MUSIC

Christina & Michelle Naughton reviews: sister act

Portland Piano International brought identical twin virtuosos for two recitals, and they delivered performances as polished as their presentation

By ANGELA ALLEN & JEFF WINSLOW

Editor’s note: because the latest Portland Piano International production featured a pair of pianists performing a pair of a concerts, and sometimes using a pair of pianos, we decided to feature a pair of reviewers

I was privileged to hear 30 young virtuosos compete for the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano prize last summer in Fort Worth, Texas. Ranging from 19 to 30 years old, they played technically difficult, swooningly expressive pieces. Consider Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 and Antonin Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81, two of the most performed during the festival.

Yet none, even winner Yekwon Sunwoo who opened the 40th Portland Piano International Solo season in October, impressed me as much as Michelle and Christina Naughton did Dec. 2 at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. They played a second concert Dec. 3 featuring a different and equally demanding repertoire. (See Jeff Winslow’s review of that concert below.)

These identical twins, 28, graduates of the Juilliard School and Curtis Institute of Music, began piano lessons at four years old and played as single-piano musicians until a savvy producer suggested they try duets and four-hands pieces. That was 10 years ago. Now the two play as one. They are polished; they are pros. Wunderkinder they are, but practice they have — hours and hours a day for years and years.

Portland Piano International presented Christina and Michelle Naughton. Photo: John Rudoff.

During their two-hour performance, the team demonstrated clean technique, exacting timing, and bravery (or confidence) to incorporate into their repertoire challenging pieces, most notably Conlon Nancarrow’s Sonatina for four hands. Most of the maverick 20th century American composer‘s work was written for the player piano; humans can’t keep up with the rhythms.

And all of this without a sheet of music or an iPad to prompt.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: updating traditions

Holiday happenings and more music on Oregon stages this week

It’s December, and time for the annual Battle of the Messiahs. This year, Portland Baroque Orchestra’s historically informed performances on period instruments seem to have vanquished all Portland pretenders, but fans of anachronistically modern instruments and oversized venues can still find their seasonal bliss in Eugene.

Other holiday choral concerts this year offer refreshingly diverse and modern music for the season, including Choral Arts Ensemble’s mostly 21st century show, Oregon Repertory Singers’ 20th century program, and Portland Chamber Orchestra’s multicultural menu. There’s actually some non-holiday oriented music too, and if you’d like to recommend other Oregon musical events to our readers, please avail yourself of the comments section, infra.

“(Music) for a Time and Space”
Portland-based interdisciplinary artist and composer Ben Glas’s exhibition, which opens Thursday, “explores intently ideas of spatial compositions, alternative modes of hearing and subjective sonic experiences as guided by tonal interactions in space.”
Thursday, Variform Gallery, Everett Station Lofts, Portland.

Korgy & Bass
Drummer/composer Barra Brown (Shook Twins, Ages and Ages, Barra Brown Quintet) and bassist/beatmaker Alex Meltzer’s (Coco Columbia, Two Planets) sample-based beat music definitely draws on jazz, but also takes into the 21st century by incorporating influences from house and other electronica and dance music.
Thursday, Bombs Away, Corvallis; Friday, Hi-Fi Lounge, Eugene; Saturday, Wonder Ballroom, Portland.

Messiah
Even performed on anachronistic modern instruments by Eugene Symphony and Chorus, Handel’s glorious oratorio is a stirring experience, no matter how many times you’ve heard its famous tunes, including — hallelujah! — That One. There will be a harpsichord, though, manned by music director Francesco Lecce-Chong, who’ll direct the performance.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Messiah
Each holiday season, various Portland groups stage Handel’s stirring Baroque masterpiece, and as always, Portland Baroque Orchestra’s historically informed version, played on authentic instruments and in tunings the composer would recognize, is the truest. Paul Agnew sings tenor and conducts PBO, a quartet of Juilliard-trained vocal soloists, and Portland’s own great choir, Cappella Romana. The first three performances are the full meal deal, and there’s a Monday performance of highlights only.
Friday through Monday, First Baptist Church, Portland.

Cappella Romana joins Portland Baroque Orchestra in Handel’s “Messiah.”

Choral Arts Ensemble
The choir goes beyond the usual recycling of tired holiday perennials to offer a broader, more modern musical appreciation of winter and the myth of the mother of God by by some of the finest late 20th/early 21st century choral composers: John Tavener, Ola Gjeilo, Arvo Pärt, Eric Whitacre, and Stephen Chatman. The splendidly diverse program also includes Mexican and Spanish seasonal carols (including some devoted to the major Latin American holiday, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe) and classic compositions by Baroque boss Antonio Vivaldi and Renaissance master Francisco Guerrero.
Friday-Saturday, St. Andrew Catholic Church, 806 NE Alberta St. Portland.

