Chamber Music Northwest review: Enchanting enhancements

Modern technology complements contemporary music in enlightening multimedia concert 


It has become a dull commonplace that technology rushes us and disconnects us. I had the opposite experience of a late July Chamber Music Northwest New@Noon concert at Portland State University, a multimedia affair in the basement of Lincoln Hall bringing together video, animation, responsive A.I. programs, and the music of contemporary composers Bonnie Miksch, Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, and Bruce Adolphe.

Portland composer Bonnie Miksch started the concert with Every tendril, a wish. Miksch, who composed the music and text in 2007 for her son Grover, sang along with her own electroacoustic accompaniment, while Grover’s father Christopher Penrose handled interactive graphics. I have the privilege of studying with Dr. Miksch at PSU, where she chairs the School of Music as well as the composition area, and she was gracious enough to let me ask her a few questions about her process. As a composer of electroacoustic music, Miksch is somewhat unusual in that she prefers working with harmonic, pitched content—“unabashedly exploring beauty”, in her words—over the “blips, buzzes, and blurps” we often associate with Academic Electro-Acoustic Music (e.g., that of Schaeffer, Babbitt, Stockhausen, Ligeti, et al).

Penrose (l) and Miksch at Chamber Music Northwest.

Penrose (l) and Miksch at Chamber Music Northwest.

Every tendril, a wish began with musical material generated by Penrose’s program Hyperupic, which maps sound to 2d images; in this case Miksch chose black-and-white photographs for their high contrast, which I heard reflected in the music. This background electroacoustic texture, which Miksch describes as a landscape to interact with as a vocalist, consists entirely of recorded sounds (“sounds of playfulness and childhood”) subjected to extensive electronic processing such as filtering. Neither the electroacoustic accompaniment nor the vocal melody change from one performance to the next; rather, it is the video component which is interactive. As Miksch sang, Penrose’s computer captured both her voice and the electronic tracks, and he manipulated the video using the popular music program Max (originally developed at the Parisian electroacoustic music research institute IRCAM). Although Penrose adjusts the graphics in real-time, he is still working with “possibilities within constrained parameters.” The result: a “self-similar” multimedia piece: always different, always the same.


MusicWatch Weekly: Super string quartets & dynamic duos

Kronos and Emerson quartets highlight a strong stretch of chamber music on Oregon stages this week

After all those orchestral openings last week, Oregon music  now focuses on smaller forces, including the arrival of two of America’s most renowned string quartets, plus a string quartet tribute to one of America’s greatest composers. A trio of new music duos also offer contemporary mixes of poetry and music, among various other attractive small combo-concerts.

Myklebust & Corbell perform at Portland's Old Church.

Myklebust & Corbell perform at Portland’s Waypost.

Cult of Orpheus
September 28
The Waypost, 3120 N. Williams, Portland.
Composer Christopher Corbell joins cellist Sonja Myklebust is his elegant fusion of contemporary indie singer-songwriter chamber pop and classical art song.

Ben Wendel Group
September 28
The Old Church, Portland.
The Kneebody composer/saxophonist/improviser has also performed with some of today’s hottest jazz aces, from Joshua Redman to Julian Lage and even pop stars like Prince and Snoop Dogg. This starry quartet leans more toward straightahead jazz than Kneebody’s fusion, and even draws on classical influences like Tchaikovsky.

Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan
September 29
Passages Bookshop, 1223 NE MLK Blvd. Portland.
Author Ellen Johnson reads from and signs copies of her 2015 biography of the great jazz singer.

The Music of David Bowie
September 29
Oregon Symphony, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
Singer Tony Vincent fronts the orchestra in the late great singer/cultural icon’s hits.

John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts, 868 High Street, Eugene.
Closing weekend for the new production of Lionel Bart’s popular 1960 musical.

 Fear No Music
September 30
Portland State University, Lincoln Hall.
Read my Willamette Week preview of the new music ensemble’s concert farewell to founding member Joel Bluestone.

