MUSIC

Extradition Series preview: in the spirit of Pauline

Creative Music Guild concert presents spacious contemporary music inspired by the ideas of 20th century American music pioneer Pauline Oliveros

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

The music in Creative Music Guild’s Extradition Series shows a certain dispersed consistency: experimental, improvisatory, sparse, full of radiant silences and gentle chaos, irrepressibly non-traditional (ex-traditional?) in terms of timbre, tonality, rhythm, melody, and the use of acoustic time and space. The individual pieces of music sound radically different from each other, but they tend to sound more alike than they sound like anything else you’re likely to hear in Portland. And once you start getting into Extradition’s particular groove, it becomes one of those specialized tastes, like Indian food or durian or abstract art or free jazz or French Black Metal or early 20th-century atonal classical music. If it’s what you’re in the mood for, only that will do. Nothing else is gonna scratch that itch. Saturday’s concert celebrates one of Extradition’s forebears — Pauline Oliveros, another artist who provokes visceral, addictive responses — in performances of her music and works she inspired.

The quarterly series often includes the work of composers associated with Fluxus, the Wandelweiser Group, and other such mid-to-late-20th-century experimental scenes, all those collectives of artists and theorists and composer-performers who established–wait for it–new traditions of their own. These movements made “slow music, quiet music, spare music, fragile music,” and sometimes claimed Satie as their spiritual godfather. Much of the Real Work was done by people most of us have never heard of (or if you have, it’s as “Yoko Ono’s first husband” or “Rzewski’s mentor in Rome” or “the guy who did the I Am Sitting In A Room thing”), but it’s Cage who (until recently) has had the biggest name recognition outside these circles.

The Extradition Series takes place at Portland’s Leaven Community Center.

This time around, Extradition founder Matt Hannafin and company are honoring the recently departed accordionist, electro-acoustician, and Pioneer of Deep Listening: Pauline Oliveros. These concerts always have something of Pauline’s spirit in them, and they’ve performed Her music in the past, but now that She has entered the Spirit Realm, it seems extra-appropriate to honor Her and Her Great Work.

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MusicWatch Weekly: autumn bounty

This week's Oregon music highlights

In one of the peak weeks in the fall season of Oregon music, terling sopranos sing old and new songs, and other highlights include contemporary electronica, jazz, choral music, and sounds from Argentina, Mali, Japan, Europe, and beyond — including Oregon composers. Please add your recommendations in the comments section below.

BallakŽe Sissoko and Vincent Segal perform Tuesday at Portland’s Old Church concert hall. Photo: Claude Gassian.

Julianne Baird and Marcia Hadjimarkos
The superb early music soprano and the acclaimed Portland-born pianist, long based in Europe, perform music from Jane Austen’s world. The immortal writer was also a musician who practiced pop tunes of her time on fortepiano (which Hadjimarkos will, appropriately, play here) daily before breakfast, and filled her room with sheet music and her books and letters with references to public and private music events. Along with music by Haydn, Handel, Gluck, and more, including female songwriters, the show features songs about country life, drinking, and love, plus Turkish and Moorish motifs, female character pieces, and songs about naval victories and the French Revolution. A pair of narrators interpolate readings from Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and more.
Wednesday, Hudson Hall, Willamette University, Salem.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith performs Thursday in Portland.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
The Orcas Island native, now based in LA, has moved from the contemporary classical niche to broader acclaim and audiences in electronic music, including opening for Animal Collective and collaborating Suzanne Ciani. The synth-savvy sound sculptor is releasing three albums this year to go with five earlier releases, numerous film scores, and more.
Thursday, Doug Fir Lounge. Portland.

