cascadia composers

MusicWatch Weekly: How to decide

Your guide to choosing a balanced musical diet

I know what you’re thinking. “Hey Mr. Music Editor Guy, how the [redacted] am I supposed to pick one of these million shows you’re always telling us about?” Good question, dear foul-mouthed reader. The short answer, as always, is: follow your bliss!

But you want a real answer, don’t you? Normally, you might use genre as a guideline. But genre is dead and can’t help you anymore. Instead, I have three recommended methods for picking a weekend of concerts. First: rely on institutions. Second: use this newfangled interweb thingy to listen ahead of time to whatever’s happening on whichever morning/afternoon/evening you happen to be free. Third: ask your friends!

Rely on institutions

It may sound strange to hear a certified Discordian Pope telling you to rely on institutions, since any organization stuffy enough to earn the name “institution” is pretty reliably unreliable. But Oregon is blessed with several well-established music organizations that have earned our Trust in such matters.

Two of these are Cascadia Composers and Fear No Music, both of whom celebrate contemporary “classical” music and the (usually living) composers who create it, both of whom have concerts at The Old Church in the next week (Cascadia Saturday, FNM Monday). Stay tuned for Senior Editor Brett Campbell’s FNM Hearings preview tomorrow, and he’ll have something to say about Cascadia in just a moment. For now, I’d like to tell you about two other Portland institutions with shows coming up: School of Rock and Creative Music Guild.

Yes.

I already told you all about School of Rock and the Little Girl Ozzy story, so here’s just a list of what the kids are doing at Portland institution Doug Fir Lounge this weekend: One Hit Wonders and Yacht Rock Saturday, Iron Maiden vs. Judas Priest and the whole damn Repo Man Soundtrack Sunday. The shows start early–like, 11:30 a.m. early–so get your ass out the door and grab some Delicious Donuts around the corner.

Portland’s Creative Music Guild specializes in getting high-quality gonzo improv/experimental musicians paid for their work, and that’s one of the best things any institution can do. CMG’s Outset Series at Turn Turn Turn in North Portland (N. Williams and Killingsworth, at the intersection where no cars go) is consciously organized around that model, and although I’m not saying that experimental musicians who are good enough to get paid make better experimental music, I am strongly implying it. Their Outset Series concert tonight–as in Wednesday the 18th of September, tonight–features drum-and-bass duo The Crenshaw, the “musique concrète duel” of Caspar Sonnet and Juniana Lanning, and Machado Mijiga’s “lo-fi hip-hop” Gohan Blanco.

“Okay,” you might say, “but what the [redacted] is any of this stuff, anyways? How does this help me decide what to listen to?” And here’s where we move into phase two of our operation.

JFGI

If internet were still all text-based like some dreadful ‘80s movie, you’d have to content yourself with colorful descriptions like:

“The Crenshaw can allude to tensely repetitive footwork and juke beats, explosive art rock, ambient minimalism and delicate free improvisation all in the span of 3 minute songs that employ stuttering drums, warped synths, dastardly bass/voice counterpoint and self-effacing or darkly humorous lyrics”

and:

“A veritable smorgasbord of fuzzywuzzy lo-fi sounds, delivered on a pupu platter of multi-instrumental, cross-genre improvisations, chops, and loops. An experimental descent into the mind of a sleepless Portland native, with pit stops in familiar places you’ve never been. Close your eyes, open your ears, and free your mind; but don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.”

That all sounds pretty great to me, but internet has come a long way and there are entire ecosystems of music “websites” that allow you to listen to anything that you want.

Anything that you want.

The Crenshaw sounds like this. Caspar Sonnet and Juniana Lanning sound like this and this, and Machado Mijiga’s bandcamp is just full of yummy retro goodness. Put your headphones on and make up your mind already. Show’s tonight, get moving!

The interwebosphere even has videos on it these days. That’s Machado Mijiga playing sax up there, etc. You might also enjoy this video of Portland’s masked mystery men, Kulululu, who perform at this weekend’s Rontoms Sunday Session and may well get you all excited about Being Kulululu.

You are Kulululu, too.

