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Delgani Quartet preview: Cascadian perspectives

Eugene ensemble premieres Benjamin Krause’s celebration of Cascade mountainscape

by GARY FERRINGTON

Delgani String Quartet artistic director Wyatt True and composer Benjamin Krause have a natural history. The violinist had performed Krause’s Uv’Chein Variations for violin and piano (2012) while both were students at the University of Oregon, and True later commissioned him to compose The Activity of Sand and Movie Music for Portland as part of his 2015 Oregon Multimedia Project.

So when the Eugene quartet received a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation’s Creative Heights Initiative to provide the score to a video documentary inspired by the towering mountain peaks visible from the Dee Wright Observatory atop the Mckenzie Pass, True suggested that Krause, currently visiting professor of music at Indiana’s Valparaiso University, was a natural choice. The other ensemble members — violinist Jannie Wei, violist Kimberlee Uwate and cellist Eric Alterman —agreed.

Oregon’s Cascade Peaks. Photo: Terry Kneen.

“We wanted it to result in something tangible that could be enjoyed by people throughout the state who would otherwise not be able to hear the music in concert,” True explains, “perhaps by people more interested in nature than string quartets, or students learning about the Cascades in school.” That was natural, too: actively engaged in performances throughout the Pacific Northwest, the ensemble frequently commissions new works for string quartet and has developed an extensive educational program.

Krause’s new String Quartet No. 1 “Cascades,” which premieres this month, supplies the musical component to Delgani’s Cascade Quartet Project, which connects music to landscape through composition, performance, and documentation. The quartet premieres the four-movement, 25 minute piece in Salem October 29, followed by November performances in Eugene and Portland.

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Extradition Series preview: in the spirit of Pauline

Creative Music Guild concert presents spacious contemporary music inspired by the ideas of 20th century American music pioneer Pauline Oliveros

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

The music in Creative Music Guild’s Extradition Series shows a certain dispersed consistency: experimental, improvisatory, sparse, full of radiant silences and gentle chaos, irrepressibly non-traditional (ex-traditional?) in terms of timbre, tonality, rhythm, melody, and the use of acoustic time and space. The individual pieces of music sound radically different from each other, but they tend to sound more alike than they sound like anything else you’re likely to hear in Portland. And once you start getting into Extradition’s particular groove, it becomes one of those specialized tastes, like Indian food or durian or abstract art or free jazz or French Black Metal or early 20th-century atonal classical music. If it’s what you’re in the mood for, only that will do. Nothing else is gonna scratch that itch. Saturday’s concert celebrates one of Extradition’s forebears — Pauline Oliveros, another artist who provokes visceral, addictive responses — in performances of her music and works she inspired.

The quarterly series often includes the work of composers associated with Fluxus, the Wandelweiser Group, and other such mid-to-late-20th-century experimental scenes, all those collectives of artists and theorists and composer-performers who established–wait for it–new traditions of their own. These movements made “slow music, quiet music, spare music, fragile music,” and sometimes claimed Satie as their spiritual godfather. Much of the Real Work was done by people most of us have never heard of (or if you have, it’s as “Yoko Ono’s first husband” or “Rzewski’s mentor in Rome” or “the guy who did the I Am Sitting In A Room thing”), but it’s Cage who (until recently) has had the biggest name recognition outside these circles.

The Extradition Series takes place at Portland’s Leaven Community Center.

This time around, Extradition founder Matt Hannafin and company are honoring the recently departed accordionist, electro-acoustician, and Pioneer of Deep Listening: Pauline Oliveros. These concerts always have something of Pauline’s spirit in them, and they’ve performed Her music in the past, but now that She has entered the Spirit Realm, it seems extra-appropriate to honor Her and Her Great Work.

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MusicWatch Weekly: autumn bounty

This week's Oregon music highlights

In one of the peak weeks in the fall season of Oregon music, terling sopranos sing old and new songs, and other highlights include contemporary electronica, jazz, choral music, and sounds from Argentina, Mali, Japan, Europe, and beyond — including Oregon composers. Please add your recommendations in the comments section below.

