MusicWatch Weekly: women’s works

Oregon orchestras play music by female composers, and other January musical highlights

One of the many problems with the classical music establishment’s (finally) waning historical museum mentality is that if its artistic leaders aren’t careful, they can wind up reproducing yesterday’s regressive social attitudes on today’s stages. Long before classical music had its own #metoo revelations (one survivor being the now-wife of Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar), the institution had a long and inglorious history of sexism. Even in the supposedly liberated 20th and 21st centuries, female composers faced institutional discrimination, especially from orchestras.

Hagner plays Chin with the Oregon Symphony

• Yet still it persists. The only work by a female composer on this year’s Oregon Symphony classical season is this weekend’s atmospheric Violin Concerto by Korea-born, Berlin-based composer Unsuk Chin, which won classical music’s most lucrative prize in 2004. Deploying nearly two dozen varied percussion instruments, string harmonics, even a harpsichord, it ranges from surprisingly delicate to skittering to intriguingly colorful then ratchets up the intensity. Rising star violinist Viviane Hagner stars. Naturally, the program also contains symphonies by dead European males: Beethoven’s Haydn-esque first and Schumann’s uplifting third.
Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

• As Thursday’s Eugene Symphony concert demonstrates, women have been writing great symphonic music for decades. Last time, the orchestra featured new music from one of today’s finest composers of any gender, Jennifer Higdon. This week’s program opens with the rollicking 1943 Overture for Symphonic Orchestra by Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz. She was born in 1909, but it’s only recently that her music has begun to be widely played outside Poland. Fortunately for us, ESO music director Francesco Lecce-Chong is a fan. It’s great to see both major Oregon orchestras playing music by female composers this week. Why not every week?

Continues…

‘Amazing landscape’ inspires Sitka Center resident artists

The five new residents, who will introduce themselves Wednesday, include an underwater photographer and an artist whose work is linked to animals

Artists Isabelle Hayeur and Felix Prater, who began residencies at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology this week, both journeyed from afar to practice their craft at the retreat dedicated to fostering creativity, curiosity, and education.

They are among five new residents who will stay through May 1. Others are whale researcher Fred Sharpe, writer Matt Jones, and mixed-media artist Brenda Mallory. On Wednesday, Jan. 23, the group will share a bit about themselves at the Resident Show & Tell at 6 p.m. in the Boyden Center.

Residents spend from 2 weeks to 3-1/2 months making art, composing music, writing, or conducting research without the limitation of a product-driven residency, program coordinator Sara Haug said. “Residents are given the time and space to explore creative pursuits that are enhanced by the Sitka Center’s mission of existing in space dedicated to the intellectual pursuits of art, ecology, and the fusion of both.”

Isabelle Hayeur often works in waders in her quest to photograph life underwater.

Residents do not receive a stipend but are provided a private, fully furnished cabin and a studio or workspace for the duration of their residency.

If you can’t make Wednesday’s gathering — apologies for the short notice — you’ll have another chance when residents do final presentations April 27 in the Boyden Studio. In the meantime, here’s a look at two of the artists visiting our coast.

Continues…

Jane Austen, upended

Kate Hamill's Sense and Sensibility at Portland Center Stage is a lively, bawdy, physical comedy, somehow faithful to the 1811 novel.

If you know anything about Jane Austen and/or Sense & Sensibility, you’ll be surprised to arrive at the Armory to find actors mingling on stage in contemporary dress, in what could very well be a modern-day apartment. This continues until the play starts, when ultra-modern dance music starts and the cast members shake their contemporary bodies.

As they dance, 19th-century music begins to play as, one by one (or two by two), the cast members shed their modern-day clothing for flowing white undergarments, which they’ll wear in various forms for the remainder of the play.

No, this is not your typical Jane Austen. And it’s not your typical theater production, either. Instead, playwright Kate Hamill — inspired by the dearth of roles for women in theater — has created something entirely unique: a lively, bawdy, physical comedy centering on the lives of women that feels far removed from and yet somehow faithful to the 1811 novel.

