cascadia composers

FearNoMusic/Cascadia Composers review: unbounded creativity

Music by contemporary classical Cuban composers displays sophisticated combinations of traditional influences and a distinctive sense of time

By CHRISTINA RUSNAK

American audiences embrace the dynamic rhythms and energy of Cuban jazz, with its variety of instrumentation and diverse percussion. But we are much less familiar, ignorant even, of the “classical” music tradition of the Cuban people through the 20th century into the 21st.

This limited view reflects Americans wider misperceptions of Cuba, which accentuates the country’s isolation, impoverished state, and personal restrictions. Images of antiquated cars and crumbling buildings mistakenly give some people the idea that a place with such difficult living conditions would be creatively limited.

FearNoMusic’s string quarter performed in Cascadia Composers’ ‘New Pearls from the Antilles’ concert. Photo: Matias Brecher.

FearNoMusic’s May 19 concert at Northeast Portland’s Temple Baptist Church, presented by Cascadia Composers, challenged such assumptions. And it even featured a distinctive musical element I miss in too many contemporary classical music concerts.

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Cascadia Composers preview: From Cascadia to Cuba… and back

Culminating a cultural and musical exchange, weekend concerts feature contemporary music by composers from Oregon and Cuba

In July 2015, when President Obama announced that the United States would begin normalizing relations with Cuba, Portland composer David Bernstein thought about music. Not the usual suspects when talking about one of the Western hemisphere’s most important musical traditions — jazz, Buena Vista Social Club, Desi Arnaz — but contemporary classical music.

It was a natural for Bernstein, who’d helped found Cascadia Composers almost a decade ago to provide performance, promotion, networking and other opportunities for composers in the Pacific Northwest. Since then, the organization had become one of the nation’s largest (60 members) and most successful, staging dozens of concerts featuring over 300 homegrown compositions in Portland and Eugene.

Cascadia Composers (l-r) Ted Clifford, Paul Safar, David Bernstein, Jennifer Wright, Dan Brugh in Havana last November. Photo: Nadia Reyes.

But they’d never attempted anything as ambitious as what Bernstein had in mind: sending Oregon composers to Cuba to have their music performed by Cuban musicians, and reciprocating with a Portland concert featuring American musicians playing works by today’s Cuban composers. Neither had anyone else.

“I’d known music of some Cuban composers like Leo Brouwer,” Bernstein explains. “I’d hear it played at various contemporary music festivals. I wanted to get to know what it was like now, and I wanted to get to know them.”

FearNoMusic performs music from Cuba on Friday.

This Friday, Bernstein’s vision becomes reality when Cascadia enlists the veteran Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic to perform eight pieces by leading Cuban composers, with two in attendance, at its “New Pearls from the Antilles” concert. The following evening, they’ll hear new music inspired by Oregon at a second Cascadia Composers concert.

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Conversation with Cuba

Cascadia Composers' journey to Cuba opened eyes and ears to musical and cultural riches

By DANIEL HEILA

When Havana Contemporary Music Festival president Guido Lopez-Gavilan wrote to David Bernstein inviting the Cascadia Composers association (northwest chapter of the National Association of Composers, USA) to his festival as guests of the Writers and Artists Union of Cuba, he included this entreaty:

“As is well known, our country is going through a difficult economic period, and therefore, we would appreciate it if you could communicate with us, regarding the possibility that you could obtain funding for your trip.”

What a profoundly gracious understatement. As if nearly 60 years of economic sanctions were nothing to go on about between potential friends. Bernstein got busy and procured the help of Project Por Amor to arrange for safe passage of six Cascadia composers (David Bernstein, Daniel Brugh, Ted Clifford, Paul Safar, Jennifer Wright, and Art Resnick whose work was performed though he did not attend due to illness) to Havana for the festival, held Nov. 14-22, 2016.

This Saturday, the Cascadians reciprocate with two concerts, the first featuring new music from Cuba performed by FearNoMusic, the second showcasing the sounds of the Pacific Northwest. In October, Oregon musicians performed the music the Cascadians took to Cuba in a concert at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall called “A Cuba con Amor — To Cuba with Love.”

Wright rehearses with Cuban musicians for a performance of her “Loopers” in Havana. Photo: Matias Brecher.