Internet is also how you find out about Adrian Belew, who’s performing at the Aladdin Theater on Friday. Belew is best known as King Crimson’s longest-running front-man–and he still incorporates some Crim songs into his solo sets–but to me he’ll always be the guy that David Bowie poached from Frank Zappa, resulting in the infamous “fuck you, Captain Tom” incident in Berlin. A few years later, half of Talking Heads tried to talk him into replacing David Byrne (Belew’s answer: “excuse me while I take this call from Robert Fripp.”)

Between Crimcartions, Belew toured with Nine Inch Nails and produced a little Christian rock, and has spent the last several decades pursuing a solo career marked by weirdo pop music about animals and prog albums with Danny Carey and Les Claypool. He’s a perfectly ordinary dude with no fashion sense, mean guitar chops, a love for bizarre technology, and an exquisite ear for melody unmatched by any Crim before or since. The present author caught him at the Aladdin several years ago with Tony Levin (another Crimster) and it was the best thing ever. Highly sophisticated playing from prog musicians who have been practicing their craft every day since the ‘70s, bouncing around and having a great time.

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And since I’m your friend and you would never have otherwise heard of Adrian Belew, that brings us to method number three.

Ask your friends

It’s no secret that the present author is pals with some of the artists herein written of, so I don’t mind telling you I heard about Northwest Art Song from one of my composition teachers, PSU professor Renée Favand-See, who has a piece on NWAS’s Fem Love concert at The Old Church on Sunday afternoon. I also heard about it on [redacted] from FNM’s Kenji Bunch and 45th Parallel’s Greg Ewer, who are on the program with Pink Martini cellist Pansy Chang and singers Arwen Myers, Laura Thoreson, and Susan McDaniel.

I have literally no idea what this concert will be like. “Classical” musicians don’t usually maintain the same bandcamp-youtube presence as “popular” musicians do, and “composers” tend to branch out stylistically a lot more than “songwriters” do, so going to concerts like this one can be a total leap of faith. You might listen to some other music by the composers–Favand-See, Emerson Eads, Will White, and UO composition chair Robert Kyr all have works available on interwebs–but it won’t tell you much about what’s going to happen on this concert. All you know is that it’s music about women, written by local composers (one woman, three men), performed by some of the area’s finest musicians in one of downtown Portland’s oldest, loveliest-sounding institutions.

Ah, but you want more detail, don’t you? If only these “classical” concerts would happen more than once instead of just popping up like mushrooms and dispersing into the aether like invisible spores! I have good news for you, friend: a pair of Cascadians, Paul Safar and Ted Clifford, are doing just that. Safar and Clifford live in Eugene and Portland, so for their shared fiftieth birthday concert they decided to just put on the same show twice–once in each of their hometowns. Our friend Brett just happened to catch the first one last weekend, and he’s here to tell you all about it.

I wasn’t surprised that last Saturday’s 50/50 concert at Eugene’s Unity of the Valley Church (which repeats this Saturday at Portland’s The Old Church) was one of the most broadly appealing shows Cascadia Composers has ever produced. After all, the two featured composers, Portland’s Ted Clifford and Eugene’s Paul Safar, are both sterling keyboard players and write some of the most entertaining contemporary classical music in Oregon. What did surprise me was that even though the concert celebrated their 50th birthdays, the show was stolen by another musician.

It’s not that the compositions were subpar. Clifford’s Song of Remembrance, inspired by Oregon Poet Laureate Emeritus Lawson Inada’s poignant words about Oregon’s (and America’s) shameful World War II detention of Japanese American citizens, was even more powerful than I remembered from its Portland premiere a few years ago. Inada, a superb reader, wasn’t there to intone his text this time, alas, but Clifford fleshed out the texture with an added tenor sax part played by Tom Bergeron to go with jazz rhythm section, the composer on piano, and alto saxophonist Mary Ellen Grace.

Two other repeat hearings — Safar’s spirited Spider Star and Five — also thrilled me as much as they had the first time. Two new Clifford compositions — If the Heart Could Think It Would Stop, setting a wonderful Mark Sargent poem, and the delightfully playful piano solo Mood Swings, featuring ArtsWatch contributor Maria Choban — demonstrated the composer’s talent for both text setting and “classical” instrumentals. Both composers are real masters at melding poetry with music.

