cappella romana

MusicWatch Weekly: global vision

This week's Oregon music highlights feature music from the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and beyond

While our leaders do their best to keep the rest of the world away, Oregon musicians and presenters are keeping the doors open through music. Got more musical suggestions? Please add them to the comments section below.

Seun Kuti brings Fela’s band to Star Theater Wednesday.

Seun Kuti & The Egypt 80
The youngest son of the great Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer embraced not only his father’s immensely powerful and danceable music and sharp-edged progressive political and anti corruption attitudes, but also even the remnants of his mighty band, Star 80, who comprise three-quarters of the current lineup. They’ll also play contemporary music by Seun and others.
Wednesday, Star Theater, Portland.

Schubert Ensemble 
For the final Oregon stop on its farewell tour, the London piano and strings quintet plays music by Shostakovich, Schumann, and their namesake.
Wednesday, Liberty Theatre, Astoria.

“Mozart Requiem”
Portland Baroque Orchestra, Cappella Romana and Trinity Chamber Singers team up to perform one of the most moving musical obituaries ever written — Mozart’s final statement, a commission that turned into his own requiem. This is a rare and valuable opportunity to hear it performed on the instruments and in the style closest to what Mozart intended.  A pair of other popular Mozartean creations also decorate the program.
Thursday-Saturday, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th Ave. Portland.

Portland Baroque Orchestra and Trinity Cathedral Choir join Cappella Romana in Mozart’s ‘Requiem.’

Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping
See AL Adams’s ArtsWatch preview.
Friday, The Old Church. Portland.

American Brass Quintet
In this Chamber Music Northwest/Portland5 show, the acclaimed trumpets-trombones-horn ensemble plays stirring music from 17th century England, 19th century Russia, 16th century Europe, and today’s tunes by leading American composer Joan Tower, Swedish composer Anders Hillborg and more.
Friday, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway. Portland.

Raquy Danziger performs at The Shedd Friday.

Raquy Danziger
The Turkish composer/performer/teacher, a virtuosa on dumbek drum and 12-string Kemenche Tarhu spike fiddle, plays originals and music from Turkey and other Middle Eastern lands.
Friday, The Shedd, Eugene.

BeauSoleil
Michael Doucet and his bubbly Lafayette-based band continue their decades-long exploration of Louisiana Cajun and zydeco music, often spiced with rock, country, bluegrass, even African influences.
Friday, The Shedd, Eugene, and Saturday, Alberta Rose Theater. Portland.

45th Parallel
The organization’s first chamber orchestra show features Oregon Symphony musicians in a pair of the 20th century’s most tuneful and scintillating ballet scores: Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, plus Mozart’s lively ballet music from his opera Idomeneo.
Friday, Rose City Park Presbyterian Church, Portland.

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Sounds of Spain: borders and time

The Byrd Ensemble's concert of 16th century church music keeps the flame of a different culture, with resonances for our own

On Sunday afternoon, thanks to the Seattle choir The Byrd Ensemble, I crossed several borders without passport or visa or patdown by border patrols. The first was the entry to St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Southeast Portland, where the Byrds, in a concert presented by Cappella Romana, were performing. The second was the border to Spain, the source of most of the music on the program, which was titled “Spanish Music for the House of Habsburg.” The third was time itself: For the afternoon I was in the embrace of the 16th and early 17th centuries, places attainable only through the fragmental collective memory of a learned culture.

The Byrd Ensemble: travelers in time.

The big attraction was Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Requiem Mass, a long, mournful, and revelatory work of imagination and restraint, which the ten-singer choir delivered with a lovely unity of sound: as with most top choirs, the group voice is closely calibrated and takes precedence over the individual voice. The classically proportioned St. Stephen’s has rich and lively acoustics, and the choir’s singing, with its crisp balances and full bass tones, seemed sometimes like the sonorous boom of a pipe organ filling the hall. After intermission the program continued with another short Victoria piece, a pair by his contemporary Cristóbal de Morales, one by Alonso Lobo, and a finale by the great, slightly older, Italian counter-reformation composer Palestrina.

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Arvo Pärt Festival review: Timeless and timely

Performances of leading contemporary composer's music bridge centuries and cultures

by JOHN PITMAN

Cappella Romana presented the first-ever festival in North America dedicated to the contemporary composer Arvo Pärt. The Estonian composer’s music is arguably the most performed of any living composer. It was a slight departure for Cappella Romana, best known for their performances of Byzantine, Russian and Greek Orthodox choral music.

