MUSIC

Trio con Brio Copenhagen review: Deeply felt music 

Danish chamber music ensemble performs music born of emotional upheaval

by TERRY ROSS

When he wrote his last trio, Robert Schumann (1810-1856) is thought by some to have already begun suffering from the incurable mental illness that ended his life prematurely at age 46.

But as performed by Trio con Brio Copenhagen last week to open their Friends of Chamber Music concert at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, Schumann’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 110, seemed not merely sane but coherent. Any evidence of the composer’s condition  may appear in the different treatment of the instruments in its four movements. In the first movement Bewegt, doch nicht zu rasch (“Agitated, but not too fast”), the violin, cello, and piano each seem to be playing to themselves, rather than combining in a group conversation. In the second movement Ziemlich langsam (“Rather slowly”), the stringed instruments, played by the Korean sisters Soo-Jin Hong (violin) and Soo-Kyung Hong (cello), play to and for each other, with mere support from the piano, except at the end, when pianist Jens Elvekjaer states the lovely main theme.

Trio con Brio Copenhagen performed at Portland State University. Photo: John Green.

Schumann’s wife Clara admired the third-movement Scherzo, marked Rasch (“fast”), above the other three. At only four minutes, it is the shortest of the three and ends in even more agitation than the first. The final movement, Kraftig, mit Humor (“Powerfully, with humor”) is the least appealing of the four, but in its quotations from the three preceding, it makes for a plausible conclusion.

The trio played Schumann’s piece with restraint when the music called for it and with genuine vigor in the fast passages. Cellist Soo-Kyung seemed to be the focus of the other two most of the time, and she produced the most gorgeous sounds on her Grancino cello.

The first half also featured  the Portland premiere of Jan Sandström’s Four Pieces for Piano Trio, written in 2012 for this ensemble. Sandström, who was born in 1954, is by all accounts well represented on Scandinavian concert stages. Amongst his considerable oeuvre, the piece most consistently repeated is his Motorbike Concerto (Trombone Concerto No. 1), composed in 1991.

Composer Jan Sandström.

Sandström’s Four Pieces (three minutes each for the first three, six for the fourth) are not readily distinguishable from one another. The musical language in all four is identifiably contemporary but not atonal, a little like late Stravinsky crossed with Arvo Pärt. In a short introduction, pianist Elvekjaer described the composer as a “manipulative romantic.” But Sandström seems not to have decided what he wanted to pursue — staccato passages, cantabile moments, or concerted statements. The music in all four movements jumped from one sort of thing to another without ever developing any of the ideas introduced.

Then, after the intermission,  the high point of the concert in both the quality of the music and the playing of it. When Antonin Dvorak began his Op. 65 Trio early in 1883, the memory of his mother’s death six weeks earlier was still fresh and painful. He responded with his most emotional music to date, although he already had six symphonies, eleven string quartets, and many other chamber works behind him. But this trio proved a sort of turning point in Dvorak’s effort to become a staple of the concert repertoire in Europe. His most fertile and mature period followed, the years of the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Symphonies, the Slavonic Dances, and the final three string quartets, as well as a great deal of program music.

Amidst the stormy intensity of the first-movement Allegro ma non troppo, Dvorak finds space to introduce two rhapsodic duets for piano and cello. These were lovingly caressed by Mr. Elvekjaer and Ms. Soo-Kyung, who in “real life” met in the formation of the Trio con Brio and later married. In the second-movement Allegretto grazioso the pianist takes center stage, playing the melody at the beginning and end of the six-minute movement.

The third movement, marked Poco adagio (“a little slow”), is the heart of the piece, a beautiful rendition of the both the composer’s sorrow and fond memories concerning his mother. Violinist Soo-jin took the melody late in this movement, and her playing (on her lovely Guarneri instrument) was heart-wrenching. The fourth-movement Finale Allegro con brio returns to the intensity of the questing, agitated first, with a Slavic hint and an elegant waltz passage, the whole thing ending in an explosion of energy. The Trio con Brio were all over it, raising their six hands in triumph at the rousing finish.