BallakŽe Sissoko and Vincent Segal perform Tuesday at Portland’s Old Church concert hall. Photo: Claude Gassian.

Julianne Baird and Marcia Hadjimarkos
The superb early music soprano and the acclaimed Portland-born pianist, long based in Europe, perform music from Jane Austen’s world. The immortal writer was also a musician who practiced pop tunes of her time on fortepiano (which Hadjimarkos will, appropriately, play here) daily before breakfast, and filled her room with sheet music and her books and letters with references to public and private music events. Along with music by Haydn, Handel, Gluck, and more, including female songwriters, the show features songs about country life, drinking, and love, plus Turkish and Moorish motifs, female character pieces, and songs about naval victories and the French Revolution. A pair of narrators interpolate readings from Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and more.
Wednesday, Hudson Hall, Willamette University, Salem.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith performs Thursday in Portland.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
The Orcas Island native, now based in LA, has moved from the contemporary classical niche to broader acclaim and audiences in electronic music, including opening for Animal Collective and collaborating Suzanne Ciani. The synth-savvy sound sculptor is releasing three albums this year to go with five earlier releases, numerous film scores, and more.
Thursday, Doug Fir Lounge. Portland.

Eugene Symphony
When the rising young pianist Conrad Tao appeared at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall in 2011, he was a 17-year-old prodigy who could seemingly almost play masterpieces with one hand tied behind his back. Having grown both a beard and a reputation as a solid performer and composer, he’ll almost get the chance in Maurice Ravel’s dramatic 1931 piano concerto written for the great Austrian virtuoso Paul Wittgenstein, who’d lost his right arm to a Russian bullet in World War I. He’ll also solo in Liszt’s wild, colorful 1838 Dance of Death (Totentanz), and the orchestra will play a Mozart symphony about which its composer wrote, “I hope that even these idiots will find something in it to like.” He was talking about Parisians, not Oregonians, who’ll find plenty to enjoy in Mozart’s so-nicknamed Paris Symphony.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Marquis Hill’s Blacktet plays two shows in Portland.

Marquis Hill Blacktet
The 2014 Thelonious Monk competition winner earned further notice with his gig in Joe Lovano’s band, and the sweet toned trumpeter has become a fine bandleader himself with this group that integrates bop, hip hop and R&B. Two shows.
Thursday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

Third Angle New Music & Tony Arnold
The Portland new music string quartet and New York new music soprano team up in music by the fine California composer Gabriela Lena Frank, colorful Australian composer Brett Dean, Greek-French composer Georges Aperghis, and midcentury Italian modernist Luciano Berio. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview of the same team’s Creative Academy of Music concert Saturday.
Thursday and Friday, Studio 2 @ N.E.W. Portland.

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble
The plucky organization dedicated to cultivating 21st century music by Portland composers and improvisers celebrates its tenth anniversary with a a TED-style talk from Executive Director Douglas Detrick, silent auction with some really enticing offers, and three pieces of music that tell the PJCE story—by PJCE founding Executive Director Andrew Oliver, former Grasshoppers (the young composers mentored by established Portland jazz musicians via PJCE’s admirable program) mentee Andres Moreno, and the world premiere of a new piece by one of Portland’s busiest and most inventive musicians, drummer/composer/improviser Barra Brown.
Friday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

Sound of Late
The exciting Portland/Seattle ensemble gives the West Coast premieres of music by youngish British composer Anna Clyne (former composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony and other orchestras) and Sarah Kirkland Snider, plus works by by Japanese composer Somei Satoh, Italian modernist Giacinto Scelsi, and the world premiere of a new piece by young Seattle composer Noel Kennon. The show is enhanced by video art by Seattle artist Stefan Gonzales.
Saturday, N.E.W. Expressive Works, Portland.

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Third Angle preview: spring planting, fall harvest

New music ensemble’s Saturday concert celebrates new music for voice and strings by emerging composers, including one with Oregon roots.

by GARY FERRINGTON

Collaboration is an underlying theme of the 21 October Third Angle New Music house concert with guest artist soprano Tony Arnold. The event, premiering works by six diverse composers from around the country, brings closure to a project that began last March at the very first Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music. It was at that spring residency the ensemble, Arnold, and invited composers, all of whom are early in their professional careers, planted the seeds for what is now a fall harvest of new compositions for voice and strings.