The comprehensive festival in Portland gave audiences the chance to immerse themselves in many different aspects of Pärt’s music and his life. They featured a film, a lecture, and concerts of instrumental music as well as vocal works throughout the eight-day festival. I attended two of these concerts on the second weekend of this remarkable, and moving, celebration.

Cappella Romana sang music by Arvo Pärt at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Tom Emerson.

There is something about Pärt’s music that is at once powerful, yet also fragile, representing both extrovert and introvert. His music not only reflects the words of ancient texts, but also brings complex expression to the human experience. This is music that is both timeless and timely. One is able to become lost in the music, feeling as though they’ve entered a portal to a thousand years ago, and yet remain completely in touch with the current state of the world. Sunday’s concert at Reed College had this effect on me personally, with both vocal and instrumental pieces performed, but it was in Saturday’s performance at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral on February 11 that I most intensely felt this phenomenon.

“Odes of Repentance”

Director Dr. Alexander Lingas did not present the music in the usual concert format, with applause expected between pieces, and an intermission, but in the form of a paraklesis, a service of prayer intended for the living. The absence of applause allowed the audience to focus intently on the music, which resonated beautifully throughout the cathedral. Pärt’s music was worthy of a space like this, as the “space” between notes and phrases is paramount to the composer’s unique voice. Much of Pärt’s music is based on his compositional principle which he called tintinnabuli (‘Little bells’), some of which is dependent on silence, but also on a reduction of materials to an essential level. That doesn’t mean the music is simplistic at all; it seems to invite the listener in so as to become a participant of sorts, rather than a passive observer, by focusing on the sounds as well as the space.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: enemies of the people

Plus: ceramics shows all over town, Brontës and Carnage onstage, Shakespeare on Avenue Q, madrigals and music from the Holocaust

I’ve been thinking about my new status as an enemy of the people, which, because I am a longtime member of the press, the leader of the nation has declared I am. I’m not sure what this means (Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic has a few ideas), but I suspect that while we’re all getting hot and bothered about the president’s use of the term “enemy” – a word that, in this construction, implies the harsher “traitor” – we might also be thinking long and hard about what he means when he says “people.”

As I have never considered myself an enemy of the many categories of people who make up this nation (although I have certainly resisted the ideas and actions of some, particularly those of an autocratic, opportunistic, violent, or rigidly ideological bent) I inevitably wonder which people these are to whom I am an enemy. And the conclusion I draw, at least tentatively, is that they must be the people who adamantly declare “my country (or my president) right or wrong,” those whose modes of thought and belief are primarily binary, who see a white and a black in every situation with no recognition of the vast shadings and illuminations between. And although I don’t deny I am not fond of their hard-line ideas, it is less true that I am their enemy than that they consider me theirs.

In Ibsen’s play the newspaper editor is a collaborator and the “enemy” is a whistleblower.

This is a far, far smaller definition of the American people than my own old-fashioned idea of a populace enriched by its multitude of backgrounds, talents, experiences, expressions, and beliefs. The president’s declaration, it seems to me, is a siren song to know-nothing insularity, a constricted, self-defeating, fear-driven, and exclusivist view of the American ideal of what a “people” is (or are). Under its sway a belief in a middle ground of understanding over ideology, even when the understanding must come by asking hard questions and seeking answers from alternative sources when the primary ones hide or lie about what they know, becomes a ground of treason. It is thinking that divides the country into “real” Americans – the true believers – and, well, enemies. Including those members of the press who point such things out.

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Arvo Pärt Festival: When meaning and music collide

At Cappella Romana's exploration of the great Estonian composer's music, one listener finds that sacred sounds and secular listeners don't always connect

by DANIEL HEILA

Music serves meaning and that meaning can be embedded in a text. It can deliver that meaning as forcefully or more forcefully than speech or writing. It can be used for all purposes benign or malignant, it can lead listeners to a transcendent experience, highly dependent on their own associations. And, in a sense, the music is completed by listeners from within their sphere of meaningful associations regardless of whether a text is understood.

At Cappella Romana’s February 5-12 Arvo Pärt Festival, that physical sphere was various Portland cathedrals and churches and Kaul Auditorium at Reed College: the former, places to pursue divinity, the latter a place to pursue reason and scientific and intellectual truth.

Cappella Romana performed throughout the Arvo Part festival. Photo: Ted Jack.

I came face to face with a conundrum: having questioned the validity of labeling Pärt’s music mystical, spiritual, or sacred I found myself questioning the meaning of my appreciation of the music and the intent of the texts.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: film fest x 3

Grab your popcorn: PIFF, Portland Black Film Fest, African film fest fill the screens; 10 tips for a busy week onstage; Arvo Pärt, more

Film fanatics, this week is yours: You’ve just hit the trifecta.

