Weekend MusicWatch: Oregon Voices

Stephanie & Saar play Stravinsky Friday.

Stephanie & Saar play Stravinsky Friday.

The top recommendation this weekend for Oregonians interested in the classical music of our time and place is Sunday afternoon’s concert at downtown Portland’s First Unitarian Church (1011 SW 12th, at Salmon) featuring mezzo soprano Sherrie Van Hine and other musicians performing a superb program of music by Manuel de Falla, Samuel Barber, Herbert Howells, and contemporary American composers William Bolcom, Jake Heggie, Ricky Ian Gordon, John Kander (all known for their theater music), and best of all, four of Oregon’s own: Joan Szymko, David York (both known for their choral conducting), Bonnie Miksch, and Ted Clifford, whose “If the heart could think it would stop” will receive its world premiere.

Jeffrey Kahane performs at Chamber Music Northwest Thursday and Saturday.

Jeffrey Kahane performs at Chamber Music Northwest Thursday and Saturday.

Ever since his sly 2007 breakthrough, “Craigslistlieder,” the Brooklyn-based songwriter/guitarist/pianist/composer has rightly resisted the classical label originally affixed because of his music’s relatively sophisticated arrangements and instrumentation, and the fact that his dad is a renowned classical pianist and conductor, and Oregon visitor with the Oregon Bach Festival, Oregon Symphony and more. “My latest album, Where are the Arms, is a pop record, plain and simple,” Gabriel Kahane blogged.  “Yes, it has classical elements in some of its arrangements, but it is unmistakably a collection of pop songs, architecturally speaking …. I have too much respect for the people writing what I consider to be “classical” music today to have my little pop confections considered as being in the same realm. This is not to say that I don’t think my pop music is of artistic value, but rather to say: let’s not kid ourselves by thinking that the presence of strings, woodwinds, and brass doth a classical record make.”

But he’s also written an original musical about Brooklyn, an orchestral song cycle about the WPA, and scored commissions from Kronos Quartet, LA Philharmonic, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and recorded with Sufjan Stevens, Rufus Wainwright, Chris Thile and classical pianist Jeremy Denk. Last night’s Chamber Music Northwest Kahane showcase with the Dover Quartet focused on the latter; Thursday’s concert at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium with his dad and violinist Joseph Swensen includes not only Gabriel Kahane’s own music by also miniatures by Prokofiev, Ives, Bach, Schubert and more.

The festival’s commendable sprinkling of 21st century sounds continues with Sunday afternoon’s festival-closing concert featuring Lalo Schifrin’s nine movement, tango-propelled “Letters from Argentina,” which the festival brought here a few years ago in its West Coast premiere. It’s often said that second performances of new music are rarer and more valuable than premiers, which usually at least have the value of hype. But too many worthy new pieces never enter the repertoire because they never get a second chance (it can be a sort of Mission Impossible), and are eclipsed by the fuss made over the next premiere, so kudos to CMNW’s artistic director David Shifrin (Lalo’s distant cousin, who featured his clarinet in “Letters”) for giving audiences another chance to hear a work he clearly believes in. CMNW’s growing contemporary music programming has been one of the season’s classical highlights.


Saturday’s CMNW concert at Kaul lacks anything contemporary, but it’s a winner nonetheless, with New York Philharmonic cellist Carter Brey starring with Jeffrey Kahane and Swensen in Ravel’s gorgeous 1914 Piano Trio and other trios by Mozart and Schumann.

If you haven’t overdosed on the many performances of Stravinsky’s immortal “Rite of Spring,” there’s still another chance to hear the piano four hands version performed not by its original players (Stravinsky and Debussy!) but by the young contemporary duo of Stephanie and Saar (who charmed a Portland Piano International crowd a couple summers back) in a free concert Friday at the new Portland Piano Company location in Portland’s Goose Hollow neighborhood at 711 SW 14th Ave. The show also features a four-hand transcription of a Beethoven string quartet.

Finally, you can hear an unusual form of chamber music Thursday and Friday in Portland and Sunday in Eugene, when the Japanese handbell ensemble Kiriku, which plays classical, jazz, and Japanese traditional music, brings its ringers to Oregon. Check here for details.

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