MUSIC

MusicWatch Weekly: hearing the future

Family friendly and youth-oriented concerts nurture tomorrow's musical artists -- and audiences

Music, like any other art form, must prove itself to each generation if it’s going to last. That’s why classical music and jazz organizations increasingly sponsor shows suited to kids and families, like Oregon Symphony’s Sci-Fi at the Pops shows Saturday and Sunday, OSO musicians’ free Classical Up Close concerts around the metro area this week, Eugene Concert Choir’s family friendly version of its American Style concert (see below) Saturday, and Eugene Symphony’s Sunday family concert that allows the kiddos to explore symphonic music with help from a virtually reincarnated Ludwig van Beethoven himself. And Eugene’s The Shedd offers a free jazz student ticket program to shows like Sunday’s Jazz Heritage Project concert covering tunes by Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Miles Davis, Harold Arlen, Billy Strayhorn, and George Gershwin, just in time to close out Jazz Appreciation Month.

FearNoMusic’s “Hearing the Future” concerts showcase music by emerging composers.

But for an art form to really remain alive and creating, we need to invest not just in teaching kids to passively “appreciate” old music — but to create new music in the classical tradition. I can’t think of a better way for the public to support music. That’s the value of FearNoMusic’s Young Composers Project, which offers Portland area students coaching from the new music ensemble’s musicians and composers to help them realize their own unique visions. FNM’s latest Hearing The Future concerts showcase 30 new works by the next generation of Oregon composers.
Sunday, Portland State University Lincoln Hall.

• Arvo Pärt’s shimmering, bell-like sacred music has won listeners far beyond contemporary classical insiders, making him the most performed living classical composer since 2010. The Estonian master’ shimmering “tintinnabuli” (bell-like) style can sound both soothing and stirring, often with an astringent quality that avoids the gooey saccharinity of much contemporary choral music, leading some to dub him a “mystical minimalist.” Since turning 80 in 2015, he’s been the subject of many tributes around the world, including Portland. In White Light: The Music of Arvo Pärt, Oregon Repertory Singers contributes its own with a performance of several of Pärt’s greatest hits: the 1990 Berlin Mass (which the choir recorded in 1993), his 1985 Te Deum (which includes string orchestra and prepared piano), and the brief a cappella work The Woman with the Alabaster Box.
Saturday and Sunday, First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. Jefferson St, Portland.

Oregon Repertory Singers sings music by Arvo Pärt. Photo: Allison Silverberg.

Eugene Concert Choir presents a different kind of American classical music — big band jazz and Broadway show tunes from the last century, pairing the 100 voice choir with a barbershop quartet and well known Eugene performers Vicki Brabham on piano, Evynne Hollens and her fellow Broadway singer Calvin Orlando Smith.

Portland Baroque Orchestra embarks on one of its occasional ventures outside its core early 18th century comfort zone and into the later Classical period with an all Mozart program featuring two of the composer’s greatest achievements, plus his E flat Serenade, which unleashes one memorable tune — sometimes operatic and dramatic, sometimes cheery— after another. Employing a fortepiano similar to what the composer himself might have used, specialist Eric Zivian stars in Mozart’s dark, passionate 24th piano concerto, one of the greatest of all concertos. (Read Alice Hardesty’s ArtsWatch story about the instrument.) And in his magnificent final symphony, Mozart’s final movement somehow weaves five major preceding themes into a spectacular thrill ride that’s never been equaled. Though performed here in a church and a college rather than the (perhaps) originally intended casino, this is a rare chance to hear one of humanity’s grandest artistic achievements on a relatively intimate scale and instruments similar to those the composer intended.
Friday and Saturday, First Baptist Church and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, Portland.

• One thing that makes Mozart’s mature music so powerful is his discovery of the music of J.S. Bach, facilitated by Bach’s youngest son Johann Christian. JC’s music along with that of his BFF Carl Friedrich Abel is the subject of Oregon Bach Collegium’s concert featuring another expert forte pianist, Margret Gries and Ann Shaffer on viola da gamba.
Sunday, United Lutheran Church, 22nd and Washington, Eugene.

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Celebrating Schiff

Reed College pays tribute to the veteran Portland composer and music professor, who's retiring from its faculty, in two concerts of his music this week

Famed classical clarinetist David Shifrin recently commissioned Portland composer David Schiff to write a new piece for him to play at Chamber Music Northwest’s 2019 summer festival. After Schiff began working on it, he asked Shifrin if he had any suggestions.