As an added treat, they returned, after a couple of standing ovations, to play an encore: the lovely slow third movement of Dvorak’s G-minor Trio of 1876. You could have heard a hummingbird chirp at the end, before the audience exploded again in sustained applause.

Recommended recordings

Schumann Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 110
• Isabelle Faust, violin; Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello; Alexander Melnikov, piano (Harmonia Mundi HMC902196), 2015.
• Florestan Trio (Hyperion CDA67175), 1999.

Jan Sandström
Motorbike Concerto (Trombone Concerto No. 1), Christian Lindberg, trombone, with Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Leif Segerstam conducting (BIS CD 538), 1991.

Dvorak Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65
Dvorak: Piano Trios Nos. 3 & 4, Smetana Trio (Supraphon SU38722), 2006.

Terry Ross is a Portland freelance journalist and the director of The Classical Club, through which he offers classical music appreciation sessions. He can be reached at classicalclub@comcast.net.

Want to read more about Oregon classical music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Oregon Chorale review: Dramatic cohesion

Choir gives satisfying musical response to historical conflict, new leadership and ambitious program

by BRUCE BROWNE

This past weekend the Oregon Chorale wove an array of dark and emotional music into one work of art – a patchwork in which a variety of finishes, colors and textures offered came together as a “Response to Strife.”

Jason Sabino, the choir’s new artistic director, laid out the design to provoke an emotional response. Creating a cohesive program around a single subject is not only laudable, it’s essential in our evolving arts world. Gone are the days of bits and pieces programs, or a chronological museum-like walk through music history.

When one is performing – or listening to – a large scale oratorio, like Handel’s Messiah or Brahms’s German Requiem, the composer has done the programming for us. Otherwise, we are chancing a variety show of small shards of choral music, with no governing concept. So hurrah for dramatic cohesion, Mr. Sabino and the choir, in its 31st year of existence.

One has to be careful though, with a program like this: slow tempi + static harmonies x foreboding texts = a tough date for audience members, maybe singers as well. Not an easy equation. Particularly for the choir, who, to their credit, stood tall while the 37-minute Gorecki Miserere exacted a toll of slow tempi, repeated text, and repeated harmonic gesture, all demanding a high level of concentration. They answered the call, and doubled down on the gamble.

Jason Sabino leads Oregon Chorale. Photo: Don White.

The first four pieces spanned continents and style, beginning with the soothing coo of mothers comforting the world To the Mothers in Brazil: Salve Regina by Gunnar Eriksson (original work by Lars Jansson). Requiem by Eliza Gilkyson (arr. Craig Hella Johnson) was written after the 2004 Asian tsunami. Norman Luboff’s iconic arrangement of the Bahamian folk tune “All My Trials” was performed dramatically and included a lovely solo by soprano Sheryl Wood. An African song, “Indodana,” (arr. Michael Barrett and Ralf Schmitt) told of redemption and comfort through Jesus Christ. The brief first half ended there, a very satisfying setup for the second half of the program and the upcoming despondency of the centerpiece Miserere by Henryk Gorecki.

Born in Poland in 1933, Gorecki lived most of his artistic productive years during the Soviet Communist dominance of Poland (roughly 1945–1989). He died in 2010. Gorecki’s 1981 choral work Miserere was written in response to the government assaults on Polish union solidarity activists. This was a period of simple, chordal and chantlike harmonic progressions for Gorecki who, during the 1960s was considered one of Poland’s premiere avant-garde composers. The work was tucked safely away later in that year when the martial law was enacted.

Henryk Górecki.

In 1987, Miserere was premiered in St. Stanislaus Church in Wloclawek. Five words make up the text: Domine Deus Noster (Lord Our God) and Miserere Nobis (Have mercy on us). The first three words are repeated through the first ten movements and the final two are complete the work in movement eleven.

