Oregon Music 2018: looking outward

Socially engaged sounds, multimedia productions, and other trends in 2018 Oregon music

Last year’s music roundup first looked homeward. ArtsWatch’s 2017 music coverage focused, as we have from the outset, on our state’s creative culture: music conceived and composed in Oregon. We touched a lot of other bases, too of course, and homegrown music remained a touchstone our 2018 coverage and this recap.

But as with other Oregon artists this year, Oregon music increasingly gazed outward — and often askance — at our nation’s continuing descent into turmoil, division, lies, and political corruption, starting right at the top and oozing down. Therefore, so did much of our music coverage. So we’ll start with what ArtsWatch’s David Bates called…

“Socially Engaged” sounds

Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic and choir Resonance Ensemble devoted entire seasons to contemporary classical music that responds to today’s social issues.

Resonance Ensemble preview: questions of faith
Choral organization’s ‘Souls’ concert is part of a season-long musical exploration of timely social concerns
Brett Campbell, February 23

‘Bodies’ review: Pride is a verb
Resonance Ensemble’s Pride Week concert commemorates LGBTQIA community’s struggles and celebrates its creativity.
Matthew Andrews, August 14

Resonance Ensemble

Resonance Ensemble: amplifying ‘Hidden Voices’
Vocal ensemble’s collaborative concert features musical responses to experiences marked by racism and resistance.
Matthew Andrews, November 17

Fear No Music: music of migration and more
New music ensemble demonstrates dedication to diversity and development.
Matthew Andrews, December 10

New music ensemble Fear No Music

Other classical music organizations also presented issue-oriented new music.

Oregon Symphony reviews: immigrant songs
Fall concerts include a world premiere theatrical commission and 20th century works by immigrant American composers
Matthew Andrews, January 9

Lawrence Brownlee preview: a journey
In a Friends of Chamber Music recital, the celebrated tenor sings a Romantic classic and a new, timely composition about America’s most pressing crisis
Damien Geter, April 2

Shredding it at “Pass the Mic” camp.

Portland Meets Portland
The innovative “Pass the Mic” summer music camp pairing music pros and young refugees and immigrants will give a free concert Friday.
Friderike Heuer, July 14

David Ludwig: telling the earth’s story through music
Composer’s Chamber Music Northwest commission inspired by ancient Earth, threat of extinction from human-caused climate change.
Matthew Andrews, July 27

Gabriel Kahane’s new oratorio confronts America’s empathy deficit
Commissioned, performed and recorded this week by the Oregon Symphony, ’emergency shelter intake form’ humanizes homelessness.
Interview by Matthew Andrews, August 28

Multimedia

Besides addressing today’s social issues, another trend among some classical music organizations in 2018 was updating their presentations by augmenting music with other art forms such as theater, literature, visual arts, and more. At ArtsWatch, we try to provide constructive feedback on how these often experimental productions worked, so we can help risk-taking artists move forward into unexplored territories — without leaving the audience behind.

Fin de Cinema’s “Beauty and the Beast”: spirit of discovery
Latest mix of classic film and Portland contemporary music captures Cocteau creation’s mix of beauty and grit.
Douglas Detrick, January 23

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Cappella PYP, Portland State choirs, and In Mulieribus perform Richard Einhorn’s ‘Voices of Light’ during a screening of Dreyer’s film Friday.

‘Voices of Light’ preview: trial by fire
Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus, Portland State University choirs perform Richard Einhorn’s popular oratorio ‘Voices of Light’ with Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc.’
Brett Campbell, January 25

“Tesla” lab report
Harmonic Laboratory’s ambitious experimental multimedia performance produces mixed results.
Brett Campbell, February 6

Delgani String Quartet preview: crimes of passion
Portland and Springfield concerts combine theatrical readings with music by Shostakovich, Janacek and a premiere by Oregon composer Paul Safar.
Gary Ferrington, April 14

Designing ‘Faust’
In Portland Opera’s new production of Gounod’s classic, visual artist John Frame relies on collaborators to bring the audience inside the mind of the man who made the original deal with the devil
Paul Maziar, June 8

Devils in Portland Opera’s new production of Gounod’s ‘Faust.’ Photo: Cory Weaver.