Shifrin pondered. Schiff is a legendarily versatile composer whose past work has touched on everything from jazz to French Impressionism to klezmer, so Shifrin had a vast potential palette to choose from, ranging across several centuries and cultures. “I’d like,” the clarinetist replied, “a Baroque aria.”

“I already started it,” Schiff said. “We’re on the same wavelength.”

David Schiff speaks at Chamber Music Northwest’s 2017 Summer Festival.

No wonder. Shifrin and Schiff have been partners in music since shortly after the Bronx-born composer came to Portland to teach at Reed College in 1980. The following summer, he discovered CMNW and showed some of his scores to Shifrin, who had just begun his 40-year tenure as director. He asked Schiff to adapt music from his opera Gimpel the Fool into an instrumental chamber music work, and programmed it for the 1982 festival. It’s since become Schiff’s most-performed piece.

Shifrin and other CMNW colleagues will play it again Thursday in an all-Schiff concert commemorating both Schiff’s retirement from Reed this spring after 38 years, and Shifrin’s upcoming retirement as CMNW artistic director. Reed will also honor Schiff with a Tuesday concert of his music featuring Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic.

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Building Mozart’s garden

PSU Opera's designers and artisans create a world onstage for the comic "La Finta Giardiniera." Joe Cantrell tells the tale in photographs.

Photographs by JOE CANTRELL

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was 18 years old when his opera La Finta Giardiniera (The Pretend, or Fake, Gardener) debuted at the Salvatortheater in Munich in 1775. When it opens Friday evening at Lincoln Performance Hall in Portland it’ll feature a cast almost as young, made up of singers in the elite Portland State University Opera program. Under the artistic leadership of onetime New York City Opera star Christine Meadows, PSU Opera has become known for its high-quality, relatively low-cost, professionally designed productions.

The latter is definitely true in the case of La Finta Giardiniera, which is double-cast in seven major roles (“the students have grown incredibly through the experience of preparing Finta,” Meadows says) and will have four performances, April 19, 20, 26, and 28. Its design team is stellar: set by Carey Wong, lighting by Peter West, lavish period costumes by Hadley Yoder, wigs and hair (a major task for this period comic opera) by Jessica Carr and Randy Graff respectively, props by Sumi Wu.

Maeve Stier as the servant Serpetta, surrounded by painterly foliage.

Wong’s ravishing set is dominated in many scenes by a landscape painted on its walls and inspired by Wooded Landscape with a Peasant Resting, a bucolic painting by Mozart’s near-contemporary Thomas Gainsborough, perhaps best-known for his portrait The Blue Boy. Other scenes take place in a cave, providing a sharp contrast in mood between bright and colorful and dark and forboding.

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An ocean of musical opportunities

The Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival supports music in public schools -- and students don't have to sell 5,000 candy bars to take part

More than 100 students and their teachers will arrive in Newport next week for four days of workshops and performances, a visit to the Oregon Coast Aquarium – and of course, ample time on the beach. They’ll stay in oceanfront hotels and dine on local cuisine. And it won’t cost them a dime – not even one raised through the usual fundraising sale of doughnuts or gift wrap.

It’s all part of the Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival, a program designed to support music in public schools, with priority admission given to those from underserved communities.

Students from six Oregon high school orchestras will participate in the third annual Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival, April 25-28 in Newport.

Students from five Oregon high school orchestras will participate in the third annual Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival, April 25-28 in Newport.

The idea for the festival – now in its third year – came from a handful of locals, including the late David Ogden Stiers, who were concerned about the loss of music programs in public schools, said Michael Dalton, chairman of the festival board of directors, retired Oregon State University professor, and a member of the Oregon Arts Commission.

“We were looking for some way we could help support music programs in our schools,” Dalton said. He noted that without school programs, parents who have the means will nevertheless provide private instruction. But for those without funds, some students “have no other opportunities. We have created this festival to meet that need. We don’t want it to be an obstacle, or for the school to have to sell 5,000 candy bars to be able to do something. It’s the heart of what we do.”

Schools pay only the cost of transportation to and from Newport. The festival pays for lodging and the professional conductors who lead the workshops. Local boosters provide food for the students and Local Ocean restaurant hosts the Conductor’s Dinner for conductors, teachers, and board members. The festival also partners with the aquarium, which provides free admission to students, who in exchange share their talent in trios and quartets by the entrance.

