The Radically Mused: Improvisation Summit of Portland

Creative Music Guild's annual convocation presents a broad spectrum of spontaneous creativity


No one comes to a Creative Music Guild show to hear a familiar tune or a classic work. CMG concerts are places where joyful noises erupt and drone on, where genres are fused and exploded, where everyday objects become artistic tools, where risks are taken—a space is made in which anything and everything is welcome. And if you step into this space and join the performers, attending to the free flow of their intuitions, then you might just find some revelations—artistic, personal or otherwise. The first night’s performance of this year’s edition of the organizations’s annual Improvisation Summit of Portland exemplified CMG’s mission and what it continues to offer the Portland community.

Pure Surface Collective at Improvisation Summit of Portland

Pure Surface Collective at Improvisation Summit of Portland

For over 20 years CMG has championed spontaneous creativity and experimentalism through concerts bringing together local and international artists. A non-profit, volunteer organization currently directed by Alyssa Reed-Stuewe, Brandon Conway, Ben Kates, and John Savage, CMG is one of the greatest and longer-standing landmarks in Portland’s artscape, though it seldom gets the attention it deserves. CMG’S annual Improvisation Summit is not only a good introduction to the organization, but also to Portland’s more radically mused artists. The 2016 ISP took place on June 2, 3, and 4 at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center in the Kenton neighborhood of NE Portland.


Mentoring a community of 21st-century composers

Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium brings new music to Oregon listeners and prepares composers for a life in music

Story and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

The Oregon Bach Festival, as its name implies, primarily concentrates on music of the past. But every other year, it also adds a focus on the present and the future, via the biannual Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium (OBFCS).

From June 26-July 7, new music fans can hear a selection from the 30 or more new works written by symposium participants in the five-part New Pathways concert series at the University of Oregon School of Music. Performers include  soprano Estelí Gomez, former Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, and Duo Damiana (guitarist Dieter Hennings and flutist Molly Barth) among many others.

Composers Symposium to premier new music in Eugene.

Composers Symposium to premier new music in Eugene.

The symposium’s primary value, though, is helping foster tomorrow’s music. Every two years some 90 international composers and visiting artists gather at the UO School of Music and Dance to form a collaborative and creative community for writing and performing contemporary music for instrumental and vocal ensembles. The intensive symposium offers seminars, master classes, rehearsals, public concerts, mentoring by guest composers-in-residence and visiting artists, a film music festival, attendance at selected OBF rehearsals and concerts and, if not entirely exhausted by day’s end, nightly social gatherings that sometimes last into the wee morning hours. The symposium provides abundant opportunity for composer/performer networking and collaboration now and in the future.


Makrokosmos 2 preview: Musicians in the Midst

Piano-propelled contemporary music festival returns to Portland and Eugene


“I don’t know where to stand,” Portland composer, violist and violinist Kenji Bunch confessed to the crowd crammed into Blue Sky Gallery last June. There was after all no stage, and the audience sat in folding chairs arrayed around the downtown Portland art and photography space. Bunch finally decided to start his set of original music with pianist Monica Ohuchi by not standing at all, instead walking around the pianos as he played.

Changing the usual “rules” of classical performance is part of what made Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia’s Makrokosmos Project so successful last year, and why the New York-based duo pianists are bringing it back next week. For one thing, there’s no prescribed duration to the musical “happening” featuring work by living American composers and leading local performers; audience members are welcome to come and go, catching as few or as many of the 40 minute sets as they like.


Kenji Bunch’s walking performance. Photo: Saar Ahuvia.

Moreover, the event, whose second annual performance occurs this month in Portland and Eugene, pretty much obliterates the distinction between the performers’ stage and the audience’s space.

The project strives for “a performance atmosphere that breaks the barriers of traditional concert halls by putting the audience in an intimate space, close to the performers and the music performed,” according to Ahuvia. In a genre that’s too often distanced itself from its audience, it may seem a little crazy; no wonder this year’s theme is American Berserk.

The Makrokosmos Project, which OAW called “one of 2015’s peak Oregon musical moments,” again takes listeners to the acoustic edge at Blue Sky on Thursday, June 23 and then travels up river to Eugene for a festive evening at Oveissi & Co. on the 26th.

Like last year, the program begins at 5 pm with a wine social and the first of a series of short sets each about 40 minutes long.

