MusicWatch Weekly: dead of winter

A new year brings a week of concerts mostly featuring old music — with a few strong exceptions

If you’re looking for new music in the new year, pickings are slim, but a few shows provide some 21st century sounds.

• The Creative Music Guild’s Extradition Series explores the connections between today’s sounds and mid-century 20th modern classical music, especially venerated figures like Pauline Oliveros and the so-called New York School of 1950s and ‘60s composers led by John Cage. Flutist John C. Savage and pianist Matt Carlson get to choose exactly when to play the notes in Cage’s Two. The contemporary pieces on the program also embrace Cage’s aleatoric aesthetic. Mark Hannesson’s A Moment Is a Window gives Savage, guitarists Brandon Conway and Mike Gamble, clarinetists Lee Elderton and Jonathan Sielaff, and oboist Catherine Lee discretion as to when to enter, how long to play, and even whether or not to play any given note. Instead of dictating actual notes, Morgan Evans-Weiler’s one-page score for Constructed Objects consists of words explaining how Elderton, Sielaff, cellist Collin Oldham, percussionist Loren Chasse and electronic musicians Derek Ecklund, Branic Howard, and Juniana Lanning approach their respective roles. Matt Hannafin’s Variations on a Picture of Snow by Evan Cordes uses another midcentury mod technique, graphic scores, this one based on a photo of snow falling through the cracks in a wooden porch, with nine variations created in Photoshop. The black lines and white spaces tell Carlson, Ecklund, Lee, Oldham, Howard, and flutist Maxx Katz when to play; beyond that, they get to improvise based on this instruction: ”a cold morning, still and quiet, woken to new snow.” Cage and his followers left a lot of their performances to chance, so you’ll never hear this music played this way again.
7 PM Saturday. Leaven Community, 5431 NE 20th Ave. Portland.

Laura Beckel Thoreson.

• Most of the Indian music we see in Oregon is in traditional forms and for traditional instruments like sitar, sarod, tabla, and the rest. But today’s Indian composers, like any others, also look forward, embracing various contemporary classical techniques and approaches. Portland new music ensemble Third Angle’s Indian Music Now features some of today’s new music by American composers of Indian heritage, performed on flute, piano, clarinet and electronics. The seven 21st century compositions by Reena Esmail, Shirish Korde, Nina Shekhar (a Third Angle commission) and Asha Srinivasan — reconcile the music and traditions of the past with contemporary cultures and influences. Integrated into the no-intermission performance: original dance movement choreographed and performed by Portland’s Creative Laureate, Subashini Ganesan, along with contemporary Bharatanatyam dance. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch preview.
7:30 pm Thursday, 7:30 and 9 pm Friday. New Expressive Works’ Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont, Portland, and 7:30 pm Saturday 19 January, The Vault Theatre, Hillsboro.

Old Music

• Coming out of the holiday season when the biggest classical performances in Portland featured Messiah and the Christmas Oratorio, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the biggest music stars of Baroque Europe were Handel and J.S. Bach. In fact, in their time, neither was as famous as Georg Philipp Telemann. (Bach got a music director job only after Telemann, the first choice, turned it down.) Yet even though his 3,000 plus compositions make him history’s most prolific composer, these days, we don’t hear Telemann’s elegant music nearly as much as those other two 18th century titans. But with The Ensemble of Oregon’s concert of intimate solos, duos, trios and quartets (including four delicious mini cantatas) and last October’s Portland Baroque Orchestra all-Telemann show, a revival may be afoot. Played here in historically informed style and tunings with Baroque cello, violin, organ, and featuring the sublime voice of soprano Laura Beckel Thoreson, they may lack Handel’s grandeur or Bach’s profundity, but make up for it in the charm that made Telemann a Baroque rock star.
7 PM Saturday. First Christian Church, Portland.

