FEATURED

Sounds beyond Shakespeare

Southern Oregon offers surprisingly rich range of classical music attractions

by ALICE HARDESTY

It may come as a surprise to Portlandia that there’s something in Ashland besides Shakespeare. During my years in Portland, whenever I would say that I intended a visit to Ashland, my friends would always ask, “What plays are you going to see?” My usual response was, “I’m not going to the theater, I’m going to a concert.”

Having lived in Ashland for 16 years before moving to Portland, I’d seen plenty of plays, but my heart was firmly located in the musical scene. In fact, the little cities of Southern Oregon boast musical performances that could be considered big-city league. And there’s something good to hear and see all year, so one has alternatives to the “smoke season.”And now that I’ve moved back to my Ashland roots, I’m deeply embedded again.

Caballito Negro

The Oregon Center for the Arts (OCA), connected to Southern Oregon University, is an umbrella organization for several music presenters and arts organizations in the Rogue Valley, including the Tutunov Piano Series, the JPR One World Series, the Schneider Museum of Art, and the newly developed ShakespeareAmerica program. Other musical groups include Chamber Music Concerts, Caballito Negro (read the ArtsWatch profile by Matthew Andrews), and Left Edge Percussion, the latter two having performed in Portland. Here are some particulars about them.

Rogue Valley Symphony

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of maestro Martin Majkut‘s tenure as Music Director of the the Rogue Valley Symphony. The orchestra is composed of 70 professional musicians, most of whom live in Southern Oregon, but several commute from further locales. They present a series of six “masterworks” concerts each year plus holiday and family concerts, in Ashland, Medford, and Grants Pass venues. Dr. Majkut’s arrival gave an electric boost to an otherwise sleepy provincial orchestra, which now attracts major soloists, such as Peter Serkin and Jeffrey Biegel. The orchestra commissioned five new pieces for its 50th anniversary last year, including How Can You Own the Sky? a symphonic poem by Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse honoring the Native Americans of Southern Oregon. (See the ArtsWatch article by Gary Ferrington). Maestro Majkut has dubbed the 2019-2020 year “The Season of Women” with all female soloists. Further information and tickets: www.rvsymphony.org or 541-708-6400.

Rogue Valley Symphony. Photo: Christopher Briscoe.

Chamber Music Concerts

Full disclosure – Before moving to Portland I had served on the CMC board for many years, and since returning to Ashland this past summer I’m on the board again. Back in 1993, newly arrived in Ashland and having been spoiled by marvelous music in the Washington D.C. area, chamber music is where I found the world-class performances I longed for. Founded in 1984, CMC brings groups from all over the world to perform in SOU’s acoustically excellent recital hall. Artists have included Angela Hewitt, Jon Nakamatsu, Julianne Baird, the late Sanford Sylvan, and the Emerson, Pacifica, and Takacs Quartets, to name just a few. The twelve-concert season includes eight evening concerts and four matinees, all with different programs.

Minguet Quartet performs in Ashland April 26. Photo: Frank Rossbach.

Next year’s stellar line-up includes the celebrated vocal ensemble Tenebrae, as well as the Elias String Quartet, the Faure Piano Quartet, and Brooklyn Rider as CMC’s Exploration Concert. Information and tickets: www.chambermusicconcerts.org or 541-552-6154.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: virtuoso visits

Masters of piano, guitar, violin and more lead this week’s Oregon concert highlights

Back when musical minimalism was the young brash upstart, naysayers called the style simplistic, faddish, and worse. “Never last,” many pundits predicted. Wrong. Half a century on, the style echoes not just in the music of its still-vibrant pioneers like Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but also in the music of subsequent generations of composers who credit them as major influences, not to mention film and dance scores, even TV commercials.

I’ve seen a dozen different recent albums of pianists from around the world playing Glass’s solo piano music, and now, Seattle-based pianist Jesse Myers plays his gorgeous etudes for solo piano accompanied by colorful light projections designed for each piece.
Thursday, The Old Church, Portland.

Benjamin Grosvenor performs at Portland Piano International. Photo: operaomnia.co.uk.

