eugene symphony

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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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Chamber Music Amici play Baroque music in Springfield Monday

If it’s Baroque music you crave, Eugene’s the place to be this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday at First Christian Church, the Oregon Mozart Players chamber orchestra lights up the candles and goes Baroque in their annual intimate concert of 18th century music, this time featuring a J.S. Bach cantata and appealing concerti by Vivaldi, Handel, and Locatelli. On Monday, Springfield’s excellent Chamber Music Amici (consisting mostly of present and former Eugene Symphony players and/or UO faculty members) play the famous trio sonata from Bach’s magnificent Musical Offering and delicious works by three other Baroque masters:Telemann, Rameau, and Leclair. Both concerts will feature modern players using historical practices and in some cases authentic bows and even instruments.

Also in Eugene, former NBC TV anchorman Tom Brokaw joins the Eugene Symphony at the Hult Center’s Silva Hall Tuesday to narrate Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait, part of an excellent all-American program that also features Copland’s The Promise of Living (from his opera, The Tender Land), William Schuman’s New England Triptych, and most impressively, John Adams’s  moving commemoration of the victims of the September 11 attacks, On the Transmigration of Souls. And the University Symphony plays music by the greatest of film composers, Bernard Herrmann on Sunday at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall.

That Eugene Symphony concert is part of the orchestra’s multifaceted look at war and our responses to it. That’s also the theme of the Oregon Symphony’s new CD (review coming soon), which recorded last May’s program at the Schnitzer and Carnegie Hall. The concept continues this weekend at the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra’s Friday and Sunday concerts (at Portland’s First Methodist Church and Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theater, respectively), featuring Samuel Barber’s powerful Violin Concerto, Beethoven’s Symphony #3, and Frank Bridge’s Lament for Strings — all composed in response to war or its approach.

Eugeneans and other Oregon Bach Festival patrons who enjoyed German cellist Alban Gerhardt’s performances this summer can see him take the solo spotlight in Sergey Prokofiev’s cello concerto-turned Symphony Concerto, composed for the great 20th century cellist Msistislav Rostropovich at the Oregon Symphony’s concerts Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Portland choral music fans face a difficult choice among very different yet all appealing programs. On Saturday, you could hear the great Cappella Romana perform the hellacious Byzantine liturgical drama The Service of the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace, at Northwest Portland’s St Mary’s Cathedral. Or you could soak in the sublime music of Renaissance composers Palestrina and Christopher Tye at Cantores in Ecclesia’s concert at St. Stephen’s church in SE Portland. Both are part of the Journey To Light festival comprising concerts, talks, tours and more, organized by an especially industrious high school student, Katherine Brafford.

Or, you could join Portland’s Consonare Chorale, with violinist Cecilia Archuleta and pianist Jon Stuber, in contemporary settings of great poetry by Emerson, Frost, cummings, Yeats and more by current (Joan Syzmko) and former (Morten Lauridsen) Portlanders, hot choral composer and model Eric Whitacre, and others — including Adam Steele, who can’t be there because he’ll be singing across town with Cappella Romana! Or catch Satori Men’s Chorus at Portland’s Old Church, singing music by composers from Burt Bacharach to Randall Thompson. All these concerts look intriguing, but you can only make one of them. The choral scene in Portland is that rich.

Portland’s Peace Choir starts the Saturday singing off at 5 pm with a concert at St. David of Wales Episcopal Church, while The Julians, an all-star aggregation of female choristers from around the city, finish the weekend with Sunday afternoon’s concert at St Stephen’s Episcopal Parish in downtown Portland. They bring their classically trained voices to music by Joni Mitchell, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Bjork, Brahms, John Lennon and more, all focused on the differing gender perspectives on relationships.

Contemporary music fans with jazz tendencies (or vice versa) might check out composer Art Resnick’s bimusical concert at Portland’s Community Music Center. The first half features his contemporary post classical compositions, played by classical musicians including pianist Maria Choban, while the second showcases the pianist/composer’s jazz trio performing improvised music you’d expect from a musician who played with jazz legends like Freddie Hubbard, George Coleman, Nat Adderley, and others. Proceeds benefit the valuable Cascadia Composers organization.

Chamber music aficionados in Portland can catch Portland State University’s great 35-year-old Florestan Trio and guests playing music by Dvorak, Mozart and Schumann, on Sunday afternoon at PSU’s Lincoln Hall. Or the 5Tet woodwind quintet playing Brahms, a world premiere and more Saturday at Tigard’s United Methodist Church. Or violinists Tatiana Kolchanova and Mary Rowell playing Prokofiev, Bartok and more Sunday afternoon in First Presbyterian Church’s always attractive Celebration Works series, now celebrating its first decade. Alas, Portland Piano International’s recommended Monday recital by Roman Rabinovitch is sold out, but there are plenty of other opportunities to satisfy your classical music jones this weekend.

And if the choices are so paralyzing that you just want stay home, and you missed Lara Downes’s excellent set of newly written (by a baker’s dozen of contemporary composers) variations on Bach’s Goldberg Variations  performed at Portland International Piano Festival this summer, Portland’s essential all classical radio station‘s unmissable Club Mod show will be playing Downes’s recently issued CD of that music Saturday night, along with music by the superb new music ensemble eighth blackbird. The shows are archived on the station website for two weeks.

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