MusicWatch Weekly: human voices

Choral and vocal concerts take center stage this week in Oregon music

Portland’s big choirs once again present fans of choral music with some difficult choices. As happens too often — there’s a choral calendar that you’d think might help prevent this — several have scheduled shows on the same weekend, making it impossible to see more than a couple of shows, assuming your weekly music budget will stretch even that far. They’re all recommendable, and all feature contemporary as well as classic sounds. I just wish we didn’t have to choose.

Cappella Romana performed at St. Mary’s Cathedral in April.

• Best known for performances of ancient Byzantine music, Cappella Romana goes ultra-modern in Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation Saturday at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1716 N.W. Davis, and Sunday at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, 1112 S.E. 41st Ave. The concert features the premiere of a new setting of an ancient Orthodox psalm by six Orthodox composers — including Portland’s own John Boyer, the choir’s new associate music director, who’ll lead the performances. Read more about the new Psalm 103 project, and how the new piece connects to the recent discovery of the Higgs boson, here. I wish more groups originally devoted to being exclusively museums of old music by dead composers would open contemporary wings like this one and apply their historically informed insights to new music.

• That’s exactly what one of Portland’s most promising new musical additions, Big Mouth Society, does in Saturday and Sunday’s Portland premiere of The Gonzales Cantata at Mercy Corps Action Center, 28 SW 1st Ave. When Australian-America composer Melissa Dunphy cooked up her neo-baroque cantata (scored for choir with soloists, string orchestra and harpsichord) back in 2009, she couldn’t have imagined the even more operatic, scandalous senatorial outrage we’ve all just endured. It’s based on the 2007 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, which disclosed improprieties that ultimately forced his resignation in disgrace (though somehow didn’t disqualify him from becoming an NPR commentator and law school dean). The senators (including Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, Orrin Hatch et al) are portrayed by reverse-gendered singers from Curious Voices, and performers include students from Willamette University and Reed College. During performances, Big Mouth Society will host Oregonians United Against Profiling, a coalition opposing Measure 105, which would repeal Oregon’s anti-racial profiling law and allow local law enforcement resources to be diverted to federal action against immigrants.

David DeLyser leads Choral Arts Ensemble.

• In Everlasting Voices, Saturday and Sunday at Rose City Park United Methodist Church, 5830 NE Alameda St., Choral Arts Ensemble celebrates its 50th anniversary season with a retrospective that looks both backward (classical composers like Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Copland) and forward, with some of the 21st century’s hottest young choral composers, including Ēriks Ešenvalds and Jake Runestad.

Gil Seeley at Oregon Repertory Singers concert

• Oregon Repertory Singers opens its 45th season with a new CD and a concert. Shadows on the Stars features one of America’s most-performed composers, Beaverton-born Morten Lauridsen, who splits his time between his teaching duties at the University of Southern California and Waldron Island. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Portland’s First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. He returns to accompany the 100-voice choir’s performances of his compositions Sure on this Shining Night and Ya Eres Mía. Accompanist Naomi LaViolette takes the keyboard in Lauridsen’s Mid-Winter Songs, which sets poems by Robert Graves. The second half features another venerated choral master, this one from Estonia. Oregon Repertory Singers was the first American choir to bring Veljo Tormis, who died last year at age 86, to the United States. ORS emeritus conductor Gilbert Seeley returns to lead Tormis’s moving music.

• Portland Symphonic Choir also opens its season this weekend with exciting news: the world premiere of a new spiritual by Portland composer Judy Rose, I’ve Found Me a River. Saturday’s well-rounded concert at Portland’s Tiffany Center also includes Brahms’s Love Song Waltzes and Eric Whitacre’s popular 2001 composition Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine.

Hansen sings at PSU

• If squadrons of singers are too much, how about a single solo voice? The great 20th century French composer Francis Poulenc’s powerful, 40-minute 1958 opera The Human Voice/La Voix Humaine sets his old friend Jean Cocteau’s 1928 play for a single singer and orchestra and consists entirely of half of a series of drug-tinged, half sung, half spoken telephone conversations between a possibly suicidal woman and her possibly deceptive lover. Friday night’s Friday and Saturday minimally staged performances at Portland State University’s Lincoln Studio Theater, which also includes other Cocteau settings by Poulenc and his fellow Les Six composers, are sung in French with projected subtitles and accompanied by piano. The show kicks off a year-long series of most welcome Poulenc events that might bring this neglected, appealing composer back to contemporary consciousness.

Also at Portland State, you can see or stream (click on link below, then click on videos)Thursday’s PSU Noon Concert Series featuring another solo singer: PSU faculty member Chuck Dillard (pianist) and soprano Amy Hansen.

