MusicWatch Weekly: reflections on divisions

Concerts feature new music inspired by today's American polarization

As we were saying last week, considering how unfairly under-represented they are on classical concert programs, a startling number of the 21st century’s finest composers in the classical tradition are women, who have managed to surmount centuries of barriers to musical gender equality. In Women Singing Women, Portland’s all-star choir Resonance Ensemble does a bit to redress the imbalance with an entire concert directed by a woman (Resonance Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon), performed by women (including the singers and pianist Kira Whiting), and featuring entirely works by women composers. The program features the world premiere of a major commission by rising young composer Melissa Dunphy that sets words from last summer’s excruciating Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings spoken by Prof. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. The concert also includes arrangement of Suzanne Vega’s hit “Blood Makes Noise” by Resonance’s Maria Karlin, and works by Carol Barnett (who’s written appealing works as diverse as a Bluegrass Mass to compositions influenced by Cypriot and Greek music), music by Portland choral conductor/composer Joan Szymko, Lori Laitman, Ysaye Barnwell, new original poetry by Portland’s S. Renee Mitchell, and more.
Sunday, Cerimon House, 5131 NE 23rd Ave. Portland.

Resonance Ensemble performs Sunday.

From his smart, funny Craigslistlieder a decade ago to his gorgeous historical evocations of Los Angeles (where he grew up) to orchestral works like emergency shelter intake form (performed last spring by the Oregon Symphony) and Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States (performed at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival), Gabriel Kahane has emerged as one of America’s foremost young contemporary classical music voices. After the election catastrophe of 2016, the Brooklyn singer-songwriter-pianist-guitarist embarked on a two-week train trip across the country, striving to understand our national polarization. Traveling nearly 9,000 miles sans cellphone and internet connection, he instead tried to connect personally with Americans an inhabitant of any hipsterville might never otherwise encounter — not through digital intermediaries, but through their stories. In his new album Book of Travelers, whose music he’ll perform solo with piano in this Chamber Music Northwest concert, he turned conversations with fellow travelers — truck drivers, postmasters, engineers, nurses — into an intimate album’s worth of understated songs for just his voice and piano — a musical portrait of a troubled nation on the brink of wrenching political upheaval. Kahane tells poignant stories through the eyes of the characters he observes with empathy and understanding.
Wednesday, The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave. Portland.

Gabriel Kahane performs Wednesday at Portland’s Old Church. Photo: Josh Goleman.

Despite today’s polarization, several other concerts feature music that reflect artists’ countervailing tendencies toward bringing cultures together. One of the most popular ensembles brought to town by Friends of Chamber Music, the entertaining Dalí Quartet, composed of members from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the US, returns for a program of 20th-century and contemporary Latin American classical music. The program features a tango ballet by Argentina’s great nuevo tango composer Astor Piazzolla, a powerful quartet by his countryman Alberto Ginastera, another by Brazil’s Heitor Villa-Lobos, and other hidden gems you’re not likely to hear on any standard American classical chamber music program.
Thursday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland

The Dali Quartet performs at The Old Church in Friends of Chamber Music’s Not So Classic Series. Photo: John Green.

• Portland State continues its celebration of the great 20th century composer Francis Poulenc in Poulenc and the Piano, with this free noon concert (live streamed here) featuring faculty members playing his spiffy 1932 Sextet for piano and winds and his setting of of the children’s tale The Story of Babar for piano and narrator.
Thursday, Lincoln Recital Hall, PSU.

• Seattle-based keyboardist and composer Wayne Horvitz has been visiting Portland a lot lately, but he never wears out his welcome, because each show is so different. He might play electric funk with Zony Mash, American pastorales of his acoustic ensemble Sweeter Than the Day, chamber jazz with Gravitas Quartet, and various solo projects, collaborations with Bill Frisell or John Zorn, orchestral and string quartet compositions. In this Creative Music Guild Portland concert, he’s bringing his Snowghost trio, which includes amplified and processed piano.

The show also includes Gravitas member Sara Schoenbeck, the Brooklyn composer who’s transforming the role of the bassoon in contemporary music, restoring it the status it lost after the Baroque era. And the Portland concert includes a set by Illegal Son (trombonist / composer Denzel Mendoza, drummer Daniel Rossi, bassist Milo Fultz on upright bass, and harpist Lily Brashears) whose songs tell about the ups and downs of being undocumented. The Eugene performance features Horvitz and Schoenbeck’s WHSS DUO.
Friday, Leaven Community Center, 5431 NE 20th Ave. Portland, and Feb. 7, The Jazz Station, Eugene.

• While Portland Opera has switched to a mostly summer season, other institutions have stepped up to feed the city’s operatic addiction. In Hansel and Gretel, the Oregon Symphony performs German Romantic composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s popular 1893 adaptation of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale with help from Pacific Youth Choir, a quintet of vocal soloists, and most distinctively, dazzling shadow puppetry concocted by Chicago-based Manual Cinema.
Friday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, Portland.

• Two esteemed string quartets — Pražák Quartet and Zemlinsky Quartet — team up to play some prodigious classical works that they — and we — just don’t get to play nearly as much as they deserve, simply because most chamber music ensembles consist of three or four players, and these require eight. Felix Mendelssohn’s magnificent 1825 Octet is regularly termed “astonishing” by critics, and not just because he wrote it as a teenager. Any composer of any age would have been overjoyed to produce music of such tunefulness and exuberance. Its success seemed to encourage other young composers to try the same thing.

Romanian composer George Enescu was comparatively ancient — all of 20 years old — when he wrote his own Octet in 1900. As ArtsWatch’s Jeff Winslow wrote about last summer’s Chamber Music Northwest performance, it goes on too long and lacks emotional variety, but packs enough powerful moments to herald his own successful career. Maybe 18-year-old music student Dmitri Shostakovich learned a lesson from Enescu: his two highly contrasting octet movements from 1925 are tight (under 10 minutes) and potent, signaling the Russian composer’s forthcoming ascension to the pinnacle of 20th century classical music.
Sunday, Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon.

Silkroad Ensemble
Appropriate to the diversity of the cultures it draws from, the Grammy-winning global fusion group performs diverse repertoire in manifold configurations. It’s not clear from the publicity exactly which one will be performing in Oregon, and what they’ll play, but it’s hard to resist any group put together by Yo Yo Ma that contains so many fine musicians from around the world.
Monday, Newmark Theatre, Portland.

Kodo: Evolution
The world’s most famous — and possibly loudest — percussion ensemble celebrates its 35th anniversary with a new work for its Japanese taiko drums of all sizes. The 15 member troupe will play traditional and original percussion music in a performance that incorporates dance and visual appeal as well as stirring, dramatic music.
Tuesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, Portland.

• Streaming: LIVE: PSU NOON CONCERT: Poulenc at the Piano, 12 noon Thursday (see above listing).

Got more Oregon musical recommendations for this week? Please elaborate in the comments section below.

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One Response. Have your say.

  1. Gary Ferrington says:

    LIVE: PSU NOON CONCERT: Poulenc at the Piano 12 noon (PST) Thursday, January 31st. PSU Faculty perform the Poulenc Sextet, written in 1932.

    Link: https://www.facebook.com/SOMTPDX/

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