I invited each composer to offer their perspectives on the trip and was pleased by the commonality of their responses. All mentioned the warmth and friendliness of the Cuban people and the tragic beauty of Havana. All marveled at the brilliant, sensual, passionate musical environment. And all were blown away by the artistic commitment and passion of the festival players.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: bohemians & other artists

"La Bohème" at the opera, George Johanson & other gallery shows, Brett Campbell's music picks, Miss Julie and Satchmo onstage

Here they come again, those tragic bohemians. Rodolfo with his poems. Marcello with his paintings. Musetta with her songs. Mimi with her consumption. All of them as poor as church mice. Fortunately they can also sing like angels, or like the devil himself, who seems to have it in for them. It’s been eight years since Portland Opera last produced La Bohème, Puccini’s 1896 grand musical potboiler (Toscanini conducted the world premiere in Turin), which is one of opera’s greatest weepers and most enduring hits. Now Portland Opera’s brought it back again, beginning on Friday at Keller Auditorium and continuing for three more performances through May 13. It’ll feature Vanessa Isiguen as poor doomed Mimi, and the young Italian tenor Giordano Lucá, in his American debut, as Rodolfo. Let the singing, and the dying, begin.

Vanessa Issiguen, Mimi in Portland Opera’s “La Boheme,” performing in the opera’s Big Night special in April. Photo: Cory Weaver

 


 

THE MAY FIRST THURSDAY ART GALLERY OPENINGS are this week, and one of the shows we’re looking forward to is at Augen, where George Johanson has an exhibition of recent paintings going up. If we gave artists the sort of titles we used to hand out, Johanson would be a Portland Old Master: Born in Seattle in 1928, he came to Portland in 1946 to attend the old Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art), and with some breaks in New York, London, and Mexico he’s mostly been here ever since.

George Johanson, “Studio with Bunce Mask,” 2016, acrylic and oil on canvas , 40 x 60 inches.

Adept as a printmaker and a painter, he’s chronicled pretty much everything from the city’s rivers to its music to his own studio to other artists (in his 2002 book of quick portraits Equivalents: Portraits of 80 Oregon Artists) to Mt. St. Helens blowing its stack, often with a rabbit or a cat streaking across the image. As he approaches 90 he seems as active and creative as ever. His show opens Thursday and he’ll speak at the gallery at noon Saturday, May 13.

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Among the many openings and continuing gallery shows, a few other likely bets:

Yoonhee Choi and Roya Motamedi at Blackfish. Choi’s installation Sift uses bright colors and recycled plastic cups, straight pins, and the like to contemplate consumption and detritus. Motamedi’s Aptitude of Kindness includes collages of fabric and birch on paper.

James Allen’s Northwest Bound at Russo Lee. Allen “excavates” books in search of history and image – in this show, including a large altered set of bound newspapers from the old Oregon Journal in May 1914. Also: Michelle Ramin’s takes on tourists exploring architectural ruins; Amory Abbott’s charcoal drawings.

Mar Goman and Dayna J Collins at Guardino. Goman’s highly crafted, outsidery images (she calls it “curious art”) have a folk art feel and are made from just about anything she can get her hands on. Collins paints abstract images emerging from the waterlines of rivers and ocean.

Alex Lilly’s Razor Blade Rain at Michael Parsons Fine Art. May Day turned into a pitched battle in downtown Portland, and that’s an extension of what Lilly’s vivid and disturbing paintings are about. This new show is based on drawings and photographs he made while watching earlier Portland protests.

Margaret Lindburg’s Resolution at Karin Clarke Gallery. The veteran Salem artist has a new show of paintings at Clarke’s gallery in Eugene, and Randi Bjornstad has this interesting profile of Lindburg in Eugene Review.

Alex Lilly, “Riot Cops – 3rd and SW Madison,” 2017, oil on composite block, 6 x 6 inches, Michael Parsons Fine Art.