The absence of a stage brings artist and audience together. Photo: Saar Ahuvia.

The absence of a stage brings artist and audience together. Photo: Saar Ahuvia.

“This is something that we have been experiencing more and more in our own performing as classical music tries to reinvent itself in public spaces, clubs and other non-traditional venues,” Ahuvia suggests. “We hope to attract a diverse audience, some who are new to contemporary music, by giving them an option to commit to as much or as little music as they desire. A 40-minute set is something most people can handle and having some delicious food and wine helps to spark the conversation afterwards! And having tickets from $10-20 also makes it affordable.”

This year’s featured work, a 40th anniversary performance of Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never be Defeated, includes 36 variations based on the song “¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” by Chilean composer Sergio Ortega with text by the popular vocal group Quilapayún. The composition has been divided among a team of six pianists, which is not typically done, but seems to work well for this festival, according to pianist Alexander Schwarzkopf. Despite the apparent connection between Rzewski’s famous radical composition and this year’s overheated political rhetoric, “no strong political statement was planned beyond the poignancy of ’uniting the pianists,’” Ahuvia explains. “That being said, we love the spirit of contemporary music being political and relevant to our time.”

John Adams’s six-minute American Berserk!, a title suggested by a phrase in Philip Roth’s novel American Pastoral, resonates with earlier American piano music of Charles Ives and Conlon Nancarrow, the composer notes. “This is a piece that we have always liked,” Ahuvia recalled, “and were happy to hear that Lydia Chung had it in her repertoire. Lydia, who we know from Baltimore and our Peabody days, had just relocated to Portland and when asking her about possible repertoire for this summer she mentioned American Berserk. We had an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment, and this year’s festival theme fell into place.”

Audience and performers at intermission of last year's Makrokosmos Project.

Deborah Cleaver demonstrated George Crumb’s techniques at last year’s Makrokosmos Project.

“We’ve constructed the festival with music that is super edgy, infused with virtuosity, urbanity and jazz,” Ahuvia says. “Nikolai Kapustin, Portland-based Ryan Anthony Francis and especially John Zorn’s Carny all have elements of ‘berserkness.’ There are plenty of ’berserk’ elements in the Rzewski as well.”

DUO Stephanie & Saar will open the festival with music by contemporary American composers influenced by Eastern philosophies and sounds. “Philip Glass brings both drama and meditations to Four Movements for Two Pianos,” Ahuvia notes about the minimalist pioneer whose music owes much to his 1960s work with Ravi Shankar and study of Indian music’s rhythmic structures. “Gerald Levinson’s new piece Ragamalika: Ringing Changes uses actual Indian and invented ragas infused with rigorous contemporary compositional techniques,” Ahuvia explains.

In addition to DUO Stephanie and Saar, performers include Oregon musicians Angela Niederloh (a prominent opera singer and Portland State University professor who was a classmate of Ho’s at Portland’s Wilson High School), Lydia Chung, Julia Hwakyu Lee, former Florestan Trio pianist and Portland Piano International founder and director Harold Gray, Third Angle New Music’s Susan Smith, Reed College professor Deborah Cleaver, FearNoMusic’s Jeff Payne, and Eugene pianist Alexander Schwarzkopf. The Portland second set features mezzo-soprano Niederloh and Stephanie Ho in three early songs by George Crumb and selections from Jake Heggie’s Winter Roses. “The music provides a chilling, lyrical respite from the otherwise high octane music presented throughout the evening,” Ahuvia says.

Third Angle pianist Susan Smith played George Crumb's music at last year's Makrokosmos Project. Photot: Aaron Brethorst.

Third Angle pianist Susan Smith played George Crumb’s music at last year’s Makrokosmos Project. Photo: Aaron Brethorst.

Niederloh and Payne can’t make the Eugene show, so Alexander Schwarzkopf will play his own new composition, Perspectives (2016) instead of the Zorn piece Payne plays in Portland, and Stephanie & Saar replace Niederloh’s set with their own performance of music by Pulitzer Prize winning American composers from two generations, George Crumb (whose music they hope to program every year in the festival named after one of his major compositions) and David Lang.

“Our message to the audience,” Ahuvia says, “is to come open-minded, have a glass of wine on us, and immerse themselves in new sounds in new settings.”