• Portland Piano International brings another solo pianist, acclaimed young British virtuoso Benjamin Grosvenor, to play a pair of recitals featuring music by Schumann, Janacek, Prokofiev and Bellini.
Saturday and Sunday afternoon, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

• Guitarist David Torn’s name is less well known than his guitar, which has graced albums by David Bowie, Jeff Beck, k.d. lang, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and many more, plus soundtracks (Adaptation, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, Friday Night Lights, etc.). He’s also made some vibrant albums on the ECM label, and now has a trio with long-time collaborator and alto sax virtuoso (and Lewis & Clark College alum) Tim Berne and acclaimed percussionist Ches Smith. Sun of Goldfinger’s expansive new album is a wild, dizzying, sometimes overwrought whirlwind of electronic explorations, avant jazz, contemporary classical touches including string quartet, and general uproar. It’s worth seeing them live just to figure out how only three admittedly superb players can make so much music that sounds like nobody else.
Thursday, Holocene, Portland.

• Fortunately for Oregon, though he was born in England, fiddle master Kevin Burke’s appearances here no longer qualify as visits, though his virtuosity has never been in doubt. Burke has lived in Portland for many years and is a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. Neither Irish by birth nor residence, he’s won Ireland’s most prestigious music awards, both in competitions and for his work in some of folk music’s foremost groups, including the Bothy Band, Celtic Fiddle Festival and Patrick Street. He’s an ideal choice for a pre-St. Patrick’s Day concert in Eugene and St. Paddy’s Day itself in Portland.
Thursday, The Shedd, Eugene, and Sunday, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland.

Mandelring Quartet performs at Portland State University.

Friends of Chamber Music presents Germany’s much-praised Mandelring Quartet performing quartets by Shostakovich, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Bartók, and Mendelssohn.
Monday and Tuesday, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University.

Accomplished tenor and PSU dean Leroy E. Bynum, Jr. sings spirituals.

• In My Soul is a Witness: Spirit and Spirituality in the Songs of America’s Enslaved, lyric tenor Leroy E. Bynum, Jr and fellow Portland State faculty member pianist Chuck Dillard team up in a free recital that will “explore both the spirit and spirituality of America’s ‘slave songs’ captured in concert arrangement by several of the 20th century’s most celebrated arrangers of spirituals.
Sunday afternoon, Lincoln Recital Hall, PSU.

Orchestral Music

Longtime Portland Baroque Orchestra artistic director Monica Huggett has been a leading force in the Baroque music revival for decades, as virtuoso violinist, bandleader, and teacher both in the US and her native England. Her students are also rising to stardom, and one of them, British and Brazilian violin virtuoso Rodolfo Richter, leads PBO’s The Road to Dresden concerts of North German Baroque music. The program stars two of the three great German Baroque masters: Telemann (his slyly weird violin concerto inspired by croaking frogs) and Handel (one of his Opus 6 concertos, usually rated as behind only Bach’s Brandenburgs and maybe Vivaldi’s Four Seasons among Baroque concerto masterworks). It also includes a splendid sonata by earlier Baroque virtuoso Franz von Biber, who loved to retune fiddles to make strange sounds, and more.
Friday and Saturday, First Baptist Church, Portland, and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College.

Tomas Cotik performs with Portland Columbia Symphony.

Oregon Symphony plays music by Brahms, Turina, and (with help from great Spanish guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas) Albeniz and Welsh composer Stephen Goss, Saturday-Monday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Portland Columbia Symphony plays music by Barber, Britten and Beethoven (his great violin concerto, starring local virtuoso violinist Tomas Cotik) Friday at First United Methodist Church, Portland, and Sunday, Mt. Hood Community College Theater, Gresham.

Beaverton Symphony Orchestra and Oregon Chorale team up in music by Ralph Vaughan Williams Friday at Hillsboro’s Liberty High School and Sunday at Beaverton’s Village Church.

Streaming

Live From Beall Hall: Oregon Wind Ensemble. Tuesday, 7:30 pm

Live From Beall Hall: UO Symphony Orchestra Concert. Wednesday, 7:30 pm

PSU Noon Concerts:  Student Chamber Music. Thursday, 12 pm

Live From Beall Hall: Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Thursday, 7:30 pm

Live From Beall Hall: Chamber Choir And University Singers. Friday, 7:30 pm

Live From Beall Hall: UO String Faculty. Saturday, 7:30 pm

Got more musical recommendations for ArtsWatch readers? Please deposit them in the comments section below.

Want to read more cultural news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Oregon Repertory Singers & Santa Fe Desert Chorale: preserving musical moments

New recordings from esteemed choirs showcase American music, including Northwest composers

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

James DePreist, famed conductor of the Oregon Symphony from 1980-2003, once shared with me his thoughts on producing a recording. During his tenure, the orchestra produced 17 recordings, one of which, in 2003, garnered a Grammy nomination. He said it was definitely not to make money, but to preserve a moment in time in the history of the organization.

