resonance ensemble

MusicWatch Monthly: Radioactive glowing disk returns to Oregon!

Summer arrives, with festivals, season closers and sun

Caution: Radioactive glowing disk has returned to Oregon’s skies! Remember your sunscreen! Remember your sunscreen! Message repeats.

Edvard Munch, The Sun, 1911, oil on canvas, 14.9 x 25.5 feet, University of Oslo, Norway. Wikimedia Commons

Five weeks and one day

There’s an old zen saying: you should meditate 20 minutes every day unless you’re too busy, in which case you should meditate for an hour every day.

Two festivals of contemporary classical music hit Portland this month, and if you’re too busy for one you should make time for the other. Chamber Music Northwest starts June 24 and stretches well into July, with local and international musicians performing everything from tons of Mozart to a bunch of stuff by contemporary composers. Meanwhile on June 27 Makrokosmos, now in its fifth year, crams a similar density of breadth and excellence in a one-day festival of Takemitsu, Crumb, and other modernist composers.

“Makrokosmos Project V: Black Angels”
June 27
Vestas Building

Bicoastal pianists DUO Stephanie & Saar present the best value in Portland’s contemporary music scene: Makrokosmos Project, a one-day mini-festival which has evolved into an annual feat of endurance for Portland new music nuts. This year, local pianists join Ho and Ahuvia to present the complete piano music of Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, spread across two of the evening’s four segments, along with other piano works by John Luther Adams, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Olivier Messiaen. The mini-fest ends with the Pyxis Quartet’s performance of George Crumb’s gorgeously nightmare-inducing Black Angels: “Thirteen Images from the Dark Land” for electric string quartet (you read that right). One ticket gets you a five-hour mini-festival with free cheese and wine. Hard to beat.

Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival: Week One
June 24 – 30
Kaul Auditorium at Reed College
Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University
Alberta Rose Theater

Clarinetist extraordinaire David Shifrin ends his nearly four-decade run as CMNW Artistic Director with an opening week full of clarinets. No fewer than 27 all-star clarinetists perform two centuries of clarinet music ranging from Mozart—the first great composer to write for the instrument—to new works by Libby Larsen and Michele Mangani.

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Music makes the message come alive

Resonance Ensemble concert features all women singers and composers

The first movement of Melissa Dunphy’s new choral composition LISTEN sets texts from Anita Hill’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, with lines like “I thought he respected my work” and “When I was asked, I had to tell the truth, I could not keep silent.” In February’s Portland performance by Resonance Ensemble, which commissioned it, chants on “he-he-he” and “no-no-no” formed a rhythmic and harmonic canvas across which stretched long, tortured, almost Lutosławski-esque melodies. The second movement took this sound world even further, setting lines from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s 2018 testimony with a thicket of dense dissonant counterpoint, ending on “my responsibility is to tell the truth.”

On the screen above all this were pictures taken at both testimonies. Hill looking over her shoulder. Ford looking straight ahead, hand raised, terrified and determined. At a certain point it felt like a horror movie, and a reminder of the ways in which our actual reality has become a horror movie. I’ll tell you another time all about the gasps and tears in the room, during this piece especially, and about the way we all held each other afterwards and reassured each other that it was okay to feel afraid and angry and helpless and mortified and terrorized.

Resonance Ensemble reprises its popular concert featuring women singing music by women.

It was a cool misty February at Cerimon House in Southeast Portland, the local vocal group Resonance Ensemble was starting its concert Women Singing Women, and up on the screen above the stage was an old black-and-white photo of Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, fists raised. Over the course of the next 90-odd minutes, a few hundred photographs of women would appear on that screen, from Amelia Earhart and Barbara Bush to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Portland’s own Ursula K. Le Guin, ending (spoiler alert!) with a return to Steinem and Pitman-Hughes, 40 years later, fists still up.

The sold-out concert was, as the name suggested, an afternoon of women singers performing music composed and arranged by women (they scheduled an encore, which also sold out). As we’ve previously discussed the Bechdel-Wallace effect in music here, we’ll limit ourselves to quoting Steinem, who wrote (in her 1992 self-esteem book Revolution from Within):

Each of us with hearing and vocal cords can sing, yet many of us have been embarrassed out of this out of this primordial pleasure by self-consciousness and shame at the sounds we make. Our critical, conscious self literally stifles our voice. And, as with any other human capacity, the less we use it, the less we believe it to be worth using.