Makrokosmos Project 2: American Berserk! Thursday, June 23, 5pm-10pm at Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW 8th Avenue, Portland. Sunday, June 26, 5 pm-10 pm at Oveissi and Company, 22 West Seventh Avenue, Eugene. Ticket prices are $15 advance, $20 day of show and $10 students and seniors. Tickets and more information online.

Read ArtsWatch’s interview last year with Stephanie & Saar and review of last year’s inaugural Makrokosmos Project.

Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.

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

Because the past is just a goodbye

Blake Andrews at Blue Sky gallery

I’ve known about Blake Andrews for many years. He is a force to be reckoned with in the world of photography, particularly because of his minimally titled blog, B. Steeped in the history of and a dialog about photography, the blog is informative, but its real bite comes when Andrews applies his creative, incisive wit—sometimes so dry that how one interprets him says more about the person reading than what he writes—that makes it a must-read. Those who make the mistake of taking him at face value are said to start bleeding a good 24 hours later from the place his scalpel almost imperceptibly pierced their skin.

But we’re here to talk about his exhibit of photographs, specifically his exhibit, Pictures of a gone world at Blue Sky Gallery. All framed by sprocket holes (not visible in the reproductions here), the 28, black and white, analog photographs carefully attend to a specific aesthetic and technical history of his craft. The subject matter is mostly his wife and kids, which some might consider a bit of a throwback. But the images illustrate the title for the exhibit, “Pictures of a gone world,” which, the exhibit’s PR informs us, is also the title of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s first book of poems.

“Gone?” If I were of a literal bent, I’d see no pending doom in these photographs. (Well, maybe in one photo, but we’ll get to that in a bit.) Quite the contrary: I see joy, even in the most chaotic of moments portrayed in these images, and a lot of fun being had.

Emmett (2013)/Blake Andrews

Emmett (2013)/Blake Andrews

Oh! “Gone!” Like in “Gone, Daddy, gone,” as in “far out,” taking things to a new level, or being unconstrained. It is a vernacular older than Andrews; another time lost; still, albeit anachronistic, applicable for this exhibit.


FilmWatch Weekly: Jews, Geniuses, Raiders, and Devils

The 24th Portland Jewish Film Festival goes into high gear, a documentary examines the greatest fan film in history, and more!

24th Portland Jewish Film Festival: The Northwest Film Center once again provides cinematic proof of the diversity of Jewish culture, with films ranging from raunchy comedy to sober documentary to unsettling drama. (Northwest Film Center) READ MORE

“Genius”: This star-studded drama tells the story of editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and his collaboration with novelist Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). Nicole Kidman and Laura Linney co-star, and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) pop in as well. (Regal Fox Tower) READ MORE

“Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made”: In 1982, three 11-year-old boys in Mississippi started making a shot-by-shot remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” They didn’t finish it for over thirty years. This is their story. (Hollywood Theater) READ MORE

Chantal Akerman: An ongoing series, schedule to run sporadically for the next year, pays tribute to the groundbreaking Belgian filmmaker who died in 2015. The first program in the series, a documentary about Akerman, plays this Friday. (Northwest Film Center) READ MORE

“Ma Ma”: Penelope Cruz brings all of her star power to bear on this Spanish melodrama about a single mom, diagnosed with breast cancer, who meets a man in the midst of his own struggle with tragic fate. (Living Room Theaters) READ MORE


MusicWatch Weekly: Festivals unfurled

Summer festivals signal summer sounds ahead

Let the festivals begin! You can’t necessarily tell by looking out the window, so you know it’s summer in Oregon when the big summer classical music festivals return like Vaux’s Swifts to that chimney. Please alert ArtsWatch readers to other musical celebrations or concerts in the comments section below.

Sergey Antonov stars at the Astoria Music Festival and its Portland preview concert this weekend.

Sergey Antonov stars at the Astoria Music Festival and its Portland preview concert this weekend.

Astoria Music Festival Portland Preview
June 17
The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland
For Portlanders who want to hear what the Astoria Festival is all about, chamber musically at least, this show brings Boston-based Russian cellist Sergey Antonov, red violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn and versatile pianist Cary Lewis to play old-school masterpieces by Grieg, Mendelssohn, and Dvorak’s dazzling Dumky Trio. They’ll repeat the show at Astoria’s Liberty Theater the following afternoon.

