cappella romana

Now that you’ve given to friends, family, and (hint) all those worthy arts nonprofits, how about treating yourself to a gift of Oregon music? We heard only a fraction of the classical, jazz and world music released by Oregon artists this year, but we sure enjoyed a lot of what we did hear. We’re dividing our year-end wrap into three segments this time, beginning with two Portland based groups that usually perform music before 1800 and frequently work together, as in this month’s Messiah performances. And don’t forget our past Oregon CD recommendations in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Cappella Romana

The Portland vocal ensemble released three recordings this year.

GoodFridayInJerusalem-300x300Good Friday in Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Re-read James McQuillen’s ArtsWatch review. You can hear the ensemble sing some of this music next week; see our Wednesday weekend previews for details.
cappella romana steinberg
Maximilian Steinberg’s Passion Week

Read my Wall Street Journal review of the Portland vocal ensemble’s world premiere performance of the long lost choral masterpiece they recorded and released this year. This new recording sounds just as moving as that performance, and contains not only the Lithuanian-born Steinberg’s early 20th century sacred music masterpiece, but also five Chant Arrangements for Holy Week composed by Steinberg’s father in law, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose shimmering beauty, if not innovation, approaches that of his son in law’s work.

Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin West
Nicosia, Cyprus in the 15th century: crossroads of East and West; way station for Crusaders; a prize captured by Richard the Lionheart; a successive vassal of French, Italian and Ottoman rulers; a multicultural community that included significant populations of Christians both European and Middle Eastern, Armenians, Jews, and Muslims. There are moments in history when the right combination of people and historical forces converges on a particular provincial community (like ‘60s Motown or Memphis in pop music) and transforms a cultural outpost into a surprising artistic fountain. The Portland vocal ensemble’s third (!) 2015 release imagines what a listener might have heard at one of those fertile junctures.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Dance ’til we drop. Rach around the clock.

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts, and a glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? That, as ArtsWatch reader and Oregon composer Jack Gabel reminds us, is the title of a 1969 Jane Fonda movie about marathon dances, those Depression-era competitions that went on and on until the prize money finally went to the last man and woman standing.

Alessandro Sciarrone’s dance FOLK-S, Will you still love me tomorrow?, which played a few nights ago at Portland’s annual TBA Festival, might not have the same tinge of desperation. But as Andrea Stolowitz writes for ArtsWatch, it’s a marathon nonetheless. And it’s dance until almost everyone drops.

"FOLK-S, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?": Dance 'til you drop. Photo: Andrea Macchio

“FOLK-S, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”: Dance ’til you drop. Photo: Andrea Macchio

“The lights bumped up,” she writes. “An actor came forward and said, ‘Tonight we will perform a dance traditional of the Tyrolean region. We will keep performing this dance until either no one of you is left in the audience or no one of us is left on stage. Anyone who leaves the theater will not be allowed back in.‘ And with that gauntlet thrown, the dance started again.”

Later, as the crowd and stage begin to thin: “They danced through heat and sweat and in twosomes and fivesomes, and sometimes alone. Audience members began to leave. And still the five danced. And you could think that so long as someone was there to watch them maybe they would dance forever. And on they danced. Until another actor left. We sat there, shocked. It was happening. We were down to four. And more audience left.” That was not, as you might surmise, the end. Still, just to reassure you: No horses were harmed in the making of this dance.

In TBA goes local, ArtsWatch’s Jamuna Chiarini slips behind the scenes for quick-hit interviews with several Portland dancers and choreographers who’ve been showing their work on the festival’s stages.

TBA continues in venues across the city through Sunday, with some visual arts exhibitions lasting until October 11.


Photo: Third Rail Repertory Theatre

Photo: Third Rail Repertory Theatre

OPENING THIS WEEKEND. Maureen Porter (above) stars as Aphra Behn, “poet, actress, spy, and one of the first professional female playwrights of the Restoration,” in Third Rail Rep’s production of Liz Duffy Adams’ comedy Or, opening Friday at Imago.

Also new on Portland stages this weekend:

A big, full-bore revival of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town at Portland Center Stage.

La Luna Nueva, Milagro’s wide-ranging festival of performance for kids ranging from First Nations storytelling to West African and taiko drumming, Mexican legends, flamenco guitar, Tahitian dance, and more.


