oregon symphony

MusicWatch Weekly: for the children

Music inspired by children lead this week's Oregon concert lineup

The Christmas season celebrates a child’s birth and delights kids all over the world. But there’s little comfort and joy for many children today. Even before little Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on that Turkish beach three years ago, children were bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis and so many other catastrophes. Fear No Music’s “All of the Future: In Celebration of Children” features chamber music on subjects especially significant to children, including gun violence (Larry Bell’s Newtown Variations, responding to the 2013 massacre), homophobia (Pulitzer Prize winner David Del Tredici’s Matthew Shepard), migration (Mary Kouyoumdjian’s A Boy And A Makeshift Toy, inspired by the 1990s Bosnian conflict), bullying (Barbara White’s Registering My Oppositions) and, yes, the plight of refugees crossing the Mediterranean (Nadir Vassena’s child lost at sea). The young musicians of Portland’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras contribute a collective compositional response to the new ICE crackdown on immigrants.
Monday. The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus’s annual holiday concert happens this weekend.

• Like so many parents today, jazz pianist Ezra Weiss, the father of two young sons, worries about the turn the world has taken recently and what it means for his children’s future. And as one of Portland’s most esteemed jazz composers and arrangers, Weiss channeled those concerns when he created his latest and one of his most ambitious compositions. This concert, a fundraiser for the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, features the premiere and live recording of Weiss’s new jazz suite We Limit Not the Truth of God, featuring many of the city’s top players (John Nastos, John Savage, Renato Caranto, Stan Bock, Alan Jones, Carlton Jackson, Thomas Barber and more, plus the Camas High School Choir. This new creation follows a string of successes, including his score for Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s multimedia concert and recording earlier this year, From Maxville To Vanport; three original musicals for Northwest Children’s Theater; three ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award, half a dozen CDs, and a host of arrangements and compositions for various Portland jazz veterans. But fair warning: although inspired by concern for children, some of the themes in Weiss’s new composition may not be appropriate for all of them. Such is the state of our world.
Saturday. Alberta Abbey, Portland.

• The impressive Portland composer Renée Favand-See dedicated her new solo piano work Growing to her first son Owen, and suggests that its premiere performance would be a good one for adults and kids. It’s part of award winning rising star pianist Zhenni Li’s free, one-hour, no intermission recital presented by Portland Piano International, which commissioned it. Along with Growing (based on Britten’s folk song arrangement “The trees they grow so high,” which will be sung by Arwen Myers in Portland), the recital includes music by Beethoven, Bortkiewicz, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures of an Exhibition.
Friday, St. Paul’s Episcopal, 1444 Liberty Street SE, Salem, and Saturday, Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd, Portland.

Choral Concerts

• Children from ORS’s own youth choirs and student choristers from local middle and high schools join in some selections in Oregon Repertory Singers’ Glory of Christmas concert, annually one of the best bets of the holiday music season. The 20th and 21st century program includes excerpts from contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s Northern Lights and Benjamin Britten’s enchanting Ceremony of Carols, Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen’s moving O Magnum Mysterium, Portland composer Naomi LaViolette’s Angel in the Snow, contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s Bogoroditse Devo and Magnificat, contemporary Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds’s Stars, Franz Biebl’s perennial Ave Maria, and more.
Friday (tickets available) & Sunday (sold out, call ahead), First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St, Portland.

Oregon Repertory Singers perform at Portland’s First United Methodist Church.

• Some of the same composers and even compositions appear on Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland’s CAE Yuletide: To Friends Old & New this weekend. The choir teams up with composers from our own time and place to perform new Northwest seasonal works created by members of Cascadia Composers, plus old favorites by other renowned contemporary choral composers (Gjeilo, Lauridsen, Stephen Chatman, Pärt), new works by rising young composers (Jake Runestad, Joshua Shank, Martin Åsander) and classics by Mozart, Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Tavener, Elgar, and more. Portland composer Lisa Neher’s Three Basho Haiku includes ”harvest moon,” which conjures the image of a large, orange moon rising in the autumn sky; “first winter rain,” which likens the ending of the year with the waning of life, prompting the search for the comfort of companionship and “this fragrance,” which relates the experience of a particular scent awakening emotions and memories. Bill Whitley‘s Ecclesia is a tribute to the great Portland architect Pietro Beluschi. Read ArtsWatch’s interview with CAE artistic director David De Lyser.
Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, 2408 SE 16th Ave. Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: winter’s tales

