NEWS & NOTES

ArtsWatch Weekly: Sunny days

Punched-up Mahler, the Yo Yo Ma of ukulele, the dubious stand of "Virginia Woolf," Vanport tales, tap dance legends, and more

ArtsWatch World Headquarters has moved temporarily to the front porch, where the sun is shining and the computer is juiced up and the cat is staring down the squirrel and the squirrel is chattering back and the crows are cawing the play-by-play. With the temperature heading for a balmy 82, visions of summer festivals are dancing in our heads. The Oregon Bach Festival. Chamber Music Northwest. The Astoria Music Festival. The Britt Festivals. The (continuing) Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and more.

Emil Orlik, portrait of Gustav Mahler, drypoint on vellum, 11.5 x 7.9 inches, 1902; Galerie Bessenge/Wikimedia Commons

Not that it’s been all sunshine and lollipops in Portland, even with Monday’s surprise impersonation of a mid-August day. In the evening as we drove toward Schnitzer Hall for the final performance of the Oregon Symphony’s final classical concert of the season, Mahler’s still-astonishing Symphony No. 2, a barricade of fire trucks and police cars just north of Burnside Street rerouted us several blocks: a massive power outage had hit a long swath of downtown, and among many other disruptions, nearly all the traffic lights were out. Fortunately the Schnitzer kept its power (the nearby Portland Art Museum didn’t, and was forced to close on Tuesday while repairs were being done), and the orchestra proceeded to pretty much blow the roof off the joint. Conductor Carlos Kalmar, over roughly eighty muscular minutes, punched up the big moments, and with large choir, several soloists, a bevy of brass, and more kettle drums than you could shake a passel of sticks at, there were a lot of big moments to punch up. Mahler’s swaggering masterwork, which premiered in 1895, is among other things a grand mythical and actual counterpoint of violently competing forces, and it was his genius (a genius that the Oregon Symphony’s leader and musicians convincingly conveyed) to somehow bring those competing forces into a united and coherent whole. The whole thing reminded me at times of our current deep cultural/political divide, which threatens never to reunite, and got me to wondering, half-idly: Might Mahler be available for office in 2020?

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Who’s afraid of a casting switch?

Portlander Michael Streeter thought he was going to produce "Virginia Woolf." Edward Albee's Trust said no. Why? Because Streeter had cast a black actor.

Producer Michael Streeter had been planning since November 2016 for his production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, intended to appear at Portland’s Shoebox Theatre in September. There was only one hurdle to clear before officially being granted the rights to perform the play, which he had on hold with theatrical publishers Samuel French: he sent headshots of the cast off to the Albee Estate for approval.

The cast of Woolf consists of four characters: a middle-aged married couple (George and Martha, famously played by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1966 film), and a younger married couple (Nick and Honey). On May 15, Streeter got a call from the Albee Estate asking for him to elaborate on his choice of actor for the role of Nick. Streeter had cast a black actor, and was happy to explain why.

As he said to me by email, “This was a color conscious choice, not a colorblind choice. I believe casting Nick as black adds depth to the play. The character is an up and comer. He is ambitious and tolerates a lot of abuse in order to get ahead. I see this as emblematic of African Americans in 1962, the time the play was written. The play is filled with invective from Martha and particularly George towards Nick. With each insult that happens in the play, the audience will wonder, ‘Are George and Martha going to go there re. racial slurs?’”


Playwright Edward Albee, in an undated photo. UH Photographs Collection, 1948-2000/Wikimedia Commons

The Albee Estate was not convinced. They insisted that the actor be fired and the role be recast. Streeter refused. So the estate refused to grant the rights to the show. Streeter, shocked, took to Facebook: “I am furious and dumbfounded. The Edward Albee Estate needs to join the 21st Century. I cast a black actor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The Albee Estate called and said I need to fire the black actor and replace him with a white one. I refused, of course. They have withdrawn the rights.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Really big show

Going big: Perséphone with puppets, an American in Paris, Mahler's grand sweep, the sounds of Cuba and Lou Harrison

At the Portland Showtime Bistro, audiences like things well-done, but often served small to medium. We enjoy our intimacy, from compact ensembles like Portland Baroque Orchestra and FearNoMusic to closeup theater spaces like CoHo, the Back Door, the Ellyn Bye Studio, Shoebox, and Shaking the Tree. Summer’s coming, and with it, once again, that sprawling celebration of good things in small packages, the Chamber Music Northwest summer festival (with a welcome emphasis this year on women composers).

