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‘Indian Music Now:’ navigating dual identities

Third Angle New Music presents dance-enhanced music by contemporary Indian-American composers

When Sarah Tiedemann was growing up in Hillsboro in the 1980s, the city looked quite different than it does now. Its residents were mostly white, its identity mostly derived from its agricultural heritage. Now, Hillsboro is Oregon’s fourth largest city, many of its residents work in tech-related fields, and many are people of color from India and nearby nations.

“I’ve seen Washington County … evolve into a more diverse and inclusive area,” Tiedemann, artistic director of Third Angle New Music, wrote on the ensemble’s blog. So when she was planning the ensemble’s 2018-19 season, which involved “giving voice to different parts of Portland, to people who might not have been heard” in contemporary classical music, Tiedemann included a concert that reflects those evolving identities in music.

Third Angle commissioned new music from composer Nina Shekhar.

Many immigrants and their families feel tugged between where they came from and where they are, between tradition and reinvention or innovation. For their next concert, Indian Music Now, Tiedemann and other Third Angle musicians will play music by four American composers of Indian heritage, all inspired by notions of dual identities, and including original Indian-inspired dance choreographed by Portland’s Creative Laureate, Subashini Ganesan.

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MusicWatch Weekly: dead of winter

A new year brings a week of concerts mostly featuring old music — with a few strong exceptions

If you’re looking for new music in the new year, pickings are slim, but a few shows provide some 21st century sounds.

• The Creative Music Guild’s Extradition Series explores the connections between today’s sounds and mid-century 20th modern classical music, especially venerated figures like Pauline Oliveros and the so-called New York School of 1950s and ‘60s composers led by John Cage. Flutist John C. Savage and pianist Matt Carlson get to choose exactly when to play the notes in Cage’s Two. The contemporary pieces on the program also embrace Cage’s aleatoric aesthetic. Mark Hannesson’s A Moment Is a Window gives Savage, guitarists Brandon Conway and Mike Gamble, clarinetists Lee Elderton and Jonathan Sielaff, and oboist Catherine Lee discretion as to when to enter, how long to play, and even whether or not to play any given note. Instead of dictating actual notes, Morgan Evans-Weiler’s one-page score for Constructed Objects consists of words explaining how Elderton, Sielaff, cellist Collin Oldham, percussionist Loren Chasse and electronic musicians Derek Ecklund, Branic Howard, and Juniana Lanning approach their respective roles. Matt Hannafin’s Variations on a Picture of Snow by Evan Cordes uses another midcentury mod technique, graphic scores, this one based on a photo of snow falling through the cracks in a wooden porch, with nine variations created in Photoshop. The black lines and white spaces tell Carlson, Ecklund, Lee, Oldham, Howard, and flutist Maxx Katz when to play; beyond that, they get to improvise based on this instruction: ”a cold morning, still and quiet, woken to new snow.” Cage and his followers left a lot of their performances to chance, so you’ll never hear this music played this way again.
7 PM Saturday. Leaven Community, 5431 NE 20th Ave. Portland.

Laura Beckel Thoreson.

• Most of the Indian music we see in Oregon is in traditional forms and for traditional instruments like sitar, sarod, tabla, and the rest. But today’s Indian composers, like any others, also look forward, embracing various contemporary classical techniques and approaches. Portland new music ensemble Third Angle’s Indian Music Now features some of today’s new music by American composers of Indian heritage, performed on flute, piano, clarinet and electronics. The seven 21st century compositions by Reena Esmail, Shirish Korde, Nina Shekhar (a Third Angle commission) and Asha Srinivasan — reconcile the music and traditions of the past with contemporary cultures and influences. Integrated into the no-intermission performance: original dance movement choreographed and performed by Portland’s Creative Laureate, Subashini Ganesan, along with contemporary Bharatanatyam dance. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch preview.
7:30 pm Thursday, 7:30 and 9 pm Friday. New Expressive Works’ Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont, Portland, and 7:30 pm Saturday 19 January, The Vault Theatre, Hillsboro.