Carefully scripted testimonies can add much to setting the stage for an artistic work inspired by historic events, as was the Miserere. To open the second half, two Polish-born speakers, congregants of the Portland Polish community’s iconic St. Stanislaus church, shared experiences in Poland, fighting against the prevailing, oppressive communist regime of the 1970s and ’80s and the rebuilding of their Polish community in Portland. It was lengthy.

The Miserere is tonally accessible to listeners. In terms of vocal stamina, it is as accessible as a hike to Mount St. Helens’s rim – in April. Preparation, conviction and aerobic conditioning win the day.

The closing piece, You do not walk alone, was anticlimactic. Composer Dominic DiOrio, a faculty member of the University of Indiana’s Music Department, has achieved a level of prestige, though this piece does not showcase his talent to that level.

This choir is, by several orders of magnitude, a better instrument than the one heard during last year’s audition series. The male voices are particularly well-honed. Their presence in the opening sections of the Gorecki was stunning in its simplicity and perfect intonation. The women are not far behind. Sabino’s fluid, easy gestures make for a welcome means of singing by the choir. Production values of dynamic spectrum and legato singing were first rate; tuning was just so in some places in the Gorecki, creating occasional overtones floating off into the fine acoustic of St. Matthew Catholic Church in downtown Hillsboro.

Given the strong musical values of this concert, it was a bit disconcerting to have so much talking from the podium. Mr. Sabino narrated each upcoming piece, even reiterating the material in the program notes. It is reminiscent of Ed Sullivan, introducing each new act; but in the choral music tradition of Robert Shaw, Eric Ericson, Roger Wagner, Frieder Bernius and many others, this is better avoided. And after designing such a provocative continuum, why break the emotional thread, chatting up the crowd in each interval? If there is a driving need to state the motivation for programming the piece or other personal reflections, let it be written in the program notes and then let the music and the text speak for themselves.

Otherwise, choir, conductor and soloists were nicely in sync in this second performance of their season. This was a well-conceived and satisfying performance by a dedicated choir that clearly loves what they’re doing with their new director.

Mr. Sabino and the Oregon Chorale will complete their first season with June 10–11 performances of Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna and Maurice Durufle’s Requiem, performed at Bethel Congregational Church in Beaverton to accommodate the participation of organist Dan Miller.

Portland choir director Bruce Browne directed Portland Symphonic Choir and choral music programs at Portland State University for many years and was founder and director of Choral Cross-Ties, a professional choral group in Portland.

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

Eugene Symphony music director search: Clear choice

With the orchestra’s series of audition concerts now complete, one candidate stands head, shoulders, and baton above the rest

by TOM MANOFF

The Eugene Symphony has announced three candidates to succeed current conductor Danail Rachev: Dina Gilbert, Ryan McAdams and Francesco Lecce-Chong. As ArtsWatch’s feature about the selection process showed, all three young, rising conductors offered strong credentials in the race to join a distinguished lineage that includes stars Marin Alsop and Giancarlo Guerrero.

Francesco Lecce-Chong led the Eugene Symphony last week. Photo: Amanda Smith.

But the ultimate test was how successfully they directed the musicians each aspires to lead. Last week’s final audition concert leaves no doubt about the most qualified choice — the candidate who best meets Eugene’s needs today. Here are my observations from all three audition concerts.

Dina Gilbert

Active in Quebec, Gilbert has been the assistant conductor at the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and has also conducted a number of youth orchestras around the world. Compared with the other two candidates, her bio is particularly thin.

At her December 8 audition concert, Gilbert seemed quite nervous walking to the podium, which carried into the first piece: the overture to Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute.  Perhaps these nerves prompted her too-fast tempo for the overture’s opening, a pace the orchestra had a hard time keeping up with.