But sometimes you want the whole darned smorgasbord, and only big will do. Portland can provide that, too, and lately it’s been doing so … well, big-time.

Big night on the town: Portland Opera’s “La Bohème.” Photo: Cory Weaver.

Portland Opera’s just completed its grand-scale production of Puccini’s overflowing romantic potboiler La Bohème (Terry Ross reviewed it for ArtsWatch here) and is saddling up for a June musical-theater adventure in giant-windmill territory with Man of La Mancha (featuring Grimm star Reggie Lee as one of the best sidekicks in history, Sancho Panza).

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Great Graham

Revisiting Martha Graham's potent power of the past; a Wanderlust Mother's Day; Michael Curry's "Perséphone" with the Symphony; Brett Campbell's music picks

Martha Graham created her legendary American modern dance company in 1926, and it’s difficult to imagine, more than 90 years later, just how earth-shattering her early works must have seemed. Graham carved legends out of time and space: intense, pristine, pared to the bone. She created a hyper-expressionist, essentially American style of dance, built on the works of Denishawn and other pioneers but reimagined in the movement possibilities and theatrical impulses of her own body.

She collaborated with many of the great composers and visual artists of her time, which was long and artistically fertile: born in 1894, she created her final dance in 1990, the year before she died at age 96. Her bold, emphatic approach to dance can seem overstated to contemporary audiences. Yet it carries the intensity and hyper-expressionism of the great silent movies, and if you just give it a chance, something of the pure rawness of her glory years comes through, as if it were new all over again.

Martha Graham in “Dark Meadow,” 1946. Reproduced with permission of Martha Graham Resources, a division of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, www.marthagraham.org. Library of Congress.

No company built by a daringly original dancemaker – not Graham’s, or Balanchine’s, or Alvin Ailey’s, or José Limón’s – can survive on memories of its founder alone, and it can be a tricky business to balance the tradition of what was once radical with the need to remain in the contemporary swim of things. The Graham company, under current artistic director Janet Eilber, mixes things up boldly. When the company performs Wednesday evening in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of the White Bird dance season the program will include works by a couple of high-profile contemporary dancemakers: the Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, who now runs the Berlin State Ballet, and the Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. But the core of the program will be two of Graham’s own works, 1948’s Diversion of Angels and Dark Meadow Suite, a distillation of an ambitious 1946 work that ran 50 minutes in its original form (the suite is much shorter).

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ArtsWatch Weekly: bohemians & other artists

"La Bohème" at the opera, George Johanson & other gallery shows, Brett Campbell's music picks, Miss Julie and Satchmo onstage

Here they come again, those tragic bohemians. Rodolfo with his poems. Marcello with his paintings. Musetta with her songs. Mimi with her consumption. All of them as poor as church mice. Fortunately they can also sing like angels, or like the devil himself, who seems to have it in for them. It’s been eight years since Portland Opera last produced La Bohème, Puccini’s 1896 grand musical potboiler (Toscanini conducted the world premiere in Turin), which is one of opera’s greatest weepers and most enduring hits. Now Portland Opera’s brought it back again, beginning on Friday at Keller Auditorium and continuing for three more performances through May 13. It’ll feature Vanessa Isiguen as poor doomed Mimi, and the young Italian tenor Giordano Lucá, in his American debut, as Rodolfo. Let the singing, and the dying, begin.

