cascadia composers

MusicWatch Weekly: local, vocal and more

A selection of this week's Oregon music highlights

Fans of choral and vocal music have some solid choices this week in Oregon music, and so do locavore consumers of homegrown music, jazz aficionados and more. Please add your own suggestions in the comments section below.

Choro in Schola
Portland State prof Ethan Sperry and his distinguished predecessor, OAW contributor Bruce Browne, conduct 75 of the best student singers selected from 14 high schools in Vancouver, Portland, Tigard, Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Gresham. Under the tutelage of some of the state’s finest professional singers, they’ll sing music by William Byrd, Peter Warlock, and other composers. A new feature this year: seven interns from the high schools who’ve been working with the pro singers will join their teachers on several works. Read my ArtsWatch story about last year’s CIS performance and Jana Hanchett’s ArtsWatch story about this important Oregon arts education organization.
Wednesday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

Bruce Browne with Choro in Schola singers.

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet
Best known outside the jazz world for his work with Donny McCaslin’s band on David Bowie’s valedictory Blackstar album, the drummer/composer has also worked with some of jazz’s most forward looking stars, and is known for incorporating electronic elements into his work. Two shows.
Wednesday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”
Read my ArtsWatch review of this production’s Portland stop earlier this year.
Wednesday-Sunday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Northwest Art Song and The Ensemble 
Superb soprano Arwen Myers and mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, accompanied by pianist Susan McDaniel, sing settings of poetry written by women composed by some of today’s finest female composers: Libby Larsen, Stacy Garrop, Juliana Hall, and Abbie Betinis.
Saturday, Beall Hall, University of Oregon, and Sunday, First Christian Church, 1314 SW Park Ave. Portland.

Arwen Myers and Laura Beckel Thoreson perform in Eugene and Portland.

Delgani String Quartet, Cascadia Composers
Two of Oregon’s most valuable exponents of new, homegrown music join forces in a program of contemporary sounds by Eugene’s Paul Safar, LA-based Latin Grammy winner Yalil Guerra, Willamette University alum Andrew Robinson, and Joshua Hey. The grand finale: the Sixth Quartet by internationally renowned Portland eminence grise  Tomas Svoboda, inspired by Shostakovich.
Saturday, Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St. Portland and Sunday, First Christian Church, 1166 Oak, Eugene.

Choral Arts Ensemble 
You don’t have to wait for the Day of Dead in ancouple weeks to honor them. Following last week’s Portland Baroque Orchestra historically informed performance of Mozart’s great Requiem, the Portland choir sings that other most famous of elegiac musical statements — but again, not for the usual orchestra. Instead, CAE will use Brahms’s own two-piano arrangement (performed by Jennifer Creek Hughes and Hannah Brewer) of his consoling Requiem.
Saturday, First Congregational United Church, 1126 SW Park Ave. Portland.

Yekwon Sunwoo performs at Portland Piano International. Photo: Carolyn Cruz.

Yekwon Sunwoo
The latest Portland Piano International recital features the most recent winner of the most prestigious of piano competitions, the Van Cliburn. The South Korean pianist plays music by Schubert, Grainger, Rachmaninoff and Ravel on Saturday, while Sunday’s show includes compositions by Mozart, Ravel, and Schubert.
Saturday and Sunday, Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall.

Oregon Symphony
Rising cello star Johannes Moser joins the orchestra for Saint-Saëns’ 1873 Cello Concerto No. 1, which he recorded a decade ago to great acclaim. Guest conductor Baldur Brönnimann (who happens to lead an orchestra in Portugal) leads the OSO in young Portuguese composer Ângela da Ponte’s 2011 neo-impressionist tone poem, The Rising Sea, and one of the last century’s most popular symphonies, Shostakovich’s triumphant — or is it? — 1937 Fifth.
Friday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Portland Hip-Hop Day
Rasheed Jamal, Wynne, Brookfield Duece, Fountaine, DJ O.G. One, and StarChile headline the city’s third annual celebration of the most popular music in America today.
Sunday, Portland City Hall.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus
The choir sings socially and politically relevant music appropriate to our turbulent times, including a powerful 2016 composition by Atlanta based composer Joel Thompson, Seven Last Words of The Unarmed, which incorporates the final statements made by unarmed black men killed by “authority figures.” A portion of proceeds benefits local community organizations.
Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, Portland.

Yolanda del Río
Mexico’s mega-selling queen of ranchera music, who’s also appeared in 11 films and made 49 albums, brings her band to Oregon.
Sunday, Newmark Theatre, Portland.

David Ornette Cherry
The Portland multi-instrumentalist and composer’s latest Organic Nation Listening Club production brings together stories about and music by legendary tempestuous Native American Portland jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper, performed by musicians who knew him, including Renato Caranto, Carlton Jackson, LaRhonda Steele, Norman Sylvester and more.
Tuesday, Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland.

David Ornette Cherry (l) and Norman Sylvester (c) starred in the 2015 production of Organic Listening Club.