Old Music

• Coming out of the holiday season when the biggest classical performances in Portland featured Messiah and the Christmas Oratorio, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the biggest music stars of Baroque Europe were Handel and J.S. Bach. In fact, in their time, neither was as famous as Georg Philipp Telemann. (Bach got a music director job only after Telemann, the first choice, turned it down.) Yet even though his 3,000 plus compositions make him history’s most prolific composer, these days, we don’t hear Telemann’s elegant music nearly as much as those other two 18th century titans. But with The Ensemble of Oregon’s concert of intimate solos, duos, trios and quartets (including four delicious mini cantatas) and last October’s Portland Baroque Orchestra all-Telemann show, a revival may be afoot. Played here in historically informed style and tunings with Baroque cello, violin, organ, and featuring the sublime voice of soprano Laura Beckel Thoreson, they may lack Handel’s grandeur or Bach’s profundity, but make up for it in the charm that made Telemann a Baroque rock star.
7 PM Saturday. First Christian Church, Portland.

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Bach Cantata Choir: Baroque Christmas

Choir pairs choral-orchestral classics by Schutz and Bach

By BRUCE BROWNE & DARYL BROWNE

The pairing of German Baroque music pillars Heinrich Schutz and Johann Sebastian Bach is a treat any time. But at Christmas, programming the Weihnachtshistorie (Christmas Story) of Schutz with the Bach Magnificat – brilliance. The weekend before Christmas, Portland’s Bach Cantata Choir gave us both pieces: the Christmas Story, served two ways.

Bach Cantata Choir performed Christmas music by J.S. Bach and Heinrich Schutz. Photo: Ric Getter

Ralph Nelson directed these major Baroque works by the two great German geniuses, one representing the early part of that music period (1660) and one the later (1723). Despite their similarities — both use strings, winds, continuo, choir and vocal soloists; both are bookended by chorales (in their current forms) — it’s the differences between the two that make the program pairing so enticing.

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MusicWatch Weekly: exploratory opportunities

Relatively quiet opening week of 2019 offers chances to check out music beyond the comfort zone

Like the rest of our post-holiday recuperation, the first week of Oregon’s 2019 concert season starts relatively sluggishly. But there are a few good shows that you might have missed during a busier time of the season. Each offers a great chance to fulfill that New Year’s resolution to explore new and different experiences.

• Two of the city’s major classical music directors were born in Latin America, including Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s Costa Rican-born conductor Raúl Gómez. With help from Pacific Youth Choir, the young musicians will perform broadly appealing but too often neglected (by terminally Eurocentric adult American orchestras) classics by Mexico’s ​Arturo Márquez and José Pablo Moncayo, Costa Rica’s Carlos Guzmán and more. As Oregon grows more demographically diverse, so should its classical music concerts, and this show offers not only a chance to encounter some excellent music we should all be hearing more often on classical concerts, but also these accomplished young musicians and their visionary conductor.
Sunday, Newmark Theater, Portland

Raúl Gómez leads Metropolitan Youth Symphony Sunday.

• The Oregon Symphony starts the year off light, with this weekend’s light classical program of excerpts and classical greatest hits (Bernstein’s ebullient Candide overture, Barber’s Adagio for strings, hits by Bach, Beethoven, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Rossini, Mozart and more, including the inevitable Taco Bell Cannon) that make a nice musical tapas menu to introduce those lingering visitors and family members to classical music.
Saturday & Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland

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Oregon Music 2018: looking outward

Socially engaged sounds, multimedia productions, and other trends in 2018 Oregon music

Last year’s music roundup first looked homeward. ArtsWatch’s 2017 music coverage focused, as we have from the outset, on our state’s creative culture: music conceived and composed in Oregon. We touched a lot of other bases, too of course, and homegrown music remained a touchstone our 2018 coverage and this recap.

But as with other Oregon artists this year, Oregon music increasingly gazed outward — and often askance — at our nation’s continuing descent into turmoil, division, lies, and political corruption, starting right at the top and oozing down. Therefore, so did much of our music coverage. So we’ll start with what ArtsWatch’s David Bates called…

“Socially Engaged” sounds

Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic and choir Resonance Ensemble devoted entire seasons to contemporary classical music that responds to today’s social issues.

