the julians

 

Friends of Brian Tierney raise their voices to help the recuperating singer and family. All photos: Erin Riddle and Parallel Photography.

 

The unseasonably balmy weather outside Northeast Portland’s All Saints Catholic Church last Sunday reflected the warm feelings within as several hundred friends and admirers of singer Brian Tierney gathered to support the 29-year-old tenor, who was critically wounded in a still-unexplained shooting March 28. By the time it ended some three hours later, the event had transcended its announced purpose — though it certainly achieved that, to the tune of nearly $20,000 raised to help defray the family’s medical expenses — into a celebration of a popular musician and an expression of this city’s musical community.

Most of the participants had played or sung with Tierney, who shines as one of the brightest of the stellar Portland choral circuit, in high demand in performances demanding a strong, precise tenor presence or solo. He’s sung in the Portland State University choirs, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Cappella Romana, Resonance Ensemble, Oregon Repertory Singers (who were unable to participate because of their own simultaneously scheduled concert), Portland Opera Chorus, Cantores in Ecclesia, and more. He’s made a lot of music, and a lot of friends.

Brian Tierney

Pianist John Stuber and violinist Mary Rowell opened the proceedings with the familiar meditation from Jules Massenet’s opera Thais, followed by the clear voice of tenor Cahen Taylor in the spiritual “Shall We Gather at the River.” Other performers offered reprises of pieces performed in recent months: Cappella Romana, a section of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil; 45th Parallel, a movement of Dvorak’s “American” string quartet; The Ensemble, “Mystica” from Benjamin Britten’s Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (which Tierney had been scheduled to sing a few days after the shooting); and the Julians, two selections from their last concert. Cantores in Ecclesia excelled in a movement from William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, Portland Vocal Consort sang Portland-born composer Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on This Shining Night,” and Resonance Ensemble “I Have Had Singing.”

The groups share so many members that sometimes it was hard to tell them apart. I spotted the members of In Mulieribus, too, singing with the other groups though not as a unit. Soprano Angela Niederloh performed Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Silent Noon” and Robert Schumann’s “Widmung,” both accompanied by pianist Kira Whiting. The Portland Opera Chorus heralded next month’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide with an exceptionally potent version of “Make Our Garden Grow,” and although they’re not a professional choir like the other performers, the St. Michaels and All Angels Choir, which Tierney helps direct, sounded just as eloquent in Herbert Howells’ “Like as the Hart.”

Elizabeth Bacon, Beth Madsen-Bradford, Margie Boule

Their director, Scott Tuomi, one of Tierney’s voice teachers, delivered a brief, pitch- perfect speech about the stricken singer and the event. “You all know why we are here tonight,” he said. “We’re here to transcend the events that brought us together and celebrate the love, joy and God’s grace in the miracle that Brian is recovering, and will be back to sing with us again. And Brian will sing again, with a voice that was described recently in a sermon as ‘a gift from a particularly generous God.’”

Former Oregonian columnist and local TV newswoman Margie Boule, who emceed the affair with her usual graciousness, established a non-doleful mood from the outset — not about mourning, she declared, but a celebration of survival — and kept things moving despite the inevitable occasional hitches in such a complex, hastily arranged affair. She and two of the event organizers, Julians executive director Elizabeth Bacon (who attended PSU with Tierney and performs with him in PVC and Resonance Ensemble) and Beth Madsen-Bradford (who performed with Tierney with Mock’s Crest Theater), updated the audience about the donations and family needs, and they and others told stories about Tierney that showed what a funny, loving and admired figure he is in Portland’s choral music community. (The third main organizer was another PSU friend, Zakk Hoyt.) Tierney’s wife, Katie, drew smiles and tears when she thanked the gathered friends for all their help.

But it was Brian Tierney himself, though still hospitalized and unable to attend, who had the best line of the night, delivered in a note that his wife read to his assembled colleagues.

“I always knew that my dangerous lifestyle of stay at home dad/ church musician and opera singer would catch up with me someday, “ Tierney wrote. Everyone laughed, releasing the tension (and some tears) that had built up over the past few weeks. His next line further lightened the mood. “I am feeling more ‘saint-like,’” you know, ’cause I’m hole-y.” Groans ensued; Katie continued.

