MusicWatch Weekly: pan man returns

Steel pan master and composer Andy Akiho's Chamber Music Northwest appearances highlight Oregon's sizzling musical weekend

Andy Akiho’s previous Chamber Music Northwest appearances with percussionist pal Ian Rosenbaum revealed both performance virtuosity — on the 39-year-old New Yorker’s unlikely instrument, the steel pan — and also a distinctive and appealing compositional imagination. In one of the summer festival’s highlights, Akiho’s Wednesday night Alberta Rose Theatre showcase of originals written over the past decade combines his steely pan with various other instruments: flute, marimba, violin, magnets (!). His half-hour long LIgNEouS Suite features string quartet and marimba, sometimes played with dowels, and a really big rubber band.

Andy Akiho joined other Chamber Music Northwest musicians at Alberta Rose Theatre last year. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Akiho’s LIgNEouS Suite repeats at Thursday’s CMNW concert at Reed College featuring the Dover Quartet, along with one of Haydn’s spirited Op. 20 string quartets and Borodoni’s second quartet. Akiho’s Deciduous repeats at Friday’s New@Noon program at Portland State, which includes recent music by contemporary composers, including a pair of thirty-somethings: Roger Zare’s Escher Triptych for violin and cello, inspired by three M.C. Escher prints, and William Neace’s jazzy little Variance for solo trumpet. The show also includes Steven Hoey’s Other Voice for solo bassoon and renowned Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov’s haunting Mariel for cello and marimba.

CMNW’s weekend concerts Saturday at Reed College and Sunday at Portland State look way back to the early 20th century in French music, including compositions by that Russian exile, Igor Stravinsky. His delightfully Faustian narrated septet Soldier’s Tale ranges from rags to Russian folk to faux jazz and other devilish rhythms. Along with Stravinsky’s three little clarinet solos from the same period, the show features another theatrical arrangement, Jacques Ibert’s The Gardener of Samos, Debussy’s slinky Syrinx for solo flute, and a rarity by another early 20th century French composer who died too young (26), Jean Cartan’s perky, Poulencian Sonatine for flute and clarinet.

Composer Andy Akiho.

More Debussy — his powerful valedictory Violin Sonata — highlights CMNW’s Monday and Tuesday shows, along with still another welcome new Andy Akiho original, Lost on Chiaroscuro Street for clarinet, violin, cello and piano — the same instrumentation Messiaen famously used for his landmark Quartet for the End of Time, which partly inspired Akiho’s melodious creation. Alexander Sitkovetsky and CMNW’s own sterling clarinetist David Shifrin lead a strong cast of performers.

There’s more contemporary music in Third Angle’s Thursday performance at Portland State’s Lincoln Performance Hall, which features veteran new music players from Oregon and beyond (flutist Sarah Tiedemann, clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy, percussionists Joel Bluestone and Gordon Rencher, pianist Jeff Payne and more) playing Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2007 Double Sextet, Bartok’s powerful 1937 Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion and Missy Mazzoli’s 2008 Still Life with Avalanche.

It’s part of the Oregon Music Festival, whose 2017 edition was canceled last summer because of “labor issues.” According to American Federation of Musicians Local 99 president Bruce Fife, festival musicians weren’t paid in a timely fashion in 2015. The festival used amateur musicians, the Beaverton Symphony, in 2016. The union and festival were unable to negotiate an agreement for 2017 due to the issues still in place, and the union filed an unfair labor practice notice with the state Employee Relations Board and placed the festival on the AFM International Unfair List, preventing union members from performing at the scheduled 2017 summer’s festival concerts. (The festival’s director, Zvonimir Hačko, has run into similar difficulties in the past in both Oregon and California.) According to Fife, the festival and union negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement for 2018, covering musicians performing with the Oregon Festival Orchestra, and thus far, say both Fife and Third Angle’s Sarah Tiedemann, it seems to be abiding by it.

Saturday’s OMF concert at Portland’s First Baptist Church features ​Kurt Weill’s lacerating The Seven Deadly Sins (recently performed by Storm Large with the Oregon Symphony, this time starring mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta) with well known singers Brian Tierney, Deac Guidi, and more, with orchestra conducted by Hačko. The concert also includes Latvian composer Peteris Vasks’s 1980 Cantabile for string orchestra and Mendelssohn’s third symphony.

J’Nai Bridges performs at Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Todd Rosenberg.

The Oregon Bach Festival wraps up with Sunday’s closing performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah, featuring with a first-rate crop of vocal soloists including Nicholas Phan and Northwest native J’Nai Bridges. A few tickets have just been released for Simply 3’s previously sold-out concert Saturday at the Hult Center’s Soreng Theatre in Eugene, where you can hear the energetic cello-violin-bass trio play the classics (by the likes of Gershwin, Puccini, et al) but also those other classics (by pop legends like Michael Jackson) and contemporary pop by Adele, Coldplay and more. In lieu of Philip Glass’s talk cum solo recital tonight and Simone Dinnerstein’s performance of his third piano concerto tomorrow night  — both sold out — here’s a talk with Dinnerstein about Glass.

Musica Maestrale early music maestro Hideki Yamaya may have moved east last year, but he still returns periodically to perform. On Sunday at Black Walnut Inn and Vineyard, he plays Renaissance and Baroque lute songs with young artists at McMinnville’s new oenophilic Aquilon Music Festival. The festival’s big news is a rare revival of the French baroque opera La Chûte de Phaëton, which is a parody of Lully’s 1688 tragic opera Phaeton that uses Lully’s music set to a new text by Marc-Antoine Le Grand to spoof the bankruptcy of Lyon’s opera company, the Academy of Music. You can hear this first modern performance Friday and Saturday at ​​Marshall Theatre in Kenneth W. Ford Hall at McMinnville’s Linfield College.

Portland Opera’s new production of Rossini’s ‘Cinderella.’ Photo: Cory Weaver.

And speaking of operas, there’s no glass slipper or fairy godmother, but Rossini’s classic operatic recounting of the Cinderella story returns to Portland Opera Friday through July 29. In this family friendly production of La Cenerentola at Newmark Theatre,  Kate Farrar stars as the upwardly mobile chambermaid, Eduardo Chama as her buffoonish stepfather, Alasdair Kent as her charming prince, Helen Huang and Laura Beckel Thoreson as her cruel stepsisters.

Got more musical recommendations for this hot Oregon weekend? Pop ’em in the comments section below.

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2 Responses. Have your say.

  1. bob priest says:

    Dang it, it appears I sometimes miss out on some mighty fine music due to my peculiar timbral intolerances. For example, I don’t care for the:

    + the steel pan (even in Boulez’s stunning “Sur Incises”)
    + the counter tenor voice (my good friend George Benjamin employs counter tenors in his last 2 operas)

    I also was never able to put aside Robert Plant’s voice in trying to appreciate Led Zep.

    But, hey, I like ukuleles, toy pianos, banjos, accordions and chromatic spittoons!

    As Ives used to say, “Maybe my ears are on wrong!:”

    :)))

  2. I’ve had that same reaction to steel pan, or at least those I’ve heard at Saturday Market etc., but one of the things that makes Akiho so worthwhile is his ability to produce so many varied timbres, including a lovely harp-like sound during the encore Wednesday. There may be some electronic enhancement going at times too, and I believe he sometimes uses more than one pan, which gives him a range of possible textures. I’m not sure anything could make me tolerate R. Plant though. Is it now possible to just download the Zep songs into GarageBand or something and delete the vocal tracks so we can hear more Page and Bonham?

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