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MusicWatch Weekly: psychedeliclassical

Trippy visuals and more enhance Oregon classical music concerts

Classical music still lags a ways behind, say, the reggae community when it comes to appropriately celebrating 4/20. Admittedly, the some of the thrill has kind of, uh, gone up in smoke since Oregon finally ended the preposterous cannabis Prohibition, but it’s never too late explore the possibilities of imbibing ear-opening music with mind-altering visuals, and this week offers a couple of psychedelicious opportunities.

Radiance Orb prepares for its Hult Center trip.

On Thursday, the Eugene Symphony’s The Color of Sound concert spotlights Russian composer Alexander Scriabin’s notorious expansive voluptuous music, which partakes in both Romanticism and Impressionism. Whether or not he was actually gifted by synthesthesia, the crazy visionary Russian composer (like others then and now) “saw” sounds as colors — the note A was green, for example. His score for Prometheus included a part for a “light organ” that could display colors corresponding to the pitches in his music, but he was born a century or so too soon for technology to fully accommodate his vision. Fortunately, the mad scientist/artists at Eugene’s Harmonic Laboratory and Light at Play have arrived to help the ESO realize Scriabin’s vision for that proto-psychedelic 1910 piano concerto (subtitled Poem of Fire), with an eight-foot keyboard-controlled “Radiance Orb” suspended above the stage projecting tapestries of light around Silva Hall matched to the music.

The show also includes Scriabin’s famous 1908 fourth symphony, Poem of Ecstasy, which zooms from erotic to mystic to cosmic, plus short classical greatest hits by Handel, Grieg, Debussy, Pärt and more. ESO should sell edibles out in the lobby before this one.
Thursday, Silva Hall, Hult Center, Eugene.

• As should Cascadia Composers, whose 4/20 All Wired Up concert doubledose features more than a dozen of the region’s most accomplished composers, including some of its most promising next-gen voices. This mini festival of new electronic music includes original homegrown compositions for electric guitar and bass, keyboards, percussion, vocals, oboe, amplified trumpet and horn, piano, organ, and interactive fixed media. Then they add projections, modern dance, even an aerial drone. And that’s just the 4 pm show.

After a break (including an optional talk about “data-driven instruments” by prog/electronic/algorithmic composer percussionist Steve Joslin and electronic music and soundscape wizard Mei-Ling Lee), the video-enhanced 7 pm concert includes video/sound art for percussion, electronics, piano, electric guitar and fixed media. Composers include Timothy Arliss O’Brien, Dana Reason, Paul Safar, Brian Field, Greg Steinke, Nicholas Yandell, Matthew Andrews, Ted Clifford, Jennifer Wright, Tristan Bliss, Antonio Celaya, Stacey Philipps, Vivian Elliot, Mei-Ling Lee, Jeffrey Ericson Allen, Joshua Hey, Greg Bartholomew, and Daniel Brugh.
Saturday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., Portland.

• The Creative Music Guild’s fascinating Extradition Series features 20th- and 21st-century experimental music that often blurs the imaginary line between composition and improvisation. The five pieces in Saturday’s concert leave many artistic choices up to the interpreters. A score by Bay Area composer Danny Clay consists of a large wooden box containing dice, playing cards, a clock, marbles, and instructions to the performers to turn the melange into music. Alexis Porfiriadis’s Happy Notes, Sad Notes gives performers ten “episodes” of graphic symbols and a series of questions regarding how they are to be interpreted (“Are these happy notes? Shall we play them?”) and invites them to take it from there. Performers include harpist Sage Fisher (Dolphin Midwives), clarinetist Lee Elderton, Branic Howard on guitar/electronics, pianist Matt Carlson, oboist Catherine Lee (oboe), cellist Collin Oldham, trumpeter Douglas Detrick, flutist Maxx Katz, percussionist Matt Hannafin, and more.
Saturday. Leaven Community, Portland.

Trotter & McNeal perform Friday and Saturday.

• In Golden Organ, Margaret McNeal and Stephanie Lavon Trotter use electronic and acoustic music and voice to “reclaim Opera.” This weekend’s “performative installation,” and there was a new voice which you slowly recognize as your own, includes original compositions, improvisations, multimedia and more. C
Friday and Saturday, Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave. Portland.

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Tallis Scholars: perfect storm of singing

Renowned English choir’s Portland performance declares high ‘C’ –son for Sistine Chapel music 

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

The Tallis Scholars are never going to disappoint, especially in an early-music-loving city like Portland. At St. Mary’s Cathedral this past Sunday, the pews were filled and the renaissance polyphony floated above.