Eugene Symphony
When the rising young pianist Conrad Tao appeared at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall in 2011, he was a 17-year-old prodigy who could seemingly almost play masterpieces with one hand tied behind his back. Having grown both a beard and a reputation as a solid performer and composer, he’ll almost get the chance in Maurice Ravel’s dramatic 1931 piano concerto written for the great Austrian virtuoso Paul Wittgenstein, who’d lost his right arm to a Russian bullet in World War I. He’ll also solo in Liszt’s wild, colorful 1838 Dance of Death (Totentanz), and the orchestra will play a Mozart symphony about which its composer wrote, “I hope that even these idiots will find something in it to like.” He was talking about Parisians, not Oregonians, who’ll find plenty to enjoy in Mozart’s so-nicknamed Paris Symphony.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Marquis Hill’s Blacktet plays two shows in Portland.

Marquis Hill Blacktet
The 2014 Thelonious Monk competition winner earned further notice with his gig in Joe Lovano’s band, and the sweet toned trumpeter has become a fine bandleader himself with this group that integrates bop, hip hop and R&B. Two shows.
Thursday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

Third Angle New Music & Tony Arnold
The Portland new music string quartet and New York new music soprano team up in music by the fine California composer Gabriela Lena Frank, colorful Australian composer Brett Dean, Greek-French composer Georges Aperghis, and midcentury Italian modernist Luciano Berio. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview of the same team’s Creative Academy of Music concert Saturday.
Thursday and Friday, Studio 2 @ N.E.W. Portland.

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble
The plucky organization dedicated to cultivating 21st century music by Portland composers and improvisers celebrates its tenth anniversary with a a TED-style talk from Executive Director Douglas Detrick, silent auction with some really enticing offers, and three pieces of music that tell the PJCE story—by PJCE founding Executive Director Andrew Oliver, former Grasshoppers (the young composers mentored by established Portland jazz musicians via PJCE’s admirable program) mentee Andres Moreno, and the world premiere of a new piece by one of Portland’s busiest and most inventive musicians, drummer/composer/improviser Barra Brown.
Friday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

Sound of Late
The exciting Portland/Seattle ensemble gives the West Coast premieres of music by youngish British composer Anna Clyne (former composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony and other orchestras) and Sarah Kirkland Snider, plus works by by Japanese composer Somei Satoh, Italian modernist Giacinto Scelsi, and the world premiere of a new piece by young Seattle composer Noel Kennon. The show is enhanced by video art by Seattle artist Stefan Gonzales.
Saturday, N.E.W. Expressive Works, Portland.

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Third Angle preview: spring planting, fall harvest

New music ensemble’s Saturday concert celebrates new music for voice and strings by emerging composers, including one with Oregon roots.

by GARY FERRINGTON

Collaboration is an underlying theme of the 21 October Third Angle New Music house concert with guest artist soprano Tony Arnold. The event, premiering works by six diverse composers from around the country, brings closure to a project that began last March at the very first Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music. It was at that spring residency the ensemble, Arnold, and invited composers, all of whom are early in their professional careers, planted the seeds for what is now a fall harvest of new compositions for voice and strings.

Academy participant and former Oregonian Brandon Scott Rumsey discovered his passion for composing while attending Lane Community College and the University of Oregon in Eugene and then went on to nurture his art at the University of Texas and University of Michigan. The Las Vegas born composer is currently an adjunct assistant professor at Michigan’s Madonna University, where he teaches music theory and counterpoint. A performing bassoonist, he serves as the artistic director for the Emblems Quintet, a teaching artist with the Trade Winds Ensemble, and an editorial assistant and engraver at the University of Michigan Gershwin Critical Edition.

Third Angle and soprano Tony Arnold play music by composers Dave Reminick (seated on floor) and Nina Shekhar (to the right of Gabriela Frank) this Saturday. Photo: Aric Hartvig.

For Rumsey, the concert will not only be the opportunity to have a new piece premiered, but also the chance to revisit Oregon, which has long been a home in spirit and where he has many colleagues and friends. It will also be a reunion with his fellow participants from the Academy’s inaugural class held on Frank’s beautiful country farms in Boonville, a small rural California community 115 miles north of San Francisco where the composers and guest artists participated in engaging seminar discussions, coaching sessions with master composer/mentor Gabriela Lena Frank and readings performed by guest artists Tony Arnold and Third Angle.

