oregon symphony

ArtsWatch Weekly: and all that jazz

Portland Jazz Festival joins the parade of arts festivals in town; a new "Swan Lake" flies at Oregon Ballet

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Festival Town. (And Valentine’s Day. Don’t forget Valentine’s Day.) Three film celebrations – the Portland Black Film Festival, the Cascadia Festival of African Films, and the big-kahuna 40th annual Portland International Film Festival – are still spooling out stories on screens around town.

And on Thursday the PDX Jazz Festival 2017 roars into action with a packed program through February 26 arranged loosely around an homage to jazz centurions Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Buddy Rich, each born in 1917. Things kick off Thursday with a blast of Branford Marsalis, a thump of bass virtuoso Thundercat, and more, and the festival continues with the likes of the fabulous Heath Brothers, The Yellowjackets, and more. It’s not all old-style and it’s not all new, but a healthy-looking blend of tradition and exploration.

ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell offers tips for this week’s shows, beginning with Thursday’s Marsalis quartet appearance “with the great jazz singer Kurt Elling, Maria Schneider’s orchestra and Ralph Peterson’s trio in separate shows Friday, the hip jazz-rock fusion band Kneebody and the old-school all-star band The Cookers on Saturday. On Sunday, you have a choice of pop jazzers the Yellowjackets with Mike Stern, avant jazz guitar deity James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, or rising piano star Aminca Claudine Myers (or see all three!).”

2017 PDX Jazz Fest honoree Dizzy Gillespie, at Deauville, France, July 1991. Photo: Roland Godefroy/Wikimedia Commons

In his preview PDX Jazz Festival: Signs of Life, Campbell sets the table more completely, talking about the state of jazz in Portland and internationally. Here’s just a taste of what he has to say:

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Oregon Symphony review: Russian revelation

Violinist Stefan Jackiw's performance of Prokofiev violin concerto with the orchestra brings new insights

by TERRY ROSS

Sergei Prokofiev composed his second violin concerto as he was about to abandon a whirlwind international existence as a piano soloist (of his own works and others’) and guest conductor to return to the Soviet Union, which turned out to be more intransigent than he had expected. Yearning to be closer to his Russian roots, Prokofiev hoped that his homeland (he was born in 1891, long before the Bolshevik revolution) would enable him to write music closer to his heart and less beholden to the Stravinskyan and super-modern tastes of the West.

The result was a mixed bag; although hailed on his return to the USSR as a hero, he soon fell victim to Stalin’s absurd strictures for artists and found himself, despite his enormous reputation in the West, tossed from pillar to post, a prize-winner one year and a pariah the next, until the end of his life in 1953.

Prokofiev’s second violin concerto was in a way his homage to a sort of music he hoped to enlarge upon in the future, more overtly lyrical than his famous piano concertos. Before moving from Paris to Moscow, he wrote his concerto for a French-Belgian violinist named Robert Soëtens, and it received its premiere in Madrid that same year, 1935.

Having approached it via a recording by Itzhak Perlman with Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I was eager to hear my first live performance. It turned out to radically change my view of the concerto.

Stefan Jackiw performed with the Oregon Symphony.

First, the Oregon Symphony began its Russian-themed concert by playing an American work, but one with Russian connections. The young composer Sean Shepherd wrote Magiya (“magic” in Russian) for the National Youth Orchestra of the USA for its first season and tour with the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev. The seven-minute composition for full orchestra makes lavish use of the percussion section in a spirited romp, perfect for an orchestra of young players. Maestro Carlos Kalmar gave the piece the sort of reading any composer loves, attentive to the smallest detail yet in full command of the overall effect. A very effective concert-opener.

Next came what was for this audience member the high point of the evening, a riveting performance of Prokofiev’s concerto by soloist Stefan Jackiw and Kalmar’s Oregon Symphony. Unlike the Perlman recording, which treats the concerto more or less as a traditional showpiece, Kalmar and co. presented a nuanced and more delicate interpretation, but one that still contained plenty of Prokofiev’s muscularity.

