Chamber Music Northwest reviews: Unspoiled by success

Where does a composer go after reaching the peak of popularity? Two concerts trace Beethoven's path from excellence to exploration


Ludwig van Beethoven’s extraordinary fame rests mostly on works he wrote in his mid- to late-30s. Even if you’re not a classical music fan, you probably know parts of his third (“Heroic”) and fifth (da-da-da-DAH) symphonies. If you are, you undoubtedly know his “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” piano sonatas, his violin concerto, and his last two piano concertos. String quartet lovers have his three “Razumovsky” quartets, informally named after the generous patron who commissioned them. They’re the only string quartets in the pantheon, but they fully measure up to their fellow icons.

The Dover Quartet plays both Beethoven and a world premiere at CMNW this summer. /Photo credit:Tom Emerson

The Dover Quartet played Beethoven at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson

The Dover Quartet, Chamber Music Northwest Protégé Project Artists just a few years ago, have since catapulted themselves toward a different pantheon after sweeping the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, winning First Prize and all three Special Prizes. Who better to bring Portland audiences Beethoven’s mid period string quartet masterpieces, as they did at CMNW’s July 11 concert at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium? They showed such mastery that even a critic could just relax and luxuriate in Beethoven’s endlessly inventive music.


Northern Lights, shining bright

Chamber Music Northwest takes a joyous trip to Scandinavia with a pair of Nielsens and Grieg's "Peer Gynt"

On Thursday Portland had a few hours of ideal summer, and the Reed College campus was lush with green trees, thick grass, and the lovely scourge of ivy. A few black tents dotted the landscape, shelters for people serving coffee and tea. Ladies in dresses and men in button-down shirts came and went. The relative ease of the atmosphere at sunset recalled an English lawn party. It was a prototypical evening at Chamber Music Northwest, and the spirited crowd had gathered to hear the concert Northern Lights: Scandinavian Gems. The music of the title’s two “lights” – the lesser-known Carl Nielsen and the more popular Edvard Grieg, with a new arrangement of his Peer Gynt – summoned less an imagining of the aurora borealis and more the mysterious spirits of nature on the move.

Violinist Theodore Arm (left) discusses David Schiff's new arrangement of "Peer Gynt" during rehearsal. Photo: Kimmie Fadern/Chamber Music Northwest

Violinist Theodore Arm (left) discusses David Schiff’s new arrangement of “Peer Gynt” during rehearsal. Photo: Kimmie Fadern/Chamber Music Northwest

Kaul Auditorium, Reed’s 750-seat concert hall, must be a musician’s dream. It’s made for acoustics, not just the audience’s leg room or vantage point, and outside and in seemed to blend. The welcoming smell of fresh timber filled the air. The greens gave off a vibrant hue through the windows as the stage lights glowed off the fresh polished neutral woods. The five chamber musicians took the stage in white coats and black shirt and tie, with the exception of cellist Mihai Marica, who wore an aubergine-colored gown. Not a stern soul was to be found: they entered the stage with bright eyes and glee in their cheeks.


MusicWatch Weekly: Musical mixology

Intoxicating sounds on Oregon stages this week

This week in Oregon’s bubbly music scene, Portland Opera offers a double shot: Rossini and Tchaikovsky. Chamber Music Northwest swirls some new music into its Beethoven cocktail, and Creative Music Guild mixes much of its double dose of music on the fly. Please let ArtsWatch readers know about other intoxicating musical attractions in the comments section below.

Pants and dresses; Sherman and Kirk. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

BodyVox teams with Chamber Music Northwest this weekend. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Chamber Music Northwest 
July 20-26
Wednesday and Thursday’s concerts at Nordia House and Reed College feature music by Carl Nielsen and Portland composer David Schiff’s arrangement of Grieg’s Lyric Suite.

Read my Willamette Week preview of Friday’s New@Noon multimedia concert at PSU’s Lincoln Hall featuring new music by Bruce Adolphe, Portland’s own Bonnie Miksch and more, and Saturday and Sunday’s Reed College/PSU show that includes Adolphe’s music alongside 20th century classics by Kurt Weill and Darius Milhaud. One of those Adolphe pieces highlights Saturday afternoon’s family concert, Marita and her Heart’s Desire.

