MusicWatch Weekly: new sounds from Oregon

This week’s Oregon music schedule boasts numerous new works by today’s composers from the Northwest, Midwest and beyond, mixed in with classics from across the ages and oceans

Big Horn Brass, a baker’s dozen of brass players and two percussionists, feature brassy new music by Cascadia Composers Greg Steinke, Jan Mittelstaedt, John Billota, Greg Bartholomew, and fellow Northwest composer Anthony DiLorenzo at their Saturday night concert at Beaverton’s St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Some other guys named Debussy, Bach and Puccini will provide filler.

New Oregon music by Eugene composer Paul Safar is also on the program when Eugene’s excellent Delgani String Quartet goes all homicidal Friday at Portland’s and Saturday at Springfield’s Wildish Theater. The program features music inspired by murder, with theatrical readings from literary works that inspired them interpolated by actor Rickie Birran of Man of Words Theatre Company. Janacek and Shostakovich will be represented too. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview.

Speaking of new music by Oregon composers, read Gary’s ArtsWatch preview of Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse’s new composition commissioned by Rogue Valley Symphony, which the orchestra performs this weekend in Medford and Grants Pass. Beethoven is the closing act.

Estelí Gomez sings new music by University of Oregon composers at  Eugene’s Beall Concert Hall. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

There’s even newer Oregon music for voice Sunday at the Oregon Composers Forum’s Sunday concert at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall. The superb soprano Esteli Gomez, one of the singers in Grammy winning Roomful of Teeth ensemble, returns to sing new music by UO composers.

Joe Kye performs at Portland State Friday.

That same night, Portland based, Korea-born songwriter-composer and looping violinist Joe Kye plays his engaging, often autobiographical songs at Portland State’s Lincoln Recital Hall.

Shades of Sufjan Stevens and his albums inspired by American states! Does a symphony called “Portland” and named after Oregon’s largest city qualify as Oregon music — if it wasn’t written by an Oregonian? Decide for yourself at the University of Portland’s free concert featuring Erich Stem’s orchestral work Tuesday night at Buckley Auditorium. His website bio says nothing about where Stem resides or was born, but Indiana seems a likely suspect. The piece is part of Stem’s project called America By: A Symphonic Tour, which includes a collection of commissioned works from across the country, “each work reflecting the unique qualities and history of a specific location.”

New American Sounds

One of the most frequently performed and commissioned composers of choral music, Minnesota’s Jake Runestad, seem poised to follow Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre as a choral music star, and he’s also written several operas and other works. On Saturday night at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Choral Arts Ensemble and Linn-Benton Community College Chamber Choir team up to present the Music of Jake Runestad, the first major opportunity for Portland to get a healthy sampling of his heartfelt songs and broad, audience-friendly musical range.

Bells toll in Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas’s new, half-hour orchestral composition, Sonorous Earth (an evolution of her earlier Resounding Earth), which Eugene Symphony performs Thursday at the Hult Center to complete her artistic residency there. Each of its four-movements also uses techniques associated with the major composers who made percussion the defining sound of 20th century classical music: Stravinsky, Messiaen, Varese, Berio, Cage, Ligeti, Partch and Oregon’s own Lou Harrison.


It’s also a visual treat, as the four members of Chicago’s Grammy-winning Third Coast Percussion zip around the Silva Hall stage to whack, stroke, and ring 300 different shiny ceremonial bells, Japanese prayer bowls, vibes, gongs, chimes, Noah bells, kyeezees (look it up) and other light or heavy metal objects from cultures all over the world. The nature-themed concert also features a pair of watery 19th century classics: Richard Wagner’s operatic “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” from Götterdämmerung, and Debussy’s magical symphonic poem La mer (The sea).

New American music emanates from Imani Winds’ residency at Chamber Music Northwest, including concerts Wednesday and Thursday at Portland’s OMSI Planetarium and Monday at Hillsboro’s Walters Cultural Arts Center, and Tuesday and next Wednesday with BodyVox dance ensemble. Read my ArtsWatch preview for details. 

Choral music by the world’s most performed living composer, Arvo Pärt, is featured in The Ensemble of Oregon’s concerts Saturday night at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church and Sunday afternoon at Portland’s St. Stephen Catholic Church. Some of Portland’s finest singers and chamber orchestra will perform the Estonian master’s haunting Silouan’s Song, Long Ago Sang the Nightingale, Pilgrim’s Psalm, Most Holy Mother of God, God Grant Us Peace, and his expansive Berlin Mass.

Old Music

Oregon Repertory Singers concludes its 44th season Saturday and Sunday afternoon at Portland’s First United Methodist Church with Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt, a too rarely heard baroque masterpiece that tells the Exodus story in music for double choir, chorus and sterling soloists Angela Niederloh and David Vanderwal. If you like Messiah, try this one — all the majesty, none of the familiarity.

Oregon Repertory Singers perform at Portland’s First United Methodist Church.

For smaller scale baroque vocal music, catch singers Brittany Rudoi and Paul John Rudoi, baroque cellist Marc Vanscheeuwijck and organist Julia Brown in a pair of J.S. Bach’s solo cantatas Sunday at Eugene’s First United Methodist Church. And you can see Bach himself — as portrayed by the great early music pioneer and conductor Gustav Leonhardt– at Northwest Film Center’s screening of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s 1968 Chronicle of Anna Magadalena Bach Monday night at the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium. “Recitations of fictional diary entries of Anna Magdalena Bach, an accomplished singer and the second wife of famed composer Johann Sebastian Bach, intersperse with full performances of Bach works, on period instruments” led by Leonhardt, says the press release.

If you want an actual opera, Portland State U’s nationally renowned opera program has you covered with Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring, which runs Friday through April 29. It’s one of the 20th century’s most entertaining English-language comic chamber operas.

Lest Eugeneans envy Imani’s windy ways, The Shedd continues its new classical music series Sunday with microphilharmonic chamber ensemble playing Franz Schubert’s rarely heard Octet for wind instruments. Like earlier wind serenades that preceded, it’s perfect for alfresco spring soirees, now that congenial weather is here. If only they could play it outside.

The Oregon Symphony plays Saint-Saëns’s big, brash Organ Symphony along with Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (starring OSO concertmaster Sarah Kwak) and Ernst Krenek’s Potpourri at Salem’s Willamette University Friday and Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall Saturday-Monday. The Symphony will also be performing at Saturday’s TedXPortland at Keller Auditorium, along with Edna Vazquez, Thomas Lauderdale & Hunter Noack, and more.

And musicians from that fine orchestra will be deploying around Portland to perform free chamber music shows in the admirable Classical Up Close program, which runs for the next couple weeks. Read my ArtsWatch feature on the program from a couple years ago. Check the website to see where classical music will be popping up near you.

Oregon Symphony musicians play free pop-up shows around the Portland metro area in the return of Classical Up Close.

The great Oregon writer Kathleen Dean Moore’s collaboration with pianist Rachel McCabe, A Call to Life, alights at Astoria’s Liberty Theatre Friday, just in time for Earth Day.

Jazz: Catch the next great jazz singer, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Saturday at Portland’s Revolution Hall with Sullivan Fortner.

For a rising young talent, try Ryan Keberle & Katharsis Friday at Portland’s Mission Theatre.

Indian music: Dhvani’s annual Carnatic Composers Day at Hillsboro’s Shiridi Sai Baba Temple.

Ambient/World: Experience the psychedelic delight of Tipper: An Ambient Journey & Derek Gripper’s African Strings Project Friday night at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

What, we left something important out, you say? Shame on us! Why, tell us all about it in the comments below.

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

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