Portland Piano International Summer Festival
Read my Willamette Week preview of the annual summer orgy of pianistic prowess and education, which this year celebrates one of the “golden ages” of piano prominence, back just before TV and other screens made our keyboarding less about active musical creation than passive entertainment viewing. Along with the usual lectures, films, workshops, a wellness program, and of course recitals, director Arnaldo Cohen has added chamber musicians, including top Oregon Symphony players and the former concertmaster of Amsterdam’s great Concertgebouw Orchestra. The intimate atmosphere and under-an-hour recitals help avoid pianistic overwhelm.

Astoria Music Festival 
June 18-July 3
Liberty Theater and Grace Episcopal Church, Astoria
After last year’s administrative upheaval, in which music director Keith Clark apparently emerged triumphant over a since-resigned board of directors that was looking in new directions, the north coast festival returns pretty much as before, with the great Northwest-connected Metropolitan Opera stars Angela Meade and Richard Zeller, top players from orchestras in San Francisco, San Diego, Atlanta, Detroit, award-winning Russian musicians Sergey Antonov and pianist Ilya Kazantsev, peripatetic Portland pianist Cary Lewis. Some new faces appear, too, like Portland’s ever-entertaining and offbeat 3 Leg Torso world chamber ensemble next Wednesday night at Liberty Theater.

Saturday afternoon’s opening chamber music show at beautiful Liberty Theater features sonatas by Mendelssohn and Grieg and Dvorak’s delightful “Dumky” trio. That evening’s symphonic opener comes closest to a serious contemporary music offering, with one of Philip Glass’s two symphonies inspired by great David Bowie albums, the “Heroes” symphony, which sets half a dozen songs (including a bonus track!) from that classic album and somehow mostly makes them hang together into a long, fairly cohesive composition, more successfully than Glass’s earlier attempt to do the same with one of the other albums in the late great rocker’s so-called “Berlin Trilogy” (written while he lived there), the “Low” Symphony. That said, after you hear the concert, go buy Bowie’s original masterpiece. The concert also features John Adams’s effervescent Short Ride in a Fast Machine, one of the most stirring concert openers of the 20th century, and a chestnut for the old-schoolers, Elgar’s romantic Cello Concerto featuring Antonov.

Elizabeth Pitcairn plays her Red Violin at the Astoria Music Festival.

Elizabeth Pitcairn plays her red violin at the Astoria Music Festival.

Sunday afternoon brings Elizabeth Pitcairn back (she played with Portland Columbia Symphony last year) with her calling card: the famous (to classical fans anyway) Stradivarius “Red Violin,” which is a way to somehow differentiate the zillion-and-first performance of Mendelssohn’s great violin concerto from the zillionth, or zillion-and-second. The Astoria Festival Orchestra also plays Beethoven’s mighty Egmont Overture and another Heroes symphony, his third.

On Tuesday, Grace Episcopal Church hosts an intimate, candlelit and sold-out JS Bach recital featuring Eugene organist Julia Brown and Antonov on two of the great solo cello suites, plus Zeller singing that most poignant and popular of Bach cantatas, his 82nd, I Have Enough.

June 17-26
Mock’s Crest Productions, Mago Hunt Center, University of Portland, 5000 N Willamette Blvd. Portland
Read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review of Mock’s Crest’s latest Gilbert & Sullivan patter-fest.

Funny Face
June 17-26
The Shedd, 868 High Street, Eugene
If you’re a Smarty (the show’s original title), you’ll read my Eugene Weekly preview of the Oregon Festival of American Music’s new historically informed revival/restoration of George & Ira Gershwin’s witty 1927 musical comedy classic, bursting with immortal songs you know and others you should get to know.

Oregon Festival of American Music restores 'Funny Face' to its original fancies.

Oregon Festival of American Music restores the Gershwins’ ‘Funny Face.”

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus
June 18
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland
A trio of Portland divas (Dru Rutledge, Jennifer Gill, and Susannah Mars) join the 140-voice chorus in 28 songs by some of the greatest female singers of the era, in a concert that should be especially poignant after the horrendous events of last week.

