Requiem from a heavyweight

Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan is about to unveil a new requiem at the Oregon Bach Festival. It's a work of mourning for the culture of Europe.

EUGENE – Sir James MacMillan sits amid the organized clutter of his office in the catacombs of the Hult Center for the Performing Arts. For the recently knighted Scottish composer and conductor it’s a temporary headquarters, with a couple of chairs, a small black leather couch, and a little table covered with papers, among them the blue-bound score to his new work A European Requiem, which will have its premiere on Saturday night at the Oregon Bach Festival.

It’s early Tuesday afternoon of this week, and MacMillan is on a brief break between a rehearsal and yet another of the many meetings that go along with his busy life. On this evening he’ll conduct the festival’s chamber orchestra in a concert that includes two of his own works, then prepare for a Thursday afternoon lecture and Saturday’s Requiem premiere, one of the focal points of this year’s Bach Fest, which continues at various concert halls in Eugene through July 10. Another new work, a Stabat Mater, will be premiered in London in mid-October, and among other things he’s also in the midst of preparing for the third annual run of his own small musical festival, the Cumnock Tryst, in Ayrshire, where he grew up, about 40 miles south of Glasgow. “It’s a little thing,” he says affectionately. “Four days in the autumn. I’m getting excited.”

Sir James MacMillan conducting. Photo courtesy Oregon Bach Festival

Sir James MacMillan conducting. Photo courtesy Oregon Bach Festival

In person MacMillan, who is 56 and was knighted last year (“Totally delighted,” he told the press at the time), is friendly, open, and eloquent, speaking softly and thoughtfully, with the steady backbeat and slight staccato sting of his native Scots tongue. He speaks as much about culture and its meanings as he does about music, and by implication at least, about the inevitable connection between the two. A close observer of history and “human nature as it passes,” he thinks deeply on the fractures and dislocations of modernity, the intentional divorcement from the past, including the relentless secularization of contemporary life. In this he feels embattled but not alone: “In our own time it’s quite clear that an awful lot of composers have been in search of something sacred.”


Two coast musical festivals conclude, two veteran jazzmen return, while Oregon’s two great summer music festivals team up in several concerts in Eugene and Portland. Please let ArtsWatch readers know about other recommended music events in the comments section below.

The Chamber Music Northwest audience joined composer Andy Akiho onstage at Mississippi Studio./Jim Leisy

The Chamber Music Northwest audience joined composer Andy Akiho onstage at Mississippi Studios the last time he performed in Portland. Photo: Jim Leisy.

Chamber Music Northwest, Andy Akiho
June 29-July 1
Alberta Rose Theater and Lincoln Hall, Portland
Still safely under 40, South Carolina-born, New York-based composer Andy Akiho first won attention in contemporary classical music circles for his unusual choice of instrument: the steel pan that we usually associate with calypso music and spring break-oriented soft drink commercials. In Akiho’s adept hands, it becomes an astonishingly expressive vehicle for improvisation and Akiho’s rhythmically driven and increasingly sophisticated original compositions, often teamed with other instruments like cello and looping pedal. Akiho’s previous appearances at Chamber Music Northwest were some of the most thrilling in memory, and this time around, he’s back with two completely different showcase concerts (with the July 29 Alberta Rose show also including one of Schubert’s great piano trios) that feature not just steel pan but also piano, cello, percussion (from star percussionist Ian Rosenbaum), violin, and string quartet. His Portland State showcase with Orion Quartet on July 1 includes the premiere of the fourth movement of his massive, still growing LIgNEous Suite. Collectively spanning a decade of Akiho’s compositions, they top the list of new music offerings at this summer’s edition of CMNW.

Marcin Wasilewski Trio
June 30
Polish Hall, 3832 N Interstate Ave. Portland
Read my Willamette Week preview of this excellent Polish jazz trio’s only Oregon appearance, one of the best jazz shows of the summer.