Resonance Ensemble preview: questions of faith
Choral organization’s ‘Souls’ concert is part of a season-long musical exploration of timely social concerns
Brett Campbell, February 23

‘Bodies’ review: Pride is a verb
Resonance Ensemble’s Pride Week concert commemorates LGBTQIA community’s struggles and celebrates its creativity.
Matthew Andrews, August 14

Resonance Ensemble

Resonance Ensemble: amplifying ‘Hidden Voices’
Vocal ensemble’s collaborative concert features musical responses to experiences marked by racism and resistance.
Matthew Andrews, November 17

Fear No Music: music of migration and more
New music ensemble demonstrates dedication to diversity and development.
Matthew Andrews, December 10

New music ensemble Fear No Music

Other classical music organizations also presented issue-oriented new music.

Oregon Symphony reviews: immigrant songs
Fall concerts include a world premiere theatrical commission and 20th century works by immigrant American composers
Matthew Andrews, January 9

Lawrence Brownlee preview: a journey
In a Friends of Chamber Music recital, the celebrated tenor sings a Romantic classic and a new, timely composition about America’s most pressing crisis
Damien Geter, April 2

Shredding it at “Pass the Mic” camp.

Portland Meets Portland
The innovative “Pass the Mic” summer music camp pairing music pros and young refugees and immigrants will give a free concert Friday.
Friderike Heuer, July 14

David Ludwig: telling the earth’s story through music
Composer’s Chamber Music Northwest commission inspired by ancient Earth, threat of extinction from human-caused climate change.
Matthew Andrews, July 27

Gabriel Kahane’s new oratorio confronts America’s empathy deficit
Commissioned, performed and recorded this week by the Oregon Symphony, ’emergency shelter intake form’ humanizes homelessness.
Interview by Matthew Andrews, August 28

Multimedia

Besides addressing today’s social issues, another trend among some classical music organizations in 2018 was updating their presentations by augmenting music with other art forms such as theater, literature, visual arts, and more. At ArtsWatch, we try to provide constructive feedback on how these often experimental productions worked, so we can help risk-taking artists move forward into unexplored territories — without leaving the audience behind.

Fin de Cinema’s “Beauty and the Beast”: spirit of discovery
Latest mix of classic film and Portland contemporary music captures Cocteau creation’s mix of beauty and grit.
Douglas Detrick, January 23

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Cappella PYP, Portland State choirs, and In Mulieribus perform Richard Einhorn’s ‘Voices of Light’ during a screening of Dreyer’s film Friday.

‘Voices of Light’ preview: trial by fire
Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus, Portland State University choirs perform Richard Einhorn’s popular oratorio ‘Voices of Light’ with Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc.’
Brett Campbell, January 25

“Tesla” lab report
Harmonic Laboratory’s ambitious experimental multimedia performance produces mixed results.
Brett Campbell, February 6

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Oregon Symphony Orchestra: Nightmares before Christmas

OSO film series presents two simultaneous dramas: one on screen, one hidden in the orchestra 

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

In my comfy balcony seat in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, I realized with a start that I was about to hear, for the first time ever, a real live orchestra performing the music of my favorite composer.

It was nine shopping days before Christmas, and the Oregon Symphony Orchestra was getting ready to perform Nightmare Before Christmas, synchronizing Danny Elfman’s score to the film, projected on a screen above the orchestra, same as OSO has been doing for years.

Oregon Symphony performed the live score to Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ in December.

I looked around: just like at last fall’s Star Wars concert —pure bliss— the audience was a little younger than the OSO’s usual Mahler-loving crowd. A whole lot of folks my age and younger, some with parents or friends or kids, most wearing some kind of Nightmare bling.

And, as with Star Wars, the place was packed. They’d had to add a fourth show to accommodate the demand for this weird animated hybrid holiday show, this bizarre 25-year-old stop-motion musical (directed by Portlander Henry Selick, who animated Coraline) with Weillisch songs and score by a guy who used to breathe fire in a gonzo horror pop band.

But while this Nightmare was a dream come true for me and the rest of the audience, it was a lot scarier for the orchestra and its conductor. As we enjoyed the antics of Jack, Sally and the rest, the Oregon Symphony faced a test as tough as any of the movie’s characters.

