Nobuo Uematsu and Arnie Roth

Nobuo Uematsu and Arnie Roth.


I am obsessed with a piece called “Cascade.” My 10-year-old student wrote it, sorry he ever did, I’m sure, because he rolls his eyes every time I ask him to play it — which is at every lesson. What I’m particularly charmed with is his ending — out of the blue, two planned cluster chords terminate the catchy rhythmic episodes. He hunts for the same dissonant harmonies every time he comes to the end. And yet, he shrinks from all praise I gush, not because he’s shy; in fact, he’s a born ham. Why?

During Portland’s recent March Music Moderne, I attended an Oregon ComposersWatch event presented by Oregon ArtsWatch. One of the three composers invited to share their creative process with the audience spoke apologetically about the influence of one particular kind of music on his compositions. His music is accessible, nearly new age if it weren’t for the odd harmonic modulations I find in classical music, not in pop.  Other composers in the audience nod when he mentions the influence of a certain guilty pleasure on his music. One in particular also has a distinct, spare but not cliche harmonic style and one piece of his in particular (piano quintet) destroys the box this form once occupied for this configuration of instruments. But why the guilt?

In the program for this month’s Oregon Symphony concerts, you’ll find biographies of most of the composers whose music will be performed, from masters like Dmitri Shostakovich to contemporary film score legend John Williams — except for the composer featured on its April 26 program. Why?


Abbi Dunham in PHAME's Bye Bye Birdie.

PHAME’s production of Bye Bye Birdie. Photo: Ivan Arredondo.


“Everyone in Portland today is talking about equity issues, especially in the arts,” says PHAME’s executive director Stephen Marc Beaudoin. “Rarely is disability included in this discussion, though it needs to be. PHAME’s performances and collaborations provide proof to the Portland community of the value, ability, talent, and dignity of artists with disabilities; we are proving that they need to be integrated, showcased, educated, employed and given access to opportunity like any other artists.”

Abbi Dunham, a 33-year-old Portland actor and musician, has been singing in choirs since a child. As with most people, Dunham’s involvement in music stopped almost entirely after high school. But unlike most people, Dunham is a musician who has Down Syndrome, so finding opportunities to stay plugged in to the creative arts community seemed unlikely.

Then in 2004 Dunham learned about PHAME, and with some encouragement from her older brothers, Dunham made the gutsy decision to explore her music talent at Portland’s PHAME Academy. Her determination and theatrical flair landed her the lead role of Cosette in PHAME’s 2007 production of Les Misérables. Through PHAME’s classes, she also learned how to accompany the PHAME choir with percussion and iPad and began composing her own music. She recently performed in collaboration with Pink Martini, and she currently sings in the 60-member PHAME choir and 19-member chamber ensemble.

This year marks PHAME’s (Pacific Honored Artists Musicians and Entertainers) 30th year of providing fine arts classes and performance opportunities to talented people like Dunham who are a part of the I/DD (Intellectually and Developmentally Delayed) community, which includes individuals who have Down Syndrome, autism and other disabilities. To celebrate PHAME’s inspiring achievements as a nonprofit organization, executive director Stephen Marc Beaudoin, artistic director Jessica Dart, and music director Matthew Gailey organized PHAME @ 30: six events to showcase the brilliant talent bursting out of their classrooms. On Saturday, April 26, PHAME’s choir and chamber ensemble collaborates with Portland singer-songwriter Laura Gibson in PHAME @ 30: Big Sounds at the Mission Theater.


On the forced closing of Place Gallery

Or: How can you be in two places at once when you're nowhere at all?

Four years ago, Pioneer Place Mall did a very groovy “Portland” thing by beginning to provide and subsidize some of the empty spaces on the third floor of its Atrium Building to people and organizations wishing to open art galleries. Last month, the owners of the mall, General Growth Properties (GGP) rescinded that agreement with, Place, the first gallery that took them up on their offer way back when. Seems there was bad blood.

Oregon ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson wrote about the closing shortly after Place Director, Gabe Flores, made it public on the gallery’s website. Since then, other arts writers have weighed in on this abrupt end to the gallery’s lease agreement, including our own AL Adams writing for The Mercury, Richard Speer for Willamette Week, and Jeff Jahn on his site, portlandart.net. There was also a short segment on the local FOX affiliate, KPTV.

An appropriate sentiment/Gabe Flores

An appropriate sentiment/Gabe Flores

I won’t go into all of the details of the dispute between the building’s management and Flores (that’s what the links are for) ), but it seems to stem from the content of the art from the final show in the White Gallery portion of Place’s two spaces, and then Flores’ response to the objections by the powers-that-be. It’s worth a read. (link) Flores adds that the reason given for his eviction was that GPP had found a tenant to pay full rent for the space (Place was only responsible for paying utilities), yet he remains convinced that this was nothing less than a bum’s rush. The only response from GPP that I know of (GPP evidently did not respond to requests for a statement for any of the above listed articles) is a rather cursory and noncommittal written statement given to KPTV: “We do not publicly discuss tenant lease agreements, but please know Pioneer Place is very much a fan and in support of the arts,” GGP General Manager Bob Buchanan’s statement read. “Our goal is to create a unique and enjoyable shopping experience for all our customers.”