The performances were uniformly excellent, which is to be expected with world class talents like Bergeron and Choban involved. They delivered in spades, of course, as did the other ace performers, including members of Eugene’s Delgani Quartet, violinist Dave Burham, Salem pianist Asya Gulua and the rest. A solid, understated player who hails from the jazz world, Clifford eschewed the soloist’s typical showcases to devote his keyboard parts to expertly holding everything together and pushing the music forward. And Safar’s expressive, nuanced pianism deserves as much praise as his genial compositions — he’s one of the tightest performing ensemble classical pianists around. When most of the players converged in the first half closer, Clifford’s riotous evocation of a rambling Havana cab ride Koko Taxi, they had the audience grinning, laughing, and swaying along. It was the highlight of the night.

Still, the star of the show was vivacious vocalist Nancy Wood, whom Choban rightly calls “Oregon’s Barbara Hannigan.” Our state boasts quite a few superb solo classical singers, including a number of opera/theater music stars. For sheer musicality and riveting (though never showy) theatricality, I’d take Wood over any of them. Her artistry is well known in Eugene, where she performs in Cherry Blossom Productions with her husband Safar, but she performs too seldom elsewhere.

Wood gracefully inhabited Safar’s Spider Star and Clifford’s If the Heart… and Song of Remembrance, making every word clear while still blending perfectly with the instrumentalists, even when singing unusual intervals that don’t let singers rely on common classical or pop structures. She radiates the kind of (to use a Eugeney word) organic charisma that never feels forced, contrived, or histrionic when attempted by performers without her musical integrity and natural expressivity. She serves and invigorates the music she sings better than just about any Oregon vocalist I know, and she deserves a showcase concert that would let more Oregonians know what a gift she is to the state’s music scene.

Even though her performance almost eclipsed the two birthday boys, I’m sure it’s a gift they — and the audience — thoroughly appreciated. And it’s a gift that keeps on giving: Portland audiences are in for a treat in Saturday’s repeat performance at The Old Church.

— Brett Campbell

Thanks Brett!

Decisions, decisions

“But, ugh,” you may say. “I don’t have time for all that headphone work and decision-making. Just tell me what to do!” I recommend a balanced musical diet. Get your ass out the door right now and catch CMG tonight to get your experimental fix. Rest up Thursday. Friday, Belewlewlew.

Saturday morning get up for donuts and School of Rock and then head downtown for Clifford and Safar. Sunday, spend your afternoon back at The Old Church with NW Art Song, then hop over to Rontoms to get your gonzo rocks on. Then, if you have the energy for it, Hearings on Monday.

Phew!

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MusicWatch Monthly: A Septemberful of ‘music’

"Classical" music, "Hip-hop" music, "Queer" music, "Experimental" music

Well, friends, you’ve got a helluva nice September to look forward to. Oregon Symphony provides live backup to the greatest movie of all time and also Wyclef Jean. Cappella Romana performs a bunch of Byzantine music, Kalakendra and Rasika present Indian classical music and dance, Nordic folk band Sver comes to Alberta Rose, and local rapper Fountaine headlines a free Labor Day hip-hop fest.

FearNoMusic and Third Angle swing back into full Relevant Classical mode this month, while Oregon Repertory Singers perform local composer Joan Szymko. Portland State’s Queer Opera presents gender-bent opera scenes and art songs, Dolphin Midwives plays a Harvest Moon Cacao Ceremony, and the Extradition Series imports a Canadian trumpeter.

We’ve even got a few concerts for you outside the Portland metro area, in case the shame trolls decide they want another helping of bananafied humiliation optics, police cover, wasted city resources, and charitable donations.

“Drip, drip.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: Happy accidents

Music editor misses Glass opera, amplified strings, and the end of CMNW

Allow me to get personal for a moment. You, my dear readers, know that I’m involved in this vibrant local music scene I’ve been writing about every week for the last three years. As a student at Portland State University, I walk past area composers Kenji Bunch and Bonnie Miksch in the hallways about once a week. Until recently, I sat on the board of Cascadia Composers (about whom you can read all about right here in Maria “Arts Bitch” Choban’s detective hunt). I play drums in a surf punk band and gongs in a Balinese gamelan, and most of my friends and acquaintances are musicians. It’s inevitable that your ever-busy music editor will occasionally find himself becoming Part of the Story.

