MusicWatch Weekly: women’s works

Oregon orchestras play music by female composers, and other January musical highlights

One of the many problems with the classical music establishment’s (finally) waning historical museum mentality is that if its artistic leaders aren’t careful, they can wind up reproducing yesterday’s regressive social attitudes on today’s stages. Long before classical music had its own #metoo revelations (one survivor being the now-wife of Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar), the institution had a long and inglorious history of sexism. Even in the supposedly liberated 20th and 21st centuries, female composers faced institutional discrimination, especially from orchestras.

Hagner plays Chin with the Oregon Symphony

• Yet still it persists. The only work by a female composer on this year’s Oregon Symphony classical season is this weekend’s atmospheric Violin Concerto by Korea-born, Berlin-based composer Unsuk Chin, which won classical music’s most lucrative prize in 2004. Deploying nearly two dozen varied percussion instruments, string harmonics, even a harpsichord, it ranges from surprisingly delicate to skittering to intriguingly colorful then ratchets up the intensity. Rising star violinist Viviane Hagner stars. Naturally, the program also contains symphonies by dead European males: Beethoven’s Haydn-esque first and Schumann’s uplifting third.
Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

• As Thursday’s Eugene Symphony concert demonstrates, women have been writing great symphonic music for decades. Last time, the orchestra featured new music from one of today’s finest composers of any gender, Jennifer Higdon. This week’s program opens with the rollicking 1943 Overture for Symphonic Orchestra by Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz. She was born in 1909, but it’s only recently that her music has begun to be widely played outside Poland. Fortunately for us, ESO music director Francesco Lecce-Chong is a fan. It’s great to see both major Oregon orchestras playing music by female composers this week. Why not every week?

Natasha Paremski joins Eugene Symphony Photo: Andrea Joynt.

The rest of ESO’s concert is pretty old school. Tchaikovsky’s grand first piano concerto, written in 1875 and revised several times, is still one of the chestnuts of the orchestra repertoire (as well as the subject of a hilarious Monty Python sketch), and this performance stars another female classical music star, Natasha Paremski, who impressed Oregon Symphony audiences recently. It’s hard to find a symphony that wouldn’t be overshadowed by its drama, but Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s “Inextinguishable” fourth symphony, written during World War I, comes close.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

More Old School

Delgani String Quartet’s Sunday afternoon concert also look squarely backward in time, with music by the greatest masters of string quartets from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries respectively. Almost all of Haydn’s 69 quartets are worth hearing, and many remain among the finest chamber music compositions in classical music. But his final full set Op. 76, represents a real culmination, and the 1798 fifth quartet, which Delgani plays here, has a slow movement to die for — in fact, it’s nicknamed the “graveyard movement” because it’s often played at funerals.

Speaking of final farewells, the Delganis will also play Beethoven’s last quartet from his magnificent final set. Completed months before his death, the 1826 Op. 135 isn’t quite as forward looking nor as wondrously weird as the others, but radiates an autumnal beauty that make it one of the composer’s finest. And Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1949 fourth quartet has a bit of contemporary relevance: it’s one of several he wrote using Jewish folk themes inspired by the horror of the holocaust and in protest against resurgent Russian anti- Semitism, something we in Eugene and America have sadly seen ourselves in recent months. Like the other two quartets on the program, it finds wintry beauty even in darkness.
Sunday, The Old Church, Portland.

• Sunday afternoon’s microphilharmonic performance at The Shedd features four arrangements of late 19th century orchestral works, distilled down to chamber orchestra forces playable by a dozen Eugene classical musicians. They all originated in a famous 1918-22 Vienna concert series that composer Arnold Schoenberg instigated to bring dozens of late 19th century masterworks down to size — large enough to convey their power, small enough to hear nuances and textures sometimes lost amid mega-orchestras in capacious halls. (Portland’s Martingale Orchestra has performed and recorded some of these same arrangements.) The chamber orchestra will play Schoenberg & colleagues’s adroit reductions of mega-masterworks by Johann Strauss, Debussy’s gorgeous Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Mahler songs, and even a Strauss arrangement by microphil mastermind and clarinetist Michael Anderson.
Sunday, The Shedd, Eugene.

