The stage was set for the public music event of the century, or at least the quadrennium. The dignitaries, if that’s the word, were assembled at the seat of government, commencing the investiture of its new ruler, who’d ascended to power via a combination of cynicism, disillusionment, disenfranchisement, racism, and opponent haplessness. The ceremony proceeded with the usual ruffles and flourishes, this time soured with a soupçon of faux-populist bile. The Bible was flourished, the oath recited, repeated, the hands shaken, the transfer made, the crime completed. All eyes and ears turned to the waiting military band to seal the dirty deal with the imprimatur of public Art. The conductor raised his baton — and instead of the first notes of “Hail to the Chief,” the band began playing “Back in the USSR”….
Bemusement gave way to consternation and then to apoplexy with the dawning realization of the import of this act of arrant lese majeste. The new Commissar in Chief sputtered orders to anyone in uniform to suppress the musical rebellion, while the old one, plainly relieved of the burdens of official optimism, vainly tried to hide his chuckle behind his hand, then returned to his daydream of Hawaiian escape. While chaos erupted, the musicians continued to play Lennon-McCartney, bringing the nation to its senses. The gathered Supreme Court justices quickly conferred and ruled the election rigged, due to rampant dinformation and disenfranchisement, with a do-over scheduled for July 4. In the Kremlin, fury quickly turned to new schemes….
But alas, it was only a dream, last weekend’s InAAARGH!uration opportunity for the artistic if not political coup of the century squandered.
Oregonians, however, have abundant opportunities to experience musical subversion and seduction this week, including, presumably by sheer coincidence, an invasion of Russian music. Please recommend others in the comments section.
Battle Trance, Blue Cranes
Mississippi Studios, Portland
Despite their instrument’s stereotype, this brilliant quartet of tenor sax titans, all with distinctive individual careers and voices, creates contemporary classical music that sounds nothing like jazz as we know it. Read and hear this NPR story. Portland’s own adventurous jazz ensemble opens.
Reel Music Festival
Northwest Film Center, Portland Art Museum
This week’s musicocinematic treats cover the blues (tributes to the great gospel/blues group the Blind Boys of Alabama, and the late great jazz/blues singer/pianist Mose Allison, who departed last year); metal (Saturday’s double feature); blues (Allison, Nighthawks founder and vintage jazz preservationist/bandleader Vince Giordano, the sublime pianist Fred Hersch, nonagenarian Portland saxophonist/Holocaust survivor/author/scholar Frank Wesley); and a free Northwest music video showcase.
“Passion in Winter”
Chamber Music Northwest, PSU, Lincoln Performance Hall, and Reed College, Kaul Auditorium
The annual winter festival features American classical music’s major power couple, pianist Wu Han and her husband, former Emerson Quartet cellist David Finckel, who’ve run New York’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for years and created its record label, along with founding chamber music festivals and, oh yeah, playing classical music together. Their Thursday concert at PSU includes one of JS Bach’s lovely viola da gamba sonatas, Beethoven’s variations on Handel’s song “See the conqu’ring hero comes,” and sonatas by Grieg and Shostakovich, plus an arrangement for cello of the famous Vocalise another Russian composer, Rachmaninoff’s, wrote for the instrument that is said to most resemble the human voice. Bonus: musicians from Portland Youth Philharmonic will open with Stravinsky’s Septet and Grieg’s g minor string quartet.
The pair head over to Reed College to join Austin’s Miro Quartet and the Montrose Trio in Friday’s mixed-instrument concert featuring one of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, a rarely heard quartet by Russian Romantic composer Anton Arensky, and Mendelssohn’s early, “other” violin concerto. PYP musicians again open, this time with Dvorak’s evergreen “American” quartet and some Shostakovich.
On Saturday at Reed, the Montrose and Miro players team up for both of Brahms’s seductive String Sextets, and the Montrose Trio brings it home Sunday at PSU in trios by Brahms, Beethoven and Shostakovich.
Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center, Eugene.
Andrew von Oeyen stars in an American classical masterworks: Samuel Barber’s ruggedly Romantic, Pulitzer Prize winning 1962 Piano Concerto, influenced as much by Russian symphonic music as Trump is by Putin. The other guest, emerging young conductor Ryan McAdams, is the second of three candidates auditioning for the orchestra’s music director job. He’ll also lead the band through Brahms’s first symphony and Mozart’s dramatic overture to his opera Don Giovanni.
Herb Alpert and Lani Hall
The Shedd, Eugene.
The best selling trumpeter/composer/record producer/philanthropist teams with his wife and fellow Grammy winner, former lead singer of Brasil ’66, to play Brazilian tunes, jazz, and of course shagadelic Tijuana Brass classics that ruled the pop charts in the ‘60s.