Martin Wasilewski leads his jazz trio at Polish Hall. Photo: ECM records

Martin Wasilewski leads his jazz trio at Polish Hall. Photo: ECM records

Oregon Bach Festival
A Trio of Trios, June 29, Beall Hall, Eugene
Moving forward in time from its predominant Baroque focus, the festival this year places the spotlight on the triumvirate of top Classical era composers. This Chamber Music Northwest concert repeats Monday’s show in Portland and features trios by Mozart (his big K. 563 Divertimento, one of his finest chamber works), Haydn and Beethoven.

Baroque Concerti with Monica Huggett, June 30, Beall Hall, Eugene
The energetic Portland Baroque Orchestra violinist and director Monica Huggett returns to Beall June 30 to lead experienced new music specialists, including the great Dutch flutist Wilbert Hazelzet, in Baroque masterpieces by J.S. Bach, Telemann and more.

Berwick Academy with Robert Levin, June 30, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, Portland; and July 1, Beall Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene
More historically informed Classical-era music is featured in two Beall concerts led by scholar and fortepiano master Robert Levin, with repeat performances sponsored by Chamber Music Northwest at Kaul Auditorium. The June 30/July 1 Berwick Academy concert includes Haydn’s stirring Symphony #103, Mozart’s darkly beautiful Piano Concerto #24, and a Beethoven overture.

New Pathways, July 1-4, Aasen-Hull and Beall Halls, UO, Eugene. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview of these Oregon Composers Forum concerts.
New Pathways II: Features the music of composers-in residence Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon and David Crumb with performances by symposium guest artists Gomez, Barth, Hennings, Shields, Park, Ziegler, and Cheung at 8 pm Friday, July 1 in Aasen-Hull Concert Hall.
New Pathways III: The American Creators Ensemble (ACE) with OBFCS guest artists and performers showcase artists featuring Sound of Late, Krause, Giuca, and Evers performing music by symposium composers at 1 pm on Saturday July 2 in Aasen-Hull Concert Hall.
New Pathways IV: Features Estelí Gomez and the OBFCS vocal fellows in a concert of music by symposium composers at 8 pm on Sunday, July 3 in Beall Concert Hall. Live Stream
New Pathways V: The American Creators Ensemble with OBFCS guest artists and performers showcase artists perform music by symposium composers on July 4 at 8 pm in Beall Concert Hall. Live Stream

• OBF All-Stars with Robert Levin, July 2, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, Portland; and July 3, Beall Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene
Levin leads renowned German clarinetist Eric Hoeprich and other period instrument specialists one of Mozart’s own favorites, his breezy piano and winds quintet, and Beethoven’s later quintet it inspired and more.

The Oregon Bach Festival premieres James MacMillan's European Requiem. Photo: Hans van der Woerd.

The Oregon Bach Festival premieres James MacMillan’s European Requiem. Photo: Hans van der Woerd.

MacMillan Requiem, July 2, Hult Center, Eugene
When the Oregon Bach Festival commissioned what turned out to be his European Requiem back in 2012, James MacMillan couldn’t have known how prophetic that title might have turned out to be. Read the rest of my Eugene Weekly preview of one of Oregon’s most significant classical music concert of the summer: the major new choral orchestral work by a leading European composer.

Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy, July 3, Hult Center, Eugene
Anton Armstrong leads the singers in Haydn’s St. Nicholas Mass plus music by Bach, Handel and more.

Punch Brothers with Gabriel Kahane, July 5, Hult Center, Eugene
Read my Eugene Weekly interview with Portland homeboy and Punch Brother heavyweight leader/composer/mandolinist/singer Chris Thile.

There’s much more at the OBF, including organ recitals, free concerts, lecture demonstrations (including the legendary Discovery Series, this year focusing on Bach’s Christmas Oratorio), with more to come next week.

New York pianist and arranger Dick Hyman performs at Siletz Bay Music Festival this weekend

New York pianist and arranger Dick Hyman performs at Siletz Bay Music Festival and in Portland this week.

