MUSIC

Marginal Consort: sound and silence

Japanese ensemble’s Portland performance focuses more on improvisatory process than musical product

By LUSI LUKOVA
Photos by Taz Coffey, courtesy of PICA

The performance began simply enough, with Marginal Consort’s Kazuo Imai using a giant sheet of paper to break the silence and commence the one-night-only concert at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), like a gun fired to set off a race.

Kazuo Imai playing the paper snapper at Marginal Consort’s January concert at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

In a workshop the previous night, Imai taught the simplicity of creating what they’ve dubbed “the paper snapper” out of mundane craft paper. Once built, we were all asked to “snap” our instruments unabashedly. The cacophony that this produced, the varying tones based on the strength and speed of each snapper built up to an eruption like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Opening the January 23 concert with this definite sound subdued any conversation, and focused all attention on the four members of Japan’s renowned musical ensemble.

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MusicWatch Weekly: winter light

Portland State University performances highlight Oregon's music calendar

Welcome to the light edition of MusicWatch! Like everybody else, our New Years resolutions included slimming down both spending and girth. You could trim down your musical meanderings and expenses this week by confining them to the campus of Portland State University, which offers several rewarding shows, some offering free admission.

Some are part of the Portland Winter Light Festival happening around town and centered this year on the PSU campus Feb. 7-9, and including Classical Revolution PDX, Portland Opera singers, a geodesic dome, dance, vaudeville performers, and much more.

The shadows of PSU faculty musicians will be projected in the Winter Light Festival’s Ombra Musici performance

• PSU prof and violinist Tomas Cotik plays some of the most beloved Baroque hits: some of JS Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo and the Winter concerto from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Thursday’s performance will be live streamed. Saturday’s performance is part of Cotik’s shadowy new project Ombra Musici, in which the colossal shadows of Cotik and other PSU faculty musicians will be projected on the walls of the PSU library as they play. He writes:

Ombra Musici is an example of something I like to call massive media: it’s a combination of architecture and media that together transform our perception of space…. The medium is video and sound, the moving image. These aspects add an element of change, of contingency, which serves to capture attention. Architecture that is normally consumed in a passive state of attention becomes a focal point…

Furthermore, the content of the projection mimics some of the earliest and simplest examples of the projected moving image, the shadowplay. Ombra Musici harkens back to the earliest beginnings of cinema and looks forward to a future of expressive architectural surfaces and a mass spatialization of cinema in urban environments.

Noon Thursday and 7 pm Saturday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University

Lisa Ann Marsh’s music highlights Portland’s Winter Light Festival.

• Friday’s festival show, The Light of Music, features the music of one of Portland’s most broadly appealing composers, PSU prof Lisa Ann Marsh, plus lights, night sky images, illuminated dancing, and ice instruments. Ten guest performers and five guest artists will join Marsh on stage for a retrospective of her favorite compositions.
7:30 pm Friday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University

BRAVO Youth Orchestras annual Benefit Concert at PSU’s Lincoln Hall, features a pair of Venezuelan born musicians, Oregon Symphony and FearNoMusic fiddler Inés Voglar and cuatro (four-string guitar) master Freddy Vilches, leading performances of Venezuelan music. One of the world’s greatest Irish fiddlers, Kevin Burke, joins fellow fiddler Betsy Branch in traditional Irish music, and Portland neo-soul songwriter Blossom unleashes steel drums from her native Trinidad and Tobago, accompanied by BRAVO students. The Oregon Supreme Court’s first African-American Justice, Adrienne Nelson, will speak.
4 pm Saturday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University

• Opera-heads got all excited when soprano Audrey Luna sang the highest written note (a stratospheric A) on the Metropolitan Opera stage last year. Let’s hope that striking but gimmicky feat doesn’t define her career, because her performance in the American premiere production of Thomas Adès’ new opera The Exterminating Angel as well as in the British composer’s previous The Tempest also displayed impressive vocal versatility, compelling acting skills, and eagerness to take chances on new music rather than merely repeating the usual coloratura classic roles as so many opera stars do.

Audrey Luna teaches and sings at PSU.

Oregonians should also hope that Luna’s ascent (vocal and career) doesn’t overshadow the fact that before she sang at the world’s leading opera houses (the Met, Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House, Lyric Opera of Chicago et al) and with major orchestras (Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic) Audrey Luna sang her first opera role right here at Portland State University: Pamina in The Magic Flute. The Salem native got her bachelor’s degree here in 2001 before moving on to conservatory, apprenticeships at US opera companies, and on to world renown. She’s returning to her alma mater to present a master class and sing a recital that features late Romantic music by Richard Strauss, symbolist sounds by Debussy, and American composer Samuel Barber’s ravishing, nostalgic Knoxville: Summer of 1915, based on James Agee’s novel.
3 pm Sunday, Lincoln Recital Hall.

• Luna is also singing arias with Portland Concert Opera next Wednesday, Feb. 13 in Agnes Flanagan Chapel at Lewis & Clark College.

