Weekend MusicWatch: The season begins

Night catches up with day on this equinox, providing more time for the evening activities that entice ArtsWatchers. Although the Oregon Symphony has performed a couple of relatively pop-oriented concerts already, this weekend brings what hard core classical types consider to be the start of the real classical season, with Carlos Kalmar leading the band in a meaty, all-Russian program highlighted by Sergey Prokofiev’s great Violin Concerto #2, plus Rachmaninoff’s Symphony #2 and a popular Glinka overture.

The fall classical music scene got off to a stumbling Thursday in Eugene when the season-opening star, the great Dawn Upshaw, suddenly canceled her appearance with the Eugene Symphony. Not only did this deprive classical music fans in Eugene (and Portland, where she was scheduled to perform next weekend with the OSO) of one of the state’s favorite visiting stars (who has family here), it raised concerns about Upshaw’s health, as she waged a battle with breast cancer a few years ago.

In my interviews with her over the years, I’ve found Upshaw to be just as down to earth, thoughtful and generous as she appears onstage, and thanks to her easy connection with audiences (most recently here in a riveting, all-20th century music Portland Friends of Chamber Music recital in January 2009) and commitment to new music and to educating future generations of singers, she is without question one of the most important musicians of our time. We hope she’s well.

Fortunately, the ESO was able to find another audience-friendly replacement on short notice: pianist Andre Watts, playing that much more famous Rachmaninoff Second — his virtuosic Piano Concerto #2. And the orchestra received some compensatory good news in the form of a $100,000 grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust to boost its education and community engagement programs. The Newport Symphony and Salem Chamber Orchestra also open their seasons this weekend.

Portland Opera also kicks off its season this weekend, with yet another in a series of smart events aimed at broadening its audience beyond the hard core. This time, it’s a free Saturday street party, starting at 5 p.m. for the proles who can’t afford the toff-level tickets for the season opening fundraiser, which benefits outreach programs like this one.

Thanks to an ample screen set up outside Keller Auditorium, everyone can watch the actual performance of opera’s greatest hits going on inside. PO also wisely engaged the city’s two alt-opera companies, Electric Opera and Opera Theater Oregon, plus a rockabilly band, to perform out front before the show begins, along with the Marx Brothers — or at least their filmed incarnations in the classic A Night at the Opera — for an after-concert, starlight viewing.

Portland Opera plans a knockout season-opening street fair

A couple other benefits this weekend help two important Portland new music institutions. On Friday at Bamboo Grove the Creative Music Guild, which regularly brings the kind of beyond-the-edge music you just don’t find elsewhere, presents several of the city’s most compelling improv oriented performers, including Better Homes & Gardens (sound artist Tim DuRoche and members of Blue Cranes), experimental composer Daniel Menche, and more. And on Saturday, Gallery 135 hosts a benefit for the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, featuring some of the city’s most inventive younger jazz stalwarts.

There’s still more local new music onstage Friday night at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, with an all-women’s music program (the first of several impressive distaff dominated shows this fall that we’ll be telling you about) by members of Cascadia Composers and performed by several top classical musicians. And on Tuesday, the same venue features what promises to be an absolutely beautiful concert of 20th century classical sounds performed by Northwest New Music, a most welcome recent addition to the city’s burgeoning alt.classical scene and featuring an all-star guest lineup that includes University of Oregon violin faculty member Fritz Gearhart, Portland Youth Philharmonic conductor David Hattner (on clarinet), Third Angle pianist Susan DeWitt Smith, and more. They’ll be playing a couple of haunting works heard at Chamber Music Northwest’s Wanmu Percussion Trio show this summer: the wonderful Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree and Toward the Sea, and Debussy’s Syrinx and one of the last century’s most compelling musical statements: French composer Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

As Takemitsu showed, there’s more to classical music than what comes from the West, and you can hear some of it Sunday at Portland’s idyllic Lan Su Classical Chinese Garden, when guest musicians from southern China (who’ll also be performing at the UO in Eugene soon) will perform rarely heard music from that region. Some of the city’s own  classical Chinese musicians will also perform, as will student musicians and dancers from the Wisdom Arts Academy, which this concert benefits.

Finally, if you’re planning on seeing Portland Center Stage’s all-African American staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s great musical Oklahoma!, which  opens this weekend, you might head over to Portland’s Goodfoot on Saturday night to hear a terrific jazz band from that state perform a powerful response to the notorious genocidal race riot that devastated Tulsa’s black community in 1921. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s ambitious Race Riot Suite tells the story in purely instrumental terms, in part by using contrasting sounds (e.g. lap steel guitar, blues) associated with each race.

We all lament the impending end of summer sunshine, but with evening events like these to tempt us, bring on the night!

Top image: A Night at the Opera in the Year 2000, by Albert Robida, ca. 1882. / Via Wikimedia.

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