MUSIC

Sver: epic Nordic folk music

Swedish rhythm machine rocks Scandinavian traditional music in Oregon tour

by DANIEL HEILA

In the front row of Corvallis’s Majestic Theater a flock of fidgety youths — a posse of sjörå on shore leave — hoot and whistle as the string-driven, Swedish rhythm machine Sver cranks out a rousing set of relentless syncopated hooks, exhilarating drops, and odd-metered rollicks. Anders Hall, the band’s fiddle/viola player, prowls the stage (a naughty can of chaw in his front pocket, latent horns pushing against the taut skin of his shaven head), his compact form slightly curved forward, almost as if he is embracing the spirit of this epic music. An old-world strömkarl, he’s here with his partners-in-pulse to enthrall the audience with hypnotic fiddling. And if revelers ask real nice, he’ll teach them how to play…

And that has a lot to do with why he and his bandmates — Olav Luksengård Mjelva on fiddle and Hardanger fiddle, Leif Ingvar Ranøien on two-row accordion, Adam Johansson on guitar, and Jens Linell on drums — are here in exotic Corvallis, Oregon, spreading the happy infection of their rockin’ take on Nordic folk music.

Swedish folk rockers Sver performed at Corvallis’s Majestic Theater. Photo: Daniel Heila.

Back in 2015, the band was in residence at the Alasdair Fraser Sierra Fiddle Camp in Nevada City, California, and so was Cayley Schmid, fiddler with Americana band Polecat, who attended the bands’ workshops and concerts. “I think Sver embodies a perfect combination of reverence for creativity, and musical playfulness,” she says.

A year earlier, Schmid had started the Bellingham Folk Festival winter weekend of folk music workshops and performances for festies of all ages and abilities. Schmid, the festival’s de facto director/booker/volunteer coordinator, realized it would be her dream booking if the Swedes performed in Bellingham. With a decade of touring experience with Polecat, she wound up booking half the shows of SVER’s first US tour in 2018. A successful run of gigs culminated in an appearance at the Bellingham festival and a promise from the Swedes to return.

Sver in a Bellingham Folk Fest jam

That promise became reality when Schmid booked a fourteen-show Pacific Northwest tour (from Northern California to Vancouver, BC) in January 2019, with the Majestic Theater show in Corvallis smack dab in the middle of a run from Ashland to Astoria and on to Portland’s Alberta Rose Theater.

A fiddler in the Irish and Scottish traditions for most of her life, Schmid fell for the irresistible buzz and hum of Sver’s music. “They create a sound that is bigger than the sum of its parts,” she explains.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: jazz tributes

PDX Jazz Festival leads this week's Oregon music highlights

Today’s jazz is increasingly about tributes to yesterday’s jazz, especially the post-bop through fusion music of the late 1950s through the ‘70s. It’s easy to understand why — that music is a pinnacle of human artistic achievement that still delights millions of us daily and nightly. But many of us worry that the worship of the old can crowd out development of the new, as happened for a century in classical music, which is still in recovery. Granted, unlike classical music, jazz by its nature is always new, encouraging musicians to update whatever they’re playing every time they take the stage. But as rock climbers know, it can be harder to really take the leap into the next phase of your art form when you’re still clutching the old approaches with one hand.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

Thanks in part to the 80th anniversary of the revered Blue Note record label, plenty of worthy tributes ennoble the 2019 BIAMP PDX Jazz Festival. Fortunately its curators, chiefly artistic director Don Lucoff, have included some of today’s forward looking jazz artists too…

• … beginning with tonight’s opening concert featuring Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah at Portland’s Star Theater. The young composer/ trumpeter/ improviser/ producer/ instrument designer is one of the century’s most musically ambitious artists in any field. Scion of one of New Orleans’s most renowned musical families, he builds on jazz traditions and wins awards for his virtuosity, but looks forward artistically. His “Stretch Music” embraces a wide variety of artistic influences while remaining musically accessible to broad audiences. Scott’s landmark 2017 Centennial Trilogy addressed many of our most pressing social issues (anti-immigrant xenophobia, racism, demagoguery, gender bias) while still swinging, and he’s also contributed enormous amounts of work and creativity to youth education and other worthy causes, scored films, worked with musicians as varied as Thom Yorke, Prince, and McCoy Tyner, founded a music festival, and more. He’s a major part of jazz’s future.

The rest of the first week offers an impressively wide range of the varied music we foolishly try to lump into a single four-letter word: fine singers like Kendra Shank (who also plays a Broadway House concert in Eugene Sunday) and Veronica Swift (with fab pianist Benny Green), venerated masters like Pharoah Sanders, Harold Mabern and Patrice Rushen, rising stars including Aaron Diehl Trio, top current acts the Bad Plus, Steve Turre and Ralph Peterson, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (named after a holy shrine of the music) and so much more.