When I heard what you all were going to be singing tonight, I was a little jealous that you all get to sing such beautiful music, because under different circumstances, I would be right up there with you! There are no words to thank you for the amount of generosity, prayers, support and love that we have experienced. You are helping us to make it through this tough time, and I want you to know that I am getting stronger everyday and I WILL be singing with you all again soon!
All my love,
Brian Tierney

Although I’ve heard him sing often, I’ve never met Brian Tierney, but after hearing his words and those of his friends, and the music they made for him, I’m pretty sure I’d like him a lot.

Katie Tierney

Tuomi conducted the combined choirs in a stirring “The Promise of Living,” from Aaron Copland’s opera, The Tender Land, just after Tierney’s other main mentor, former PSU choir director Bruce Browne, led them in Josef Rheinberger’s “Abendlied.” Browne captured the spirit of the event in his brief remarks, thanking Tierney “for giving us the chance to show our best selves.” As Browne suggested, what started out as a benefit about a single injured member of the Portland music world had by the end of the evening evolved into a celebration of the powerful spirit of community that knits so much of this unusually collaborative musical community together. It’s a testament not just to Brian Tierney but to those who join him in making music here. As his friend Bacon said, “all you out there, you know that if anything happens to you, we’ve got your back!”

Contributions to the Brian Tierney Fund can be made at www.friendsofbt.com. Update: We’re told that Brian is now home from the hospital, and that as of May 1, contributions to the fund have surpassed $42,000.

Portland Jazz Fetival

Portland jazz legend Thara Memory conducts the Artfully Miles orchestra at Portland Jazz Festival. Credit: Fran Kaufman

The big music news of the weekend — which turned into one of those can’t miss culture maven events that spring up in Portland every few months — was unquestionably Friday night’s FearNoMusic tribute to the 20th century’s most influential composer and perhaps cultural figure, John Cage. FNM and various guest musicians from Portland State University and even Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar, Portland Opera associate conductor Robert Ainsley, and other top area musicians performed 11 of Cage’s provocative works in various spaces of Portland’s spectacular new YU art center. We’ll have much more to say about this dizzying event — and its subject — soon.

Cage’s influence might be detectable in the next most interesting performance — it’s not precisely a conventional concert — of the weekend. On Sunday, Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral collects two of the Northwest’s finest vocal ensembles, In Mulieribus and Cappella Romana, along with alt classical stars Portland Cello Project (whose new album has been announced for May Day, with release parties in April), koto virtuosa Mitsuki Dazai, Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen, and musicians from Portland Baroque Orchestra, the Oregon Symphony and more to sing, read and play music and words by composers such as Hildegard of Bingen and J.S. Bach and poets including W.H. Auden. Trinity’s recently arrived music director engaged guest artistic director Stephen Marc Beaudoin to devise lighting effects to turn the grand cathedral into an installation space, and (as in the Cage extravaganza), musicians will perform in different parts of the venue.

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Chamber Music Northwest premieres Reed College professor David Schiff's new composition

This weekend brings a pair of new works to Portland, created by one of the city’s most esteemed composers and one of its newest. Both appear in concerts that bridge seemingly disparate musical worlds.

On Friday, veteran Chamber Music Northwest musicians make a winter visit to their usual summer home to perform one of the most creatively destructive works in the history of art, Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. To complement that spooky 1912 masterpiece — not coincidentally, the centennial  of Reed College, where it’ll be performed as part of the school’s 100th birthday celebrations — Reed professor and composer David Schiff composed a new work for the same instrumental combo (known for decades as the “Pierrot ensemble,” which includes  flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano and often finds the musicians doubling on other instruments like bass clarinet, piccolo, viola etc.).

“As soon as I heard they were planning a Pierrot Lunaire, I decided to mix up high and low and complicate the story of modern music,” Schiff told me last week, “so I proposed that I’d write a suite for the instruments of Pierrot based on popular music of the time.”