Two fine choral organizations – one local and volunteer, one operating from the Southwest United States and professional, have this past year each recorded a moment in their musical time. Let’s take a look at how the two recordings share a common goal – to celebrate our choral music journey in America.

Oregon Repertory Singers, founded 45 years ago, ably directed by Ethan Sperry in 2012 (succeeding Gil Seeley) has stood out among the numerous fine choral groups in Portland. Their CD Shadows on the Stars, released on the Gothic label, features Northwest American composers. Some are well known, such as Morten Lauridsen, Joan Szymko and John Muehleisen; some are rising stars like Giselle Wyers, Naomi LaViolette, and Stacey Philipps.

The Santa Fe Desert Chorale offers a broader spectrum, still hewing to the “Made in America” qualification. Artistic Director Joshua Habermann, currently director of the Dallas Symphony Chorus, is also in his tenth year with SFDC. In The Road Home, his programming delves more deeply into the American past, honoring the Shaker tradition by excerpting (Track 4) from the “American Vocalist” a collection of American voiced music, published in 1849, a valuable moment in American choral tradition in print form. Each CD provides a strong representation of the traditions and abilities of each choir.

Continues…

Future Music Oregon: triangle of artistry

University of Oregon's music technology program shows that instruments aren't the only evolving aspect of music -- so is the composer's role

 by DANIEL HEILA

At first glance, the stage at the University of Oregon’s Thelma Schnitzer Hall looks like any other chamber music recital. A violinist and pianist sit/stand ready to perform Neil Rolnick’s Deal with the Devil. Look closer, though and you’ll see controllers (devices that trigger sound generators) mounted on violinist Jennifer Choi’s violin, resting on her music stand, and at her feet. New York new music star (and Portland native) Kathleen Supové’s piano is wired for treatment, as well. The composer is also on stage, facing a bank of mixers, black boxes, and a laptop.

Neil Rolnick’s Deal with the Devil starts out a lightly swung, jazzy duo with minimal electronic elements, but it swells into an expansive sonic canvas of interchange and interaction between acoustic instruments, their affected sound, and modulated sound samples. It is powerful, engaging music. Ten minutes in, however, I ask myself, “Why is the composer on stage?”

As the instrumentalists dig in to their virtuosity, a warped string orchestra of electroacoustic sounds emerges: a whorling cacophony that whips around the hall’s eight-channel speaker system, causing heads to swivel. In contrast, Rolnick’s performance is mundane. He pushes faders, twists knobs, wiggles his mouse, and peers at the laptop. He makes intermittent, quasi-conducting motions, without ensemble eye contact. Put simply, he appears out of place. Next to the impassioned gestures of the musicians, his presence is a distraction.

Jennifer Choi, Kathleen Supové, and Neil Rolnick perform Rolnick’s ‘Deal with the Devil’ at Future Music Oregon’s fall quarterly concert on November 17, 2018. Photo: Daniel Heila.

Nonetheless, with its crowd-pleasing, whiz-bang ending, the piece is a success. But my question remains: Why is the composer on stage? Luckily, I find answers in the program’s remaining pieces and during a later interview with longtime FMO director Jeffrey Stolet.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: natural classical

Sounds inspired by nature and spring highlight this week's Oregon music performances

Oregonians live in a nexus between the natural world that drew so many of us here and the human-created environment that nurtures us. That juxtaposition has inspired several of this week’s musical highlights.

Read my ArtsWatch preview of Habitat, Third Angle New Music’s immersive multimedia performance created by Portland composer/sound artists Branic Howard and Loren Chasse,
Thursday and Friday, Studio 2 @ N.E.W. 810 SE Belmont St. Portland.

• Lewis and Clark College faculty chamber ensemble Friends of Rain’s annual new music concert features music that responds to the natural world, written by a cast of top Northwest composers from accomplished veterans like Susan Alexjander to an award winning rising star, Andrea Reinkemeyer.
Friday. Evans Hall, Lewis & Clark College.

• One of the stalwarts of Portland’s classical music scene, Violinist Adam LaMotte is probably most familiar for his sterling work in Portland Baroque Orchestra. He’s launched a new, conductor-less orchestra to explore repertoire for bigger bands than the standard chamber ensembles he also performs with, and that stretches across a much wider time period than PBO — from the 17th to the 21st centuries. Amadeus Chamber Orchestra seeks to “bring new audiences into the realm of classical music via education, outreach, and vibrant live performances, collaborating with other entities to present multifaceted events.”

