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By JEFF WINSLOW

Chamber Music Northwest, in its 48th season this summer, may be solidly middle-aged in people years, but unlike a lot of solidly middle-aged people, and as the Wall Street Journal noted last month, it’s becoming more and more interested in what’s new in its world.

This season, for the first time since 2000, CMNW’s opening night concert – an occasion for making statements – featured the work of a living composer: Angel’s Fire (Fuego de ángel) by American composer Roberto Sierra. Comfortably sharing the stage was one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s finest violin and piano sonatas, and the charged late 19th-century Romanticism of French composer Gabriel Fauré’s op. 45 Piano Quartet. 

A week later, this was echoed by a similar lineup: Mozart’s only trio with piano and clarinet, a brand-new work for nine musicians by Protégé Projectcomposer J.P. Redmond, and the exotic Romanticism of the op. 7 Octet by George Enescu, a Romanian prodigy who spent most of his professional life in France. I caught both programs at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall.

McDermott, Kavafian, Wiley and Tenenbom played Sierra at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

By the time Mozart wrote his sonata K. 454, in 1784, he had already composed dozens of sonatas for violin and piano, and had become interested in something new – equal partnership between the musicians. Violinist Ani Kavafian and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott showed how it’s done, each in turn playing out for melodic lines, or receding into the background for accompaniment figures without ever giving a feeling of holding back. It sounds simple, but it’s a knack that eludes many for different reasons, from local yokels all the way up to world-famous names. Nor was there anything pedantic about the duo’s lively and lyrical performance.

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Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival: in vino violins

August concert series mixes listening and tasting in wine country

by ANGELA ALLEN

Pinot noir and salmon surely make a felicitous match, yet imagine an even happier marriage: Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 59 No. 2 paired with J. Christopher Wines’ 2016 “Lumiere” Pinot Noir.

“Both can certainly be enjoyed for their beauty alone, but together the two really shine,” said cellist Leo Eguchi, co-founder with violinist Sasha Callahan of the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival.

Eguchi, who studied physics along with cello, explains the magical pairing, which draws out the best in the wine and the music: “I experience each as a complex balance between dark and light. The wine’s darkly fruited notes match the brambly minor arpeggios of the first movement, while its minerality and high-toned acidity balances nicely with the heavenly calmness of the second moment. Both the wine and the music continue building to an energetic finish, marked by a rich darkness that lingers in the ears and on the palate.”

Whew! Such a comparison might convince you that pinot and a piece of chamber music can even transcend the blissful compatibility of that same Oregon red wine and Columbia River spring Chinook.

Based in Boston, Eguchi and Callahan decided several years ago that wine and music should be savored in the moment, in the vineyard (or barrel room)—and together. The couple, who have been married for 11 years and played together since 2000 as freelance musicians in various chamber groups and orchestras, saw an opportunity and an opening to bring chamber music to Oregon wine country, where such events are scarce. Sasha Callahan’s sister, Eve Callahan, a Portland marketing whiz with a lifelong interest in music, joined the couple to get the festival off the ground in 2016, and remains a large part of its leadership.

The festival’s third season opens Aug. 11 for three consecutive weekends at three Oregon wineries. Concerts dates are Aug. 11-12, Aug. 18-19, and Aug. 25- 26. The event has grown each year and sold out in 2017. This season, organizers added a third weekend with Sokol Blosser Winery and Elk Cove Vineyards, following two weekends at J. Christopher Wines’ barrel room outside of Newberg.

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‘Orfeo ed Euridice’ review: back from the dead

Portland Opera creates a new production of Gluck’s masterpiece that the composer himself might have enjoyed

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

I’ll admit, I’ve been negligent about my concert attendance of late. My reasoning, I suppose, is that I needed a good long rest. But now having roused myself to attentiveness I have heard that I perhaps made a bit of an impression back in my day; that my ideas on opera might have taken off. Perhaps I left the art form better for my having been one of its most ardent of admirers. And right here, I see that the Portland Opera is performing my Orfeo ed Euridice. Delightful!

So it is that Christoph Willibald von Ritter Gluck is sitting in the fifth row center at the Newmark Theater in Portland5 Center for the Arts. In an otherworldly haze (he’s been dead some 230 years), he’s leafing through the Portland Opera’s magazine TOI! TOI! from the 2017-18 season taking stock of the opera performances that have preceded his. A Rossini (La Cenerentola), a Gounod (Faust), a Verdi (Rigoletto). A season of grand tales. Grand stages, grand effects, grand orchestras and, then, there it is. His Orfeo ed Euridice as the end piece. The closer. Did he imagine when he sent it into the world in 1762 that it be a firestarter, reigniting a smoldering musical genre?

Actually, yes, this was his master plan.

Lindsay Ohse as Euridice and Sandra Piques Eddy as Orfeo in Portland Opera’s production of Gluck’s ‘Orfeo ed Euridice.’ Photo: Cory Weaver/ Portland Opera.

This plan was years in contemplation. For so long, opera had been disfigured, abused. Soloists performed florid arias, repeating passages with embellishments not once but twice, thrice, only to launch into ego-boosting cadenzas. Ah, well. I had a different idea in mind.