The Poetry of Presence

Rumsey’s Invocation (2017), dedicated to Tony Arnold and Third Angle, is based on American poet Geoffrey Nutter’s short poem of the same title. Rumsey, who earned a doctoral degree in composition from University of Michigan this past spring, has explored Nutter’s poetry for several years. “He frequently writes about mythology, nature, plainness and mundanity, and I return to his poems time and time again for his use of “motivic” language that tells a story while phrases wander, stall, and twist,” Rumsey says.

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American Brass Quintet review: elevating chamber music for brass

Venerable ensemble traces the trajectory of music for brass instruments from the distant past to the present to the future

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

Near the beginning of the American Brass Quintet’s concert in downtown Portland’s Winningstad Theater last week, trumpeter Kevin Cobb stood up and talked a bit about the group’s history, starting with their founding date: 1960. “If you’re looking on stage to see who’s the original member” — cue laughter— “there are no original members.”

The founding members “tried to bring brass music to places that would normally have, say, the Juilliard Quartet,” he said. Their goal was to “elevate brass chamber music.” One of the great commissioning brass quintets of our time, they are also dedicated to the “promotion of brass chamber music through education” (like Akropolis Reed Quintet last year, ABQ also put on educational outreach programs the week they were here). Part of this pedagogical endeavor means reaching back through time and drawing together the roots of brass chamber music, developing a long view of the genre and situating modern pieces in a living historical contexts. Their Portland concert, presented by Chamber Music Northwest and Portland5, managed to represent both ends of this spectrum (and a bit of the in-between for good measure).

American Brass Quintet

To open, the group leapt immediately into a bunch of 500-year-old Elizabethan and Jacobean Consort Music — fun and spirited and beautiful—and perfectly brief. Brass instruments, like strings and choirs (and unlike, say, reed quintets and percussion ensembles), are by nature delightfully homogenous, meaning they can blend all manner of complex counterpoint into a well-integrated acoustic gestalt. ABQ played short pieces by William Brade (1560-1630), John Dowland (1563-1626), John Wilbye (1574-1638), and a few by Thomas Morley (1557-1602). The counterpoint blended perfectly, separate lines shining through whenever I paid precise attention, everything blurring into a tasty musical porridge whenever I let my ears take in the larger soundscape.

Other moments, like the Dowland pavane, gave ABQ a chance to show off their balanced chorale sound, another strength of brass ensembles. At times the trumpets (if not the players) sounded like they were still warming up: brass instruments are insanely taxing and far more physically demanding than anyone who’s never had their lips on a mouthpiece can possibly imagine. By the time the Brade canzon’s joyously rapid hemiolas came along everyone was ripping through the tricky rhythms and rapid fire hunting calls like it was no big deal.

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Oregon Ballet Theatre review: cheerful resistance

Choreographer Nicolo Fonte, Pink Martini, and pianists Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack team up to create a gay old time for everyone

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

Oregon Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Kevin Irving was addressing me personally when he took the stage and asked how many of us weren’t expecting to be there, which of us are the not-the-usual-ballet-audience people? Well, perhaps he was speaking to me and to many of the younger Pink Martini fans all around me. Like OSO & PCSO in recent years, OBT has been making a serious attempt to reach out to non-traditional classical audiences, people who maybe still want to see Balanchine’s Nutcracker for the zillionth time (hell, I’m going this year, aren’t you?) but who otherwise don’t have much feeling for the idiom. In Irving’s words: “OBT has never been afraid to put its own twist on ballet—it’s in our DNA.” Hey, that sounds like a song!

OBT with Pink Martini last night was possibly the gayest show I’ve seen all year. In a round 100 minutes that felt a lot shorter, OBT’s new resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte paired Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack’s two-piano expansion of Gershwin’s immortal Rhapsody in Blue with the return of his popular Pink Martini revue Never Stop Falling (in Love).