Third Angle New Music
September 30-October 1
Oregon Rail Heritage Center, 2250 SE Water Ave. Portland.
Read my ArtsWatch preview of the string quartet’s Steve Reich tribute concerts.

Dazai & Brinckman.

Dazai & Brinckman perform in Eugene.

Mitsuki Dazai and Tessa Brinckman
October 1
Broadway House, 911 W. Broadway, Eugene.
Read my ArtsWatch review of the Oregon koto master and Ashland-based, New Zealand-born flutist’s program of poetry and music by American (including Oregon) and Japanese composers and poets they played in Beaverton last spring.

Oregon Mozart Players
October 1
Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon
Pianist Anton Nel stars in Mozart’s ever popular Piano Concerto #21, and the chamber orchestra also plays Gyorgy Ligeti’s delightful Romanian Concerto and another Mozart gem, his Symphony #36.

The Emerson String Quartet at Chamber Music Northwest in 2015/Photo by Tom Emerson

The Emerson String Quartet at Chamber Music Northwest last year. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Emerson String Quartet
October 1, Newmark Theatre. Portland, and October 2, Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon.
Celebrating their 40th anniversary, the Emersons perform two different programs here. The Portland show features Eastern European classics: Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 11, Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 10, and Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 3. Eugeneans get to hear a pair of history’s most beautiful string quartets. Claude Debussy’s trailblazing impressionistic 1893 quartet clearly influenced the even more ravishing quartet his younger compatriot Maurice Ravel wrote a decade later. The concert also includes Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s 1878 quartet, which some claim might have influenced Debussy’s. Read Alice Hardesty’s ArtsWatch interviews with Emerson cellist Paul Watkins and violist Lawrence Dutton.

Kronos Quartet
October 2
LaSells Stewart Center, Corvallis.
For more than four decades the San Francisco-based string foursome has set the pace for new music played on old instruments, as well as newer instruments including electronic gear. They’ve also commissioned a tremendous body of new music, including compositions by young emerging composers. This program features Sigur Ros’s mysterious “Flugufrelsarinn (The Fly Freer),” a Cafe Tacuba piece arranged by the fine Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov, a modern raga, and works by by the great 20th-century Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, the wild and sometimes wacky Stanford prof Mark Applebaum, as well as John Oswald, Garth Knox and Aleksandra Vrebalov. Main attractions: Mary Kouyoumdjian’s Bombs of Beirut, which uses recorded voices of her family’s civil war survivors, and the great American composer Terry Riley’s spiffy new string quartet arrangement of The Who’s rock classic “Baba O’Riley” — a piece named for Riley and deeply influenced by Pete Townshend’s hearing his music in 1970 — which I heard the group premiere at Riley’s 80th birthday celebration in San Francisco last summer.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
October 1-2
Skyview Concert Hall, 1300 NW 139th, Vancouver, WA
All-Russian program features Tchaikovsky’s final symphony, over-programmed Violin Concerto (with soloist Mayuko Kamio) and Glinka’s rollicking Ruslan and Ludmilla overture.

Choro in Schola
October 3
Lincoln Hall 75, Portland State University.
Read my Willamette Week preview of the concert by ArtsWatch contributor Bruce Browne’s program that brings some of Portland’s top choral performers into Oregon schools to coach vocal music.

Velocity Squared
October 4
Beall Concert Hall, Frohnmayer Music Building, University of Oregon.
Saxophonist Jonathan Bergeron and clarinetist John Masserini play contemporary classical music written especially for their duo.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

Third Angle preview: Reich on Rails

Portland new music ensemble's concerts celebrate the 80th birthday of one of the world's greatest living composers

When Steve Reich was a child in the 1940s, his parents separated, one living in California, the other New York. The young Jewish boy rode the rails back and forth across the country to see them.

Meanwhile, in Europe, other Jewish children were riding very different trains, taking them to their death in Nazi concentration camps. Had circumstances been different, Reich, now one of the world’s most revered composers, might have been one of them.

Third Angle string quartet. Photo: Evan Lewis.

Third Angle string quartet. Photo: Evan Lewis.

