Cascadia Composers fall concerts: Spanning the spectrum

Quartet of concerts reveals rich diversity in contemporary Oregon classical — or is that 'classical' ? — music

Cascadia Composers can’t put on a boring concert. The organization of composers based primarily in the Northwest is only halfway through its 2016-17 season and already I’ve seen:

  • e-bow-generated harpsichord drones played on a dark stage, with the composer draped in blue LED lights and projections of cymatically stimulated beads of blue water dancing in time to the music;
  • a stack of toy pianos played by five composers crammed all together, music clutched in their hands or squinched in between the tiny wooden legs;
  • duets between cello and doumbek, between clarinet and electronics, between pianists wearing flamboyant wigs and chasing each other around their instrument, screeching like wild cats;
  • a simple pastoral song about barnyard animals turn into a horrifying depiction of slaughter;
  • a choir imitating an alarm clock, a forest, a goddess, a rose.

Jennifer Wright performs her ‘You Cannot LIberate Me…’ Photo: Matias Brecher.

This is what happens when Oregon composers get together and make music. Taken together, the concerts presented a snapshot of contemporary Oregon’s surprisingly rich and diverse contemporary classical music scene.

A Cuba con Amor

The first Cascadia concert of the season, October’s A Cuba con Amor, featured works written for the group’s first-ever composer exchange: the concert’s six composers traveled to Cuba the following month to have their works performed there by local musicians in the 29th Annual Festival de La Habana. This was the concert with the toy pianos (Jennifer Wright’s semi-aleatoric X Chromosome), the doumbek and cello (Paul Safar’s Cat on a Wire), the clarinet and electronics (“synth wizard” Daniel Brugh’s Fantasia), and an evening’s worth of lovely music. I was especially pleased to hear so much music written for strings, including Brugh’s Reticulum for tenor and string quartet and no less than three pieces for piano trio (Safar’s A Trio of Dances, Art Resnick’s Images of a Trip, and Cascadia co-founder David Bernstein’s Late Autumn Moods and Images).

Wright, Brugh, Clifford, Safar, and Max Weisenbloom play with toys on Wright’s ‘X-Chromosome’ at Cascadia Composers’ Cuba concert.

One particularly memorable moment was Ted Clifford’s melodica solo during the middle movement of his composition Child’s Play. As the newest composer in the Cascadia stable, seeing this family of composers at work on and off stage (and afterward at a nearby watering hole) made me feel fantastic about joining up.


MusicWatch Weekly: Inarrrrgh!uration Daze

As America’s hopes enter a deep freeze, Oregon and its art scene emerge from one

Oregon’s streets and arts are finally thawing, just in time to greet a chilling new national political reality that will doubtless provoke plenty of artistic responses. For now, Oregon arts can transport us to other, less immediately discouraging worlds, from the 17th century to the 21st, that summon a spirit of transcendence. If you know of other musical balms for, escapes from, or challenges to our impending political apocalypse, please note them in the comments section below.

Radcliffe Choral Society, Portland State Chamber Choir 
January 18
Lincoln Recital Hall, Room 75, 1620 SW Park Ave. Portland.
Harvard’s top women’s choir, now over a century old, joins one of Portland’s, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary.

January 20
Third Angle New Music, Alberta Rose Theater, 3000 NE Alberta Ave. Portland.
Multimedia is the message of much contemporary classical music, written by and for artists who grew up experiencing music as part of larger works of art. Portland new music ensemble Third Angle brings one of today’s multimedia music stars, French-American composer and electronic musician Daniel Wohl, to town to team up with visual artist Daniel Schwarz and Third Angle’s own string quartet and percussion trio in his multi-movement, multimedia Holographic. Commissioned by two major art museums, a Minnesota chamber orchestra, and Baryshnikov Arts Center, it’s a trippy, evening-length amalgamation of abstract and concrete images, acoustic and electronic music, a great temporary escape from this weekend’s political madness. Note: Wohl’s scheduled, beer intensive casual show on January 18 at Lagunitas Community Room has fallen victim to the weather.

Pablo Sainz Villegas
January 20
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland.
“Spanish” goes with “classical guitar” like “catastrophe” goes with “2016 Presidential inauguration,” at least this year. Part of a long tradition of superb Spanish classical guitarists, Villegas has won his country’s top classical music awards, and whatever he plays on Friday — neither of the presenters had announced the repertoire 48 hours before showtime — it’s likely to sound bueno.