Kenari Quartet: sax in the spotlight
Chamber Music Northwest concerts and theatrical presentation put a neglected classical music instrument in the forefront
Patrick McCulley, October 5

Bridgetown Orchestra over Troubled Water
Multimedia production ‘On Being Water’ doesn’t run deep
Matthew Andrews, October 16

Oregon Symphony preview: puppety ‘Petrushka’
Creative director Doug Fitch enhances Stravinsky score with puppets and other theatrical elements. Matthew Andrews, November 2

Oregon Symphony Orchestra: Nightmares before Christmas
OSO film series presents two simultaneous dramas: one on screen, one hidden in the orchestra
Matthew Andrews, December 27

Going Local

As we noted last year, the primary focus of ArtsWatch music coverage remains original music composed by Oregonians, and it was a treat to see so many local institutions, not just stalwart Cascadia Composers, presenting so much of it in 2018. Here are just a few of our many stories about homegrown music.

Setting Brecht: Daniel Daly’s new ‘Mother Courage’ music
Eugene composer creates a 21st century score for University of Oregon’s production of Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s political classic
Gary Ferrington. February 25

Edna Vazquez with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble review: homeward sound
Portland mariachi singer/songwriter’s music shines in new, original arrangements for jazz band
Christina Rusnak, March 16

A scene from ‘Tango of the White Gardenia.’

‘Tango of the White Gardenia’: breaking the code
New made-in-Oregon chamber opera addresses bullying, identity and the spiritual healing power of art
Angela Allen, September 13

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra & Nicole Buetti: keeping orchestra music alive
Orchestra opens season with original music composed by one of its members
Matthew Andrews, October 19

Past Meets Future

Classical music’s backward looking fetishization of the past — actually a relatively recent phenomenon that started in early 20th century America and can’t end soon enough for us — continued in 2018 in Oregon, and has also infected jazz. Not that old music shouldn’t be revived and preserved, but it stays relevant to today’s audiences when combined in programs with non-token contemporary sounds, as, for example, the Oregon Symphony, Chamber Music Northwest, and non Oregon baroque music ensembles are doing more often. Here are some of the many 2018 concerts we covered that combined music of past and future in various ways.

‘Brahms vs. Radiohead’: classical mashup
Oregon Symphony plays a program that pairs the composer’s first symphony with the band’s ‘OK Computer’
Brett Campbell, January 4

Steve Hackman led the Oregon Symphony in ‘Brahms vs. Radiohead.’

March Music Moderne preview: celebrating Debussy
Festival commemorates the creativity and influence of composer Claude Debussy with concerts of his music and new works by Oregon composers
Brett Campbell, March 20

45th Parallel: expanding universe
Under new cooperative leadership, Portland organization kicks off ambitious 10th anniversary season this weekend with new ensembles and diverse programming
Matthew Andrews, October 4

Byrd Ensemble review: corona of sound
Seattle vocal ensemble bathes Portland audience in clear, clean choral singing
Bruce Browne and Daryl Browne, November 5

Choral Arts Ensemble & Cappella Romana: many ways of being many 
Portland choirs sing music programmed and created by diverse and unified voices
Matthew Andrews, November 11

Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland

Jennifer Higdon: updating classical music
Prize-winning American composer, whose music will be performed this week by Eighth Blackbird and Eugene Symphony, shows how the genre can avoid obsolescence
Daniel Heila, November 13

Black Violin: busting musical stereotypes
Violin & viola duo blends classical music with pop and hip-hop
Brett Campbell, November 15

Oregon Symphony: “More intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly”
Orchestra’s fall concerts feature music by Leonard Bernstein, Tchaikovsky, and Drake
Matthew Andrews, November 29

Choral Arts Ensemble: celebrating past, present, and future
Portland choir’s winter concert focuses on 20th and 21st century seasonal sounds, including new music by Northwest composers
Bruce Browne And Daryl Browne, December 14

Porter and King closed the 2018 Montavilla Jazz Festival. Photo: Kathryn Elsesser

Montavilla Jazz Festival: Journeys in space and time
Annual jazz celebration culminates in a dazzling musical voyage that transcended today’s terrestrial troubles
David Maclaine, December 21

Time Travel

Of course, many Oregon classical and jazz concerts did focus primarily on the past, and ArtsWatch responded with stories that explored their relevance (or lack thereof) to today’s audiences.

