portland piano international

MusicWatch Weekly: piano playground

Second annual Piano Day highlights a skimpy week in Oregon live music

Spring break may have broken Oregon’s music calendar this week, but there’s still something to celebrate. Portland is celebrating the international Piano Day again. Last year, Portland Piano International brought the worldwide event, which was started by German pianist Nils Frahm (who happens to be coming to Portland this week too!) in 2015, to Oregon for the first time. This year, it’s sponsoring  performances at a half dozen locations in the metro area. Pianists of diverse ages and skill levels signed up to play pianos at each spot, and asked friends to sponsor them, with all funds raised going to support PPI’s valuable education programs. Check the website for the ebony and ivories nearest you.

There’ll be ten — count ’em! — pianos onstage at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall when Michael Allen Harrison’s annual Ten Grands show returns Saturday night. From Portland cops to prodigy pianists and composers to blues and jazz masters  to renowned players like Tom Grant and the founder himself, a parade of pianists will help raise funds for Harrison’s admirable Snowman Foundation and the Play It Forward Program, which helps bring music education and instruments to organizations that serve disadvantaged youth in the Northwest.

Speaking of Frahm, the visionary composer is indeed performing Tuesday at Revolution Hall, but the show’s been sold out for weeks. You can and should check out his latest, splendid album, though, or really any of them.

Nils Frahm is playing in Portland but if you don’t have a ticket already, you can participate in the Piano Day he created. Photo: Alexander Schneider.

You missed out on Hamilton tickets in Portland and Seattle — but you can catch the Hamilton of the ‘70s when A Chorus Line arrives this weekend at Eugene’s Hult Center. The 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama (which also scored nine Tony awards including Best Musical) was the longest running show in Broadway history till that time. ACL set the template for many of the most successful musicals that followed. Marvin Hamlisch’s sparkling score, one of the most memorable ever composed for a musical, still moves the heart, as does the story of 17 veteran dancers auditioning for spots on a Broadway chorus line just before they age out of a tough business.

If Patrick McCulley’s ArtsWatch review of Moon Hooch’s most recent Oregon appearance set your antennae a-quiver, you’ve got another chance to catch the incendiary horn-and-percussion trio on their latest tour, which alights at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom Thursday.

Anglophiles will titter politely at the news that Portland State University faculty baritone Harry Baechtel, the SF Bay-area based historically informed ensemble Sylvestris Quartet, and pianist Michael Seregow will perform early 20th century pastoral settings of English poetry.  Friday’s concert at PSU’s Lincoln Hall includes Ralph Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge, a placid 1909 setting of six poems from A. E. Housman’s evocative A Shropshire Lad, and American composer Samuel Barber’s ardent setting of Matthew Arnold’s haunting Dover Beach, plus Eddie Elgar’s a minor Piano Quintet, written in the wake of what was then thought to be the Great War, and of course you can’t play Barber’s chamber music without throwing That Famous Movement from his string quartet.

Finally, Saturday offers a feliz chance to hear a wide range of Brazilian music at the tenth anniversary of the Old Church’s annual Sounds of Brazil PDX show. As always, the focus is on choro, the rootsy Brazilian analog of American jazz, conceived from a different but equally enchanting mix of African, European, and indigenous American influences, typically played on flute, mandolin, clarinet, or violin with various acoustic guitars and pandeiro drum. But the show presents other classic Brazilian sounds, from bossa nova to Brazilian jazz to samba and more), and features several acts, including solo guitar, guitar and mandolin duo, piano and guitar duo, and ensemble.

Got more musical recommendations? Slap those suckers in the comments section below.

Piano Day 2018 from Portland Piano Int’l / SOLO on Vimeo.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

MusicWatch Weekly: March modness & more

Chamber, choral, orchestral, piano and other classical music on Oregon stages this week

The big musical news this weekend is the return of March Music Moderne, and you can read all about it in our separate preview. But it’s hardly the only musical magic happening in Oregon this week. Still, compared to the abundant new music on offer at MMM, some of this week’s other classical offerings look positively Jurassic.

Chamber Music

On Thursday at Portland’s Old Church, Friends of Chamber Music hosts another in its entertaining Not So Classic series shows devoted to performers who add a touch of fun, folk, pop, and/or world music spice to the usual heavy duty chamber music menu. Janoska Ensemble’s special sauce is sparkling arrangements of Gypsy, tango and pop music for its two violins-piano-and bass lineup. The Bratislava-born quartet has performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Royal Albert Hall to Sydney Opera House, often joining non-classical champs like Bobby McFerrin and Palo de Lucia as well as classical stars. This show features cheeky arrangements of classics by Massenet, Kreisler, Johann Strauss Jr., Bizet, Piazzolla, Mozart, Paganini and more, along with the band’s original compositions in the same spirit.