Music editor Matt Andrews becomes Part of the Story. Photo by Matias Brecher.

So this week I’m going to lean into that pretty hard and tell you all about my brother’s band. I’ll also explain why you have to go to a bunch of wonderful local concerts in my stead this weekend, beautiful shows I’ve been waiting all year for, all piling up here at the bottom of July where I have to miss them because I’ll be spending the next five days packing for a six-week trip to Bali.

But first, a case for Mozart.

To garden or not to garden

Portland Opera earns its place in the city’s music scene for one reason: they pour almost as much time, effort, talent, and money into productions of operas by living U.S. composers as they put into the classics. (Honestly that’s a pretty generous “almost,” but they do alright for an arts organization of their heft. Oregon Symphony does better, but they also do more.)

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10th anniversary season-closing concert offers clues to organization’s success

by MARIA CHOBAN

Guess where I am.

A lemon yellow wading pool, aluminum bowls spin bump chime on its blue sparkly surface, kids clang big silver balls at them.

Nope, I’m not sitting in a friend’s backyard.

A drone dancing with a human robot.

Nope, I’m not at Burning Man.

A cider balanced on my belly, lying on floor pillows, watching a wizard wave Wii wands, warding off ghosts.

Nope, I’m not high.

Give up?

Photo: Luciana Pina

I was at Cascadia Composers’ All Wired Up micro-festival of electronic music at downtown Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall on the deliberately chosen date — 4/20. 

Concocted by a Western classical music consortium, I expected . . . well, what do you expect when you read “micro-festival of electronic music?” Instead, It turned out to be the funnest fringe festival I’ve attended in Portland.

We obey Cascadia’s unflappable third president, the forward-looking Ted Clifford, and four more Cascadians wielding hand percussion instruments. The Pied Percussionists lead us outdoors into the bright sun where the gamelan is set up . . .  next to the lemon yellow wading pool . . . delighting even the pedestrians strolling down SW Clay.

Gangstas of Gamelan

Cascadia Composers, with 86 members, mostly from the Pacific Northwest, thrives when breaking classical music’s archaic ‘rules’ with unconventional events and offerings. For example, All Wired Up micro-fest of electronic music included a piece for Balinese gamelan (Indonesian percussion) and no electronics: ArtsWatch editor Matthew Andrews’s Because I Could Not Stop For Death

In May, I attended Cascadia’s monthly presentation (open to all) and spoke to a 30-something composer who recently moved from Dallas, Texas, ninth largest city in the US. His reason for moving to the 29th largest city? Dallas doesn’t support the ideas of burgeoning creators. When he asked a music mentor in Dallas where in Portland he should plug in, the response was Cascadia Composers and Classical Revolution PDX

How did Cascadia gain this notoriety? How did it turn a well behaved niche art enjoyed by a niche few into the rollicking frolic for young and old, newbies and insiders evidenced at All Wired Up? I’ll dust for fingerprints all over this festival. Let’s follow the clues and solve this crime.

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MusicWatch Weekly: psychedeliclassical

Trippy visuals and more enhance Oregon classical music concerts

Classical music still lags a ways behind, say, the reggae community when it comes to appropriately celebrating 4/20. Admittedly, the some of the thrill has kind of, uh, gone up in smoke since Oregon finally ended the preposterous cannabis Prohibition, but it’s never too late explore the possibilities of imbibing ear-opening music with mind-altering visuals, and this week offers a couple of psychedelicious opportunities.

Radiance Orb prepares for its Hult Center trip.

On Thursday, the Eugene Symphony’s The Color of Sound concert spotlights Russian composer Alexander Scriabin’s notorious expansive voluptuous music, which partakes in both Romanticism and Impressionism. Whether or not he was actually gifted by synthesthesia, the crazy visionary Russian composer (like others then and now) “saw” sounds as colors — the note A was green, for example. His score for Prometheus included a part for a “light organ” that could display colors corresponding to the pitches in his music, but he was born a century or so too soon for technology to fully accommodate his vision. Fortunately, the mad scientist/artists at Eugene’s Harmonic Laboratory and Light at Play have arrived to help the ESO realize Scriabin’s vision for that proto-psychedelic 1910 piano concerto (subtitled Poem of Fire), with an eight-foot keyboard-controlled “Radiance Orb” suspended above the stage projecting tapestries of light around Silva Hall matched to the music.