Reich musically portrayed these different fates in his 1988 composition Different Trains, which blended the recorded voices of Holocaust survivors (including one from Portland), the governess who accompanied Reich on those journeys, and a Pullman porter of the time with string quartet music whose rhythms were based on the rhythms of their speech.

This weekend, just days before his October 3 birthday, Portland’s Third Angle New Music performs that work and Reich’s two other string quartets in concerts that celebrate the composer’s 80th birthday, joining a long list of orchestras and ensembles around the world honoring one of America’s most revered musical originals.


Brian Cutean on disk, on air, onstage: Evergreen artistry

On his career-capping new album and in concert in Portland, the veteran Eugene singer combines social conscience with sharply observed songwriting


Since running away as a Midwestern youth to ride the rails and join the traveling minstrels, Eugene-based Brian Cutean has been mentored by some giants of various genres of modern Americana and world music and theater while he has himself cast distinctive influence across styles of song, recording, improv/story theater, spoken-word performance, deeply enmeshed in activist and arborist communities of cultivators and folk artists.

Brian Cutean and band performed at Portland's Old Church concert hall. Photo: Daniel Flessas.

Brian Cutean and band performed at Portland’s Old Church concert hall. Photo: Daniel Flessas.

A warm late August show in Portland at the acoustically overhauled historic Old Church gave the city folk and Ore-Wa regional song-chasers a chance to celebrate Cutean’s newly released album, slow-cooked with some of the spicy musicians who lent it its flavor on-hand as summer touring commitments wind down.


MusicWatch Weekly: Orchestras unleashed

Symphonic splendor returns to Oregon stages

Several of Oregon’s symphony orchestras open their seasons this weekend, two of them featuring operatic music, and there’s more from Greece, Tuva, Brazil and beyond to greet autumn’s arrival. If you have more music recommendations for ArtsWatch readers, please note them in the comments section below.

Dale Chihuly's sculptures make up the set and grab the headlines, but Bartok's music really draws blood in the Oregon Symphony's concerts this weekend.

Dale Chihuly’s sculptures dominate the stage and the headlines, but Bartok’s music really draws blood in the Oregon Symphony’s concerts this weekend.

Eugene Symphony
September 22
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, Eugene.
The orchestra opens Danail Rachev’s final season as music director with Brahms’s fourth symphony, Schumann’s cello concerto (starring the cool Seattle cellist Joshua Roman, who does much hipper things there), and Webern’s Passacaglia.

Similar Fashion, Mike Gamble and Bonepocket
September 22
Turn Turn Turn, 8 NE Killingsworth, Portland.
Logan Hone’s LA-based sax-viola-guitar-drum ensemble draws on jazz, contemporary classical music and rock, which isn’t too far from Portland guitarist-composer Gamble’s influences.

Liima, Blue Cranes
September 22
Doug Fir Lounge, Portland.
The Danish/Finnish improvisatory band includes members of avant-garde rockers Efterklang plus percussion, while Blue Cranes cooks up jazz that’s always worth hearing.

Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra
September 23, First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson, Portland; September 25, Mt. Hood Community College Theater, NE 29th and Kane Street, Gresham.
Star Wars, Harry Potter, Schindler’s List, and on and on. The orchestra plays movie music by world’s leading film composer, John Williams.

pngHuun Huur Tu
September 24
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St. Portland.
The amazing Tuvan throat singers add electronica and other Western music to their traditional influences.

Cappella Romana
September 24
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland.
Read my ArtsWatch preview of the vocal ensemble’s 25th anniversary concert.

Newport Symphony
September 24 & 25
Newport Performing Arts Center.
The orchestra plays an unusual program of mostly rarely heard yet attractive mid-20th century music by Stravinsky (his first little small orchestra suite), longtime Oregon coast resident Ernest Bloch (Suite Modale for flute and strings), American composer Gunther Schuller’s Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, plus a Mozart overture and a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody.

Soprano Ani Maldjian joins Portland Chamber Orchestra this weekend in 'The Diary of Anne Frank.'