• Portland Piano International recitals often happen at PSU, too, but this time, 22-year-old Italian pianist Filippo Gorini plays Bartok, Beethoven and Chopin at Resound NW, 1532 SW Jefferson St. Portland Saturday, Hood River Columbia Center for the Arts, 215 Cascade Ave, Hood River Sunday, and Providence St. Vincent Hospital, 9205 SW Barnes Rd. Portland Monday. The two PDX performances are free.

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MusicWatch Weekly: reflections on divisions

Concerts feature new music inspired by today's American polarization

As we were saying last week, considering how unfairly under-represented they are on classical concert programs, a startling number of the 21st century’s finest composers in the classical tradition are women, who have managed to surmount centuries of barriers to musical gender equality. In Women Singing Women, Portland’s all-star choir Resonance Ensemble does a bit to redress the imbalance with an entire concert directed by a woman (Resonance Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon), performed by women (including the singers and pianist Kira Whiting), and featuring entirely works by women composers. The program features the world premiere of a major commission by rising young composer Melissa Dunphy that sets words from last summer’s excruciating Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings spoken by Prof. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. The concert also includes arrangement of Suzanne Vega’s hit “Blood Makes Noise” by Resonance’s Maria Karlin, and works by Carol Barnett (who’s written appealing works as diverse as a Bluegrass Mass to compositions influenced by Cypriot and Greek music), music by Portland choral conductor/composer Joan Szymko, Lori Laitman, Ysaye Barnwell, new original poetry by Portland’s S. Renee Mitchell, and more.
Sunday, Cerimon House, 5131 NE 23rd Ave. Portland.

Resonance Ensemble performs Sunday.

From his smart, funny Craigslistlieder a decade ago to his gorgeous historical evocations of Los Angeles (where he grew up) to orchestral works like emergency shelter intake form (performed last spring by the Oregon Symphony) and Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States (performed at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival), Gabriel Kahane has emerged as one of America’s foremost young contemporary classical music voices. After the election catastrophe of 2016, the Brooklyn singer-songwriter-pianist-guitarist embarked on a two-week train trip across the country, striving to understand our national polarization. Traveling nearly 9,000 miles sans cellphone and internet connection, he instead tried to connect personally with Americans an inhabitant of any hipsterville might never otherwise encounter — not through digital intermediaries, but through their stories. In his new album Book of Travelers, whose music he’ll perform solo with piano in this Chamber Music Northwest concert, he turned conversations with fellow travelers — truck drivers, postmasters, engineers, nurses — into an intimate album’s worth of understated songs for just his voice and piano — a musical portrait of a troubled nation on the brink of wrenching political upheaval. Kahane tells poignant stories through the eyes of the characters he observes with empathy and understanding.
Wednesday, The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave. Portland.

Gabriel Kahane performs Wednesday at Portland’s Old Church. Photo: Josh Goleman.

Despite today’s polarization, several other concerts feature music that reflect artists’ countervailing tendencies toward bringing cultures together. One of the most popular ensembles brought to town by Friends of Chamber Music, the entertaining Dalí Quartet, composed of members from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the US, returns for a program of 20th-century and contemporary Latin American classical music. The program features a tango ballet by Argentina’s great nuevo tango composer Astor Piazzolla, a powerful quartet by his countryman Alberto Ginastera, another by Brazil’s Heitor Villa-Lobos, and other hidden gems you’re not likely to hear on any standard American classical chamber music program.
Thursday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland

The Dali Quartet performs at The Old Church in Friends of Chamber Music’s Not So Classic Series. Photo: John Green.

• Portland State continues its celebration of the great 20th century composer Francis Poulenc in Poulenc and the Piano, with this free noon concert (live streamed here) featuring faculty members playing his spiffy 1932 Sextet for piano and winds and his setting of of the children’s tale The Story of Babar for piano and narrator.
Thursday, Lincoln Recital Hall, PSU.

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Nehalem Winterfest capitalizes on the coast’s off-season

Festival music ranges from crocodile rock to chamber to jazz. In Cannon Beach and Tillamook, theatrical comedies brighten the dark days

This is the quiet time on the Oregon Coast. The holidays are over, spring break still a ways off, and with the exception of a couple of three-day weekends, there’s not a lot of opportunity for extended bouts of R&R here. While that may not be bad news for locals, for businesses, it can make for some lean stretches. Such was the inspiration last year for the first Nehalem Winterfest.

“In the summer, there are competing interests, you go to the beach, you build bonfires, you go hiking. You do all sorts of things like that,” said Mary Moran, head of the North Coast Recreation District’s Performing Arts Center, where Winterfest performances are held. “You don’t necessarily want to sit inside a theater and listen to music. In the winter, you don’t expect to do outside things so much as inside things. We just decided it’s a great time to have music and concerts, and get people to come to the beach and enjoy themselves.”

It went over so well — with visitors coming from all over Oregon, Washington and beyond — they’re doing again.

The 2nd Annual Nehalem Winterfest kicks off Friday, Feb. 8, with Kate & the Crocodiles. Featuring vocalist Kate Morrison, trumpeter Gavin Bondi, pianist Craig Bidondo, and drummer Brent Follis, the band plays rock originals and covers, jazz, classical, “and other surprises from far and wide.”