For all the starry national names though, maybe the most valuable part of the festival is the showcase it offers local jazz musicians who offer comparable, sometimes superior performances year round. Many of those shows are free, and the first week’s constellation of local stars shines particularly bright. Check it all out.

Chamber Music

Long before jazz emerged, a mythical Greek dude strummed a mean lyre. The ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, the musician who pursued his lost love to hell and almost all the way back, has been told and retold in songs, operas, musicals and more through the centuries. But it’s never been told like this. In Orpheus Unsung, a multimedia concert presented by Third Angle New Music couple of contemporary classical music stars team up to evoke the Orpheus story as a “wordless opera” with only electric guitar and drums.

One time California rocker turned Princeton prof and composer Steven Mackey has done as much as anyone to organically integrate electric guitar into contemporary classical music, while composer/drummer Jason Treuting’s band So Percussion is the country’s leading percussion ensemble, collaborating with everyone from Steve Reich to Matmos. Using multi-media visuals, looping and effects pedals, gongs, and other percussion, along with guitar and drum kit, they incorporate influences from classical to post-rock to various experimental genres to tell a story almost as old as music itself.
Wednesday and Thursday. Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St.

Other notable chamber music events:

Portland Baroque Orchestra (really an ensemble this time, with lutenist John Lenti and violinist Monica Huggett, string ensemble and soprano Arwen Myers) play and sing wonderful English music by Locke, Purcell and Blow Friday at First Baptist Church.

Continues…

Recital runs from Copland to ‘Monet paintings in sonic form’

Flutist Abigail Sperling, recent winner of an Oregon Arts Commission fellowship, will perform Feb. 28 at Linfield College

Abigail Sperling is everywhere.

That’s the impression one gets from her official biography. At Linfield College in McMinnville, she’s a flute professor. She is also coordinator for winds and percussion and flute instructor at Chemeketa Community College in Salem. In Corvallis, she’s a guest lecturer at Oregon State University. She also plays, including for OSU’s Music a la Carte, for the Corvallis-based Chintimini Chamber Music Festival, and as a substitute in the Oregon Symphony.

“I have been lucky to travel for my studies and performances and be part of the amazing regional, national, and international flute community,” Sperling said. “It’s typical for someone at my career stage to be doing this sort of hustle, I think.”

Abigail Sperling, flute instructor at Linfield College in McMinnville, has been named a 2019 Fellow by the Oregon Arts Commission. Photo courtesy: Linfield College

However, the occasion for this feature isn’t to marvel at Sperling’s resume but to note two significant events in her professional life. She has a recital coming up next week, and it will feature some intriguing works that we’ll explore shortly.

First, let’s talk Oregon Arts Commission. Last week, the statewide nonprofit announced a batch of fellowships, and Sperling was among those who scored. She’ll receive $3,000 to commission a new piece of music for flute and piano. Taking on the task will be a Linfield colleague and composer, Andrea Reinkemeyer, an assistant professor of music composition and theory.

“When I started working at the college, she sent me a recording of her work Wrought Iron for flute and percussion,” Sperling said of Reinkemeyer. “I sat down and listened to it and was really impressed. I remember thinking, ‘Now here’s someone who really knows what she’s doing.’ I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but it was super cool to hear something she had written for flute.”

Continues…

Audrey Luna: on a high note

Portland State alumna returns home for a recital after soaring to the heights of the opera world

by BRUCE and DARYL BROWNE

A shock –a frisson of emotion, of sheer joy amidst a fountain of favorite songs –was the prevailing feeling among audience members Sunday afternoon at the vocal recital of Audrey Luna at Portland State University Recital Hall.

Luna’s name has popped into opera junkie conversation since singing her record-breaking A above high C (A6, do not try this at home) in the premiere of contemporary British-American composer Thomas Adès’s opera The Exterminating Angel (with Ms. Luna in the role of Leticia) at the Metropolitan Opera. We scoot forward on our seats in anticipation of more magical record-breaking notes. But there is so much more in the total package on stage, including acting, vocal endurance and, at times, gymnastics, as in another Adès opera, The Tempest.

Luna as Leticia in ‘The Exterminating Angel’

At her PSU recital, Ms. Luna, partnered with PSU faculty pianist Chuck Dillard, offered us the vocal works of three composers: Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy in the first half, and just one song, one glorious rhapsody, by Samuel Barber in the second. These three composers happen to be her favorites.

The five Strauss songs, plucked from three different song cycles, demonstrated his proclivity for athletic vocal lines, with leaps and coloratura for the singer, and a wide palette of harmonic colors. Strauss’ romantic-era vocal works are, according to English soprano Susan Gritton, “a sumptuous wave for the voice to surf, with wonderful opportunities for timbre and line.” Ms. Luna loosened as she rode those waves.