Zig Zag String Quartet
Darrell Hanks Bowmaker Studio, 1255 NW 9th #11, Portland.
The Russians are coming! The George Fox University faculty foursome plays quartets by Prokofiev and Borodin. No food allowed, unless it’s borscht.
First United Methodist Church, 1165 NW Monroe Avenue, Corvallis.
Da, more Russki! The wind ensemble plays music by Prokofiev (Romeo and Juliet selections) and Stravinsky (Pulcinella selections), along with some Mendelssohn (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Ravel (Bolero) and an American, Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story selections).
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
January 27, WOW Hall, Eugene and January 29, Aladdin Theater, Portland.
The legendary African a cappella ensemble just earned its 17th Grammy nomination for its 2016 album, Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers, its first since winning its fourth Grammy in 2014. While probably still most famous in the West for their collaborations with Paul Simon and appearance in The Lion King, the group’s own concert appearances remain some of the most joyful celebrations of peace and music onstage. Warning: last year’s Eugene show sold out, so get tickets early.
Oregon Jazz Festival
Lane Community College Ragozzino Hall, Eugene.
Kneebody saxman Ben Wendel is the guest star, backed by a trio of Portland jazz stars, at the annual celebration of jazz featuring students and faculty ensembles from the University of Oregon and Lane Community College.
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
Star violinist Stefan Jackiw joins the band for one of the 20th century’s great violin concertos, Prokofiev’s second, while the orchestra plays under-40 American composer Sean Shepherd’s short, colorful Russian-inspired Magiya, the sparkling Divertimento derived from Stravinsky’s Tchaikovsky-inspired (almost a collaboration across the decades) ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, and, in turn, Tchaikovsky’s own dramatic Romeo and Juliet fantasy overture, probably inspired by the suicide of his own young lover years before — a victim of a love as forbidden as the Shakespearean characters that inspired it.
“I love the orchestra,” Shepherd told me in an interview for another publication. “[Finnish composer] Magnus Lindberg has a great quote — it’s a ‘typewriter with all the keys.’ You’ve got 60-80 instruments that can reach from octave below bass clef to two octaves above treble, all those colors, so many moving parts. I like the spatial challenges of it. I’m one of those people who can memorize a map and know where I’m going and I love the challenge the orchestra provides in terms of getting things in the right place at the right time, right context with right message. I played a lot in orchestras. I studied bassoon, so I spent a lot of time sitting in the middle of an orchestra so I got to hear it all. It’s this elephant twirling around on one toe; it’s amazing the things it can do. I’m always happy to write for it, and I’ve been lucky to be able write a few pieces a year,” which have been performed by, among others, the New York Philharmonic, the National, BBC, and New World symphony orchestras, and his hometown Reno Philharmonic.
Cappella Romana, January 28, St. Mary’s Cathedral, and January 29, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church.
Read Daniel Heila’s ArtsWatch preview of the Portland choir’s performance of the All Night Vigil (Vigilia) by Einojuhani Rautavaara.
St. Michael and All Angels, 1704 NE 43rd Ave. Portland.
The Portland Revels’ women’s choir sings music and tells stories from the Jewish diaspora, American folk traditions, and Indonesia.
Newport Performing Arts Center, 777 W. Olive Street, Newport.
Another Russian (Tchaikovsky Symphony #4) – American (Charles Ives’s Decoration Day), plus Mozart’s Symphony #34 and music by Sarasate. I hear you can get a dacha much cheaper in Newport than Portland….
Tsunami Books, Eugene.
Singer Laura Wayte’s non-stuffy recital series features Eugene Opera soprano Tess Altiveros and pianist Elisabeth Ellis singing new songs by Northwest composers Thomas Joyce and Emerson Eads. They’ll also sing Ravel’s ravishing Five Greek Songs, Schumann’s A Woman’s Love and Life and music by 20th century British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, in an ideally intimate setting. Discounts available to anyone wearing those big fur hats.
Wieden+Kennedy, 224 NW 13th Ave. Portland.
The chamber ensemble drawn from the top ranks of Portland Youth Philharmonic play an excellent program of too-seldom performed 20th century works: Stravinsky’s sparkling Septet, contemporary Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov’s powerful nonet Last Round, and two pieces for octet by Shostakovich.
Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene.
The superb Berlin-based English viol consort plays music by the two greatest composers of the English Renaissance, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, plus music by J.S. Bach and Mozart. A viol consort uses the half-millennium old stringed instruments that preceded modern violins and cellos. When played by historically informed specialists like these, in the tunings the composers intended, the instruments can produce some of the most emotionally affecting music you’ll ever hear: sighing, crying, exulting, and many shades in between.