Elliott Sharp
The prototypical downtown New York avant garde guitarist, who’s worked with musicians from Kronos Quartet to Jack DeJohnette, joins the many celebrations of an earlier New York musical pioneer: the great American composer/pianist Thelonious Monk’s centenary, playing both originals and Monk classics.
Tuesday, Classic Pianos, Portland.

Jussi Makkonen and Pianist Nazig Azezian
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence, the Finnish cellist and pianist play music by the country’s iconic composer, Jean Sibelius.
Tuesday, Nordia House, 8800 SW Oleson Road, Portland.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

Composing in the Wilderness 3: song of beginnings

Three Oregon composers journeyed to the Alaskan wilderness, and returned with new music and new perspectives

by JENNIFER WRIGHT

Editor’s note: Now in its sixth year, the Composing in the Wilderness program led by adventurer-composer Stephen Lias, who took these photos, is a joint venture between Alaska Geographic, Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, Denali National Park, and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Nine composers — three from Oregon this year — spend four days in Denali National Park, accompanied by scientists and naturalists as they draw inspiration from the wildlife, geology, scenery, and adventure of their surroundings, then over the next few days, compose new works premiered in Denali National Park and at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. ArtsWatch asked the three Oregon composers to share their response to this unique experience. Read the first installment, by Christina Rusnak, and the second, by Brent Lawrence.

Composing in the Wilderness is a pressure cooker. The two-week program is a relentless mash-up of Survivor, Iron Chef, and summer band camp. It’s an incredibly odd thing to assemble a meeting of musical minds in the middle of the trackless, windswept wilderness. An unlikely mix of ages, inclinations and backgrounds, we nine composers ranged across the full spectrum of classical art music geekery: innocents, introverts, hipsters, professors, smack-talkers and church mice. The only real requirements were: be fit, and be ready to compose. And implicitly: no whining, not even when tundra mice clamber over your breakfast silverware.

Composers Jennifer Wright, Brent Lawrence and Christina Rusnak at Composing in the Wilderness 2017.

The comedy of errors began as soon as I set foot on Alaskan soil. Experienced hiker though I be, on day one, I bashed my knee wide open on a rock like a rookie. I discovered that my sleeping bag somehow had been packed in a dry bag that my cat had peed in. I spent a king’s ransom on lattes in Fairbanks to self-medicate against epic work sessions fueled by blazing self-doubt.

What on earth was going to come of this? Was I going to be able to make any actual music here? This was not a holiday: we were in the wilds to do serious work. And, in truth, I didn’t know if I had it in me to write a decent piece of chamber music in only four days.

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Composing in the Wilderness 2: on distant hills

Three Oregon composers journeyed to the Alaskan wilderness, and returned with new music and new perspectives

by BRENT LAWRENCE

Editor’s note: Now in its sixth year, the Composing in the Wilderness program led by adventurer-composer Stephen Lias, is a joint venture between Alaska Geographic, Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, Denali National Park, and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Nine composers — three from Oregon this year — spend four days in Denali National Park, accompanied by scientists and naturalists as they draw inspiration from the wildlife, geology, scenery, and adventure of their surroundings, then over the next few days, compose new works premiered in Denali National Park and at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. ArtsWatch asked the three Oregon composers to share their response to this unique experience. Here’s Brent Lawrence‘s account. Read Rusnak’s report here and Wright’s next week.

Brent Lawrence, Christian Dubeau, Libby Meyer, Jesse Budel, Aaron Keyt, Christina Rusnak, Sarah Stehn, Dawn Sonntag, Corinna Hogan and Jennifer Wright at 2017 Composing in the Wilderness.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that three Oregonians happened to participate in this year’s workshop. In fact, I chose to participate in Composing in the Wilderness at the recommendation of three other Oregon composers that had been in years prior.

I’ll admit that I’m a pretty new to Oregon; I’ve only lived here a year. But one of the things I love about this state is the deep connection people have with the outdoors, our public lands, and the existence of wildernesses. Don’t get me wrong, Alaska is impressive no matter who you are, but from my view, as a new Oregonian, this trip gave me a lot of perspective on why people feel so connected to the wilderness. True wilderness, not something I experienced growing up on the east coast, where there are less protected areas.

Brent Lawrence at Composing in the Wilderness.

People seek out wilderness for a variety of reasons. Being a musician, I’m always interested in how things sound. What I found most striking is the silence. Upon moving to Oregon, the first time I got out of the car near the McKenzie Pass, I was shocked at the quiet—and also realized how noisy daily life is.

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Composing in the Wilderness 1: tundra tapestry

Three Oregon composers journeyed to the Alaskan wilderness, and returned with new music and new perspectives

by CHRISTINA RUSNAK

Editor’s note: Now in its sixth year, the Composing in the Wilderness program led by adventurer-composer Stephen Lias, is a joint venture between Alaska Geographic, Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, Denali National Park, and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Nine composers — three from Oregon this year — spend four days in Denali National Park, accompanied by scientists and naturalists as they draw inspiration from the wildlife, geology, scenery, and adventure of their surroundings. They are then flown by bush plane to the remote Coal Creek Mining Camp in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve where they spend four more days in intense composition. Finally, they are flown to Fairbanks where they join the other participants at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, where their pieces undergo a few days of intense rehearsals, and then are premiered in Denali National Park and in Fairbanks.

