MusicWatch Weekly: Orchestras unleashed

Symphonic splendor returns to Oregon stages

Several of Oregon’s symphony orchestras open their seasons this weekend, two of them featuring operatic music, and there’s more from Greece, Tuva, Brazil and beyond to greet autumn’s arrival. If you have more music recommendations for ArtsWatch readers, please note them in the comments section below.

Dale Chihuly's sculptures make up the set and grab the headlines, but Bartok's music really draws blood in the Oregon Symphony's concerts this weekend.

Dale Chihuly’s sculptures dominate the stage and the headlines, but Bartok’s music really draws blood in the Oregon Symphony’s concerts this weekend.

Eugene Symphony
September 22
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, Eugene.
The orchestra opens Danail Rachev’s final season as music director with Brahms’s fourth symphony, Schumann’s cello concerto (starring the cool Seattle cellist Joshua Roman, who does much hipper things there), and Webern’s Passacaglia.

Similar Fashion, Mike Gamble and Bonepocket
September 22
Turn Turn Turn, 8 NE Killingsworth, Portland.
Logan Hone’s LA-based sax-viola-guitar-drum ensemble draws on jazz, contemporary classical music and rock, which isn’t too far from Portland guitarist-composer Gamble’s influences.

Liima, Blue Cranes
September 22
Doug Fir Lounge, Portland.
The Danish/Finnish improvisatory band includes members of avant-garde rockers Efterklang plus percussion, while Blue Cranes cooks up jazz that’s always worth hearing.

Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra
September 23, First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson, Portland; September 25, Mt. Hood Community College Theater, NE 29th and Kane Street, Gresham.
Star Wars, Harry Potter, Schindler’s List, and on and on. The orchestra plays movie music by world’s leading film composer, John Williams.

pngHuun Huur Tu
September 24
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St. Portland.
The amazing Tuvan throat singers add electronica and other Western music to their traditional influences.

Cappella Romana
September 24
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland.
Read my ArtsWatch preview of the vocal ensemble’s 25th anniversary concert.

Newport Symphony
September 24 & 25
Newport Performing Arts Center.
The orchestra plays an unusual program of mostly rarely heard yet attractive mid-20th century music by Stravinsky (his first little small orchestra suite), longtime Oregon coast resident Ernest Bloch (Suite Modale for flute and strings), American composer Gunther Schuller’s Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, plus a Mozart overture and a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody.

Soprano Ani Maldjian joins Portland Chamber Orchestra this weekend in 'The Diary of Anne Frank.'

Soprano Ani Maldjian joins Portland Chamber Orchestra this weekend in ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’

Portland Chamber Orchestra
September 24, Nordia House, 8800 SW Oleson Rd., Portland, and September 25,  Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis & Clark College, Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of one of the most intriguing orchestral concerts of the season, featuring Grigory Frid’s “monodrama” The Diary of Anne Frank and an early Shostakovich gem.

September 23-October 2
John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts, 868 High Street, Eugene.
Read my Eugene Weekly preview of the Shedd’s production of Lionel Bart’s ever-popular 1960 musical.

Oregon Symphony
September 24-26
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
“You can open any door in my castle,” the mysterious middle aged prince told his new young bride, “except that one.” Read the rest of my Willamette Week preview of the orchestra’s performance of another operatic drama, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Ghost, a new piece commissioned from 27-year-old composer Chris Rogerson, and more.

Beaverton Symphony Orchestra
September 25
Village Baptist Church, 330 SW Murray Blvd, Beaverton.
This free multicultural concert celebrates contributions of refugees and immigrants with performance of Japanese koto music by Oregon Koto-Kai, Iraqi music by composer-singer-guitarist Ronny Hermiz, and Latin American music by Grupo Condor, plus Western classical music from the BSO strings.

Oregon Bach Collegium 
September 25
United Lutheran Church, 22nd and Washington Streets, Eugene.
The historically informed early music group features rarely heard early 17th century German music for voices, organ and Baroque trombones.

Márcia Guimarães and Julia Brown
September 25
First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive, Eugene.
The respected veteran Sao Paolo-based lyric soprano joins the veteran Rio de Janeiro-born Eugene pianist in a free afternoon concert of Brazilian art songs.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

Cappella Romana preview: Byzantium & beyond

Portland vocal ensemble's 25th anniversary concert reprises its first performance, which set the blueprint for its mix of medieval to modern music

When Alexander Lingas moved to San Francisco in the summer of 1990, the Greek Orthodox cathedral where he’d just been appointed associate cantor lay in ruins, devastated by the 1989 Loma Prieto earthquake. Lingas wanted to help the church rebuild – and the only contribution he could offer was music. The Portland native had sung in his Greek Orthodox church, with local choir Cantores in Ecclesia and with the Portland State Chamber choir, and even formed an early music ensemble of his own while studying at PSU. So he and his Portland musical friends piled into a van, and headed south to perform a benefit concert. The church offered them lodging and a lavish, post-concert spaghetti dinner with freshly cured Greek olives.

Cappella Romana in 1994.

Cappella Romana in 1994.