Quinlan Fitzgerald (center) is suitably charming to both suitors and audiences in “Sense and Sensibility” at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory.

Credit for the intense theatricality of this production, though, has to be at least partially given to director Eric Tucker (who has directed previous productions of this play, first at Bedlam, the theater company in New York where Tucker is artistic director). Tucker’s direction calls for acrobatics and pratfalls and upended scene staging (so that actors perform and staging is carried out in such a way that the audience is looking down on the scene from above; you have to see it to really believe it, but it’s marvelous).

For this production, Portland Center Stage and Tucker have assembled a fabulous and agile cast of characters. Most members of the cast take on multiple roles, including the gossips that are so prevalent and destructive in the lives of our protagonists, the elder Dashwood sisters of Austen’s novel. Those two sisters are wonderful counterpoints to one another: the reserved and resolute Elinor (Danea C. Osseni, returning to PCS after portraying Nettie in last fall’s beloved production of The Color Purple) and the passionate and fun-seeking Marianne (Quinlan Fitzgerald, who is fabulous and scene-stealing, and whom audiences will fall for right along with her onstage suitors).

Continues…

The start of an art-full year in Yamhill County

Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center and The Gallery at Ten Oaks in McMinnville kick off 2019 with six exhibitions well worth a look

Looking ahead at what 2019 holds for Yamhill County’s art scene, nothing has astonished me quite like the calendar for the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. A dozen exhibitions are booked and the year is virtually full, although one can be reasonably sure that the occasional pop-up will happen — like the current exhibition of art by students from George Fox University.

Stan Peterson’s “Together” (carved and painted basswood) is part of “A Catalyst of Empathy” show at the Chehalem Cultural Center.

Program manager Carissa Burkett had room available in the center’s half dozen exhibition spaces, so she called the university’s art department, and they delivered. Lists like these are subject to change, of course, but what’s currently on the calendar ought to give you some idea of how ambitious this nonprofit art center is in connecting the community with visual art produced by Oregon artists.

I was there earlier this month on a gray Wednesday morning and spent a wonderful hour or so soaking up the new exhibitions. Here’s what’s going on:

Tim Timmerman’s “Genuine, Authentic” (watercolor, gouache, colored pencil and collage on paper) in the “Catalyst of Empathy” show

A Catalyst of Empathy by Tim Timmerman & Stan Peterson: In the Parrish Gallery you’ll find nearly 30 mixed media works by George Fox University art professor Tim Timmerman and more than a dozen wooden carvings by Portland artist Stan Peterson. Collectively, the pieces “explore narratives that speak with sincerity through a somewhat whimsical lens, striving as best as they are able to encounter the ‘other’ with benevolence and generosity.”

I was intrigued by the way Timmerman seems occasionally to vary his drawing style, particularly
with faces; to my eye, it was not immediately obvious that all the pieces were done by the same artist, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s an interesting show, and children are likely to enjoy the sculpture work, most of which pairs animals with other animals or people. The show runs through March 2.

Toward the rear of the building in the Founder’s Lobby, you’ll find 35th & Harrison, which features oils on wood panels by Abi Joyce-Shaw that contrast the objects she and her partner brought to their apartment with the fixed architectural features found there. The exhibition “considers the ways in which temporary housing is transformed from an impersonal to personal space. Personal possessions, acts of care and traditions make these spaces our own. The objects one selects to display and live alongside provide a tangible reflection of the resident’s character, or, by extension, a reflection of the relationship between people.” This show also runs through March 2.

Head down the east hall, and you’ll find that George Fox University Student Exhibit, in the Central Gallery, which runs through Feb. 2. There’s work here by 14 students — oils, photography, drawings, sculpture and even a comic and a zine entitled Stalked On Campus.

Continues…

‘Il Trovatore’: clarity amid complexity

Soprano Angela Meade stars in Seattle Opera's vivid production of Verdi's violent tragedy

by ANGELA ALLEN

Il Trovatore (The Troubadour) at Seattle Opera’s McCaw Hall Hall through Jan. 26, is a death-soaked, secret-infused and passion-obsessed opera. Giuseppe Verdi’s gory tale of revenge and jealousy is one juicy piece — when it doesn’t stumble like a lame warhorse.