SABINA POOLE IS ON A MISSION. It’s a good mission. You might even say, fascinating. In a nutshell, over the past year and a bit she’s visited 70 artists in their studios around Oregon, gathering photographs and interviews for a book coming out in October, Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014. She’s begun to run excerpts – intriguing snippets, really – weekly in ArtsWatch. “My method was, I hoped, unobtrusive,” she writes. “… My role was to document the artists in their unique environment – in the lighting they were used to, in the rooms they lived and worked in, surrounded by the things they loved and cared about, even if that meant dogs and children or other unanticipated creatures.”

The series so far:

Introducing Connective Conversations. The nitty gritty on the project and Poole’s rules of engagement.

Renee Couture: A trailer with a view. A visit to the wild woods east of Roseburg, where Poole hikes uphill to her studio trailer in Peele, which “is near a place called No Fog. No kidding.”

DE May: Inside a studio, darkly. Among Poole’s notes on finally getting to see the reclusive Salem artist: “HATES daylight, only likes to be up and about in the dark – hence his darkened windows, and all the shadows. … darkness is key to his work, and ethos. Interesting relationship with goldfish.”

Renee Couture inside her trailer studio. Photo: Sabina Poole

Renee Couture inside her trailer studio. Photo: Sabina Poole


WELCOME TO ARTSWATCH WEEKLY. We’ve been sending a letter like this every Tuesday for a couple of years now to a select group of email subscribers. We’ll continue to do that, and now we’re posting it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and often head off on little arts rambles that we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.



A choral Rach around the clock. ArtsWatch visited St. Mary’s Cathedral to hear the vitalchorus Cappella Romana perform Rachmaninoff’s immensely moving, century-old All Night Vigil: “It seemed to traverse time, reaching far back to simple lines and harmonies and recombining them in complex ways.”

Henk Pander," Observation Post," pen and ink. Courtesy of the artist.

Henk Pander,” Observation Post,” pen and ink. Courtesy of the artist.

HENK PANDER: AFTER THE APOCALYPSE. Paul Sutinen considers the Dutch-born and -trained Portland artist’s “delicious” show of recent large drawings at Nine Gallery of “apocalyptic fantasies.” He likes what he sees.

THE UNDERSTUDY: DRIVING IT HOME. Gavin Hoffman’s “antic, pacing, begging, whining, very funny stand-up comedy routine of an opening scene,” I write, is key to understanding Theresa Rebeck’s actors’  vehicle of a comedy at Artists Rep.

ONCE UPON A TIME: TRUE STORIES. Christa Morletti McIntyre discovers a whole family of personal storytelling at Alberta Abbey in Portland Story Theater’s season-opening show.

NEW MUSIC, NEW BLOOD, NEW HORIZONS. ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell looks back over several months of Oregon music news and recaps some of the scene’s biggest trends.

Rebecca Ridenour and Keith Cable in Post5's "Equivocation." Photo: Russell J Young

Rebecca Ridenour and Keith Cable in Post5’s “Equivocation.” Photo: Russell J Young

SKULDUGGERY IN HIGH PLACES. Marty Hughley speaks forthrightly of Bill Cain’s audacious comedy-drama Equivocation at Post5 Theatre: “Equivocation is a bear of a script to tackle. For Post5, a young company blessed with more pluck than resources, it counts as a remarkably ambitious choice.”

THE HOUSE ON THE WALL, THE HOUSE IN YOUR HEART. Samuel Eisen-Meyers discovers “loss, dread and revitalization” in Ritsuko Ozeki’s recent show of prints and paintings at Froelick Gallery that were prompted by Japan’s massive earthquake and tsunami of 2011 that led to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

STILL WAITING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS. “Gogo’s feet stink. Didi reeks of garlic. And, no, Godot never does show up. I take a deep dive into Northwest Classical’s “itchy and morosely funny” revival of Waiting for Godot at the tiny Shoebox Theater.

“I LOVE WHAT YOU’VE DONE WITH THIS ROOM!” Visiting Leslie Baum’s exhibit at Hap Gallery, Patrick Collier writes, is a bit like “how one might encounter an orchestrated suburban living room (but in a good way.)” He adds: “Despite the bright colors that abound, I read this collection of work as a subtle critique of the more comfortable constructs of making and seeing, plus a little elbow to the ribs of those self-seduced, dulled attendees of the soirée.”

