portland piano international

MusicWatch Weekly: revolutionaries

Concerts celebrate 20th century geniuses

Oregon music this week features the work of a couple of revolutionaries from a century or so ago whose imagination has left its mark on the present and maybe even the future, enhanced by today’s technology. Tesla: Light, Sound, Color (Thursday-Friday Hult Center’s Soreng Theater, Eugene; Saturday, Newmark Theatre, Portland; Monday, Tower Theatre, Bend) brings the eccentric genius inventor/engineer to life via music, dance, digital imagery and even physics experiments. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch preview and Rachael Carnes’s ArtsWatch review.

This weekend’s Oregon Symphony’s concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall feature the revolutionary dance score that helped transform 20th century music, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, enhanced by digital projections.  We talked about it a lot on ArtsWatch during the centennial year. The rest of the program rocks, too —  Bartok’s fab, faux-lky second violin concerto and one of the middle-ish (but not middling) period Haydn symphonies we don’t hear often enough. His 70th was also innovative in its way, adding timpani and trumpets to the composer’s arsenal, which he would later use to great effect in other orchestral works.

Third Angle New Music’s Thursday and Friday shows at Portland’s Studio 2 @ N.E.W. shine the spotlight on cellist Marilyn de Oliveira and fellow musician family members and Oregon Symphony players in music by Portland’s own nationally renowned composer Kenji Bunch, 20th century British composer John Tavener, recent Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, and young New York phenom Andy Akiho.

Marilyn de Oliveira takes center stage at Third Angle’s concerts.

Baroque Rarities

Even without the arias and more elaborate orchestration of his famous cantatas, Bach’s half-dozen (depending on how you categorize them) surviving motets constitute some of his richest and most complex choral music. It takes exceptional singers to perform them with only one voice singing each part, which affords a wonderful intimacy and transparency, and that’s what The Ensemble of Oregon brings to three of these masterpieces Saturday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church, Eugene, and Sunday at Portland’s Old Church. This all-star team drawn from Portland’s finest choirs also sing arias from two Bach cantatas. A bonus Bach cello sonata provides an instrumental interlude.

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Christina & Michelle Naughton reviews: sister act

Portland Piano International brought identical twin virtuosos for two recitals, and they delivered performances as polished as their presentation

By ANGELA ALLEN & JEFF WINSLOW

Editor’s note: because the latest Portland Piano International production featured a pair of pianists performing a pair of a concerts, and sometimes using a pair of pianos, we decided to feature a pair of reviewers

I was privileged to hear 30 young virtuosos compete for the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano prize last summer in Fort Worth, Texas. Ranging from 19 to 30 years old, they played technically difficult, swooningly expressive pieces. Consider Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 and Antonin Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81, two of the most performed during the festival.

Yet none, even winner Yekwon Sunwoo who opened the 40th Portland Piano International Solo season in October, impressed me as much as Michelle and Christina Naughton did Dec. 2 at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. They played a second concert Dec. 3 featuring a different and equally demanding repertoire. (See Jeff Winslow’s review of that concert below.)

These identical twins, 28, graduates of the Juilliard School and Curtis Institute of Music, began piano lessons at four years old and played as single-piano musicians until a savvy producer suggested they try duets and four-hands pieces. That was 10 years ago. Now the two play as one. They are polished; they are pros. Wunderkinder they are, but practice they have — hours and hours a day for years and years.

Portland Piano International presented Christina and Michelle Naughton. Photo: John Rudoff.

During their two-hour performance, the team demonstrated clean technique, exacting timing, and bravery (or confidence) to incorporate into their repertoire challenging pieces, most notably Conlon Nancarrow’s Sonatina for four hands. Most of the maverick 20th century American composer‘s work was written for the player piano; humans can’t keep up with the rhythms.

And all of this without a sheet of music or an iPad to prompt.