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Maggie Rupp dances Titania in Portland Ballet's A Midsummer Night's Dream this weekend at Portland State University. Photo credit: Blaine Covert

Last weekend’s concerts showed that artistic assets like beauty and virtuosity can make for some splendid experiences — but they’re not always enough. The Consonare Chorale’s program last weekend at Portland’s First Congregational Church comprised almost entirely music by contemporary composers, including attractive works by Portland-born Morten Lauridsen and Portland based Joan Szymko. The singers sailed smoothly through the show, which was enhanced by contributions from violinist Cecilia Archuleta and Consonare founder Georgina Philippson’s enthusiastic and engaging between-song remarks, which punctured the formality that can creep in when several dozen people in tuxes and formal dresses stand in front of an audience.

That audience seemed well satisfied by Consonare’s uniformly pretty, soothing sounds — like an evening of warm apple cider that was an ideal antidote for what immediately preceded them on my way to the concert: chilly squalls and the first 2/3 of what then appeared to be a total dismantlement of my Oregon Ducks by USC.

And yet after one relentlessly pretty, slow-to mid-tempo song after another, my ears craved something spicier, edgier. But expecting that at many American choral concerts is like going to the Rose Garden and being disappointed that the Yankees weren’t playing.  Such simple, pretty, homophonic sounds are easy for amateur groups to learn, which encourages composers to fill that demand. Over-emphasis on textural and melodic beauty has been a characteristic of a lot of American choral music over the past couple of generations, and the attendant lack of innovation and diversity is one reason there’s so little overlap between audiences for it and more exciting, experimental instrumental new music (which is also why the latter tends to get a lot more attention in the media). In particular, I missed audible evidence of the 20th century’s greatest contributions to music — the African influences that pervaded blues, jazz and the century’s great pop music explosions beginning in the 1920s; the music of other cultures that energized so many American composers; and the harmonic and rhythmic innovations that avant grade-to- progressive American composers from Charles Ives on down added to the nation’s musical palette.

If you wanted warm and soothing, though, this concert delivered. Other Oregon choirs follow the same formula, if not always performed so adroitly. But the ultimate blandness and sameness of too much of the music made me appreciate all the more the fascinating, diverse, and daring programming I’ve heard recently at PSU and Lewis & Clark’s choral programs and in groups like Oregon Repertory Singers, Resonance Ensemble, Portland Vocal Consort and others, in Oregon and elsewhere. Other choruses around the country are infusing energetic elements from gospel and the new a capella sounds into the musical bloodstream. Even the choirs that focus entirely on pre-20th century music have more muscular, complex, diverse, and/ or transcendent (and often polyphonic) music to draw on. I’m encouraged to see increasing demand for those qualities among ambitious choirs around the country. It would be great to see local choral organizations programming and even commissioning such ambitious music from local composers. And I’m looking forward to hearing the skilled singers of Consonare taking on more diverse repertoire in their March concert, which promises a mariachi band, Brazilian guitarist, and more.

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Chamber Music Amici play Baroque music in Springfield Monday

If it’s Baroque music you crave, Eugene’s the place to be this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday at First Christian Church, the Oregon Mozart Players chamber orchestra lights up the candles and goes Baroque in their annual intimate concert of 18th century music, this time featuring a J.S. Bach cantata and appealing concerti by Vivaldi, Handel, and Locatelli. On Monday, Springfield’s excellent Chamber Music Amici (consisting mostly of present and former Eugene Symphony players and/or UO faculty members) play the famous trio sonata from Bach’s magnificent Musical Offering and delicious works by three other Baroque masters:Telemann, Rameau, and Leclair. Both concerts will feature modern players using historical practices and in some cases authentic bows and even instruments.

Also in Eugene, former NBC TV anchorman Tom Brokaw joins the Eugene Symphony at the Hult Center’s Silva Hall Tuesday to narrate Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait, part of an excellent all-American program that also features Copland’s The Promise of Living (from his opera, The Tender Land), William Schuman’s New England Triptych, and most impressively, John Adams’s  moving commemoration of the victims of the September 11 attacks, On the Transmigration of Souls. And the University Symphony plays music by the greatest of film composers, Bernard Herrmann on Sunday at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall.

