And then came the bass.
On a balmy Wednesday early afternoon in the surprisingly comfortable parking lot of a Lake Oswego music store, Classical Up Close embarked on a deep-toned musical adventure. “The bass is sort of front and center for a lot of it,” Colin Corner, a Classical Up Close regular and principal bassist of the Oregon Symphony, said shortly after the show. That was pretty much how he planned things for this second concert in Classical Up Close’s summer festival of free outdoor concerts, which began June 1 and continues through June 14.
After a sweltering beginning for the festival on Tuesday, when the temperature spiked into the high 90s, things eased off a little on Tuesday, and musicians and audience alike took advantage of it. There was dancing in the parking lot, mostly by people with very young feet, and a lively, rumbling swing from the makeshift stage. And the blend of instruments – violin, viola, cello, bass, flute – was a little different from your ordinary chamber quartet stuff.
Joining Corner in the program’s four pieces of bass-centric composition were violinist Inés Voglar Belguique, violist Hillary Oseas, cellist Trevor Fitzpatrick, and flautist Martha Long. Classical Up Close (or CLUC, for short) is an independent nonprofit group made up mostly but not entirely of musicians from the Oregon Symphony Orchestra: violist Oseas, for instance, is principal violist for the Portland Opera Orchestra. CLUC’s musicians are interested in taking music out of the concert halls and into workplaces and neighborhoods – places where people can listen to small-scale, intimate performances in a low-key, relaxed atmosphere.
Corner organized the concert of what he calls “bass-centric chamber music” himself. That meant choosing the pieces, bringing the players together, arranging rehearsal times and spaces (he booked space in the American Federation of Musicians Union Local 99’s rehearsal hall, which had been shut down for months but reopened, with improved ventilation, in the spring) and finding a place to perform the concert. “It was kind of a new experience for me, in a lot of ways,” he said. “I kinda had to scramble to find a space.” One possibility was the yard at a friend’s house in Beaverton. But there were already CLUC concerts set up in Beaverton, and Classical Up Close likes to spread its shows around the metro area. So Corner posted a notice online on Nextdoor, and that’s how the concert got to Lake Oswego. “The owner of Lake Music said, ‘Yeah, sure, you can do it in my parking lot.’” It worked out really well.
A smaller-scale plan for this concert was delayed a year when the pandemic shut down a lot of activities. “I had this piece I wanted to do, Hoffmeister’s Solo Bass Quartet No. 4,” he said, as one of Classical Up Close’s “blitz” concerts – short, quick-hitting shows at out-of-ordinary spots for concerts but familiar everyday places in “ordinary” life: Corner had a bakery all picked out. Then the world shut down, including the blitzes, and after a year a bigger plan emerged for a full-blown summer festival show: Sarah Kwak, Classical Up Close’s executive director and the concertmaster for the Oregon Symphony, “pulled me aside and said, ‘You know, you can just do the whole program.’”
That ended up including the Hoffmeister, a pair of duos for violin or violin/viola by Corner’s bassist colleague Tom Knific, and Erwin Schulhoff’s Concertina for Flute, Viola and Contrabass. Knific’s Zhang Song, Corner writes in his program notes, “is dedicated to the family of DaXun Zhang, who is an incredibly accomplished bassist and professor at Juilliard in Tianjin. He and I went to school together, and he is one of my oldest and best friends in the world, so I have a deep personal connection to this piece. Tom’s Duo for Violin/Viola and Bass was written for Thomas Martin, who was principal bass of the London Symphony. The composer went to visit him, and describes the feeling of nostalgia in the quaint town, Henley-On-Thames, in which Martin lives, in the first movement. The second movement, “The Event,” describes an equestrian outing they attended, as Thomas Martin is a horse owner.”
The program closed with Schulhoff’s concertino, which the Czech-born composer wrote in just four days in 1925. “The Schulhoff has become a staple of bass repertoire,” Corner said. “There’s a lot of really cool stuff for the bass to play.” For the other end of the spectrum, too: The quartet includes a flautist, in this case Martha Long, who sometimes moves up the scale to piccolo, creating a bottom-to-top sound. The piece represents a move into modernism: Music writer John Mangum notes that, after World War I, Schulhoff moved to Dresden, “broke with the late Romanticism espoused by his conservatory teachers,” began to create “expressionist, atonal” music, and joined the company of forward-thinking artists including the painter George Grosz (with whom he listened to American jazz records) and Otto Dix. “Following his return to Prague in 1923,” Mangum writes, “Schulhoff began to compose works synthesizing all of these influences – Czech music, Russian and eastern music, late Romanticism, expressionism, and jazz – into a compelling, personal style.” Or, as Corner puts it: “It is so much fun to play, and the mix of voices between the flute, often doubling on piccolo, viola, and bass really go well together.”
Well enough, on a sunny late spring day, to get you dancing in a parking lot.
Classical Up Close Summer Festival 2021
The intimate concert series continues through June 14. You can see this year’s full Classical Up Close Festival schedule here. Coming up next:
- Thursday, June 3, 5-6 p.m.: 1805 N.E. 56th Ave., Portland. Violinists Erin Furbee and Peter Frajola, and trombonist Robert Taylor, play tango music.
- Friday, June 4, 5-6 p.m.: 16306 Hilltop Road, Oregon City. Sarah Kwak, Chien Tan, Searmi Park, Ruby Chen, violin; Charles Noble, Vali Phillips, Kelly Talim, Leah Ilem, viola; Marilyn de Oliveira, Trevor Fitzpatrick, Antoinette Gan, cello; and Andy Akiho, percussion, play sextets by sextets by Brahms and Strauss, and four contemporary pieces by percussionist Akiho. Limited parking; carpooling suggested.
- Classical Up Close: sweet & live. The kickoff concert on Tuesday, June 1: violinists Greg Ewer and Adam LaMotte get things up and going.