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MusicWatch Weekly: no leftovers

This week's Oregon concerts, with trimmings

MusicWatch has a confession to make: it seriously overindulged at last week’s holiday table. In truth, MusicWatch has been putting on the preview poundage (the freshman 1500?) quite a bit since leaving parental supervision for its own place, so ArtsWatch paterfamilias Barry Johnson staged a needed intervention, placing MusicWatch on a strict 800-word limit (and eventually 500, but we can’t go, uh, cold turkey right off the bat) until it slims down to the concision of  A.L Adams’s svelte DramaWatch or achieves the noble balanced proportions Jamuna Chiarini’s ample DanceWatch. If you want to add your own garnishes, please do so in the comments section, where they won’t count against the word limit or MusicWatch’s waistline.

Legends of the Celtic Harp
Patrick Ball, Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter combine Celtic and English seasonal music (using three Celtic Harps, Swedish nyckelharpa, fiddle, bandura, bouzouki) and stories including A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a chapter from The Wind in the Willows, and passages from Shakespeare, Yeats, and Thomas Hardy.
Friday, Cerimon House, Portland.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus performs its holiday show this weekend.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus
Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and other seasonal songs.
Friday-Sunday, Newmark Theater, Portland.

Cinderella
Portland State’s acclaimed opera program presents a piano quartet operetta of the classic fairy tale concocted from vintage German and French songs. Stay turned for Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch review.
Friday-Dec. 17, PSU Studio Theater, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

Oregon Symphony and Andre Watts
Scandinavian sounds by Grieg, Nielsen, Sibelius, and fellow Finn Joonas Kokkonen.
Friday, Smith Auditorium, Willamette University, Salem, and Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Andre Watts performs with the Oregon Symphony.

Soror Mystica
ParaTheatrical ReSearch PDX’s latest ritual music/ theater/ dance/film/performance art creation (See Mitch Ritter’s ArtsWatch review of the company’s earlier Bardoville.) Friday-Sunday, Performance Works NW, Portland.

ISing
The annual free concert (with donations benefiting a good cause) features familiar carols with 80 voice choir, a brass octet, taiko drums, kotos and massive organ.
Friday and Sunday, Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ 5150 SW Watson, Beaverton, and Saturday,
St. Peter Catholic Church, 8623 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland.

Beaverton’s iSing chorus used video in its winter 2013 concert.

“Singin’ in the Rain”
Peg Major directs, Robert Ashens conducts and Caitlin Christopher choreographed The Shedd’s original production of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s 1985 stage adaptation of their classic film comedy about 1920s silent film stars making the turbulent transition to talkies.
Friday-Dec. 17, The Shedd, Eugene.

“Amahl and the Night Visitors”
For decades beginning in 1951, American composer Gian Carlo Menotti’s beloved one-act opera was a perennial holiday treat on NBC television. Thanks to Menotti’s appealing score and story about three kings, a family, and a series of miracles, Amahl is still the most frequently produced opera in the world — a family friendly holiday performance presented by one of Oregon’s finest chamber vocal groups, The Ensemble of Oregon, composed of top singers from the city’s big choirs.
Saturday-Sunday, First Christian Church, 1314 SW Park Avenue, Portland.

Christina & Michelle Naughton
Along with European classics by Debussy and Ravel (his enchanting child-inspired Mother Goose music), Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky, the award-winning sibling duo pianists play 20th century American music, including delights by wild card Conlon Nancarrow, John Adams’s Hallelujah Junction, and Paul Schoenfield’s Five Days from the Life of a Manic Depressive.
Saturday & Sunday, Portland State University, Lincoln Hall.

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MusicWatch Weekly: local, vocal and more

A selection of this week's Oregon music highlights

Fans of choral and vocal music have some solid choices this week in Oregon music, and so do locavore consumers of homegrown music, jazz aficionados and more. Please add your own suggestions in the comments section below.