After hearing the Northwesterners sing Greek Orthodox music from ancient Byzantium as well as contemporary Greek-American composers and more, nearly 300 listeners donated money for cathedral reconstruction. And Lingas and friends decided to keep making music.

To evoke the Byzantine empire’s Roman heritage and the medieval Greek concept of a religious world that embraced the far-flung lands of the old Roman Empire, he named the group Cappella Romana — Roman chapel. This weekend, the ensemble performs the same program in Seattle and Portland.


“The Graduate: review: Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson

Superficial script undermines Bag & Baggage's production of the theatrical version of a '60s classic

Many of us probably fondly remember The Graduate as a tale of idealistic young lovers Ben Braddock and Elaine Robinson triumphing over a corrupt, plastic Cold War American establishment embodied by Elaine’s alcoholic mother, Mrs. Robinson.

But Terry Johnson’s lumbering 2000 theatrical adaptation of Charles Webb’s 1963 novel makes the story seem surprisingly dated, the ostensible main characters superficial.

St. Cyr and Colbourne in Bag & Baggage Productions' 'The Graduate.' Photo: Casey Campbell.

St. Cyr and Colbourne in Bag & Baggage Productions’ ‘The Graduate.’ Photo: Casey Campbell.

What Bag & Baggage Productions‘ staging, playing this month in Hillsboro, does have, though, is some deft comedy and a fascinating Mrs. Robinson who’s almost worth the price of admission, despite being onstage for only about half the show. Rather than merely embodying hypocritical society’s denial of both Ben and Elaine’s wishes — the resistance they must overcome to find fulfillment — she becomes a fierce, tragic heroine who’s ahead of her time.


A new ‘Snow Queen,’ part 3: Cooking up a fresh new score

For Eugene Ballet's upcoming production, Portland composer Kenji Bunch takes on the biggest project of his musical career


Editor’s note: Eugene arts journalist Bob Keefer is tracking Eugene Ballet’s creation of a new version of The Snow Queen.  ArtsWatch will reposting the series here after each installment appears on Keefer’s Eugene Art Talk blog.

When Eugene Ballet premieres its new full-length interpretation of The Snow Queen at the Hult Center next spring, its dancers will perform to all-new music by Portland composer Kenji Bunch.

That’s a giant leap forward, both for the ballet – which has never before commissioned a full-length musical score – and for Bunch, who has never before composed such a long piece of music.

Kenji Bunch and Coffee.

Kenji Bunch on a Coffee break. Photo: Bob Keefer.

“I have never done a full-fledged, evening-length orchestral ballet score,” he said in a recent visit to his home studio. “That is definitely a bucket-list item for a composer.”


Profile Theatre artistic director Josh Hecht: Focusing the lens

Newly appointed artistic director broadens Profile's scope to include new plays, new collaborations, and a new emphasis on theater as a lens on society


Profile Theatre carved out a unique niche in Portland’s theater scene by focusing narrowly and deeply. Each season showcases only a single venerated playwright, affording audiences a deeper understanding through experiencing several plays from throughout the writer’s career.

Josh Hecht takes over as artistic director at Portland's Profile Theatre.

Josh Hecht takes over as artistic director at Portland’s Profile Theatre. Photo: Thomas Grady.

With newly hired artistic director Josh Hecht, though, Profile hopes to broaden its scope in several ways: chronologically, by adding emerging young playwrights to the mix; collaboratively, by partnering with other Portland theaters and cultural organizations of all kinds; and thematically, by adjusting what Hecht sees as the goal of its unique mission, from putting playwrights under the microscope to using their plays as a telescope pointed out at 21st century.

“Along with other members of Profile’s search committee, I was impressed by Josh’s credentials as an educator and award-winning director with broad and deep experience in American theatre — in NYC and across the U.S.,” Profile board chair Steve Young said in announcing Hecht’s hiring. “I am also impressed by his communication, collaboration, and leadership skills and by his passionate belief in theatre’s responsibility to contribute to the civic life of our community.”


MusicWatch Weekly: From stages and screens

Sounds from Broadway, Hollywood, Hyrule and beyond take center stage this week in Oregon music

Music from Broadway stages, film, opera, performance art, and video games top the bill in Oregon music this week, along with a pair of excellent — and very different — piano virtuosos, Renaissance and Baroque tunes, and more. And there’s some excellent, old fashioned monomedia music concerts available too. If you have recommendations for other musical performances for ArtsWatch readers, please leave them in the comments section below.

Patrick McCulley & Friends
September 15
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of the Portland saxophone colossus’s showcase.

David Saffert channels Liberace at Celebration Works. Photo: Gary Norman.

David Saffert channels Liberace at Celebration Works. Photo: Gary Norman.

David Saffert & Friends
September 16
First Presbyterian Church, 1200 SW Alder Street, Portland.
The opening of the redoubtable and rebooted (shorter, no intermission concerts that start at 7 pm, four hours of validated free parking, post show reception with the performers — and free of charge) Celebration Works series stars the entertaining Portland Opera pianist and Liberace epigone, plus his collaborator, the besequined original’s longtime music director Bo Ayars, with Jillian Snow Harris as Liza Minelli, and Jason Miranda on drums.

