eugene symphony

News and Notes Oregon music edition

Oregon musicians and musical arts institutions score honors and dollars.

Let’s indulge in some holiday cheer by sharing some of the good news Oregon music artists and institutions have recently received. Information comes directly from press releases.

Eugene Symphony NEA Grant

Just in time for its 50th birthday, the ESO scored a $20,000 Art Works award National Endowment for the Arts – its biggest in more than 15 years and second largest ever. It’ll support a January residency and concert with alto sax master Branford Marsalis, who often performs in classical and pop music settings too. He’s performing with the orchetra January 22 at the Hult Center and will work with students from area middle and high schools and the University of Oregon and Lane Community College.

CD Booklet Cover and Back - Semifinal - 8-13

New Jazz Competition

Speaking of jazz, Portland State University will host the first annual Jazz Forward Competition on February 20 and 21, 2015 during the 12th Annual Portland Jazz Festival. Designed and curated by Origin Records recording artist and PSU Jazz Faculty member Jeff Baker, a critically acclaimed performer and award winning educator educator in the Northwest region, Jazz Forward is an outgrowth of the four year PSU Student Stage, organized by the Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute @ PSU. The partnership with Portland Jazz Festival joins other major regional student jazz competitions across the country and represents a worthy investment in the future of Oregon music.

Chamber Music Northwest NEA Grant

The annual Portland summer festival also received a $20K NEA Art Works award, largest in its history, to support this summer’s 30-concert festival, which includes seven world and regional premieres commissioned and co-commissioned by CMNW, and composed by Peter Schickele (the nom de norm of PDQ Bach and an excellent composer in his own right), Pulitzer Prize winners David Lang and Aaron Jay Kernis, Pulitzer finalist Paul Schoenfeld, and the terrific Portland composers Kenji Bunch and David Schiff. Several other Oregon theaters, dance companies and other artists received Art Works grants.

Portland State Chamber Choir Award

The latest CD by the PSU Chamber Choir, Into Unknown Worlds, has been named a “2014 Recording to Die For” in Stereophile magazine. The list, which includes very few classical recordings and no other student recordings, will be published in the February. “This marvelously recorded compendium of ‘modern choral music from the far reaches of the globe’ rises to the top thanks to the quality of its music and singing and to its captivating sense of space,” raved Stereophile and San Francisco Classical Voice contributor Jason Serinus. It’s available at available at Oregon-based,, and iTunes. I’ll have a review on ArtsWatch soon, just in time for stocking stuffer season. Spoiler alert: buy it!

Oregon Musicians RACC Up Support

Darrell Grant and Hamilton Cheifetz performed in Grant's "The Territory." Photo: Jim Leisy.

Darrell Grant and Hamilton Cheifetz performed in Grant’s “The Territory,” at Chamber Music Northwest. Grant won a 2015 RACC Project Grant to turn the composition into a CD. Photo: Jim Leisy.

The Regional Arts & Culture Council, which covers the three-county Portland metro area, has awarded $693,959 in project grants for calendar year 2015, including 66 grants to nonprofit organizations and schools, and 80 individual artists in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties. Oregonians winning support for various music-related projects include Beaverton Symphony Orchestra, Big Horn Brass, Matt Carlson/Golden Retriever, Creative Music Guild, Fear No Music, 45th Parallel, Metro Arts, Michelle Fujii, Darrell Grant, Jen Harrison/Northwest Horn Orchestra, Nat Hulskamp, Theresa Koon/John Vergin/ Sandra Stone, My Voice Music, Travis Neel, Obo Addy Legacy Project, One World Chorus, Stephen Osserman, PDX Pop Now!, Portland Symphonic Choir, Raphael Spiro String Quartet, Resonance Vocal Ensemble, Resonate Choral Arts, Ethan Rose, Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan, Vibe, and Jennifer Wright. Other grants (in theater, dance, education, and media arts, for example) have musical components.

This year’s project grants (one of several categories of grants doled out by RACC, including others for professional development, individual artists, and general operating support) were funded by the City of Portland, RACC’s workplace giving program, Work for Art, Clackamas County, Washington County, Multnomah County and Metro. Congrats to all — and to the Oregon audiences who’ll get to experience the music these grants help make possible next year.

Know of other recent good news in Oregon music? Please share it in the comments below.
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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

Oregon Mandolin Orchestra plays classical music in Portland and Hillsboro this weekend.

Oregon Mandolin Orchestra plays classical music in Portland and Hillsboro this weekend.

