MUSIC

Loving the chaos

Portland pianist Hunter Noack’s annual traveling summer series In A Landscape brings classical music to Oregon’s wild places, helps bridge urban-rural divide

Hunter Noack grew up in Sunriver cherishing both classical music and outdoor Oregon. His mother, Lori Noack, directed the Sunriver Music Festival, which each year included top American classical pianists. “Growing up in central Oregon, I spent all my time outside when I wasn’t practicing,” Noack remembered. 

For the past few years, Noack, now 30, has found a unique way to combine his twin passions. Beginning last month and extending through September, Noack will be bringing a 9-foot Steinway piano and 300 pairs of wireless headphones to some of Oregon’s most beautiful outdoor spaces. While audience members gaze out onto scenic vistas, they’ll hear him performing live piano music by Romantic composers like Liszt, impressionists such as Ravel and modernists including John Cage, whose placid 1948 composition In a Landscape gave the series its name. 

From his Sunriver childhood, Noack followed a prodigy’s path: Michigan’s famed Interlochen Arts Academy for high school, then music conservatories in San Francisco and London. In 2013, a mutual friend introduced him to Portland pianist Thomas Lauderdale after a concert there by his band Pink Martini. They became friends and then partners, which brought Noack back to Oregon to live with him. Since then, Noack has performed in various settings, including shows with Oregon Ballet Theatre and Northwest Dance Project. Read my ArtsWatch feature on Noack and IaL’s origins.

Hunter Noack at Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Photo by Bridget Baker.
Hunter Noack at Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Photo by Bridget Baker.

Another World

But his passion project has been In a Landscape. The wireless headphones (funded by a grant from Portland philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer) allowed him to re-create a concert hall sound (for “persnickety classical music fans”), unimpeded by ambient noise such as wind, bawling babies and arid open-air acoustics. And it permitted listeners to enjoy classical music amid natural beauty, rather than confined inside a formal concert hall.

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Hot and cold running summer

Mandolins, saxophones, loopy music, and jazz fusion

Portland summers have a little something for everyone. If you like your summers dry, hot, and aggressive, you can easily get your fill of blinding, baking, oppressively sweaty sunpocalypse. If you like your summers bitter, cloudy, soggy, and unseasonably cold—well, you’ll get your fill of that too. And hey, if you like perfect summers full of warm, friendly blue skies and cool, refreshing breezes chasing fluffy clouds across the golden horizon….well, you live here. You know Portland’s got you covered for that kind of summer too.

The music here is much the same. Just this week we’ve got everything from massed mandolins and stacked saxophones to jazz of all stripes, a lot more Chamber Music Northwest, and digitally looped harp, voice, violin, and cello. Read on to get your weekly forecast—and remember your sunscreen!

This Weekend

If outdoor listening is your bag, you’ve got two good options in Southeast Portland this weekend. The two-dozen strong Oregon Mandolin Orchestra—“mandolins, mandolas, mandocellos and crazy-huge mandobass”—performs at 2 p.m. on Saturday July 13 in Westmoreland Park, as part of the all-day Portland Picnic Wine Tasting Festival. On Sunday, Portland’s favorite saxophone quartet—the majestic Quadraphonnes, led by Mary-Sue Tobin—perform in Western Pacific University’s free “Summer Concerts & Movies In the Park” series. The band plays at 6:30. The surprisingly entertaining blockbuster Aquaman screens afterward, with free popcorn. Keep an eye out for Dolph Lundgren’s astonishing beard!

Portland saxophone quartet Quadraphonnes.

Meanwhile, CMNW is cooking right along with unstoppable verve and ferocity. Just today, at the third New@Noon concert, we heard the Miró Quartet turn in a very lovely performance of Caroline Shaw’s Entr’Acte, and you’ll read all about how their interpretation varied from Calidore’s in a couple weeks, when we all stop going to concerts and finally have time to write about them. For now, I can only tell you that their excellent playing and lively vibes got me all excited for their two appearances this weekend.

On Saturday July 13, Miró finishes their complete Beethoven Opus 18 mini-cycle, begun last Thursday. This will be the good half of old Ludwig van’s early quartet set, with its operatic C minor and its serendipitously transcendent Bb major. Then, Sunday July 14, they’re joined by pianist Gilles Vonsattel, who today gave the only performance of Rzewski that made any kind of sense to me (more on that later as well). Vonsattel and Miró will perform Mendelssohn, Brahms, and the Schumanns.