Siletz Bay Music Festival
June 29-July 2
Salishan Spa and Golf Resort
On June 29, abetted by his Oregon Festival of American music colleague, the great jazz clarinetist Ken Peplowski, legendary pianist, soundtrack arranger, and American music expert Dick Hyman plays his own settings of Shakespeare’s words, sung by Nicole Greenidge Joseph, Clairdee, and Rocky Blumhagen. They’ll return to perform big band music on July 1.

On July 2, Portland Chamber Orchestra music director Yaacov Bergman leads the orchestra in Mozart’s Piano Concerto #23, featuring pianist Adam Jackson, Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, Mozart opera arias (featuring Joseph), and the overture to the same Rossini opera coming to Portland Opera next month.

On Independence Day, the orchestra backs Joseph in some of Copland’s lovely Old American Songs and a spiritual by Moses Hogan, followed by the premiere of Hyman’s clarinet concerto, Three Delights, featuring Peplowski. All the guest stars join for a closing Gershwin tribute.

Estonian National Opera Boys’ Choir
June 30
St. John the Baptist Church, Oregon Episcopal School, 6300 SW Nicol Rd. Portland
Singers from one of the world’s greatest choral traditions are conducted by one of the most admired masters, Hirvo Surva, a legend in Eastern European music, in music by the great Estonian composers Arvo Pärt, and Veljo Tormis, and their contemporaries, as well as classics.

Astoria Music Festival performs "Little Women."

Astoria Music Festival performs “Little Women.”

“Little Women”
July 1-2
Astoria Music Festival, Clatsop Community College Performing Arts Center, Astoria
Read my Eugene Weekly preview of Mark Adamo’s 1998 operatic adaptation of Alcott’s enduring novel, a reprise of Eugene Opera’s May production starring the vibrant Portland soprano Hannah Penn and directed by Mark Beudert.

Dick Hyman & Ken Peplowski
July 5
Jimmy Mak’s, 221 NW 10th Ave. Portland
After their Siletz shows, two of the most accomplished living interpreters of vintage jazz — both frequent guests and music directors at the Shedd in Eugene— join the veteran Portland rhythm section of Dave Captein and Gary Hobbs and singer Clairdee in this fundraiser for Portland Chamber Orchestra.

Waterfront Blues Festival

July 1-4

Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Portland

The annual benefit for Oregon Food Bank features legends like Maceo Parker, Dr. John, Femi Kuti, Curtis Salgado, and many, many more blues, zydeco, rock and other stars.
Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

Risk/Reward 2016: Creative tensions

Multi-disciplinary performance festival explores the contrasts between multimedia elements

Ah, summer: that season when the only arts our sun-drunk brains are capable of handling are explosion-laden superhero films and simplistic beach read books. Or so the entertainment-industrial complex would have us believe.

Not in Portland. Portland Center Stage devotes its annual July Just Add Water festival to workshop readings of new plays in progress. The end-of-summer Time Based Art Festival is dedicated to edgy, category-free performance and visual art developed by fringe festival-style artists from around the world. The city’s season of experimentation really gets started with the annual Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance, “a developmental platform for the creation of new performance works,” according to its mission statement, which cites criteria including “adventurous,” immersive,” and “cross-disciplinary”; it’s like a mini-TBA Festival, but geared exclusively to artists from our region.

Anthony Hudson as Carla Rossi at 2016 Risk/Reward Festival, Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

Anthony Hudson as Carla Rossi at 2016 Risk/Reward Festival,
Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

This year’s ninth annual edition, which ran June 17-19 at the valuable arts hub at Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre, showcased new works whose quality and appeal often matched and sometimes surpassed those higher-profile incubators. The most successful drew their power, and often their humor, from the interaction of two or more media forms—artistic friction that struck sparks.