Gluck, Bavarian by birth, had his first opera produced in Milan in 1741, on a libretto by the revered Pietro Metastasio. This prolific poet and librettist was living in Vienna and enjoying extreme popularity as a poet for the virtuosic singer, writing not for the drama but for the virtuosic effect. The story line, character development and plots became secondary. Opera Seria stagnated in this atmosphere

Oh, those operas of Metastasio — “opera seria.” I had grown weary of the ridiculous pandering to vocalists, the loss of story. I longed to return to the great tales, to make the stage come alive with movement and fill the air with music in search of a story. Oh, but did it cause a commotion.

Gluck (and later Mozart) would place all forces (singer, orchestra, ballet, chorus, staging) on equal footing, all in the service of the story. The Handelian da capo “variations” were decapitated. Orchestral overtures, chorus and ballet were added. Gluck had already broken away from “opera seria” in the years prior to Orfeo with several “opera comique.” Now he would tackle the status quo of opera seria.

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MusicWatch Weekly: American classics

American songbook standards, piano classics, opera, and more in this week's Oregon music recommendations

Every summer, The Shedd’s Oregon Festival of American Music approaches its two-week series of concerts, films, talks and more from different angles, but the Eugene festival’s perennial subject — American pop music from the 1920s to just before the rise of rock — somehow remains inexhaustible. Wednesday’s opening sampler ingeniously takes the form of an innovation that emerged toward the end of songbook era and helped extend it: the TV variety show. Siri Vik leads a sextet of singers and Torrey Newhart directs a sextet of jazz musicians in songs by Loesser, Sondheim, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Rodgers & Hart, Edith Piaf standards, even an opera aria.

The festival’s production of Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls closed last weekend, but you can hear a different new production at Broadway Rose Theatre starting this weekend. And there’s more Loesser (sorry) Thursday afternoon in a concert featuring four vocalists and a dectet playing some of his greatest hits, including “Let’s Get Lost,” “Two Sleepy People,” “I Believe in You,” the recently controversial “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and more, including some Guys and Dolls standards.

That night, vibes master Chuck Redd joinsVik and an ace jazz quintet to play American Songbook standards and others refracted through a jazz prism by midcentury stars like Benny Goodman, Red Norvo, and Lionel Hampton. Vik returns with a quintet (including cello and violin) Friday afternoon for the major departure from the American-centric program: mid-centurystandards made famous by French chanteuse Édith Piaf.

Trumpeter Byron Stripling leads a standards-fueled jazz party and more at the Shedd.

Friday night’s jazz concert is based on a book — a famous 1970s collection of jazz arrangements of standards from musicals by Rodgers & Hart, Porter, Jerome Kern and more that inspired the career of longtime Shedd pianist Vicki Brabham. That afternoon’s talk by fellow Shedd vet Ian Whitcomb also contains a recital of his top ten 20th century songs — most from the 1910s and ‘20s, few that make most other lists of standards.

Saturday night’s jazz quartet concert features classics by George Gershwin, including pianist Ted Rosenthal’s solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue and jazz versions of Gershwin tunes. Saturday afternoon boasts a community singalong, and Sunday afternoon a cabaret-style jazz party/jam led by Redd that samples songbook standards from the rest of the fest and more.

The Tuesday August 7 show is sort-of curated by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, whose (sometimes fluffy) faves inform the American Songbook program put together by trumpet master Byron Stripling and performed by singers Vik and Julliette Holliday with octet. Remember that the festival also offers a host of free talks, films of the era, and more.

A scene from Portland Opera’s production of Gluck’s ‘Orfeo ed Euridice.’; Photo: Cory Weaver/ Portland Opera.

Portland Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice closes Saturday at Newmark Theatre, ending the company’s summer festival season. The tragedy of the irresistible singer Orpheus and his lover and their journeys to hell and back has tugged human heartstrings since long before the ancient Greeks transformed it into one of the world’s most enduring myths. One of the most popular musical settings is Christoph Gluck’s 1762 opera, with its hit single Dance of the Blessed Spirit. Sandra Piques Eddy and Lindsay Ohse star in the title roles, with resident artist Helen Huang singing the role of Amore, the god of love. This new production also features full chorus, ballet, and lots of rose petals, sung in Italian with projected English translations. Stay tuned for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review.

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Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium: concentrated wisdom

An Oregon composer's experience of the biennial University of Oregon music composition incubator

by CHRISTINA RUSNAK

Editor’s note: this is the second of our two-part coverage of the Oregon Bach Festival’s Composers Symposium. Read Gary Ferrington’s story here.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium (OBFCS) led by renowned composer and University of Oregon professor Dr. Robert Kyr. Over the course of two and a half weeks, from June 25 to July 13, more than 100 composers like me, performers, and conductors – many wearing multiple hats – converged for a unique experience of collaborative performance and learning. Geared toward emerging composers, attendance represented a wide range across the age and experience spectrum. Many of us wrote new pieces specifically for the Symposium.