“Porch Music”
June 18
Third Angle New Music, Irvington neighborhood, Portland
The always enjoyable performance/stroll through a sampler of next season’s new music offerings, including Cappella Romana performing Arvo Part’s gorgeous (and seasonal!) Summa music and Solfeggio, ArtsWatch contributor Matt Marble’s Conversation with a wolf, Steve Reich’s pioneering Violin Phase, Peter Klatzow’s percussion-propelled Ambient Resonances, and Timothy Kramer’s solo cello Vanishing Perspectives. Audience members gather at a home in the leafy northeast Portland neighborhood where the throng is divided into five groups, each of which then ambles to different nearby home, where Third Angle members and guests perform movement or other excerpt from one of the group’s upcoming concerts. Then everyone goes to the next house for another alfresco performance, until they’ve seen all five. It’s a refreshing, informal way to get an intimate taste of next season’s fascinating fare.

June 18, St. Michael and All Angels Church, 1704 NE 43rd Ave, and June 19, First Unitarian Church, 1011 SW 12th Ave. Portland
Read my Willamette Week preview of the Portland Revels women’s choir’s 10th anniversary, world/folk music flavored concerts.

Make Music Day PDX
June 21
Various Portland venues (click link above for schedule)
Six dozen ensembles, a score of venues, free performances of music ranging from classical to jazz to bluegrass to rock and beyond … the annual music celebration, which began in France in 1982, returns for a second go-round in Portland.

Portland Percussion Group
June 22
The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland
The ensemble composed of percussionists from Portland Opera, Lewis & Clark College and Portland State University faculty, Vancouver Symphony, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Federale and more play the three winning pieces from their call for scores — expanding the repertoire for marimba and vibraphone music — plus sparkling compositions by the terrific contemporary Chicago composer Mark Mellits and New York composer Gordon Stout.

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

Weekly MusicWatch: Opera overload

Operas and operettas lead this week's Oregon musical offerings

When Portland Opera, like many other American opera companies, moved to a summer season this year, we expected an operatic effusion — but this week, it’s turned into a veritable eruption, with a handful of opera/operettas onstage around Oregon this week, including the world premiere of an original Oregon opera, and a pair of song concerts starring opera singers. Non operatic sounds also abound, and feel free to alert readers to more  in the comments section below.

Portland Opera's 'Sweeney Todd.' Photo: Corey Weaver.

Portland Opera’s ‘Sweeney Todd.’ Photo: Corey Weaver.

“Sweeney Todd” 
June 9 & 11
Portland Opera’, Keller Auditorium.
Read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review of Stephen Sondheim’s bloody tale of a wronged barber’s revenge.

The Bad Plus
June 9
Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Avenue, Portland
The Oregon return of one of jazz’s most popular piano trios, whose audience extends way beyond the jazz heads, thanks in part to their insistence on performing jazzy arrangements of contemporary pop and even classical tunes along with occasional jazz classics.

June 9-26
Mock’s Crest Productions, Mago Hunt Center, University of Portland, 5000 N Willamette Blvd. Portland
Another, less macabre tale of an exile who returns home and commits crimes, this Gilbert and Sullivan operetta takes a happier turn than Sondheim’s.

Mock's Crest Opera's 'Ruddigore' at University of Portland.

Mock’s Crest Productions’ ‘Ruddigore’ at University of Portland.

Refuge: A Concert for Syrians in Exile
June 10
Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave. Portland
Oregon Repertory Singers soprano Laurel Alyn-Forest joins composer/pianist composer Grisha Krivchenia to perform his new song cycle based on the words of Syrian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, as well as refugee/exile-related music by Schubert and Allan Louis Smith. Ten percent of the proceeds go to Syrian refugee assistance organizations.

Organic Nation Listening Club
June 10
Artists Repertory Theater, Portland
Portland jazz keyboardist and storyteller David Ornette Cherry brings back another incarnation of his mix of reminiscence, jazz, funk, and stories, co-starring other Portland music legends and their memories. Read my ArtsWatch review of last year’s version.

David Ornette Cherry (l) and Norman Sylvester (c) starred in last year's production of Organic Listening Club.

David Ornette Cherry (l) and Norman Sylvester (c) starred in last year’s production of Organic Nation Listening Club.

“Via Lactea”
June 10-12
OperaBend, Tower Theatre, Bend
Based on the verse novel Vía Láctea: A Woman of a Certain Age Walks the Camino, by one of Oregon’s finest essayists/memoirists, Ellen Waterston, the world premiere of this new opera in English features music by Bend-based composer Rebecca Oswald. Central Oregon Symphony music director Michael Gesme conducts, with state direction by Nancy Engebretson and choreography by Michelle Mejaski. Oregon Public Broadcasting’s State of Wonder did a nice preview.


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