portland piano international

Bolai Cao review: Abundant talent

Portland Piano International recital coupled a rising young piano star with veteran Oregon composer's newest work.


“Abundance” seemed to be the theme of Portland Piano International’s latest Rising Stars / Oregon Composers Commissioning Project concerts, a cheering offering for the cold gray days of February. After two previous concerts, including one in Salem, Valentine’s Day saw pianist Bolai Cao at Portland Piano Company, playing sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, studies by Frédéric Chopin, Reminiscences of Don Giovanni by Franz Liszt, and last but emphatically not least, a brand new work by Oregon composer Bryan Johanson. The Portland State University professor of music’s work was composed in homage to Scarlatti and bears the same Italian title “Essercizi” that Scarlatti himself called his sonatas.

Abundance because:

• Scarlatti wrote over a hundred sonatas a year for the last five years of his nearly 72-year long life;

• Chopin at the opposite end of his adulthood – before he even left the Poland of his youth for Paris – had already composed many highly original studies;

• Johanson’s new piece bristled with entertaining ideas;

• the Liszt, like nearly all the works on the program, unleashed a superabundance of notes from the piano.

Cao at 19 is even younger than Chopin was when he left Warsaw, but he cuts an imposing figure and his pianism was imposing as well. Two of his four Scarlatti selections were of the “OMG” variety, infamous among pianists for their lightning-fast figuration and wide leaps, but Cao displayed barely a trace of warm-up jitters. I would have preferred a more lyrical approach to a couple of the Chopin studies, including the well-known “Black Key” (op. 10 #5), which has many intricacies for the ear’s delight but which flew by at the pace of an east wind out of the Columbia River Gorge. On the other hand, the deceptively difficult “Waterfall” etude (op. 10 #1) was appropriately tumultuous and astonishingly accurate, and Cao’s lyrical side did come out to play in op. 10 #3, which a century later could have been a crooner’s hit.

Bolai Cao performed at Portland Piano International. Photo: Rich Brase.

Bolai Cao performed at Portland Piano International. Photo: Rich Brase.

Without losing any accuracy, and even more astonishing, any clarity, Cao reached the apex of tumult in Liszt’s madcap virtuosic paraphrase of the Mozart opera. Just about every trick from the Liszt playbook is in there – wide leaps, thundering octaves including blind octaves (playing very fast octave scales with alternating hands), and runs and arabesques galore – and yet, while those in the know roll their eyes, it somehow manages to stop just short of tastelessness. To realize its potential takes extraordinary pianism and Cao was equal to the task. Yes, I laughed at the end, but not from derision. Instead, it felt like popping the cork off Mozart’s celebrated Champagne Aria.

Johanson’s work didn’t require such fancy acrobatics, but it had its own challenges and brought another appreciative smile to my face. Its three movements, fast / slow / fast, each hewed closely to the model of Scarlatti’s sonatas, which were a milestone in the development of the form, as imaginative in their day as Beethoven’s 50 years later. The first movement punctuated fast runs and contrapuntal tricks with fanfares on exotic chords. The fanfares reappeared, subdued and almost unrecognizable – more like cries in the wilderness – in the pensive, even mournful slow movement. Intuitively I wanted them to be echoed in a triple articulation of the final chord, but things didn’t turn out that way. All long faces vanished in the finale, which romped to a thumping finish through short quotes from not only Scarlatti but also J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel (all three, by the way, born in 1685). A couple of the quotes added to the humor by squirting dollops of unexpected harmonic stability into Johanson’s somewhat angular lines and delightfully off-kilter yet ultimately center-seeking harmonies.

If you missed the concert and are feeling a resulting lack of abundance in your listening life, don’t fret. This was only the third of six such concerts this season, and six more are planned for next season. The fourth hasn’t yet been announced, so keep an eye on PPI’s website and Oregon ArtsWatch. PPI’s next recital features another young piano star, 28-year-old Joseph Moog, playing music by JS Bach, Liszt and Chopin on March 12 at Portland State University.

Jeff Winslow is a Portland pianist and composer.

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

News & Notes: Happenings in Oregon music

Newsworthy recent developments in Oregon classical and jazz music

Every now and then, when the press of covering live performances briefly abates, we try to catch up on a few recent announcements in the Oregon music world.

