cappella romana

ArtsWatch Weekly: Bluebeards, villain kings, black art’s soul

The feminine mystique of "Bluebeard's Castle," Shakespeare's "Richard III," the trouble with Tiger Lily, black art and meaning in America

The naked truth about Bluebeard’s Castle, Béla Bartók’s astounding hour-long opera that the Oregon Symphony performed Saturday through Monday nights, is … well, let Elizabeth Schwartz explain it, in her typically erudite program notes:

“Bartók worked on the opera over the summer of 1911, when he and his wife Márta spent their holiday at a Swiss nudist colony near Zurich. [Librettist Béla] Balázs, who visited the colony that summer, noted in his diary how the industrious Bartók would spend hours in the solarium, wearing nothing but sunglasses, as he worked on the score.”

Viktoia Vizin as Judith, with Chihuly glass, in "Bluebeard's Castle." Photo: Jacob Wade/Oregon Symphony

Viktoria Vizin as Judith, with Chihuly glass, in “Bluebeard’s Castle.” Photo: Jacob Wade/Oregon Symphony

John and Yoko have nothing on that. And in a way, Bartók’s curious compositional strategy made sense: emotional nakedness is essential to the Bluebeard tale as Balázs retold it. The opera has just two singers: the aging, mysteriously private Bluebeard himself, and his new (fourth) bride, Judith, who insists on bringing some sunshine into the castle, and her new marriage, by demanding that Bluebeard open the seven locked doors that hide his secrets. Maybe not the best idea. At a talk Friday night with symphony director Carlos Kalmar, Christopher Mattaliano of Portland Opera, and the Portland Art Museum’s Bran Ferriso (the show’s set included marvelous glass works by Dale Chihuly), stage director Mary Birnbaum talked about Castle as Judith’s quest for knowledge and openness, which Bluebeard is loath to grant, and I’m inclined to agree that it’s really Judith’s story. Contrary to popular opinion, her soul sisters Eve and Pandora seem the heroes of their stories, too, the ones who provide the essential spark of humanness: How can one be fully human without curiosity and the compulsion to learn? Remember: the last bee to escape Pandora’s bonnet was hope.

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Cappella Romana preview: Byzantium & beyond

Portland vocal ensemble's 25th anniversary concert reprises its first performance, which set the blueprint for its mix of medieval to modern music

When Alexander Lingas moved to San Francisco in the summer of 1990, the Greek Orthodox cathedral where he’d just been appointed associate cantor lay in ruins, devastated by the 1989 Loma Prieto earthquake. Lingas wanted to help the church rebuild – and the only contribution he could offer was music. The Portland native had sung in his Greek Orthodox church, with local choir Cantores in Ecclesia and with the Portland State Chamber choir, and even formed an early music ensemble of his own while studying at PSU. So he and his Portland musical friends piled into a van, and headed south to perform a benefit concert. The church offered them lodging and a lavish, post-concert spaghetti dinner with freshly cured Greek olives.

Cappella Romana in 1994.

Cappella Romana in 1994.

After hearing the Northwesterners sing Greek Orthodox music from ancient Byzantium as well as contemporary Greek-American composers and more, nearly 300 listeners donated money for cathedral reconstruction. And Lingas and friends decided to keep making music.

To evoke the Byzantine empire’s Roman heritage and the medieval Greek concept of a religious world that embraced the far-flung lands of the old Roman Empire, he named the group Cappella Romana — Roman chapel. This weekend, the ensemble performs the same program in Seattle and Portland.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: If you build it, they will come (to Hillsboro)

Bag&Baggage takes a big leap, Bluebeard meets Chihuly at the symphony, Renée Fleming wows the crowd, a cat in a hat, the things August Wilson learned

Don’t look now (or do), but while the center of cultural gravity in Portland might still be on the downtown side of the Willamette River, it’s been shifting and expanding. The restaurant crowds started heading for the inner East Side a good fifteen years ago, and theaters escalated the eastward march. Things didn’t stop there. Immigration and population shifts created booming pockets of culture farther out, both east and west: the new Chinatown along the East Side’s 82nd Avenue, a Russian community along Foster Road, several Latino enclaves, a large Indian community in parts of Beaverton and Hillsboro, near the Silicon Forest. Suburbs have grown, and begun to assert their own identities separate from the city core. They’ve built or broadened their own cultural centers, from the nascent Beaverton Center for the Arts to established theater companies like Lake Oswego’s Lakewood Theatre and Tigard’s Broadway Rose.