Portland’s contemporary choral ecosystem

Spring performances by The Ensemble, Choral Arts Ensemble, and Portland State choirs demonstrate the city's emerging, multi-level 21st century choral music scene

A few specialist performers does not a scene make; when they’re gone, what happens to the music? A vital new music scene requires a whole ecosystem — performers, composers, audiences, venues, often donors. Think Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, Classical-era Vienna, 19th century Italian opera, ‘70s LA, ‘80s downtown NYC, Austin, Nashville in their glory days.

One such scene may be a-borning in Portland. Well known as a choral music capital, and justly renowned for its developing contemporary and indie classical music scene, the city has recently seen too little intersection between them. While some major cities have a top professional vocal ensemble or two that specializes in contemporary music — San Francisco’s Chanticleer, Seattle’s The Esoterics or Roomful of Teeth and Conspirare (nominally based in New York and Austin, respectively, but in fact drawing singers from around the country) — Portland currently lacks a choir that sings primarily music of our time, like the late lamented Portland Vocal Consort and Choral Cross Ties. Here as elsewhere, most choirs cling to the classics.

Although the city’s top choirs such as Resonance Ensemble, Portland Symphonic and Oregon Repertory Singers sometimes sing new music, they mostly perform music by dead — sometimes long-dead — composers. Nothing wrong with that — as we’ve long argued here, mixing old and new music in concert probably broadens the audience for both. But this season they’ve all focused mostly on music from the last century or earlier.

Sterling Roberts conducted singers onstage and off at Portland State University.

Sterling Roberts conducted singers onstage and off at Portland State University.

Yet Portland choirs seem to be adding more and more new music to the mix, perhaps signaling a broader commitment to new choral music than just confining it to one or two specialty groups. Several of this spring’s concerts demonstrate the breadth of the city’s growing contemporary choral music scene.


MusicWatch Weekly: Festivals a-flowering

Classical music convocations highlight the week's musical offerings

Oregon’s two most distinguished classical music festivals, both founded in 1970, return, two more classical festivals resume on the coast, and the pianos return to downtown Portland this weekend. Please let ArtsWatch readers know about other musical recommendations for this week in the comments section below.

Astoria Music Festival 
June 22-26
Liberty Theater, Astoria
The festival’s second week opens with Portland’s ever-entertaining world chamber music ensemble 3 Leg Torso doing their offbeat, inimitable thing at Astoria’s historic Liberty Theater, which returns to its roots the following night with a silent film: the great director F.W. Murnau’s 1930 classic, City Girl, the first Hollywood movie shot in Oregon. As was often the case back in the day, this performance features an original live score, this one composed and conducted by contemporary Oregon composer John Paul. And speaking of historically informed performances, check out the vintage projectors in the lobby before the show.

Angela Meade sings at Astoria Music Festival.

Angela Meade sings at Astoria Music Festival.

Friday’s chamber music concert features orchestra players from the San Diego, Detroit and Atlanta symphonies, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Portland Youth Philharmonic music director (and crack clarinetist) David Hattner, all led by Portland pianist Cary Lewis, playing a Dvorak piano quartet, Erno Dohnanyi’s powerful Sextet, and a 2002 noitisopmoc by one of Lewis’s old Georgia colleagues, American composer Charles Knox, Semordnilap #2.

Another more informal and multi-mediated chamber music concert Saturday afternoon features Lewis, award-winning Russian pianist Ilya Kazantsev and cellist Sergey Antonov in music by Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Piazzolla, and Stravinsky’s delightful chamber adaptation of his Pulcinella ballet score, Suite Italienne— accompanied by Astoria artist Darren Orange’s live painting.

Saturday night’s symphonic showcase includes Mozart’s exhilarating Sinfonia Concertante (the better known one starring violin and viola), Mahler’s Ruckert Songs (sung by Met mezzo MaryAnn McCormick), Chopin’s second piano concerto (starring Kazantsev), and Stravinsky’s Pulcinella ballet music.