The show also includes Scriabin’s famous 1908 fourth symphony, Poem of Ecstasy, which zooms from erotic to mystic to cosmic, plus short classical greatest hits by Handel, Grieg, Debussy, Pärt and more. ESO should sell edibles out in the lobby before this one.
Thursday, Silva Hall, Hult Center, Eugene.

• As should Cascadia Composers, whose 4/20 All Wired Up concert doubledose features more than a dozen of the region’s most accomplished composers, including some of its most promising next-gen voices. This mini festival of new electronic music includes original homegrown compositions for electric guitar and bass, keyboards, percussion, vocals, oboe, amplified trumpet and horn, piano, organ, and interactive fixed media. Then they add projections, modern dance, even an aerial drone. And that’s just the 4 pm show.

After a break (including an optional talk about “data-driven instruments” by prog/electronic/algorithmic composer percussionist Steve Joslin and electronic music and soundscape wizard Mei-Ling Lee), the video-enhanced 7 pm concert includes video/sound art for percussion, electronics, piano, electric guitar and fixed media. Composers include Timothy Arliss O’Brien, Dana Reason, Paul Safar, Brian Field, Greg Steinke, Nicholas Yandell, Matthew Andrews, Ted Clifford, Jennifer Wright, Tristan Bliss, Antonio Celaya, Stacey Philipps, Vivian Elliot, Mei-Ling Lee, Jeffrey Ericson Allen, Joshua Hey, Greg Bartholomew, and Daniel Brugh.
Saturday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., Portland.

• The Creative Music Guild’s fascinating Extradition Series features 20th- and 21st-century experimental music that often blurs the imaginary line between composition and improvisation. The five pieces in Saturday’s concert leave many artistic choices up to the interpreters. A score by Bay Area composer Danny Clay consists of a large wooden box containing dice, playing cards, a clock, marbles, and instructions to the performers to turn the melange into music. Alexis Porfiriadis’s Happy Notes, Sad Notes gives performers ten “episodes” of graphic symbols and a series of questions regarding how they are to be interpreted (“Are these happy notes? Shall we play them?”) and invites them to take it from there. Performers include harpist Sage Fisher (Dolphin Midwives), clarinetist Lee Elderton, Branic Howard on guitar/electronics, pianist Matt Carlson, oboist Catherine Lee (oboe), cellist Collin Oldham, trumpeter Douglas Detrick, flutist Maxx Katz, percussionist Matt Hannafin, and more.
Saturday. Leaven Community, Portland.

Trotter & McNeal perform Friday and Saturday.

• In Golden Organ, Margaret McNeal and Stephanie Lavon Trotter use electronic and acoustic music and voice to “reclaim Opera.” This weekend’s “performative installation,” and there was a new voice which you slowly recognize as your own, includes original compositions, improvisations, multimedia and more. C
Friday and Saturday, Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave. Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: spring awakenings

As a new season arrives, concerts awaken Oregonians to stories about gender, migration, cross cultural encounters, and more

As 21st century America belatedly recognizes that gender isn’t always a binary phenomenon, artists have increasingly illuminated its fluid, spectral reality, as Oregonians have seen in recent Time Based Art Festival performances, last fall’s Contralto show by Third Angle, and more. Now comes the most produced contemporary opera in North America since its 2014 premiere. As One is inspired by the true story of its scenic designer and co-librettist. Kimberly Reed became the first commercially released transgender filmmaker with her breakthrough film Prodigal Sons, which chronicled her journey from star Montana high school quarterback to award winning film director. In this chamber opera co-created by American composer Laura Kaminsky and renowned co-librettist Mark Campbell, two singers tell the coming of age story of the fictional trans protagonist, Hannah — one playing before her gender transformation, one after. Her journey is depicted against the backdrop of Reed’s sometimes abstract, sometimes realistic imagery, projected on five screens. Stay tuned for my profile of Reed and Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch review.
Friday-March 30, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland.

