FEATURED

FilmWatch Weekly: Queer Docs, fat Buddhas, and more

The week's notable films also include the latest from French star Juliette Binoche

As American society has taken steps—some halting, some confident—toward recognition and acceptance of a wider variety of gender and sexual identities, compelling true-life tales reflecting a previously stifled panorama of experiences have emerged. Each year, the Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival presents a thoughtfully curated selection of those stories, and its 2018 iteration, which runs from Thursday, May 17, through Sunday, May 20, at the Hollywood Theatre, is no exception.

The opening night selection looks to the past while providing hope in the face of a fraught future. “50 Years of Fabulous” examines the oldest gay and lesbian charity group in the country, The Imperial Council of San Francisco, which was founded in 1965 by José Julio Sarria, the first openly gay candidate for public office in American history. The film functions as a tribute to Sarria, who died in 2013, as well as a testimony to the group’s accomplishments and a recognition of the challenges it faces to remain relevant today.

“Fifty Years of Fabulous” leads off the Portland QDoc Film Festival.

Other highlights include “Every Act of Life,” an affecting and admiring portrait of four-time Tony Award winner Terrence McNally (“Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Kiss of the Spider-Woman,” “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” and so many others). Testimonials pour in from titans such as F. Murray Abraham, Angela Lansbury, and Rita Moreno. Audra McDonald, who was in the original cast of McNally’s “Master Class” and, coincidentally, will be appearing with the Oregon Symphony at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Tuesday, May 22nd, has some very nice things to say. And Nathan Lane, naturally, is irrepressible.

Continues…

Portland Wind Symphony review: free is a very good price

Growing orchestra's strong performance gave the audience greater value than many paid concerts

by MARIA CHOBAN

Musician: Oh my gosh, it’s been too long since we last saw each other! I’m retired!!

Me: That’s fantastic! You must be filling up all your time with playing.

Musician: (Sheepishly) Yeah, but it’s all free stuff now.

Me: Why are you apologizing?! This free concert is better than the last ten concerts I attended that charged admission!

Free is a very good price. But a free concert might also come with reservations. The show might not be quite ready for prime time, right? When I recommend a show or a band, I’m aware of how little free time folks have. I am just as likely to answer the uninitiated who ask for my recommendation with “No! Do not go to this overpriced under-rehearsed show” as I am to shepherd them away from many free and reasonably priced events — because it’s not just about money anymore. Is it worth their most precious commodity — time?

Chris Chapman leading Portland Wind Symphony. Photo: Phil Pasteris.

What particularly thrills me, though, is when I can exuberantly recommend a great free show like the one last week, where the above conversation took place at intermission of a concert of the Portland Wind Symphony at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: Mahlerian May

Mega-symphonies and more resound in Oregon concerts this week

Mahler’s symphonies seem like a closing chapter, a culmination of big, Romantic orchestral music. So large (and expensive!) are the forces required, that orchestras often save them for the end of the season. On Thursday, Francesco Lecce-Chong concludes his debut season with the Eugene Symphony with Symphony #5, along with Haydn’s delightful Symphony #88, still one of his most popular. Mahler wanted to pack a world into each of his symphonies, and this 1902 colossus traverses an astonishing emotional range, veering from funereal to violent to inebriated to anxious to ardent to a demented orchestral punch line.

Gustav Mahler.

In Portland, the Oregon Symphony closes its season this weekend at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with Mahler’s relatively infrequently played 1905 seventh symphony (“A Lotta Night Music”), which does not need more cowbell. And next Tuesday, Corvallis OSU Symphony Orchestra plays his massive, summery third symphony at Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center.

The excellent Delgani String Quartet also goes big in its season-ender Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night at Eugene’s Temple Beth Israel, and Monday night at Portland’s Old Church, adding a second violist (Elizabeth Freivogel of the award-winning Jupiter Quartet) so they can play a pair of too rarely heard (because they require that “extra” player) classical masterpieces: Mozart’s G Minor quintet and Brahms’s G major quintet.

Delgani Quartet adds a guest for its performances in Portland and Eugene.

In “Rituals” Friday night at N.E.W. Expressive Works, Portland/Seattle new music ensemble Sound of Late, one of the freshest additions to the Northwest’s burgeoning contemporary classical music scene, offers a pair of Portland premieres by Alvin Singleton and acclaimed Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, a composition by Chet Udell that uses motion-sensor electronics and horn, a 20th century classic by the late pioneering composer Pauline Oliveros, and the world premiere of a lament by promising Oregon composer Andrea Reinkemeyer, who just scored a major national award for emerging women composers.