Leslie Baum, an inexplicably social situation. Photo: Hap Gallery

Leslie Baum, an inexplicably social situation. Photo: Hap Gallery


And finally…

We end with a couple of requests. First, if you have friends or family members who you think would enjoy our newsletter and our cultural writing online, could you please forward this letter to them? The bigger our circle of friends, the more we can accomplish. Second, if you’re not already a member of ArtsWatch, may we ask you to please take a moment and sign on? What you give (and your donation is tax-deductible) makes it possible for us to continue and expand our reporting and commenting on our shared culture in Oregon. Thanks, and welcome! Becoming a member is easy:

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News & Notes: Oregon classical music

Recent news in Oregon classical music

As the music season gets underway, here’s a recap of some of the news that transpired in Oregon classical music over the past few months.

New Music

• Portland composer Kenji Bunch continues to fulfill the promise we detected when he returned to his hometown after building a solid career in New York for the previous two decades. His music has been all over Oregon stages since then, he’s working with the Oregon Symphony, FearNoMusic and Portland Youth Philharmonic, and now, he’s written a new piece for a new piano competition sponsored by that most forward looking of Northwest orchestras, the Seattle Symphony. All nine contestants will play the piece in next week’s contest, with the winner scoring not just a $10K prize but also other prizes, including the chance to perform at the SSO’s opening night concert September 19 and with the orchestra next year.

Kenji Bunch

Kenji Bunch

• Bunch also composed a new symphony, Dream Songs, his third, for the Grant Park Music Festival. None other than Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar conducted the world premiere in June. Let’s hope the OSO, which has devoted only a shamefully tiny fraction of its total playing time to Oregon music during his tenure, will treat Oregonians to it soon.

• The OSO did release a new CD of music by long dead American composers, none of them Oregonians, in January. We’ll have a review later. But the orchestra squandered another in a long line of opportunities to put new Oregon music in front of a vast, diverse Oregon audience when it again turned its back on its own homeland and played almost entirely music by long- dead Europeans at its annual Waterfront Concert this month; despite accepting tens of thousands of dollars in subsidies for the concert from Oregon taxpayers, it played not one note by an Oregon composer. An orchestra that actually cared about its community’s creativity might use some of that taxpayer-provided largesse to commission a new work from an Oregon composer for each of these Oregon-financed concerts. After 10 years, it could fill a CD with new Oregon music from the Waterfront. And the world would have a whole bunch of new orchestral music by Oregon composers.

• Jacksonville’s Britt Festival has commissioned New York City’s Michael Gordon, the quintessential urban composer, to write a piece about Oregon’s pastoral treasure Crater Lake, a place he’d never been. Very cool to see visionary Britt artistic director Teddy Abrams making such a commitment to new music. He’s definitely doing a lot to connect orchestras to contemporary culture. And judging by the conversation below, Gordon seems to be approaching his task conscientiously. But why not choose a composer who had actually visited the place and written music about the state — like one from, oh, I don’t know, maybe Oregon?

New Blood

• Portland Baroque Orchestra appointed Marcia Kaufmann this month as its executive director and PBO veteran Andrea Hess as director of operations. Kaufmann comes to PBO from Colorado’s Breckenridge Music Festival, where she served as executive director.


Cappella Romana and Portland State Chamber Choir: Contemporary psalms and passion.

 Two Portland choral powerhouses in two heavyweight works


Portland’s choral music fans got a serious double treat a week ago last Sunday afternoon. First, Cappella Romana took on Alfred Schnittke’s huge, demanding Verses of Repentance (often translated Penitential Psalms), composed for the thousand-year anniversary of the Christianization of Russia in 1988, at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. A few hours later, the Portland State University Chamber Choir presented David Lang’s magnum opus The Little Match Girl Passion at St. Stephen Catholic Church across the Willamette. Both works challenged these top groups to give their absolute best; both performances did full justice to the composers’ visions.

Cappella Romana performed music of Alfred Schnittke.

Cappella Romana performed music of Alfred Schnittke.

As if this weren’t enough, both choirs filled out – maybe overfilled — their programs with several other works. Cappella Romana’s program went well over two hours, including a long intermission, and with great regret I had to leave before the second half in order to be on time for the PSU group. Thus I missed an early Sergei Rachmaninov Choral Concerto, and recently composed works by Galina Grigorjeva and renowned guest director Ivan Moody. I’m sure the singers had recovered sufficiently from Schnittke to give them beautiful performances, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for them. The drive across town helped bring me back to the world, temporarily.