Portland Chamber Orchestra
Abetted by the excellent Portland Persian/Middle Eastern ensemble Shabava, PCO’s multicultural holiday show includes Kurdish, Spanish-Sephardic, French-Moroccan, Swedish and other music, which they’ve quilted into a single multifarious musical tapestry inspired by the structure of Handel’s Messiah. 
Friday, New Song Church, Portland, and Saturday, St. Anne’s Chapel Marylhurst University.

Northwest Community Gospel Choir sings with the Oregon Symphony.

Gospel Christmas
Oregon Symphony and Northwest Community Gospel Choir’s ever-popular annual show featuring holiday favorites usually sells out, so get your tickets pronto!
Friday-Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Oregon Repertory Singers
For four decades, the big choir’s annual Glory of Christmas concert has offered enough traditional tunes and singalongs to satisfy the purists while also including less frequently heard but no less enjoyable and intriguing modern music. Along with new and old carol arrangements, this year’s edition includes new music by America’s most esteemed living choral composer, Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen and several 20th century masterpieces, by Benjamin Britten’s (the English composer’s beautiful A Ceremony of Carols), Franz Biebl’s perennial Ave Maria, portions of American composer Randall Thompson’s Frostiana: Seven Country Songs, and winter-themed songs by revered Estonian choral composer Veljo Tormis, who died earlier this year.
Friday and Sunday, First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. Portland.

Continues…

PSU Opera’s ‘Cinderella’: sweet and silly in the salon

University’s production of Pauline Viardot’s operetta is a fairy tale within a play, set to music

by ANGELA ALLEN

Cinderella is no stranger to the stage. Portland State University’s Cinderella is far from Gioachino Rossini’s 1817 Cenerentola or Jules Massenet’s 1899 version. Neither is it a by-the-book replica of the childhood fairy tale where a pretty downtrodden girl seeks her step-family’s love and that of a prince – and lucks out because the shoe fits!

Instead, Pauline Viardot’s 1904 Cinderella, an operetta not an opera, is a bit of a spoof on that fairy tale, a story within a story. PSU Opera’s production, which runs through Dec. 10 at Lincoln Studio Theater in PSU’s Lincoln Hall, is set in the flamboyant Viardot’s illustrious Parisian cultural salon.

Maeve Stier and Luke Smith sing a heartfelt duet in PSU’s production of Pauline Viardot’s operetta, “Cinderella.”

Viardot, by the way, was a real person, though relatively unknown for her musical work. She entertained such cultural heavyweights as Frederic Chopin, Clara Schumann and Henry James, and was the muse and likely lover of Ivan Turgenev.

Pauline Viardot

Sung in English, with translation by Rachel Harris, Viardot’s chamber operatta is intentionally light, frothy and funny. It has enough roles for this new crop of PSU singers to keep us amused through the 90-minute one-act performance, preceded by a salon-like “greeting” where the cast ushers the audience to their seats in the intimate, 84-seat Lincoln Studio Theater and chats up some of them. Viardot wrote the operetta to be performed by her students at her music salon, and PSU’s crew added a further warm-up of “opera charades,” musical chairs, a dance and songs by Viardot and other women composers of the time like Clara Schumann and Nadia Boulanger, as they might have at the salon.

Then “Madame Viardot” hands out parts to her students to perform her Cinderella. Viardot gives herself the Fairy Godmother role, and Megan Uhrinak, a graduate student, sings the part convincingly. Her solid acting and singing help to hold the show together.

Continues…

Cascadia Composers & Delgani Quartet: performance matters

Fall concerts show the value of prepared, skilled musicians to new music showcases

When it comes to covering music, ArtsWatch tends to focus on composition more than performance. That’s not only because two of our regular music writers are themselves composers, but also because we want to tell Oregonians the story of Oregon creativity, which is really part of the larger story of what makes us what we are here in the 21st century. It’s a main reason I created our Oregon ComposersWatch resource, to make it easier for ArtsWatch readers to hear the fruits of our homegrown musical creators. And thanks to Cascadia Composers and others, Oregon contemporary classical music is an increasingly rich bounty.