On March 25 and 27 at Eugene’s United Lutheran Church, Delgani String Quartet plays a pair of chamber classics by Sergei Prokofiev and Alexander Borodin, plus a swinging contemporary piece that the fine New York violist/composer Ljova (Russian-born Lev Zhurbin) wrote for Brooklyn Rider. Culai, named after the founder of the great Gypsy ensemble Taraf de Haïdouks, ripples and sways with Roma dance rhythms.

Portland Piano International brings Dénes Várjon to Portland State University.

Portland Piano International brings much-respected and -recorded Dénes Várjon to Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall Saturday to play bagatelles by Beethoven, various works by Bartok, nocturnes by Chopin, and Ravel’s great Gaspard of the Night. On Sunday, along with a Mozart sonata and a fantasy piece by Schumann, he tackles one of the all-time biggies by another Hungarian master: Liszt’s Piano Sonata in b minor.

Vocal Music

Portland all star choir The Ensemble brings two of its star singers and chamber ensemble to perform a pair of Italian Baroque classics on March 24 at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church, and March 25 at Portland’s Old Church. Giovanni Pergolesi’s famous Stabat Mater belongs on any list of 18th century sacred music masterpieces, but it’s often performed by much larger forces than it was written for. When you strip it down to the basics, those singers better be fantastic because there’s nowhere to hide. Fortunately, Catherine van der Salm and Laura Beckel Thoreson are among the Northwest’s finest classical singers. They’ll also perform a less-well known Italian masterpiece of the period, Giovanni Battista Ferrandini’s dramatic Il pianto di Maria, which sounds so much like early Handel that it was long mistakenly attributed to him.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: celebrations and appreciations

This week's Oregon concerts celebrate a famous composer's centennial, an Oregon professor's creative  work, early Italian baroque, female composers, and American jazz

The adventurous Portland/Seattle ensemble Sound of Late premieres Book of the Dark by American composer Alan Shockley at their Saturday night informal, hour-long show at Portland’s New Expressive Works. The chamber music score incorporates references to James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, moody English composer John Dowland’s darkly compelling Lachrimae, occult symbolism, and more.

Sound of Late performs at Portland’s N.E.W. studios Saturday

The intriguing program also includes the still-startling solo flute showcase Diaphonic Suite #1 by one of America’s first great female composers, Ruth Crawford (who later added a husband and a surname, Seeger), a chamber ensemble arrangement of Arvo Part’s choral classic Summa, Argentine composer Adriana Verdié’s Confluencia and Michigan composer Alexander Miller’s Short Stanzas.

Lisa Neher performs Sunday at Lewis & Clark College.

As we noted in the previous MusicWatch, last weekend saw three Portland concerts that featured new music by female composers. This Sunday afternoon, a free recital at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel offers another. Her Songs: A Recital of Music by Women, features composer, mezzo-soprano and L&C alumna Lisa Neher and pianist Stephanie Thompson performing songs by early 20th century French composers Germaine Tailleferre and Lili Boulanger, California’s Gabriela Lena Frank, Broadway composer / lyricist / conductor Georgia Stitt, and Neher herself.

Since graduating from Lewis & Clark, Neher has built a career as choral performer and vocal recitalist and created One Voice Project, a one-woman performance combining contemporary poetry and new musical works for unaccompanied voice chosen through a call for scores and teaches college in Iowa.

Continues…

Sunwook Kim review: subtle touch, dynamic range

Versatile Portland Piano International recitalist knows when to exercise restraint — and when not to

By ANGELA ALLEN

Sunwook Kim opened his January 14 Portland Piano International recital with J.S. Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564, written for organ (think majestic, reverential, full-voiced) and ran furiously through the opening toccata. The word, toccata, comes from the Italian toccare, to touch, and Kim certainly had touch: his technical virtuosity, his fingers dancing like glittering lights, was unquestionable. But what about dynamics?

In 1900 when Busoni published his piano transcription of Bach’s original (likely written about 1712; most of the dates of Bach’s organ works are undocumented), he took plenty of liberties, including with dynamics, though like a harpsichord, an organ’s dynamics can be hard to express. But Busoni is reputed to have rescued Bach’s work from overwrought romanticism anachronistically imposed by other arrangers, and by the time Kim finished the three-movement piece, he showed he had far more than bravura in his tonal repertoire. The subtle touch and varying dynamics that surfaced there continued throughout his recital.

Portland Piano International presented pianist Sunwook Kim on January 14. Photo: John Rudoff/SipaUSA.

Kim won the prestigious International Leeds Piano Competition when he was 18. He was the first Asian to do so and the youngest winner in 40 years. Since then, the 29-year-old Korean pianist has carried a heavy load in his lithe hands to keep up the international reputation, but he’s doing quite well at it, playing with some of the world’s best orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw and the Berlin Radio Symphony, among them.