Which it didn’t. With an intricate plot, mixed identities, terrible secrets and musical beauty and lyricism, it conjures up a well-crafted Shakespearean tragedy. And as with Shakespeare, the audience must pay close attention to fully appreciate it. Thanks to great singers and smart production choices, SO told the tale well.

Michael Mayes (di Luna) and Martin Muehle (Manrico) in Seattle Opera’s ‘Il Trovatore.’ Photo: Philip Newton.

The plot is complicated and fueled by the parents’ sins visited upon their offspring. Brothers Manrico, the troubled troubadour (Brazilian tenor Martin Muehle) and the entitled Count di Luna (baritone Michael Mayes) are at battle with each other, but they don’t know they are brothers. The gypsy, Azucena, who burned her own child instead of one of the royal brothers in a revenge plot for her mother who was burned at the stake, rears Manrico and pretends to be his mother, but keeps this secret from him. Then there is the love interest, noblewoman Leonora (soprano Angela Meade) caught in the middle.

Leonora loves the tenor— and spoiler alert —dies for him. He dies, too, beheaded by his unsuspecting brother, the Count. Beheading and witch-burning are portrayed in shadowy form behind a scrim, but prepare for violence, if not bloody. Program notes compare the violence level to Game of Thrones.

As Verdi said, what else is life but death? His two young children and 26-year-old first wife died within months of one another, so death was on the composer’s mind.

Continues…

DramaWatch: Planning for a bountiful harvest from Fertile Ground

Portland's wide-ranging new works festival offers more than you can manage alone. Plus, new shows from Portland Center Stage, Portland Playhouse and others.

“Conceived and organized by the Portland Area Theater Alliance, Fertile Ground is a new, 10-day, city-wide festival dedicated to the creation and promotion of original works for the theater. Home-grown and wide-ranging, it both reflects and nurtures the creativity, aesthetic diversity and collaborative spirit of Portland’s performing community with three dozen projects in all. Even in these cold, hard times (in terms of the weather and the economy) it looks like something fun and invigorating enough to take root on the highlight calendar of Northwest arts events.”

Doesn’t seem so long ago, really, that I wrote that — in my former life as theater critic for The Oregonian — about the first Fertile Ground festival in January of 2009. Surely enough, the festival did take root and very quickly grew into one of the city’s mid-winter cultural staples. Not only did that first iteration provide proof of concept (a.k.a., “It works!”), but it delivered memorable works such as Christine McKinley’s science-themed coming-of-age musical Gracie and the Atom, Ezra Weiss’s Mad-Hatter-hip jazz version of Alice in Wonderland and Nancy Keystone’s rocketry epic Apollo.

Right off the bat, attendance was in the 10,000 range. Soon, the number of plays/projects/performances on offer doubled, and Fertile Ground became a reliable hot house for buzz-worthy work: The North Plan, Famished, Dear Galileo, Willow Jade The Huntsmen, The Tripping Point, 99 Ways to Fuck a Swan, The Hillsboro Story, My Mind Is Like an Open Meadow, The Snowstorm…

Maureen Porter joins the CoHo Clown Cohort for “Witch Hunt,” a seriously comic take on Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” as part of Fertile Ground 2019. Photo: Urban Body Project.

So here we are at the 10th anniversary of that inaugural edition, with the 11th annual festival set to kick off on January 24. Chances are good that a critical and/or popular consensus will lift a few of the 70-some presentations to memorable status and/or further development and/or subsequent productions. But the whole idea here is that these shows are new; so while we may have hunches about what’s promising based on the artists involved or the idea they’re pursuing, no one really knows what you really ought to see. Of course there’s the matter of subjectivity. Topics range from Shakespeare to BDSM (er…if you have to ask…), and while my personal “Don’t care!” sign starts flashing red at the thought of, say, vampire stories or circus arts, you might think me a hopeless dolt to be intrigued by a Chekhov adaptation or a drama about gun control.

