Oregon Music 2018: looking outward

Socially engaged sounds, multimedia productions, and other trends in 2018 Oregon music

Last year’s music roundup first looked homeward. ArtsWatch’s 2017 music coverage focused, as we have from the outset, on our state’s creative culture: music conceived and composed in Oregon. We touched a lot of other bases, too of course, and homegrown music remained a touchstone our 2018 coverage and this recap.

But as with other Oregon artists this year, Oregon music increasingly gazed outward — and often askance — at our nation’s continuing descent into turmoil, division, lies, and political corruption, starting right at the top and oozing down. Therefore, so did much of our music coverage. So we’ll start with what ArtsWatch’s David Bates called…

“Socially Engaged” sounds

Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic and choir Resonance Ensemble devoted entire seasons to contemporary classical music that responds to today’s social issues.

Resonance Ensemble preview: questions of faith
Choral organization’s ‘Souls’ concert is part of a season-long musical exploration of timely social concerns
Brett Campbell, February 23

‘Bodies’ review: Pride is a verb
Resonance Ensemble’s Pride Week concert commemorates LGBTQIA community’s struggles and celebrates its creativity.
Matthew Andrews, August 14

Resonance Ensemble

Resonance Ensemble: amplifying ‘Hidden Voices’
Vocal ensemble’s collaborative concert features musical responses to experiences marked by racism and resistance.
Matthew Andrews, November 17

Fear No Music: music of migration and more
New music ensemble demonstrates dedication to diversity and development.
Matthew Andrews, December 10

New music ensemble Fear No Music

Other classical music organizations also presented issue-oriented new music.

Oregon Symphony reviews: immigrant songs
Fall concerts include a world premiere theatrical commission and 20th century works by immigrant American composers
Matthew Andrews, January 9

Lawrence Brownlee preview: a journey
In a Friends of Chamber Music recital, the celebrated tenor sings a Romantic classic and a new, timely composition about America’s most pressing crisis
Damien Geter, April 2

Shredding it at “Pass the Mic” camp.

Portland Meets Portland
The innovative “Pass the Mic” summer music camp pairing music pros and young refugees and immigrants will give a free concert Friday.
Friderike Heuer, July 14

David Ludwig: telling the earth’s story through music
Composer’s Chamber Music Northwest commission inspired by ancient Earth, threat of extinction from human-caused climate change.
Matthew Andrews, July 27

Gabriel Kahane’s new oratorio confronts America’s empathy deficit
Commissioned, performed and recorded this week by the Oregon Symphony, ’emergency shelter intake form’ humanizes homelessness.
Interview by Matthew Andrews, August 28

Multimedia

Besides addressing today’s social issues, another trend among some classical music organizations in 2018 was updating their presentations by augmenting music with other art forms such as theater, literature, visual arts, and more. At ArtsWatch, we try to provide constructive feedback on how these often experimental productions worked, so we can help risk-taking artists move forward into unexplored territories — without leaving the audience behind.

Fin de Cinema’s “Beauty and the Beast”: spirit of discovery
Latest mix of classic film and Portland contemporary music captures Cocteau creation’s mix of beauty and grit.
Douglas Detrick, January 23

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Cappella PYP, Portland State choirs, and In Mulieribus perform Richard Einhorn’s ‘Voices of Light’ during a screening of Dreyer’s film Friday.

‘Voices of Light’ preview: trial by fire
Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus, Portland State University choirs perform Richard Einhorn’s popular oratorio ‘Voices of Light’ with Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc.’
Brett Campbell, January 25

“Tesla” lab report
Harmonic Laboratory’s ambitious experimental multimedia performance produces mixed results.
Brett Campbell, February 6

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ArtsWatch Good Reads 2018

2018 in Review, Part 9: A Fab 15 of ArtsWatch well-told tales worth a second look

Marc Mohan wonders if it matters that the Oscars are a flop. Martha Ullman West revisits the Big Apple of her youth. John Foyston considers sleek cars and fast motorcycles at the art museum. John Longenbaugh starts a podcast “for some very stupid reasons.” Maria Choban and Brett Campbell relate the fascinating tale of a Sri Lankan engineer determined to build the first Pandol new year’s shrine in America. David Bates dives deep into the strangest epic poem you’ve never heard of. Laura Grimes recalls a day of traffic jams, lost glasses, Ursula K. Le Guin, and … pickles. TJ Acena talks gentrification with performance artist Penny Arcade.

The world’s overflowing with stories, and in 2018 ArtsWatch writers grabbed hold of a bunch worth a second look. Here, for your enjoyment, is a Fab 15 of tales well told.

 


 

The Oscars are dying. So what?