“Anne Boleyn’s Motet Book” 
The Ensemble
September 16, St Luke’s ~ San Lucas Episcopal Church, 426 E 4th Plain Boulevard, Vancouver, WA; September 17, Central Lutheran Church, 1857 Potter Street, Eugene; September 18, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of the all-star vocal group’s program of Renaissance music.

Stanley Cowell Trio
September 16
The Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Avenue, Portland.
In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, young Stanley Cowell was one of the next big things in jazz piano, a distinctive postbop stylist whose exquisite taste led him to use his prodigious virtuosity only when it really counted. For someone who played with legends like Roland Kirk, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Bobby Hutcherson, Clifford Jordan, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, Stan Getz and many more, he’s too little known today, probably because he devoted so much of his career to jazz education (Rutgers University), so this rare opportunity to see one of the great jazz pianists, now an elder statesman, shouldn’t be missed by anyone who loves the music, from straightahead mainstream to beyond.

PDXJazz brings the elegant pianist Stanley Cowell to Portland's Old Church.

PDXJazz brings the elegant pianist Stanley Cowell to Portland’s Old Church.

Fêtes Galantes
September 16
First Christian Church, 1314 SW Park Avenue, Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of the touring early music ensemble’s performance of early Baroque French and Italian music.

September 16-October 2
John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts, 868 High Street, Eugene.
Read my Eugene Weekly preview of the Shedd’s production of Lionel Bart’s ever-popular 1960 musical.

Stairway To Paradise
September 16-25
New Century Players, Rose Villa Performing Arts Center, 13505 SE River Road, Milwaukie.
A septet of singers and players celebrate the birth of Broadway with a revue of standards by the Gershwins, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin.

Legend of Zelda returns to the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Jose Lim.

Legend of Zelda returns to the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Jose Lim.

“The Legend Of Zelda: Symphony Of The Goddesses – Master Quest”
September 17
Oregon Symphony, Pacific Youth Choir, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
The latest installment in the multimedia video-game inspired orchestral program features live orchestral music from throughout its three decade history including new tunes and imagery from the latest release. Read Maria Choban’s ArtsWatch story about Zelda and other video game music.

Rinde Eckert
September 17
Winningstad Theater, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland.
Like most other Time Based Art Festival shows — and Eckert’s own oeuvre — any performance by the New York based vocalist/composer/writer/performance artist/multi-instrumentalist is likely to be more theater than just music. Yet any fan of the artist’s fascinating shows (several of which have been performed at TBA festivals over the years) will be interested in this autobiographical overview of “greatest” hits from Eckert’s long career, and they’ll doubtless include some fine music, and that inimitable voice.

Rinde Eckert performs at Portland's TBA Festival. Photo: Doug Gifford

Rinde Eckert performs at Portland’s TBA Festival. Photo: Doug Gifford

September 18
Hampton Opera Center, 211 SE Caruthers Street, Portland.
Beginning at 1230 pm, Portland Opera’s annual free, family friendly open house at its riverfront HQ includes Opera a la Cart performances of music from the company’s upcoming season (La Boheme, Man of la Mancha, Cosi fan tutti, The little Match Girl Passion, and Monteverdi’s magnificent book of songs of love and war), a Portland Opera To Go Hansel and Gretel open rehearsal, an open house with costume shop tours, and opera chorus open rehearsal.

“The Kid”
September 18
Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main Street, Vancouver, WA.
A quintet of Vancouver Symphony musicians accompany the Charlie Chaplin/Jackie Coogan silent classic.

Turandot” (film)
September 18
Living Room Theaters, 341 SW Tenth Avenue, Portland.
Puccini’s perennial gets a film treatment of a 2015 production at Austria’s Bergenz Festival.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

Renée Fleming review: Queen of the Night

Star soprano’s concert with the Oregon Symphony covers a wide range of vocal riches


During the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Renée Fleming worked her way, in part, through State University of New York at Potsdam, and later at the Juilliard School, by singing jazz gigs. Saxophonist Illinois Jacquet thought she was good enough to tour with his big band when she was a student at Eastman School of Music. He invited her but she stuck with Eastman.

Good choice. The first opera singer to perform at the Super Bowl, Renée Fleming is called the “people’s diva.” But really?

She is quite the queen.

Fleming and Kalmar take their bows.

Fleming and Kalmar take their bows.

Decked out in dazzling evening gowns (she changed her wardrobe once, and the second blush-beige bejeweled dress drew more applause than the first), she commands the stage. So she did Saturday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall when she opened the Oregon Symphony’s 120th season and belted out, microphone in hand, “Happy Birthday” to commemorate it. Oregon Symphony’s David Miller composed this arrangement with twists and turns and minor chords. It’s not your traditional birthday song, and mercifully, you can’t sing to most of it, even though the audience was itching to get in on the last act of the show.

It was obvious that Fleming, 57, pretty much planned the program, mixing up genres to a much greater extent than conductor Carlos Kalmar does when presenting classical repertoire. Just like her student days singing jazz, she does not confine herself to opera or classical music, and certainly she doesn’t put herself in a musical box when headlining in Portland.


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