This Mozart overture is widely known, and, as it happens, has a tricky part for conductors, a section that many conducting students struggle to master. Mozart wrote a threefold utterance of an Eb -flat chord at the opening on the work (in homage to the Masons,) each of these chords with a short “pick-up.” Under Gilbert’s baton, the initial series of threefold statements was a bit shaky, but passable. However, when the threefold statement with pick-ups returned midway through the work, one was botched quite badly. The mistake revealed a flaw in Gilbert’s conducting technique, a problem that dogged her throughout the night.

Dina Gilbert conducted the Eugene Symphony in December. Photo: Amanda Smith.

Because I’m especially interested in conducting technique – there are so many styles that work – I was sitting in the balcony as far left as allowed. From that vantage point I could see most of what the conductor was doing. Gilbert has a hitch in her beat, coming down and then bouncing forward, a confusing motion, and certainly the problem with that missed Mozart chord.

Best performance on this night came next – Korngold’s schmaltzy Violin Concerto, played by a wonderful violinist , Elena Urioste. While Gilbert rarely imparted phrasing to the orchestra, the violinist did, and the result was satisfying.

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Portland Baroque Orchestra review: Shakespearean sounds

Ensemble and guest singer Suzie LeBlanc give first-rate performances of first- and second-rate English Baroque music 

by TERRY ROSS

It was a program dear to Portland Baroque Orchestra artistic director Monica Huggett’s heart: English music of the time of Henry Purcell (1659-1695), paired with the literary genius of William Shakespeare. The venerable violinist’s enthusiasm was more than clear in PBO’s pre-concert radio appearance on KQAC, which is still available online for another week. It was even more evident onstage on Sunday, March 12, when in her concertmaster’s chair, she mouthed the words to every song soprano Suzie LeBlanc sang.

Suzie LeBlanc sang Purcell and more with PBO.

Ms. Huggett put together a very skilled chamber ensemble to tackle this music: basically a string quartet (two violins, viola, and cello) with an added violone (fretted double bass), harpsichord, and lute/theorbo. The sound mix was especially pleasant (and authentic) when cellist Joanna Blendulf played her viola da gamba, a fretted pre-cello, which complemented bassist Curtis Daily’s violone and the soft strings of the violins and viola.

The programming and even the staging of the concert went beyond PBO’s usual straight-ahead, one-piece-after-another-with-retuning-between-selections routine. In both the first and second halves of the concert, Ms. LeBlanc entered theatrically while the music was already playing. When not singing, she sat on a sort of throne amidst the players.

Her songs were interspersed among instrumental bits based on dance rhythms: airs, galliards, gavots, corants, and the like. In the first half, these were mostly from Matthew Locke’s music from a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in 1674. In the second half, they were exclusively from Henry Purcell’s music for The Fairy-Queen, an opera based on the Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first staged in 1692, only three years before Purcell’s premature death at age 36.

Suzie LeBlanc.

The songs, the heart and soul of this concert, were uniformly and superbly executed by Ms. LeBlanc, a singer who has made herself an expert on English and French music of this period. Her clear and admirably controlled soprano danced easily among the high registers, arpeggios and ornaments of Purcell’s music, and brilliantly masked her low notes in emotional expression. It’s hard to imagine a more skilled practitioner of this period of music.

By the same token, the instrumentalists took advantage of every opportunity to make the music of Locke (1621-1677), Purcell, and the others — Robert Johnson (1583-1633), Pelham Humphrey (1647-1674), Pietro Reggio (1632-1685), and John Banister (1630-1679) — as vivacious as possible.

And yet… and yet.

There’s a reason that English music of the 17th century has been less represented in CD and concert productions, compared to earlier and later music. With the exception of Purcell’s, it’s not very interesting. Locke’s musings on The Tempest are, with the exception of a short piece called Curtain Tune, not memorable, whatever the composer’s other virtues. Johnson, Humphrey, Reggio, and Banister are footnotes in histories of this period, which is generally considered a slack time between the death of William Byrd in 1623 and the heyday of Purcell in the late 1670s and thereafter.