Head Honchos

 Portland Youth Philharmonic appointed Noreen Murdock as its executive director. Now the development director at Chamber Music Northwest and former executive director of the Salem Chamber Orchestra, she replaces Kiri Murakami-Lehmann, who’s moving to California.

Sarah Tiedemann

Sarah Tiedemann

Young Musicians & Artists (YMA) has named Portland flutist Sarah Tiedemann as its next executive director. Now entering its 51st year, YMA sponsors summer visual arts and performing arts programs in areas such as photography, dance, composition, and more for about 250 students grades 4-12.A frequent performer with Third Angle New Music, Salem Chamber Orchestra, and other classical music groups, Tiedemann moves from her communications position with Third Angle (and before that, Chamber Music Northwest) to replace Quinlan Porter, who departs after eight years.

Oregon Bach Festival selected Janelle McCoy its new executive director, replacing John Evans, who departed the University of Oregon institution last year. The mezzo soprano formerly directed Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and the city’s Mendelssohn Club chorus, which premiered Julia Wolfe’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning Anthracite Fields. She’s also worked on the staff of several other arts and music institutions and performed as a singer with the Atlanta Symphony and other orchestras.

• Seattle’s Medieval Women’s Choir chose University of Oregon prof Eric Mentzel as its director. A member of the renowned early music vocal ensemble Sequentia, Mentzel also founded and directs Eugene’s Vox Resonat.

Eric Mentzel

Singer and professor Eric Mentzel.

Radio Waves

• The parade of classical music radio personalities to Oregon continues with the arrival in Eugene of Peter van de Graaff as music director and host of the University of Oregon’s KWAX radio, replacing the retiring Caitriona Bolster. His burnished basso profundo (he’s also a professional singer who’s performed with orchestras and opera companies around the country) has long graced the national late night classical radio program broadcast by Chicago’s WFMT since 1988.



“Holy smokes! I want to learn that!” thought then-eleven-year-old Washington native Charlie Albright as he listened to Richard Goode perform Janácek’s Sonata 1.X.1905 in Lincoln Hall for Portland Piano International. His piano teacher Nancy Adsit was sitting next to him, and upon returning home they began learning the piece. Sixteen years later, now a winner of the 2014 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Oregon’s next-door-neighbor has come full circle from being PPI’s eager young audience member to opening his very own PPI concert series this weekend with this same Janácek sonata.

Charlie Albright. Photo: Stan Giske.

Charlie Albright. Photo: Stan Giske.

Albright began his music studies at the age of three, focusing particularly on jazz until age seven when he began classical studies with Adsit. He earned an Associate of Science degree at Centralia College while still in high school. In addition to winning a 2010 Gilmore Young Artist Award and 2009 Young Concert Artists International Audition, Albright was the first classical pianist accepted to the Harvard College/New England Conservatory Joint program, receiving Bachelor’s degree as a Pre-Med and Economics major at Harvard in 2011, Master of Music degree in Piano Performance at the New England Conservatory in 2012, and Artist Diploma (A.D.) from New York’s Juilliard School.

Judging by his 2011 album Vivace, Albright is a pianist to be reckoned with. But before you hunker down for a serious listen, check out his Facebook page and watch him rock out to his own arrangement of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” and Willie Nelson’s “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.”

In addition to gushing about Psy’s latest album, this young polymath shared a bit of his life story and music philosophies with OAW.

OAW: Your Wikipedia article is quite detailed, mentioning all the accomplishments and projects in your life, but it fails to mention your age or birth year. Why is that?

Well, I usually don’t put my age out for the press because age is often used to make funky comparisons between musicians. Art sometimes happens earlier and sometimes later in life, and if you latch onto age as a means of examining an artist, instead of thinking about what kind of art the person is doing, then the discussion becomes less about the art and more about the accolades, which isn’t as important.


Henry Kramer review: The new shall lie down with the old

Portland Piano International rising star recital links 21st and 19th century compositional adventures


Portland Piano International’s artistic director Arnaldo Cohen and executive director Ellen Bergstone Wasil should be feeling pretty pleased with themselves about now. They took a chance marrying their Rising Stars series of up-and-coming touring concert pianists with a series of twelve commissions to Oregon composers for new works inspired by classics of the repertory. As Henry Kramer’s November 15 recital showed, things are working out very well. There was a smidgen of esthetic mismatch between the new, represented by Eugene composer and University of Oregon professor of music David Crumb, and the old, represented by Frédéric Chopin and Johannes Brahms, but it was easily smoothed over by Kramer’s extraordinary artistry.