Now let’s get this out of the way right at the start: if you’re still using “gay” as a pejorative, it’s time to join the 21st century and show your fellow humans some respect.

The formerly more common meaning of “gay” was something like “happy and free-spirited,” as in The Gay Nineties or “Gay Paree”. The mighty Nietzsche translator and defender Walter Kaufmann, in the introduction to his 1974 translation of The Gay Science, discusses the troubadour origins of the word (Nietzsche’s original subtitle was “La Gaya Scienza”) and identifies this spirit of “light-hearted defiance of convention” as a bridge between the word’s older meaning and the new coloring it was acquiring at that time.

To be defiantly cheerful in an era of uncertainty and de-/re-/op-pression (1890s, 1970s, 2017) is an act of fruitful resistance, an insistence on loving whom and how we will. Even those of us who identify as some other variety of queer (bi, myself) are quite happy to look for inspiration and support to the culture of gay men, especially this world of artists and musicians which has shown us all so much joy and courage and taught us how to embrace the struggle of life and how to be jubilant whenever we can.

Which brings us to OBT and its collaboration with Thomas Lauderdale and Pink Martini. I personally haven’t spent a whole lot of time at the ballet: the last time for me was probably OBT’s Stravinsky Project (featuring Stowell’s Rite of Spring) almost a decade ago. What’s worse, I was (until last night) a complete Pink Martini Virgin. I’m happy to say I’m now a believer in both.

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MusicWatch Weekly: local, vocal and more

A selection of this week's Oregon music highlights

Fans of choral and vocal music have some solid choices this week in Oregon music, and so do locavore consumers of homegrown music, jazz aficionados and more. Please add your own suggestions in the comments section below.

Choro in Schola
Portland State prof Ethan Sperry and his distinguished predecessor, OAW contributor Bruce Browne, conduct 75 of the best student singers selected from 14 high schools in Vancouver, Portland, Tigard, Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Gresham. Under the tutelage of some of the state’s finest professional singers, they’ll sing music by William Byrd, Peter Warlock, and other composers. A new feature this year: seven interns from the high schools who’ve been working with the pro singers will join their teachers on several works. Read my ArtsWatch story about last year’s CIS performance and Jana Hanchett’s ArtsWatch story about this important Oregon arts education organization.
Wednesday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

Bruce Browne with Choro in Schola singers.

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet
Best known outside the jazz world for his work with Donny McCaslin’s band on David Bowie’s valedictory Blackstar album, the drummer/composer has also worked with some of jazz’s most forward looking stars, and is known for incorporating electronic elements into his work. Two shows.
Wednesday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”
Read my ArtsWatch review of this production’s Portland stop earlier this year.
Wednesday-Sunday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Northwest Art Song and The Ensemble 
Superb soprano Arwen Myers and mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, accompanied by pianist Susan McDaniel, sing settings of poetry written by women composed by some of today’s finest female composers: Libby Larsen, Stacy Garrop, Juliana Hall, and Abbie Betinis.
Saturday, Beall Hall, University of Oregon, and Sunday, First Christian Church, 1314 SW Park Ave. Portland.

Arwen Myers and Laura Beckel Thoreson perform in Eugene and Portland.

Delgani String Quartet, Cascadia Composers
Two of Oregon’s most valuable exponents of new, homegrown music join forces in a program of contemporary sounds by Eugene’s Paul Safar, LA-based Latin Grammy winner Yalil Guerra, Willamette University alum Andrew Robinson, and Joshua Hey. The grand finale: the Sixth Quartet by internationally renowned Portland eminence grise  Tomas Svoboda, inspired by Shostakovich.
Saturday, Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St. Portland and Sunday, First Christian Church, 1166 Oak, Eugene.