• More theatrical music comes from Light Opera of Portland (LOoP), whose original, romantic musical We Met in Moscow is based upon events in the lives of Ralph Bunch, a professor emeritus from Portland State University, and his wife Eleanora Andreevna, head of cybernetics at the Kremlin in the 1990s. Portland composer John Vergin did his own treatment of the story just a few months ago, and now writer/lyricist Dennis Britten and composer Kevin Lay give the musical treatment to this Oregon/Russia love story.
Friday-March 29, Alpenrose Dairy Opera House 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.

• Over the past few years, Portland classical music organizations have belatedly begun to redress the inexcusable gender imbalance on their concert programs by finally including a few works by female composers. Now, Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic does something similar for women’s words as well as music. Because Of Her, We Make Songs features musical settings (by female and male composers) of text by women poets from around the world (Emily Dickinson, Emma Lazarus, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Elinor Wylie, Pulitzer Prize-winner Amy Lowell, Gabriela Mistral), including songs by the excellent Northwester composer Alex Shapiro, Ricky Ian Gordon, Florence Price, Grammy and Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon, and more. Oregon’s 2019 Poetry Out Loud Champion and Runner-Up, Belise Nishimwe of St. Mary’s Academy and Nicole Coronado of Lake Oswego’s Lakeridge High School, also perform.
Monday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland.

To celebrate the Portland premiere of ‘As One’, Portland Opera commissioned award-winning photographer Gia Goodrich to create a series of portraits and interviews celebrating 11 transgender individuals in Portland’s community. Portrait from “As I Am” exhibition by Gia Goodrich.

FearNoMusic is also the house band for Cascadia Composers’s 10th anniversary concert. Until the group arrived, ambitious Northwest composers who wanted others to hear their original contemporary classical music usually had to take an academic job and hope for the occasional performance by students, or move to New York or other cultural cosmopoli. Since forming a decade ago, the organization has provided Portland and other Northwest composers showcases for their music (10 concerts this year alone, over 500 new works and 100 world premieres over a decade), networking, mutual support and info, even exchanges with composers in other countries. Now the largest and most active local group in the National Association of Composers/USA, Cascadia has become a vital part of Portland’s creative music scene. This 10th anniversary concert includes music for percussion, voice, strings, flute, and piano written by the organization’s founding composers: David Bernstein, Tomas Svoboda, Greg Steinke, Gary Noland, Jack Gabel, Dan Senn, Bonnie Miksch, and ArtsWatch contributor Jeff Winslow, whose styles range widely across the spectrum of 21st century classical music.
Friday, Lincoln Hall Room 75, Portland State University. Streaming here.

Svoboda and Gabel in 1999. Photo: Françoise Simoneau.

Orchestral Music

Today’s weapon of choice in humanity’s quest to destroy life as we know it is human-caused climate change, perpetrated by the greed of our retro-industrial complex and enabled by their lackeys in Washington and right-wing media. But before that, our preferred means of self-inflicted catastrophe was (and possibly remains) nuclear weapons. The man most responsible for turning them into potential planet killers was the anguished central figure in Pulitzer Prize winning American composer John Adams’s 2005 opera Dr. Atomic: American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who supervised the Manhattan Project that created the nuclear bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Based on Richard Rhodes’ book The Making of the Atomic Bomb, the story of a great scientist’s Faustian bargain seemed a great subject for contemporary opera by one of my favorite composers, but the overlong world premiere I saw in San Francisco failed to ignite onstage, even when choreographer Lucinda Childs sent dancers sprinting across the stage for no apparent reason in a desperate attempt to inject some action to dispel the dramatic inertia. What did work was Adams’s tense, urgent music, inspired by everything from minimalism to the science fiction movie sounds of the 1950s. He later assembled its best music into a symphony, which the Oregon Symphony performed last month, and which the Eugene Symphony plays Thursday, along with Robert Schumann’s Manfred Overture and another Romantic classic, Brahms’s passionate Violin Concerto, starring rising prodigy Julian Rhee.
Thursday, Hult Center’s Silva Hall, Eugene.

See and hear “Coraline” Friday with the Oregon Symphony.