Bill Crane
January 20
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 Northwest 19th Ave. Portland.
At 7:30 a.m. — no typo— the veteran Portland organist’s “recital before the inaugural” includes powerful music by JS Bach (a prelude and fugue), Jehan Alain (Three Dances), and Samuel Barber’s famous American lament, a setting of the Adagio movement from his string quartet.

Beaverton Symphony Orchestra
January 20 & 22
Village Baptist Church, 330 SW Murray Blvd, Beaverton.
Music director Travis Hatton continues to demonstrate the orchestra’s commitment to Northwest composers with Portland eminence Tomas Svoboda’s Festive Overture (apparently programmed before election results were known), Brahms’s second piano concerto, and Tchaikovsky’s sunny Italian Caprice.

January 20-22
Keller Auditorium, Portland.
Now on its 20th anniversary tour, Jonathan Larson’s Tony- and Pulitzer-winning rock musical adaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème was for the previous generation almost what Hamilton is for this one.

The company of the ‘Rent’ 20th anniversary your. Photo: Carol Rosegg, 2016.

“The Desire for the Sacred”
January 21
Cascadia Composers, Resonance Ensemble, Agnes Flanagan Chapel at Lewis & Clark College, 0615 SW Palatine Hill Rd. Portland.
Our locavore contemporary classical music composer organization’s collaborations with local choirs (The Ensemble. Choral Arts Ensemble, etc.) have produced splendid results. Now they’re back with their another collaboration with another fine Portland choir, Resonance Ensemble, plus three leading Portland organists (Gregory R. Homza, Dan Miller and Cheryl Young) and other instrumentalists in a program of original music by some of the state’s finest composers: Lisa Ann Marsh, Daniel Brugh, Jeff Winslow, Nicholas Yandell, Jennifer Wright, and others. Much of it reflects the desire for spiritual — not necessarily religious — transcendence. Jah knows we’ve got plenty to transcend these days.

January 21
Leaven Community, 5431 NE 20th Ave. Portland.
The Creative Music Guild’s fascinating new quarterly series, focusing on quieter, more conceptual sound expressions, continues with a quintet of new experimental works by Switzerland’s Jurg Frey and Germany’s Eva-Maria Houben (two of the Wandelweiser group Alex Ross recently chronicled in The New Yorker), Australian percussionist/composer Vanessa Tomlinson, Corvallis composer Dana Reason, and Canadian composer Daniel Brandes. Performers include some of the city’s top creative musicians, including Lee Elderton (clarinet), Sage Fisher (harp), Mike Gamble (nylon-string guitar), Catherine Lee (oboe), Dana Reason (piano), Andre St. James (double bass), John C. Savage (flute), and Jonathan Sielaff (bass clarinet). Read Matthew Andrews’ ArtsWatch review of the series’s previous installment.

The Ensemble and friends present a concert version of a 17th century Vespers service from Venice.

“Venetian Vespers”
The Ensemble of Oregon, Musica Maestrale, Canonici, January 21, Central Lutheran Church, 1857 Potter Street, Eugene, and January 22, Saint Stephen Catholic Church, 1112 SE 41st Ave. Portland.
Portland’s cream-of-the-crop small vocal ensemble has embarked on a series of fruitful collaborations with other musicians. This one teams them with Tacoma-based early music vocal consort Canonici and Portland’s own Baroque specialists Musica Maestrale (performing on archaic instruments like the big guitar-like theorbo and viola da gamba, which superficially resembles a cello) to perform famous music by the first great Baroque composer, Claudio Monteverdi, and other not so famous Italian composers of the period: Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, Grandi, Arrigoni and Castello.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
January 21-22
Skyview Concert Hall, 1300 NW 139th St, Vancouver, WA.
Rising conductor Marcelo Lehninger leads the band in Bach’s most famous orchestral suite (the airy one with the skimpy attire), one of Beethoven’s undeservedly least famous symphonies (the one between the two great triumphs, #7  & #9), and Brahms’s second piano concerto, with soloist Orli Shaham.

PHAME Academy
January 22
First Presbyterian Church, 1200 SW Alder Street, Portland.
The always intriguing and now free Celebration Works series presents the disabled artists of Pacific Honored Artists, Musicians, and Entertainers in an afternoon music, art, and spoken word, in collaboration with local artists including The Bylines, jazz bass legend Andre St. James, pianist Randy Hoboson, trumpeter David Chachere, and drummer Rob Smith.

Delgani Quartet
January 22
Prince of Peace Episcopal Church, 1525 Glen Creek Rd NW, Salem.
The excellent Eugene-based quartet goes traditional in music by J.S. Bach, Joseph Haydn, Beethoven, and Charles Ives.