Kramer's Portland performance took place at a car dealership. Photo: Dan Wasil.

Kramer’s Portland performance took place at a car dealership. Photo: Dan Wasil.

PPI also took a chance on the venue this time, the front showroom of south Portland’s Freeman Motor Company. That didn’t work out quite as well. It’s difficult to find and access for folks driving from downtown Portland, and it’s separated from busy Macadam Avenue by only a sidewalk and a line of apparently thick but giant windows. (Not only that, the e-mailed publicity sent us to their service department over a mile away.) Fortunately, the company put out a royal welcome to both artists and audience, and Kramer’s absorbing performances made it easy to ignore the low-level deviations from typical concert hall ambience.

Henry Kramer also performed at Portland's Terwilliger Plaza.

Henry Kramer also performed at Portland’s Terwilliger Plaza.

Chopin and Brahms were arguably the two greatest composers to live their lives entirely in the 19th century. Both were top-notch pianists, and both arduously honed their craft throughout their lives, but the similarity ends there. Chopin, an upper-class Pole who spent most of his life in France, devoted himself to piano composition, thoroughly exploring the expressive capabilities of what was then new technology and meticulously crafting works to give the illusion of improvisation. Never a strong man, he died in his 40th year from tuberculosis. Brahms was the son of a struggling musician and grew up playing piano for a pittance in the saloons of Hamburg’s waterfront. He composed in every genre of the time but opera, and while his music also often gives the illusion of artlessness, it even more often shows off his prodigious technique, so much so that the very different Russian composer Piotr Tchaikovsky referred to him as “that giftless bastard.” Brahms was also an avid rambler and hiker, and once nearly dragged his father to the top of a minor peak in the Alps.

Chopin may not have been much of a hiker, but his second piano sonata is as rugged a pianistic adventure as they come. Kramer powered through its difficulties with energy to spare, but also took care to, yes, pause to smell the flowers. A few stumbles in the opening section of the brutal Scherzo were forgotten as he aced the reprise. I wanted the iconic funeral march in the slow movement to be slower, more extreme, but there is the tone painting of a horse-drawn bier to consider. If you missed the performance, you can catch his Thursdays @ 3 performance on the All Classical radio website for another week, in particular his unusually beautifully nuanced performance of the spooky yet frenetic finale. There was a more uniform rush on Sunday, but it never became the incomprehensible blur favored by pianists less interested in music than showing off how fast their fingers work.

David Crumb.

David Crumb.

David Crumb’s new Nocturne began with deep bell tones and an intriguing and rather doleful harmonic ambiguity – was the key major? Minor? Was there going to be traditional harmony at all? The answer is… yes and no. There was nothing retro about it, yet Crumb seemed every bit as concerned as Chopin with the harmonic support a sustained bass gives to a singing treble. A pensive melody gradually developed, but as might be expected on the other side of the musically tumultuous 20th century, the work never split as simply into melody and accompaniment as Chopin’s nocturnes tend to. Edgier harmonies tinged more urgent filigrees as the work grew more animated, but eventually the opening mood returned to dissipate magically, floating off in a further evocation of bells. Kramer didn’t play this work from memory, but even so, it seemed to flow naturally from somewhere deep inside.  Well-judged pedaling perfectly melded ringing left hand accents with a right hand that did seem to sing.

If there were any doubts about the source of Crumb’s inspiration, they were put to rest by the following work, that exemplar of Chopin nocturnes, Op. 27 #2 in Db major. Kramer’s performance was unaffected and lyrical, exactly what the work requires. With Crumb’s more impressionistic opus still freshly in mind, I hoped Kramer would let this nocturne also float off at the end, articulating the concluding harmony with touch rather than with pedal, but he chose a simpler, traditional approach.

