MusicWatch Weekly: festivalpalooza!

Festivals erupt this week in Oregon with Makrokosmos, Oregon Bach Festival, Astoria Music Festival, Salem World Beat Festival, Chamber Music Northwest, PianoPushPlay and more

Acclaimed piano duo Stephanie & Saar once again return to Northwest Portland’s Vestas building Thursday to collaborate with Portland Percussion Group and other Portland performers in a five-hour marathon show. This time, the Makrokosmos Project 4: Dadapalooza program features one of the mid-20th century’s groundbreaking works: John Cage’s justly celebrated Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. Even listeners befuddled by Cage’s later detour into aleatoric (chance) music can appreciate the restrained, mysterious beauty the composer conjured from his modifications of the piano’s strings and hammers.

Stephanie & Saar performed with Portland Percussion Group last year at Makrokosmos.

The cheerfully overstuffed extravaganza also includes another 20th century classic: the third Makrokosmos composition by project patron saint and Pulitzer Prize winner George Crumb: Music for a Summer Evening, written in 1974 for two amplified pianos and percussion, plus new music by Gregory Hutter, Karen Tanaka, Portland’s Texu Kim (the Portland composer’s dazzling 300+ MicroVariations on a Bach Theme, one of my favorite local discoveries this year) Wang Jie and more. It’s the kind of event where you can wander in and out as you please, sample food and wine, the better to sample unfamiliar yet often enticing music of our time. Search our site for our extensive previous coverage to get an idea of what it’s like.

A piece that would have fit snugly into Dadapalooza would have been George Antheil’s 1924 Ballet Mecanique, whose sirens, airplane propellers, percussion-laced orchestra player piano, and crazy rhythms — scandalized Paris, sparked riots, delighted surrealists and avant gardists, and made the young American composer’s reputation as the Bad Boy of Music, which became the apt title of his autobiography. After returning to America, he wrote an advice column (!), collaborated with actress Hedy Lamarr on the technology that much later made wi-fi possible (for which he was short-shrifted in last year’s documentary Bombshell) and mostly wrote film music.

But recently, Portland violinist and Antheil scholar Hannah Leland learned about some previously unknown music from the mid-1940s that Antheil wrote for a German-American violinist friend. With her pianist partner Aimee Fincher, their Duo Odéon (named after the Paris street where Antheil, who died in 1959, lived above Sylvia Beach’s famous bookstore) recorded a splendid new Sono Luminus album of that music and more. Their album release party at Portland’s Santé Bar, 411 Northwest Park Avenue, features Antheil’s exuberant, virtuosic mid-century music from their ebullient new recording Specter — think sassy Prokofiev with an American twist. The bar is creating two craft cocktails, the Odéon and Specter, for the occasion.

PianoPushPlay’s annual free kickoff event at the Portland Art museum courtyard brings together ten donated pianos that have been wonderfully weirded out by local artists, and they’re played by various local pianists (classical, jazz, pop) and even random passersby who sign up. They keep them out in the courtyard for anyone to play as they walk by, and at summer’s end they’re auctioned off and donated to local  schools, community centers etc. Paste the name into the OAW search field to read our previous coverage.

Pianopushplay founder Megan McGeorge poses next to a piano she donated to the cause at last summer’s opening event.

Saxophonic Sequels, Festival Fever

“It cries, sighs and dreams,” wrote Berlioz. “It possesses a crescendo and can gradually diminish until it is only an echo of an echo. I know of no other instrument that possesses this particular capacity to reach the outer limits of audible sound.” The French romantic composer was talking about the then-newly invented saxophone. We had an outbreak of sax attacks a couple weeks back and now the saxes return Wednesday night with Chamber Music Northwest’s musical-theatrical show Adolphe Sax and the Creation of the Saxophone at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre. The latest in CMNW’s recent run of theater about music, this one features actor Harold Dixon, the dynamic young Kenari Saxophone Quartet, and a story with live music about Sax’s life and instrument.

Kenari Quartet performs at Chamber Music Northwest

Kenari plays recent pieces for sax quartet by Corey Dundee (inspired by the young composer’s struggle with depression) and John Leszczynski plus a viola solo by the great Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki and a duo by Daniel Temkin (inspired by a childhood memory box) on Friday’s New@Noon concert at PSU, which also has a viola solo and violin duo.

On Saturday and Sunday’s La Musique de France shows, Kenari plays a couple of mid-20th century French sax quartet classics by Pierre Dubois and Eugène Bozza before the strings take over for some Ravel and Franck. And on Monday and Tuesday, the saxes and strings join forces in the world premiere of a new, new Nonet for Kenari and Imani Winds by J.P. Redmond in a show that also features Mozart’s lovely Clarinet Trio and a vibrant string octet by the underrated 20th century composer George Enescu.