Choro in Schola
Portland State prof Ethan Sperry and his distinguished predecessor, OAW contributor Bruce Browne, conduct 75 of the best student singers selected from 14 high schools in Vancouver, Portland, Tigard, Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Gresham. Under the tutelage of some of the state’s finest professional singers, they’ll sing music by William Byrd, Peter Warlock, and other composers. A new feature this year: seven interns from the high schools who’ve been working with the pro singers will join their teachers on several works. Read my ArtsWatch story about last year’s CIS performance and Jana Hanchett’s ArtsWatch story about this important Oregon arts education organization.
Wednesday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

Bruce Browne with Choro in Schola singers.

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet
Best known outside the jazz world for his work with Donny McCaslin’s band on David Bowie’s valedictory Blackstar album, the drummer/composer has also worked with some of jazz’s most forward looking stars, and is known for incorporating electronic elements into his work. Two shows.
Wednesday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”
Read my ArtsWatch review of this production’s Portland stop earlier this year.
Wednesday-Sunday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Northwest Art Song and The Ensemble 
Superb soprano Arwen Myers and mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, accompanied by pianist Susan McDaniel, sing settings of poetry written by women composed by some of today’s finest female composers: Libby Larsen, Stacy Garrop, Juliana Hall, and Abbie Betinis.
Saturday, Beall Hall, University of Oregon, and Sunday, First Christian Church, 1314 SW Park Ave. Portland.

Arwen Myers and Laura Beckel Thoreson perform in Eugene and Portland.

Delgani String Quartet, Cascadia Composers
Two of Oregon’s most valuable exponents of new, homegrown music join forces in a program of contemporary sounds by Eugene’s Paul Safar, LA-based Latin Grammy winner Yalil Guerra, Willamette University alum Andrew Robinson, and Joshua Hey. The grand finale: the Sixth Quartet by internationally renowned Portland eminence grise  Tomas Svoboda, inspired by Shostakovich.
Saturday, Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St. Portland and Sunday, First Christian Church, 1166 Oak, Eugene.

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MusicWatch Weekly: in- and outdoor sounds

It's worth venturing outside, smoke and all, to catch some late summer sounds this week, and indoor music is available too

Our weekly music listings, having recently moved back in with the parents over the summer, as so many graduates are doing these days, are pleased to announce that they’ve found their own place again and are busily furnishing it with shiny new previews of a select few music events around the state — many of them alfresco. There is no truth to the rumor that the Music listings were jealous that their Drama siblings just got their own place too….

Tia Fuller performs two shows with her quartet in Portland Friday.

Portland SummerFest

The annual summer music festival temporarily relocates from Washington Park (thanks to construction) to downtown Portland’s so-called “Halprin Sequence,” the lovely if sometimes overlooked public spaces designed by famed architect Lawrence Halprin to restore a few human-scale spaces to a downtown Portland neighborhood ravaged by ‘60s-style car centric urban renewal. As you stroll among Lovejoy and Keller Fountains, Pettygrove Park and the little Source Fountain from 5–9 pm, hear urban soundscapes, music by inventive Cascadia composers Jennifer Wright and Daniel Brugh, local opera singers accompanied by pianist Chuck Dillard, and more.

Wednesday, SW Lincoln and SW Market Streets, Portland.

Hunter Noack performs in three outdoor Oregon settings this week.

“In a Landscape”

Portland pianist Hunter Noack has embarked on a second September series of outdoor performances around Oregon. (Read my ArtsWatch story about the first one.) This time, he’s put a nine-foot Steinway on a trailer, and is toting it to Astoria, Pendleton, Eugene, and ten other towns from the coast to the Steens. He’s also bringing wireless headphones to distribute to listeners so they can experience the music without alfresco acoustical limitations, and various guest artists, from singer and former Miss America Katie Harman Ebner, Pink Martini founder/pianist Thomas Lauderdale and members of various Oregon orchestras. Check the website for who’s playing what and where and other details on individual performances (and probably fire/weather related updates) through September 30.