Reel Music Festival
All week.
Northwest Film Center, Portland Art Museum.
The annual series of films about musical subjects continues with flicks about David Byrne’s new color guard music project (which has a Portland connection), Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, the music of Mali (wellspring of the blues), the intersection of the civil rights movement and the blues, the late great Leon Russell, the influential but too little known early rock music impresario Bert Berns, and more.

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

Seattle Opera’s ‘La Traviata’: Stripped-down tragedy

Shorn of lavish accoutrements and other inessentials, revelatory 21st century production gains force and focus


There is nowhere to hide in this Traviata. Running only an hour and 50 minutes, German director Peter Konwitschny’s spare version, playing through January 28 at Seattle Opera, focuses keenly and persistently on its characters, on Giuseppe Verdi’s lush and ever-building music, and on the extreme emotions surrounding dying Violetta. She has struggled, against all odds, to change her “fallen” life, where she is kept as a courtesan in snarky Parisian society, to one of true love with the naïve and pure-hearted Alfredo.

Verdi created a tragic heroine out of a whore, and in 1853, when the opera was first performed in Italy, that was a revolutionary artistic move. The company has staged eight productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s popular perennial since 1967. This one is worth fitting into your repertoire.

Corinne Winters as Violetta in Seattle Opera’s 2017 ‘La Traviata’ at McCaw Hall. Photo: Philip Newton.

Konwitschny’s version has no intermission and almost no scenery or props other than Alfredo’s pile of books and layers of red curtains, where characters pass in and out of scenes, and finally out of life. The blood-red curtains and Violetta’s red dress whisper and sometimes scream tragedy, drama, fallen woman, la traviata! But if the characters try to hide behind the curtains, and the chorus representing Parisian society behind its hypocrisy, they can’t.

Without the distractions of lavish costumes and scenery seen in most major productions, it’s easier to feel the piece as timeless, place-less and yes, in the moment. We’re right there with Violetta. From the opening party where she is hypocritically “welcomed” back after a bout with illness to Parisian high society, through her love affair with the bookish Alfredo and her sacrifice of her true love thanks to the persuasive Germont to her final fade away, we’re there. The simple contemporary costumes ground us. (Alfredo even has patches on the elbows of his baggy jacket.)

From beginning to end, the opera is all Violetta’s, sung on opening night by Corinne Winters and performed on alternate dates by Angel Blue. The SO no longer features “gold” and “silver” casts; performances alternate with two gold casts, new general director Aidan Lang says.

Winters sang Violetta in the original Konwitschny production at the English National Opera in 2013, and her familiarity with the role allowed her to perform it with full-blown confidence. With so many arias and duets – many when Violetta is taken down by her worsening consumption and sings on the floor or in other compromised positions – her secure strong soprano resonates. She does everything right in the role.

Winters embraced Violetta so thoroughly that we don’t pity her. We are sad that she has to die, that she loses her true love, but she goes out with dignity, backing away triumphantly into those red curtains.


Pacifica Quartet review: Four is enough

Despite the unexpected absence of an extra cellist, quartet reaches highest level of performance


It was a dark and stormy night.

But that didn’t keep an avid crowd from filling Lincoln Hall auditorium at Portland State University on Monday, January 9, even though the featured guest artist had phoned in sick and wouldn’t be appearing in this Friends of Chamber Music concert. Because this audience knew.

They knew that the Pacifica Quartet, with or without an extra cellist, is the real thing, a truly first-class — in fact top-of-the-line — string quartet, worthy of mention in the same sentence as the Emerson, Takacs, Tokyo, Borodin and even the classic Guarneri and Juilliard.

Pacifica Quartet triumphed at Friends of Chamber Music. Photo: John Green.

Watching and listening to the Pacifica do their impeccable thing with such remarkable individual and group artistry, one couldn’t help thinking of the rewards and disappointments of string quartet membership. All established string players, with the exception, perhaps, of violists (because of the paucity of soloistic opportunities), begin and continue their musical education in the same spirit as Anne-Sophie Mutter, Pinchas Zukerman, and Yo-Yo Ma began theirs: they aim for the stars. Some make it and become headliners, playing alone in front of orchestras, plumbing the concerto repertoire. Others determine along the line that either they don’t have the chops for the big time or they wouldn’t like the life of the soloist if they did. If they want to continue to play, they will have to play chamber music.