Purcell in 1695.

To be fair, that period was a particularly difficult one for the arts in England, which included the Puritan revolution, the killing of King Charles I, and a waiting period until the revolution petered out and Charles’s son could be recalled from banishment in France. It was only with Charles II’s establishment of his royal 24 violins and reopening of English theaters that things began to pick up. Matthew Locke was the official court composer until his death in 1677, at which point Purcell was appointed — at age eighteen! — to the post.

Things weren’t much better on the continent, where the Thirty Years’ War turned vast stretches of Europe into barely populated moonscapes. But somehow, despite the carnage, musical activity went on there, especially in Germany, Italy, and France. After the death of Purcell, the English were playing catch-up, only partially mitigated by the glorious presence of Händel from 1710 until his death in 1759.

The songs of Locke, Purcell, et al. performed in this concert are not all best rendered by a high soprano like Ms. LeBlanc; many work better when performed by male countertenors, as the recorded literature attests. Still, Suzie LeBlanc did a perfectly fine job with the material, and the chamber ensemble played with precision and wit, particularly the Seattle theorbist John Lenti, whose huge instrument seemed especially resonant in his hands. And in the second half, once the Purcell music got underway, the concert went from strength to strength.

Recommended recordings

The Willow Song
• Suzie LeBlanc & Alexander Weimann, harpsichord (YouTube), 2016.

Robert Johnson & others
• Andreas Scholl, countertenor, and Concerto di viole (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901993), 2008.

Music from The Tempest by Locke, Humphrey, Reggio, Banister, 
Matthew Locke: Incidental Music for His Majesty’s Sackbuts and Cornetts, Academy of Ancient Music (L’Oisueau-Lyre DSLO 507), 1977. (Monica Huggett is in the orchestra.)

The Fairy Queen
• Eight vocal soloists plus The Sixteen, Harry Christophers conducting (Coro COR16005), 2011.

Terry Ross is a Portland freelance journalist and the director of The Classical Club, through which he offers classical music appreciation sessions. He can be reached at classicalclub@comcast.net

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

Beyond the Sea, awash in La Mer

How a French popular song from the 1940s engulfed an American boy of the 1960s and has stayed with him through thick and thin

By STEPHEN RUTLEDGE

Once when I was challenged to name my Top Ten Favorite Songs, I expressed to my friend a desire to be able to erase from my memory all of my favorite songs so that I might have the experience of hearing them again for the first time. It seemed to me that if I listened to a favorite song too often, I might run the risk of wearing it out. I was afraid that eventually it wouldn’t move me in quite the same way. I would still want, maybe even need, to hear it, but the emotional intensity simply wouldn’t be as high. With every listen, I might be searching for that magic and it would be gone.

Now I know that this is not true with the great songs. They are the ones that sound new every time.

As an only child of two working parents, after school, except when I was off to rehearsals or music lessons, I had the house to myself until 6 p.m. I felt free to help myself to the parents’ hi-fi and LP collection, and as I got older, to their liquor cabinet too. They actually paired well, booze and music.

Broadway musicals, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, these were the artists that informed my musical tastes. I simply loved filling the silence of our house with these recordings. I sang along. In fact, I learned to sing while attempting to reproduce their sounds.

Bobby Darin’s album That’s All was released in 1959 when I was five years old. After the Original Broadway Cast album of My Fair Lady, it was my favorite LP during my pre-Beatles grade school years. That’s All opens with Darin’s famous version of “Mack The Knife.”

But the second track always stopped me dead and filled me with a wistfulness that I could barely grasp as a kid. That song was titled “Beyond The Sea,” and although it was a swingin’ tune, it somehow broke my young heart, which was a brand new sensation. It frightened me as well. I loved it.