 


 

BRETT CAMPBELL’S MUSIC PICKS OF THE WEEK:

 

The four-time Grammy-winning ensemble, one of the top performers of contemporary American classical music, joins the quirky indie folk singer/songwriter (real name Will Oldham) in his own songs, plus Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang’s learn to fly and Frederic Rzewski’s fierce 1971 American classic Coming Together, which sets a heart-rending text by an inmate killed in the Attica prison uprising. The centerpiece, Murder Ballades, is a fascinating mashup of ancient English/Appalachian folk tunes like “Pretty Polly” along with original music inspired by them, all put together by Bryce Dessner, best known to rock music fans as the guitarist in The National but recently emerging as a formidable contemporary classical composer with music for Kronos Quartet and others. Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Why, when performers today sing the so-called “American Songbook,” do they seem to stop in about the late 1950s — just as they did when those numbers were actually new? It’s not like they stopped making musicals then. Eugene singer and a cappella music titan Evynne Hollens’s project has been bringing the hits from today’s musical theater — including the hottest new Broadways shows like Hamilton, Waitress, Kinky Boots, School of Rock, and more – to the Shedd and beyond for three years. Performers include professionals from LA & Portland as well as Eugene talent, including a multi-racial chorus of local UO & high school students. Thursday, The Shedd, Eugene.
A multiple winner of all the jazz awards on her instrument, the Israeli clarinetist fell so hard for Brazil and its music that she learned Portuguese, formed her own band with Brazilian musicians, and made several albums of both traditional and original music in Brazilian styles. Stay tuned for Angela Allen’s preview of this PDXJazz show. Thursday, The Old Church.
Maybe the leading classic jazz pianist brings back his wonderful trio with Kenny Washington and Peter Washington celebrating their 20th anniversary. Charlap has worked with Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett and so many more of jazz and pop’s finest. “The Bill Charlap Trio is a chamber group of a quality customarily found only in equally long-lived classical ensembles,” wrote eminent jazz journalist Doug Ramsey upon their last appearance in Portland. “In their years together, pianist Charlap, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington have achieved singleness of purpose and unity of thought to a degree rare in any musical idiom.”
Friday, The Shedd, Eugene.
The acclaimed Vancouver, B.C.-based men’s choir, now led by Portland’s own Erick Lichte (a co-founder of the terrific American choir Cantus), sings a Baltic-oriented program of some of the hottest choral composers from one of the coldest areas on earth, including Estonian composer Veljo Tormis, Finland’s Jaako Mantyjarvi, Latvia’s Eriks Esenvalds, and American and Canadian composers, including Leonard Cohen. Read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch previewFriday, First United Methodist Church, 1838 S.W. Jefferson St.
For its 10th anniversary concert, the superb women’s vocal ensemble briefly welcomes back co-founder Tuesday Rupp, but also looks forward by commissioning world premiere performances of new music by Oregon composers John Vergin, Andrea Reinkemeyer and Robert Lockwood, to go with 20th and 21st century music by Kay Rhie, Ivan Moody, and Gustav Holst, plus a Renaissance classic by Perotin.
Friday, St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1716 N.W. Davis, Portland and Sunday, Proto-Cathedral of St. James, 218 W 12th Street, Vancouver.

Everybody knows The Four Seasons, but Italy’s greatest Baroque composer, Antonio Vivaldi, wrote literally hundreds more concertos than just that quartet of them for violin, and so did his Italian contemporaries. Violin virtuosa Monica Huggett leads her band in Vivaldi concertos for lute, bassoon, and more, along with concerti by Pergolesi (best known for his Stabat Mater) and Giovanni Mossi.
Portland Baroque Orchestra, Friday & Saturday, First Baptist Church, and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College.
New York composer Debra Kaye’s Ikarus Among the Stars was commissioned in memory of former PYP musician Benjamin Yaphet Klatchko by PYP and his parents. Based on Klatchko’s own melodies, Kaye’s 16-minute electro-acoustic composition takes its shape from the Ikarus and Daedalus myth about the boy who flew too close to the sun and plunged to his death in the sea. In this world premiere, clips of Klatchko’s music are woven into the finished composition, with the orchestra sometimes imitating, sometimes accompanying, and at one point resting while a recording of him singing alone plays. The concert also features Dvorak’s popular Symphony No. 8 and the excellent youth orchestra’s concerto competition winner, Annie Zhang, performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway.
The Portland new music ensemble’s Young Composers Project, which connects budding composers ages 10-18 with professional musicians to play their music, is one of Oregon’s most valuable musical education ventures. The only program of its kind in the country brings students from all over the United States to work with director Jeff Payne and five professional musicians in a yearlong series of workshops. Over the course of nine months, the young composers complete a piece for the ensemble which includes clarinet, violin, cello, percussion and piano. You might be surprised at how accomplished and appealing many of them can sound. Sunday, Eliot Chapel at Reed College.