Vanessa Issiguen, Mimi in Portland Opera’s “La Boheme,” performing in the opera’s Big Night special in April. Photo: Cory Weaver

 


 

THE MAY FIRST THURSDAY ART GALLERY OPENINGS are this week, and one of the shows we’re looking forward to is at Augen, where George Johanson has an exhibition of recent paintings going up. If we gave artists the sort of titles we used to hand out, Johanson would be a Portland Old Master: Born in Seattle in 1928, he came to Portland in 1946 to attend the old Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art), and with some breaks in New York, London, and Mexico he’s mostly been here ever since.

George Johanson, “Studio with Bunce Mask,” 2016, acrylic and oil on canvas , 40 x 60 inches.

Adept as a printmaker and a painter, he’s chronicled pretty much everything from the city’s rivers to its music to his own studio to other artists (in his 2002 book of quick portraits Equivalents: Portraits of 80 Oregon Artists) to Mt. St. Helens blowing its stack, often with a rabbit or a cat streaking across the image. As he approaches 90 he seems as active and creative as ever. His show opens Thursday and he’ll speak at the gallery at noon Saturday, May 13.

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Among the many openings and continuing gallery shows, a few other likely bets:

Yoonhee Choi and Roya Motamedi at Blackfish. Choi’s installation Sift uses bright colors and recycled plastic cups, straight pins, and the like to contemplate consumption and detritus. Motamedi’s Aptitude of Kindness includes collages of fabric and birch on paper.

James Allen’s Northwest Bound at Russo Lee. Allen “excavates” books in search of history and image – in this show, including a large altered set of bound newspapers from the old Oregon Journal in May 1914. Also: Michelle Ramin’s takes on tourists exploring architectural ruins; Amory Abbott’s charcoal drawings.

Mar Goman and Dayna J Collins at Guardino. Goman’s highly crafted, outsidery images (she calls it “curious art”) have a folk art feel and are made from just about anything she can get her hands on. Collins paints abstract images emerging from the waterlines of rivers and ocean.

Alex Lilly’s Razor Blade Rain at Michael Parsons Fine Art. May Day turned into a pitched battle in downtown Portland, and that’s an extension of what Lilly’s vivid and disturbing paintings are about. This new show is based on drawings and photographs he made while watching earlier Portland protests.

Margaret Lindburg’s Resolution at Karin Clarke Gallery. The veteran Salem artist has a new show of paintings at Clarke’s gallery in Eugene, and Randi Bjornstad has this interesting profile of Lindburg in Eugene Review.

Alex Lilly, “Riot Cops – 3rd and SW Madison,” 2017, oil on composite block, 6 x 6 inches, Michael Parsons Fine Art.

 


 

BRETT CAMPBELL’S MUSIC PICKS OF THE WEEK:

 