The first and third Allegro movements were not racehorses but rather exercises in gossamer filigree superimposed on vigorous rhythms. And the middle movment Andante assai was positively stately. I felt as if I had heard the piece, for the first time, as it was meant to be played.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: let’s start over

A new year, a fresh start: Oregon gets set for a cultural revival in January and 2017

We’ve got that nasty old 2016 in our rear-view mirror now, and as our newest Nobel Laureate for Literature once warbled, Don’t look back. Nothing to see there. Or too much to contemplate. Sure, sure: what happens in 2017 will build on what happened in 2016, which built on what happened in 2015, and on and on down the line. But right now, let’s look ahead.

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TRADITIONALLY, JANUARY IS IN THE MIDDLE of the artistic season and also the beginning of what’s called “The Second Season” – a chance to buckle down after the holidays and reinvigorate. Here are a few things, big and small, coming up this month to keep your eye on:

Kara Walker (American, born 1969), “The Emancipation Approximation (Scene 18),” 1999–2000, courtesy the artist. Part of “Constructing Identity” opening Jan. 28 at the Portland Art Museum.

Fertile Ground 2017. This is one of the biggies, made up of all sorts of “smalls.” Begun as an annual festival in 2009, it’s blossomed into one of the biggest, most sprawling, and most intriguingly unpredictable events on Portland’s cultural calendar. For eleven days, in venues scattered across the city, dozens of new performance works by Portland artists will take the stage: plays, dances, solo shows, puppet shows, interactive shows, musicals, more. Shows will range from the biggest companies to indie pop-ups, and from full-blown world premieres to workshops and readings. Trying to keep up is bound to leave you breathless. Jan. 19-29.

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‘Turangalila’ gang-review: Illumination from many angles

ArtsWatch music writers and guest reviewers gang up on Oregon Symphony multimedia performance of Messiaen's mega-symphony

by MATTHEW ANDREWS, ANTONIO CELAYA, MARIA CHOBAN, BOB PRIEST,  & JEFF WINSLOW

Photos by Jacob Wade

Editor’s note: a composition as ambitious, ginormous, and multifarious as Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalilla symphony demands more than a single journalistic response. ArtsWatch asked several of our stalwart music writers to weigh in on the Oregon Symphony’s December performances of the French modernist mystic’s mighty 1948 megalomusical creation. Two of those writers were laid low by travel difficulties and illness, but three survived to tell the tale, and we roped in a couple of distinguished guests to substitute for the missing mavens.

A Tapestry of Interwoven Polysensory Delight

The big trouble with this concert is that now I want every orchestra concert to be like this. Won’t Beethoven’s majestic old Ninth seem a little empty without animation projected on the walls? Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with no visuals? Unthinkable! We demand light shows at every concert.

The animation itself was deliciously surreal. Giant slabs of color rise up over the orchestra like ancient transdimensional beings out of an Edgar Rice Burroughs space opera; abstract lines and squiggly polygons play against the classical curves of the Schnitz‘s Renaissance balconies and plaster spandrels; nuts and bolts and screws dance an uncanny conga-line up the balustrades; and a sullen grey patch of dark clouds projected on the proscenium arch glooms periodically down on us like the cataracted eyeball of God.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Revel without a Claus

Commedia Christmas, O'Connor & Ives, Nutcracker, Imago's new Belle, Milagro's Posada, more "Messiah," Kurosawa Dreams, and more

This year’s dragon, not red as in the picture here from 2014 but a bright scaly green, was sitting in a little storage corner outside Portland Revels’ offices in the Artists Repertory Theatre creative hub one day last week, waiting patiently for assembly. It was in two pieces: a hind portion stretched over a large backpack, with room for levers, and a gangly top, again with movable parts, which when occupied by puppeteer Shuhe Hawkins will stretch giraffe-like perhaps 12 or 15 feet above the stage. It is a lovely creature all in all, and that fabled dragon-slayer St. George really ought to be ashamed.

