MusicWatch Weekly: classics meet currents

Oregon Symphony, Project Trio and others mix modern sounds with venerated classics

Oregon music gradually awakens from its holiday hangover, er, hibernation this week, serving up a few appetizers to whet your appetite for the ample main courses to follow in coming weeks. Feel free to recommend other music performances in the comments section below.

A couple of major Portland symphonic spectaculars kick off 2018, starting with the Oregon Symphony’s Brahms v. Radiohead show Thursday, January 4 at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Composer/conductor Steve Hackman has recently contrived a series of fascinating fusions pairing a classical masterpiece with a contemporary pop music classic. He weaves orchestral arrangements of contemporary songs into full performances of symphonic works so that both inhabit the classical masterpiece’s sound world. In this performance, the Oregon Symphony plays Brahms’s complete 1876 first symphony and orchestral versions (plus a trio of singers) of songs from Radiohead’s classic 1997 album OK Computer. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch preview. Note: neither Brahms nor Radiohead actually appear.

Project Trio, the charismatic Brooklyn based cello, bass and beatbox flute threesome, has electrified audiences in past Portland performances (not to mention 80 million YouTube viewers) with their energetic blend of audience friendly European classics, covers of rock, hip hop and jazz, and compositions by all three members. Thursday’s show at Astoria’s Liberty Theatre features music by Bach (the famous flute arrangement by Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson), Charlie Parker, Prokofiev’s Peter & the Wolf, Brahms and more, including their own compositions. On Sunday’s Friends of Chamber Music concert at Portland’s Newmark Theatre, they join members of Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony for orchestral and chamber music, including most of the above music plus works by Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and their own originals.

Friends of Chamber Music brought PROJECT Trio to Portland’s Old Church in 2014. They’re performing this week with Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony. Photo: John Green.

Speaking of contemporary sounds, Monday’s Fear No Music concert at Portland’s Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Avenue, features “Locally Sourced Sounds IV,” the Portland new music ensemble’s annual showcase of contemporary music by Oregon composers. Instead of focusing exclusively on veteran Portland composers, this edition includes new contemporary classical music by a Portland State student, a Grant High student (and participant in FNM’s valuable Young Composers Project), a Portland composer better known as a radio announcer (All Classical’s Robert McBride), and a Corvallis composer/violinist, Jayanthi Joseph. The show does boast a new work by one of the city’s most vital experienced composers, Lewis & Clark College’s Michael Johanson.

Still craving a little more Christmas music? Sunday afternoon’s annual Twelfth Night Celebration at Eugene’s First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive Street, features one of Oregon’s finest jazz musicians, saxophonist Joe Manis, joining the church’s Handbell Choirs in music for Christmastide, Winter Solstice, and Epiphany. And those wild orthodox Greeks also keep the party going the whole 12 days, so on Saturday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, Cappella Romana sings medieval and contemporary Greek Orthodox chant and other church music of the season. The Portland choir numbers some of the world’s finest singers in the Byzantine tradition, which has continued into the 21st century. The show features some of the earliest Orthodox music and some of the most recent, by contemporary composers including Ivan Moody, John Tavener, Tikey Zes and more.

Mary Flower, Rae Gordon, and Jarrell Hosley perform rounds of intercultural gospel and soul music, interpolating spoken word performance by poet Brianna Grisby and visual art by Ta Zah’ Tuesday when Portland Abbey Arts hosts The Round at North Portland’s The Fixin’ To.

And for those of you thoroughly surfeited with the annual onslaught of seasonal sounds, here’s your official Hater’s Guide to Christmas Music. Sample analysis, for “I Saw Three Ships”:

Bethlehem is 2,500ft above sea level and 20 miles from any large body of water. You didn’t see three ships. You’re up a mountain. This is the kind of bullshit whitewashing that occurs when Europeans (from the similarly landlocked county of Derbyshire, in this instance) appropriate a Middle-Eastern religion and twist its symbols and mythology in support of an authoritarian system of imperialist government with little regard for basic geography.

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