The 40th annual Portland International Film Festival opens on Thursday.

The Portland Black Film Festival, featuring films about black life in America, is the newbie of the three, but arrives with some zing. It also opens on Thursday, at the Hollywood Theatre, with Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, and continues through February 22 with 10 features, including Pioneers of African American Cinema. The centerpiece, this Saturday, is the blaxploitation classic Coffy, with action star Pam Grier as special guest.

And the 27th Cascade Festival of African Films, which features films by African filmmakers from the African continent, kicked off on Friday and continues through March 7. It continues a grand tradition of bringing hard-to-find films to town – this year more than 30, including feature films and shorts. Coming up Friday is The Cursed Ones, from Ghana, about a pair of village outcasts accused of witchcraft. Every offering at the Cascade Fest, which takes place at the Cascade campus of Portland Community College, is free.

“I Am Not Your Negro” at PIFF and the Portland Black Film Festival.

PIFF, the granddaddy of the local festivals, continues through February 25 with more than a hundred movies from Afghanistan to Venezuela, in languages from Afrikaans to Yiddish. It kicks off Thursday evening with director Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, which arrives with a passel of admiring-to-ecstatic reviews and a nomination for best documentary feature at this year’s Academy Awards. It’ll also be screened February 18 in the Portland Black Film Festival. Based on Remember This House, the final, unfinished novel of the great American writer James Baldwin, it explores “the absurd – and deeply tragic – relationship between the United States and skin color.” Some of the festival films will have broad commercial releases, and some will be available in art houses or on cable. The PIFF screenings will provide your only opportunity to see some others.

Spend a little time going through the schedules for all three festivals, then make your plans.

“The Cursed Ones,” directed by Nana Obirir Yeboah, at the Cascade Festival of African Films.

 

 


 

TEN TIPS FOR A BUSY WEEK ON THE BOARDS:

Pen/man/ship. Portland Playhouse takes on Christina Anderson’s acclaimed play about a ship at sea headed for Liberia in 1896 at a time when the American Colonization Society is campaigning to send African Americans “back” to Africa. Opens Saturday.

Marjorie Prime. Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer finalist has a top-notch cast at Artists Rep: Vana O’Brien, Chris Harder, Linda Alper, Michael Mendelson. It’s science fiction about aging, technology, and memory loss: O’Brien plays an 85-year-old woman whose memories are prompted by an artificial version of her late husband. Opens Saturday.

Swimming While Drowning. Milagro produces the world premiere of Emilio Rodriguez’ play about a gay teen who leaves home and his homophobic father and winds up in an LGBT homeless shelter in Los Angeles. Opens Friday.

His Eye Is on the Sparrow. Maiesha McQueen stars as the great gospel singer Ethel Waters in Larry Parr’s musical biography, performed in the intimate Ellyn Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage. Opens Friday.

Trifles/Dutchman. Defunkt brings back a couple of old one-acts with contemporary inclinations: Susan Glaspell’s 1916 Trifles, a play with feminist overtones about a murder in the country; and Amiri Baraka’s 1964 Dutchman, about a young black man and a seductive white woman who meet on a subway. It was Baraka’s last play under his birth name LeRoi Jones, and coincides with his turn toward black nationalism. Opens Friday.

The Pillowman. The new Life in Arts Productions kicks off with Martin McDonaugh’s dark, brutal, chillingly beautiful drama about child murders and storytelling in a totalitarian state. Jamie Rea directs Bobby Bermea and others. Opens Friday at The Headwaters.

Interlude. Six dances by six choreographers, danced by six company members of PDX Contemporary Ballet, all in the intimate space of CoHo Theatre. Friday-Sunday.

Missed Connections and Other Love Stories. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Readers Theatre Rep brings readings of three short plays that offer a rueful look at love: David Ives’s Sure Thing, Peter Barry’s Sex with a Mathematician, and Brooke Berman’s Defusion. Friday-Saturday, Blackfish Gallery.

Cabaret Boris & Natasha. The latest edition in this adventurous series at Performance Works NW features dancers Mike Barber and Subashini Ganesan, oboist Catherine Lee, PETE’s Amber Whitehall in a piece “made of hungriness and failure,” and more. Friday-Saturday.

In the Blood. Victor Mack directs Suzan-Lori Parks’s contemporary adaptation of The Scarlet Letter, focusing on a woman with five “illegitimate” children who’s trying to break out of poverty. Opens Friday at Portland Actors Conservatory.