It’s also traditional for pianists to huff and puff their way through Brahms’ punishing Variations on a Theme of Paganini, which are as much etudes to hone keyboard technique as they are fanciful inventions on Paganini’s well-known ditty. It can even turn into a bit of a slog, but Kramer’s way with it was a revelation. (Unfortunately the only video available online, like the one above, doesn’t really do him justice – in it, he’s still more apprentice than sorcerer.) There was a great deal of athleticism, true, but the overall impression was of a work surprisingly light on its feet. His only miscalculation was plunging into the driving finale of the first half too fast and turning it into a gray avalanche of notes, the sign of a pianist not quite in control. Also, I wished that the sweeter, slower variations could have provided even more of a respite in the prevailing whirlwind. But in general all was as clear as could be, and Kramer found an amazing amount of music in what are, after all, a series of exercises. There is a lot of repetition in such a work, but he found many a poetic detail to bring out here and there, so that one rarely became impatient for the next variation. One variation requires the pianist to play glissandi in octaves with the right hand only, which the mere thought of can cause a lesser pianist’s hand to twitch in agony. Kramer’s seemed miraculously effortless.

Those glissandi are a good symbol for the entire experience. Crumb and Kramer are mavens of their respective arts who have no doubt worked like demons to achieve what they’ve achieved, yet to hear them talk, there’s nothing to it: they just do what they need to do. The result is enormously pleasing for their audience. With a payout like that, more classical presenters should follow PPI’s lead and take a chance on supporting local composers.

Jeff Winslow is a Portland pianist and composer who serves on the board of Cascadia Composers.

Lise de la Salle: Joining Hands

 Portland Piano International recitalist bridges musical territories


European culture and history loom large in classical piano music, where one can still find traces of the historical rivalry between Germany and France. Thus it’s notable that young but already masterly French pianist Lise de la Salle chose a program for her Portland debut that was evenly split between quintessentially German composers – Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms – and quintessentially French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Reflecting the current era of European union, she proved insightful and adept at both subcultures. The program, performed a week before Halloween at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall, may have been symbolic also: Portland Piano International artistic director Arnaldo Cohen mentioned during his introduction that de la Salle had married just ten days earlier.

Lise de la Salle performed at Portland Piano International. Photo: Rich Brase.

Lise de la Salle performed at Portland Piano International. Photo: Rich Brase.

The Beethoven sonata she chose, the third of his earliest published set (Op. 2), may not be one of his famously thunderous works. But there’s plenty warning of what he’d unleash on the world once he got free of Joseph Haydn’s well-intentioned but somewhat irksome tutelage. Harmonic feints abound, and de la Salle had a way of making them new, so that I nearly burst out laughing here and there. No doubt her timing was exquisite.

And there is thunder even here. The sonata begins elegantly, if a bit nervously, but soon fanfares in octaves burst out. Even that isn’t enough for Beethoven. After the traditionally calmer contrasting theme, he brings the fanfares back for an even more exuberant go. Then he crashes to what sounds like a big finish, but the movement isn’t even half over yet!

De la Salle’s performance though, energetic as it was, never lost sight of the fact that Beethoven in these years was far from the wild, unkempt figure of legend, but rather was always well-groomed and, when performing in public or in private salons, impeccably dressed. No matter how many notes went rushing by, they were always perfectly clear. The lyrical slow movement was even a little dry for my taste, a creation of the fading 18th century rather than the passionate 19th century to come. But the impish scherzo, with its trio ranging athletically over the keyboard, stirred things up again, and the finale fizzed and bubbled as if uncorked from a celebratory champagne bottle.

A much darker, 20th century thunder erupted from time to time in Ravel’s evocative and masterly “Gaspard from the Night.” De la Salle was apparently having an off day, as slips in easy passages were followed by note-perfect renditions of the hardest ones, but she clearly knew the work’s intricate and sometimes frightening (both to hear and to play) territory well. In “The Gibbet,” no doubt inspired by the same Aloysius Bertrand text that inspired the composer, she seemed to be trying to evoke the sound of a distant bell on the wind, as the ever-present tolling octave came out louder, then softer, then louder again in an irregular pattern. This time it misfired somewhat, and the overall effect was mostly labored. However, that maniacal devil “Scarbo” taunted and snarled with brilliant finesse, and “Ondine,” after ravishing displays of her misty beauty and one desolate yet surprisingly insistent passage, relinquished her quest in the most perfectly executed fade-out I’ve ever heard in nearly 50 years of hearkening to that seductive sprite.


