portland piano international

ArtsWatch Weekly: vote, and other opportunities

Looking back, looking ahead: a week's worth of theater, dance, music, film, and art in and around Portland

After all that feuding and fussing it’s election day, and nothing on this week’s calendar is more important. In Oregon, with its vote-by-mail elections, that means today is last chance, not first chance. Remember, ballots must be received by 8 p.m. Tuesday, not just postmarked by today. That means it’s too late to mail your ballot: You’ll need to drop it off. You can do that at your branch library and other designated spots. If you haven’t turned your ballot in yet, stop reading this right now and get ‘er done. If your vote is safely cast, scroll on down and take a look at a few visual reminders that the United States has been doing this for a long time. Except for the Bingham painting, the images come from the Library of Congress’s 2012 book Presidential Campaign Posters: 200 Years of Election Art:

"The County Election," George Caleb Bingham, 1852, oil on canvas, 38 x 52 inches, Saint Louis Art Museum

“The County Election,” George Caleb Bingham, 1852, oil on canvas, 38 x 52 inches, Saint Louis Art Museum




Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival. The 43rd edition of the Northwest Film Center’s annual regional showcase runs Thursday through Tuesday at the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium and Portland State University’s nearby 5th Avenue Cinema and Skype Live Studio. Shorts, features, and documentaries ranging from the battle over water rights to an internet horror tale to life in a modern medieval village.

Epoch. An evening of new dance from Samuel Hobbs (November) of push/FOLD and ArtsWatch dance columnist Jamuna Chiarini (The Kitchen Sink), with music by Hobbs and Lisa DeGrace. Friday and Saturday, BodyVox Dance Center.


Tina Chong review: Adventurous women

Portland Piano International rising star recital pairs female composers' new work and neglected classic


The first work that Portland Piano International’s Rising Star Tina Chong played, the first Friday evening in May at Portland Piano Company, did not initially seem to promise any magic moments. True, the title of the 1836 composition was “Nocturne” and the fluid melody and colorful harmony suggested Frédéric Chopin, or at least, a composer who avidly studied and understood that musical conjurer’s newly published works. But like so many Nocturnes, especially by lesser composers, it seemed a simple song in A-B-A form, or if you will, verse / chorus – bridge – verse / chorus (with, as it turned out, a short coda or outro).

And yet something astonishing happened at the end of the bridge. The return of the verse felt nothing like the blithe “oh here we are at home again” restart regurgitated in myriad familiar and forgotten examples of the form. Instead, while the prevailing figuration slyly flowed on underneath, the harmony levitated for a few seconds, skipped the verse’s opening chord altogether and alighted on its first moment of instability. The effect was almost unbearably poignant, as if the adventurer at the keyboard was turned back out onto the open road just when she was at her most vulnerable. One treasures such moments of tone poetry in Chopin, even in Brahms and Beethoven.

Tina Chong performed in Portland Piano International's Rising Star series.

Tina Chong performed in Portland Piano International’s Rising Star series.

Move over, guys. The composer was 16-year-old Clara Wieck, soon to become the wife of much better known composer Robert Schumann. But “composer” was deemed an unsuitable job for a 19th century European woman, and Clara went on to become instead one of the most famous pianists of her time, her own original music buried in obscurity. Two heads are better than one, and no doubt she and Robert influenced each other’s work – there are signs even in this early Nocturne. But Robert got all the credit.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Triffle on a cloud, a lobster in the tank

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Carol Triffle is Portland’s most prominent stage absurdist, a quiet comic renegade who makes a virtue of never connecting the dots. Her theater is whimsical, outrageous, so ordinary that it defies the ordinary, stretching it into cosmic pretzel shapes. It’s an anti-theater, almost, bopping narrative on the nose and then ducking around the corner to put on clown makeup and reappear as something utterly different, yet somehow also just the same. At its worst, it falls apart. At its best, it feels a bit like watching Lucille Ball or Danny Kaye caught inside a spinning clothes dryer and howling to get out. Head-scratching occurs at a Triffle show, and the audience can be divided between those who adore the effect and those who simply scratch their heads.

Source, Fagan, Hale, on a sofa, on a cloud, in a funk. Imago Theatre photo.

Sorce, Fagan, Hale, on a sofa, on a cloud, in a funk. Imago Theatre photo.

Francesca, Isabella, Margarita on a Cloud, Triffle’s newest show at Imago Theatre (where she is co-founder and, with partner Jerry Mouawad, creator of the mask-and-costume phenomenon Frogz), is the story, if that’s the right word, of three sisters who feud inseparably, supporting one another through thin and thin. Margarita (Ann Sorce, an Imago vet who’s utterly internalized Triffle’s madcap expressionist style) is the one who won all the beauty contests. Francesca (Megan Skye Hale) is the one who lost all the same beauty contests. Isabella (Elizabeth Fagan), the baby, is the one who seems to have just accidentally starred in a porno film. Isabella’s boyfriend RayRay (Kyle Delamarter) and Margarita’s fella Bob the Weatherman (Sean Bowie) drop in now and again, eager, somehow, to attach to the sisterly scene.


Murray Perahia review: Finding beauty in the beast

Revered pianist’s recital eventually bridges the gulf between performer and composer


A favorite misquote tells us music has charms to soothe the savage beast. But what happens when a work of music is the savage beast? World-renowned pianist Murray Perahia, in the grand finale of Portland Piano International’s current mainstream season, gave us his answer the afternoon of April 10 at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.


Portland Piano International brought Murray Perahia to Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The program featured works that reflected turbulent times in the lives of über-classic composers Josef Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms and of course, Ludwig van Beethoven. Early on it seemed the beasts were to be tamed, but in the end, something much less one-sided emerged that made one wonder: can man and monster meld into one great soul?


Joseph Moog review: Will power

Portland Piano International recitalist displays determination along with dexterity


At one point in Joseph Moog’s March 13 piano recital at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall, the 28-year old German pianist unexpectedly blanked for a split second. He expertly recovered, and it’s likely the only audience members who noticed were those who were intimately familiar with the work, Claude Debussy’s “Souvenir from The Louvre” (an alternative version of the better known Sarabande from his suite Pour le Piano.) Nonetheless, Moog went back to the top, as if Debussy had written a section repeat, and the second time played through flawlessly and with unimpaired lyricism. He was determined to get it right!

It was a telling moment. Moog seems to be a determined young man. He smiles engagingly at the audience, and speaks of himself deprecatingly, but this Portland Piano International visiting artist, who also appeared March 12 with a different program, was all business when it came time to make the piano do what he wanted.

Joseph Moog performed at Portland Piano International. Photo: John Rudoff.

Joseph Moog performed at Portland Piano International. Photo: John Rudoff.

Of course, anyone who seeks to stand on equal footing with the world’s touring piano virtuosos must be unusually strong-willed already. The thousands of hours of practicing required are only the beginning. Moog’s program on the 13th demonstrated that he has thoroughly mastered all such preliminaries.


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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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.


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