She and Dr. Dillard adhered like velcro on each song. Dillard’s tinkling scales and arpeggios in “Herr Lenz” were a delight. Professor Dillard heads the Collaborative Piano program at PSU, and his work in this recital defines “collaborative” and acknowledges the level plane upon which recital partners exist.

Dillard and Luna performed at Portland State.

The first of several selections from Six Songs (Sechs leider), “Ich wollt ein Strausslein binden,” set to the poetry of German/Austrian Clemens Brentano, was most compelling in tone and expression. “Amor,” from the same cycle, was Ms. Luna’s final offering on the recital, a fireworks display of vocal maneuvering.

With the Debussy, we were lifted even further by Ms. Luna’s rapturous voice and elegant delivery. “Quatre chanson de jeunesse” sets the work of three different poets, each evoking dreamy impressionistic landscapes populated with typical French characters of the time: Harlequin, Pierrot, Cassandre and Columbine. Luna’s command of the language, the images of each word of poetry, was a magic carpet of vocal line, peppered with particularized articulation of each word.

For me, Samuel Barber‘s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 was the perfect capstone of the afternoon. A song may be elevated three times over: first by the poet of the original text, second by the music of the composer and last, but not least, by the singer. It was a perfect illustration of a happy wedding of words and music, further heightened by the artistry of Ms. Luna.

There’s not a wrong word by the author, James Agee, a wrong note by Barber, nor was there a misstep by Ms. Luna. The work is new in her repertoire, but it sounded like an old friend. She captured perfectly the essence of the young boy questioning his identity, and wove a magic spell around the stunningly evocative text of Agee. With suave inflections and an afterburner of vocal range, Ms. Luna made us believe and we left transformed. That’s all one can ask.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: American originals

Music by American composers warms up February’s concert calendar

When Chamber Music Northwest favorites the Dover Quartet, one of America’s hottest youngish string quartets scheduled a 2004 piece from one of America’s hottest young (then 27 year old) composers on their CMNW program, they might have known that San Francisco-based composer Mason Bates, who has a side career as a club DJ, would have his opera about Steve Jobs running up the road in Seattle the same week. But they couldn’t have known that that opera would take home a Grammy, as it did last weekend. You can probably discern a few electronica-style grooves, as well as Indonesian gamelan textures, in the pointillistic opening and closing of his quartet From Amber Frozen, which Bates says depicts “a rose-colored world as if viewed by an insect from the Jurassic, forever sealed in a crystal of dried amber on a tree.”

The Dover Quartet performs Wednesday at Portland’s Old Church. Photo: Tom Emerson.

They’ll also play Tchaikovsky’s tearjerking third quartet, which pays passionate tribute to a violinist friend who died young, and the final quartet by another Romantic composer who also died way too young — Franz Schubert. As Reed College music prof David Schiff writes, “All four movements are on a monumental scale. In the first two movements Schubert immediately places us in an emotional soundscape which becomes ever more intense as the music unfolds…. The final movement … launches an extended perpetual motion that seems constantly to seek out an unambiguous state of lost innocence….”
7:30 PM Wednesday, The Old Church, Portland.

• Everybody knows Rhapsody in Blue, which likely ranks in the top three most recognizable works of American classical music. From that famous bluesy opening clarinet solo to the brassy, danceable first section to the gorgeous, expansive finale, George Gershwin’s 1924 masterpiece pulses with immortal melodies and Jazz Age urban pep — what the composer called “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America.” Its only real problem is overfamiliarity — in concert, on film soundtracks and recordings, many of us have heard it so much that it’s probably best suited as an introduction to classical concerts, like the Eugene Symphony’s Valentine’s Day show.

Not everybody knows that seven years later, Gershwin also wrote a second Rhapsody (originally titled Rhapsody in Rivets) that many regard as superior to, if not quite as tuneful as, the first. The Eugene Symphony is bringing pianist Pallavi Mahidhara to join the orchestra in both. The concert also offers two more stirring American works from the 1930s. Samuel Barber wrote his gritty, dramatic first symphony in 1936 — the same year he composed that other best-known American classic, his Adagio for strings, originally part of a string quartet.

The recommended concert boasts still another rarely heard North American gem from that same year: Musica para Charlar (Music for Chattering) by the most fascinating of all Mexican composers, and one of the 20th century’s finest, Silvestre Revueltas. He composed it for a film about the railroad arriving in Baja California, the year after composing what the eminent classical music authority Joseph Horowitz called one of the greatest of all film scores, Redes. Like Gershwin’s rhapsodies, it’s a fun, colorful piece that chugs along on train-like rhythms.