Choral Arts Ensemble 
You don’t have to wait for the Day of Dead in ancouple weeks to honor them. Following last week’s Portland Baroque Orchestra historically informed performance of Mozart’s great Requiem, the Portland choir sings that other most famous of elegiac musical statements — but again, not for the usual orchestra. Instead, CAE will use Brahms’s own two-piano arrangement (performed by Jennifer Creek Hughes and Hannah Brewer) of his consoling Requiem.
Saturday, First Congregational United Church, 1126 SW Park Ave. Portland.

Yekwon Sunwoo performs at Portland Piano International. Photo: Carolyn Cruz.

Yekwon Sunwoo
The latest Portland Piano International recital features the most recent winner of the most prestigious of piano competitions, the Van Cliburn. The South Korean pianist plays music by Schubert, Grainger, Rachmaninoff and Ravel on Saturday, while Sunday’s show includes compositions by Mozart, Ravel, and Schubert.
Saturday and Sunday, Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall.

Oregon Symphony
Rising cello star Johannes Moser joins the orchestra for Saint-Saëns’ 1873 Cello Concerto No. 1, which he recorded a decade ago to great acclaim. Guest conductor Baldur Brönnimann (who happens to lead an orchestra in Portugal) leads the OSO in young Portuguese composer Ângela da Ponte’s 2011 neo-impressionist tone poem, The Rising Sea, and one of the last century’s most popular symphonies, Shostakovich’s triumphant — or is it? — 1937 Fifth.
Friday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Portland Hip-Hop Day
Rasheed Jamal, Wynne, Brookfield Duece, Fountaine, DJ O.G. One, and StarChile headline the city’s third annual celebration of the most popular music in America today.
Sunday, Portland City Hall.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus
The choir sings socially and politically relevant music appropriate to our turbulent times, including a powerful 2016 composition by Atlanta based composer Joel Thompson, Seven Last Words of The Unarmed, which incorporates the final statements made by unarmed black men killed by “authority figures.” A portion of proceeds benefits local community organizations.
Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, Portland.

Yolanda del Río
Mexico’s mega-selling queen of ranchera music, who’s also appeared in 11 films and made 49 albums, brings her band to Oregon.
Sunday, Newmark Theatre, Portland.

David Ornette Cherry
The Portland multi-instrumentalist and composer’s latest Organic Nation Listening Club production brings together stories about and music by legendary tempestuous Native American Portland jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper, performed by musicians who knew him, including Renato Caranto, Carlton Jackson, LaRhonda Steele, Norman Sylvester and more.
Tuesday, Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland.

David Ornette Cherry (l) and Norman Sylvester (c) starred in the 2015 production of Organic Listening Club.

Elliott Sharp
The prototypical downtown New York avant garde guitarist, who’s worked with musicians from Kronos Quartet to Jack DeJohnette, joins the many celebrations of an earlier New York musical pioneer: the great American composer/pianist Thelonious Monk’s centenary, playing both originals and Monk classics.
Tuesday, Classic Pianos, Portland.

Jussi Makkonen and Pianist Nazig Azezian
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence, the Finnish cellist and pianist play music by the country’s iconic composer, Jean Sibelius.
Tuesday, Nordia House, 8800 SW Oleson Road, Portland.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

Narayana Katha Bharatanatyam review: enchanting dreamscape

South Indian dance performance with live music provides a plenitude of bliss

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

I walked into Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall just in time to catch the emcee making a joke: “If there’s anyone who just comes to these shows for samosas and chai, you’ll be disappointed because there’s no intermission tonight.” I’ve been to dozens of shows put on by Portland Indian arts organization Kalakendra, but it’s been awhile and I didn’t know how much I missed their delicious samosas and chai until I heard those magic words.

It turns out there was no reason for disappointment. The Portland presenting organization does have another show tonight after all, one of their more traditional Hindustani Classical recitals, and I assume there will be samosas and chai at that one (no guarantees though). And I’m glad there was no intermission, because the Narayana Katha Bharatanatyam dance performance I witnessed in Lincoln Hall last Saturday took me into another world, an enchanting dreamscape of light and sound and color and gods and holy movement. Samosas in the lobby would have felt intrusive.