The Territory and beyond

I can’t even imagine how local jazz composer Darrell Grant must feel about competing with the Sun Ra Arkestra next week. Grant’s The Territory has a two-day run at CMNW (Monday at Reed, Tuesday at PSU), while the Arkestra plays those same two nights at the historic Hollywood Theatre on Southeast Sandy. Although both artists fall broadly under the heading of “jazz,” stylistically and thematically they could hardly be more different. One is as local as it gets, a suite about the Pacific Northwest performed by a jazz great who’s called Portland home since the 90s. The other is—if you believe the hype—literally from outer space.

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Sounds of a Yamhill County summer

Pull up a lawn chair and listen to concerts ranging from gospel to heavy psych

This week’s survey of Yamhill County’s cultural scene is All Things Musical — or as close to “all” as is possible to get without being omniscient. The opera-oriented Aquilon Music Festival is in the thick of it, but they’re not the only musicians in town. McMinnville and Newberg each host a series of free summer concerts, while out in Willamina, folks are getting ready for the Wildwood Music Fest, which has been hosting regional bands since 2010. Let’s start there, as that’s a ticketed event. 

WILDWOOD MUSIC FEST: On Yamhill County’s east side in the Sheridan and Willamina area, we find Katie Vinson of the Wildwood Hotel and Kim Hamblin of Roshambo ArtFarm once again organizing a grassroots musical affair and family camp-out that benefits local nonprofits. The nearly 20-year-old festival will be held July 19-21 on the farm, 22900 S.W. Pittman Road. Tickets and all the details you could possibly need are available here. The lineup includes the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers, Sam Chase and The Untraditional, Drunken Prayer, Willy Tea Taylor, and many, many more.

McMINNVILLE CONCERTS ON THE PLAZA: Organized by the McMinnville Downtown Association, these Thursday evening concerts are held on the U.S. Bank Plaza at the corner of Third and Davis streets. The street is closed, and some seating is available, but it goes fast, so best to bring a lawn chair. Concerts run 6 to 9 p.m.

The series kicks off July 11 with the Portland heavy-psych band Blackwater Holylight, founded by vocalist/bassist Allison Faris in 2016. At the website for Portland label RidingEasy Records, which represents Blackwater, Faris describes the band’s genesis: “I wanted to experiment with my own version of what felt ‘heavy’ both sonically and emotionally. I also wanted a band in which vulnerability of any form could be celebrated.”

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Blues finale: a festival with teeth

The party gets hearty as "Kingfish" Ingram picks his guitar strings for the crowd. Joe Cantrell snaps the Waterfront Blues Fest's last hurrah.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


When the extraordinary young guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram waded into the crowd at the Waterfront Blues Festival on Sunday and started picking the strings with his teeth, you knew the whole darned party was gettin’ down. Musicians, fans, techies, vendors, kids, couples, senior hipsters, spur-of-the-moment dancers, festival newbies and seasoned blues aficionados – it was the last day of the four-day music extravaganza in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, and everyone was wringing the juice from the thing down to the last drop.

“Kingfish” Ingram: whole lotta talent goin’ down.

Ingram, the 20-year-old prodigy from Clarksdale, Mississippi, who’s played and recorded with Buddy Guy, Keb Mo’ and other greats, is two years out of high school and taking the music world by storm. Portland was happy to be part of the deluge. A Portland favorite from New Orleans, the fabulous Trombone Shorty – Troy Andrews on his birth certificate – played a late set with his band Orleans Avenue, and the likes of Feufollet, Ural Thomas & the Pain, and the Too Loose Cajun Zydeco Band – plus a whole lot of happy revelers – kept the closing-day party sizzling and most everyone waiting impatiently for next July, when the blues fest will blow the lid off the riverfront again.

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Blues Fest 3: Let the good times roll

There's a party goin' on: Photographer Joe Cantrell gets with the groove as Day 3 of the Waterfront Blues Festival loosens its Louisiana Belt.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


A lot of Louisiana took the stage on Saturday in Day Three of the Waterfront Blues Festival – groups as redolent of New Orleans and bayou country as Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble, Lil’ Pookie & the Zydeco Sensations, Mysti Krewe Mardi Gras Parade, and Chubby Carrier & His Bayou Swamp Band – and the roux got spicy and a little rowdy in the crowd, too, which took on a loose, decorative Mardi Gras flair. The music was terrific, but things got free and easy and party-down in the audience, too, which drifted easily and happily into putting on a show of its own. As photographer Joe Cantrell, who’s been busily documenting the entire four-day festival, put it: “This evening was one of the BEST hours of people-shooting ever!”