Operas and other musical stories enliven Oregon music stages

Remember when opera lovers despaired of experiencing their favorite art form during Oregon’s indoor seasons? Well, after switching to a summer festival schedule last year, Portland Opera has added back a fall performance and December brings several other operatic opportunities. Opera Theater Oregon returns this weekend with The Little Prince,  British composer Rachel Portman’s operatic, family friendly English-language adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s beloved classic tale. The plucky independent opera company features new management and old favorites, including Portland Opera singers Hannah Penn and Anton Belov, local stars Damien Geter and Catherine Olson, and more. Stay tuned for Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch preview.
Friday-Sunday at Portland5 Winningstad Theatre.

Opera Theater Oregon’s ‘The Little Prince’ runs this weekend at Portland’s Winningstad Theatre. Photo: Theodore Sweeney

• An earlier French fantasy furnishes the story for another opera onstage in Portland this weekend and next. Imagine the government dictating women’s reproductive choices. Crazy notion, I know, but after the massacres of the first World War (and other times too), nationalist rulers encouraged the women in some combatant countries to deploy their uteri to replenish the depleted ranks of cannon fodder, and crank out babies like so many production-line tanks. French poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s 1903 surrealist drama The Breasts of Tirésias (Les Mamelles de Tirésias) imagined what would happen if a French woman refused to do her patriotic duty, delegating the task to her husband — who in an outburst of patriotic fervor delivers — to the tune of 40,049 babies in a single day, all of whom have successful careers in the arts, of course.

Actually, the tunes belong to French composer Francis Poulenc, who in 1947 turned his buddy Apollinaire’s crazy farce into his own breezy first opera. This full staging with piano and percussion is the big event in one of the year’s most appealing classical music programs: Portland State’s fab Poulenc@PSU series, bringing deserved local prominence to one of those composers I always recommend to classical music fans who mistakenly believe that the 20th century produced little music of charm and tunefulness. Like Poulenc himself, the opera bursts with both humor and seriousness. And the gender-bendy story, such as it is, remains resonant.
Friday through December 9. Studio Theater, Lincoln Hall 1620 SW Park Ave. Portland.

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This week is more about connecting with friends and family, contemplating gratitude, and consuming vittles than imbibing music, but Oregon nevertheless offers its usual bounty of concerts this week if you know where to look.

Lucas Pitts stars in the Portland Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

One place is in a dance performance: the Portland Ballet’s annual live-music enhanced Thanksgiving show this time features John Clifford’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Friday-Sunday at Portland State’s Lincoln Performance Hall. Ken Selden leads the PSU Orchestra and opera singers in Mendelssohn’s ever-sparkling score, accompanying an 80+ member cast in one of the season’s most reliably entertaining events.

An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas features Chicago/Broadway musical star Evan Tyrone Martin reminding us why Cole was one of the last century’s finest singers. Friday-Sunday at Portland’s Winningstad Theatre.

Evan Tyrone Martin covers Nat King Cole this weekend.

Speaking of Portland State, a free recital Tuesday at Lincoln Hall celebrating the PSU String Scholarship Fund features some of the city’s finest classical musicians, including cellist Hamilton Cheifetz, violinist Tomas Cotik, pianist Julia Lee and PSU students playing Vivaldi, Bach, Gliere, Handel, Popper, Granados, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven.

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MusicWatch Weekly: odd ensembles

Unusual instrumental and vocal aggregations descend on Oregon stages this week

The weather’s changing, the climate’s changing, the Congress is changing, our linens are changing (flannel sheet season FTW!) and ensembles coming through Oregon this week are changing the formula for chamber music.

• Take the combo of violin, viola, drum, and DJ. That was the setup onstage at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall last year when Black Violin played a couple of shows in Portland. They’re returning there Friday, and then take the Silva Hall stage at Eugene’s Hult Center Sunday. Stay tuned for my preview tomorrow, and during the meanwhilst, read ArtsWatch’s reviews of their previous Portland shows by Matthew Andrews and Maria Choban.

The Akropolis Reed Quintet performs in the University of Oregon’s Chamber Music@Beall series. Photo: Tom Emerson.