• Speaking of the Oregon Symphony, it performs Bruno Coulais’ score to Portland-based Laika Studios’ delightfully dark Coraline, based on the Neil Gaiman story, Friday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert hall, while the film is projected on the giant screen for its tenth anniversary. On Saturday and Sunday, the orchestra then welcomes award winning singers Denzal Sinclaire and Dee Daniels to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of the greatest singers who ever lived (and a sparkling, influential jazz pianist to boot), Nat King Cole, with some hits from his late daughter Natalie too. And the rebranded Newport Symphony Orchestra at the Ocean plays piano concertos by Clara Schumann and Sergei Prokofiev (starring Amy Yang), plus music by the taken-too-soon French composer Lili Boulanger, Claude Debussy (Spring Rounds), and George Gershwin’s ever-jolly An American in Paris Saturday and Sunday at Newport Performing Arts Center.

Chamber Music

Speaking of film music, German late Romantic composer Richard Strauss wrote a whole lot more music than the familiar five-note opener used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey decades after he died. 45th Parallel Universe’s Helios Camerata plays some of his theater music (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme), opera tunes arranged for string sextet (Capriccio) and a rarely heard Double concerto for clarinet and bassoon.
Thursday, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Ave.

Helios Camerata plays Strauss Thursday.

• In 2017, Eugene’s Delgani Quartet played Portland composer eminence Tomas Svoboda’s blistering sixth string quartet, an homage to his idol, Dmitri Shostakovich that left the audience cheering. Ranging from bleak to ominous to tense, it fully captured the Russian composer’s spirit without resorting to mere imitation. An ideal match of magnificent music, appropriate acoustic, and committed performers, it was one of the most powerful chamber music performances I’ve heard in Oregon. They’re playing it again this weekend, along with earlier Czech music by Dvorak (his final quartet), and a dance-inspired composition by Erwin Schulhoff, whose legacy of infusing classical and Czech traditional music with jazz, Dada, and other forward looking influences was cut short when he died in the Holocaust.
Saturday, Christian Science Church, 935 High St SE, Salem, and Sunday, The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 SW 11th Ave, Portland.

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Choral Arts Ensemble at 50: intimacy and approachability

As it celebrates its 50th anniversary season, the Portland choir builds on its legacy of singing diverse repertoire and creating a comfortable, inviting experience

Interview by AARON RICHARDSON

David De Lyser is artistic director of Portland’s Choral Arts Ensemble, a chamber choir now celebrating its 50th anniversary season. This weekend, CAE teams up with Cascadia Composers in a concert that includes new seasonal works by local Northwest composers Lisa Neher and Bill Whitley, as well as holiday and seasonal favorites from years gone by, including hymns, carols and works by Ola Gjeilo, Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen, Arvo Pärt and others.

Choral Arts Ensemble opened its 50th anniversary season in October.

Now in his seventh season directing CAE, De Lyser spoke to Portland choral singer Aaron Richardson about the choir’s origins and evolution into one of the city’s top vocal ensembles. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Origins

The Choral Arts Ensemble started in 1969 and it was started like a lot of groups, by a small group of people that just wanted the opportunity to sing together.  There were only about 16 or so at that first rehearsal, but that’s how the group started.  I came to the University of Portland in 1999 to [study for] my Masters of Music degree. [Roger Doyle, who headed the choir for 34 years] was one of my professors, and he invited me to sing with the Choral Arts Ensemble and I joined and was in the group for one year before I moved away for additional graduate studies.  I was just very impressed with how he interacted with the singers and nurtured them, and how much they all seemed to enjoy singing with each other.  He was always full of life at every rehearsal and had a lot of energy.

Repertoire: a History of Diversity, an Emphasis on the Contemporary

What I hope is that people will come to our concerts for the diversity of repertoire and the quality with which it is performed. The hallmark of this group and its 50-year history is that diversity of repertoire, not limited by time period or style. There is so much amazing music to explore!

[Since De Lyser arrived] the group is a little more focused on contemporary choral composers. There are just a lot of young, passionate composers writing amazing music that deserves to be heard — a lot of them are looking around at the world and are writing really impactful lyrics and using texts that are relevant to what’s going on in the world. They’re looking at societal problems and issues through music and it just lends an emotional power that just words alone can’t do.

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