Chamber Music Northwest review: Category-busting Collaboration

Musicians Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall and George Meyer lit up the string-fired pyrotechnics in Chamber Music Northwest’s “In Motion” performance.

by ANGELA ALLEN

If any dance company avoids the obvious, it’s Portland’s 17-year-old imaginative and ultra-flexible BodyVox, which cannot be wedged into any genre or box, no matter how big and bendable the container. Ballet? Modern? Jazz? Full-stage projected videos? Computer graphics as backdrops? Opera collaborators? Wacky. Whimsical. The innovative company’s technically solid members make just about any move in a mix of styles, and make you laugh at their clever movement as they unfold, unlock and untangle. In what has evolved into a Portland starry summer tradition and star-spangled collaboration, BodyVox paired up with Chamber Music Northwest over the Fourth of July weekend.

Edgar Meyer, George Meyer, and Mike Marshall performed at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Edgar Meyer, George Meyer, and Mike Marshall performed at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

 

CMNW’s headliner, double bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer, also remains un-boxable. If there’s one category to squeeze him into, it might be that mostly wild indefinable mix of Americana. But Meyer’s range is huge: bluegrass with Bela Fleck, Bulgarian folk dances, toe-tapping duets, Appalachian tunes with Yo-Yo Ma, Bach, of course, and his own work, of which several pieces were performed for this collaboration. Meyer occasionally accompanies James Taylor, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris and Garth Brooks – and teaches at London’s Royal Academy of Music and the Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Also, he plays the piano.

Completing the circle of this collaboration, Curtis is the Dover Quartet members’ alma mater, where cellist Peter Wiley mentored the group. The quartet and Wiley accompanied dancers in the first part of the performance. Joining Meyer were worldwide mandolin maestro Mike Marshall, who plays with astonishingly fast fingers the entire family of mandolins, including the mandola (and the guitar) and Edgar Meyer’s talented, suited-up Harvard-student son, George, on violin, viola and mandolin.

The best of the show was “Leave the Light On,” a long piece choreographed by BodyVox directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland. It was broken into several parts signaled by Meyer’s compositions: “Short Trip Home,” “Dance Music” (co-composed by Marshall and George Meyer), “Sliding Down,” “Indecision” and “1B,” each arranged for the three musicians’ array of stringed instruments. Dancers flew on and off the stage wearing unmatched, slightly disarrayed half-tutus (guys in white shirts), making jokes on traditional ballet positions and lifts, sweeping one another up in gender-blendering, breaking all the rules. The background blipped with childlike computer-driven graphics and words (including a glowing porch light, blinking bugs, word-drops of rain). Leaning into his bass with an easy-going but sure-footed possessiveness, shirt sleeves rolled up, Meyer led the musicians’ combination of first-class skill and playfulness that matched BodyVox’s.

he performance’s first part featured a mix of pieces shared by BodyVox dancers and the fast-rising, tautly playing Dover Quartet musicians (violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, cellist Camden Shaw, and violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt).

Cellist Peter Wiley opened the show with  J.S. Bach’s melancholy Prelude from Suite No. 2 in D Minor, accompanied by his dancing daughter, Dona Wiley, a member of New York-based CelloPointe. Their lonely, tender duet was a far distance in mood from the concluding exuberance of “Leave the Light On.”

Meyer and Marshall also played July 3 at CMNW’s sold-out performance at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium. As Edgar Meyer, a 2002 MacArthur award-winner, expressed in several different ways throughout the show – a performance that could have easily been staged at the Aladdin Theater or the Schnitz for its wide entertainment appeal— “tonight is about more playing and less talking.”

They concentrated on blending alarmingly well on numerous instruments, sometimes sounding like an entire string section. The musicians engage – tipping on their toes, reaching into one another’s harmonic and physical space – in intimate heartbeat-rousing musical conversations that cross age and genre barriers.  Many of the pieces were, as Meyer quipped, “mercifully untitled. We specialize in not naming songs.” No names, no boxes: these Chamber Music Northwest collaborations defy category.

Second and third shows are 8 p.m. July 5 and 4 p.m. July 6 at PSU’s Lincoln Hall. For information and tickets call 503-294-6400 or email: tickets@cmnw.org.

Angela Allen, a Portland writer, covers jazz, opera and other arts. This spring she taught creative writing at Rosa Parks Elementary in north Portland. In August, she’ll receive her Master of Fine Arts in Poetry/Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop.    

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