• Like Black Violin, the young Akropolis Reed Quintet is also shattering instrumental stereotypes. While string quartets and piano trios are by far the most common instruments are stereotypically “classical” ensembles, they play classic and contemporary music arranged for the unique combo of oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bass clarinet, and bassoon — and it works beautifully. “Akropolis is great at balancing expressive lead playing with clear, richly textured, well-rehearsed group dynamics,” wrote Matthew Andrews in ArtsWatch after their sizzling performances at Chamber Music Northwest last year. In their Sunday afternoon concert in the University of Oregon’s Chamber Music at Beall series, Akropolis plays an all-American music program of arrangements for of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris, contemporary compositions by Gregory Wanamaker and John Steinmetz (a name familiar to Oregon Bach Festival audiences), and 20th century classics by Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein and Charles Ives.

• Another windy ensemble returns to Portland’s Newmark Theatre Monday when the ever-popular Canadian Brass play their usual mix of classical, pop and other sounds on tuba, trombone, horns, and trumpets.

• Still another unusual classical ensemble joins the Eugene Symphony this Thursday. The four-time Grammy winning Chicago sextet (piano, percussion, flute, clarinet, cello, violin/viola) returns with a concerto written especially for them by Jennifer Higdon, the Pulitzer Prize winning American composer who’s probably the closest successor to Aaron Copland. As she showed in her appearance with the ESO and Marin Alsop years ago, Higdon is one of the country’s most engaging exponents of contemporary classical music, writing accessible yet inventive music and reaching out to audiences with equal generosity. Read Daniel Heila’s ArtsWatch interview with Higdon.

The rest of the orchestra’s splendid program includes one of Bach’s ever popular Brandenburg Concertos, some danceable Mozart, and Leonard Bernstein’s jazzy 1944 ballet score Fancy Free, which dazzlingly evokes midcentury New York’s cosmopolitan culture via a musical depiction of a story of three sailors on shore leave seeking romance (which Bernstein immediately revisited, sort of, in On the Town). Both Akropolis and eighth blackbird are also doing multiple community outreach and education events while they’re here.

• Last year, the ESO played another fine recent work by another top American composer (and another Alsop favorite), Michael Daugherty’s Tales of Hemingway. This Friday (at Portland’s First United Methodist Church) and Saturday (at Troutdale’s Reynolds Performing Arts Center), Portland Columbia Symphony orchestra plays the dramatic 2015 cello concerto, which won three Grammy Awards last year. Each movement evokes episodes from the author’s stories. A WWI vet heals himself through immersion in a Michigan wilderness; an American on a suicide mission to help the anti-fascist side in the Spanish Civil War (including a tolling bell); an old fisherman struggles against wild natural forces. In the Spanish-inflected final movement, a disillusioned, Lost Generation bohemian American expat seeks inspiration from bullfighting and the famous running of the bulls. Rising star cello soloist Allison Eldredge recently won a coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant, and was named by Musical America as Young Artist of the Year. The program also includes three other literary-inspired works by Erich Korngold and a Mozart overture.

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MusicWatch Weekly: generation next

Music by and for young Oregonians highlights this week's concerts

It’s probably too late for the next generations to save our planet from the greed and selfishness of their elders, but at least they’ll have music to console them. Young musicians, like young Americans in general, do give me what little hope remains for our future. This month offers numerous opportunities to hear music by and for young Oregonians.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony plays new and old music this weekend.

• Metropolitan Youth Symphony teams up with Fear No Music’s valuable Young Composers Project in the inaugural performance of its new series of student commissions called “The Authentic Voice,” presented and performed by MYS. Sunday’s concert at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall features Tone Poem No. 1: Orpheus and Eurydice, a brand new piece composed and conducted by high school senior Jake Safirstein, one of three composers who this year receive supportive training in a series of private lessons and small group workshops led by Fear No Music’s master musicians in addition to orchestral readings with MYS’s Symphony Orchestra. The program also includes Italian-themed music by Rossini, Tchaikovsky and Berlioz, plus music that’s delighted kids for decades when it appeared in Fantasia: Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda.

• Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Saturday concert in the same venue offers a rare opportunity to hear music by the dean of African American classical composers, William Grant Still, whose still-appealing music, often drawing on folk traditions, was underplayed in his lifetime because of racism, orchestras’ snobbish disdain for American composers, and mid-century trend-setters’ fear of music that could be enjoyed by broad audiences. That included Still’s 1957 American Scene: Five Suites for Young Americans, one of those worthy but neglected works by African American composers that Damien Geter wrote about in his ArtsWatch story last month. Along with its The Far West section, PYP will play the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with soloist 17-year-old violinist Aaron Greene, winner of PYP’s 2018-19 Soloist Competition, and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6. Next month, we’ll tell you about FNM’s own concert pertaining to children and our future.

Violinist Aaron Greene performs with Portland Youth Philharmonic. Photo: Brian Clark

• We’re getting an early jump on next Wednesday’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras Breaking the Cage, a multi-media event at Portland’s Old Church featuring collective compositions by the young BRAVO musicians (some with personal connections to immigration) responding to the cruel detentions and family separations perpetrated by the government at America’s southwestern border. Along with ashort documentary film about the project, the show also features engaging Portland looping violinist and songwriter Joe Kye.

• Audiences should also look a lot younger than usual at the Oregon Symphony’s Tchaikovsky vs. Drake concert at Schnitzer Thursday night. Guest conductor Steve Hackman, perpetrator of last season’s similarly conceived “Brahms vs. Radiohead” program, this time brings three singers and a rapper to mashup a dozen hits by Drake (whose Scorpion is the year’s biggest album so far) with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with help from Dance West and Pacific Youth Choir.

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MusicWatch Weekly: solos and duos

Duo pianists and string players, a doomed love duet, and solo pianist, singer, and percussionist highlight this week's Oregon music

Portland Opera opens its season with Verdi’s Bohemian Parisian perennial La Traviata, which runs this Friday night and Sunday afternoon, and next Thursday and Saturday at Portland’s Keller Auditorium. Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian, tenor Jonathan Boyd and Weston Hurt star in this traditional production sung in Italian with projected English translations.

Jonathan Boyd as Alfredo and Aurelia Florian as Violetta in Portland Opera’s production of Verdi’s ‘La Traviata.’ Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.

• For opera music of more (sadly, in the wake of the latest right-wing gun- and bigotry-fueled massacre) immediate relevance, you’ll have to head up to Seattle’s Benaroya Hall for the powerful Music of Remembrance series, which remembers the Holocaust through music. Performed by Seattle Symphony members, this 20th anniversary concert, includes highlights from MOR’s varied repertoire of Holocaust-era music and new works its commissioned: excerpts from Tom Cipullo’s award-winning chamber opera After Life, imagining a confrontation between the ghosts of Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso; Jake Heggie’s opera Out of Darkness, Lori Laitman’s oratorio Vedem, Paul Schoenfield’s Camp Songs. Northwest Boychoir sings Yiddish songs that Viktor Ullmann arranged in Terezín death camp. Members of Spectrum Dance Theater reprise dances that choreographer Donald Byrd created for The Dybbuk.

Courtney Freed, cutting loose as Freddie Mercury.

• Just in time to piggyback on the new Queen movie (or is that the other way round?), Courtney Freed’s one-woman Freddie Mercury tribute concert Mercury Rising returns Friday to Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre. Aided by David Saffert on keys, Josh Gilbert on reeds, Bernardo Gomez on bass and Tom Goicochea on drums, she’ll sing Queen songs arranged by Reece Marshburn. “Freed thankfully didn’t try to embody the outsized rock star,” ArtsWatch’s Angela Allen wrote after the show’s brief April run at Coho Theater,” but “Mercury fans, who comprised most of the audience, were all over the songs—doing the Wave, cheering, singing and mouthing the words. She added some vamping and dancing (her singing is much better than either) and interspersed her songs with spicy narration…. The music leaned far more toward jazzy cabaret than ear-killing British rock. And even if you weren’t a diehard Queen fan, you couldn’t resist Mercury’s melodies.”

Orchestral Attractions

• The Oregon Symphony brings another musical/theatrical combo Saturday through Monday at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Petrushka tells the story of a puppet come to life, so it’s only appropriate that creative director Doug Fitch enhances Stravinsky’s sublime 1911 ballet score (in its 1946 revision) with puppets, dance, set design, audience participation and other visual touches designed to evoke the 1830s St. Petersburg fair that inspired the original. One of the season’s best classical programs also boasts Haydn’s stirring penultimate symphony, William Walton’s African music-influenced Johannesburg Festival Overture, and Swiss composer Arthur Honegger’s unseasonably sunny Summer Pastorale.