 

CURTAINS UP: NEW ONSTAGE

Satchmo at the Waldorf. Salim Sanchez stars as the great Louis Armstrong in the Oregon premiere of Terry Teachout’s drama. Opens Thursday, through May 27 at Triangle Productions.

Miss Julie. Samantha Van Der Merwe directs Craig Lucas’s adaptation of Strindberg’s taut and explosive drama at Shaking the Tree, with Beth Thompson as Julie, Matthew Kerrigan as Jean, and Kelly Godell as Kristine. Friday through June 3.

Pinkalicious. Oregon Children’s Theatre brings back its musical hit about a girl who seems to have eaten too many pink cupcakes. Well, haven’t we all? Saturday through June 4, Newmark Theatre.

The Martha Graham Company. The modern exemplars of the legendary American modernist choreographer come to Schnitzer Hall next Tuesday, May 10, in the White Bird series.

“Miss Julie” in rehearsal at Shaking the Tree. Photo: Megan Nanna

 

 


 

ArtsWatch links

 

Gerald Clayton, family man. Angela Allen talks with jazz pianist Clayton, who plays The Old Church on Wednesday, and is carving his own place among a family of jazz bluebloods.

Mary’s Wedding: a retro refuge. A.L. Adams reviews this Canadian romance, a “refuge from the tempests of modern complication,” at Portland Center Stage.

Fire and Ice: accessible adventure. Brett Campbell talks with three woman composers (Stacy Philipps, Jennifer Wright, Lisa Ann Marsh) who are shaking up Portland’s music scene. “We’re all up for anything,” Wright says. “We found each other because we wanted to do things that don’t look like the traditional thing.”

Medea brings new meaning to catharsis. A.L.Adams reviews Imago Theatre’s fresh take on the ancient Greek classic, whose precarious balances are measured on a constantly tilting stage.

Cascadia Composers: lights, poetry, music. Composer Matthew Andrews takes readers inside the works of some recent contemporary concerts.

Talented. But are they universal? Hailey Bachrach reviews the world premiere of Yussef El Guindi’s The Talented Ones at Artists Repertory Theatre.

Pop goes the Oregon Symphony. Claire Sykes looks at all that “other” programming on the symphony season. Pops concerts? They’re not Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops anymore.

‘Fire and Ice’ preview: accessible adventure

New Portland composers' collective's debut performance includes aerial dance, sculpture, poetry, icy instruments — and a close connection to audiences

Though their music differed from each other’s, Portland composers Stacey Philipps, Jennifer Wright and Lisa Ann Marsh had a lot in common. All three were accomplished members of the composers groups Cascadia Composers and Crazy Jane Composers. Unlike too many 20th century classical composers, all three cared as much about what the audience experienced as what the creators wanted to express.

“We all appreciated each other’s music but also each other’s ability to make concerts engaging for audiences as well as esthetically appealing for all of us,” Philipps recalls. And they shared one more thing.

Burn After Listening’s Philipps, Marsh, Wright.

“We’re all up for anything,” Wright says. “We found each other because we wanted to do things that don’t look like the traditional thing.”

They decided to form a group called Burn After Listening. This weekend’s debut multimedia performances, Fire and Ice, promise to look nothing like a traditional classical music concert.

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Let’s see, now, where were we? Big inauguration, American carnage, big threats, bellicose speech. Bigger protest, millions of women, pink hats, sea to shining sea. Twitter wars unabated. Health care on the skids. War on reporters. Alternative facts.

And, oh, yes, tucked away there in the corner: a vow to kill the National Endowment for the Arts. And kill the National Endowment for the Humanities. And “privatize” the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has mostly been privatized already, anyway. Cost-cutting. Getting tough on the budget. Victory for the taxpayers. (NEA 2016 budget: $148 million. NEH 2016 budget: $148 million. Percentage of total federal budget, each: 0.003. CPB 2016 funding via federal government: $445 million. Percentage of total federal budget, all three agencies: less than 0.02. Federal budget 2015 for military marching bands, $437 million. Taxpayer expense to build or renovate National Football League stadiums, past 20 years, mostly through local and regional taxes: more than $7 billion.)