That Eugene Symphony concert is part of the orchestra’s multifaceted look at war and our responses to it. That’s also the theme of the Oregon Symphony’s new CD (review coming soon), which recorded last May’s program at the Schnitzer and Carnegie Hall. The concept continues this weekend at the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra’s Friday and Sunday concerts (at Portland’s First Methodist Church and Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theater, respectively), featuring Samuel Barber’s powerful Violin Concerto, Beethoven’s Symphony #3, and Frank Bridge’s Lament for Strings — all composed in response to war or its approach.

Eugeneans and other Oregon Bach Festival patrons who enjoyed German cellist Alban Gerhardt’s performances this summer can see him take the solo spotlight in Sergey Prokofiev’s cello concerto-turned Symphony Concerto, composed for the great 20th century cellist Msistislav Rostropovich at the Oregon Symphony’s concerts Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Portland choral music fans face a difficult choice among very different yet all appealing programs. On Saturday, you could hear the great Cappella Romana perform the hellacious Byzantine liturgical drama The Service of the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace, at Northwest Portland’s St Mary’s Cathedral. Or you could soak in the sublime music of Renaissance composers Palestrina and Christopher Tye at Cantores in Ecclesia’s concert at St. Stephen’s church in SE Portland. Both are part of the Journey To Light festival comprising concerts, talks, tours and more, organized by an especially industrious high school student, Katherine Brafford.

Or, you could join Portland’s Consonare Chorale, with violinist Cecilia Archuleta and pianist Jon Stuber, in contemporary settings of great poetry by Emerson, Frost, cummings, Yeats and more by current (Joan Syzmko) and former (Morten Lauridsen) Portlanders, hot choral composer and model Eric Whitacre, and others — including Adam Steele, who can’t be there because he’ll be singing across town with Cappella Romana! Or catch Satori Men’s Chorus at Portland’s Old Church, singing music by composers from Burt Bacharach to Randall Thompson. All these concerts look intriguing, but you can only make one of them. The choral scene in Portland is that rich.

Portland’s Peace Choir starts the Saturday singing off at 5 pm with a concert at St. David of Wales Episcopal Church, while The Julians, an all-star aggregation of female choristers from around the city, finish the weekend with Sunday afternoon’s concert at St Stephen’s Episcopal Parish in downtown Portland. They bring their classically trained voices to music by Joni Mitchell, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Bjork, Brahms, John Lennon and more, all focused on the differing gender perspectives on relationships.

Contemporary music fans with jazz tendencies (or vice versa) might check out composer Art Resnick’s bimusical concert at Portland’s Community Music Center. The first half features his contemporary post classical compositions, played by classical musicians including pianist Maria Choban, while the second showcases the pianist/composer’s jazz trio performing improvised music you’d expect from a musician who played with jazz legends like Freddie Hubbard, George Coleman, Nat Adderley, and others. Proceeds benefit the valuable Cascadia Composers organization.

Chamber music aficionados in Portland can catch Portland State University’s great 35-year-old Florestan Trio and guests playing music by Dvorak, Mozart and Schumann, on Sunday afternoon at PSU’s Lincoln Hall. Or the 5Tet woodwind quintet playing Brahms, a world premiere and more Saturday at Tigard’s United Methodist Church. Or violinists Tatiana Kolchanova and Mary Rowell playing Prokofiev, Bartok and more Sunday afternoon in First Presbyterian Church’s always attractive Celebration Works series, now celebrating its first decade. Alas, Portland Piano International’s recommended Monday recital by Roman Rabinovitch is sold out, but there are plenty of other opportunities to satisfy your classical music jones this weekend.

And if the choices are so paralyzing that you just want stay home, and you missed Lara Downes’s excellent set of newly written (by a baker’s dozen of contemporary composers) variations on Bach’s Goldberg Variations  performed at Portland International Piano Festival this summer, Portland’s essential all classical radio station‘s unmissable Club Mod show will be playing Downes’s recently issued CD of that music Saturday night, along with music by the superb new music ensemble eighth blackbird. The shows are archived on the station website for two weeks.

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