Nostalgia, like chest pain, is often a sign of deeper problems. I know this, and tried to remind myself of that recently as I flew to the place of my childhood. I was studying the landform patterns of Eastern Washington from 28,000 feet and they seemed so familiar to me. I know this land. I recognized and even acknowledged a place where water was scarce. So, why did I flee Spokane the afternoon of my graduation from high school, bound for a port city? I chose Boston because it was so far away, and for Boston Bay with salty air and ships.

In the early 1970s, I lived in an apartment with sliding glass doors that opened to white sand and the Pacific Ocean beyond. I could see Catalina Island on a clear day, and there were not that many clear days in 1970s Los Angeles.

I left LA for Manhattan, where I lived eight blocks from the Hudson River. I would sit at the Chelsea piers to look at the shimmery, silvery surface and smell the water and cruise the guys. I would ride the Staten Island ferry, standing at the bow and singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”

In Seattle, circa 1981 to 2001, I lived in a bungalow that was just four blocks from Lake Union and the Shipping Canal. Again, I could smell the salt water and I loved the mournful sound of the foghorns and the toots from the tugs.

In 2001, my husband and I had a collective nervous breakdown and up and moved to Portland. At first I was wary. Where was my water? But, standing naked on a beach at Sauvie Island and watching these huge cargo ships make their way up the mighty Columbia, I realized that it feels very much like having an ocean.

In the early 1990s, the parents sweetly gave me a cassette they had made, a mix-tape of songs that I had embraced in my earliest childhood. One of those songs was “Beyond The Sea.” My mother reminded me that as a six-year-old, I would sing it for company, accompanied by a little dance during the bridge.

The song’s first incarnation was as “La Mer,” and it was written by French composer/ lyricist/ singer/ showman Charles Trenet in 1945 for another French singer. In 1946, Trenet recorded his own version. It became an unexpected international hit, and has since become a chanson classic and a jazz standard.

Trenet claimed that he wrote the lyrics as a poem when he was 16 years old, but it was many years before he came up with a melody for it. In 1943, the tune came to him while traveling by train as he was gazing out of the window at the Mediterranean Sea. He jotted it down on piece of paper and in the afternoon he worked out the details with his pianist. That evening they performed it in front of an audience and nobody seemed to care.

But, over the years the song became very popular throughout the world with plenty of prominent artists recording their own versions. Besides the original in French, the song was also recorded in several other languages with the English version titled “Beyond The Sea” being particularly popular and becoming a signature song for Darin. In 1966 there were already over 100 different recordings of “La Mer.” When Trenet left this world in 2001, there were more than 4,000 different recordings of it with over 100 million copies sold.

The English lyrics are not a translation, by the way. They describe a wistful look at lovers who are separated. The French version is literally about the sea.

In 2001, The Oregonian’s music critic, David Stabler, did a wonderful piece on funeral music. In closing, he requested readers to send him their five choices for songs to be played at their own memorial. My submission was published the next Friday, as I suspected that it might, and of the five, three were songs about the sea, and all five were songs about water: Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had A Boat,” “Once In A Lifetime” by Talking Heads, “Shiver Me Timbers” From Tom Waits, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Waters Of March” (“Águas de Março” in Portuguese) and, of course, “La Mer.”

My invitation was to write about a song that terrifies and inspires. But, I am not really afraid of things. Being afraid is not my shtick. I am not scared of spiders or snakes, or heights or tight spaces, or death or speaking in public (obviously).

Charles Trenet, chanteur.

In October 2013, I was diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was immediately hospitalized. I wasn’t afraid, not even when 36 hours later it was explained to me that I would be undergoing brain surgery the next day.

That next day, I was prepped for surgery. A surgical nurse shaved my head and the attending physician drew a map on my skull using marking pens. I was wheeled into the O/R and introduced to the team including the anesthesiologist. Then we all waited. And waited. And waited. The scheduled time came and went and the anesthesiologist made the call that if the neurosurgeon was not in place in five minutes they were going to scrub my launch. I told jokes to keep everyone’s mood light. At the last moment, the hopelessly handsome surgeon breezily made his entrance. He leaned down and in my ear he whispered: “I usually choose the music that is played while I work, but because you held down the fort before I got here, today you get to choose. What song would you like us to play as I open up your skull?”