Pianopalooza

Portland Piano International brings Behzod Abduraimov Saturday to play Liszt’s famous b minor sonata, plus music by Prokofiev and Wagner. On Sunday, he’ll repeat the Liszt and Wagner, then be joined by his former teacher, Uzbekistani-born American pianist Stanislav Ioudenitch, who won the prestigious 2001 Van Cliburn Competition, in two-piano works by Rachmaninov and Arensky.
Saturday & Sunday,  Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

• Portland Piano International’s biennial 2019 Youth Piano Concerto Competition features eight Portland area teenagers playing music by Beethoven, Gershwin, Scriabin and Rachmaninov.
Friday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

• Brazil’s André Mehmari Trio plays music by Clube de Esquina, a group of Brazilian artists who blend ideas and sounds from pop, folk music, bossa nova, jazz, and classical avant-garde.
Friday, Classic Pianos, 3003 SE Milwaukie Ave. Portland.

Andre Mehmari brings his Brazilian trio to Portland’s Classic Pianos

• The ever-intriguing Icelandic pianist/composer Ólafur Arnalds’s background ranges from old school techno to metal but has settled into moody electronica, soundtracks, orchestral music and an almost neo classical sound. His new album made a virtue of necessity: a hand injury kept him from playing piano for a year, so he create some programmable self playing pianos that he can trigger with another keyboard and program algorithmically.
Tuesday, Revolution Hall, Portland.

Teaming  Up

• In the decade-plus since Portland Cello Project’s debut, about the only constant in the group’s music has been, well, cellos. Everything else has been variable, with styles ranging from classical to hip hop to Elliott Smith and other Portland indie rock and beyond. On Saturday, PCP joins PDX Soul Collective, a quartet of Portland neo-soul / R&B performers including singer-songwriters Michalangela and Ronnie Wright, singer/songwriter/ guitarist Moorea Masa, and keyboardist/songwriter Jarrod Lawson. They might throw down anything from originals to a jazz classic like Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia to soul classics by the likes of Stevie Wonder to Gnarls Barkley. With cellos.  (Friday’s Radiohead covers show is sold out.)
Saturday, Revolution Hall, Portland.

Portland Cello Project & Friends play Portland’s Revolution Hall

• Speaking of pop music played on ‘classical” instruments, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra joins Susannah Mars and the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus in Broadway show tunes.
Saturday & Sunday, Skyview Concert Hall, Vancouver WA.

• More musical women: Al-Andalus singer Emily Miles, dancers Laura Dubroca and Veronica Medina Cano, and flamenco guitarist Julia Banzi team up with Salem Symphonic Winds play Spanish popular music, music from Spanish ballets and opera, zarzuelas and more. Expect castanet solos, flashy flamenco guitar, and fiery dance.
Sunday, Elsinore Theatre, Salem.

Festival Fever

• A pair of Portland festivals not primarily about music nevertheless include musical moments of interest to Oregon music lovers. Several entries in the annual Fertile Ground Festival of New Works, possibly Oregon’s most valuable artistic incubator, include music here and there, but Portland Mini Musical Festival boasts an entire lineup of short musicals. It’s one of my favorite FG events every year.
Thursday-Sunday, Brunish Theatre, Portland.

• And the Northwest Film Center’s Reel Music Festival continues with a free Thursday music video showcase. Friday’s Ballad of Shirley Collins tells the story of the famous 1960s British folk diva who lost her voice and left music for decades, to return with help from none other than Portland’s own great singer-songwriter—author-Decemberist Colin Meloy. Sunday’s Looking for Oum Kulthum covers the story of the Egyptian megastar who was one of the 20th century’s greatest singers. It’s good to see women’s music belatedly making it on screen as well as on stage.
Whitsell Auditorium, Portland Art Museum.

Streaming

PSU Noon Concert: Classical pianist William Westney. Thursday 12 pm.

More musical recommendations, from any gender? Please tell our readers in the comments section below.

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One Response. Have your say.

  1. bob priest says:

    Speaking of “one of today’s finest composers of any gender,” allow me to signal the tremendously gifted Bulgarian/British composer, Dobrinka Tabakova. I stumbled upon her ECM label CD “String Paths” 5 years ago & have kept it in my regular play list ever since.

    Dobrinka turns 40 in 2020 & I’m currently fantasizing about bringing her to Global Village PDX for March Music Moderne 2020.

    D-Bob sez, check her out!

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