Weekend MusicWatch: Choirs Go Contemporary

Resonance Ensemble  performs Saturday and Sunday in Portland.

Resonance Ensemble performs Saturday and Sunday in Portland.

This weekend’s Oregon music offerings include contemporary music by actual Oregonians, sung by choirs, played by a symphony orchestra, and performed by a renowned singer and Oregon chamber ensemble. This week, rather than listing by date or genre, we’re changing things up a bit by putting some of our top recommendations at the top! Since we’re in the process of asking you readers for support, we’d like to give you the opportunity to weigh in on these decisions. With so much music going on every weekend in Oregon, what’s the most user-friendly way for us to tell you about it? Please let us know in comments how you prefer to read these listings — by date? by instrumentation (orchestral, chamber, choral, etc.)? by consulting the I Ching?

Resonance Ensemble, Saturday, Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis & Clark College, and Sunday afternoon, May 18, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland State University. One of the city’s finest choirs sings luminous new music from Pacific Northwest composers (including a commission by Portland’s Renée Favand-See) and Scandinavia. It’s an excellent chance to hear two of the most vital institutions in contemporary Oregon music in one concert. Read my Willamette Week preview.


Oregon Percussion Ensemble, 2 pm Sunday afternoon, First Presbyterian Church, Portland. One of Oregon’s most compelling contemporary music institutions, the University of Oregon group has continued presenting a wide variety of percussion works (from gentle and mellow to exuberant) under director Sean Wagoner, the Eugene Symphony percussionist who took over after the untimely death of his mentor and its founder, Charles Dowd, a few years ago, and now co-directs OPE with Prof. Pius Cheung. Now, thanks to the intrepid Celebration Works series, Portlanders at last get to experience what Eugeneans have long enjoyed, shed stereotypes of percussion music (it can be gentle and nuanced as well as slam-bang), and experience some of today’s most striking sounds. The concert includes Thierry De Mey’s crowd-pleasing Table Music, performed at Portland’s Time Based Arts Festival a few years back, in which three seated players somehow conjure a delightful musical conversation simply using their hands and a table; Steven Simpson’s Radioactive Octopus inspired by the Fukushima nuclear disaster; Nathan Daughtrey’s Silent Canyons, which references the 13th century disappearance of Native American Anasazi tribes from their Southwest homeland; Steve Snowden’s A Man with a Gun Lives Here, based on the secret codes used by hobos as they roamed the country during the Great Depression; and Martian Tribes by Emmanuel Sejourne.

Portland State University Chamber Choir performs indoors Sunday.

Portland State University Chamber Choir performs indoors Sunday.

Portland State Chamber Choir, Sunday, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, Portland. Last summer, the PSU group became the first-ever American choir to win Italy’s prestigious Seghizzi competition in its 52-year history. Anyone who’s seen them perform since Prof. Ethan Sperry took over as director four years ago will understand why: its combination of creative and accomplished performances, varied repertory (including abundant music from our own time) and youthful excitement makes PSUCC performances rival if not better many of the state’s veteran choruses. They’re returning to international competition this summer at major festivals in British Columbia and Spain, and you can hear what they’ll be singing there this weekend, as well as support their travel, at the choir’s CD release/benefit concerts. Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar conducts the choir in music by Anton Bruckner and contemporary Danish composer Per Norgard, and Sperry leads performances of music from Indonesia, Latvia, North America (Samuel Barber’s great Reincarnations), Britain (music by Henry Purcell) and Estonia (a composition by the hot youngish composer Ēriks Ešenvalds).

Oregon Symphony, Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland. Violin virtuoso and classical music poster boy Bell gets the headlines for his performance of one of the greatest violin concertos, which Jean Sibelius wrote in 1904. But don’t overlook the other two impressive works on the OSO’s classical season-ending concert, one of the year’s most attractive orchestral programs: a rare foray into a contemporary work, Portland native (and one-time Portland Youth Philharmonic member) David Dzubay‘s colorful eleven-minute Snake Alley, a 1989 piece the composer (who’ll be here for the performance) calls a sort of “An American in Taipei,” and Igor Stravinsky’s beautiful breakthrough 1910 ballet score, The Firebird.

Vancouver Symphony Chamber Music Series, Sunday, Kiggins Theatre, Vancouver. Oregon composer John Paul conducts his new original score for clarinet and string trio to F.W. Murnau’s 1930 silent classic City Girl.

Cecile Licad, Friday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University. Read my Willamette Week preview.

Ronu Majumdar and Indranil Mallick, Saturday, First Congregational Church, Portland. In this Kalakendra concert, the renowned Varanasi-born bansuri (bamboo flute) master and tabla player perform Hindustani music.

Chamber Music Amici, Monday, The Shedd, Eugene. For its first concert at the downtown Eugene venue, the Springfield-based ensemble joins the terrific Oregon Bach Festival trumpeter Guy Few for a deliciously uncommon program of music by Saint-Sans, Dvoarak, Persichetti and Baldassare.

Laura Wayte and David Rogers, Sunday, United Lutheran Church, Eugene. The early music singer and lutenist/oud master/vihuela virtuoso/guitar genius perform traditional Sephardic songs (which combine Spanish and Middle Eastern influences) and other Spanish and Italian songs from the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries, with Rogers strumming and plucking a variety of instruments from those eras — and an electric Gibson for some contemporary settings.

Christine Welch Elder and Richard Bower , Friday, St. James Lutheran Church, Portland. The soprano and pianist perform songs and opera arias by that most delightful of 20th century composers, Francis Poulenc. Donations benefit Habitat for Humanity.

The Waking Guild, Saturday, The Waypost, Portland. Beth Karp plays piano in this classical meets folk ensemble, and this CD release concert (augmented by film and hula hoops) includes her arrangements of Bartok and Czech folk songs.

Portland Peace Choir, Saturday, St. David of Wales Episcopal Church, Portland. The chorus celebrates its fifth anniversary with a commendable commission from a promising contemporary Oregon composer, Portland’s Beth Karp, who set the late pacificst Oregon Poet Laureate William Stafford’s “At The Un-National Monument Along The Canadian Border.” The choir will also sing other peace-related songs, one accompanied by instrumentalists from Yiddish Republik.

Cántico Singers, Saturday, First Baptist Church, Portland. The wide-ranging choir closes its sixth season with songs by contemporary Norwegian choral composing star Ola Gjeilo, Haydn, U2, Jason Mraz, Randall Thompson’s ever-popular Alleluia, and more.

Portland Symphonic Girlchoir, Saturday, Zion Lutheran Church, Portland. The award winning organization’s 25th anniversary season celebration continues with all five ensembles singing new and old music.

Satori Men’s Chorus, Saturday, Holiday Inn Airport, Portland. The choir performs for its 20th annual fundraising event.

La Gioconda, Sunday and Thursday, Living Room Theaters, Portland. Film of a 2013 performance of Pier Luigi Pizzi’s Paris Opera production of Amilcare Ponchielli and Arrigo Boito’s 1876 operatic adaptation of Victor Hugo’s play.

And don’t forget these recommended concerts previewed elsewhere on ArtsWatch.

Estelí Gomez & Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, Saturday, Bamboo Grove , Portland, and Sunday, Beall Concert Hall, Eugene. The soprano (who sings with the Grammy award winning new music vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth) gives a vocal recital that’s one of the most attractive contemporary music events of the season. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview.

Muse:Forward, Sunday, The Waypost, Portland. Read Maria Choban’s ArtsWatch preview.

The Pirates of Penzance, Portland Opera, Saturday, Keller Auditorium. Read Bob Hicks’s ArtsWatch review.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

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