But this is no hardship. The world of chamber music for string players is incomparably more varied and rich than the solo repertoire. There are duos, trios, quintets, septets, sinfonias concertante, and the queen of them all, the string quartet. Here stretches an enormous number of magnificent works, from the baroque period to the present. Tackling this music allows — requires — the participant to be not only a player but also a conductor, setting the pace, the volume, the phrasing. Chamber music, with its necessity for the closest communication among its practitioners, is the most intimate form of classical music. Which is why so many famous string soloists do as much chamber music as they can, both professionally and at home, for fun and musical nourishment.

In addition, chamber music, and especially string quartet music, with its longstanding ensembles, achieves the highest level of performance. Symphony orchestras typically rehearse very little, just enough to do a presentable performance. They can’t afford to do more. The best string quartets, however, who are paid only when they perform, rehearse much more often, well beyond the standard of a merely “presentable” performance, aspiring always to the best they can do. If their members are extremely talented and sensitive individuals, they may reach the level of the Pacifica Quartet.


MusicWatch Weekly: In the White Silence

Unusual weather and usual calendar lull take toll on Oregon music performances this week

This week’s headline quotes a composition title by erstwhile Alaska composer John Luther Adams because once again, outdoor conditions will likely affect this week’s indoor entertainment options. We probably won’t be updating this post, so be sure to check with the presenters and venues of any concerts you hope to attend for the next few days. Or download some of our recommended 2016 Oregon CDs, or consult Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch guide to streaming music and listen at home. This Thursday, for example, you might tune in (online or over the air) to All Classical Radio’s Thursdays @ Three show to hear the cellist starring with the Oregon Symphony (see details below), or to its Played in Oregon program, which this Sunday features a couple of 21st century pieces (by New York composers Richard Danielpour and Andy Akiho) and more, recorded live at recent Chamber Music Northwest performances. Both shows will be archived on the station’s website for a couple weeks, when you can listen on demand. If you know of other shows our brave readers might want to venture out to experience live, please note them in the comments section below — and please be careful ambulating, riding, or driving on the way there or back.

Portland Old Time Music Gathering
January 11-15
Various Portland venues.
From Cajun and country to stringband and square dance, here’s the kind of retro musical experience that pop and folk music normally leave to the classical music museum. Nice to see traditional Americana sounds getting their own showcase too. If you want to hear a contemporary master performing in that tradition, check out David Bromberg’s Friday show at Portland’s Aladdin Theater or Saturday’s show at Bend’s Domino Room.

Tierney Sutton
January 12
Jaqua Concert Hall, The Shedd Institute, 868 High Street, Eugene.
The jazz singer’s latest album is called The Sting Variations, so don’t be surprised to see her quartet taking some Police action, along with the jazzified Joni Mitchell and Sinatra covers and American songbook standards that brought her initial acclaim.

Reel Music 34
January 13-February 5
Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium, Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue, Portland.
Read Bob Hicks’s ArtsWatch preview. Primarily a film festival, of course, but of great interest to music fans as well, the Northwest Film Center’s annual orgy of music related cinema always brings high quality, often hard to find and rarely seen sonic screen gems. Jazz fans will be especially interested in this weekend’s offerings featuring films about W. Eugene Smith’s famed jazz loft, the great trumpeter Lee Morgan’s lover and killer, and the so called King of Jazz (so dubbed when Louis Armstrong so many other true musical royalty reigned, but hey, they weren’t white), Paul Whiteman.

Alban Gerhardt performs with the Oregon Symphony.

Oregon Symphony
January 14-16
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
Frequent guest cellist Alban Gerhardt returns to star in French composer Henri Dutilleux’s 1970 moody, mid-century modernist cello concerto, written for Mstislav Rostropovich. The Haydn-happy orchestra plays the composer’s delightful 80th symphony (which starts out like one of his earlier storm and stress tests, then undergoes a climate change), one of its signature works, Respighi’s colorful 1924 historical postcard The Pines of Rome, and Cesar Franck’s 1877 Wagnerian symphonic poem The Breezes, sort of an airy predecessor to Debussy’s later, far deeper The Sea.

Assuming he can snowshoe or ski to the studios of Portland’s All Classical Radio, Gerhardt will also appear on the station’s live Thursdays @ Three show on January 12, where he’ll play a lot of solo Bach, of course, plus solo cello music by Ligeti and Rostropovich. With the performance archived on the station’s website for a couple weeks for on-demand listening, it’s another opportunity to catch at least a virtual version of local classical music from the warmth of home.