Wednesday, Agate Beach Golf Course, Newport; Thursday, Mount Pisgah Arboretum, Eugene; Saturday, Suttle Lodge & Boathouse, Sisters.

Al Di Meola shreds on Wednesday in Portland. Photo: Alessio Belloni.

Al Di Meola

The paragon of jazz fusion guitar returns, augmented by a quintet that includes electric violin, on a 40th anniversary tour that features both electric and acoustic axes and tight, tuneful jazz influenced by various global traditions, from Middle Eastern to flamenco.

Wednesday. Revolution Hall, Portland.

Sam Hong plays Oregon music and more this weekend.

Sahun “Sam” Hong

Portland Piano International kicks off its next admirable (and free of charge!) Rising Star series with the young prize winning pianist playing Beethoven and Chopin sonatas, Brahms’s lovely Op. 119 pieces, and a pair of intermezzi by the fine Oregon composer Brent Weaver.

Thursday, George Fox University, Bauman Auditorium, Newberg; Friday, Terwilliger Plaza and Monday, Classic Pianos, Portland.

Tia Fuller Quartet (early and late shows)

The rising jazz alto/soprano sax star is probably best known for her work in Beyonce’s band and other pop star gigs (Aretha, Jay Z, et al), but jazz heads and critics have long admired her supple, energetic work with her own quartet over four albums.

Friday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: full-tilt boogie

Imago tilts the action in a topsy-turvy Greek classic, Brett Campbell's best music bets, "Jersey Boys" croons into town, new theater & dance

The question echoes down the centuries from the Greek myths and Euripides’ play, which was first set on stage in 431 B.C. and just keeps coming back: was Medea balancing the scales of justice when she murdered her husband’s new wife and her own children, or was she falling off her rocker? People have been arguing the point ever since (Medea shocked its original audience, coming in dead last in that year’s City of Dionysia festival), and the question of teetering out of control remains foremost, right down to Ben Powers’ recent adaptation of Medea for the National Theatre in London.

The ups and downs of rehearsal: Imago’s tilting stage for “Medea.” Imago Theatre photo.

Enter Jerry Mouawad of Imago Theatre, whose own theories of balance reach back to his mentor Jacques Lecoq, the French mime and movement master who advocated a “balance of the stage.” In 1998 Mouawad and Imago took the advice literally, creating a large movable stage, suspended three feet above the floor, that tips and leans as the actors shift position on it. They used it for an acclaimed production of Sartre’s No Exit, in which the constantly shifting balances became a metaphor for the play itself. The show was revived several times and traveled to theaters across the country.

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Llyr Williams review: Pace setter

Welsh pianist's performances of music by Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninov demonstrate exquisite control of tempo and pacing

by TERRY ROSS

It’s been a great season for piano playing in Portland. We’ve had Marc-André Hamelin and Stephen Hough, probably the two finest pianists in the world today, with the Oregon Symphony. We’ve had the talented duo Stephanie & Saar plus a bunch of local pianists playing Fredric Rzewski’s monumental The People United Will Never Be Defeated in Portland Piano Company’s Makrokosmos Project. We had young George Li, who may be the successor to Hamelin and Hough, in Portland Piano International’s valuable series. We had Wu Han playing chamber music and a concerto in Chamber Music Northwest’s Passions United program. And others from Jeffrey Kahane to Anderson & Roe and more.

Now comes Welshman Llyr Williams, again with Portland Piano International, in two different recital programs in PSU’s Lincoln Hall on April 1st and 2nd. Besides great technical skill and interpretive flair, what distinguishes these pianists from lesser colleagues and from each other?

In earlier ArtsWatch reviews I’ve described the playing of Hamelin, Hough, the pianists in the Rzewski show, Li, and Han. What, then, makes Mr. Williams different?

Llyr Williams performed at Portland Piano International.

