Weekend MusicWatch: The church of music

Cantores in Ecclesia performs
at the William Byrd Festival.

This weekend’s relatively sparse classical music action mostly happens in Portland churches. The annual William Byrd Festival continues Saturday and Sunday at Holy Rosary Church with liturgical services and two masses by its great English Renaissance namesake performed by the fine Portland choir Cantores in Ecclesia.

Friday offers a rare summer glimpse of instrumental Baroque music at north Portland’s St. Stanislaus Polish Catholic Church, where the early music ensemble Musica Maestrale (comprising some of the Northwest’s historically informed specialists including Portland lutenist Hideki Yamaya and Seattle viola da gamba player Polly Gibson) performs Polish music by Renaissance and Baroque composers you’ve probably never heard or even heard of — Milwid, Dlugoraj, Cato — except possibly Silvius Leopold Weiss.

On Saturday at southeast Portland’s All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Baroque oboe specialist Robert Morgan (who also plays with Chicago modern instrument orchestras and commissions new works for the instrument) headlines the annual Northwest oboe seminar and closing concert, which also features other masters of the instrument, such as Oregon Bach Festival and Chamber Music Northwest veteran Alan Vogel.

Also on Friday, the Salem Chamber Orchestra introduces its new principal conductor, Nikolas Caoile, who’ll play piano in a chamber music concert at Villa Bacca Collina featuring two 20th century masterpieces: Aaron Copland’s Duo for Flute and Piano (with Sarah Tiedemann) and Debussy’s Violin Sonata (with Daniel Rouslin).

The only classical concert I caught last week was actually in Eugene, where on Friday,  the Oregon Festival of American Music presented a performance of 20th century French music at still another (former) church, the Shedd. Why was an American music festival staging French music? Because this year’s edition of the festival explored the connections between American jazz and other popular music of the time (1920s and ‘30s) and French music. It’s all explained in the wonderfully detailed and engagingly written program book (mostly by OFAM performer Ian Whitcomb, a former British popster) that has always distinguished the festival. OFAM concerts are as much educational as entertainment experiences, but never do they feel academic, and their program books are among the best in the business.

Clairdee & Howard Alden at
Oregon Festival of American Music’s Le Jazz Hot

The spiffy program itself featured some of the most enjoyable chamber music of the 20th century, written by the young lions of Paris classical music of the roaring ‘20s, the pop-influenced Les Six (Francis Poulenc, George Auric, Darius Milhaud et al), plus their older compatriot, Claude Debussy, whom they both admired and occasionally rebelled against. The performances, however, felt a little tentative, perhaps because OFAM no longer has a classical orchestra and relied instead on the expert jazzers who were in town to perform the jazz and pop tunes of the period in other concerts (and who later demonstrated there precisely the kind of loose, easy confidence in those concerts lacking here). Nevertheless, Siri Vik’s persuasive performances of Poulenc songs and a couple of improvised excursions that took off from Auric’s pieces made up for a rough tumble through Milhaud’s Scaramouche (arranged for piano and clarinet) and other relatively stiff moments.

That evening’s jazz show, however, more than compensated. Not only were the exuberant performances of music played by Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt’s great Quintet of the Hot Club of France a joy to hear, but the impromptu stage banter among OFAM music director Ken Peplowski and fellow band members and the generally relaxed and fun atmosphere that pervades most OFAM productions made the concert one of the most fun I’ve attended this year. Of course, it helped to have masters like the great guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and Howard Alden (who contributed a couple of sensational acoustic solos), pianist Ted Rosenthal, singer Clairdee, fiddler Aaron Weinstein, a crack horn section led by UO prof Steve Owen, and really everyone involved. OFAM is one of the most enlightening and entertaining music festivals in the West.

Nancy King and Steve Christofferson at Touche

I heard some sublime jazz in Portland over the past two weeks as part of my reporting for a story in this issue of Willamette Week on one of Oregon’s greatest musicians, Nancy King, who grew up outside Springfield and attended the University of Oregon. You can see possibly the world’s finest jazz singer most Wednesdays at Touche in Portland’s Pearl District.

Speaking of jazz, that’s what multifaceted Portland drummer, sound artist, scholar and composer Tim DuRoche was doing Saturday at Beaverton’s Cooper Mountain Nature Park, as part of Oregon Humanities’ fascinating Conversation Projects program. His talk, “The Art of the Possible: Jazz and Community Building,” which featured a few musical excerpts by a trio of local jazzers, including DuRoche, who’d never played together as an ensemble, showed how communities might use some of the techniques of jazz: improvisation around commonly held ideas, exploration of individual skills melded into a common goal, shifting leadership, risk taking (“if there’s no chance of failing, there’s no chance of learning”). DuRoche termed successful jazz performances “musical barnraising” that harness diverse approaches into a constructive group creation. He urged communities to view tough controversies not as problems to be solved but rather as possibilities for exploration, like a pop tune ripe for elaboration, and suggested that we structure public meetings, so often riven by personal agendas, as instead gatherings for real conversation, with the kind of real listening jazzers must do in order to create a cohesive collaboration.

Tim DuRoche

DuRoche even offered concrete ideas to foster this kind of cooperation, like starting public meetings with a singalong and starting from places of agreement rather than dispute. To illustrate how differing directions can be harmoniously blended, he had half the dozen or so attendees sing “Home on the Range” and the other “Over the Rainbow” — two songs in different keys and time signatures — simultaneously. Members of the audience suggested various books and films that touched on these ideas. I’d like to have seen a more diverse audience (especially in ethnically rich Beaverton) and more actual conversation, but it’s tough to lure anyone inside on a sunny Oregon summer day. Nevertheless, the event showed that the arts can offer constructive metaphors for community progress. The next in this worthy series happens September 22  at Wilsonville’s Graham Oaks Nature Park, with Portland State University sociology professor Veronica Dujon.

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