Portland Piano International presented him on Jan. 13 and 14 in its Solo Series at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. His two-hour recitals, featuring different repertoires, fell smack in the middle of MLK weekend. The 475-seat auditorium wasn’t full on Jan. 14 for the concert I heard, but he didn’t seem to mind. Blessed with sleek hair long enough to fling creatively but short enough to stay out of his eyes, he filled the hall with technically precise, multi-dimensional music, though he does have a jones for the Germans.

Kim knows their music well. He played works by Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert Schumann. Though he did not make a special request for the PSU Hamburg Steinway, he sounded quite comfortable with it. Europeans are used to playing Hamburgs over the New York version. The Hamburgs have a slightly thicker soundboard than the New York-made pianos, so their sound is a bit more subdued. Kim produced a lot of sound out of that Hamburg, and there was nothing subdued about his performance. Again, he was all over the range of dynamics.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: still burning

Spontaneous Combustion festival continues to light a fire under the West Coast's new music scene

The Oregon portion of the valuable new Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival isn’t even half over and already it’s produced a pair of the finest contemporary classical concerts in recent memory: a spectacular performance of music by Gyorgy Ligeti and one-time Oregonians Lou Harrison and Benjamin Krause by Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet, and a sublime and varied solo recital by Boston flutist Orlando Cela that revealed some gems by young, lesser known composers (a welcome hallmark of the festival so far) as well as Astor Piazzolla and others. Oregon rarely gets performances by rising young national performers who play this music full time, with adequate rehearsal.

One of the most exciting recent additions to Oregon’s new music scene, the festival continues through Feb. 2 with major new music performers including daring New York cellist Ashley Bathgate and City of Tomorrow wind quintet. Tonight (Wednesday) at Portland’s Classic Pianos, 3003 SE Milwaukie Ave., New York’s Iktus Duo plays flute and percussion music by Oregon’s Lou Harrison and less well known composers including Joseph Pereira, Adam Vidiksis, James Romig, Bruce Hamilton and more.

On Friday, at The Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave., New York’s Sandbox Percussion (which has premiered many new compositions, performed at prestigious festivals, collaborated with LA’s visionary The Industry opera company, and includes young percussion phenom Ian Rosenbaum, who so impressed Chamber Music Northwest audiences with his sensational performances of electrifying music by the fabulous rising young composer Andy Akiho) plays his music, works by American composing eminence Steve Reich and more.

The Delgani Quartet reprises the most dazzling of the pieces they played so brilliantly in Portland in their hometown at United Lutheran Church, 2230 Washington St. on Sunday afternoon January 28 and Tuesday night January 30. The great late 20th century avant garde composer Georgy Ligeti’s Métamorphoses Nocturnes takes off from where his countryman Bartok’s magnificent masterpieces left off — but turns into an impish, kaleidoscopic carnival ride (complete with drunken waltz) that had the Portland audience both chuckling and cheering. The other quartet on the program, Beethoven’s op. 131 from 1826, was considered as avant garde in his time as was Ligeti’s at its birth in 1954. It’s now deservedly regarded as one of the greatest compositions ever written, and one of Beethoven’s own personal favorites.

Isata Kanneh-Mason performs Friday and Saturday in Portland Piano International’s Rising Star series.

New music by an Oregon composer — and one of Portland’s most valuable musicians, pianist/ composer/ educator Darrell Grant, tops the program at Isata Kanneh-Mason’s recital Friday at Friday, Jan 26: 7:00pm at Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd. and Saturday at Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St. Grant’s Darker Angels: Reflections on Hiawatha, (commissioned through Portland Piano International’s admirable Rising Star program that pairs new music by Oregonians with emerging young piano talents) draws on source material from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s 24 Negro Melodies, which in turn was based on Negro spirituals, West African folk themes, and the composer’s own encounters with W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Appropriately, the multiple-prize- winning 21 year old British prodigy, part of a distinguished family of acclaimed young musicians, also plays music by that late-19th century fellow Afro-British musician, as well as Prokofiev’s short, early third sonata, Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata and Ravel stately, melancholy Pavane for a Dead Princess.

Amplified Repertory Chamber Orchestra of Portland has galvanized Portland’s classical music scene by using well-designed sound amplification and state-of-the-art lighting effects to enhance its performances of classical music in ways most other concert goers have come to expect. Their performances Friday at Eugene’s Whirled Pies and Saturday at Portland’s Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., ArcoPDX unveil a couple of firsts for the band: vocals and classically enhanced arrangements of non-classical works, three songs by Depeche Mode, the ‘80s synth lords whose music ruled dance clubs and eventually stadiums, and whose recent tour was one of the biggest of the year. The shows also include dark classics by J.S. Bach, Dmitri Shostakovich, Arvo Part and more.

Continues…

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.

Continues…

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.

Continues…