Taggin’ with the dragon, in the 2014 Revels. Portland Revels photo

It’s Revels time again – this year’s Christmas Revels runs for eight performances Friday through December 21 at St. Mary’s Academy downtown – and for Bruce Hostetler, newly settled in as artistic director after about five years of working with and directing the annual winter solstice show, that means settling into the hundreds of details at hand while he’s also thinking about bigger things. If you don’t know about Revels – which is in its 22nd year in Portland, and began in 1975 in Cambridge, Massachusetts – it’s a grand and genuinely family get-together of singing, dancing, storytelling, mumming, and playing old-time instruments that is rooted in Celtic customs but regularly roams the earth, making connections with other cultures’ solstice traditions. Santa Claus? That’s somebody else’s tale.

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Oregon Symphony review: French feast

Pianist Stephen Hough’s breathtaking performance of  Saint-Saëns’s final concerto highlights the orchestra’s Francophilic program

by TERRY ROSS

It was an all-French program, and accordingly three French stars were assembled. Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was on hand with La Valse (Waltz). Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was at the concert’s center with his Concerto No. 5 in F Major for Piano and Orchestra, “Egyptian.” And conductor Ludovic Morlot, born in Lyon in 1973, came on loan from the Seattle Symphony, where he has been music director since 2011. But the true star of the Oregon Symphony’s November 21 performance was from England: the acclaimed pianist Stephen Hough, whose playing of Saint-Saëns’s concerto was breathtaking.

Two other Frenchmen, Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918), also made their contributions. Maestro Morlot chose Debussy’s “Cortége et air de danse” from his youthful cantata L’enfant prodigue (The Prodigal Son) as his program opener. Not in any way “modern” for its time, the charming five-minute miniature, at least gave an idea of where Debussy came from before he became the revolutionary composer of his later years.

Stephen Hough performed with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Hiroyuki Ito.

Stephen Hough performed with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Hiroyuki Ito.

Chausson’s 1891 Symphony in B-flat Major, on the other hand, which closed the first half, was more substantial, at least in length (34 minutes) and fullness of orchestration — though not in its musical content. Throughout its three movements, the symphony more or less constantly introduced new musical fragments that never coalesced into melodies. The effect was of things begun but then abandoned even before they had had time to become interesting. Although Chausson re-introduced some of the melodic material from the first movement toward the end of the third, apparently in an effort to “conclude,” it was far too little, far too late. Maestro Morlot and the Oregon Symphony did their best, leaning heavily on Chausson’s almost interesting orchestral colors, but the piece is a non-starter, notable chiefly for its composer’s championing of Richard Wagner’s musical language, with its reluctance to arrive at codas, not otherwise common in France at the time.

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OOPS. HERE IT IS A WEEK into December, and you’ve still got that shopping stuff to do. You sort of thought this would be the year you bought local – you know, support the place you live in sort of thing – but it’s all a bit confusing, and you’re really not sure where to start.

Hannah Wells 8 x 8-inch artwork in “The Big 500.”

So let us introduce you to The Big 500, an all-local, all-art, low-cost and accessible event produced by “people’s artists” Chris Haberman and Jason Brown and sprawling across the Ford Gallery in the Ford Building, 2505 Southeast 11th Avenue. Now in its ninth year, The Big 500 is actually more than that – 500+ Portland area artists, each creating 8 x 8 inch pieces on wood panels, each piece for sale for $40. More than 5,000 works will be on hand, and besides putting some cash in local artists’ pockets, the event raises money for the Oregon Food Bank, which can put it to extremely good use.

The sale kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday and continues through December 23. It’s a pretty wild scene, with all sorts of stuff at all sorts of levels of accomplishment, and it’s more than a bit of a crap shoot: you might walk in and find ten pieces you absolutely must have for the people on your list, or you might strike out. Either way, the sheer volume of objects is pretty amazing. And what you spend here stays here. You’re welcome.

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