It’s a theme I often hear from women working in classical music, and especially composers. At the post-concert Q&A, the composers Melissa Dunphy and Portland’s Stacey Philipps both described themselves as latecomers to composing. Philipps talked about the long history of women composers being ignored or married off, and Dunphy said “a lot of women are late-comers to composing.” Resonance Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon added that she was not able to find a female conducting teacher until she was working on her doctorate. It’s not just women who experience this, of course—that Steinem quote perfectly pierced this male heart—but it’s usually women leading the way in doing something about it. We need concerts like this. It’s nice when they sound good too.

The singing at Cerimon House started with Ruth Moody’s “One Voice,” Resonance soloists Brittany Rudoi, Sarah Maines, and Cecily Kiester singing “This is the sound of one voice…This is the sound of voices two…This is the sound of voices three”—a clever bit of musical wordplay in physical space leading to the rest of the choir coming in on “This is sound of all of us,” a beautifully resonant sound in the sonically spacious but physically close and intimate room.

FitzGibbon stepped to the microphone and said, “It’s very important you hear my voice today.” She described the concert’s theme as “exploring the ways women’s words are sometimes silenced, sometimes heard, something needing to be heard.” She also offered what would prove to be very necessary trigger warning about the concert’s content: “these are difficult things to hear, but important to hear.”

Resonance Ensemble conductor and Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon. Composers Melissa Dunphy Stacey Phillipps. At Cerimon House for February 3rd Women Singing Women concert. Photo courtesy of Resonance Ensemble.
Melissa Dunphy, Katherine FitzGibbon, Stacey Philipps. Photo courtesy of Resonance Ensemble.

It’s become all too easy to do Social Justice Music. Our time (by which I mean this era in which we can communicate and organize with anyone, anywhere, anytime) has come to be defined by a broad range of social issues all stemming from the simple fact that we can discuss and organize around subjects and experiences that were previously invisible to polite society. Some of the big examples would include the Occupy Movement, Black Lives Matter (started by three women), #metoo (started by one woman, amplified by another, and then by so many others), the rise of international corporatism and global fascism (and their opponents), and other such difficult and important topics.

Clearly all of this is a good thing, terrifying and overwhelming though it all may be at times (we’ll come back to FitzGibbon’s trigger warning), and in many ways our era fits the old sense of the word “apocalypse”—an unveiling. All of this should be talked about, and it should appear in our art. Our music should address it, because our music is our lives and our lives cannot be separated from the great movements of our time.

This being Portland, Social Justice Music concerts have been springing up like wildflowers in May rain, and sadly the majority of these concerts have been boring and lazy, leaning on their social relevance as a crutch for inferior art. And it ends up cutting both ways: if you’re not going to make good music to support your social justice message, you’re going to undercut the message itself.

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MusicWatch Weekly: reflections on divisions

Concerts feature new music inspired by today's American polarization

As we were saying last week, considering how unfairly under-represented they are on classical concert programs, a startling number of the 21st century’s finest composers in the classical tradition are women, who have managed to surmount centuries of barriers to musical gender equality. In Women Singing Women, Portland’s all-star choir Resonance Ensemble does a bit to redress the imbalance with an entire concert directed by a woman (Resonance Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon), performed by women (including the singers and pianist Kira Whiting), and featuring entirely works by women composers. The program features the world premiere of a major commission by rising young composer Melissa Dunphy that sets words from last summer’s excruciating Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings spoken by Prof. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. The concert also includes arrangement of Suzanne Vega’s hit “Blood Makes Noise” by Resonance’s Maria Karlin, and works by Carol Barnett (who’s written appealing works as diverse as a Bluegrass Mass to compositions influenced by Cypriot and Greek music), music by Portland choral conductor/composer Joan Szymko, Lori Laitman, Ysaye Barnwell, new original poetry by Portland’s S. Renee Mitchell, and more.
Sunday, Cerimon House, 5131 NE 23rd Ave. Portland.

Resonance Ensemble performs Sunday.