Christina Rusnak’s new composition was performed at the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

One of the most enticing aspects of the symposium for us composers was the opportunity to both attend concerts by and have your work performed by guest artists of the highest caliber, including musicians from the New Mexico Philharmonic, Juilliard School, Oregon Symphony and more, as well as the star performers at the University of Oregon. (See Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch report on this aspect of the symposium.) We were immersed in a diversity of pieces that included everything from vocal works and guest artist’s solo performances to chamber pieces, collaborations with Korean Instrumentalists, and improvisation.

We heard 53 premieres by participating composers in 22 concerts performed by a mix of participants, guest artists and Sound of Late, the Northwest-based ensemble in residence. There was so much to do! Like with any other conference one can’t do it all, though some people – very sleep deprived by the end— certainly tried!

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All the Bard’s plays, three actors, one wild night

Willamette Shakespeare and Portland Actors Ensemble ride the whirlwind of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" in Dayton this weekend

If we’re keeping score, I have six titles to go before I’ve seen all of Shakespeare’s plays on stage at least once — Merry Wives of Windsor, Titus Andronicus, Two Noble Kinsmen, and the three parts of Henry VI. But that claim requires an asterisk: In 2009, I saw The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at Gallery Theater in McMinnville. This enormously popular play, written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield and first performed by them in 1987 in Scotland, hilariously and cleverly crams all 37 of the Bard’s plays into about two hours. And it touches down in Yamhill County on Friday, courtesy of a joint effort by Willamette Shakespeare and Portland Actors Ensemble (PAE).

Sara Fay Goldman (from left), Landy Hite and Joel Patrick Durham play all the roles in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” Photo by: Gary Norman

The show opened last weekend on the Concordia University Green in Portland, and this weekend you can find it in the hills between McMinnville and Newberg. The free performance will be held at Stoller Family Estate in Dayton at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3 and 4, and 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5. Like so much of summer Shakespeare, it’s a lawn-chair-and-blankets outing, family-friendly, and there’s wine,  because that’s what we do out here. If you can’t make one of these performances, fear not: Four more weekends are scheduled around the Willamette Valley through Labor Day. Details to follow at the end of this week’s column.

Willamette Shakespeare was founded in 2009 by Daniel and Sydney Somerfield. They kicked off with a three-weekend run of As You Like It, rehearsing in a barn on a Newberg-area llama farm. Since then, the company has done mostly lighter fare, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Love’s Labor’s Lost, and The Taming of the Shrew, while also throwing in Shakespeare’s most audience-friendly tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, and The Winter’s Tale and Pericles.

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Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium: big tent

Biennial University of Oregon event offered performances, constructive creative feedback, and advice from veteran American composers

Story, photos and video by GARY FERRINGTON

When the 105 invited composers in last month’s 25th Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium asked the veteran composers in residence for advice about how to forge a career in music, over and over again one concept kept coming up: diversify. Be open to diverse cultures, search out new experiences and ideas through reading, travel, and collaboration (such as forming musical ensembles), explore other art forms like dance and theater.

“I created the symposium as a ‘big tent’ for an unbounded range of creators and performers of new music: we welcome participants from every part of the broad spectrum of the styles and ideas that constitute our new music culture today,” symposium founder and director Robert Kyr told ArtsWatch. “But that is not all. We are seeking to create a wealth of opportunities for the future of music, which from my perspective, must be rooted in the greatest diversity of creativity and co-creation possible.”

All 4 Sound (percussion duo) with Kathie Hsieh.

The University of Oregon symposium itself practiced what its mentors preached. The composer/performers who arrived in Eugene June 24 with musical instruments in tow and freshly composed scores in hand hailed from across the US and 10 other countries. Over the next three weeks at the UO School of Music and Dance, they became a cadre of individuals with diverse interests and cultural backgrounds, eager to share ideas, learn from one another, and form co-creative and collaborative relationships in music. They quickly found themselves engaged in a seemingly endless schedule of daily activities with on-going rehearsal sessions, numerous concerts, guest artist performances, small group mentoring sessions, master composer seminars, and late night brew and burgers at McMenamins East 19th Street Cafe.

Composers eagerly anticipated the opportunity to have their own vocal and instrumental music publicly performed. After hours of rehearsals and mentoring by guest artists, the pieces were presented in any number of events including the American Creators Ensemble afternoon concerts, Guest Artists Showcases, Vocal Fellow programs, Composers Film Festival with screenings of films scored by composers; some with live music, and the Wild Nights concert series that started at 10:00 pm! All together there were 22 concerts and live music events that involved 60 vocalists, instrumentalists and conductors performing 92 compositions — including 53 world premieres.

As a correspondent and advocate for new music, I was excited to attend my third OBF Composers Symposium. I knew right from day one, when participants were encouraged to explore collaborative and co-creative endeavors, that this wasn’t going to be a showcase for egos. The symposium proved to be a transformative experience as a diverse cadre of men and women ranging in age from late teens to early senior years, came together to create and perform new music here at end of the second decade of the 21st Century.

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