I guess it’s a healthy sign when a single weekend on the Oregon classical music scene literally packs more recommended concerts than one person can attend. This weekend, for example, offers a pair of excellent choral programs featuring early music. But you can see  only one of them. On Friday at Northwest Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, the superb Portland choir Cappella Romana makes one of its periodic forays away from its usual Byzantine core repertoire, straying into the Iberian sounds of the great Spanish and Portuguese Renaissance composers Tomás Luis de Victoria, Duarte Lobo, and Francisco Guerrero – some of the most glorious music of the era.

Friday night’s other attractive choral concert happens at downtown Portland’s First Christian Church, when the Portland Camerata sings French and Italian Renaissance music, plus works by English Baroque master Henry Purcell and 20th century masterpieces by Arvo Part and Astor Piazzolla. It’s a shame to have to miss either of these fine programs. On the other hand, what a delightful dilemma to have.


Weekend MusicWatch: October 11-16

When did October get so... musical?

Christine Meadows, Erik Hundtoft, and Audrey Sackett
in Opera Theater Oregon’s The Old Maid and the Thief.

There’s too much recommended Oregon music going on to cram into just Saturday and Sunday, so this weekend’s survey extends from Thursday through Tuesday. Here’s the lowdown, arranged by genre.

Vivid Voices

“The Old Maid and the Thief,” Opera Theater Oregon, Thursday and Friday, Mission Theater, Portland: “Radio,” goes a line from an old “Twilight Zone” episode, “has to be believed to be seen.” In this ingenious, pell mell-paced new production of American composer Gian Carlo Menotti’s sly, funny and ultimately poignant one-act 1939 opera buffa about small town gossip, “The Old Maid and the Thief,” the ever inventive alt opera company brilliantly takes an opera that was intended to be heard on the radio and realizes it onstage — and in this case, meta is better. With help from sound effects artists and voice actors, the company transforms Northwest Portland’s vintage Mission Theater into a 1930s radio studio, with the audience witnessing not just the story itself but also the new frame narrative: a live recording of the performance for chamber quintet and a cast of singer-actors led by PSU prof and superb soprano (and PSU prof) Christine Meadows. It’s sort of a combination of a live opera and a radio production, but the clever concept never distracts from the fun and fine music making by a chamber ensemble skillfully led by OTO’s Erica Melton.


Portland Opera presents Philip Glass's Galileo Galilei. Image: Courtney Weaver

Portland Opera’s latest collaboration with today’s best known composer, Philip Glass, Galileo Galilei, opens Friday night at the relatively intimate Newmark Theater in the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, with further performances Sunday (matinee), Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, April 1, 3, 5, and 7. It feels so strange and good to say that, like collaborations with living composers were a routine thing with big Portland music institutions. You can read my preview of this new production, directed by Kevin Newbury, of Glass’s 2002 chamber opera — written in roughly reverse chronological order, which is how the show proceeds, and including interviews with librettist Mary Zimmerman and Portland Opera artistic director Christopher Mattaliano.

Between PO’s Galileo and Eugene Opera’s production of John Adams’s important 1983 opera Nixon in China a couple weeks back, plus the continuing frenzy of new sounds that populate March Music Moderne, Oregon almost feels like the welcoming capital of contemporary music many of us fancy it to be. “I think that the future of opera depends on fostering new work,” Newbury said on PO’s website. “Opera should be as current and relevant as film, television and theatre. What are the stories that we need to tell today? How can we use music to look at life in the 21st century? For me, Galileo is a very contemporary story… all you have to do is turn on the news to see the battle between science and religion raging on.”


Laska Dancers' Broken Flowers is a highlight of March Music Moderne

March marks a season of renewal. Even in the Pacific Northwest, notorious for its false springs, the first signs are springing up: daffodils in the gardens I cycle by, bursts of color in Portland’s Lan Su Classical Chinese Garden and Japanese garden, cat hair sheddings on the living room floor.

And new music is in the air. Last month’s Portland Jazz Festival and two major John Cage tributes, and this past weekend’s Cascadia Composers concerts heralded the official March Music Moderne festival concocted by Portland composer Bob Priest. My current Willamette Week interview/preview feature with Priest sketches the festival’s origins and intentions.