March 9: “This year’s telecast drew record low ratings, down a whopping 20 percent from last year’s already dismal numbers,” Marc Mohan wrote in the wake of this year’s television debacle. “… As someone who religiously watches, and even generally enjoys, Tinseltown’s annual festival of self-love, I find myself, perhaps surprisingly, not the least bit perturbed.

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Getting a drop on the New Year

Forget Times Square: For New Year's Eve, the Oregon Symphony downloads a concert hall of balloons at the climax of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy"

Photographs by JOE CANTRELL

First came the audience, filling downtown Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Then the musicians, and the tuning, and the program, which was fitting for a celebration: some selections from Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s sprightly and creative Nutcracker Suite; leading to a pair of pieces by the great stride pianist and composer James P. Johnson, Drums: A Symphonic Poem and Victory Stride; the full windup for Beethoven’s glorious Ninth Symphony and its Ode to Joy. Don’t forget the full-throated applause.

And then the balloons: a full concert hall’s worth, cascading from the rafters and into the crowd, bright and bubbly promises for the year to come. Eat your heart out, Times Square: This is the way to celebrate the arrival of the New Year.

Photographer Joe Cantrell was on hand for Sunday night’s big blowout of a performance by the Oregon Symphony, and captured the vitality and celebratory spirit of the scene. There was plenty of both, with vocal soloists Jenny Schuler, Sienna Licht Miller, Andrew Haji and Richard Zeller, and with a sterling chorus made up of singers from Portland State University, the Oregon Repertory Singers, and the Pacific Youth Choir. “Music, both ‘big band’ and LvB 9, was superb, fresh and bright, and Ethan Sperry’s combined choruses with the soloists embraced the Ninth for the monument to all that’s good,” Cantrell reported, adding that this year, the hall’s first few rows were left empty for the balloons to bounce freely.

What better way to celebrate New Year’s Eve? The concert repeats tonight, Monday the 31st, at 7:30 p.m. Ticket information here.

The map to the music: tracking the score.

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Ill wind blows good wood for Newport museum

A theater in the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center is being trimmed with old-growth Douglas fir blown down in the 1962 Columbus Day Storm

The Lincoln County Historical Society scored big time in 2004 when it bought a historic, French chateau overlooking the Newport bayfront. The 30,000-square-foot building with gabled roof needed work — one of the reasons the Newport nonprofit was able to buy it at a bargain-basement price — but that view, that setting, the history.

A member of the volunteer team of “old guys” works, sander in hand, at the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center. The rough-sawn wood behind him will be sanded just enough to leave a rough texture to match trim work throughout the building. Photo courtesy: Steve Wyatt

It wasn’t just the historical society that scored, so did the county. In what became the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center, it gained a museum, retained a piece of history, and saved a structure that otherwise might have faced demo crews.

Another layer of history is being added to the story. Wooden finish work is about to begin in the 2,000-square-foot Doerfler Family Theater. This is not just any old wood, but old-growth Douglas fir from trees downed atop Cape Foulweather by the 1962 Columbus Day storm. The trees were recently helicoptered out of the grove and milled at Siletz River Lumber.

Historical Society board member Bud Shoemake knew about the salvage operation and helped broker the deal for the wood. Oregonencyclopedia.org reports that after the storm, during which winds in Newport hit 138 mph, Congress passed special funding to accelerate salvage of the 11 billion to 17 billion board feet of lumber that was blown down so it wouldn’t rot. How this grove survived earlier salvaging or rot is a question to which I haven’t yet found an answer.

“It’s just amazing, gorgeous,” said Steve Wyatt, executive director of the Historical Society, describing the wood. “Just straight grain. There is not a knot of any kind in this beautiful wood.”

The 1,524 board feet of lumber will be used for extensive trim work, wainscoting, door casings, and grid work on the theater ceiling.

“In keeping with this historic property, the finish work will be similar in style to the trim work already completed on the main floor of the museum, only with a higher level of refinement,” Wyatt said.

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Stage sense: the year in theater

2018 in Review, Part 8: ArtsWatch offered varied perspectives on the methods and meanings of theater in Portland, Ashland and elsewhere.

“The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you,” the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tells us. But you — by which I mean we humans — are under an obligation, or at least a compulsion, to make sense of the universe. That’s easier said than done, of course, even if you’re focusing on a particular little slice of the universe such as theater in Oregon.

The writers and editors of Oregon ArtsWatch try to make sense — and, more crucially, to convey that sense — of the theater scene: what’s being staged, what it’s like, what it means, how it makes us feel, who the artists are and how they approach the work. Of necessity, we mostly try to hammer out that sense show by show and week by week, with the occasional broader overview mixed in. But we hope that amid the vibrant mix of news, reviews, interviews, profiles, features, and the happy/snarky jumble of previews and commentary in the weekly DramaWatch column, readers find that a helpful and sensical bigger picture emerges.