New Cappella Romana CD, Shakespeare 2016, and misadventures of the very rich

Cappella Romana's new album is released today plus OSF's new season

Dear ArtsWatchers, today Cappella Romana, the great Portland choral ensemble, is releasing a new CD, and maybe you’ll want to drive it to the top of the Billboard classical charts? Of course you will!

And yesterday, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced its 2016 season, early birds that they are, which features five Shakespeare productions (its the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death) and some tasty world premieres, not to mention the The Wiz.

Finally, the owner of that Francis Bacon triptych that launched a million words and cost 142.2 million dollars? She’s very unhappy. But not about the paintings.

cappellaromanaCappella Romana’s new album, Maximilian Steinberg: Passion Week, now stands at #2 on the Amazon list of new opera and vocal releases, and today is its official release date. What makes it such a big deal? Here are a few key sentences from Benedict Sheehan’s Orthodox Arts Journal review:

“While the discovery of this long-lost major work of sacred choral music is a milestone in the history of the literature, in no lesser degree is Cappella Romana’s rendering of the piece a landmark contribution to the modern canon of choral recordings. In every respect, and I don’t use these words lightly, their new disc is a triumph. Using their characteristic radiantly bright and clear sound—a welcome relief from the proliferation of performances that seem to be stuck in the wrong-headed notion that Russian sacred music has to be dark, dramatic, and ponderous, with a superabundance of vocal “cover”—Alexander Lingas and the singers of Cappella Romana bring a highly refined musical sensibility to the Steinberg score.”

It goes on in that celebratory vein!

And you can celebrate, too! Cappella Romana and Artslandia are holding a Listening Party, 5-8 pm Tuesday, March 31, at the Artslandia offices, 2240 N. Interstate Ave., Suite 200, in Portland. The available space isn’t unbounded, so you’ll have to RSVP. Don’t let the Add to Cart instruction fool you: It’s free. And it includes beer courtesy of Lucky Lab Brewery and snacks. Which is a lot to include for free.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, recently embarked on its 2015 season, has announced its 2016 schedule, per ArtsWatch friend Amy Richard. These guys are organized!

The Shakespeares: Twelfth Night (February 19-October 30) and Timon of Athens (July 27-October 29) in the Bowmer Theatre; Richard II (July5-October 30) in the Thomas Theatre; and Hamlet (June 7-October 14) and The Winter’s Tale (June 9-October 16) in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre.

The Musicals: The Yeomen of the Guard (Feburary 24-October 30), a World Premiere adaption; The Wiz (June 8-October 15).

World Premieres: Lisa Loomer’s Roe, part of the the company’s American Revolutions cycle (April 20-October 29); Great Expectations, adapted by Penny Metropulos and Linda Alper (February 20-October 30); Marisela Treviño Orta’s The River Bride (February 21-July 7).

And Vietgone (March 30-October 29), Qui Nguyen’s play about the Vietnam War from the perspective of her parents, who fled the country in 1975 for a refugee camp in Arkansas, which is receiving its first production later this year at South Coast Repertory Theatre.

Tickets for the 2016 season will go on sale in November 2015 for members, and general sales will begin in early December.

Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969. © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, New York / Christie’s Images Limited 2013

Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969. © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, New York / Christie’s Images Limited 2013

Elaine P. Wynne, the casino magnate who bought the $142.2 million Francis Bacon triptych, “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” that was parked at the Portland Art Museum last year, is in a fight to retain a seat on her own board. Naturally, we wrote at length about that triptych and its discontents here at ArtsWatch in “Dealing with Francis Bacon and all that money.” The New York Times also estimates that lodging the art here might have saved her an $11 million Nevada tax bill. We were so glad to be of service.

Cappella Romana review: Musical time travel

Vocal ensemble's Passion performance transports listeners to millennium-old sacred service.