Exterior rendering of the new Bag&Baggage theater in downtown Hillsboro, slated to open in April 2017. Image: Opsis Architects

Exterior rendering of the new Bag&Baggage theater in downtown Hillsboro, slated to open in April 2017. Image: Opsis Architects

While much of Portland Proper wasn’t looking, the onetime farm town of Hillsboro has become a city of more than 100,000 people, many looking for culture without having to trek to downtown Portland. Bag&Baggage theater settled into the suburb’s downtown core eleven years ago, performing sometimes on an outdoor stage and mostly in the Venetian Theatre, an old vaudeville and movie house. A little more than a year ago it bought an old Wells Fargo bank building on Main Street and began the long quest to raise $1.4 million to transform it into a new performance center.

Let Scott Palmer, B&B’s founder and artistic director, pick up the story from there, as quoted in a recent press announcement:

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Music News & Notes

Recent happenings in Oregon music

Been awhile since we rounded up recent news in Oregon classical music, so here’s some items that lit up our screens in recent months.

Laurels and Plaudits

• Composition Champ. University of Oregon composition professor Robert Kyr was one of four American composers to win this year’s American Academy of Arts and Letters $10,000 Arts and Letters Award for outstanding artistic achievement by a composer who has arrived at his or her own voice.

Mia Hall Miller

Mia Hall Miller

Wonder Woman. Pacific Youth Choir founder and director Mia Hall Miller received the Oregon Symphony’s 2016 Schnitzer Wonder Award, a $10,000 prize that “honors an individual or organization that directly works to build community through the next generation of artists and/or student musicians.” Now in its 13th year, PYC boasts almost 300 singers in 10 choirs.

Violin Virtuosa. Portland violinist Fumika Mizuno is the only Oregonian selected among the 109 young musicians (age 16-19) from across the country for the fourth annual National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. It’s her second stint with the NYO, which (after a training residency in New York) performed with the great pianist Emanuel Ax at Carnegie Hall in July, then played concerts led by Valery Gergiev at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, in Montpellier France, Copenhagen, and Prague.

• Operatic ascent. Portland tenor A.J. Glueckert was one of six winners of the $10,000 George London awards, one of America’s oldest vocal competitions.

Eugene jazz musician Tony Glausi. Photo: Tyler Sams. 

Eugene jazz musician Tony Glausi. Photo: Tyler Sams.

Trumpeter on the rise. Eugene jazz trumpeter and composer Tony Glausi has been named the recipient of the 2016-17 Laurie Frink Career Grant, a biennial $10,000 award to give a “young brass player an opportunity for serious study or to undertake a creative project.” One of America’s most revered brass instrument teachers, Frink, who died in 2013, played in some of the finest jazz orchestras (including those of Maria Schneider, Benny Goodman Orchestra, Mel Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, John Hollenbeck, Darcy James Argue and more), performed with Broadway orchestras, co-wrote the definitive book on trumpet improvisation, and mentored some of today’s top trumpeters including Dave Douglas and Ambrose Akinmusire. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch profile of Glausi.

The Marylhurst Chamber Choir performs at the 2016 Cork International Choral Festival.

Choral Voyagers. Marylhurst University’s premiere choral ensemble, the Marylhurst Chamber Choir, was one of only 34 choirs from around the world, and the only American choir invited to perform at the Cork International Choir Festival in Cork, Ireland in May. It placed third to choirs from Sweden and Turkey in a close contest for the placed third in the festival’s top honor, the Fleischmann Award and won the Peace Award for the choir that best embodied the spirit of the festival.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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ARTSWATCH LINKS

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

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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.

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