MusicWatch Weekly: American holidays

Along with abundant traditional European Christmas music, Oregon concerts offer American angles on holiday music, music mixed with theater, film, dance, and more

Millions of Americans celebrate Christmas, but let’s face it, the Yuletide is hardly an American original. Sometimes it seems that about all we’ve contributed to a story that began in the Middle East and was St. Nicked by Europeans, is our characteristic commercialization of what was once a spiritual occasion.

Actually, Americans have over the years made the mid-winter holiday — like so many other cultural artifacts that originated elsewhere — our own through music, and you can hear some of it on Oregon stages this week.

• Based on the memoir by iconic Portland stripper / author Viva Las Vegas, Viva’s Holiday scored a surprisingly young and diverse audience in its 2015 and 2016 performances. Set in her family’s Minnesota home during a Christmas visit, Portland composer Christopher Corbell’s intimate, one-act Christmas opera recounts Viva’s declaration of independence from family expectations, socially approved careers, and occasionally clothing — a perfect Portland-style twist on standard holiday themes. Already revived once, Corbell’s lyrical music, which embraces both classical traditions and his own singer-songwriter background, has now received a splendid recording by a twelve-piece orchestra and four opera singers conducted by former Opera Theater Oregon artistic director Erica Melton. This Cult of Orpheus concert (i.e. unstaged) performance includes all the music, minus costumes, sets and stage action, plus a set by Portland’s early French sex music trio Bergerette (which has a close connection to Viva), plus a chance to buy the newly released CD. Let’s hope Santa brings a full re-staging during a future holiday season. Read ArtsWatch’s review and feature story about the original production.
Saturday, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland.

• Violin deity Mark O’Connor, who’s developed an entire music ed curriculum that introduces American kids to music using our own folk traditions rather than centuries-old European pedagogy. Possibly the world’s greatest fiddler, the Seattle-born star brings the sound of his popular “Appalachia Waltz” combo to holiday music when his crack band and singer Brandy Clark perform the music from his hit 2011 album An Appalachian Christmas this week in Portland and Eugene. The Grammy-winning fiddle virtuoso (who’s also won major awards for his guitar and mandolin skill) composer (nine concertos, two symphonies, three string quartets and counting), studio musician, and educator may have worked with some of the world’s most renowned musicians, from Yo Yo Ma to Earl Scruggs to Wynton Marsalis, but he really enjoys playing with his family and friends. What better time to do that during the holidays? His O’Connor Band features his wife and fellow fiddler/ singer Peggy, champion mandolinist son Forrest, national flatpack champ guitarist Joe Smart, banjoist/bassist Geoff Saunders giving carols and other holiday standards given a warm, all American bluegrass/folk inflection.
Wednesday, McDonald Theatre, Eugene, and Friday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Mark O’Connor Family Band performs “An Appalachian Christmas” Wednesday in Eugene and Friday in Portland. Photo: All Classical Portland

Music & Theater & More

Along with Viva’s Holiday and Portland annual Christmas Revels, which is more theatrical than musical though worth seeing on both counts, on Sunday, Eugene Concert Choir presents its fully staged musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. A Dickens of a Christmas includes plenty of seasonally appropriate sounds that you nevertheless don’t hear ad nauseam in stores and commercials everywhere this time of year. ECC artistic director Diane Retallack has placed the ghost of Christmas Past’s setting in a Renaissance Feast, with appropriate madrigals and carols performed by the costumed “Lords and Ladies” of Eugene Vocal Arts in Elizabethan attire and accompanied by Byrdsong Consort. The ghost of Christmas Present inhabits Dickens’s mid-19th century Britain, with English carols and other music of the period, including Arthur Sullivan’s (of Gilbert &) Handelian Festival Te Deum, accompanied by Eugene Concert Orchestra. The ghost of Christmas Future appears in a “raucous, kitschy look at contemporary culture” with flash mob, break dancing, circusy acrobatics, an Elvis impersonator, and Churchill High School’s Concert Choir. This colorful experience is more than just a concert, featuring costumes, sets, theatrical lighting and sound, action, pageantry, choreography and of course Dickens’s immortal story of Scrooge and the rest.

Eugene Vocal Arts members don Renaissance garb at Eugene Concert Choir’s ‘A Dickens of a Christmas.’

And don’t forget about this weekend’s concluding concerts in a couple other music-meets-theater runs we’ve told you about in earlier MusicWatches:

• Portland Opera to Go’s kid-friendly, bilingual production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, at Portland’s Hampton Opera Center, 211 SE Caruthers Street, and

 The Shedd’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, at Eugene’s Jaqua Concert Hall, 285 E Broadway.

Cirque de la Symphonie joins Oregon Symphony Thursday.

• Oregon Symphony’s Cirque de la Symphonie show pairs the big band with high-flying circus performers.
Thursday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

• At this point, only tickets for Saturday afternoon’s performance of the Oregon Symphony’s Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas in Concert. It’s one of the most magical movies ever made, and hearing Danny Elfman’s spectacular soundtrack performed live by one of America’s great orchestras would make a fab holiday present … to yourself!
Saturday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

• Still another holiday musical hybrid: Portland world chamber ensemble 3 Leg Torso’s collaboration with venerable Portland dance company DoJump’s acrobats, with various special musical guests.
Friday-Sunday, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland.

One more chance to catch the Oregon Symphony, with help from the Oregon Chorale, before the holidays: Comfort and Joy: A Classical Christmas includes holiday classics, a  sing-along, and seasonal favorites including music from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Handel’s Messiah, and more.
Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Choral

• If you missed Portland Baroque Orchestra’s annual Messiah last week — or even if you didn’t — you can still handle more Handel holiday oratorio music when Portland Chamber Orchestra, Portland Phoenix Chamber Choir, and vocal soloists including the excellent Hannah Penn perform grand music from Messiah and Judas Maccabaeus.
Friday, First Baptist Church, Portland, Saturday, St. Matthew Catholic Church, Hillsboro, and Sunday, All Saints Catholic Church, Portland.

And you can hear PBO again Friday and Saturday with Trinity Cathedral Choir and another quartet of vocal soloists including soprano Arwen Myers, all led by Matthew Dirst, artistic director of acclaimed early music ensemble Ars Lyrica Houston, in a complete performance of J.S. Bach’s mighty Christmas Oratorio, which is kind of a compilation of some of the master’s finest sacred music. Also: wassail.
Friday (first three cantatas) and Saturday (parts 4-6), Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland.

Portland Baroque Orchestra and Trinity Episcopal Choir join forces in JS Bach’s ‘Christmas Oratorio.’

Another venerable Oregon holiday tradition, the Festival of Lights at Portland’s Grotto, includes dozens of area choirs and other performers, including, on Monday, Portland Gay Men’s Chorus.

Live & Streamed

Palatine Trio (Susan DeWitt Smith, Nancy Ives, Inés Voglar-Belgique) plays trios by Gabriela Lena Frank, Jennifer Higdon, Shulamit Ran and Robert Schumann. Friday at 7:30pm (PST).
Tickets here and stream here.

Finally, speaking of singing, All Classical Portland is holding a family friendly Holiday Open House and Singalong Holiday Open House and Singalong, with sing-along carols led by popular pianist David Saffert and performances by Susannah Mars, Adam Eccleston, and Thomas Cilluffo, plus staff-led tours every half hour, and sweet treats.
Sunday, All Classical Portland, 211 SE Caruthers St. Portland.

So much more music going on in Oregon this week. Please tell our readers all about it in the comments below.

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