MUSIC

Friday Night Flute Fight

Champion French flutist loses in a TKO decision with an unprepared Oregon accompanist

By MARIA CHOBAN

I went to the Friday night fights and a flute recital broke out. Julien Beaudiment, on the left, wielding tone and dynamics with roundhouse and rabbit punches. As light on his feet as Muhammad Ali, the renowned French flutist danced around Portland accompanist Cary Lewis’s unpracticed, overpedaled, flabby playing, trying to give the audience the show it expected to hear.

A former principal at the Los Angeles Philharmonic who tours, teaches and is principal flute of the Orchestre de l’Opera National de Lyon, the 40 year old flutist, Beaudiment was the centerpiece of this year’s Greater Portland Flute Society Flute Fair: a Saturday seven hour extravaganza that takes place every year at Aloha High School featuring masterclasses, ongoing flute choir performances, competitions, and flute vendors.

Beaudiment giving a master class.

Sadly, this concert, the Friday night before the Saturday Fair, showed just one example of a much larger problem in our classical music culture. While the rest of the city has grown more sophisticated and accomplished thanks to the influx of new blood, too often, its classical music performances are weighed down by deadwood — by musicians who are unwilling or unable to devote adequate time to prepare their performances and consistently sound awful.

Lincoln Hall at Portland State University was full of flutists who were focused on Beaudiment’s technically strong performance, with all the right dynamics, textures, phrasing. But the non-flutists who paid to see the show couldn’t miss the accompanist dragging down the performance as a whole. Beaudiment spent the match — er, concert — jousting or step-dancing over Lewis’s limp, bodiless playing, and late attacks.

Too many of the performers who dominate the scene here habitually deliver embarrassingly unprepared performances like this one, so bad that when I asked Beaudiment later if he’s be coming back to Portland anytime soon to perform, he surprised me with his abrupt “Non.” I fear what he’ll say when other European stars ask whether they should perform here.

What’s really sad is that he’ll never know that Portland actually does have plenty of fine musicians who he would have enjoyed playing with instead of tussling against. Here are five stellar pianists that should have been on stage with Julien Beaudiment (in alphabetical order): Colleen Adent, Janet Coleman, Asya Gulua, Monica Ohuchi, Doug Schneider. There are probably others. Everytime I hear these five pianists they are practiced, well rehearsed with their ensemble, and they bring their own unique personality and musicality to the performance.

Instead, we got a fight.

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Out & About: voices rising

A peek behind the scenes as choral rock star Jake Runestad rehearses Choral Arts Ensemble's singers for a concert of his own music

In 2016 I was commissioned by the North Coast Chorale to create piece-specific art to be projected in the concert hall during their performance of Karl Jenkin’s The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace – 13 montages in total, one for each movement. While working on them I listened to the choral work over and over until I practically knew it by heart. Even though it probably now counts as one of the war horses of choral music, it was a glorious experience.

This week I was invited to a different, equally exciting occasion: to listen to and photograph composer Jake Runestad, from Minnesota, directing his own choral work in preparation for a concert on Saturday, The Hope of Loving, with the Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland.

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New World to Real World

An Oregon classical bassist steps toward the future in Miami with the legendary Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony

By ANGELA ALLEN

In February, I joined several other members of the Music Critics Association of North America at the New World Symphony in South Miami Beach, Fla. For three days we heard concerts and rehearsals, wandered around the building designed by architect Frank Gehry, and spoke to “fellows” and to the institute’s leaders, including Michael Tilson Thomas, the forward-thinking NWS artistic director.

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Kyle Sanborn, a gifted musician, knows he’s on his way to playing many more Beethoven symphonies and Brahms concertos in his orchestra blacks. Born and reared in Portland, he is a first-year fellow – don’t call him a student – at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Fla., a laboratory in its 30th year of educating classical music’s next generation.

A “fellow” compares more closely to a post-doc (or post-doctoral fellow) than to a student. New World Symphony fellows are taking hold of a real-world orchestral experience in Miami – and being paid a generous stipend for it.

Miami’s New World Symphony performed in February. Photo: Angela Allen.

Sanborn, 26, plays the bass and joins 86 other accomplished musician-fellows (audio, directing, and library fellows are part of the mix) on a clear and steady track to classical music careers. The art is alive and well, if the NWS signals its future. Fellows have finished college or conservatory, some have completed graduate school, and all are taking the next strides in their musical lives. The average age is 23 to 27, though there’s no age limit on applying for these coveted and competitive spots. About 1,000 musicians apply for 30 to 35 spots that open every year.

No question, those talented and driven enough to be accepted to NWS are on the path to become the 21st century’s first-class musicians. Of the 1,050 alumni recorded in the most recent annual report, 90 percent make their living from music, and many play for top-drawer orchestras.