Monday’s and Tuesday’s concerts, at Reed and PSU respectively, offer Beethoven’s most popular work (in his own time): his sunny, Mozartian Septet (whose popularity eventually irritated him when he wanted to push his music beyond it), plus his Op. 17 string quartet.

Akropolis Reed Quintet performs in Gresham Friday.

Akropolis Reed Quintet performs in Gresham Tuesday.

Weill’s Threepenny music returns along with the Akropolis Reed Quintet at Tuesday’s free community concert at Mt. Hood Community College. The show also includes new music by young composers Rob Deemer and David Biedenbender.

And don’t forget BodyVox’s collaboration with CMNW, which has several shows left this week. Read Bob Hicks’s ArtsWatch review.

Tony Barba and Tricapitate
July 20
Turn! Turn! Turn! Portland
Saxofans should consider this Creative Music Guild Outset Series show featuring Wisconsin-based Youngblood Brass Band member Barba, who’s all played with jazz legends like Andrew Hill and David Murray as well as popsters including Bon Iver, Mountain Goats, Violent Femmes and more. Sax trio Tricapitate features veteran Portland saxophonists Noah Bernstein and John Savage along with Ralph Carney.

Eugene Onegin”
July 21-26
Portland Opera, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland
Read Christa Morletti McIntyre’s ArtsWatch preview and Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review of Tchaikovsky’s opera, sung in Russian with English subtitles and directed by Kevin Newbury.

The Italian Girl in Algiers”
July 22-August 6
Portland Opera, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland
While Hollywood still struggles to portray women in truly heroic protagonist roles, Giacomo Rossini’s fizzy 1813 comedy-meets-Harlequin romance stars the titular headstrong woman who outwits a macho royal to score the hunky slave she really wants instead of him. Bubbling with energetic arias and intoxication both hormonal and alcoholic, surprisingly, it’s the first Portland production, and this one’s built especially for the intimate Newmark Theatre.

Aleksandra Romano stars as Isabella in Portland Opera's 'The Italian Girl in Algiers.' Photo: James Daniel.

Aleksandra Romano stars as Isabella in Portland Opera’s ‘The Italian Girl in Algiers.’ Photo: James Daniel.

MYS summer ensembles 
July 21
The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland
Read my Willamette Week preview of the faculty chamber music concert starring present and former Oregon Symphony musicians.

Lakou Mizik
July 21, WOW Hall, Eugene, and July 22 Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland
Read my Willamette Week preview of the Haitian collective’s first Oregon appearances.

Extradition Series
July 23
Leaven Community Center: 5431 NE 20th Ave, Portland
Read my Willamette Week preview of this Creative Music Guild concert featuring a 20th century classic by James Tenney and music by today’s Portland and Seattle performer/composer/improvisers.

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

The Emerson Quartet honors the Haydn-Beethoven link

Chamber Music Northwest's examination of Beethoven continues with the Emerson Quartet


If any group can make us hear how radical and innovative Ludwig van Beethoven’s music is, it’s the Emerson String Quartet, a regular at Chamber Music Northwest. This year marks their 11th season at the summer festival; they’ll be back for more Portland concerts throughout 2016-17.

The group played two of Beethoven’s early string quartets: String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2 and String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6. The Beethoven pieces alternated with Joseph Haydn’s quartets from his String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3 (“Emperor”)” and String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 76, No. 6.

The Emerson String Quartet at Chamber Music Northwest in 2015/Photo by Tom Emerson

The Emerson String Quartet at Chamber Music Northwest in 2015/Photo by Tom Emerson

The Sunday concert exceeded two hours, not including intermission, at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall in the last of a three-performance program called “Passing the Torch.” The Grammy Award-winners are CMNW’s Artists-in-Residence for the 2016-17 season. Along with CMNW artistic director David Shifrin, they came up with the idea of the centerpiece three-performance Haydn-Beethoven program. The title speaks to the relationship between the older Haydn and Beethoven, and to the festival’s efforts to mentor “protégé” musicians.