Portland Piano International: Locavore’s delight

New recital series that commissions new Oregon music and pairs local composers with rising star performers gets off to a strong start


The Portland metro area’s presenters of traditional classical music are slowly starting to notice the locavores in their audiences. So far, mostly the new are trying out the new – it’s been some years since the venerable Oregon Symphony programmed a work by an Oregon or Washington composer, but the younger Portland Columbia Symphony, Portland Chamber Orchestra (in May) and especially the Beaverton Symphony are all programming music by local composers this season, and the Vancouver Symphony did last season. Even presenters who don’t directly control their repertory are finding ways to get a piece of the action. Friends of Chamber Music invited the Martinu Quartet, who have Tomas Svoboda‘s 12 string quartets in their repertory, to give concerts last spring that included three of of them. Now Portland Piano International has upped the ante, not just (like the others named above) performing one or two Oregon-born compositions in an entire season, but helping create more Oregon music by commissioning six Oregon composers to write new solo piano works, with six more to follow next season. PPI has even paired each composer with a brilliant young pianist from its Rising Stars project for the premiere performances.

Pianist Justin Bartlett.

Pianist Justin Bartlett.

If the inaugural concerts are any indication, PPI has done itself and the region proud. Pianist Justin Bartlett gave four free, hour-long concerts of works by J. S. Bach, Dmitri Shostakovich, Karol Szymanowski, Toru Takemitsu, and Portland composer and Lewis & Clark College professor Michael Johanson, the first of the six Oregonians to be heard this season. Only two of the venues were in Portland; one was in Beaverton and another, unusually and commendably, in Bend. I caught the third concert, on October 4 at Portland Piano Company. It was not quite a full house, but the spectacular summery Sunday afternoon weather outside made formidable competition.

Justin Bartlett led off Portland Piano International's new Rising Star series.

Justin Bartlett led off Portland Piano International’s new Rising Star series. Photo: Dan Wasil.

Bartlett was all that could be desired, and more. We were drawn in by his fluent and engaging remarks introducing each work, and all works were given sensitive, technically expert, and individualistic treatment which brought out the composers’ musical personalities. Bach’s G major French Suite, BWV 816, sang and sparkled by turns, with a highly varied, well-judged use of the pedal. In his remarks, Bartlett made much of the role of his improvised ornamentation, but to me that was distinctive only in the lyrical Sarabande, where his understated yet yearning interpolations gave the formidable old German master an unusually tender face. Szymanowski’s Tantris the Fool – which as Bartlett explained, was inspired by a satirical story in which the famous lover Tristan schemes to tryst with his Isolda by disguising himself so well that not only dogs and guards but even Isolda herself fails to recognize him – was biting but also clear and direct. The final Prelude and Fugue of Shostakovich’s op. 87 set of 24 was appropriately grave, monumental, but also infused with a warmth that made an inspiring finale. If there was any fault to be found, it was that Bartlett’s interpretations were probably not quite as distinctive as he thought, and would gain even more depth from further exploration of the uniqueness of each work.

Composer Michael Johanson.

Composer Michael Johanson.

The star of the show was the pairing of Johanson’s new composition, Eternal Gardens, and the Takemitsu work that in some ways inspired it. The 20th century Japanese composer’s Rain Tree Sketch II was composed in memory of the great French 20th century composer Olivier Messiaen, who had just passed away, and Messiaen’s obvious influence makes it a fine homage. Johanson is also a great admirer of Messiaen’s music, and in fact, at the beginning of Eternal Gardens, I was slightly startled by its close resemblance to the soundworld of the Takemitsu. But it soon diverged and established its own, contrasting personality. Where Rain Tree Sketch was dark and restrained, Eternal Gardens was luminous and exuberant, almost like Takemitsu on hallucinogens. Before the performance, Johanson quoted him describing his music as “like a garden, and I am the gardener.” Johanson let loose a cloud of brilliantly colored butterflies in it.

Johanson and Bartlett confer before the recital. Photo: Dan Wasil.

Johanson and Bartlett confer before the recital. Photo: Dan Wasil.

One factor that no doubt contributed to the success of the premiere was that Bartlett committed it to memory along with the rest of the program. Memorization can seem an overwhelming challenge in new music, which is often virtuosic and full of unfamiliar patterns. But there’s no denying its power as a tool freeing the performer to directly impact the audience with the composer’s inspiration. Also, both the Takemitsu and Johanson are densely atmospheric works, with many complex harmonies fading away gradually before moving on. Bartlett in his remarks beforehand seemed concerned that his audience might grow restive, but he needn’t have worried; his pace and pedaling provided plenty of time for contemplation but never let us lose the way.