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MusicWatch Weekly: ringing out, ringing in

Year-ending classical concerts look forward as well as back

Celebrating a new year’s arrival is a perpetual affirmation of hope over experience. So it’s appropriate that some of Oregon’s end of year events represent elements we need more of in classical music: youthful vitality, widespread participation, inclusive American programming, laughter.

• Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Concert-at-Christmas showcases its entire roster of nearly 300 musicians, plus alumni spanning much of the organization’s 95-year history. Performers from seven to 80 years old, include PYP’s Wind Ensemble, Conservatory Orchestra, Young String Ensemble, and Alumni Orchestra. They’ll play a fun, affordable, family friendly program featuring Aaron Copland’s Buckaroo Holiday, Strauss’s Thunder and Lightning Polka, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, the march from John Williams’s Superman score, and more.
Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Concert at Christmas is Wednesday.

• Classical Revolution PDX’s annual Bachxing Day is, like so much of that essential community organization, insistently inclusive: any local musician, regardless of conservatory cred, is invited to propose a solo or small ensemble performance, as long as it’s — well, I can’t express the philosophy better than the organization itself: “Bachxing day is our Annual Celebration of ALL THINGS BACH. (And puns. See above.) We like J.S., but also expect to hear J.C., C.P.E., P.D.Q. and X.Y.Z – pretty much anything that has “Bach” in the name. All styles of interpretation and instrumentation are up for grabs, including historically inspired performance, molto schmaltzando, and Bach on kazoo.” The culminating number: JSB’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.
Wednesday, Artichoke Music, 2007 SE Powell Blvd. Portland.

New Year’s Eve

• Florestan Trio has been Portland’s stalwart classical chamber ensemble since Auld Lang Syne (times long past) — more than four decades. The current stellar lineup of pianist Janet Goodman Guggenheim, violinist Carol Sindell, and cellist Hamilton Cheifetz has been together for many years and are familiar figures on Oregon classical music stages and PSU classrooms. For this New Year’s Eve concert, Friends of Chamber Music pairs the venerable threesome with another Portland classical music veteran, pianist John Strege (who was music director at Trinity Cathedral for almost as long as the Florestans have been around) and baritone Kevin Walsh in a characteristically delightful divertimento and piano trio by Haydn, John Williams’s famous theme from his score for Schindler’s List, and more, plus dessert and champagne.
Monday, The Old Church, Portland

The Florestan Trio performs in Friends of Chamber Music’s New Years Eve concert.

• As usual in recent New Year’s Eves, the Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony, abetted by singers from Portland State University, Oregon Repertory Singers, and Pacific Youth Choir plus vocal soloists. As is unfortunately not usual but is most welcome, the concert also includes orchestral music by 20th century African American composers better known for jazz. Best known as the father of Harlem stride piano, James P. Johnson was one of jazz’s 1920s pioneers. But starting in the 1930s, he began writing symphonic music, which was neglected by the racist white classical music establishment of his time. Eugene Symphony music director Marin Alsop (who now leads the Baltimore Symphony) recorded all of it for the first time in 1994, and the Oregon Symphony will play two of Johnson’s orchestral works: the symphonic poem Drums and the brief Victory Stride. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s hip, fun version of Nutcracker ballet music is more than just another orchestral arrangement, featuring jazzy solos, complete reorchestration, swing rhythms, even new titles for the famous dances. It’s a sweet, sly revelation that merits hearing even if you’re surfeited with sugar plum fairies by now — an ideal combo of American and European holiday cheer.
Sunday and Monday. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven, Ellington, and James P. Johnson Sunday and Monday.

•  3 Leg Torso and the Krebsic Orkestar
Portland’s favorite world chamber ensemble, 3 Leg Torso and Alex Krebs’ fiery dozen-member Balkan brass band, the Krebsic Orkestar, host a tangorrific New Years Eve party. You don’t have to know how to tango, but do be ready to dance like no one’s watching. DJ’d dance party follows.
Tango Berretin, Portland

• As 2018 mercifully closes, there’s so much wrong in our country that a significant portion of the music and theater being created today seems to be responding, often with outrage, to depredations perpetrated by our ruling class. A century and a half ago, the British Empire produced a similar share of evils, and artists responded.

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