Tina Chong review: Adventurous women

Portland Piano International rising star recital pairs female composers' new work and neglected classic


The first work that Portland Piano International’s Rising Star Tina Chong played, the first Friday evening in May at Portland Piano Company, did not initially seem to promise any magic moments. True, the title of the 1836 composition was “Nocturne” and the fluid melody and colorful harmony suggested Frédéric Chopin, or at least, a composer who avidly studied and understood that musical conjurer’s newly published works. But like so many Nocturnes, especially by lesser composers, it seemed a simple song in A-B-A form, or if you will, verse / chorus – bridge – verse / chorus (with, as it turned out, a short coda or outro).

And yet something astonishing happened at the end of the bridge. The return of the verse felt nothing like the blithe “oh here we are at home again” restart regurgitated in myriad familiar and forgotten examples of the form. Instead, while the prevailing figuration slyly flowed on underneath, the harmony levitated for a few seconds, skipped the verse’s opening chord altogether and alighted on its first moment of instability. The effect was almost unbearably poignant, as if the adventurer at the keyboard was turned back out onto the open road just when she was at her most vulnerable. One treasures such moments of tone poetry in Chopin, even in Brahms and Beethoven.

Tina Chong performed in Portland Piano International's Rising Star series.

Tina Chong performed in Portland Piano International’s Rising Star series.

Move over, guys. The composer was 16-year-old Clara Wieck, soon to become the wife of much better known composer Robert Schumann. But “composer” was deemed an unsuitable job for a 19th century European woman, and Clara went on to become instead one of the most famous pianists of her time, her own original music buried in obscurity. Two heads are better than one, and no doubt she and Robert influenced each other’s work – there are signs even in this early Nocturne. But Robert got all the credit.


Music in Small Spaces

Small-scale series bring new sounds closer to audiences

In the music world, most of the attention goes to the mega-venues: Keller Auditorium, Moda Center, Schnitzer Concert Hall, arena shows. Yet most of the creativity seems to happen in more intimate confines. Maybe it’s something to do with focus or informality or even lower ticket prices, but for me, cozy clubs, chapels, galleries, small auditoriums somehow make it easier to connect to what’s happening onstage.

That’s why I’ve cherished Music in Small Spaces, which for the past six years has presented new and unusual music in Beaverton and other towns on the west side of Portland’s West Hills (Tualatin Mountains), and Third Angle New Music’s Studio Series and Porch Music, which bring mostly new sounds to inner Southeast Portland’s Zoomtopia studios and the front porches of homes in a leafy old Northeast Portland neighborhood.


Alas, MiSS’s indefatigable majordomo, Judy Castle, has announced that last week’s concert, at Portland’s ironically not-so-small Village Baptist Church, will be the last in the series — a big loss for the West Side and for Oregon music in general. The final two performances, as well as Third Angle’s season-ending (but thankfully not series-ending) show last week show just why these spaces are so valuable. And while it won’t be in a small space, you will have the chance to see a reprise of the final MiSS show this Sunday in downtown Portland.


Murray Perahia review: Finding beauty in the beast

Revered pianist’s recital eventually bridges the gulf between performer and composer


A favorite misquote tells us music has charms to soothe the savage beast. But what happens when a work of music is the savage beast? World-renowned pianist Murray Perahia, in the grand finale of Portland Piano International’s current mainstream season, gave us his answer the afternoon of April 10 at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.


Portland Piano International brought Murray Perahia to Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The program featured works that reflected turbulent times in the lives of über-classic composers Josef Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms and of course, Ludwig van Beethoven. Early on it seemed the beasts were to be tamed, but in the end, something much less one-sided emerged that made one wonder: can man and monster meld into one great soul?


Delgani Quartet preview: Celebrating American sounds and scenes

String quartet's debut season finale blends music and images with music by American composers


Editor’s note: In its inaugural season, Eugene-based Delgani String Quartet has performed to sold out venues, commissioned new music by Oregon composers Paul Safar and Terry McQuilkin, and collaborated with oral interpreter Rickie Birran and guitarist James Bishop-Edwards.