Before I get too deep into this opinion piece, I should disclose that I had an exhibit of my own work at Place last year. I have also written about the gallery on a couple of occasions, for both Portlandart.net and Oregon ArtsWatch. (One review was less than glowing.) I have had many conversations with Flores over the years and have grown to admire his fertile mind and enthusiasm for the local art community, even though sometimes both can get the better of him. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with his torrent of ideas, and his desire for inclusiveness has resulted in more than a few half-baked exhibitions (more often than not due to the presenting artist). The first couple of years of programming did not give me much hope for his ambitious little start-up, yet Flores and the gallery persevered, and the programming gradually improved.



Editor’s note: Monday Double Shot is ArtsWatch’s new, aspirationally weekly jolt of non-standard arts watching. Katie Taylor applies her YouTube browsing to a curatorial purpose, in this case fondling in Beethoven. We hope you enjoy!

Figure 1:

Furtive pawing from first violin at 4:25.

Figure 2:
Tentative groping from cello at 9:54 growing steadily pervier through 11:11. May be more accurately described as fondling. First violin seems to be enjoying. First violin is a bad influence.

Your barista is Katie Taylor, a Portland-based writer, opera singer, director and librettist. Contact Katie at mondaydoubleshot@gmail.com.

Want more fun takes on the arts? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!


Musicians from Classical Revolution PDX performed at Holocene in March Music Moderne

Musicians from Classical Revolution PDX performed at Holocene in March Music Moderne.

There are people who really like the mathematically determined music of the 20th century Greek-French composer Iannis Xenakis—more than just acknowledging its undeniable historical importance. There are also people, I am told, who enjoy being rolfed, walking barefoot across hot coals, participating in fight clubs, and being lashed by whips. I think these all must be the same people.

Enduring the relentless pummeling of the Portland premiere of Xenakis’s 1978 exercise in dissonance Ikhoor at Sunday night’s closing March Music Moderne, just after enjoying so many other concerts featuring young (and sometimes not-so-young) Oregon composers at the same festival revealed just how far midcentury modernism that MMM celebrates strayed from appealing to a broad audience — and how Oregon composers are leading the way in bringing music in the classical tradition back to its rightful, central place in the hearts and minds of anyone who loves music, not just the dwindling niche who dig discordance.


Paul Roberts gives a lecture-recital and master classes in Portland this weekend.

Paul Roberts gives a lecture-recital and master classes in Portland this weekend.


 “There are two aspects of preparation,” explains concert pianist, master class clinician, and writer Paul Roberts about learning to play a classical composition. “One is simply practicing at the keyboard. The second really interesting aspect is reading around your piece. For example, you find out who Liszt was, then you discover that he drew inspiration from Petrarch; you therefore become very interested in Petrarch and discover how Liszt identifies with Petrarch. You then in some way bring that to bear on your interpretation, and that is when things get a bit difficult.

“In the final stage, which is most mysterious of all, you figure out what you’re actually thinking about when performing these pieces. For me, when I am playing I don’t think of the poetry at all. I’ve sublimated all the preparation into the music, but I’m profoundly aware that somewhere along the line that preparation has gone into my interpretation of the music.”

 Roberts will demonstrate his penchant for preparation February 22-24 during his mini-festival called Performance and Communication, which includes a lecture-recital and two free master classes. Roberts first came to Portland through Portland Piano International in 1991 and has since given more than 50 master classes to Portland’s piano students. At his lecture-recital “Liszt, Love and Petrarch: The Pianist as Narrator,” Roberts will elucidate the connection between composer and his inspiration. Franz Liszt composed three sonatas each inspired by a Petrarch sonnet for voice and piano in the 1840s, and then made his more popular version for solo piano that Roberts will perform in Portland.


Getting to know you: Whiting Tennis at Hallie Ford Museum of Art

And a little extra for the sake of contrast

It is sometimes difficult to look at a particular artist’s exhibition and not have a cascade of forerunners’ names wash through one’s mind. Of course, whether readily perceptible or not, every artist has been influenced by someone who came before; likewise, a viewer’s appreciation of said art may rely on and benefit from a knowledge of that art history. Yet, much like this writer trafficking in the comfort of truisms, that influence resonates louder and longer in the work of some artists than it does in others.

The Whiting Tennis exhibit, “My Side of the Mountain,” is at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem through March 23. The title for the show comes from Jean Craighead George’s book of the same name. The book tells the tale of a young man who leaves his city home at a young age to make a new life for himself on some family acreage, where he proceeds to make a living off the land. Written for a young audience, it comes from a time when this country was still making the dramatic shift from a largely agrarian to urban society, and the skills the main character develops to survive were becoming lost to the larger culture.

When Jenni Sorkin reviewed Tennis’s 2008 exhibit at Derek Eller Gallery in New York, she made mention of this book. I also find some comfort that Tennis’ work reminded Sorkin of the artist David Smith’s work. But Tennis’s drawings, paintings, and in some instances, his collages at Hallie Ford brought Smith to mind for me, not his sculpture. Then again, it wasn’t just echoes of Smith; a whole generation of artists sprung to mind, from Picasso to Smith and even the Northwest’s very own Louis Bunce. Nor would I be too far out of line to suggest that Tennis’s sculpture echo some work by his contemporary, Cris Bruch, or owe a debt to the likes of Martin Puryear, but only in Bruch’s and Puryear’s more architectural pieces.


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