A fiscal conservative or libertarian can make an honest argument for eliminating the NEA and NEH on grounds that they’re simply not an appropriate use of taxpayer funding; culture should be funded privately. Here at ArtsWatch we don’t agree with that analysis. We believe there are many valid reasons for government financial aid to culture, and that the payoffs to taxpayers are many, from economic – in healthy cities, the arts are job and money multipliers – to educational and much more. Historically, consider the continuing dividends of the WPA and other cultural projects underwritten by the federal government during the Great Depression of the 1930s: In Oregon, for instance, Timberline Lodge.

But there’s much more to this move than a courteous philosophical/economic disagreement. The move to defund the NEA has a long and embattled history, dating at least to the so-called “culture wars” of the 1980s and ’90s, when a resurgent right-wing political movement convinced that artists were mostly a pack of degenerate liberals discovered that attacking the arts was a splendid red-meat issue for its base. They didn’t succeed in killing off the national endowments, but they did weaken them. The new administration seems to think it can finally finish them off. That would weaken state agencies such as the Oregon Arts Commission, which gets funding from the NEA, and in turn weaken arts organizations across the state, which get money from the OAC and, often more importantly, a stamp of approval that helps them raise private donations. Killing the endowments would be a rash move that would save hardly anything in the national budget and cause deep mischief to the nation’s well-being. It strikes us as petty and vindictive and, frankly, foolish.

It’s also a reach that might fail. Republicans like culture, too, and understand its value, and often support it generously. Traditionally, that has included Republican politicians. Will they fall in line with the new administration, or will they quietly scuttle its gambit? Keep your eye on this thing. We will, too.

 


 

Duffy Epstein and Dana Green in the premiere of the D.B. Cooper play “db.” Photo: Owen Carey

THE FERTILE GROUND FESTIVAL, Portland’s sprawling celebration of new works in theater, dance, solo performance, circus arts, musical theater, comedy, and other things that ordinarily happen on a stage, continues through January 29. ArtsWatch writers have been out and about, writing their impressions. You can catch up with some of them below:

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Cascadia Composers fall concerts: Spanning the spectrum

Quartet of concerts reveals rich diversity in contemporary Oregon classical — or is that 'classical' ? — music

Cascadia Composers can’t put on a boring concert. The organization of composers based primarily in the Northwest is only halfway through its 2016-17 season and already I’ve seen:

  • e-bow-generated harpsichord drones played on a dark stage, with the composer draped in blue LED lights and projections of cymatically stimulated beads of blue water dancing in time to the music;
  • a stack of toy pianos played by five composers crammed all together, music clutched in their hands or squinched in between the tiny wooden legs;
  • duets between cello and doumbek, between clarinet and electronics, between pianists wearing flamboyant wigs and chasing each other around their instrument, screeching like wild cats;
  • a simple pastoral song about barnyard animals turn into a horrifying depiction of slaughter;
  • a choir imitating an alarm clock, a forest, a goddess, a rose.

Jennifer Wright performs her ‘You Cannot LIberate Me…’ Photo: Matias Brecher.

This is what happens when Oregon composers get together and make music. Taken together, the concerts presented a snapshot of contemporary Oregon’s surprisingly rich and diverse contemporary classical music scene.

A Cuba con Amor

The first Cascadia concert of the season, October’s A Cuba con Amor, featured works written for the group’s first-ever composer exchange: the concert’s six composers traveled to Cuba the following month to have their works performed there by local musicians in the 29th Annual Festival de La Habana. This was the concert with the toy pianos (Jennifer Wright’s semi-aleatoric X Chromosome), the doumbek and cello (Paul Safar’s Cat on a Wire), the clarinet and electronics (“synth wizard” Daniel Brugh’s Fantasia), and an evening’s worth of lovely music. I was especially pleased to hear so much music written for strings, including Brugh’s Reticulum for tenor and string quartet and no less than three pieces for piano trio (Safar’s A Trio of Dances, Art Resnick’s Images of a Trip, and Cascadia co-founder David Bernstein’s Late Autumn Moods and Images).

Wright, Brugh, Clifford, Safar, and Max Weisenbloom play with toys on Wright’s ‘X-Chromosome’ at Cascadia Composers’ Cuba concert.

One particularly memorable moment was Ted Clifford’s melodica solo during the middle movement of his composition Child’s Play. As the newest composer in the Cascadia stable, seeing this family of composers at work on and off stage (and afterward at a nearby watering hole) made me feel fantastic about joining up.

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