For its final concert, American Portrait, visual artist Mike Bragg joins Delgani in paying homage to American composers Lou Harrison, William Grant Still, George Gershwin and Jennifer Higdon on May 21 at Sprout!, a regional food hub, marketplace, and entertainment venue in downtown Springfield.

Delgani Quartet. Photo: Bridie Harrington.

Delgani Quartet. Photo: Bridie Harrington.

ArtsWatch has been following this exciting new ensemble from its premiere of new works by Oregon composers in November, to its early spring concert featuring contemporary music of Latin America. As the group wraps up its first full season, we asked artistic director True about the ensemble’s inaugural year and its season-ending concert.

Celebrating American Music

Wyatt True: American Portrait was inspired by the Oregon Multimedia Project for violin and piano that I was working on during much of 2014/15 and also by our friendship with Mike Bragg. We love the idea of music with photography and film and feel it creates a real experience for the audience—it’s a concert we would want to go to!


Guest artist Mike Bragg Photo: Delgani Quartet.

Mike specializes in all kinds of visual art but has recently been involved with aerial drone footage. Expect expansive views of the Southern Willamette Valley and the coast but also close-up nature shots.

Coming across Jennifer Higdon‘s Sky Quartet convinced us to pursue this project because Higdon’s piece is inspired by the Western sky. In the program notes from her website, Higdon says: “When I began composing Sky Quartet, I envisioned the wonder and immensity of the Western sky. Every time I’ve been west of the Mississippi, I’ve always marveled at that exquisite canvas of blue and clouds. This work paints musical portraits of the sky in various stages: start of a day, the rapture of its “blueness,” a storm-wrenched fury, and its vast immensity.”

Higdon’s words, along with the music itself, almost require photography or video accompaniment in performance. The music will be accompanied by lots of sky imagery, or course, and especially time-lapse photography. This piece is really the cornerstone of the whole evening.

Portland-born Lou Harrison’s String Quartet Set is a fabulous piece and one that represents an American composer paying homage to European compositional traditions. William Grant Still‘s Lyric Suite is a beautiful work that is reminiscent of the southern United States—Still was born in Mississippi and grew up in Arkansas. George Gershwin‘s Lullaby, a lesser known work by one of our country’s most famous composers, will offer a final calm after the energetic Higdon quartet.

Lou Harrison at his strawbale house in California. Photo: Eva Soltes

Lou Harrison at his strawbale house in California.
Photo: Eva Soltes

The program includes works that geographically cover the entire United States from New York to the deep South to the West Coast. The program also features works that are very different from each other—a feature that is entirely American!


Weekly MusicWatch

Cavalcade of contemporary music and classics on Oregon stages this week

The last big weekend of the spring music season brings an avalanche of new music, much of written right here in Oregon, and a good deal of it emanating from the state’s universities, along with Indian music concerts, vanguard jazz, some excellent choral concerts, and more.

Oregon State University Wind Ensemble and Wind Symphony
May 18
Austin Auditorium, LaSells Stewart Center, 875 S.W. 26th Street, Corvallis
The band premieres Heart of a Forest by Paul D. Miller. Wait, let’s rephrase that. The band premieres Heart of a Forest by one of the 21st century’s most creative artistic mixers of media, composer/multimedia artist/writer DJ Spooky. Inspired by Thoreau and scored for turntables and wind ensemble, the neoclassical piece explores “the collision of data, sound and new ways to think about the absence of origins.” The fascinating program also includes music by Alfred Reed, Ronald Lo Presti, Howard Hanson, Frank Ticheli, Michael Gandolfi, John Adams, David Biedenbender and Percy Grainger.

OSU Wind Ensemble plays DJ Spooky.

OSU Wind Ensemble plays DJ Spooky.

Raphael Spiro String Quartet
May 18
The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland
The ensemble of current and former Oregon Symphony members plays World War II-era quartets by Britten and Shostakovich, and one of Beethoven’s Op. 18 quartets, written during an earlier European war.