Opera/vocal music fans should convene at the Liberty on Sunday afternoon to hear Northwest native Angela Meade reprise her soprano showcases as Leonora from Verdi’s The Troubadour, which she sang earlier this month with the German Opera Berlin, and before that at the Metropolitan Opera. In this concert (i.e. not the full operatic staging) performance sung in Italian with English supertitles, Met baritone Richard Zeller stands up to be Count-ed, with McCormick, Cameron Schutza, DeAndre Simmons taking the other lead vocal roles, joined by the festival’s vocal apprentice artists, the festival orchestra led by Keith Clark and the North Coast Chorale.

Claudia Quintet, Blue Cranes
June 22
Secret Society, 116 NE Russell, Portland
Read my Willamette Week preview of one of the top jazz shows of the summer, featuring composer/drummer John Hollenbeck’s terrific chamber ensemble.

Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra Youth Ensemble
June 22
Lincoln Hall, Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Avenue
The award winning, 35-member youth string orchestra orchestra celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding with a free concert of music including a world premiere by alum Camden Boyle, contemporary music by contemporary German composer Peter Heinrich, and classics by Piazzolla, Schubert, and Vivaldi.

Portland Percussion Group performs Sunday at Portland State University.

Portland Percussion Group performs Wednesday at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall.

Portland Percussion Group
June 22
The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland
Read my Willamette Week preview of the ensemble’s showcase of new music it commissioned and a couple of other contemporary compositions for marimba and vibraphones.


The Radically Mused: Improvisation Summit of Portland

Creative Music Guild's annual convocation presents a broad spectrum of spontaneous creativity


No one comes to a Creative Music Guild show to hear a familiar tune or a classic work. CMG concerts are places where joyful noises erupt and drone on, where genres are fused and exploded, where everyday objects become artistic tools, where risks are taken—a space is made in which anything and everything is welcome. And if you step into this space and join the performers, attending to the free flow of their intuitions, then you might just find some revelations—artistic, personal or otherwise. The first night’s performance of this year’s edition of the organizations’s annual Improvisation Summit of Portland exemplified CMG’s mission and what it continues to offer the Portland community.

Pure Surface Collective at Improvisation Summit of Portland

Pure Surface Collective at Improvisation Summit of Portland

For over 20 years CMG has championed spontaneous creativity and experimentalism through concerts bringing together local and international artists. A non-profit, volunteer organization currently directed by Alyssa Reed-Stuewe, Brandon Conway, Ben Kates, and John Savage, CMG is one of the greatest and longer-standing landmarks in Portland’s artscape, though it seldom gets the attention it deserves. CMG’S annual Improvisation Summit is not only a good introduction to the organization, but also to Portland’s more radically mused artists. The 2016 ISP took place on June 2, 3, and 4 at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center in the Kenton neighborhood of NE Portland.


Mentoring a community of 21st-century composers

Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium brings new music to Oregon listeners and prepares composers for a life in music

Story and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

The Oregon Bach Festival, as its name implies, primarily concentrates on music of the past. But every other year, it also adds a focus on the present and the future, via the biannual Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium (OBFCS).

From June 26-July 7, new music fans can hear a selection from the 30 or more new works written by symposium participants in the five-part New Pathways concert series at the University of Oregon School of Music. Performers include  soprano Estelí Gomez, former Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, and Duo Damiana (guitarist Dieter Hennings and flutist Molly Barth) among many others.

Composers Symposium to premier new music in Eugene.

Composers Symposium to premier new music in Eugene.

The symposium’s primary value, though, is helping foster tomorrow’s music. Every two years some 90 international composers and visiting artists gather at the UO School of Music and Dance to form a collaborative and creative community for writing and performing contemporary music for instrumental and vocal ensembles. The intensive symposium offers seminars, master classes, rehearsals, public concerts, mentoring by guest composers-in-residence and visiting artists, a film music festival, attendance at selected OBF rehearsals and concerts and, if not entirely exhausted by day’s end, nightly social gatherings that sometimes last into the wee morning hours. The symposium provides abundant opportunity for composer/performer networking and collaboration now and in the future.


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