In the coming months, look for the premieres of PPI’s commissions to Depoe Bay composer Greg A Steinke, Eugene composer David Crumb, and Portland composers Jackie T. Gabel, Sarah Zipperer Gaskins, and Bryan Johanson (no relation to Michael). If they come off like this one did, they will show that often the best music is composed nearly in your own backyard.

Jeff Winslow is a Portland composer and pianist, and serves on the board of Cascadia Composers, as does Greg Steinke. Michael Johanson and Jack Gabel are also members.

News and Notes: A BCA shutdown, summer shows galore, grants

Business for Culture & the Arts closes up shop and lots of other items, three-dot style.

News and Notes has been in a bit of slumber, but we were awakened from our deep sleep by Business for Culture & the Arts, the nonprofit that links the arts with businesses. The group has announced that it’s going out of business June 30, though it will hold a special membership meeting currently slated for August 11. Declining memberships and staff transitions led the board to conduct some research with its members and stakeholders, and in late May, the board voted to start to shut things down.

BCA is looking for homes for its primary programs, including the Art of Leadership board training program, the Arts Breakfast of Champions, which recognizes successful business-arts partnerships, and Associates and Business Volunteers for the Arts. We’ll let you know what happens to these programs as soon as we know.

And now back to our usual News and Notes programming!

The Portland Piano International Summer Festival opens Thursday at Lewis & Clark with a busy schedule of lectures, workshops and performances, involving a great lineup of musicians. You’re going to have to visit the website to get the big picture…Post5 Theatre has announced its schedule for 2016 (which seem further away than it really is), and it involves a generous helping of Shakespeare or Bard-influenced plays—Lear, and all-female Othello, Richard III, The Complete Works [abridged] revised, along with a little Christopher Durang, Rashomon, and Jeff Whitty’s The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. We’ll get you linked up for the details once they are available on the website.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has received $25,000 from Arts Midwest’s Shakespeare in American Communities program. The money will support reduced or complimentary tickets for schools in Oregon and northern California to Much Ado about Nothing, Pericles, Antony and Cleopatra and Twelfth Night the next two years, and also go to related classroom curricula and actor workshops, post-show discussions, tours, and teacher training classes. Since 1971, the festival’s School Visit Program has reached more than 2 million students, according to OSF…Coho Productions’ Summerfest is in full swing—this weekend’s show (June 18-21) is Deanna Fleysher’s Butt Kapinski, a sexy and gender-confused murder mystery, with a big dollop of comedy mixed into its Noir…Third Rail Repertory Theatre runs a mentorship program, and on Thursday those, um, mentees (?) will open the Off the Rails Festival, June 18-28, 7:30 pm Thursdays-Sundays at Action/Adventure Theater. The playbill includes three fully-staged productions of plays that are on the edgy side, and a reading of a new play by resident playwriting mentee, Alexandra Schaffer.

MJ Anderson, Eyrie, 2014, green onyx, 13 x 20 x 8"/Elizabeth Leach Gallery

MJ Anderson, Eyrie, 2014, green onyx, 13 x 20 x 8″/Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Sculptor MJ Anderson is giving an artist’s talk at Elizabeth Leach Gallery at 11 am Saturday, June 27. Anderson has sculpted stone for the past 30 years, and she’ll be talking about the process, including her shift in the current exhibition, Acqua Pietrificata, away from the female form to something more abstract and metaphorical, using rare stones, such as the green onyx above.

A-WOL takes its circus to the trees in Art in the Dark.

A-WOL takes its circus to the trees in Art in the Dark.

One of the best adaptations by an arts group to Oregon summer (and lots of successful one exist including Third Angle’s Porch Music and Bag & Baggage’s outdoor summer Shakespeare, Richard III this year) is A-WOL Dance Collective’s August Art in the Dark show in West Linn’s Mary S Young Park. This year’s performances are August 7-9 and 14-16, and they start at dark. The theme involves Old World circus acts—and since it’s an aerial company, they’ll be hanging and swinging from the trees…Richard Maxwell is the artistic director of the New York City Players, a band of theater experimentalists, and he’s going to be in town for a series of performances of his Showcase, a play in which “a businessman alone in his hotel room reflects on his day, and his life.” It plays 7, 8, and 9 pm Thursday, June 18-20, in the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower, 921 SW 6th Ave. It’s free, but you have to RSVP, because seating is tight in the actual hotel room where Maxwell will perform it. Yale Union is the sponsor—visit the site to RSVP.

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