Instrumental Choices

• It’s been too long — two years — since Classical Revolution PDX presented a staged performance, rather than its usual classical-in-the-clubs jams. Friday’s TransGenre show at Portland’s Holocene pairs local CRPDX players and arrangers (most of whom also play in ArcoPDX) with Portland singer/guitarist/songwriters Nick Jaina and Anna Tivel, who’ll join the classical players in new arrangements of their songs. Rather than the relatively straight translations you might hear in, say, many Portland Cello Project arrangements, these use classical music techniques in harmony, song structure, form (fugue, sonata, etc.) tempo and dynamic variation to transform the songs into entirely new creations that transcend either genre. Like ARCO, the show also features groovy lighting design, by Lymay Iwasaki.

• Friends of Chamber Music brings the Hermitage Trio, including frequent Oregon visitor cellist Sergey Antonov, to Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall on Monday and Tuesday play some of their signature Russian music (Glinka, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich) plus trios by Dvorak and Brahms.

• This weekend, the Oregon Symphony plays a folk music-inspired suite by the great 20th century Polish composer Witold Lutosławski, a 1986 work, Orawa, by one of his contemporaries, Wojciech Kilar (maybe best known for his Roman Polanski scores and other soundtracks), Sibelius’s lush 1905 Violin Concerto, starring Karen Gomyo, and Shostakovich’s ninth symphony, a 1945 that its advocate Leonard Bernstein called “the least predictable and most surprising Ninth that exists: short, hilarious, circus-ey, an all-out fiesta gleefully proclaiming, ‘Hooray, the war’s over!’” The melancholy Russian genius realized that what the world needed at the end of World War II was less the big triumphal Statement everyone expected, and more a relieved laugh. Kinda like now.

Jazz

• Beginning in the 1940s, Armenian American composer Alan Hovhaness (who later moved to Seattle) startled the classical music establishment by creating ravishing new music for orchestra that was based not so much on the usual European harmonies and structures but instead on Armenian modes and melodies. The terrific young composer/pianist Tigran Hamasyan is doing something analogous in jazz, combining tunes and other influences from his native Armenia with jazz improvisation, classical and baroque forms, minimalism, rock and even electronics to forge a lovely, original 21st century music that appeals to jazz and classical fans alike. Since winning the 2006 Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition, Hamasyan has cut eight albums and this year’s EP For Gyumri, named after his birthplace. At tonight’s solo PDXJazz concert (Wednesday) at Portland’s The Old Church concert hall, you might also hear him whistling and vocalizing as well as tickling the ivories.

• Also tonight (Oct. 10), a bit more on jazz’s avant-side, Travis Laplante and Gerald Cleaver’s sax-and-drum duo Subtle Degrees plays Portland’s Secret Society, with our own accessible avant Blue Cranes opening.

• Before he was famous as founding pianist of the sparkling jazz-meets-rock trio The Bad Plus or as music director for Mark Morris’s world renowned dance company, Ethan Iverson used to jam in New York jazz clubs with another rising jazz star, saxophonist Mark Turner, who later went on to become one of jazz’s most in-demand sidemen, to lead his own trio, Fly, and other groups, and to record much praised albums as a leader. Now Iverson has left TB+ to explore different dimensions of his wide-ranging muse and reunited with Turner. Their fascinating new album Temporary Kings shows Iverson (who composed most of the tracks) reveling in the freedom from his old band’s rhythm formulae, often retaining grooves but also taking flight in unexpected harmonic and rhythmic directions, while Turner contributes his typical restrained, inventive counterpoints. PDX Jazz brings the simpatico duo to The Old Church Monday.

• Back when his mentor Miles Davis was seeking new energy and ideas from young jazz bloods back in the early 1980s, guitar whiz John Scofield was one of those young lions. Now the fret is on the other finger, or something, as Sco is the Grammy-winning 66-year-old vet  who’s wowed audiences with almost every jazz star of the last few decades, and his new Combo 66 draws next-gen energy from bassist Vicente Archer, keyboard ace Gerald Clayton and drummer Bill Stewart. PDX Jazz brings the lithe and limber quartet, which just issued a crackling new album, to Lewis & Clark College’s Evans Auditorium Tuesday.

Please tell us about other recommended Oregon voices onstage or screen this weekend in the comments section below.

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2 Responses.

  1. Mark Petersen says:

    I’m chagrined you fail to mention the Portland Symphonic Choir’s concert at 7 pm on Saturday evening this weekend. It’s on the Choral Calendar too.

    • See, that’s what happens when all these choral concerts converge on the same weekend — one gets shoved aside! Actually, it looks like that listing was accidentally obliterated by an uploaded photo. Now restored. Thanks for letting us know, Mark. But we’re still bummed that all these good shows are happening on the same weekend.

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