But just as there’s more to a play than a script, more to a dance than choreography, there’s more to music than a score. A couple of fall Cascadia concerts showed — in both positive and negative ways — just how important performers are to the story of Oregon originality.

Dazzling Delgani

While the preponderance of Cascadia music is created by composers living in the Portland metro area, the group’s October concerts at Eugene’s First Christian Church and southeast Portland’s Community Music Center happened to feature music written by non Portlanders and even non Oregonians. And so it was appropriate that the performers, too, hailed from beyond Portland. Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet turned in one of the finest performances I’ve ever experienced at a Cascadia concert.

Delgani String Quartet played music by Cascadia Composers in Eugene. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Some of the best Cascadia shows have relied on veteran ensembles (Portland Percussion Group, The Mousai, Choral Arts Ensemble) rather than pickup groups. That’s no surprise: you’d expect musicians that have been performing together for years to do a better job than those who might never have played together before, and who might have rehearsed together only a couple of times. The tradeoff for audiences, though: a program that features the same forces on every piece necessarily offers less instrumental variety. This one happily provided considerable stylistic variety to compensate.

Continues…

“Soror Mystica” review: breaking the frame

ParaTheatrical ReSearch's ritualistic production is and isn't a performance

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

My invite says “please arrive no later than 7:45” for this 8 pm performance, but when I walk into the intimate little performance space at 7:44 they’ve already started. Five dancers—four in all white (The Chaos Sisters, embodied by Memorie Eden, Maple Holmes, Lindsay Reich, and Faye Dylan) and one in fuligin with matching mask (Aether, incarnated by Bryan Smith)—sprawl around the floor, stretching their bodies, doing breathing exercises, probably meditating and visualizing red triangles and whatnot. I remember seeing Grotowski’s indelible name in connection with Antero Alli, perpetrator of tonight’s performance, and my mind goes to Artaud and Brecht. I realize that I’ve been played. When does the show start? Hey man, it never ended. I’ll bet they started warming up on the dance floor before they even opened the doors. We join our story already in progress.

“Soror Mystica” runs through Sunday night in Portland. Photo: A. Alli.

I take a seat, then another. My boots squeak, the floor creaks, I feel terrible for interrupting the performance. Oops, there goes that pesky frame. What performance? They’re just warming up. A static image of some kind of medieval amphitheater enlivens the screen behind the dancers, bracketed by bare branches hanging over candles on columns at the edge of the dance floor. Music that sounds more or less like Hildegard’s plays over the speakers. People trickle in. They keep silent. They prepare themselves physically and spiritually— as I have—for the Work, which is about to commence.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: no leftovers

This week's Oregon concerts, with trimmings

MusicWatch has a confession to make: it seriously overindulged at last week’s holiday table. In truth, MusicWatch has been putting on the preview poundage (the freshman 1500?) quite a bit since leaving parental supervision for its own place, so ArtsWatch paterfamilias Barry Johnson staged a needed intervention, placing MusicWatch on a strict 800-word limit (and eventually 500, but we can’t go, uh, cold turkey right off the bat) until it slims down to the concision of  A.L Adams’s svelte DramaWatch or achieves the noble balanced proportions Jamuna Chiarini’s ample DanceWatch. If you want to add your own garnishes, please do so in the comments section, where they won’t count against the word limit or MusicWatch’s waistline.

Legends of the Celtic Harp
Patrick Ball, Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter combine Celtic and English seasonal music (using three Celtic Harps, Swedish nyckelharpa, fiddle, bandura, bouzouki) and stories including A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a chapter from The Wind in the Willows, and passages from Shakespeare, Yeats, and Thomas Hardy.
Friday, Cerimon House, Portland.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus performs its holiday show this weekend.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus
Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and other seasonal songs.
Friday-Sunday, Newmark Theater, Portland.

Cinderella
Portland State’s acclaimed opera program presents a piano quartet operetta of the classic fairy tale concocted from vintage German and French songs. Stay turned for Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch review.
Friday-Dec. 17, PSU Studio Theater, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

Oregon Symphony and Andre Watts
Scandinavian sounds by Grieg, Nielsen, Sibelius, and fellow Finn Joonas Kokkonen.
Friday, Smith Auditorium, Willamette University, Salem, and Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Andre Watts performs with the Oregon Symphony.

Soror Mystica
ParaTheatrical ReSearch PDX’s latest ritual music/ theater/ dance/film/performance art creation (See Mitch Ritter’s ArtsWatch review of the company’s earlier Bardoville.) Friday-Sunday, Performance Works NW, Portland.