From his smart, funny Craigslistlieder a decade ago to his gorgeous historical evocations of Los Angeles (where he grew up) to orchestral works like emergency shelter intake form (performed last spring by the Oregon Symphony) and Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States (performed at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival), Gabriel Kahane has emerged as one of America’s foremost young contemporary classical music voices. After the election catastrophe of 2016, the Brooklyn singer-songwriter-pianist-guitarist embarked on a two-week train trip across the country, striving to understand our national polarization. Traveling nearly 9,000 miles sans cellphone and internet connection, he instead tried to connect personally with Americans an inhabitant of any hipsterville might never otherwise encounter — not through digital intermediaries, but through their stories. In his new album Book of Travelers, whose music he’ll perform solo with piano in this Chamber Music Northwest concert, he turned conversations with fellow travelers — truck drivers, postmasters, engineers, nurses — into an intimate album’s worth of understated songs for just his voice and piano — a musical portrait of a troubled nation on the brink of wrenching political upheaval. Kahane tells poignant stories through the eyes of the characters he observes with empathy and understanding.
Wednesday, The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave. Portland.

Gabriel Kahane performs Wednesday at Portland’s Old Church. Photo: Josh Goleman.

Despite today’s polarization, several other concerts feature music that reflect artists’ countervailing tendencies toward bringing cultures together. One of the most popular ensembles brought to town by Friends of Chamber Music, the entertaining Dalí Quartet, composed of members from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the US, returns for a program of 20th-century and contemporary Latin American classical music. The program features a tango ballet by Argentina’s great nuevo tango composer Astor Piazzolla, a powerful quartet by his countryman Alberto Ginastera, another by Brazil’s Heitor Villa-Lobos, and other hidden gems you’re not likely to hear on any standard American classical chamber music program.
Thursday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland

The Dali Quartet performs at The Old Church in Friends of Chamber Music’s Not So Classic Series. Photo: John Green.

• Portland State continues its celebration of the great 20th century composer Francis Poulenc in Poulenc and the Piano, with this free noon concert (live streamed here) featuring faculty members playing his spiffy 1932 Sextet for piano and winds and his setting of of the children’s tale The Story of Babar for piano and narrator.
Thursday, Lincoln Recital Hall, PSU.

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Oregon Music 2018: looking outward

Socially engaged sounds, multimedia productions, and other trends in 2018 Oregon music

Last year’s music roundup first looked homeward. ArtsWatch’s 2017 music coverage focused, as we have from the outset, on our state’s creative culture: music conceived and composed in Oregon. We touched a lot of other bases, too of course, and homegrown music remained a touchstone our 2018 coverage and this recap.

But as with other Oregon artists this year, Oregon music increasingly gazed outward — and often askance — at our nation’s continuing descent into turmoil, division, lies, and political corruption, starting right at the top and oozing down. Therefore, so did much of our music coverage. So we’ll start with what ArtsWatch’s David Bates called…

“Socially Engaged” sounds

Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic and choir Resonance Ensemble devoted entire seasons to contemporary classical music that responds to today’s social issues.

Resonance Ensemble preview: questions of faith
Choral organization’s ‘Souls’ concert is part of a season-long musical exploration of timely social concerns
Brett Campbell, February 23

‘Bodies’ review: Pride is a verb
Resonance Ensemble’s Pride Week concert commemorates LGBTQIA community’s struggles and celebrates its creativity.
Matthew Andrews, August 14

Resonance Ensemble

Resonance Ensemble: amplifying ‘Hidden Voices’
Vocal ensemble’s collaborative concert features musical responses to experiences marked by racism and resistance.
Matthew Andrews, November 17

Fear No Music: music of migration and more
New music ensemble demonstrates dedication to diversity and development.
Matthew Andrews, December 10

New music ensemble Fear No Music

Other classical music organizations also presented issue-oriented new music.

Oregon Symphony reviews: immigrant songs
Fall concerts include a world premiere theatrical commission and 20th century works by immigrant American composers
Matthew Andrews, January 9

Lawrence Brownlee preview: a journey
In a Friends of Chamber Music recital, the celebrated tenor sings a Romantic classic and a new, timely composition about America’s most pressing crisis
Damien Geter, April 2

Shredding it at “Pass the Mic” camp.

Portland Meets Portland
The innovative “Pass the Mic” summer music camp pairing music pros and young refugees and immigrants will give a free concert Friday.
Friderike Heuer, July 14

David Ludwig: telling the earth’s story through music
Composer’s Chamber Music Northwest commission inspired by ancient Earth, threat of extinction from human-caused climate change.
Matthew Andrews, July 27

Gabriel Kahane’s new oratorio confronts America’s empathy deficit
Commissioned, performed and recorded this week by the Oregon Symphony, ’emergency shelter intake form’ humanizes homelessness.
Interview by Matthew Andrews, August 28

Multimedia

Besides addressing today’s social issues, another trend among some classical music organizations in 2018 was updating their presentations by augmenting music with other art forms such as theater, literature, visual arts, and more. At ArtsWatch, we try to provide constructive feedback on how these often experimental productions worked, so we can help risk-taking artists move forward into unexplored territories — without leaving the audience behind.