The added facets this time: interpolated readings by one of Oregon’s greatest nature writers, Kathleen Dean Moore (who has done similar shows with a pianist), and nature photography by Larry Olson. Both complement the nature-inspired musical selections in this “concert devoted to Mother Earth”: two of Vivaldi’s famous seasonal concertos, a flurry of English Baroque master Matthew Locke’s music for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, early 20th century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’s famous The Lark Ascending, long a popular evocation of spring’s impending arrival, and even an original composition for piccolo and strings by LaMotte himself.
Friday, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland State University.

• There’s more English music for chamber orchestra in this Saturday’s Oregon Mozart Players concert. The program includes one of Haydn’s miraculous London symphonies (written for a much bigger orchestra than OMP’s chamber orchestra forces) to a couple of mid-20th century works, Benjamin Britten’s Rossini tribute ​Soirées Musicales and Malcolm Arnold’s ​Serenade for Small Orchestra​, to contemporary composer Jonathan Dove’s ​nifty Mozart tribute Figures in the Garden.​
Saturday, Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon.

• The Lark Ascending reappears, in a much larger flock, when the Oregon Symphony mixes a pair of much-beloved classics with a brand new piece from one of the country’s leading active composers. Oregonians can sympathize with a 19th century German composer’s joy in visiting sunny Italy — Felix Mendelssohn’s ebullient “Italian” Symphony. The big news is the world premiere of leading American composer Christopher Theofanidis’s new concerto Drum Circles, co-commissioned by the Oregon Symphony, which incorporates a percussion quartet as the soloists rather than the usual violinist or pianist. Theofanidis wrote it for an all-star group called the Percussion Collective, who will play it with the orchestra.
Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Continues…

‘Habitat’ preview: capturing a city in sound

Third Angle commissions Portland composers to create an immersive soundscape that reflects urban and natural interactions

How do you evoke a city in music? George Gershwin used jazzy, brash orchestral music to summon 1920s New York’s bustling beauty. On Thursday and Friday, two Portland composer/sound artists will create a very different kind of soundscape to reflect our city’s 21st century collision between urban life and nature. The joint composition Third Angle New Music commissioned for its Habitat performance will conjure an immersive, meditative sound world from our environment itself.

The event is the brainchild of Third Angle New Music artistic director Sarah Tiedemann, who grew up in Hillsboro at the edge of the Portland metropolitan area’s urban growth boundary. “I was used to crossing a street and being on farmland,” she remembers. As the region grew explosively, that imaginary political boundary became “an image in my mind of the way the natural world around us is butting up against the urban world around us. We’re constantly in the presence of both.”

Branic Howard

Branic Howard

Tiedemann decided to commission a performance that would evoke Portland’s quintessential tension in music. She didn’t have to look far to find a composer to capture the area’s urban/natural interface in sound. Portland composer Branic Howard specialized in creating soundscapes. He also happened to be Third Angle’s sound engineer for many concerts. And he has a discerning ear for sounds — and not just what we traditionally think of as music. “Branic and I will be working in the office, and suddenly he’ll point out how the sound of a furnace coming on sounds so interesting,” she says.

For a collaborator, Howard thought of fellow Portland composer Loren Chasse. “He and I are on the same wavelength,” Howard said. For example, “you might spill dishwasher powder and not notice, and the next day you’ll step on it and it makes this certain sound. For Loren and me, that really is where a lot of the interest lies — situational sounds made up of interesting textures that we normally don’t home in on.”

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: global musical tour

Sounds from Africa, Japan, Ireland and more join jazz and classical music on Oregon stages

If America, or at least its government, seems a little crazy these days, and you can’t afford to skip the country, the week offers several opportunities for virtual world travel through music.

• PDX Jazz Festival’s irresistible double feature The Soul of Africa – Habib Koite + Bassekou Kouyate features two of the planet’s finest musicians from the musical hotbed of Mali. Kouyate has helped revive the centuries-old ngoni lute, the enchanting little plucked precursor to the banjo —adding strings, new approaches to picking, plucking, and note-bending, and incorporating influences from blues, rock, bluegrass, and jazz, perhaps partial compensation for his native Mali basically giving the West the blues (in a good way). He’s played with everyone from fellow griot Toumani Diabate to Taj Mahal to Bonnie Raitt, Bono, Bela Fleck, and Youssou N’Dour.