Cappella Romana review: drones, overtones and unknowns
Portland vocal ensemble’s ‘Venice in the East’ concert offered splendid singing and rare repertoire — but needed more variety
Bruce Browne, May 11

‘Orfeo ed Euridice’ review: back from the dead
Portland Opera creates a new production of Gluck’s masterpiece that the composer himself might have enjoyed
Bruce Browne And Daryl Browne, August 2

Carrington-Coltrane-Spalding: Celebrating Geri Allen
PDXJazz concert summons the generous spirit of the late pianist
Patrick McCulley, August 9

Uday Bhawalkar review: a quick primer on Indian music appreciation
Legendary singer’s transcendent Portland concert provides a gateway to understanding the sophisticated beauty of Indian classical music.
Matthew Andrews, August 20

Kalakendra presented Pratap Awad, Uday Bhawalkar and Michael Stirling.

Pacifica Quartet preview: cycling Beethoven
Renowned chamber ensemble’s five-concert series offers a rare opportunity to take a deep dive into some of the greatest music ever written
Brett Campbell, October 26

Conversations

ArtsWatch writers interviewed lots of musicians this year, getting the inside view of making music.

Zakir Hussain & Rakesh Chaurasia preview: a conversation in concert
Kalakendra brings one of the world’s greatest percussionists and a bamboo flute master to perform traditional Hindustani music
Matthew Andrews, March 9

Imani Winds: celebrating the differences
Chamber Music Northwest brings the renowned wind ensemble back to Portland this week as its artists in residence
Brett Campbell, April 16

Emblems Wind Quintet preview: fresh breezes
Young ensemble’s concert brings 21st century music to Eugene
Gary Ferrington, May 28

‘Beyond the Cultural Revolution’ preview: cultural confluence
Chamber Music Northwest celebrates contemporary music by composers of Chinese heritage
Brett Campbell, July 16

Wu Man performed at Lan Su Chinese Garden.
Photo: Tom Emerson Photography.

Bright Sheng interview: cross-cultural emissary
The Shanghai-born American composer, whose music is featured at Chamber Music Northwest this weekend, explores and extends Chinese music traditions
Alice Hardesty, July 20

Joan Tower: ‘The voice is in the risks’
The esteemed American composer, in Oregon for Willamette Valley Chamber Music festival, talks about music, teaching, risk-taking, and the future of classical music (not)
Matthew Andrews, August 10

Andy Akiho: systems within systems
Composer and steely pan virtuoso brings the heat at Chamber Music Northwest, and tells ArtsWatch where the fire comes from
Matthew Andrews, September 17

Jennifer Frautschi and Andy Akiho performed ‘Deciduous’ at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre. Photo: Tom Emerson Photography — at The Alberta Rose Theatre.

‘The Little Prince’: flight of imagination
Opera Theater Oregon artistic director Justin Ralls sees Saint-Exupery’s story as “a metaphor for that revitalizing world of imagination and creativity”
Matthew Andrews, November 30

Institutional Appraisals

Unlike most pop music, Oregon classical and jazz music tends to be presented by institutions, and ArtsWatch provides one of the state’s only journalistic institutions that regularly assesses how they’re serving listeners — a vital service to both the community and the organizations themselves.

PDX Jazz Festival reviews: music and more
Regina Carter, Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan, Luciana Souza, Tigran Hamasyan and young Portland visual artists were among the highlights of the annual celebration of jazz
Angela Allen, February 27

Spontaneous Combustion reviews 1: from hub to sandbox
Two extraordinary young East Coast new music quartets light up the new music festival’s first edition
Angela Allen & Matthew Andrews, March 5

Sandbox Percussion performed in Portland’s Spontaneous Combustion Festival of New Music.