The other March Madness (not NCAA approved) kicks off at 7:30 tonight at Portland’s Hipbone Studio, 1847 E. Burnside with a party, performance and panel discussion about new music in Portland and Oregon moderated by one of the region’s true musical heroes, KQAC All-Classical FM radio senior announcer Robert McBride, who for decades has been a wry, wise, witty and worthy voice for classical music and advocate for its continuing vitality through his astute programming, his weekly must-hear radio show Club Mod (available for two weeks following the air date on the station’s archive site), and his community appearances. He’ll moderate the discussion, which begins at 7:30 pm and include The Oregonian’s veteran classical music critic and now distinguished feature writer, David Stabler; James Bash from Oregon Music News; pianist Maria Choban; and Classical Revolutionary comandante and violist Mattie Kaiser as well as Priest and me. Then comes music by John Cage, Jack Gabel, Iannis Xenakis, poetry by Claire Sykes, molti celli, dance, and more.


Cappella Romana sings Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil this weekend

A city’s major arts institutions are a public treasure, often subsidized to some extent by taxpayers. Yet the major decisions that determine their direction are usually taken by a small group, often selected by wealthy donors, often in secret. As the recent death of Portland Art Museum director John Buchanan reminds us, the leader in charge of a major arts institution can exert a tremendous influence — for better and/or for worse — on the community’s culture.

The city of Eugene will soon be facing such a decision. One of its most important arts institutions, the Eugene Symphony, must soon decide whether to renew the contract of its music director, Danail Rachev, which expires next year. But hardly anyone in Oregon would have realized that until one of the city’s most astute arts observers, National Public Radio classical music critic Tom Manoff, who has lived in Eugene for many years, wrote an op-ed for the Register Guard newspaper to remind readers that Rachev’s contract is coming up for renewal — and to recommend that the symphony find another candidate.


Maggie Rupp dances Titania in Portland Ballet's A Midsummer Night's Dream this weekend at Portland State University. Photo credit: Blaine Covert

Last weekend’s concerts showed that artistic assets like beauty and virtuosity can make for some splendid experiences — but they’re not always enough. The Consonare Chorale’s program last weekend at Portland’s First Congregational Church comprised almost entirely music by contemporary composers, including attractive works by Portland-born Morten Lauridsen and Portland based Joan Szymko. The singers sailed smoothly through the show, which was enhanced by contributions from violinist Cecilia Archuleta and Consonare founder Georgina Philippson’s enthusiastic and engaging between-song remarks, which punctured the formality that can creep in when several dozen people in tuxes and formal dresses stand in front of an audience.

That audience seemed well satisfied by Consonare’s uniformly pretty, soothing sounds — like an evening of warm apple cider that was an ideal antidote for what immediately preceded them on my way to the concert: chilly squalls and the first 2/3 of what then appeared to be a total dismantlement of my Oregon Ducks by USC.

And yet after one relentlessly pretty, slow-to mid-tempo song after another, my ears craved something spicier, edgier. But expecting that at many American choral concerts is like going to the Rose Garden and being disappointed that the Yankees weren’t playing.  Such simple, pretty, homophonic sounds are easy for amateur groups to learn, which encourages composers to fill that demand. Over-emphasis on textural and melodic beauty has been a characteristic of a lot of American choral music over the past couple of generations, and the attendant lack of innovation and diversity is one reason there’s so little overlap between audiences for it and more exciting, experimental instrumental new music (which is also why the latter tends to get a lot more attention in the media). In particular, I missed audible evidence of the 20th century’s greatest contributions to music — the African influences that pervaded blues, jazz and the century’s great pop music explosions beginning in the 1920s; the music of other cultures that energized so many American composers; and the harmonic and rhythmic innovations that avant grade-to- progressive American composers from Charles Ives on down added to the nation’s musical palette.

If you wanted warm and soothing, though, this concert delivered. Other Oregon choirs follow the same formula, if not always performed so adroitly. But the ultimate blandness and sameness of too much of the music made me appreciate all the more the fascinating, diverse, and daring programming I’ve heard recently at PSU and Lewis & Clark’s choral programs and in groups like Oregon Repertory Singers, Resonance Ensemble, Portland Vocal Consort and others, in Oregon and elsewhere. Other choruses around the country are infusing energetic elements from gospel and the new a capella sounds into the musical bloodstream. Even the choirs that focus entirely on pre-20th century music have more muscular, complex, diverse, and/ or transcendent (and often polyphonic) music to draw on. I’m encouraged to see increasing demand for those qualities among ambitious choirs around the country. It would be great to see local choral organizations programming and even commissioning such ambitious music from local composers. And I’m looking forward to hearing the skilled singers of Consonare taking on more diverse repertoire in their March concert, which promises a mariachi band, Brazilian guitarist, and more.


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