Despite flux in the front office, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival keeps sprinkling magic across the stage, as in Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s “Snow in Midsummer,” featuring Jessica Ko (from left), Daisuke
Tsuji and Amy Kim Waschke. Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

As we look back at ArtsWatch’s first-draft history of 2018 theater, we’ll alight on major news developments, insightful cultural takes and passionate writing worthy of another look.

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The Art Gym moves to PAM

The contemporary NW art center, adrift since Marylhurst U. decided to shut down, finds a home for its vital records – but not its programming

THE ART GYM HAS LANDED. The crucial center for Northwest contemporary art has been hunting for a new home since its host, Marylhurst University, decided to shut down. Marylhurst and the Portland Art Museum announced on Friday that the museum and its Crumpacker Library will take over The Art Gym’s important exhibit catalogs, historical documents, trademarks, proprietary rights and website.

Installation view of “Fernanda D’Agostino: The Method of Loci” at The Art Gym in 2013. D’Agostino is a featured artist in the upcoming exhibition the map is not the territory, opening February 9, 2019, at the Portland Art Museum.

The agreement does not include, at least for now, arrangements for continuing programming or a curatorial position. But the vital records have a solid and accessible home. There is some hope that funds will be found to continue in some form The Art Gym’s style of Northwest programming at PAM, although not in a separate Art Gym gallery: It is likely, if it happens, to be folded into the museum’s own contemporary programming. Marylhurst released this statement: “Under state law, Marylhurst needs to seek court approval for the distribution of some endowments, like the Eichholz fund, and it is in the process of doing that. The university remains hopeful that all of the funds will eventually serve to preserve the legacy of The Art Gym at the Portland Art Museum.”

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Oregon Cultural Trust: Giving once is giving twice

Double your gift to the state's arts and cultural organizations without forking over more money? Such a deal!

When I visited the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in July this year, the temperatures were on the hot side, but unlike a few previous years, the air was clean and at night, quite pleasant and fresh. Given the vast conflagrations in California earlier in the summer, I thought the festival might just miss the smoky days that had plagued its productions sporadically earlier in the decade. I knocked on wood, but I failed to throw salt over my shoulder.

The subsequent outburst of forest fires in northern California (creeping into Oregon) and Washington started filling up the Rogue Valley with smoke later that month—the source of the smoke alternating with wind direction—and continued into September. If you’ve been to Ashland for the festival, you know the largest theater on the campus, the Allen Elizabethan Theatre, is open to the skies and the smoke. As a result, the festival had to cancel or move (to a much smaller indoor theater) 26 productions from that 1,190-seat theater—more than they have had to cancel or move a production in the past five years combined.

Detail from Sheryl LeBlanc’s “Fire in the Log Yard.” Photo: Jon Christopher Meyers

The company figures that the cost of all that smoke is in the neighborhood of $2 million. I would add the phrase, “at least.” No one can determine exactly how many visitors decided to skip a spur-of-the-moment trip to Ashland because of all that smoke. That’s too bad, financially for the festival, of course, but also because a lot of people missed some excellent productions. From my point of view, this season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was the best as a whole that I’ve ever seen, and I go back to the early 1980s (with a few missing years, here and there).

Lucinda Parker, “Slash Fire, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 36”

Now, I’m about to suggest that if you’ve enjoyed the festival before, hope to enjoy it in the future, or just acknowledge that its existence is good for the state and the country, you might contribute some money to help the company get past this particular disaster. (You can contribute online: https://www.osfashland.org/Rising.) But I’m going to impose on your good will a bit more.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with a total budget around $40 million, has by far the largest budget of any arts organization in the state. A $2 million revenue hit would crash almost any of them—of course, only a very small percentage of arts organizations in the state have budgets in excess of $2 million. Most of those are especially fragile, even in an economy as strong as Oregon’s is right now, because they lack endowments or sufficient cash reserves that could buffer them from sudden financial upsets. (The confluence of a major national recession and a big snowstorm in Portland during “Nutcracker” season almost pushed Oregon Ballet Theatre over the edge in 2009, for example).

So, right, here’s the ask: If you have the funds and disposition to give, please donate to your favorite arts and culture organizations this holiday season, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. They depend on it, and small gifts are welcome. Oregon ArtsWatch itself is a nonprofit organization, and we know how important small gifts are: The entire ethos and economy of both Oregon arts groups and nonprofit arts journalism sites involves doing a lot with a little—and doing TONS with more.

But don’t stop there!

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