This year’s festival wraps up on Sunday with a full day of music and scene-making in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, from morning to night: more zydeco and Cajun from the likes of Carrier and Lil’ Pookie and Taylor and the up-and-coming Feufollet and the eagerly awaited Trombone Shorty, with a little bit of Tennessee tossed into the pot from Memphis Shorty’s Harmonica Hoedown. If anything, expect the groove to get a little looser and the partying a little rowdier yet. Your single-day tickets – $25 at the gate – get you into the party for the entire day, until after dark, and in addition to paying for the musicians and the music, help support the nonprofit Sunshine Division, which distributes food and clothing to people in the metropolitan area who need them.

Cantrell was on site once again all day long on Saturday, focusing his lens on the acts onstage and, more often, on the show in the crowd. Some highlights from his Day Three shoots:

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Waterfront Blues 2: In the Spirit

On Day 2 of the big blues bash on the riverside, the sounds ring over the city. Joe Cantrell captures the excitement in photographs.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


Day Two of the Waterfront Blues Festival dug deep into the spirit of music and life with an extraordinary set by the Spiritual Brothers and their sounds of Northern Ghana and Burkina Faso. Unlike the four-day festival’s first day on the Fourth of July, there were no fireworks over the river. But there was plenty of fire in the music on Friday, a day that also included sharp sets by the likes of Harpdog Brown & the Uptown Blues Band, Larkin Poe, Terry Hancke, the California Honeydrops, Lloyd Jones, Lisa Mann with Lara Price, Monti Amundson, Brother Yusef, Arietta Ward (daughter of the legendary, late Portland pianist Janice Scroggins) and others.

Passing the traditions on: generations in the crowd.

The four-day festival, which transforms Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park through Sunday, is a highlight of the Pacific Northwest’s summer music season, drawing thousands of revelers every day. Saturday’s schedule features a lot of Louisiana sounds – Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble, Lil’ Pookie & the Zydeco Sensations, Mysti Krewe Mardi Gras Parade, Chubby Carrier & His Bayou Swamp Band – plus the likes of top locals LaRhonda & the Steele Family Band, the Terry Robb Quartet, Norman Sylvester’s Allstar Revue, and more. Your single-day tickets – $20 in advance, $25 at the gate – get you the entire day from 10 a.m. until after dark, and in addition to paying for the musicians and the music, help support the nonprofit Sunshine Division, which distributes food and clothing to people in the metropolitan area who need them.

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Flutes and strings and weirdos

Chamber Music Northwest plays Caroline Shaw and Jacob TV. We are Kulululu.

Chamber Music Northwest seems a lot quieter since the clarinet circus left town. After last week’s brouhaha—a wide swath of concerts featuring upwards of a hundred clarinets—the audiences at Thursday night’s Copland/Shaw concert and today’s New@Noon felt hushed, rapt, attentively relaxed in a way that only summertime and a lot of lovely string and flute music can induce.

Flutist Tara Helen O’Connor performing at Chamber Music Northwest.

Let’s talk about the flute first. Last night at Reed College, CMNW stalwart Tara Helen O’Connor played flute in a chamber orchestra of other CMNW stalwarts, performing Aaron Copland’s bland-but-beautiful Appalachian Suite. This afternoon at the New@Noon concert down in Portland State’s Lincoln Recital Hall, O’Connor did what she does every year: she balanced Thursday’s classical side with something daring, special, bizarre. Last year, it was Andy Akiho’s -intuition) (Expectation; the year before it was Allison Loggins-Hull’s electronics-laden Pray. This year, today, she played a bit of “boombox music” by bizarro Dutch composer Jacob TV, whose Grab It, for saxophone and prerecorded samples of death row inmates, caught everyone’s attention several years ago (two favorite versions: this one for jazz trio, and this one for two bari saxes and drums).

Lipstick—the one O’Connor played today—uses the same multimedia gimmick as Grab It, a combination of speech-to-melody transformations (used most famously by Steve Reich in Different Trains), wild chromatic flourishes on regular and alto flute, various extended techniques, electroacoustic stuff I couldn’t discern the nature of (was that a prerecorded track or a filter-delay effect on the live flute?)—all of it accompanying a manic MTV-age video montage of footage from talk shows and talent competitions, sliced and remixed and projected on the screen above the stage.

In other words, it’s exactly that madhouse smorgasbord of aesthetic layering we love so much about contemporary classical music. Hearing O’Connor play this stuff is always a festival highlight for me, because it demonstrates the one thing that really makes new music sing: love of craft. The rest of the time, we hear O’Connor and all the rest of the CMNW crew apply their considerable skills to Bach and Brahms with real dedication—and it’s wonderful to hear that craft applied to music by living composers.

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