For a jazzier sax break, catch Portland’s Quadrophonnes June 30 at Alberta Street Public House.

Agnieszka Laska Dancers perform at Astoria Music Festival. Photo: Chris Leck.

The Astoria Music Festival concludes this week too, with Friday and Sunday’s performances at Clatsop Performing Arts Center of Mozart’s great comic opera The Marriage of Figaro by the festival’s apprentice artists from around the country. Saturday’s chamber music concert at Liberty Theater features classics by Schumann, Dvorak and Grieg, and the afternoon multimedia extravaganza looks to be a highlight of not only the festival but also of the summer, with Agnieszka Laska Dancers, filmmaker Takafumi Uehara and music by performing by accomplished Portland composer Jack Gabel, 20th century Polish legends Henry Gorecki and Witold Lutoslawski, and Zygmunt Konieczny. The show also includes baroque cellist Adaiha MacAdam-Somer playing a choreographic setting of JS Bach’s first Cello Suite.

Bach is Back

After the most tumultuous year in its history, the Oregon Bach Festival returns — its internationally acclaimed artistic director fired, its reputation tarnished by his mysterious dismissal and its parent University of Oregon’s botched, secretive handling of the whole situation, its schedule diminished. Yet the nearly half-century old institution, one of Oregon’s artistic treasures, somehow endures despite the turmoil, and for now, at least, we can finally turn our attention to the music.

There’s no more addictive gateway drug into classical music — or music in general — than J.S. Bach’s beautiful Brandenburg Concertos. Friday night’s historically informed performance of four of them and one of his equally enchanting Orchestral Suites at the Hult Center by the festival’s Baroque Orchestra (led by Portland Baroque Orchestra music director and world-renowned violinist Monica Huggett, an Oregon music legend herself) reflect the composer’s intentions much more accurately than any of the modern instrument recordings and performance more commonly heard.

The Baroque Orchestra also plays the festival’s namesake’s magnificent Musical Offering in Sunday’s Beall matinee concert, along with music by four of his sons, all renowned in their day for their mastery of later styles. 

Scott Jarrett leads the Discovery Series at the Oregon Bach Festival.

Bach’s many cantatas for choir and orchestra are some of his finest yet least-often performed concert works. This Monday and July 5, Bach expert Scott Jarrett leads us and the Baroque Orchestra through a pair he wrote in 1723, in the OBF’s lecture-demo Discovery Series. Bach was one of German baroque music’s Big Three, and the Festival’s Berwick Academy concert Tuesday at Beall features a sampler of music by the other two, Handel and Telemann, who were much more famous in their time.

It’s not part of the festival, but baroque fans will welcome Thursday’s concert of duets by the great English baroque composer Henry Purcell, Italian baroque genius Barbara Strozzi, Monterverdi, Handel and more, performed by singers Heather Holmquest and Janene Nelson with organist Maria Dossin at Eugene’s St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

We told you all about Imani Winds in their recent spring residency at CMNW. Saturday they’re back at the Bach Festival, performing music by Piazzolla, Ligeti, Imani’s own Valerie Coleman, and an arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade.

The annual Salem World Beat Festival, which runs Friday through Sunday at Riverfront Park, 200 Water Street NE, is one of Oregon’s most vital music happenings, offering a wide variety of global sounds, foods and other cultural experiences. Go!

John Berendzen plays electronically enhanced horn at Risk/Reward

And because a zillion Oregon music festivals just aren’t enough, check out David Bates’s ArtsWatch story about the new Aquilon Music Festival, which begins July 3.

Portland’s Risk/Reward Festival focuses on dance this year, but fans of the excellent Portland composer John Berendzen’s music might want to check out Air Objects III live sound installation there, which features his ElectroHorn, an original hybrid instrument combining acoustic brass and electronic processing.

If you were intrigued by our story on Portland musician Myrrh Larsen’s new Song Saga, Grey Gold: A New Myth of Persephone and Hades, check out the latest performance and other music at cool Portland venue the Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven’s SΞΔNCΞ \\ a rock ritual.

Myrrh Larsen’s rock opera ‘Grey Gold.’ Photo: Jack Wells.

More Oregon music recommendations? Sic ‘em in the comments section below.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

One Response.

  1. bob priest says:

    Dang, I just heard that Texu Kim is leaving Global Village PDX for a “real job” out east.

    + First: Congratz
    + Second: It’s our loss as he’s a star in our local orbit.

    Come back to the five & dime from time-to-time, Texu!

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