Spontaneous Combustion reviews 2: sublime solos, dynamic duo
Maria Choban, Matthew Andrews, Brett Campbell, March 6

ACDA Conference: choral camaraderie
Convocation of choral excellence in Portland features diverse music and a strong bracket, but ignores larger community
Bruce Browne, April 6

Rogue Valley Symphony preview: season of renewal
For its 50th anniversary season, southern Oregon orchestra commissions five new compositions, concluding this weekend with new work by Ethan Gans-Morse
Gary Ferrington, April 17

Portland Wind Symphony review: free is a very good price
Growing orchestra’s strong performance gave the audience greater value than many paid concerts
Maria Choban, May 17

‘Outset’ and ‘Confluence’ series: improvisation institutions
Creative Music Guild series bring both local and touring creative improv performers to Oregon audiences
Patrick McCulley, May 22

Suddenly, a major music festival
The new Aquilon Music Festival, a three-week feast of “delightfully affordable” opera, recitals, lectures and more, sets sail in McMinnville
David Bates, June 27

Photo First: glorious blue FourthWaterfront Blues Festival: Day 2
Waterfront Blues Festival: Day 3
Waterfront Blues Festival: The End
Speaking of multimedia, ArtsWatch periodically features images as well as words about art. Photographer Joe Cantrell captures the sights and sounds of the sprawling blues party, July 4-8

Third Angle New Music: New directions
New music ensemble’s leadership transition offers opportunity for reboot
Brett Campbell, July 5

Beta Percussion Institute: crossroads of performance and composition
New concert series and seminars spotlight contemporary percussion music
Gary Ferrington, July 24

Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium: big tent
Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium: concentrated wisdom
An ArtsWatch and Oregon composer gave readers both inside and outside views of the multifaceted biennial University of Oregon music composition incubator
Gary Ferrington, July 30, Christina Rusnak, July 31

Oregon Bach Festival: vision vacuum
Lacking a coherent artistic vision, venerable festival flounders
Tom Manoff, August 13

Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival: in vino violins
August concert series mixes listening and tasting in wine country
Angela Allen, August 3

Noise Fest 2018 preview: art of noise
Eugene-based festival extends a century-long experimental music tradition
Daniel Heila, August 16

Cult of Orpheus: lyrical music
Concert offers a five-year retrospective of Portland composer Christopher Corbell’s creative reboot
Brett Campbell, August 23

Chris Whyte and Paul Owen Cagily plucked a cactus at Makrokosmos.

Makrokosmos IV review: screwy, spiritual music for a summer evening
Portland summer modern music marathon’s ‘Dadapalooza’ mixes Cage, Zappa, Crumb, piano, percussion, even cactus into a meditative musical experience
Matthew Andrews, August 27

Chamber Music Northwest: risk-taking redeemed
This summer’s festival, like last year’s, shows a classical music organization refreshing itself with new performers and new music
Brett Campbell, August 30

YuCheng Ren as The Jade Emperor in ‘The Silver River.’ Photo: Tom Emerson Photography.

Oregon Symphony 2018: bridging divides
Orchestra’s 2018 concerts, past and future, appeal to broader audiences than the stereotype suggests
Matthew Andrews, August 31

Cascadia Composers at ten
Saturday’s tenth anniversary season-opening concert celebrates a decade of showcasing and stimulating community creativity
Brett Campbell, September 14

Oregon Symphony’s diversity deficit
Orchestra’s 2018-19 classical programming fails to reflect its hometown’s inclusive values
Damien Geter, September 21

45th Parallel: expanding universe
Under new cooperative leadership, Portland organization kicks off ambitious 10th anniversary season this weekend with new ensembles and diverse programming
Matthew Andrews, October 4

We realize this recap represents only a fraction of our own coverage and of Oregon music. (Many other music stories are listed elsewhere in our year-end wrap ups.) We’d love to cover more shows and musical genres, respond more quickly, expand our ambit — and we can only do it with your support. If you’d like us to cover Oregon music better, help us do so by clicking the button below.

Want to read more cultural news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.