Established 46 years ago and still conducted by founder Peter Phillips, the esteemed English vocal ensemble delivered a brilliant program in all respects: use of the space and of the singers, and choice of literature, with a focus on music of the Sistine Chapel in the high Renaissance. The afternoon was a revelation in capturing an audience’s mind.

The Tallis Scholars sang at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

As described by Portland singer and Renaissance music scholar Dr. Kerry McCarthy, whose exemplary skills in academic engagement were evident in the pre-concert lecture, “international” was a key word in the Sistine Chapel choir. During this period (c. 1575 – 1600), the loft was chock full of singers from Spain, France and of course Italy. This theme was mirrored in the Tallis Scholars’ program, which included music from Spain (Morales), Burgundy (des Prez) and France (Carpentras).

Peter Phillips cleverly programmed a composite Palestrina Mass, interweaving five sections of the ordinary from five different Mass settings by the great Italian Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. These served as linchpins, pulling us back each time to what we perceive as the classic Sistine Chapel polyphony. These were my favorites, especially the Kyrie Missa Assumpta est Maria (God has Assumed the Virgin Mary to the Heavens) and the “Credo,” from the Missa Papae Marcelli (Mass in Honor of Pope Marcellus).

Another attraction of this concert was the way in which Mr. Phillips deployed his forces, using almost as many formations as the Dallas Cowboys. With a base of 10 singers, the choir reduced to only four in Quam pulchra es (How Beautiful and Fair) of Italian composer Costanzo Festa, then expanded to six singers for Lamentations by French composer Elzea Genet Carpentras, and the aforementioned “Credo”.

This fourth Sunday in Lent was normally a day to relax a bit from the rigors of the Lenten season, but the Tallis Scholars’ singers’ schedule offered little respite. Finishing up a six-in-a-row US concert jaunt, they performed in Seattle on the previous night, vanned to Portland and began to tune at St. Mary’s Cathedral late Sunday morning. Somewhere in there they probably caught a few winks.

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MusicWatch Weekly: females in the foreground

Oregon concerts put women front and center

Women’s History Month just passed, but fortunately, times are changing enough that Oregon performers and presenters are no longer confining half the human race’s creative accomplishments to only one-twelfth of the calendar year. Several concerts this week focus on women’s voices and stories.

Preview: The Passion According to an Unknown Witness from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral on Vimeo.

The Ensemble of Oregon commissioned one of Oregon’s most nationally recognized composers, University of Oregon prof Robert Kyr, to create The Passion According to an Unknown Witness. The hour-long composition retells the famous Passion story set by Bach and many others — from the point of view of the women who journeyed with Jesus in the myth, including Christ’s mom and Mary Magdalene. Musicians from 45th Parallel and Trinity Choir join Portland’s all star small vocal ensemble, featuring some of Oregon’s finest singers in this world premiere. Pre concert talk at 4 pm, concert 5 pm Sunday, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th Ave, Portland.

Shirley Nanette, back in the day.

Shirley Nanette has been a prominent singer on Portland’s jazz and soul music scene for decades, with performances at national festivals, regional clubs, even with the Oregon Symphony. But like so much of the city’s African American cultural heritage, her breakthrough 1973 album, Never Coming Back, featuring some of the historically black Albina neighborhood’s top musicians of the day, sank into obscurity. Now, DJ/producer/record collector/radio host/ writer Bobby Smith, the African-American arts nonprofit World Arts Foundation, and their Albina Music Trust, are refuting the album’s title by bringing back this lost music in a live performance of the album by Nanette and the Albina Soul Revue Band, starring some of today’s top Portland soul men, who’ve played with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Prince to Bootsy Collins to Ages and Ages.
Saturday, Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St. Portland.

Chamber Music Amici contributes to redressing American classical music’s long-standing gender imbalance with first-rate music from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, featuring music by one of today’s leading American composers, Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon. Her colorful 2003 Piano Trio’s movements reflect their respective titles: the beautifully placid, Aaron Copland style “Pale Yellow” and the incendiary “Fiery Red.” The concert, which includes some of the Eugene area’s top classical players, also features an absorbing 1834 string quartet by that other Mendelssohn, Fanny, whose brother Felix regarded as a talent equal to his own, and Amy Beach’s ardent, late Romantic 1938 Piano Trio.
Monday, Wildish Community Theater, Springfield.

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