Fin de Cinema’s “Beauty and the Beast”: spirit of discovery
Latest mix of classic film and Portland contemporary music captures Cocteau creation’s mix of beauty and grit.
Douglas Detrick, January 23

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Cappella PYP, Portland State choirs, and In Mulieribus perform Richard Einhorn’s ‘Voices of Light’ during a screening of Dreyer’s film Friday.

‘Voices of Light’ preview: trial by fire
Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus, Portland State University choirs perform Richard Einhorn’s popular oratorio ‘Voices of Light’ with Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc.’
Brett Campbell, January 25

“Tesla” lab report
Harmonic Laboratory’s ambitious experimental multimedia performance produces mixed results.
Brett Campbell, February 6

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Resonance Ensemble: amplifying ‘Hidden Voices’

Vocal ensemble's collaborative concert features musical responses to experiences marked by racism and resistance

It’s a testimony to Portland choral group Resonance Ensemble’s sense of community that they collaborate with and share their concerts with other artists—sometimes several. At Resonance’s October 21 Hidden Voices concert, the choir shared the spotlight with journalist-turned-poet S. Renee Mitchell, BRAVO Youth Orchestra, and local gospel choir Kingdom Sound. Together, they performed music by a pair of composers both born in 1980: Australian Melissa Dunphy and Resonance’s own Damien Geter.

“Remain Hopeful”

Reverend Terry McCray-Hill welcomed the packed, restless audience to Northeast Portland’s Bethel A.M.E. Church, where the mix of Resonance enthusiasts and regular Bethel churchgoers made for a gathering more diverse—racially and religiously as well as across age and class boundaries—than most Portland concerts, an integrated solidarity which has become especially important in these fractured times. “I dream a world,” McCray-Hill said, “where hidden voices can find a comfortable place to scream out who they are.”

Kingdom Sound gospel choir performed at Resonance Ensemble’s ‘Hidden Voices.’ Photo: Rachel Hadiashar

Resonance Ensemble’s founder and Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon described the group’s commitment “to presenting powerful performances of music that will, hopefully, make change happen in the world.” This season—their tenth—continues Resonance’s tradition of socially conscious music making, each concert spotlighting timely issues: upcoming concerts focus on women’s voices and the health challenges of childhood and parenthood, and Hidden Voices focused on experiences marked by racism and resistance.

“Today we celebrate artists of color, composers of color,” FitzGibbon continued. “We have some music today that is really challenging; I think music should challenge us,” she said, warning the audience of the presence of violence in the music, and closing with a promise of hope. “What a gesture it is to remain hopeful.”

She’s right: collaboration, consistency, and commitment are all acts of resistance against complacency, a way of meeting challenges and overcoming them.

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MusicWatch Weekly: freedom songs

Socially conscious sounds highlight this week's Oregon music

In focusing on the music of the past, classical music programming has too often ignored the concerns of the present. But over the past couple years, some Portland classical music organizations have focused on issues of social and especially racial justice — none more conscientiously than the all star choir Resonance Ensemble, which devoted last season to music and poetry related to some of today’s most pressing social concerns.

Resonance Ensemble performs Sunday.

Sunday afternoon’s Hidden Voices concert continues that commendable emphasis by taking the music out of the usual concert halls and bringing it to Bethel A.M.E. Church, 5828 NE 8th Ave., Portland’s oldest continuously operating black church, and also Oregon’s only African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Composer Damien Geter sings with Resonance Ensemble. Photo: Kenton Waltz.

With help from BRAVO Youth Orchestra (Portland’s version of Venezuela’s groundbreaking El Sistema program that brings classical music training to kids who otherwise couldn’t afford it) and Derrick McDuffey and the gospel ensemble Kingdom Sound, they’ll perform the world premiere of a movement from Resonance singer (and ArtsWatch contributor) Damien Geter’s Requiem, which sets texts by African-American men killed by police, and the West Coast premiere of American Dreamers, a piece by young Australian-American composer Melissa Dunphy (whose Gonzales Cantata was performed last week by Portland’s Big Mouth) that sets texts by five Americans who came to the U.S. as undocumented children. Resonance Poet in Residence S. Renee Mitchell contributes another original work.