“Kate and the Crocodiles are always a good seller here,” Moran said. “Great people, great music and lots of fun to listen to.”

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“Gr*mmy Show”: spoofing the stars

Saturday’s University of Oregon variety show provides an evening of comedy, theater, and music.

by GARY FERRINGTON

A few years ago, jazz pianist and University of Oregon music professor Toby Koenigsberg approached trumpeter and fellow faculty member Brian McWhorter to help him create a mixed genre concert series he was trying to put together. McWhorter suggested a show in which Grammy-nominated songs were performed right before “Music’s Biggest Night.” But by the time the project was ready to go in 2014, McWhorter found that he could no longer play trumpet due to a performance injury.

Koenigsberg and McWhorter host the Gr*mmy Show Saturday.

That didn’t stop them. With Koenigsberg’s encouragement, McWhorter, who is recognized on and off campus for his wit, sense of humor, and more than a bit of showmanship, realized he could emcee instead of playing. And that decision turned the project into “a kind of variety show, with comedy, theater, and music all included,” Koenigsberg recalls. The UO School of Music and Dance’s satirical production of the “Gr*mmy Show,” a zany, fun-filled evening with McWhorter as MC and Koenigsberg as musical director, was finally ready for primetime. (They changed its original name from “Grammy Show” after The Recording Academy sent the team a cease and desist letter.)

Wrong song Jack. Photo: Gary Ferrington

The Gr*mmy Show has evolved into a much-anticipated evening of variety acts. Show-stopping edutainment sketches have always been included, such as a humorous analysis of the seemingly complex voting process for Grammy award winners, and exploring the “fun side” of Schenkerian analysis — a music theory subject as exciting as burnt toast. Academicians always tend to get a good ribbing on this night as when music theorist Jack Boss “mistakenly” began to pontificate about the musical structure… of what he would quickly learn from emcee McWhorter was the wrong song.

Stage band performs nominated songs. Photo: Gary Ferrington

Balancing out the humorous academic side of the evening is the performance of many musical selections nominated for the Grammys, including not only Song of the Year, but also pieces from other categories such as New Age, Pop, Jazz, Rap, Reggae, World Music and the Best Classical Contemporary Composition and Best Musical Theater album.

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Eugene Symphony: earning attention

Orchestra’s fall 2018-19 season includes strong performances, contemporary repertoire, engaging community events

By DANIEL HEILA

After the Eugene Symphony’s 2018-19 season opener, high like only a classical music geek can be and thoroughly lit by a stunning performance of Shostakovich’s fifth symphony, I wandered around the Hult Center’s cathedral-like atrium. Eventually, I paused in front of a blackboard-sized whiteboard that stood in the center of the lobby. A question scrawled across the top asked: How did the concert make you feel? Without hesitation, I grabbed a marker and wrote, Like I should be paying more attention to the ESO.

Eugene Symphony Orchestra

Then a niggling worry crept into my head. Yes, without a doubt, it was the best performance of Shostakovich’s masterpiece I had ever heard (live or recorded). And yes, I had given myself over to the shameless, spine-shivering, scalp-tightening response that such performances elicit, even jumping to my feet and joining my fellow concert goers in the all-too-common standing ovation (and I meant it, goddammit!). BUT! Could this level of excellence be maintained? Now, having attended all the concerts in the season’s first half and many of the orchestra’s excellent concert-week community events, I can confidently say…no…and yes…and thank goodness for that!

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MusicWatch Weekly: women’s works

Oregon orchestras play music by female composers, and other January musical highlights

One of the many problems with the classical music establishment’s (finally) waning historical museum mentality is that if its artistic leaders aren’t careful, they can wind up reproducing yesterday’s regressive social attitudes on today’s stages. Long before classical music had its own #metoo revelations (one survivor being the now-wife of Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar), the institution had a long and inglorious history of sexism. Even in the supposedly liberated 20th and 21st centuries, female composers faced institutional discrimination, especially from orchestras.

Hagner plays Chin with the Oregon Symphony

• Yet still it persists. The only work by a female composer on this year’s Oregon Symphony classical season is this weekend’s atmospheric Violin Concerto by Korea-born, Berlin-based composer Unsuk Chin, which won classical music’s most lucrative prize in 2004. Deploying nearly two dozen varied percussion instruments, string harmonics, even a harpsichord, it ranges from surprisingly delicate to skittering to intriguingly colorful then ratchets up the intensity. Rising star violinist Viviane Hagner stars. Naturally, the program also contains symphonies by dead European males: Beethoven’s Haydn-esque first and Schumann’s uplifting third.
Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

• As Thursday’s Eugene Symphony concert demonstrates, women have been writing great symphonic music for decades. Last time, the orchestra featured new music from one of today’s finest composers of any gender, Jennifer Higdon. This week’s program opens with the rollicking 1943 Overture for Symphonic Orchestra by Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz. She was born in 1909, but it’s only recently that her music has begun to be widely played outside Poland. Fortunately for us, ESO music director Francesco Lecce-Chong is a fan. It’s great to see both major Oregon orchestras playing music by female composers this week. Why not every week?

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