Sophiko Simsive performs in Portland, Salem, and Hood River.

Speaking of Oregon composers, Portland’s Kenji Bunch contributed a new piece to Sophiko Simsive’s performances at Portland Piano Company (Wednesday), Salem Library (Thursday), and Hood River Middle School (Friday afternoon). The award-winning Georgian pianist’s free recital, part of Portland Piano International’s admirable Rising Star program that pairs new music by Oregon composers with emerging young touring pianists, also features sonatas by Mozart and Scriabin and Ravel’s marvelously modernized reinvention of an old dance form, The Waltz (La Valse) — which in turn inspired Bunch’s new Discothèque.

Speaking of Bunch, his father Ralph wrote the libretto for another new piece by still another Portland composer, John Vergin, which the latter will perform on piano with singers Alexis Hamilton and Brian Tierney Sunday night at Reed College’s Eliot Hall Chapel. Their song cycle Eleanora Andreevna takes its title from the name of Bunch’s Soviet-born wife, who escaped German bombing during World War II and grew up to become one of the nation’s top female computer scientists and to save Ralph’s life. They married when both were in their late 50s and she died in 2012.

Frank Martin didn’t even publish his 1922 Mass for 40 years, considering the devotional music too personal. But choirs have increasingly taken it up, including recent performances by Oregon Repertory Singers, Cantores in Ecclesia and now these Portland Symphonic Choir performances Friday and Saturday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral led by PSC music director candidate Richard Sparks. When Sparks was with a Canadian choir, he also commissioned the other work on the program, Canadian composer Allan Bevan’s 2005 Good Friday meditation Nou goth sonne under wode, and now he’s bringing it here for its Portland premiere.

Continues…

‘Blithe Spirit,’ ‘Oklahoma!’ reviews: way out west

Theatre in the Grove and Bag & Baggage Productions add darkness and depth to 20th century classics

It started as just a chance to take the parents to a show we knew they’d like. They’re big fans of classic American musicals, and they don’t come more classic and American than Oklahoma! The folks are a bit too superannuated to make it down to Ashland. But a drive to familiar Forest Grove, they could handle. That’s how we wound up on closing night of what I foolishly assumed would be a podunk production of an overfamiliar American classic perpetrated by a team from west of Portland’s creative center, and produced by a community theater company on a too-small stage miles from Portland. At best, I thought, maybe the folks would enjoy it even if I rolled my eyes.

Boy, was I wrong! Theatre in the Grove’s May production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1943 classic turned out to be one of my most surprisingly delightful theatrical adventures this year.

I realized we were in for something special in the fraught duet “Pore Jud is Daid,” in which the protagonist Curly McClain (winningly played and sung by Austin Hampshire) tries to inveigle his nemesis, farmhand Jud Fry, into committing suicide. Jason Weed directs it as a dangerous dance, with Curly circling Jud, smiling and nodding toward an imagined noose. And in the crucial scene between Jud and Laurey Williams, the woman he and Curly both desire, director Weed and actors Brandon Weaver and Jade Tate show us that Laurey isn’t a simple goody two shoes love interest, nor is Jud a stereotypical bad guy. She’s shallow, self-absorbed, while he’s vulnerable, even damaged. Yet those dimensions somehow don’t conflict with their main actions in the story. They’re complicated humans, not inconsistent characters.

Brandon Weaver (l) as Jud Fry and Austin Hampshire as Curly McLain in Theatre in the Grove’s ‘Oklahoma!’ Photo: Jennifer McFarling.

The main credit for Jud’s dimensionality — and the lion’s share of the abundant audience applause, rare for the bad guy in any show — went to Weaver, whose spectacular, deeply considered performance is one of the finest I’ve seen in an Oregon musical. Far more than a simple black hatted villain, he could be genuinely terrifying, even while merely glaring at other characters, and yet in the same scene subtly reveal the anguish beneath the brutality. Weaver, another Hillsboro native who’s appeared in two dozen Grove performances since 1990, deserves wider exposure. I hope to see him on other Oregon stages soon.