Adding fuel to the Emerson program, Beethoven’s quartets have been showcased throughout CMNW’s five-week run this summer.


ChamberVox shakes things up

Chamber Music Northwest and BodyVox dance to the music of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

At heart, dancing is moving to rhythm, and that means it’s almost inseparable from music. There are exceptions and variations: experimental cases when dances are created without sound; the Merce Cunningham/John Cage partnership, in which movement and music were created deliberately in isolation from each other so one would not influence the other, but were performed together; contemporary pieces with more or less arbitrary music that might better be described as “specimens of sound” (which, of course, can make their own sort of music); dances in which extended periods of silence are part of the score. But on the whole dance and music are pretty much happy bedfellows, cohabiting almost by instinct.

A fairy queen cavorting with a donkey: Anna Mara as Titania and Brent Luebbert as Bottom in "Midsummer." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A fairy queen cavorting with a donkey: Anna Mara as Titania and Brent Luebbert as Bottom in “Midsummer.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

So the relationship between Chamber Music Northwest, Portland’s premiere summer music festival, and BodyVox, one of the city’s leading contemporary dance troupes, seems like a natural, and it’s beginning to be a tradition. This year’s collaboration, which opened Thursday night at the BodyVox studio in Northwest Portland and continues through July 23, brings a third player into the mix, too: that musically savvy playwright, William Shakespeare. Titled Death and Delight, the program pairs a version of Romeo and Juliet set on Sergei Prokofiev’s R&J Suite with a new version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream danced to Felix Mendelssohn’s ravishing score.


Chamber Music Northwest: All hands on the grands

Chamber Music Northwest put the piano front and center for "Six Hands, Two Grands"


Who says classical music isn’t a hoot and a holler?

At Tuesday evening’s “Two Grands, Six Hands” concert in Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, part of Chamber Music Northwest’s summer festival, eight hands played Romantic composer Albert Lavignac’s “Galop-marche.”

Somehow four pianists, three of them relatively tall men, squeezed onto three small piano benches behind one Steinway. Their overdrive friskiness left starchiness and formality in its wake. Throughout the 5-minute piece, not counting moments when each musician had a few “hands” breaks with which to goof around, each played like a maniacal pro. They never once tangled any of their 40 fingers.

Sometimes the six hands became eight at Chamber Music Northwest's "Six Hands, Two Grands" concert/Photo by Jonathan Lange

Sometimes the six hands became eight at Chamber Music Northwest’s “Six Hands, Two Grands” concert/Photo by Jonathan Lange

Hilda Huang was the fourth pianist. The Yale University chemistry major shared a bench with her Yale music mentor, Melvin Chen. She is a Chamber Music Northwest protege artist, and before the “Galope” encore, she endeared herself to listeners in a six-hand, one-grand version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro, K. 492.


The soulful Zorá Quartet deserved a bigger audience

A free Chamber Music Northwest community concert was sparsely attended, but the Zorá Quartet came to play


Sunday evening’s Zorá Quartet concert at Clackamas Community College was refreshingly short (about an hour) and delightfully performed. Unfortunately, the free concert was deplorably attended. About 50 people heard this high-spirited soulful presentation of Beethoven and Debussy string quartets at Niemeyer Center. The concert was Chamber Music Northwest’s first free offering in the area in its 46-year history. Let’s hope the poor turnout doesn’t make it the last for Clackamas County or other suburban communities.

Zorá, which means “sunrise” in Bulgarian, is a protégé, or apprentice, group at the festival this summer. Its members – from Bangkok, the United States, Shanghai, and Melilla, Spain – are stupendous musicians in graduate chamber-music studies at Indiana University. They play like well-seasoned pros tuned into one another for years, but they play with so much exuberant passion, they practically fall out of their seats. They are the future of chamber music.

You’ll have another chance to hear them. They perform again at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 13, at Alberta Rose Theater.


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