Habib Koite and Bassekou Kouyate team up at PDX Jazz Festival.

One of Mali’s most renowned musicians and one of the world’s great guitarists, Koite’s bubbling acoustic guitar-driven melodies and socially conscious lyrics won fans among Western pop stars like Raitt and in the 1980s and ‘90s made him one of Africa’s biggest crossover successes in the West. He’s continued to evolve, changing bands, styles and even instruments. But what hasn’t changed is Koite’s focus on contemporary issues (he sings in four languages, including English, about war, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation, but also happier subjects like soccer), melodic hooks, and gentle, pulsating groove.
Wednesday, Revolution Hall, Portland.

•  Lúnasa get us warmed up early for St. Paddy’s Day. The all-star Irish quintet  has reached the highest level of the Celtic music world, selling a quarter million records of vibrant Celtic instrumental folk music over the past two decades, and they keep the tradition current by adding original compositions and non traditional instrumentation (bass and guitar) to the classic mix of flute, whistles, uilleann pipes, and fiddle.

Wednesday, The Shedd, Eugene and Thursday, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland

Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs in Eugene .

• The famous voices of South Africa’s multiple Grammy-winning choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo sing Zulu music from across their four-decade career, probably including cuts from their two latest Grammy nominated discs and their renowned collaborations with Paul Simon. Beyond their beautifully blended voices, the group’s shows are graced by their choreographed dance steps, colorful costumes, and enthusiasm for bridging the divide between artists and audiences. Read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch story about their last Oregon tour.
Tuesday, Aladdin Theater, Portland, and next Wednesday, The Shedd’s Jaqua Concert Hall, Eugene.

Oregon Koto-Kai’s annual concert is Sunday at Portland State University.

• Led by one of the state’s global music treasures, Mitsuki Dazai, Oregon Koto-Kai annually showcases the performances of other masters of the koto, that most ravishing Japanese zither. This year’s So-Shun Koto Concert theme, “雪⽉月⾵風花”(Setsu Getsu Fu Ka or Snow, Moon, Wind, Flower perfectly describes this Oregon winter and also means the beauty of nature, which is the theme of most of the traditional compositions on the program. The show also features shamisen (three string lute) and ikebana flower arranging.
2 pm Sunday, Lincoln Recital Hall (Room 75), PSU, 1620 SW Park Ave. Portland.

JAZZ

PDX Jazz Festival concludes this week with another brilliant batch of improvisational masters. Read my ArtsWatch previews of Darrell Grant’s double bill with Terence Blanchard (whose E-Collective brings the funk, blues and R&B on their sizzling new album) and Portland Jazz Composers’ Thursday and Sunday From Maxville to Vanport shows.

• Stephan Crump busted out of his sideman role in Vijay Iyer’s acclaimed trio with his own, very different trio: his own acoustic bass, acoustic guitar and electric guitars (Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox). Rosetta Trio’s 2005 debut earned ecstatic reviews, and although Crump has gone on to lead other bands, he keeps returning to Rosetta, including their brand new album Outliers. It’s easy to hear why: the unusual but versatile instrumentation allows intricate interplay, unweighted by drums or piano. At times floaty, at times funky, it’s a string band for the 21st century.
Friday. Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave. Portland.

• Don’t wait for the inevitable posthumous tribute when you can still hear the real thing. Legendary bassist Stanley Clarke returns to the festival, this time bringing one of the music’s rising stars, LA keyboardist Cameron Graves (who has his own PDX Jazz Festival showcase), plus drummer Shariq Tucker. Best known for his contributions to ‘70s fusion pioneers Return to Forever, Clarke has ranged all over the field in various other projects, including funk, post-bop and more. His latest album includes everything from beatboxing to Bach. With youngsters Graves and Tucker aboard, expect even more contemporary sounds along with jazz-rock classics.
Friday, The Shedd, Eugene, and Sunday, Revolution Hall, Portland.

Bass boss Stanley Clarke plays Eugene and Portland.

The festival also continues its tribute trail with a quartet of contemporary saxophonists in the band Wide Angles, plus brass and strings celebrating the great Michael Brecker Saturday, a Grover Washington Jr. tribute led by Portland’s Eldon “T” Jones Friday, Toots Thielemans and Hank Mobley tributes Sunday, a couple of Blue Note label celebrations and much more, including some of our finest Oregon jazz artists. Check the whole wonderful lineup.

Continues…