Soprano Ani Maldjian joins Portland Chamber Orchestra this weekend in ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’

Portland Chamber Orchestra
September 24, Nordia House, 8800 SW Oleson Rd., Portland, and September 25,  Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis & Clark College, Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of one of the most intriguing orchestral concerts of the season, featuring Grigory Frid’s “monodrama” The Diary of Anne Frank and an early Shostakovich gem.

September 23-October 2
John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts, 868 High Street, Eugene.
Read my Eugene Weekly preview of the Shedd’s production of Lionel Bart’s ever-popular 1960 musical.

Oregon Symphony
September 24-26
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
“You can open any door in my castle,” the mysterious middle aged prince told his new young bride, “except that one.” Read the rest of my Willamette Week preview of the orchestra’s performance of another operatic drama, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Ghost, a new piece commissioned from 27-year-old composer Chris Rogerson, and more.

Beaverton Symphony Orchestra
September 25
Village Baptist Church, 330 SW Murray Blvd, Beaverton.
This free multicultural concert celebrates contributions of refugees and immigrants with performance of Japanese koto music by Oregon Koto-Kai, Iraqi music by composer-singer-guitarist Ronny Hermiz, and Latin American music by Grupo Condor, plus Western classical music from the BSO strings.

Oregon Bach Collegium 
September 25
United Lutheran Church, 22nd and Washington Streets, Eugene.
The historically informed early music group features rarely heard early 17th century German music for voices, organ and Baroque trombones.

Márcia Guimarães and Julia Brown
September 25
First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive, Eugene.
The respected veteran Sao Paolo-based lyric soprano joins the veteran Rio de Janeiro-born Eugene pianist in a free afternoon concert of Brazilian art songs.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

Cappella Romana preview: Byzantium & beyond

Portland vocal ensemble's 25th anniversary concert reprises its first performance, which set the blueprint for its mix of medieval to modern music

When Alexander Lingas moved to San Francisco in the summer of 1990, the Greek Orthodox cathedral where he’d just been appointed associate cantor lay in ruins, devastated by the 1989 Loma Prieto earthquake. Lingas wanted to help the church rebuild – and the only contribution he could offer was music. The Portland native had sung in his Greek Orthodox church, with local choir Cantores in Ecclesia and with the Portland State Chamber choir, and even formed an early music ensemble of his own while studying at PSU. So he and his Portland musical friends piled into a van, and headed south to perform a benefit concert. The church offered them lodging and a lavish, post-concert spaghetti dinner with freshly cured Greek olives.

Cappella Romana in 1994.

Cappella Romana in 1994.

After hearing the Northwesterners sing Greek Orthodox music from ancient Byzantium as well as contemporary Greek-American composers and more, nearly 300 listeners donated money for cathedral reconstruction. And Lingas and friends decided to keep making music.

To evoke the Byzantine empire’s Roman heritage and the medieval Greek concept of a religious world that embraced the far-flung lands of the old Roman Empire, he named the group Cappella Romana — Roman chapel. This weekend, the ensemble performs the same program in Seattle and Portland.


A new ‘Snow Queen,’ part 3: Cooking up a fresh new score

For Eugene Ballet's upcoming production, Portland composer Kenji Bunch takes on the biggest project of his musical career


Editor’s note: Eugene arts journalist Bob Keefer is tracking Eugene Ballet’s creation of a new version of The Snow Queen.  ArtsWatch will reposting the series here after each installment appears on Keefer’s Eugene Art Talk blog.

When Eugene Ballet premieres its new full-length interpretation of The Snow Queen at the Hult Center next spring, its dancers will perform to all-new music by Portland composer Kenji Bunch.

That’s a giant leap forward, both for the ballet – which has never before commissioned a full-length musical score – and for Bunch, who has never before composed such a long piece of music.

Kenji Bunch and Coffee.

Kenji Bunch on a Coffee break. Photo: Bob Keefer.

“I have never done a full-fledged, evening-length orchestral ballet score,” he said in a recent visit to his home studio. “That is definitely a bucket-list item for a composer.”


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