MYSfits String Ensemble
May 19
The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland
The Metropolitan Youth Symphony classical string group re-plays contemporary New York composer Cornelius Dufallo’s A Late Walk, which they performed at this month’s FearNoMusic concert, plus one of the great 20th century oboe concertos, by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Tchaikovsky’s delightful musical postcard, Souvenir of Florence. The MYS jazz ensemble plays classics by Lee Morgan and Gigi Gryce as well as David Hazltine’s “Pentimento.”

Peter Brötzmann Quartet, CATFISH
May 19
Mississippi Studios, 3939 N. Mississippi Ave. Portland
One of the living legends of European free jazz returns to Oregon, preceded by the low key offshoot of Oregon’s Blue Cranes.

In Mulieribus
May 20, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church,  1114 SE 41st Ave. Portland, and May 22, Proto-Cathedral of St James, 218 W 12th St. Vancouver
The fabulous women’s vocal ensemble sings Renaissance music by  Binchois, Dunstable, Bisnois, Ciconia, and one of the era’s greatest composers, Guillaume Dufay, who was doing what composers like Lou Harrison did half a millennium later: integrating musical elements from diverse cultures of his time (Italian, French, English) to create a rich new hybrid sound.

Dema Ensemble performs at the University of Oregon.

Dema Ensemble performs at the University of Oregon.

Dema Ensemble
May 20
Dougherty Dance Theatre, University of Oregon
The UO’s African music/dance ensemble performs traditional African drumming, dance, singing and storytelling.

Beaverton Symphony
May 20 & 22
Village Baptist Church, 330 SW Murray Blvd, Beaverton
Alone among Oregon orchestras, the Beaverton Symphony displays a commitment to the music of its homeland with an annual, affordably priced ($10) performance by a composer from the area via its Northwest Composers Project. This spring’s entry is Washington composer Ryan Hare’s Maracanzo, an again-timely 2011 composition inspired by an (in)famous 1950 World Cup championship game. The concert also includes Beethoven’s stirring third symphony and performances of movements from famous classical concertos by the winners of the orchestra’s also admirable young artists competition.

Unistus Chamber Choir
May 20, First Christian Church, Portland, and May 22, Milwaukie Lutheran Church, Milwaukie
One of the state’s hidden musical treasures, the choir performs the world premiere of A Choral Calendar, with the Los Angeles composer/poet Carol Worthey reading the original poetry she wrote for the piece. A jazz quartet joins the show, too.

Lonnie Cline leads Unistus Chamber Choir Friday in downtown Portland.

Lonnie Cline leads Unistus Chamber Choir Friday in downtown Portland.

Marshanne Chamber Players
May 20, MarshAnne Landing Winery, and May 22, Wildish Community Theater, Springfield
Eugene Symphony concertmaster Searmi Park, Oregon Symphony clarinetist Louis DeMartino and pianist David Riley play a sweet program of trios by Giancarlo Menotti and Aram Khachaturian, Francis Poulenc’s lovely clarinet sonata, and Jascha Heifetz’s arrangements of tunes from Gershwin’s _Porgy & Bess_ for violin and piano.

“A Finale of Firsts”
Portland Chamber Orchestra, May 21, Nordia House, 8800 SW Oleson Rd. and May 22, Lewis and Clark College, Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Portland
The season-ending show presents the first symphonies of Beethoven and Prokofiev, along with Mendelssohn’s ever popular Violin Concerto in e minor and the superb Portland composer Kenji Bunch’s liltingly lush Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra.

Vancouver Symphony 
May 20 & 21
Skyview Concert Hall, 1300 NW 139th St. Vancouver
The orchestra closes its season with performances of Shostakovich’s first (1925) and final (1971) symphonies — extremely different orchestral statements befitting the extremes of the composer’s eventful life.