Doug Fitch’s puppetry enhances Oregon Symphony’s ‘Petrushka’ this weekend.

• On Saturday and Sunday at Newport Performing Arts Center, Newport Symphony plays Schubert’s Overture In the Italian Style, along with Ravel’s gravely beautiful At the Tomb of Couperin, and brings in trumpeter Katherine Evans to lead the way in Hertel’s third trumpet concerto and the late Seattle-based composer Alan Hovhaness’s haunting Prayer of Saint Gregory. The show closes with Mendelssohn’s ebullient “Italian” Symphony #4.

• Speaking of the peripatetic Mendelssohn, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra plays his “Scottish” Symphony No. 3, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, and Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto, with soloist Dimitri Zhgenti on Saturday and Sunday at Skyview Concert Hall.

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MusicWatch Weekly: jazz week

Blue notes flutter like autumn leaves through Oregon concerts this week, along with classical orchestral and chamber music

It used to be that Portlanders had to wait till winter’s PDX Jazz Festival to catch several strong jazz shows in a row. No more! Just check out this week’s improv-oriented offerings.

Jazzmeia Horn sings Wednesday night at Portland’s Old Church.

• Wednesday. One jazz’s rising young stars, Jazzmeia Horn (besides bearing the coolest first name ever) has won the two most prestigious international vocal jazz competitions, performed with top jazz artists, and regularly plays major NYC venues. PDX Jazz brings her to Portland’s Old Church Wednesday night.

• Thursday. Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble has been engaging in some cool collaborations lately, and the next one looks fascinating. Boundary-busting Portland composers Amenta Abioto, Sage Fisher (from Dolphin Midwives), and Floom’s Maxx Katz — whose music ranges from soundscapes to death metal to experimental improv — have scored new music to accompany the classic 1968 zombie film Night of the Living Dead, which they’ll perform Thursday night while the film and heads roll at Portland’s Holocene club. Rock those Halloween costumes!

•The pianist/guitarist team of Bryn Roberts and Lage Lund play their lyrical original music Thursday night at Portland’s Classic Pianos.

• Saturday. You may not instantly recognize the band name Circuit Rider, or even its leader, cornetist Ron Miles, but any jazz fan will recognize and revere the trio’s other two members: chameleonic / prolific Seattle guitarist Bill Frisell, and drummer Brian Blade. But Miles, who shares Denver roots with Frisell and who plays in Art Farmer’s lyrical tradition, really should be better known, and Saturday night’s trio performance at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel presented by PDX Jazz offers a rare and splendid opportunity.

• Sunday. The next night’s PDX Jazz show, this one back at Portland’s Old Church, is also a low-key winner. Danish guitarist/composer Jakob Bro (whose trio also includes bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Joey Baron) recently released a pair of terrific albums on the great ECM label and make another highly recommended entry in this fall’s excellent PDX Jazz lineup.

For more jazz this week, check out the lineup at Eugene’s Jazz Station, which ArtsWatch’s Daniel Heila recently spotlighted.

Orchestra

Composer Andrew Norman

• One of the country’s hottest youngish composers, Californian Andrew Norman composed his 2015 “hyperactive fantasy” Split for the great LA pianist Jeffrey Kahane, who’ll perform it with the Oregon Symphony Friday at Salem’s Willamette University and Saturday through Monday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave.

Fronting an orchestra that includes abundant percussion (timpani, kick drums, slapsticks, guiro, temple blocks, opera gongs, triangle, flower pot, washboard, wood blocks, brake drum, bongos, splash cymbal, vibraphone, ratchet, log drum, tin cans, spring coil), Kahane, a frequent Oregon visitor, plays (musically speaking) a prankster who gradually becomes “more the pranked,” Norman writes, “an unwitting protagonist trapped in a Rube Goldbergian labyrinth of causes and effects who tries, with ever greater desperation, to find his way out of the madness and on to some higher plane.” The concert also celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birth anniversary with three orchestral episodes from his lively 1944 musical On the Town and Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony.

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