Cappella Romana, Portland’s premier choir, is on a roll. They’ve been stepping up their touring schedule with high-profile engagements around the country and abroad, gave the world premiere of Maximilian Steinberg’s 1923 Passion Week last season to a glowing Wall Street Journal review by Artswatch’s Brett Campbell, and added several recordings to an already substantial discography. Their 20th CD, Good Friday in Jerusalem, was released last week and vaulted to the top spot among vocal new releases (it’s currently sold out); it also debuted this week at no. 8 on Billboard’s classical chart. So you can imagine the CD release concerts the weekend before—cases of Krug, stretch limos, the usual.

Actually, they were exactly the kind of affair you’d expect from Cappella, with solemn processions and superb performances of melismatic chant cloaked in antiquity.

Cappella Romana sang medieval Byzantine music in Portland last week.

Cappella Romana sang medieval Byzantine music in Portland last week.

Many years ago, I wrote that Alexander Lingas, Cappella’s founder and artistic director, “has a gift that most classical concert promoters would kill for: an uncanny ability to assemble large and devoted audiences for programs that the vast majority of the concert-going public would find hopelessly arcane and excruciatingly dull. It is difficult to imagine anyone else turning the earliest chant into le dernier cri.” (I learned years later that—a highlight of my professional life—the phrase “hopelessly arcane and excruciatingly dull” was printed on a t-shirt worn by Lingas himself.) That was apropos a program of Roman chant; this program reached even further back into the past, with excerpts from a 10th-century Passion service including chant from the eighth century derived from earlier compositions.

On a strictly sonic level, the concert at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral was magnificent (though I’d love to have heard the matinee performance in the spacious, ringing acoustic of St. Mary’s Cathedral as well). As with last year’s concerts of Finnish Orthodox music, it was especially satisfying to hear the singers perform music they’d already worked to a fine polish for committing to disc. The ten men filled the space with dark resonance, making effortless work of melismatic unison melodies and rock-solid drones, and the pacing was measured but unflagging.

Beyond just the sound, however, was the humbling realization that this was a telling of the Passion as it would likely have sounded over a millennium ago in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Jerusalem complex built around the site of the crucifixion and entombment of Christ. There are limits to sound recreation, of course, but this configuration of Cappella had impeccable credentials as a kind of Byzantine supergroup of cantor-scholars including Lingas, his City University of London colleague Spyridon Antonopoulos, frequent Cappella collaborator and composer Ioannis Arvanitis, protopsaltis Stelios Kontakiotis (first chanter of one of Greece’s leading pilgrimage sites), and John Michael Boyer, protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco. (Listening to Boyer’s voice develop its regal presence over 15 years with Cappella has been one of the more gratifying benefits of following the ensemble.)

GoodFridayInJerusalem-300x300The concert also invited a listener to delve into the expressive potential of this ancient music, a kind of artistic expression that, because the rigors and self-negating ethos of the medieval church are worlds away from the nakedly personal poetry of, say, Schubert, we have little ability to grasp. But it was impossible not to hear the laments of Mary at the foot of the cross and not be moved.

My first experience of Cappella was a performance of another setting of the Passion, Arvo Pärt’s, over 20 years ago; the journey from that to this has been profound, through many layers of musical history. I am reminded of the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome, where an 18th-century coffered ceiling covers a medieval basilica, which itself sits atop a 4th-century church with a former Mithraic temple in its basement. Standing there, on what was originally a republican-era private house, you can hear a trickle of water from an ancient source. Good Friday in Jerusalem went deep, and it sounded close to the spring from which poured centuries of sacred music.

James McQuillen is the classical music writer for The Oregonian.

Cappella Romana review: A Falling Star Shines Bright

Portland vocal ensemble excels in hometown performance before major European festival appearance.


Just past what the Greeks called “dog days of summer,” Cappella Romana shone like Sirius in our Portland sky. Saturday night the premier choral ensemble presented a thoughtful, dramatic performance of Greek and Latin compositions written before and after the fall of Constantinople, the title of the concert.

The entire program was meant to transport us to the years prior to and just after the final downfall in 1453, the year of the final siege upon Roman Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks. The Eastern Mediterranean’s political climate, heated for decades, was well documented by composers, some making clear their personal sympathies, such as Guillaume Dufay (1400-1474), a justifiably famous musician from the Netherlands school, and the Greek Renaissance scholar John Plousiadenos.

Cappella Romana performed in Seattle and Portland before taking their music to The Netherlands.

Cappella Romana performed in Seattle and Portland before taking their music to The Netherlands.