Continues…

Mr. Shaw’s Profession

How a celebrated 20th century British playwright and critic is just what Oregon arts need today

by MARIA CHOBAN

I must honestly warn the reader that what he is about to study is not a series of judgements aimed at impartiality, but a siege laid to the theatre of the XIXth Century by an author who had to cut his own way into it at the point of the pen, and throw some of its defenders into the moat. (1)

George Bernard Shaw is back onstage in Oregon. I haven’t seen Portland Center Stage’s production of Major Barbara, which closes this weekend, but ArtsWatch’s Marty Hughley has. But I’m glad Shaw is back because Oregon needs his badass role-modeling as a theater, music, film, book, graphic arts reviewer right now!

Portrait of the arts journalist as a young man.

Portland has reached a stage in its artistic evolution comparable to London’s when Shaw arrived on the scene there in 1876.

The St James’s Hall players have been allowed to fix their own standard of excellence for a long time past; and they have certainly not abused their monopoly: their standard is fairly high. But considering their position in London, London’s position in England, and England’s position in Europe, a fairly high standard is not high enough. The best string quartet in London ought to be one of the wonders of the world. (2)

A devoted advocate of socialism, while his sometimes Swiftian stances on social issues could be controversial, his prescience could extend to politics:

From the beginning the useless people set up a shriek for “practical business men.” By this they meant men who had become rich by placing their personal interests before those of the country, and measuring the success of every activity by the pecuniary profit it brought to them and to those on whom they depended for their supplies of capital. (3)

Over the next six decades, Shaw built his reputation as the greatest music critic past, present and future, as declared by Punch and is also acknowledged as one of the greatest drama critics. In America, Broadway theaters and Times Square blacked out the lights for a minute of reverent silence when he died in 1950 at 94—from complications of a fall while pruning trees in his garden.

By then, he’d written thousands of reviews, letters and other articles about concerts, plays, art, film, books and more that changed English theater and music dramatically—and for the better.

Stalking Shaw (mostly) chronologically, I am concurrently reading my way through three volumes of his complete music writings, three volumes of his own compiled theater reviews, four volumes of letters, two volumes of diaries, four volumes of Michael Holroyd’s biography. Why? Because I believe London became the cultural capital he believed it could become, mostly because he fought unceasingly with his critic’s pen to make it so. And in seeing how his London before he laid siege looks so like our Portland (and all of Oregon) today, with plenty of talent and potential, I believe that if we fight like Shaw, we will live to see Oregon reach those same heights.

Continues…

FilmWatch Weekly: May it please the court

A film critic-turned-law-student looks at two new movies tackling legal matters

This week’s column necessarily begins with a personal aside. When it became clear to me in 2016, after years of writing about movies for The Oregonian (God rest its soul), that Portland’s daily newspaper was not willing to invest in regular local film criticism and movie reviews, I began to ponder other career paths. After the Events of November that year, I decided to see if attending law school was an option at my advanced age. It turns out that it was, and, long story short, I have recently concluded my 1L year at Lewis & Clark Law School.

That doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my lifelong love of cinema, or my desire to help worthy works of art stand out amid the onslaught of mediocre mainstream moviemaking. Hence my efforts in this space, feeble as they may be. All this backstory is prelude to the fact that, less than two weeks after finishing spring semester exams, I find myself confronting a pair of films directly concerning the legal world, both fact-based and both opening the same weekend in Portland. Each has an agenda, to be sure, and each focuses on the Supreme Court, but other than that they couldn’t be more different in tone, quality, and entertainment value.

Continues…

Cappella Romana review: drones, overtones and unknowns

Portland vocal ensemble's 'Venice in the East' concert offered splendid singing and rare repertoire -- but needed more variety

by BRUCE BROWNE

Choral music is as much poetry and word recognition as it is melody, harmony and the sonic elements of the human voice. We listeners engage in both spheres, sometimes aware of the relationship, sometimes just focusing on one aspect, then the other. Amidst musical perfection, the total engagement was missing last weekend at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cappella Romana’s concert, Venice in the East.

Cappella Romana performed ‘Venice in the East’ at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Present were exquisite moments of choral artistry, impeccable tuning, bravura singing by all and thoughtful phrasing, especially by Michael John Boyer and Mark Powell, who together stood at the pinnacle of the solo work, especially many of the delicious priestly intonations. And, Dr. Lingas (who often multitasked in a singing role) and some of the singers, such as Boyer and tenor Spyridon Antonopoulos (a welcome new tenor voice) certainly displayed emotional engagement, encouraging the listener to join in at that level.

But except for the historically fascinating “Christ is Risen” from the Codex Faenza 117, which wove Greek and Latin traditions in music and language, and three other Latin selections from Liber sacerdotalis, the texts were all Greek – to me, inaccessible. More on this shortly.

Continues…