Delgani String Quartet’s concerts feature music by the greatest masters of string quartets from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries respectively. Almost all of Haydn’s 69 quartets are worth hearing, and many remain among the finest chamber music compositions in classical music. But his final full set, Op. 76, represents a real culmination, and the 1798 fifth quartet, which Delgani plays here, has a slow movement to die for — in fact, it’s nicknamed the “graveyard movement” because it’s often played at funerals. Speaking of final farewells, the Delganis will also play Beethoven’s last quartet from his magnificent final set. Completed months before his death, the 1826 Op. 135 isn’t quite as forward looking nor as wondrously weird as the others, but radiates an autumnal allure. And Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1949 fourth quartet has a bit of contemporary relevance: it’s one of several he wrote using Jewish folk themes inspired by the horror of the holocaust and in protest against resurgent Russian anti-Semitism, something we’ve sadly seen here in recent months. Like the other two quartets on the program, it finds wintry beauty even in darkness. Guest violinist Tom Stone​ from Cypress Quartet joins the band for these shows.
Sunday and Tuesday, Temple Beth Israel, 1175 E 29th Ave., Eugene, and January 27, The Old Church, Portland.

Delgani Quartet adds a guest for its performances in Portland and Eugene.

• More subtly subversive Shostakovich — his 1959 first Cello Concerto, which reveals an artist still scarred by Stalin’s horrors, years after the murderous Soviet tyrant’s death — is on the menu in the Oregon Symphony’s concerts. Its newest artist in residence, award-winning German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser, joins the band for one of the great mid-century concertos, which some suggest also protests Soviet anti-Semitism. Another mid-20th century work celebrates the centenary of German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Classical fans can play spot the historical musical quotations (from Bach, Beethoven, Bizet, Berlioz, Schubert, Wagner, Stravinsky and more, including Zimmerman himself) in his 1966 “ballet noir” Music for King Ubu’s Dinner, which uses musical collage to summon the surreality of Alfred Jarry’s notorious fictional character. There’s even a pair of overtures, one by Rossini that opened his opera Tancredi, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorful concert work, Russian Easter Festival Overture.
Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Johannes Moser joins the Oregon Symphony this week.

• Award-winning young German baritone Benjamin Appl, a protege of legendary singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, is one of the most acclaimed classical singers of his generation, with a tonal warmth that distinguishes his interpretations from many others. His Friends of Chamber Music recital (on his first US tour, no less) features songs (and his own interpolated personal accounts of them) by Dvorak, Schubert, Ireland, Brahms, Schubert, Schreker, a pair of Strausses, Poulenc, Britten, Grieg, Warlock and more, accompanied by pianist James Baillieu.
3 pm Sunday, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University, 1620 SE Park Ave, Portland

Many music lovers know MacArthur ‘genius’ grantee Jeremy Denk as much for his writing (in The New Yorker and elsewhere) as for his pianism, which is regularly on display at Carnegie Hall, with all the major American orchestras and many others, and in solo recitals around the world. Corvallis-OSU Piano International brings Denk to Oregon to play music by Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and an actual living, American composer, John Adams.
4 PM Saturday, LaSells Stewart Center, OSU, Corvallis

Deploying fiddles (including hardangerfiddle, viola, guitar, percussion, and accordion), Norway’s SVER unleashes “epic Nordic folk,” ranging from sweet to wistful to danceably rocking, sometimes all in the same tune.
7 PM Friday, Headwaters, Ashland; 7:30 pm Saturday, Majestic Theater, 115 SW 2nd St. Corvallis; 7 pm Sunday, Fort George Brewery, 1483 Duane St., Astoria; 8 pm Monday, Alberta Rose Theater, Portland.

Streaming

PSU Noon Concert: Percussion instructor Chris Whyte performs a solo percussion recital featuring music by Lou Harrison, Robert Honstein, Toshio Hosokawa and more.
Thursday, 12:00-1:00 PM

Live From Beall Concert Hall: Oregon Brass Quintet. Monday, 7:30pm.

Even in the depths of midwinter Oregon, there’s surely more attractive music to catch. Tell us all about your recommendations in the comments section below.

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