All ten voices in Cappella Romana were remarkable. Jon Boyer, Mark Powell (and conductor/artistic director Alexander Lingas) were first rate in lead roles as Priest or Deacon. Mel Downie Robinson and Catherine Van der Salm were pristine, mellow in their intermittent roles.

Two pieces stood out. While working for the Malatesta family, the peripatetic Dufay, who worked for several mid-15th century princes and courts around Europe, wrote “Vasilissa ergo gaude” (Empress, therefore rejoice), in celebration of a dynastic marital coupling in Rimini.

The other, “Lament for the Fall of Constantinople” (c. 1458) was composed by Manuel Doukas Chrysaphes, a 15th century singer and composer of the Constantinopolitan Courta and the most prominent Byzantine musician of the 15th century. My ear was struck here, and at other places, by the absolute clarity and confidence of the soloists in negotiating some very tricky passages. The mode (was it Lydian?) presented no problems for the singers, who clearly expressed the sighing and emoting reflective of the text.

Some of the features of Byzantine music echo what we know from Gregorian chant as it developed in the second millennium, with attenuated pedal tones (similar to “drones” as on a bagpipe) and parallel movement (where the pitch distance between two voices remains constant as the melody line continues) of perfect fifths and octaves the rule — for which today’s freshman theory student would receive a grade of “F.”

Among many things which separate this music from other, later choral music, say of Bach, Byrd, or Brahms, are the numerous ornaments that must be executed, spot on, in a quarter second. The exacting execution of these ornamental elements showed the scholarship and vocal tenacity of Lingas and the choir. Another twist in this music’s style is the disequilibrium produced by chromatic (deviation from scale tones) and micro-chromatic (quarter tones) nature of the melodies. These was either written in, or quite possibly products of Lingas’s educated guesses. When singing in unison and in octaves, it is a real challenge.

Ironically, this music sometimes asks the singers to do what all high school/college choristers are asked never to do. One stylistic element, for example, is the proclivity to attack the note from below at the beginnings of phrases. What is extraordinary about this practice is the virtuosity of ensemble scooping. Choral directors out there, think about it: scooping in unison. Egads.

“Canon in honor of Thomas Aquinas” by John Plousiadenos (1429? – 1500), consisted of several verses with seemingly more advanced melodic features parceled out variously to the men, then the ladies of the choir, offering similar modal inflections at most of the cadence points. “Ecclesiasticae Militatis” (The Church Militant), Dufay again, was a spirited, strong vehicle with two tenors, Leslie Green and Blake Applegate, leading the way, artfully and sinuously, the two vocal lines meshing like snakes making love. There was no avoiding the “diabolus in musica” (diminished fifth); the modes dictated this very often throughout the concert (as accidents of modal use, not to enhance the text). Another feature of this motet and others was the hopping back and forth from triple to duple meter, handled expertly by choir and director.

At the end of the program, appropriately, came the most impactful piece, perhaps both musically and historically: “Lamentatio Sanctae Matris Ecclasiae” (Lament to the Holy Mother of Constantinople). This multi-layered Dufay piece was a model of the early polytextual motet (French and Latin), and cantus firmi (a pre-existing melody forming the basis of a polyphonic composition.) in a lower part, poised against one or two upper contrapuntal melodies. This was the precursor of the “modern” (again Bach, Byrd, Brahms motet. But there is no bass part per se. So, to the 21st century ear, the upper parts sort of hang in the air, pining for the anchor of the bass.

Kudos to Cappella Romana, which last month received a $90,000 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation. And bravo to the Foundation for recognizing that Cappella Romana is a worthy ensemble led by one of the world’s leading scholars in Byzantine music, a Portland treasure, Dr. Alexander Lingas.

My pew-mate for the concert, a Portland visitor from a small town of 5,000, said hearing this music was like going back in time, being immersed in an era – a period- piece concert. The only thing missing, she said, was a stone cold church and a gentle snowfall. OK. I get that. Transported is good.

This week, the choir takes off for Holland to sing at the Festival of Early Music in Utrecht — signal honor for a singly good choir. Bon voyage.

Portland choral director Bruce Browne led the Portland Symphonic Choir, Choral Cross Ties, and Portland State University’s renowned choral programs, and has conducted choirs around the world.

Want to read more about Oregon choral music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

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