I requested “Beyond The Sea.” Without missing a beat he asked: “The original French or an American cover version?” … it seemed that he had all of them on his iPad. So … there was the very real chance that the very last thing I was ever going to hear was Charles Trenet singing “La Mer.” As I counted backwards from 100 as the Propofol was administered, I reached 97 and then I felt all at sea.

*

Portland writer and actor Stephen Rutledge writes the daily Born This Day column on World of Wonder’s WOW Report. He wrote this piece in November 2016 for SONGBOOK PDX, a gathering of writers speaking on “the music that terrified and inspired them.” As an actor, Rutledge has appeared in 150 full stage productions, seven feature films, over 50 commercials, and dozens of voice-overs.

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

Music News & Notes

Catching up with recent news in Oregon classical music

Note: this post has been updated after news of the passing of one of America’s great musicians.

We’re usually so busy previewing and reviewing performances that we rarely have time to catch up on other news in Oregon classical music. So as winter turns to spring, here’s a roundup of a few comings and goings of important figures on the scene, honors, and opportunities. If you have more news you’d like us to consider sharing with ArtsWatch readers, please let us know.

Steven Zopfi conducted Portland Symphonic Choir in Michael Tippett’s oratorio, ‘A Child of Our Time.’

Transitions

Scott Showalter

• Whither Showalter? **Updated**
The biggest news in classical music so far this year is yesterday’s sudden departure of Los Angeles Philharmonic’s already legendary Deborah Borda for the New York Philharmonic, which she ran in the 1990s. Why is this news in Oregon? Because current Oregon Symphony president Scott Showalter’s previous job was Vice President for Development of the LA Phil, following stints as Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations and Development of the University of Chicago, and Associate Dean for External Relations of Stanford Law School. A classically trained pianist, Showalter is a graduate of Stanford University and UCLA and has extensive experience in fundraising, which is now the primary job of orchestra CEOs, and a big reason why the NY Phil brought back Borda, a prodigious rainmaker as well as visionary. **UPDATE**: A symphony spokesperson says that Showalter has no plans to leave the OSO, which has enjoyed record ticket sales and donations under his leadership, and that he expects Borda to do great things in New York as she did in LA.

• PSU departure
Former Portland State University Dean of the College of the Arts Robert Bucker, an esteemed choral conductor, has been named Interim Vice Provost and Dean of the Faculty at New York’s prestigious Manhattan School of Music. A search is underway for his replacement.

Stephen Zopfi.

• Choir conductor change
Portland Symphonic Choir artistic director Steven Zopfi is departing after 14 years, as a result of a scheduling conflict with his work as director of choral activities at the University of Puget Sound. A search has commenced for his successor.

• Opera recovery
As Oregon ArtsWatch was first to announce publicly (you really should be checking our Facebook page!), Eugene Opera has cancelled its productions of West Side Story and La Tragedie de Carmen scheduled for March and May. The company announced last week that a small group of supporters has jointly pledged to donate a total of $60,000 when the company receives a matching $60,000 from other donors. The combined total of $120,000 is specifically earmarked to pay existing obligations to local artists, technicians, and businesses; it will cover about 75% of the current debt of $160,000. A separate $20,000 matching grant will begin funding the company’s next season.

• New opera series
Meanwhile, a new opera-oriented series has sprung up in Portland. The  Opera Wildwood Concert Series is a project of Luigi Boccia’s Vox Artis Foundation, which seeks to establish, organize and sponsor concert and lecture series, live and studio recordings, seminars and publishing/broadcasting activities through a specialized Youtube channel, in the U.S and abroad. Vox Artis also aims to provide encouragement, training opportunities, career assistance and financial support, including scholarships and awards, to promising and talented young singers and/or scholars,” according to its press release. The inaugural concert at Portland’s Wildwood Company on 3rd Avenue featured promising young opera singers. Stay tuned to ArtsWatch for the latest developments with this new company, and other news in Oregon classical music.

