MusicWatch Weekly: still burning

Spontaneous Combustion festival continues to light a fire under the West Coast's new music scene

The Oregon portion of the valuable new Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival isn’t even half over and already it’s produced a pair of the finest contemporary classical concerts in recent memory: a spectacular performance of music by Gyorgy Ligeti and one-time Oregonians Lou Harrison and Benjamin Krause by Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet, and a sublime and varied solo recital by Boston flutist Orlando Cela that revealed some gems by young, lesser known composers (a welcome hallmark of the festival so far) as well as Astor Piazzolla and others. Oregon rarely gets performances by rising young national performers who play this music full time, with adequate rehearsal.

One of the most exciting recent additions to Oregon’s new music scene, the festival continues through Feb. 2 with major new music performers including daring New York cellist Ashley Bathgate and City of Tomorrow wind quintet. Tonight (Wednesday) at Portland’s Classic Pianos, 3003 SE Milwaukie Ave., New York’s Iktus Duo plays flute and percussion music by Oregon’s Lou Harrison and less well known composers including Joseph Pereira, Adam Vidiksis, James Romig, Bruce Hamilton and more.

On Friday, at The Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave., New York’s Sandbox Percussion (which has premiered many new compositions, performed at prestigious festivals, collaborated with LA’s visionary The Industry opera company, and includes young percussion phenom Ian Rosenbaum, who so impressed Chamber Music Northwest audiences with his sensational performances of electrifying music by the fabulous rising young composer Andy Akiho) plays his music, works by American composing eminence Steve Reich and more.

The Delgani Quartet reprises the most dazzling of the pieces they played so brilliantly in Portland in their hometown at United Lutheran Church, 2230 Washington St. on Sunday afternoon January 28 and Tuesday night January 30. The great late 20th century avant garde composer Georgy Ligeti’s Métamorphoses Nocturnes takes off from where his countryman Bartok’s magnificent masterpieces left off — but turns into an impish, kaleidoscopic carnival ride (complete with drunken waltz) that had the Portland audience both chuckling and cheering. The other quartet on the program, Beethoven’s op. 131 from 1826, was considered as avant garde in his time as was Ligeti’s at its birth in 1954. It’s now deservedly regarded as one of the greatest compositions ever written, and one of Beethoven’s own personal favorites.

Isata Kanneh-Mason performs Friday and Saturday in Portland Piano International’s Rising Star series.

New music by an Oregon composer — and one of Portland’s most valuable musicians, pianist/ composer/ educator Darrell Grant, tops the program at Isata Kanneh-Mason’s recital Friday at Friday, Jan 26: 7:00pm at Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd. and Saturday at Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St. Grant’s Darker Angels: Reflections on Hiawatha, (commissioned through Portland Piano International’s admirable Rising Star program that pairs new music by Oregonians with emerging young piano talents) draws on source material from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s 24 Negro Melodies, which in turn was based on Negro spirituals, West African folk themes, and the composer’s own encounters with W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Appropriately, the multiple-prize- winning 21 year old British prodigy, part of a distinguished family of acclaimed young musicians, also plays music by that late-19th century fellow Afro-British musician, as well as Prokofiev’s short, early third sonata, Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata and Ravel stately, melancholy Pavane for a Dead Princess.

Amplified Repertory Chamber Orchestra of Portland has galvanized Portland’s classical music scene by using well-designed sound amplification and state-of-the-art lighting effects to enhance its performances of classical music in ways most other concert goers have come to expect. Their performances Friday at Eugene’s Whirled Pies and Saturday at Portland’s Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., ArcoPDX unveil a couple of firsts for the band: vocals and classically enhanced arrangements of non-classical works, three songs by Depeche Mode, the ‘80s synth lords whose music ruled dance clubs and eventually stadiums, and whose recent tour was one of the biggest of the year. The shows also include dark classics by J.S. Bach, Dmitri Shostakovich, Arvo Part and more.

Carl Dreyer’s stark, stunning 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc appears on every major film critic’s list of the greatest movies ever made, and it looks even better on a really big screen. In 1994, American composer Richard Einhorn created a vibrant new score for Dreyer’s film, unmistakably contemporary but grounded in early music elements. On Friday at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall  Portland Youth Philharmonic’s skilled chamber orchestra, Camerata PYP, joins some of Portland’s finest singers, including the superb female vocal ensemble In Mulieribus three award winning Portland State University ensembles, and a quartet of other local vocal stars (Catherine van der Salm, Hannah Penn, Brian Tierney, and Anton Belov) to perform Einhorn’s gorgeous oratorio “Voices of Light” with the Northwest Film Center’s screening of the beautifully restored version of Dreyer’s classic. Read my ArtsWatch preview.

Chamber Music Northwest Winter Festival this Friday-Monday at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Avenue and Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd. brings back some of America’s busiest chamber musicians (Ani Kavafian, Ida Kavafian, Anne-Marie McDermott, Bella Hristova, Peter Wiley, the Verona Quartet) to perform classics by Schubert, Stravinsky, and more, including an all-Mozart concert, a show featuring some of baroque music’s greatest hits by Bach, Vivaldi, and Telemann, and even a couple of contemporary works by Lowell Liebermann and David Ludwig.

There’s more old music on the bill at Eugene Symphony’s concert this Thursday at the Hult Center, with fab pianist (and Northwest fave) Jon Kimura Parker soloing in Grieg’s mighty Piano Concerto and the band finishing with Schubert’s grand ninth symphony. On Friday in Salem, and Saturday-Monday in Portland, Oregon Symphony takes another bash at Brahms’s eloquent first symphony, this time without Radiohead interpolations, along with Mozart’s delightful final violin concerto with soloist Benjamin Beilman and four minutes of actual music from our own time, German composer Detlef Glanert’s brief, brash, brassy Concert Blaring. On Saturday and Sunday at Skyview Hall, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra plays Haydn’s famous “Farewell” symphony, which calls for the musicians to walk off the stage, one by one, to noodge their employer to give them a long needed vacation. Unfortunately, they’re playing them in the wrong order, because the band has to reassemble after intermission to perform Dvorak’s ever popular, overplayed “New World” symphony.

If all this new and old music doesn’t get you high enough, there’s also Groupmuse’s classical music ‘n cannabis house concert at Portland’s McCormick Mansion sponsored by HiFi Farms, but it appears to be booked up. Next time!

There’s a whole bunch of jazz deluging Portland next month, but if you’re craving an early taste, Bossa PDX (bassist Damian Erskine on bass, guitarist Enzo Irace, flute/sax colossus Joe Manis, pianist/singer Kerry Politzer, drummer Micah Hummel swings classic bossa nova and Brazilian jazz Tuesday at Portland’s The 1905, 830 N. Shaver St.

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

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