ISing
The annual free concert (with donations benefiting a good cause) features familiar carols with 80 voice choir, a brass octet, taiko drums, kotos and massive organ.
Friday and Sunday, Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ 5150 SW Watson, Beaverton, and Saturday,
St. Peter Catholic Church, 8623 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland.

Beaverton’s iSing chorus used video in its winter 2013 concert.

“Singin’ in the Rain”
Peg Major directs, Robert Ashens conducts and Caitlin Christopher choreographed The Shedd’s original production of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s 1985 stage adaptation of their classic film comedy about 1920s silent film stars making the turbulent transition to talkies.
Friday-Dec. 17, The Shedd, Eugene.

“Amahl and the Night Visitors”
For decades beginning in 1951, American composer Gian Carlo Menotti’s beloved one-act opera was a perennial holiday treat on NBC television. Thanks to Menotti’s appealing score and story about three kings, a family, and a series of miracles, Amahl is still the most frequently produced opera in the world — a family friendly holiday performance presented by one of Oregon’s finest chamber vocal groups, The Ensemble of Oregon, composed of top singers from the city’s big choirs.
Saturday-Sunday, First Christian Church, 1314 SW Park Avenue, Portland.

Christina & Michelle Naughton
Along with European classics by Debussy and Ravel (his enchanting child-inspired Mother Goose music), Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky, the award-winning sibling duo pianists play 20th century American music, including delights by wild card Conlon Nancarrow, John Adams’s Hallelujah Junction, and Paul Schoenfield’s Five Days from the Life of a Manic Depressive.
Saturday & Sunday, Portland State University, Lincoln Hall.

Continues…

Pacifica Quartet: new members, new spirit

The renowned ensemble’s founders discuss replacing departed members, new collaborations, and more

by Alice Hardesty

After performing for 22 years, and with no member changes in the last 17, the Pacifica Quartet announced last May that half the group was leaving the ensemble. Violinist Sibbi Bernhardsson and violist Masumi Per Rostad had accepted teaching positions at the Oberlin Conservatory School of Music and the Eastman School of Music respectively.

The remaining (and founding) members, husband and wife team Simin Ganatra and Brandon Vamos, chose two new members: violinist Austin Hartman (first violinist with the Biava Quartet for 12 years) and Israeli violist Guy Ben-Ziony, who has been playing chamber music in Europe for several years. This new incarnation of the group performed at a Friends of Chamber Music concert in Portland earlier this month.

Friends of Chamber Music brought Pacifica Quartet’s new incarnation to Portland State University November 13-14. Photo: John Green.

Although these changes were bittersweet, they were also invigorating. “We’ve had the opportunity to dream up what would be the perfect quartet,” Ganatra said.

I had never interviewed a group that had experienced such a profound change so recently and I was very curious about how they went about replacing half the group and its impact on one of the world’s premier chamber ensembles.

Seeking Chemistry

Ganatra and Vamos looked for musicians whom they liked personally, which is important for a group that spends a lot of time working closely together, but also players who inspired them. Before making a final decision, the two original members rehearsed with the new candidates. They were looking for a common language — general agreement about phrasing and color, and for the right chemistry.

Evidently they didn’t have to talk very much. Even in the beginning, there was an understanding communicated in the playing itself. Vamos has played in mixed groups where you had to discuss everything. But for the string quartet, “It’s important that some of it is just instinctual,” he explains. “If you have the chemistry you can speak less, and that’s a good thing.”

Consequences of Change

Vamos believes that the Pacifica’s sound has changed, but that it’s difficult to characterize the change. “Maybe there’s a different approach to articulation. And, of course, they’re playing two different instruments — not just different players but different instruments, and that does affect the quartet’s sound.” He hears it from inside and he’d like to hear what the four of them sound like from the audience, but, well, he can’t do that.

What they can say is how the change has affected the group’s own perceptions and practices. “We’ve been playing the same repertoire for 17 years with the same people,” Vamos says. “You throw two new people into that mix, and all the dynamics change!” So far, Ganatra feels there’s more spontaneity, an energy that feels fresh, and that more is happening in the moment, which is always what they strive for.

The group also spends much more time (five hours per day recently) rehearsing than they used to because of the need to get their repertoire up to speed with the new players. According to Ganatra, it will take 1 1/2 years to get back to the amount of repertoire they had, so they’re doing a kind of “crash course.” They’re getting ready to perform a Beethoven cycle in February, and that’s a lot of music (16 string quartets)!

Continues…