Academy participant and former Oregonian Brandon Scott Rumsey discovered his passion for composing while attending Lane Community College and the University of Oregon in Eugene and then went on to nurture his art at the University of Texas and University of Michigan. The Las Vegas born composer is currently an adjunct assistant professor at Michigan’s Madonna University, where he teaches music theory and counterpoint. A performing bassoonist, he serves as the artistic director for the Emblems Quintet, a teaching artist with the Trade Winds Ensemble, and an editorial assistant and engraver at the University of Michigan Gershwin Critical Edition.

Third Angle and soprano Tony Arnold play music by composers Dave Reminick (seated on floor) and Nina Shekhar (to the right of Gabriela Frank) this Saturday. Photo: Aric Hartvig.

For Rumsey, the concert will not only be the opportunity to have a new piece premiered, but also the chance to revisit Oregon, which has long been a home in spirit and where he has many colleagues and friends. It will also be a reunion with his fellow participants from the Academy’s inaugural class held on Frank’s beautiful country farms in Boonville, a small rural California community 115 miles north of San Francisco where the composers and guest artists participated in engaging seminar discussions, coaching sessions with master composer/mentor Gabriela Lena Frank and readings performed by guest artists Tony Arnold and Third Angle.

The Poetry of Presence

Rumsey’s Invocation (2017), dedicated to Tony Arnold and Third Angle, is based on American poet Geoffrey Nutter’s short poem of the same title. Rumsey, who earned a doctoral degree in composition from University of Michigan this past spring, has explored Nutter’s poetry for several years. “He frequently writes about mythology, nature, plainness and mundanity, and I return to his poems time and time again for his use of “motivic” language that tells a story while phrases wander, stall, and twist,” Rumsey says.

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American Brass Quintet review: elevating chamber music for brass

Venerable ensemble traces the trajectory of music for brass instruments from the distant past to the present to the future

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

Near the beginning of the American Brass Quintet’s concert in downtown Portland’s Winningstad Theater last week, trumpeter Kevin Cobb stood up and talked a bit about the group’s history, starting with their founding date: 1960. “If you’re looking on stage to see who’s the original member” — cue laughter— “there are no original members.”

The founding members “tried to bring brass music to places that would normally have, say, the Juilliard Quartet,” he said. Their goal was to “elevate brass chamber music.” One of the great commissioning brass quintets of our time, they are also dedicated to the “promotion of brass chamber music through education” (like Akropolis Reed Quintet last year, ABQ also put on educational outreach programs the week they were here). Part of this pedagogical endeavor means reaching back through time and drawing together the roots of brass chamber music, developing a long view of the genre and situating modern pieces in a living historical contexts. Their Portland concert, presented by Chamber Music Northwest and Portland5, managed to represent both ends of this spectrum (and a bit of the in-between for good measure).

American Brass Quintet

To open, the group leapt immediately into a bunch of 500-year-old Elizabethan and Jacobean Consort Music — fun and spirited and beautiful—and perfectly brief. Brass instruments, like strings and choirs (and unlike, say, reed quintets and percussion ensembles), are by nature delightfully homogenous, meaning they can blend all manner of complex counterpoint into a well-integrated acoustic gestalt. ABQ played short pieces by William Brade (1560-1630), John Dowland (1563-1626), John Wilbye (1574-1638), and a few by Thomas Morley (1557-1602). The counterpoint blended perfectly, separate lines shining through whenever I paid precise attention, everything blurring into a tasty musical porridge whenever I let my ears take in the larger soundscape.

Other moments, like the Dowland pavane, gave ABQ a chance to show off their balanced chorale sound, another strength of brass ensembles. At times the trumpets (if not the players) sounded like they were still warming up: brass instruments are insanely taxing and far more physically demanding than anyone who’s never had their lips on a mouthpiece can possibly imagine. By the time the Brade canzon’s joyously rapid hemiolas came along everyone was ripping through the tricky rhythms and rapid fire hunting calls like it was no big deal.