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MusicWatch Weekly: new sounds from Oregon

This week’s Oregon music schedule boasts numerous new works by today’s composers from the Northwest, Midwest and beyond, mixed in with classics from across the ages and oceans

Big Horn Brass, a baker’s dozen of brass players and two percussionists, feature brassy new music by Cascadia Composers Greg Steinke, Jan Mittelstaedt, John Billota, Greg Bartholomew, and fellow Northwest composer Anthony DiLorenzo at their Saturday night concert at Beaverton’s St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Some other guys named Debussy, Bach and Puccini will provide filler.

New Oregon music by Eugene composer Paul Safar is also on the program when Eugene’s excellent Delgani String Quartet goes all homicidal Friday at Portland’s and Saturday at Springfield’s Wildish Theater. The program features music inspired by murder, with theatrical readings from literary works that inspired them interpolated by actor Rickie Birran of Man of Words Theatre Company. Janacek and Shostakovich will be represented too. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview.

Speaking of new music by Oregon composers, read Gary’s ArtsWatch preview of Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse’s new composition commissioned by Rogue Valley Symphony, which the orchestra performs this weekend in Medford and Grants Pass. Beethoven is the closing act.

Estelí Gomez sings new music by University of Oregon composers at  Eugene’s Beall Concert Hall. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

There’s even newer Oregon music for voice Sunday at the Oregon Composers Forum’s Sunday concert at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall. The superb soprano Esteli Gomez, one of the singers in Grammy winning Roomful of Teeth ensemble, returns to sing new music by UO composers.

Joe Kye performs at Portland State Friday.

That same night, Portland based, Korea-born songwriter-composer and looping violinist Joe Kye plays his engaging, often autobiographical songs at Portland State’s Lincoln Recital Hall.

Shades of Sufjan Stevens and his albums inspired by American states! Does a symphony called “Portland” and named after Oregon’s largest city qualify as Oregon music — if it wasn’t written by an Oregonian? Decide for yourself at the University of Portland’s free concert featuring Erich Stem’s orchestral work Tuesday night at Buckley Auditorium. His website bio says nothing about where Stem resides or was born, but Indiana seems a likely suspect. The piece is part of Stem’s project called America By: A Symphonic Tour, which includes a collection of commissioned works from across the country, “each work reflecting the unique qualities and history of a specific location.”

New American Sounds

One of the most frequently performed and commissioned composers of choral music, Minnesota’s Jake Runestad, seem poised to follow Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre as a choral music star, and he’s also written several operas and other works. On Saturday night at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Choral Arts Ensemble and Linn-Benton Community College Chamber Choir team up to present the Music of Jake Runestad, the first major opportunity for Portland to get a healthy sampling of his heartfelt songs and broad, audience-friendly musical range.

Bells toll in Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas’s new, half-hour orchestral composition, Sonorous Earth (an evolution of her earlier Resounding Earth), which Eugene Symphony performs Thursday at the Hult Center to complete her artistic residency there. Each of its four-movements also uses techniques associated with the major composers who made percussion the defining sound of 20th century classical music: Stravinsky, Messiaen, Varese, Berio, Cage, Ligeti, Partch and Oregon’s own Lou Harrison.

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Rogue Valley Symphony preview: season of renewal

For its 50th anniversary season, southern Oregon orchestra commissions five new compositions, concluding this weekend with new work by Ethan Gans-Morse

by GARY FERRINGTON

Oregon arts outside Portland “don’t get,” as the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield might say, “no respect.” Or, at least the press coverage they should. Having grown up in Portland, it took me some time, actually until I moved to Eugene, to realize that the arts thrive elsewhere in the state and that we Oregonians have a rich cultural landscape to embrace and celebrate.

So it has been with little fanfare heard beyond the southern Oregon communities of Medford, Ashland, and Grants Pass, that the Rogue Valley Symphony orchestra has been enthusiastically celebrating its 50th anniversary. The nearly 70-member orchestra of professional musicians, formed in 1967 by Southern Oregon College (now University), conductor and violin professor Frederick Palmer, began its golden anniversary season in September under the musical direction of Martin Majkut. It has since performed four newly commissioned works (more than all of Oregon’s other orchestras this season combined) and concludes its season this week with its fifth, How Can You Own The Sky? by Southern Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse. The symphonic poem honoring native wisdom features poetry by Tiziana DellaRovere and narration, singing, and drumming by Brent Florendo, and the Dancing Spirit ensemble.

Rogue Valley Symphony’s 50th anniversary celebration culminates in this weekend’s concerts.

The orchestra wanted a new work that would “simultaneously celebrate the unique beauty and the people of Southern Oregon while also creating an opportunity for meaningful conversations to address urgent social questions in that community,” Gans-Morse told ArtsWatch. Social questions permeated Gans-Morse’s opera The Canticle of the Black Madonna, which premiered in September 2014 in Portland’s Newmark Theatre. (Read my ArtsWatch interview with Gans-Morse.) That opera’s social outreach efforts, which addressed the challenges of reintegrating and addressing the emotional wounds of veterans with PTSD, inspired recently retired Rogue Valley Symphony executive director Jane Kenworthy and music director Martin Majkut to approach Gans-Morse and his wife and collaborator Tiziana DellaRovere, to write a proposal for a symphonic work.