Natasha Paremski performs at Portland Piano International. Photo: Andrea Joynt.

Natasha Paremski
January 14-15
Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall.
The prizewinning Moscow-born, New York based pianist starred in one of last season’s top classical moments: her thrilling performance of the great contemporary American composer Paul Schoenfield’s Four Parables for piano and orchestra with the Oregon Symphony. She’s performed with dozens of the world’s major orchestras, given recitals in some of its most prestigious venues, and played plenty of 21st century music. Music by a couple of contemporary composers appears in Saturday’s Portland Piano International recital, the more exciting being Thomas Ades’s playful-to-pensive 2009 Three Mazurkas. The overwhelming bulk of her recitals, though, comes from the usual 19th century suspects: Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Rachmaninov.

Oregon Bach Collegium
January 15
Church of the Resurrection, 3925 Hilyard Street, Eugene.
University of Oregon early music expert and cellist Marc Vanscheeuwijck and Eugene church organist and Bach specialist Julia Brown play music for cello and Viennese fortepiano by J. S. Bach, his student Carl Friedrich Abel (a master of the five string cello), Bach’s fifth son Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, and the latter’s contemporary Carl Heinrich Graun.

January 15
Read my Willamette Week preview of the Moroccan-music fueled Berber new year celebration.

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

Snow Queen 6: Scenes into sounds

Recording the new show’s soundtrack album

Story and photos by BOB KEEFER

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

Something that most people don’t realize about orchestral music is this: It’s very hard for composers ever to hear what their compositions actually sound like.

I’m the first to admit I didn’t fully understand this until recently. Having been fascinated by the idea of computer music ever since I bought an Amiga 1000 computer back in the Bronze Age, I’ve always assumed that all you have to do is lay down MIDI tracks for all your instruments, hit a button, and then the computer plays your new symphony for you.

The occasional dissenting voice I’d hear from people who knew anything about music, I managed to dismiss as elite audiophile grumbling. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Recording engineer Lance Miller runs the sound board at the Snow Queen recording session.

This all came to light this month, when Eugene’s OrchestraNext sat down in a spacious studio at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance to play – for the first time it’s ever been performed – and record Portland composer Kenji Bunch’s brand-new score for Eugene Ballet’s brand-new production of The Snow Queen.


MusicWatch Weakly: Slim pickings

Choices are limited during this brief, not-so-strong stretch in Oregon classical music

That icy weather chilling the state seems to have also put the classical and jazz music scene into a temporary deep freeze, so we especially need ArtsWatch readers’ recommendations in the comments section below to fill this post up to a decent length. Even so, there’s some sweet shows to warm up the new year. And we’ve added some happy music news tidbits to help.

**UPDATE** the pickings just got slimmer, as Friends of Chamber Music has announced that guest cellist Johannes Moser has canceled his appearance due to the flu. The Pacifica Quartet’s performances Monday and Tuesday will go on — see below for the updated repertoire. The Oregon Symphony’s first-ever Vancouver WA appearance will have to wait a little longer — it’s been canceled, and the January 7 performance moved to January 9. Because of the weekend’s winter weather woes, please check with the venues to make sure any events you’re attending this weekend will actually happen where and when they’re scheduled.

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg performs with the Oregon Symphony this weekend. Photo: Christian Steiner.

**UPDATED** Oregon Symphony, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
Jan. 6, Smith Auditorium, Willamette University, Salem; January 9 Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
Like Cher, Prince, Madonna, Sting, Elvis, and other music superstars, she doesn’t even need a last name to sell tickets. Read my Willamette Week preview of the fabulous violinist’s latest show with the orchestra, whose wind and brass sections are also playing a free show at Hillsboro’s Walters Cultural Arts Center Thursday afternoon, sans Salerno-Sonnenberg.

Nabucco” (broadcast)
January 7
Various cinemas
The Metropolitan Opera’s latest Live in HD broadcast to select cinemas features Verdi’s classic.

Byrd Ensemble
January 8
St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, Portland.
Some of the greatest music of the Renaissance came out of Spain — including Tomas Luis de Victoria’s magnificent Requiem, which highlights a splendid program of too-seldom heard sacred music performed by the Seattle based vocal dectet presented by Cappella Romana. Everything on the program was commissioned by or dedicated to royal members of the Habsburg empire that dominated much of Europe for centuries, and which counted Spanish monarchs Charles V and Philip II (of Armada infamy), including soaring sounds by Cristóbal de Morales, Alonso Lobo And Giovanni Palestrina.


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