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Oregon Ballet Theatre review: cheerful resistance

Choreographer Nicolo Fonte, Pink Martini, and pianists Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack team up to create a gay old time for everyone

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

Oregon Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Kevin Irving was addressing me personally when he took the stage and asked how many of us weren’t expecting to be there, which of us are the not-the-usual-ballet-audience people? Well, perhaps he was speaking to me and to many of the younger Pink Martini fans all around me. Like OSO & PCSO in recent years, OBT has been making a serious attempt to reach out to non-traditional classical audiences, people who maybe still want to see Balanchine’s Nutcracker for the zillionth time (hell, I’m going this year, aren’t you?) but who otherwise don’t have much feeling for the idiom. In Irving’s words: “OBT has never been afraid to put its own twist on ballet—it’s in our DNA.” Hey, that sounds like a song!

OBT with Pink Martini last night was possibly the gayest show I’ve seen all year. In a round 100 minutes that felt a lot shorter, OBT’s new resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte paired Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack’s two-piano expansion of Gershwin’s immortal Rhapsody in Blue with the return of his popular Pink Martini revue Never Stop Falling (in Love).

Now let’s get this out of the way right at the start: if you’re still using “gay” as a pejorative, it’s time to join the 21st century and show your fellow humans some respect.

The formerly more common meaning of “gay” was something like “happy and free-spirited,” as in The Gay Nineties or “Gay Paree”. The mighty Nietzsche translator and defender Walter Kaufmann, in the introduction to his 1974 translation of The Gay Science, discusses the troubadour origins of the word (Nietzsche’s original subtitle was “La Gaya Scienza”) and identifies this spirit of “light-hearted defiance of convention” as a bridge between the word’s older meaning and the new coloring it was acquiring at that time.

To be defiantly cheerful in an era of uncertainty and de-/re-/op-pression (1890s, 1970s, 2017) is an act of fruitful resistance, an insistence on loving whom and how we will. Even those of us who identify as some other variety of queer (bi, myself) are quite happy to look for inspiration and support to the culture of gay men, especially this world of artists and musicians which has shown us all so much joy and courage and taught us how to embrace the struggle of life and how to be jubilant whenever we can.

Which brings us to OBT and its collaboration with Thomas Lauderdale and Pink Martini. I personally haven’t spent a whole lot of time at the ballet: the last time for me was probably OBT’s Stravinsky Project (featuring Stowell’s Rite of Spring) almost a decade ago. What’s worse, I was (until last night) a complete Pink Martini Virgin. I’m happy to say I’m now a believer in both.

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‘Angamazad’ review: handmade tales

Fox & Beggar Theater's circus-style production lights up Arabian Nights

And Shahrazade noticed that dawn was approaching and stopped telling her tale. Thereupon Dunazade said, “Oh sister, your tale was most wonderful, pleasant and delightful.”

“It is nothing compared to what I could tell you tomorrow night, if the king would spare my life,” Shahrazade said.

“By Allah,” the king thought to himself. “I won’t slay her until I hear some more of her wondrous tales.”

That’s the setup of A Thousand and One Nights a/k/a Arabian Nights a/k/a Alf Layla Wa Layla, the compendium of thrilling stories of Sindbad the Seaman, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Aladdin and the Magic Lamp and so many more.

Fox & Beggar’s ‘Angamazad.’ Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt.

And that’s the story (or at least a glimpse of it) that Fox & Beggar Theater brought to Portland’s Alberta Abbey for a one-weekend run at the end of last month. With over 4,000 pages of folk tales from across the Middle East available in the colossal collection, drawn from both recent (Lyons & Lyons) and 1888 (Richard Burton’s classic) translations, the creative team of writer/director Heather Beckett and her F&B co-artistic director Nat Allister had to be selective. And while, hamstrung by a tedious opening sequence, it couldn’t keep me entirely enthralled for its three-plus hour running time, much less a thousand nights and a night, Angamazad offered abundant enthusiasm and moments of magic.

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