And schedules only complicate the matter further! For starters, not everyone can do a full Kay Olsen on the thing (Portland theater insiders know what I mean). With so many shows, at venues spread across Portland and (a bit) beyond, at conflicting or overlapping times, even a full-time commitment to the festival wouldn’t allow you to see even half.

So.

Decisions, decisions.

Continues…

Oregon College of Art and Craft finds another potential partner

The OCAC-PNCA merger is off, and Portland State is OCAC's new suitor

While the Oregon College of Art and Craft was seeking to join forces with Pacific Northwest College of Art this fall, it was also talking to Portland State University about a possible deal. Those talks are heating up. The statement yesterday from PSU: “Portland State is currently conducting a feasibility study of a possible acquisition of OCAC.”

Written mostly from the perspective of PSU, Jeff Manning’s story for OregonLive today framed the story as part of PSU president Rahmat Shoureshi’s efforts to expand his university’s arts footprint.

“We’re committed to investing in expanding our College of the Arts whether or not we pursue this opportunity,” Shoureshi told Manning. Shoureshi said that adding the faculty and facilities of OCAC would make the PSU College of the Arts a top 10 arts department nationally.

Manning also reported that OCAC had incurred $685,649 in expenses beyond its total revenue in 2017, that the school owed more than $1.5 million to lenders at that time, and had a $1 million payment due in 2018. OCAC didn’t reveal whether the college or its foundation had made that payment, but Shoureshi said that OCAC wanted PSU’s decision on the merger made by April. “They’re under financial pressure,” Shoureshi said, “they need answers.” PSU’s involvement in a rescue of OCAC is contingent on raising money to cover the costs of the merger, Shoureshi said.

The Oregon College of Art and Craft campus/Photo by Bruce Forester

The OCAC campus on Southwest Barnes and Leahy roads is a considerable asset. Previous 990 returns by the college have valued it around $10 million, and the acreage right along Barnes and Leahy could easily be developed without disturbing the campus itself. And at the end of its 2015-16 fiscal year, OCAC’s foundation had assets (mostly in the form of investments) of $1,930,700.

*****

I reached out to OCAC for more information about the fall discussions with PNCA, and the college asked to postpone talks with me until the end of January. I’ve reached out to them again to answer some new questions about their perspective on the PSU acquisition, but they haven’t responded to my queries. If they respond later today, I’ll post their answers here.

UPDATE: Here is the OCAC official statement, which is all they want to say at this point.

Portland State University and Oregon College of Art and Craft are exploring a potential agreement for partnership that is mutually advantageous to both parties.  Uniting OCAC and PSU would establish a more robust foundation for Portland’s higher education in the arts, while expanding and diversifying opportunities for students.

*****

If you read Manning’s story on OregonLive today, you might have thought, “Didn’t OCAC merge with PNCA this fall?” The quick answer: They didn’t, though we can be forgiven for thinking so. That’s because the public narrative about the proposed merger between PNCA and OCAC plunged into the murky depths this fall. After a round of positive stories about the likely success of merger talks early in the process, two of the city’s legacy journalism companies, The Oregonian/OregonLive and OPB, both published stories announcing that the merger had been approved and was going forward. That was wrong, and six weeks later any possible deal was off the table.

Let’s just look at the bullet points:

  • September 10: President Denise Mullen leaves OCAC for personal reasons. Jiseon Lee Isbara, Dean of Academic Affairs, is appointed Interim President for the college.
  • Early October: PNCA president Tuski announces to PNCA students, staff and faculty that the boards of the two institutions were in talks about joining forces.
  • October 3: The Oregonian’s Everton Bailey Jr. quotes Tuski in a story on October 3: “In our first meeting, people at OCAC were thinking the same thing that we were, that if we could do this, we could really take the next step to be an art, design and craft school that rivals anything in the country, and that’s really the goal,” Tuski said.
  • November 1: Oregon Public Broadcasting’s April Baer reported that the merger was set: “Oregon’s two major, standalone art schools have voted to merge,” she wrote. And then she said the schools were negotiating a memorandum of understanding to determine the shape of that merger. Her quotes from Tuski and Isbarra seemed definitive proof of the merger: “By any measure, OCAC is in a place that needs to explore proactive solutions for a sustainable future,” Isbara told Baer. “The current higher education environment has proven to be precarious. We believe the merger will strengthen the merged colleges’ future.” And Tuski was already imagining that future: “It will be a new culture created by faculty, staff, students and alumni of both schools,” he said. “Art, design and craft schools about creating something new, authentic or original. This is where two strong art schools are going to do this together.”
  • November 2: The Oregonian’s Douglas Perry built on the OPB report: “The Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft have voted to combine, OPB reports.” He adds later, “A new name and how exactly the two schools and their programs will combine remain to be worked out. Some job losses are expected because of the merger.”
  • December 14: The Oregonian’s Amy Wang reported: “After three months of discussion, the boards of both schools voted Friday against the merger, calling it “not a feasible option” at this time, according to statements from both schools.”

As it turns out, the PNCA board on October 26 resolved “that PNCA will continue to discuss the possibility of a merger with OCAC and will begin the process of negotiating an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding], which, if agreed to by both parties, and voted on independently by each college’s Board of Governors, will begin the merger process.” That was an important step in any merger, but it clearly doesn’t actually constitute a vote to merge. And by December 14, those boards decided against the merger, having failed to agree on a memorandum of understanding.

Maybe there is some humor in this—a misunderstanding about a memorandum of understanding. Typically, merging organizations give themselves several exit ramps during the merger dance. If early talks go well, they often start negotiating an MOU, basically a non-binding agreement that they have enough common interests to keep talking. After they agree on an MOU, they start negotiating the merger itself, a binding legal agreement that actually merges the two institutions. In this case, PNCA and OCAC, for whatever cluster of reasons, were unable to produce a memorandum of understanding, let alone dot the i’s on a contract to merge.

*****

The idea of a merger between Portland’s two arts colleges—Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft—has never made real sense to me, if we take financial necessity out of the equation. We’ve heard about talks along these lines for a long time, even before the Portland Art Museum mothership ejected PNCA from its pod in 1994, perhaps simply because few American cities support more than one art and design college, none the size of Portland.

But the cultural differences have always seemed insurmountable to me. OCAC sits on ample acreage on Barnes Road, and its mentorship approach to teaching the fine points of the craft tradition even today recalls the best parts of the Medieval apprenticeship.

PNCA has spent most of its history as an independent institution either in the middle of the transforming Pearl District or, now, situated on busy Northwest Broadway, between the Pearl and Old Town. And its program has adjusted to the constant shape-shifting of contemporary art practice and to the rise of Portland as a significant American design city.

For most of their history, the two have been rivals for students, donors and even for such cultural “prizes” as the Museum of Contemporary Craft. PNCA won that contest, though only a few years after the victory, it shut down the museum and sold off the building. Which still stings in many corners of the city’s arts community.

As American arts and design schools have, both PNCA and OCAC have struggled financially. Costs are up and enrollments are down across the board. But during the past decade, both have had solid leadership and, despite the economic headwinds, they’ve accomplished some major feats that required effective organizing and mobilization of Oregon’s smallish donor base. OCAC expanded its campus and became an accredited college, while PNCA managed to secure that new HQ on Broadway. Still, the fundamentals—especially the decline in the number of college-age students and the society’s hard-right turn toward profit and thus chasing white-collar jobs, entrepreneurial success or both—have been against them.

Their weakness is relative. The PNCA budget is more than twice the size of OCAC’s and its enrollment numbers are substantially larger, 595 to around 180, though Manning pegged OCAC enrollment at 138.

PSU is vastly larger than either PNCA or OCAC. It will spend around $590 million in its 2018-2019 fiscal year. And in addition to the economic, cultural and demographic changes that PNCA or OCAC face, PSU also has to deal with the vagaries of state politics. Manning’s story goes into those in some detail. The cultural differences between an urban state university and a small, private art college are immense.

*****

We will add to this story (or more likely, write additional stories) as this new chapter in OCAC’s history unfolds. An “acquisition” and a “merger” have different meanings after all.