He and DellaRovere, whose non-profit Anima Mundi Productions’  mission is to “heal the soul of the world through the arts,” proposed an 8-12 minute piece about Native American history of the region, to celebrate the Valley while “honoring a population that is all too often invisible in our society.” Gans-Morse recalls. The orchestra counter-proposed that the work be 30-minutes long and stand alone as the opening portion of the April concerts, with Beethoven’s Symphony #9 after intermission.

Gans-Morse notes that there is some “precedent nationally for large symphonic works on Native American themes by both Native and non-Native composers, including Michael Daugherty’s Trail of Tears, Rob Kapilow’s Summer Sun, Winter Moon, and James DeMars’ Two World Concerto.” In naming his new piece How Can You Own The Sky? A Symphonic Poem Honoring Native Wisdom, the creative team wanted to create an opportunity for the southern Oregon community to honor the original inhabitants of the region, to seek them out and champion their presence in Oregon, and through music to facilitate “concrete actions to remedy what has been quite frankly a murderous history, which culminated with Oregon’s own Trail of Tears, essentially a forced death march to reservations hundreds of miles away.”

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Imani Winds preview: celebrating the differences

Chamber Music Northwest brings the renowned wind ensemble back to Portland this week as its artists in residence

Classical music has a diversity problem. So it marked a turning point when the Portland classical music presenter Chamber Music Northwest announced that its next annual artists-in-residence — following the 2015-16 tenure of the storied Emerson Quartet, composed entirely of older white men — would be Imani Winds, a younger, equally talented and until recently, entirely black ensemble.

Bassoonist Monica Ellis, hornist /composer Jeff Scott, flutist/composer Valerie Coleman, oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz and clarinetist Mark Dover delighted audiences at last summer’s annual summer festival. They’re also in town this week for a series of concerts, dance performances and educational and outreach programs, and will return to this summer’s Chamber Music Northwest festival.

Imani Winds returns to Chamber Music Northwest this week.

It’s not just the group’s race and age that represents greater diversity in chamber music. At last summer’s CMNW festival, Scott noted in a composers panel discussion that the group’s values arise in part from its music. Unlike the Emersons or any other string quartet,  “a wind ensemble is celebrating the differences among instruments, rather than the homophony of string or sax quartets,” he pointed out — a metaphor for Imani itself. “Chamber music, more than orchestral music, allows the individuality of the musicians to shine through to audiences, because there’s no conductor intermediary,” Scott continued. “The musicians are allowed to establish their own individuality and tradition. ”

Imani’s 2017-18 residency grew out of the ensemble’s long relationship with CMNW. “We’ve been coming to Portland every two or three years for 15 years,” Scott recalls. “The audiences have been so nice to us!” says Spellman-Diaz. “It’s hard to think of nicer audiences than in Portland and Eugene.” The ensemble enjoyed their Oregon experiences so much that when artistic director David Shifrin asked if they’d be interested in becoming CMNW’s resident ensemble, Scott says, “it took about five seconds for us to say yes!”

The feeling is mutual. Since their founding in 1997, Imani has cultivated a substantial, diverse and enthusiastic audience in Oregon and beyond. Their skill as musicians plays the biggest role, of course — they’re among the finest of all chamber ensembles. But their genuinely enthusiastic, refreshingly un-canned stage charisma, and their audience-conscious programming, also encourage broader listenership than most classical music concerts’ traditionally narrow demographic. They’ve collected innumerable awards, toured the globe, given hundreds of concerts, and made eight recordings.

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Delgani String Quartet preview: crimes of passion

Portland and Springfield concerts combine theatrical readings with music by Shostakovich, Janacek and a premiere by Oregon composer Paul Safar 

by GARY FERRINGTON

“True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?

Those words from Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story, The Tell-Tale Heart, grabbed Paul Safar when the Eugene composer and pianist and Delgani String Quartet artistic director Wyatt True heard them read by Eugene actor Rickie Birran in a meeting last year. The Delganis had asked Birran, of the Man of Words Theatre Company, to suggest possible literary-themed works that might work for their April 20-21 concerts. When Safar heard Birran’s reading of Poe’s tale, the themes of sanity, guilt, and fear in the voice of the narrator/murderer transfixed the composer. “I was immediately interested in setting it to music right from those first few words,” Safar says.

Delgani String Quartet performs with Man of Word Theatre Company’s Rickie Birran.

Birran’s readings and Delgani’s premiere of Safar’s The Tell-Tale Heart highlight the Saturday and Sunday Murder and Madness concerts of spoken word and music in Springfield and Portland, which dramatizes crimes of passion and human insanity in celebrated texts by Edgar Allan Poe, Leo Tolstoy, and Mary Shelley.

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