Kalakendra Performing Arts brought Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon to Portland State University.

The music started up and a narrator read the auspicious opening line: “Yes, mankind is fortunate indeed.” Dancers Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon took the stage with a joyous verve, detailed and exuberant body movements, fine flowing costumes in radiant colors, ankle bells jangling in precise rhythmic counterpoint with the live musicians. Vocalist Deepu Nair, mridangist P.K. Siva Prasad, and violinist Easwar Ramakrishnana, sat on a little rug stage right performing raga-based dance music, all beautifully evening-sounding. I thought I heard a lot of puriya kalyan and maru bihag, or rather their Carnatic equivalents, but I’m a little more accustomed to slower classical styles like dhrupad that spool out their melodic material over an hour or more of slow, deliberate singing. By comparison, Bharatanatyam music, like most southern Indian musical styles, is freer, dancier, and at times a great deal more rhythmically complicated than its northern counterparts. And I didn’t know you could lead a band with a tiny pair of cymbals, but bandleader Udayasankar Lal N.U. nailed it.

The lighting was vivid and elegant over the almost entirely bare stage, and a few of the eight dance numbers had simple backgrounds projected behind and above them. The simplicity of the entire thing impressed me: as with Kalakendra’s classical recitals, the pragmatic humility of the setting belies the exemplary and disciplined artistry of the performers.

Projected lighting effects, designed by expert dance and theater collaborator Murugan Krishnan, set the scene better than props would have anyway. Soft blue light and a gentle full moon image in the fourth number illuminated the tale of a disabled woman (Menon) who is taken out dancing by a god (Nambiar), which all reminded me of an old favorite Bollywood number. Green lights over zigzaggy shadows suggested the fifth dance’s forest scene. In the sixth number, Nambiar portrayed four different wrestlers, dashing about in the darkness and popping up under spotlights in different parts of the stage, skillfully giving each wrestler a distinct personality through movement alone.

My favorite dance was the seventh, a timeless love story–not the usual thing about falling in love but about the quests we undertake for love. As a narrator explained before it started, Nambiar is a man who hates wealth, but he has to go find a job because his wife, Menon, is hungry. Nambiar goes out on his heroic quest and returns with food, which he shares with his wife. A simple enough story, but the music and the lights and gorgeous dancing imbued it with a mythic, transcendental quality.

The show ended on a hymn to “the plenitude of bliss” and a prayer: “O Lord of the Universe, may this hymn reach thy ears, conferring long life, good health, and happiness.”

Afterwards, Menon came out, thanked the musicians (“it is every dancer’s dream to have good music; without them it wouldn’t have been possible”) and the lighting designer, and expressed her happiness at performing at PSU: “It is like coming home every time we come to Portland.” Her gratitude is reciprocal: we are all fortunate indeed to hear so much Indian music in Portland thanks to organizations like Kalakendra and Rasika. With or without samosas.

Kalakendra has two concerts coming up in the next few weeks. This Saturday, October 7, santoor player Tarun Bhattacharya and sitarist Indrajit Banerjee are joined by Subrata Bhattacharya on tabla at First Congregational Church in downtown Portland. On November 4, Chitravina N. Ravikiran — the “Mozart of Indian Music” and originator of melharmony — performs at First Baptist Church (also in downtown Portland) with violin and mridangam accompaniment.  And fans of south Indian dance have another opportunity to experience it this Saturday with local choreographer Jayanthi Raman’s latest show, Dance of the Hummingbirds, which sounds like a pretty grand production and will also feature the work of (and a performance by) Oregon poet laureate Paulann Peterson. Read Jamuna Chiarini’s Arts Watch preview here.

Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, singer, percussionist, and editor at Portland State University, and serves on the board of Cascadia Composers. He and his music can be reached at monogeite.bandcamp.com.

Want to read more about Oregon dance and music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!