Opportunities

Piano Day
Pianists are invited to sign up for Portland Piano International’s Piano Day — the first such celebration in the US. For the last two years, other countries have celebrated the 88th day of the year (corresponding to the number of keys on a standard piano), March 29, in 20 cities across the globe. Now, from noon – 10pm, pianists will play a total of 1000 minutes of piano music of all genres at four locations in the Portland Metro area at different times: the studio at All Classical Radio, the atrium at Portland City Hall, the platform at the Washington Park MAX Station (260 feet underground!) and the stage at Alberta Abbey. Pianists of all ages and abilities will perform on some of the City’s best pianos. The events will be free to the public, but each performer will be raising funds from the community with a minimum goal of $10 per minute played. The funds raised will be used to support the educational programs of Portland Piano International. Sign up to play or sponsor a pianist at http://portlandpiano.org/piano-day.

Battle of the Bands.
The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) is accepting registrations for its second annual Battle of the Bands competition, which happens Wednesday, May 17, 2017 at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom. Eight employee bands, sponsored by their companies, will perform in front of friends, family, co-workers and a panel of celebrity judges as they vie for the title of Best Company Band and other prizes. The event will raise more than $80,000 for RACC’s annual Work for Art campaign.

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FearNoMusic review: Church of new sounds

New music ensemble's concert makes a bully pulpit for new music by Oregon composers

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

I have now gone to so many Fear No Music concerts at The Old Church in Southwest Portland and met so many of the same performers, composers, teachers, and classmates (some of these fields overlap) that now it really does feel just like going to church, except that the music is mostly better (as is the company) and the wine comes in adult-sized glasses. The subject of the sermon at the new music ensemble’s February 13 concert, Locally Sourced Sounds, drew an attentive congregation of new music disciples and devotees.

FearNoMusic. Photo: JasonQuigley.

The first acolyte I always spot at these shows is Jeff Winslow, composer, ArtsWatcher, and Cascadian, with his bushy white beard and his attentive, friendly eyes. Percussion guru Joel Bluestone was there too, still part of the FNM family even after retiring from the group last year. Composer, violist, and FNM artistic director Kenji Bunch was tending the famous wine bar, dispensing generous pours of Lompoc IPA—that is, when he wasn’t on stage turning pages for FNM’s executive director (and Bunch’s wife), pianist Monica Ohuchi.

Two student composers from Reed College, Yiyang Wang and Nathan Showell, rounded out a program featuring Cascadian Denis Floyd, University of Oregon’s David Crumb, and Portland State’s legendary Tomas Svoboda, the patron saint (to continue the church analogy) of Cascadia Composers.

Voglar Belgique, Payne and Ives performed Yiyang Wang’s piano trio.

The concert opened with Wang’s Color Studies for piano trio, a perfect bit of chamber music which seemed rather too sophisticated for a college junior. Wang’s opening “Fugue in G” starts with a dark and “Shostakovichianmodal subject; cellist Nancy Ives fittingly evoked Rostropovich’s rich tone while Inés Voglar Belgique’s violin hovered sweetly above, supported by pianist Jeff Payne’s usual restrained, centered touch. Extended techniques characterized the second movement, “Steel,”with Payne plucking high glockenspielisch harmonics, strumming Cowell-esque chords, and brushing the low strings for a sound like sizzling power lines; meanwhile, Voglar Belgique and Ives passed the theme around with bouncy pizzicato glissandi. The final movement, “Racing”, used an erhu-inspired melody to pit the instruments against each other in a mad bitonal dash towards an inconclusive climax on a genuinely nutty (and well-voiced) cluster chord. If this is what Wang is capable of as an undergrad, I can’t wait to hear what she does after she finishes her studies.

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