The four-time Grammy-winning ensemble, one of the top performers of contemporary American classical music, joins the quirky indie folk singer/songwriter (real name Will Oldham) in his own songs, plus Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang’s learn to fly and Frederic Rzewski’s fierce 1971 American classic Coming Together, which sets a heart-rending text by an inmate killed in the Attica prison uprising. The centerpiece, Murder Ballades, is a fascinating mashup of ancient English/Appalachian folk tunes like “Pretty Polly” along with original music inspired by them, all put together by Bryce Dessner, best known to rock music fans as the guitarist in The National but recently emerging as a formidable contemporary classical composer with music for Kronos Quartet and others. Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Why, when performers today sing the so-called “American Songbook,” do they seem to stop in about the late 1950s — just as they did when those numbers were actually new? It’s not like they stopped making musicals then. Eugene singer and a cappella music titan Evynne Hollens’s project has been bringing the hits from today’s musical theater — including the hottest new Broadways shows like Hamilton, Waitress, Kinky Boots, School of Rock, and more – to the Shedd and beyond for three years. Performers include professionals from LA & Portland as well as Eugene talent, including a multi-racial chorus of local UO & high school students. Thursday, The Shedd, Eugene.
A multiple winner of all the jazz awards on her instrument, the Israeli clarinetist fell so hard for Brazil and its music that she learned Portuguese, formed her own band with Brazilian musicians, and made several albums of both traditional and original music in Brazilian styles. Stay tuned for Angela Allen’s preview of this PDXJazz show. Thursday, The Old Church.
Maybe the leading classic jazz pianist brings back his wonderful trio with Kenny Washington and Peter Washington celebrating their 20th anniversary. Charlap has worked with Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett and so many more of jazz and pop’s finest. “The Bill Charlap Trio is a chamber group of a quality customarily found only in equally long-lived classical ensembles,” wrote eminent jazz journalist Doug Ramsey upon their last appearance in Portland. “In their years together, pianist Charlap, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington have achieved singleness of purpose and unity of thought to a degree rare in any musical idiom.”
Friday, The Shedd, Eugene.
The acclaimed Vancouver, B.C.-based men’s choir, now led by Portland’s own Erick Lichte (a co-founder of the terrific American choir Cantus), sings a Baltic-oriented program of some of the hottest choral composers from one of the coldest areas on earth, including Estonian composer Veljo Tormis, Finland’s Jaako Mantyjarvi, Latvia’s Eriks Esenvalds, and American and Canadian composers, including Leonard Cohen. Read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch previewFriday, First United Methodist Church, 1838 S.W. Jefferson St.
For its 10th anniversary concert, the superb women’s vocal ensemble briefly welcomes back co-founder Tuesday Rupp, but also looks forward by commissioning world premiere performances of new music by Oregon composers John Vergin, Andrea Reinkemeyer and Robert Lockwood, to go with 20th and 21st century music by Kay Rhie, Ivan Moody, and Gustav Holst, plus a Renaissance classic by Perotin.
Friday, St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1716 N.W. Davis, Portland and Sunday, Proto-Cathedral of St. James, 218 W 12th Street, Vancouver.

Everybody knows The Four Seasons, but Italy’s greatest Baroque composer, Antonio Vivaldi, wrote literally hundreds more concertos than just that quartet of them for violin, and so did his Italian contemporaries. Violin virtuosa Monica Huggett leads her band in Vivaldi concertos for lute, bassoon, and more, along with concerti by Pergolesi (best known for his Stabat Mater) and Giovanni Mossi.
Portland Baroque Orchestra, Friday & Saturday, First Baptist Church, and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College.
New York composer Debra Kaye’s Ikarus Among the Stars was commissioned in memory of former PYP musician Benjamin Yaphet Klatchko by PYP and his parents. Based on Klatchko’s own melodies, Kaye’s 16-minute electro-acoustic composition takes its shape from the Ikarus and Daedalus myth about the boy who flew too close to the sun and plunged to his death in the sea. In this world premiere, clips of Klatchko’s music are woven into the finished composition, with the orchestra sometimes imitating, sometimes accompanying, and at one point resting while a recording of him singing alone plays. The concert also features Dvorak’s popular Symphony No. 8 and the excellent youth orchestra’s concerto competition winner, Annie Zhang, performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway.
The Portland new music ensemble’s Young Composers Project, which connects budding composers ages 10-18 with professional musicians to play their music, is one of Oregon’s most valuable musical education ventures. The only program of its kind in the country brings students from all over the United States to work with director Jeff Payne and five professional musicians in a yearlong series of workshops. Over the course of nine months, the young composers complete a piece for the ensemble which includes clarinet, violin, cello, percussion and piano. You might be surprised at how accomplished and appealing many of them can sound. Sunday, Eliot Chapel at Reed College.

 

CURTAINS UP: NEW ONSTAGE

Satchmo at the Waldorf. Salim Sanchez stars as the great Louis Armstrong in the Oregon premiere of Terry Teachout’s drama. Opens Thursday, through May 27 at Triangle Productions.

Miss Julie. Samantha Van Der Merwe directs Craig Lucas’s adaptation of Strindberg’s taut and explosive drama at Shaking the Tree, with Beth Thompson as Julie, Matthew Kerrigan as Jean, and Kelly Godell as Kristine. Friday through June 3.