 


 

Composer Arvo Pärt

A WHOLE LOT OF PÄRT. The Portland choir Cappella Romana is undertaking an Arvo Pärt Festival that kicks into high gear Thursday through Sunday, featuring the music of the Estonian composer who is perhaps the most-performed living composer in the world. Oregonians have some deep connections with Pärt and his music, and ArtsWatch writers have taken note:

When Oregon met Arvo. Brett Campbell tells the extraordinary tale of Pärt’s 1993 agreement to compose a new work for the Oregon Bach Festival in Eugene – a partnership that almost fell apart in a crisis of confidence, and ended in triumph the following year: “The ovation went on for a full 15 minutes, until, amazingly, the shy Pärt himself leapt up to the stage, a beatific smile beaming from the dark cloud of his beard, then embraced [conductor Helmuth] Rilling and the singers in turn.”

Arvo Pärt Festival: spirituality in sound. Daniel Heila explores the “holy minimalism” of Pärt’s devotional music: “The Eastern Orthodox composer’s departure from modernism was marked by an intense reexamination of all that he knew about music and an exploration and embracing of its sacred history.”

A Pärt pilgrimage. Oregon music student Justin Graff recalls his journey to Estonia to meet his musical hero and what he found, and shared, down a long rural road.

 

 


 

ArtsWatch links

 

Theater for Barbarians. Maria Choban gets on her ancestral Greek and goes to a bunch of Greek plays around town. They tell her more about contemporary America than ancient Greece, she writes: where’s the raw, wild passion?

Kill the NEA? What it might mean. The new presidential administration is taking aim at the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. We consider what might happen if both federal agencies actually get the ax.

Fertile Ground reviews: Young Bloods. Brett Campbell takes in Broken Planetarium’s Atlantis and Orphic’s Iphigenia 3.0 and discovers theater made by and for a bold new generation.

Global Voices get a fair hearing. A.L. Adams drops in on the first weekend of Boom Arts’ mini-festival of readings of international plays (it concludes this weekend). The upshot? “Global Voices” is all over the map – and that’s a good thing.

Cappella Romana: choral conundrum. Bruce Browne, reviewing the choir’s performance of Finnish composer  Einojuhani Rautavaara’s All Night Vigil (Vigilia), argues that this music from the 1970s deserves much wider attention. And he praises guest basso Glenn Miller: “He is so modest and self-deprecating, you wouldn’t know his capabilities, except his vocal quality is that of the voice of God.”

 


 

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Cappella Romana review: Choral conundrum

Portland choir's revelatory performance of Rautavaara's "All Night Vigil" shows a neglected masterpiece ripe for rediscovery

by BRUCE BROWNE

The question “How long is an All Night Vigil” sounds a bit like a “stupid answers” category on Jeopardy. But if you are new to the choral manifestation of the ANV, you will be happy to know that short, general consumption concert versions are available for such works. Such was the case with the All Night Vigil (Vigilia) of contemporary Finnish composer  Einojuhani Rautavaara, performed by Cappella Romana at Portland’s St. Mary Cathedral this past Saturday. We congregated with the expectation of the ancient Byzantine chant, the surround sound profundity, basso and otherwise, and the potential for an evening of Eastern Orthodox transmogrification. We also experienced a performance that shows why this music created forty years ago deserves wider attention.

Cappella Romana sang Rautavaara’s “Vigilia” in Portland.

For Rautavaara, the 1970s was a creative decade. Then in his forties, he was appointed his country’s first ever Artist Professor. His declamatory (spoken) choral work, Ludus Verbalis (1960) was making the rounds in American choirs. He was distancing himself musically from his neo-classical works of the 1950s, the decade in which he studied at Juilliard with Vincent Persichetti and began his teaching at the Sibelius Academy. He completed his foray into serialism and quasi film-score romanticism of the ‘60s and alighted upon his own voice – the Modernist, eclectic voice – which would be his foundation for the next three decades. (See Daniel Heila’s ArtsWatch preview for more details on Rautavaara’s career.) The All Night Vigil (1971-72) was written at the beginning of this new Rautavaara choral voice. It is this voice which is the bliss of the work – and the conundrum.

There are traditional elements to the work, including long-breathed chants, and oblique Byzantine modality, endless verses separated by drawn out “Amens” and the strict adherence to the text.

But Rautavaara was fulfilling the commission, by the Helsinki Festival and the Orthodox Church of Finland, which requested something brand spanking new. They got it.

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