Weekly MusicWatch: Operas, oratorio, and other musical offerings

New music from the Netherlands, Greece, Syria and the Pacific Northwest highlight this week's music calendar

This week’s calendar boasts some major music, old and new: a couple of operas (one from the end of the last century), a 20th century oratorio, an important new concerto from one of Oregon’s leading composers, a multimedia benefit for Syrian refugees, and much more — including abundant new music from various lands, including this one. Please let ArtsWatch readers know about other appealing musical events in the comments section below.

“A Child Of Our Time”
May 11
Portland Symphonic Choir, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave. Portland
Read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch preview of British composer Michael Tippett’s oratorio, which combines African American spirituals, Baroque music traditions, and a powerful anti-war and anti-discrimination message, reinforced here by projections of images provided by the Oregon Jewish Museum.

Eugene Symphony
May 12
Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center, Eugene
Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview of the season ending oncert featuring the world premiere of the orchestra’s newly commissioned Piano Concerto by leading Oregon composer Robert Kyr and Beethoven’s mighty Symphony No. 9.

Going Dutch
Third Angle New Music, May 12 & 13
Studio 2@Zoomtopia. 810 SE Belmont, Portland
The Netherlands boasts one of the world’s craziest contemporary classical music scenes, but Oregon rarely gets to hear the music of the generation that followed the country’s most famous living composer, Louis Andriessen. The intrepid ensemble brings the music of younger composers including JacobTV (whose “Grab It!” for sampled voices and solo instrument, which also appears on this program, totally grabbed my attention when Portland saxophonist Linse Sullivan played an electrifying version a couple years ago at Classical Revolution), Michel Van der Aa, Ruben Naeff, Mayke Nas, and Cathy van Eck’s piece for shrubbery.

“Sting: The Jazz Remix”
May 12
Alberta Abbey, Portland
Read Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch preview of Darrell Grant and Marilyn Keller’s tribute to the former Police chief.

The illustrious lutenist Ronn McFarlane performs Friday in Portland Classical Guitar's series.

The illustrious Oregon lutenist Ronn McFarlane performs Friday in Portland Classical Guitar’s series.

“The Magic Flute”
May 12 & 14
Keller Auditorium, Portland
Read Bob Hicks’s ArtsWatch review and Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch preview of Portland Opera’s opening 2016 production.

Ronn McFarlane
May 13
Wiegand Hall, Marylhurst University
One of the world’s greatest lutenists happens to live in Oregon. The Grammy-nominated McFarlane made his reputation with the Baltimore Consort and continues to tour and record with that great early music ensemble as well as composing, recording and touring as an engaging solo performer/composer. This Portland Classic Guitar concert will feature his own evocative originals as well as classic lute works from the Renaissance and Baroque eras.


Willamette Master Chorus review: Triple treat

Helmuth Rilling leads singers and orchestra in richly rewarding performances of J.S. Bach cantatas


When we encounter Helmuth Rilling, we can always count on learning in triplicate: theology, pedagogy and, of course, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Last Saturday night, at Hudson Hall on the campus of Willamette University, the internationally famous conductor and pedagogue brought us three distinct gifts — and a bonus present.

Helmuth Rilling and the Willamette Master Chorus. Photo: Sue Hale.

Helmuth Rilling and the Willamette Master Chorus. Photo: Sue Hale.

Well known for four decades in Oregon as the founder/music director of the Oregon Bach Festival, Maestro Rilling retired from OBF in 2013, but continues to guest conduct internationally, and most recently in the U.S. where he started on the east coast, touched down in Minneapolis to lead a Brahms Requiem, and finally here in Salem, to grace us again with Bach. Since he will not be conducting at the Bach Festival this summer, for the first time since he founded it in 1970, this was the only opportunity to hear Rilling work his magic in Oregon this year.

There is a special aura that surrounds an event like this: a buzz through the audience at intermission; an ebullience of spirit before and after the concert. It was an event that brought together choral cognoscenti from Salem, Eugene, from Portland, high school, college and community choral directors and performers, all converging in Salem to appreciate a uniquely Oregon transplant, Helmuth Rilling. Both concerts (Saturday and Sunday) were sold out. We were richly rewarded.


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