained music critic. Good music critics bring an ear, lots of analytic skill, attention to detail, a huge memory bank and the ability to make connections to the table. Their verdicts help listeners to decide what music to listen to and what to be alert to; their feedback also helps orchestras, choirs, soloists to improve performance.

The richness of their experience is undeniable. But their experience is also focused and informed in ways that make their experience distinct from that of the average concert-goer. When professional critics attend concerts,  they need to get all of the performance details right, and their task to assess the performance induces a cognitive load which can be at odds with emotional immersion. They sit at the outside looking (or listening, as the case may be) in while the rest of us have the chance to experience a whole that is comprised not just of the performance but many other interacting factors.

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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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