• The 20-member Soweto Gospel Choir, which performs “Songs of the Free” Wednesday night at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, often mixes traditional and popular music from around Africa with exuberant American gospel styles and even pop music arrangements by African diasporites like Jimmy Cliff, Otis Redding and Bob Marley. Winner of top gospel music awards and Grammys, the choir has scored a world music chart-topping album, worked with members of Queen and Bono, and performed for Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Composed of some of the finest singers around Soweto and Johannesburg, its concerts present a striking visual as well as auditory experience, replete with multi colored traditional costumes, high kicking synchronized dance moves, and accompanying percussion such as the djembe drum. Even when they sing Xhosa and a half dozen other languages, the ensemble supplies English explanations of the stories behind the songs.

Portland Taiko at its fall 2016 concert. Photo: Brian Sweeney.

• Another Portland music institution whose programming has recently responded to today’s social concerts, FearNoMusic, joins Portland Taiko in music that responds to the American government’s brutal imprisonment of innocent American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. In Sunday night’s Sticks + Strings concert at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave., the new music group accompanies the Japanese percussion ensemble’s drummers in the premiere of Dango Jiru for taiko, flute, violin, and cello, a new work by FNM artistic director Kenji Bunch, Portland’s hottest contemporary composer, who’ll also play his haunting solo viola, Minidoka, inspired by his visit to one of those concentration camps. Portland Taiko will also perform one of their own pieces on that subject and other works.

Kenji Bunch plays his own music with Portland Taiko.

Orchestral Highlights

• Portland Baroque Orchestra’s weekend concerts at Portland’s First Baptist Church and Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium not only present some of the standards of baroque music — Vivaldi’s Op. 3 violin concertos — but also some of the Red Priest’s equally ebullient music for singer (this time, Czech soprano Hana Blažíková) and orchestra: In furore iustissimae irae, RV626 and Nulla in mundo pax, RV 630.

• Another historically informed band, Emerald Chamber Orchestra, with singers Phoebe Gildea and Trevor Cook perform J.S. Bach’s fun Peasant Cantata (featuring a farmer and a tax collector) and his famous Orchestral Suite #2 at Eugene’s Christian Science Church Auditorium at 14th and Pearl Streets.

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Oregon Symphony’s diversity deficit

Orchestra’s 2018-19 classical programming fails to reflect its hometown’s inclusive values

by DAMIEN GETER

The Oregon Symphony opens its 2018-19 Classical Series Sunday with a musically diverse program and a glittering star — Renee Fleming. As varied as the concert selections are, though, they all have one thing in common: they were all written by white people. In fact, in the orchestra’s entire main classical subscription series this season, only one composer of color, out of about 46, is programmed – Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto.

This is not a phenomenon happening only with the Oregon Symphony, or only among Oregon orchestras. African American composer Evan Williams noted that he considers himself among the lucky after landing a commission with the Cincinnati Symphony. That piece, however, was not recorded — and was performed only on a children’s concert.

Composer Evan Williams

“There isn’t a lot of music by black composers being played, and often when it is, it’s in February [for black history month].” Williams says, “It feels like an afterthought.” Unfortunately, no one in the League of American Orchestras, the member organization that supports the nation’s symphony orchestras, or the Oregon Symphony keeps track of the statistics surrounding programming composers of color.

Narrow Expectations

Granted, other special concerts feature a variety of performers and composers of color targeted toward a very specific audience, like gospel Christmas. “The classical subscription series makes up less than half of our total programming,” says Natasha Kautsky, vice president of marketing and strategic engagement for the Oregon Symphony. “Through a wide variety of musical offerings, we target virtually every demographic across economic and social groups. While other larger orchestras may have a majority of classical concerts, our mix is much more diverse.”

Carlos Kalmar led the Oregon Symphony’s season-ending concerts.

But those “special” concerts are not led by the music director, meaning the regular patrons of the Oregon Symphony are not exposed to the music of this under-represented group of composers in its regular, sixteen week classical subscription series — the largest source of revenue for the orchestra, which plays for a mainly white demographic. Orchestra decision makers, like any business operators, work to keep their customers, or in this case, audience happy. And that audience has been trained by many decades of demographically narrow programming to expect a certain product. Continuously programming mostly music from the popular Viennese composers and other 18th and 19th century Europeans has resulted in an audience that wants more Beethoven, and Brahms. That also means, in Portland, Tchaikovsky is sure to make an appearance each season. But not composers of color.

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