Pinkalicious. Oregon Children’s Theatre brings back its musical hit about a girl who seems to have eaten too many pink cupcakes. Well, haven’t we all? Saturday through June 4, Newmark Theatre.

The Martha Graham Company. The modern exemplars of the legendary American modernist choreographer come to Schnitzer Hall next Tuesday, May 10, in the White Bird series.

“Miss Julie” in rehearsal at Shaking the Tree. Photo: Megan Nanna

 

 


 

ArtsWatch links

 

Gerald Clayton, family man. Angela Allen talks with jazz pianist Clayton, who plays The Old Church on Wednesday, and is carving his own place among a family of jazz bluebloods.

Mary’s Wedding: a retro refuge. A.L. Adams reviews this Canadian romance, a “refuge from the tempests of modern complication,” at Portland Center Stage.

Fire and Ice: accessible adventure. Brett Campbell talks with three woman composers (Stacy Philipps, Jennifer Wright, Lisa Ann Marsh) who are shaking up Portland’s music scene. “We’re all up for anything,” Wright says. “We found each other because we wanted to do things that don’t look like the traditional thing.”

Medea brings new meaning to catharsis. A.L.Adams reviews Imago Theatre’s fresh take on the ancient Greek classic, whose precarious balances are measured on a constantly tilting stage.

Cascadia Composers: lights, poetry, music. Composer Matthew Andrews takes readers inside the works of some recent contemporary concerts.

Talented. But are they universal? Hailey Bachrach reviews the world premiere of Yussef El Guindi’s The Talented Ones at Artists Repertory Theatre.

Pop goes the Oregon Symphony. Claire Sykes looks at all that “other” programming on the symphony season. Pops concerts? They’re not Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops anymore.

It’s another busy week on Portland stages, so let’s just jump into the thicket:

Oye Oyá at Milagro. With a book by Rebecca Martinez based on a treatment by Rodolfo Ortega, who also wrote the music and lyrics, the world premiere of Milagro’s new Spanish-language musical play has good bloodlines. Estafanía Fadul directs this tale about a boat, a storm, and the beaches of Cuba, based loosely on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Thursday through May 27.

“Oye Oyá” at Milagro: a world premiere. Photo: Russell J Young

Contact Dance Film Festival. The Northwest Film Center and BodyVox collaborate on this cinematic exploration of the world of dance, with screenings at both locations. Thursday-Saturday.

The Talented Ones at Artists Rep. The world premiere of a dark comedy by Yussef El Guindi, whose last show in town, Portland Center Stage’s co-premiere of Threesome, went on to a successful Off-Broadway run. Saturday through May 21.

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The Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project: Examining the culture

The Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission have founded a new website that focuses on art in the state

At this moment, any effort to preserve our shared culture is a noteworthy event. This is especially true of the arts parts of the culture. As Oregon Arts Commission’s Meagan Atiyeh noted at a symposium that introduced one such effort, the Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project, the state’s media has abandoned its commitment to full-time critics writing about the arts. And that means that both contemporary conversations about the arts and future investigation of our culture are/will be limited. What happens to a culture that doesn’t understand its past or its present? We are perilously close to finding out.

Backed by the considerable resources of The Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission—more than $50,000 since early 2014, according to Atiyeh, not including lots of staff time—the project intends to be an informal archive and an online magazine that takes the measure of the visual arts in the state. “The partners’ shared wish is to create an accessible, permanent, virtual collection documenting Oregon’s visual arts landscape,” the mission statement says, “and, to continue the metaphor, the interconnected realms of artist, institution, patron, curator, arts writer… which become that ecology.”

Ryan Pierce, From the Pockets of the Wanderer, 2014. Flashe on canvas over panel. Courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland

According to Atiyeh (in an email interview), the website hopes to reach a broad public. “We designed a site that I hope can be rewarding for a highly invested artist or a curator who is looking for research materials and also a casual arts viewer in Oregon (or any spot on the globe, honestly).”

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