Granted, among players of this calibre, differences are subtle. On the evidence of the April 2nd concert, Mr. Williams shows great and seemingly effortless technical brilliance, but so do Hamelin and Hough. The Welshman is a sensitive and bold interpreter of disparate composers, but so are all the others. Along with superb technique and heartfelt music taste, what especially distinguishes Mr. Williams’s playing is a remarkably fluid sense of tempo and uniquely keen feel for pacing, an attention to the distance between the notes that makes his choices, however phrased, seem inevitable.

In Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 4, Op. 7, the so-called “Grand Sonata,” this ability took the form of making a seamless whole of a movement containing wild contrasts in tempos. In the second-movement Largo con gran espressione, Beethoven’s key change from E-flat to C signals an entirely different approach, an invitation to a sort of smooth and cantabile playing that Beethoven favored over the earlier Mozartean style of crisp attack, more suited to the harpsichord. Here Mr. Williams created a lovely and almost (but not quite) static tonal picture that was one of the highlights of the afternoon’s concert. Thereafter, in the third and fourth movements’ Allegros, his rhythms and tempos produced a suave, if restrained, conclusion. The Fourth is an early (1797) Beethoven sonata that, despite its title and length, ends quietly.

In Beethoven’s Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp Major, written in 1809 on a generous commission from another composer and pianist, Muzio Clementi, the scale is smaller: just two movements totaling ten minutes. In this merry piece, dedicated to Beethoven’s  friend Countess Theresa Josepha Anna Johanna Aloysia Brunsvik de Korompa (whew!), the composer briefly introduces the opening of a favorite tune of his, Rule Brittania, and also jumps with abandon from feathery passages to louder chords. Mr. Williams rendered these with his customary feel for the relationship of contrasting notes, a technique that tied the sonata together as if it were a single (if many-faceted) musical statement.

Two more of the greatest composers for piano occupied the second half of the program: Chopin and Rachmaninov. Representing Chopin was the Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49, one of the Pole’s most lauded compositions. Here Mr. Williams preserved his seemingly innate attention to pace while giving us, in the slow passages within this 13-minute piece, a sort of lyricism quite different from Beethoven’s, a signature Chopin dreaminess. Lovely playing.

Sergei Rachmaninov made his appearance in a rarer presentation: ten of the composer’s 24 preludes, written in all the major and minor keys in partial emulation of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Chopin’s Twelve Preludes. Rachmaninov’s pieces, which range from two to five-and-a-half minutes in length, are more often used as concert encores than programmed together. They show the range of Rachmaninov’s composing skills and tastes, emphasizing tonalities and rhythms more than his better-known cantabile melodies, familiar from his piano concertos. Mr. Williams moved from one to another, from Largo to Allegro to Moderato to Lento, with a keen sense of contrast and easy grace.

The final selection, Op. 23, No. 2 in B-flat Major, marked Maestoso, was a true showpiece that enabled our pianist to end with an appropriate flourish, bringing the audience to their feet in the first of two standing ovations. The second of these ovations came after a short, delicate encore by Edvard Grieg, which earned concert-goers a second Grieg piece by way of farewell.

Recommended recordings

• Beethoven, Sonata No. 4
Maurizio Pollini (Deutsche Grammophon 4778806), 2013.
Sviatoslav Richter (Alto ALC1158), 2011.

• Beethoven, Sonata No. 24
Claudio Arrau (Testament SBT21351), 2004.
Daniel Barenboim (Deutsche Grammophon 413766-2), 1984.

• Chopin, Fantaisie in F minor
Murray Perahia Plays Chopin (Sony Classical Masters 88843062432), 2014.
Michelangeli Plays Chopin (Opus Arte OA0940D), 1962.
Wilhelm Kempff, Vol. 10 (Documents 297641), 1954, 1958.

• Rachmaninov, Preludes
Rustem Hayroudinoff (Chandos 10107), 2003.
Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca 4676852), 1975.

Terry Ross is a Portland freelance journalist and the director of The Classical Club, through which he offers classical music appreciation sessions. He can be reached at classicalclub@comcast.net.

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