Why so much wonderful American music? Along with leading Oregon’s Britt Festival Orchestra, guest conductor Teddy Abrams, a rising young star destined to lead one of the world’s top orchestras someday, already conducts the Louisville Orchestra, which made its reputation in the 1950s and ‘60s by commissioning new works by American composers including Duke Ellington and Lou Harrison. Abrams, a protege of San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas, is extending that wonderful legacy, and with splendid concerts like this, so is the Eugene Symphony.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Continues…

‘Sons of the Soil’ preview: setting a new standard

Don't know any black classical composers? Start with these

by DAMIEN GETER

Joseph Bologne (Chevalier de Saint Georges), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, and Daniel Bernard Roumain. None of these composers are household names but all are finally starting to get the attention they deserve. On Friday, in celebration of Black History Month, 45th Parallel Universe presents Sons of the Soil, a concert featuring music by these black composers performed by the all female string quartet mousai REMIX. (Read ArtsWatch’s concert preview.) There is no need to compare these greats to their white counterparts, but chances are if you are a fan of some of the more established masters, you will like these folks, too.

Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier De Saint George (1745-1799)

For fans of: Mozart, and Haydn

Who was he: Joseph Bologne, who later in life became known as the Chevalier de Saint-George, was a contemporary of Mozart’s and rumored to be the Austrian composer’s arch nemesis. Born in the French owned Caribbean colony of Guadeloupe, Joseph was the child of a planter and his wife’s young slave, who was most likely from Senegal. Joseph’s father sent him to France for his education, where he excelled in a number of areas including music (a violinist) and fencing. He became a noble fixture in France including a close friend to Marie Antoinette, but because of his African heritage, he was met with discrimination throughout his life. An advocate for ending slavery in France, he founded the Society of Friends of Black People and was a colonel of the first black legion in Europe.

Bologne penned a sizable body of compositions which included symphonies, string quartets, violin concerti, symphonie concertante, quartet concertante, and operas. Unfortunately, not many of his works survive, and even after France abolished slavery in 1794, new restrictions on black folks reemerged during Napoleon’s reign which moved Bologne’s music into a forgotten chapter of history until its recent revival.

Start with this: Ouverture, L’amant anonyme

This three-part overture (part 2, part 3) to Bologne’s surviving opera L’amant anonyme, mirrors early symphonic form. Its light textures and balanced melodies place it soundly in the Classical era and right in line with the traditions and compositional techniques of other Europeans who were composing during that time.

Also check out: George Bridgewater

Continues…

Mousai REMIX & Pyxis Quartet: expanded visions

45th Parallel Universe concerts feature music by Portland and African American composers

When 45th Parallel reached its 10th birthday this season, the Portland classical music organization expanded its name (to 45th Parallel Universe), its ranks, and its artistic vision, becoming a collectively run umbrella organization comprising five ensembles: two string quartets, a woodwind quartet, a percussion duo and a chamber orchestra.(See Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch story.)

mousai REMIX

The expansion produced a corresponding broadening of artistic vision, with a season packed with diverse concerts. On Friday, two 45th Parallel ensembles play back-to-back concerts embracing compositions that classical music institutions are often rightly accused of ignoring: music by African American composers, and new music responding to the concerns of here and now rather than there and then.

“Sons of the Soil”

To play classical compositions you need scores, and the lack of available scores by black composers is both a symptom of the racism that long excluded them from the classical canon, and one of many continuing obstacles to redressing that exclusion. When 45th Parallel founder Greg Ewer asked Jennifer Arnold to program a concert of works by African American composers for her string quartet Mousai REMIX, her biggest challenge was obtaining music.

“In my research I realized how many string quartets by black composers were out there,” Arnold recalls, “but finding and buying them was very difficult.” (Stay tuned for Damien Geter’s ArtsWatch story about all the composers on the program.)

mousai REMIX violist Jennifer Arnold

The oldest composer featured on the 7 pm concert, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, wrote dozens of string quartets, but only a few were available for purchase. A renowned violin virtuoso, swordsman and military leader in his time, Bologne “was called the Black Mozart for a reason,” Arnold notes, praising his Classical era-style melodies.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Fantasy Pieces aren’t in print, so the group is playing from a downloaded database score. “If you like (William) Walton, (Ralph) Vaughan Williams and other British Romantic music, you’ll love Coleridge-Taylor. He was highly regarded by them.”

Admirers of the folk-inspired Romantic music that the 19th-century Czech composer Antonin Dvorak wrote during his American sojourn will appreciate 20th-century American composer Florence Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint, Arnold says. She says the program’s sole contemporary composer, Daniel Bernard Roumain, is “really great at crossing genres.” His fifth string quartet, Rosa Parks, offers a mix of contemporary “electronic-sounding things played on acoustic instruments. It’s not typical classical music,” she says. “Anyone who likes a groove can relate to it.”

Continues…