The final concert included Brent Lawrence’s On Distant Hills, Christina Rusnak’s Tundra Tapestry, and Jennifer Wright’s From the Darkness, We Sing the Mighty Land into Being. The three pieces, composed in less than a week, focused on the vastness of the mountains, the tiny detail of the tundra plant life, and the magical nature of the wilderness. ArtsWatch asked the three Oregon composers to share their response to this unique experience. Stay tuned for Brent Lawrence and Jennifer Wright’s reports next week.

When I decided to attend Composing in the Wilderness for a third time this year, many people asked me why. Mostly, I was going again because I needed to.

Portland composer Christina Rusnak at Composing in the Wilderness 2017.

At age 12, I wrote a song titled “A piece of Wilderness.” Who knew how prophetic that song would become for me? In college, a field botany class in Big Bend National Park literally changed my life. I gained a greater appreciation for nature and became a passionate hiker. So, when I met composer Stephen Lias in 2009 and heard his presentation of his first National Parks piece, River Runner – about the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park, I realized that a significant part of my compositional path would be to compose for, and about, nature, wilderness and place.

When Lias launched Composing in the Wilderness in 2012, I eagerly signed up. Actually, I may have been the first to sign up. My blogs for that trip and for my second foray in 2013, are filled with nearly daily details of the my awe and adventures, of the weather, the scientists, their stories, and of the challenge to compose something meaningful in such a short time span. In 2012, only eight days separated our first step in Denali and the concert! The compositional process, with such a tight time frame, is arduous. Fortunately the Alaska summers are accommodating. (Editor’s note: Listen to Rusnak’s first CitW composition, Flow.)

Since then, I’ve composed for a National Monument, four National Parks and Preserves, a National Forest, a Wild and Scenic River and Oregon State Parks. My personal ethos and actions match my creative output. I’ve written articles and given presentations at the Intertwine Alliance and at the University of Iowa on the importance of Music, Place and Nature. Our public lands are a treasure that requires our care. But going to CitW for a third time? What was I looking for?

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Cascadia Composers and Third Angle reviews: Northwest inspirations

Oregon composers create music inspired by the sounds of their home

With all the natural beauty that surrounds us, it’s no surprise that so many Oregon artists, including composers, turn to it for inspiration. Two spring concerts showed that despite this common impulse, the state’s natural and other sights and sounds are simply too diverse to sonically stereotype.

In celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, Third Angle New Music commissioned three Oregon composers to write new works inspired by nature. It’s a testament to our state’s musical and natural variety that the three pieces performed in April at Third Angle’s Solo Hikes concert in southeast Portland’s Studio 2 @ New Expressive Works came out so utterly different.

As it turned out, the hikes weren’t really solo. Each composer relied heavily on contributions from the performers, and they in turn had help (projections, pre-recorded sounds, the audience) that augmented their instruments. The concert was a reminder that you’re never really alone, in music or in nature.

Marilyn de Oliviera at Third Angle’s ‘Solo Hikes.’ Photo: Jacob Wade.

Christina Rusnak’s Glacier Blue came closest to what you’d expect of nature inspired sounds. (Think Vivaldi and other Baroque composers, Debussy, and others who sought to evoke nature’s sights and phenomena through sound painting.) Maybe abetted by the projections of the northern Montana wilderness that inspired it, I could feel the expansiveness of the mountain lake, thrill to the starry sky (evoked by plucked notes), hear the rushing waterfall. To cellist Marilyn de Oliviera (who displayed a lovely, rich tone throughout) and Rusnak’s credit, the piece sounded like an organic whole rather than a succession of programmatic devices.

In fact, the performers, who were deeply involved in the realization of these creations, really deserve equal credit for the success of all three compositions. In Matt Marble’s Arachnomancy, saxophonist John Nastos (plus pre-recorded soundtrack that emitted different electronic textures, from metallic bells to staticky drone) brought a similarly evocative tone and atmosphere, a bit reminiscent of In a Silent Way era Miles Davis’s band or some of Charles Lloyd’s more pastoral passages. Eschewing the complex virtuosity I’ve heard Nastos deploy in jazzier contexts, his long-breathed phrases evoked the orderly beauty of the spider web patterns that inspired it.  I can imagine different interpretations by different instrumentalists with different backgrounds and styles, but this one worked persuasively.

John Nastos at ‘Solo Hikes.’ Photo: Jacob Wade.

Even more than Marble’s, Brian McWhorter’s Outside In depends on the performer and the performance. And it’s even more distant from nature sound painting, because it’s a process piece that, unbeknown to the audience, asks the performer to respond to the ambient sounds he’s hearing in the moment. So if someone dropped a program, say, Oregon Symphony percussionist Sergio Carreno would respond by smacking something that made a similar sound, and incorporate that sound into his repertoire. He entered, sat, and waited.

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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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