Exquisite Gorge 4: The Bee Maven

In White Salmon, artist Steven Muñoz engages a hive of community creativity to make art highlighting the danger of ecological collapse


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare
.”

W.B. Yeats wrote these words in the sixth section of his poem Meditations in Time of Civil War, longing for bees. The structures were crumbling, symbol of the destruction wrought by Ireland’s civil war in the 1920s, and rebuilding was direly needed. I was reminded of this poem and the restorative role it assigns to bees, when meeting with Steven Muñoz last week for a studio visit and an art talk in White Salmon, Wash.

Steven Muñoz, printmaker and director of the Lee Arts Center, Arlington, Va.

The printmaker is the fourth of several artists who I visited during their participation in the Exquisite Gorge project, which accumulates individual wood prints for a final printing by a steam roller in late August at Maryhill Museum. If the wait until then seems too long, you can attend an earlier opening of what promises to be a different, extraordinary print exhibition on July 13th at the museum:


Muñoz is a man who walks, talks, breathes, and, for all I know, sleeps and dreams bees. A mere century after Yeats’ lament, with the structures crumbling again, this time destroying the very fabric of nature on which the bees and all who rely on them depend, his work is a call to action.

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MusicWatch Weekly: clarinets cut loose!

Chamber Music Northwest blows into town with windy festival-within-a-festival. Meanwhile, woe unto thee: you just missed Makrokosmos V.

“Good afternoon! I’m David Shifrin, and I play the clarinet!” A big roomful of laughing clarinetists goes “woooo!” and welcomes the Chamber Music Northwest Artistic Director to Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall for the first of the festival’s five New@Noon concerts. It’s the last Friday in June, it’s breezy and just uncomfortably warm enough, and we’re up here in the Performance Hall—instead of down in the recital hall by the statue in the basement, where the New@Noon shows are usually held—because of that roomful of clarinetists. “We have a hundred clarinetists here,” Shifrin said, a gigantic smile on his face, “and it’s a joyous occasion.”

David Shifrin and Ralston String Quartet play Mozart. Photo by Jonathan Lange.
David Shifrin and Ralston String Quartet play Mozart. Photo by Jonathan Lange.

Earlier that week

Last Friday, I told you all about the lovely afternoon and evening you could have down at Reed College the following Monday. CMNW’s all-Mozart opening concert was as purply as promised: a warm breezy day, a cool evening, and all the Mozart you could stand—culminating in the delirious birdsong laden romp through the countryside which was Shifrin and Protégé Project Artists Rolston String Quartet ripping through the majory-as-cherry-pie Clarinet Quintet in A Major.

The best music of the evening, though, didn’t feature clarinets much at all: the Notturni for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Baritone, and Three Basset Horns. This combination, when it held steady (two of the basset hornists occasionally switched to plain vanilla Bb clarinets), was so extraordinarily luscious it made me want to hear everything arranged this way. Nottorni, cantatas, arias, art songs, requiems, whole operas, all of it.

Extra points to soprano Vanessa Isiguen and mezzo Hannah Penn (the latter fresh off two runs of Laura Kaminsky’s As One) for supporting both each other and baritone Zachary Lenox, all while blending with the weirdo horns, selling the hell out of Mozart’s sweet, smeary, summery harmonies, and just generally kicking ass.

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DramaWatch: A vintage Storm

Ten years after, Storm Large's short-run revival of "Crazy Enough" blows even stronger. Plus: Drammys Monday, openings, summer tips.

Around 2002 or 2003, not long after Storm Large had moved to Portland and started to establish herself as a local cultural phenom, several friends told me I had to go to the Old Town nightclub Dante’s to hear this amazing rock singer. During those days, I was the staff pop-music critic for The Oregonian, so I dutifully went to see what the buzz was about. Within a couple of minutes I could tell what had people talking: a tall, good-looking woman with a commanding stage presence and a voice as big and pliant as her attitude was bold and defiant.

Yet I wasn’t won over. Her vocal talent and charisma were undeniable. But the brash, bawdy Amazon-sex-goddess persona that had folks howling her praise? Meh, not interested.

Storm Large performs with (L to R) Greg Eklund (Drums) and Matthew Brown (Bass) in Crazy Enough. Photo: Kate Szrom/Courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory

A few years later, in the fall of 2007, she starred in a Portland Center Stage production of Cabaret and I began to take a larger view, you might say. Her vocal chops extended beyond rock’n’roll belting, and she could convey emotional shades that weren’t evident in the bluster of Storm and the Balls. 

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Oregon Bach Festival: riding out the storm

Venerable music institution mounts its 49th summer festival amid leadership transition and uncertain future

The 49th Oregon Bach Festival has lately been looking a bit like a Blah-ch Festival. If the venerable University of Oregon music institution is ever to regain the cultural primacy it once enjoyed in its glory days, I’m afraid we’ll need to wait for new artistic and executive leadership. Happily, that’s on the way, with the festival having laid off controversial executive director Janelle McCoy and reversed her much-derided decision to institute a rotating directorship or leadership by committee (the last two years), instead of replacing the respected artistic director she railroaded out of town for never-explained reasons

This year’s program, like last year’s, was put together by an artistic committee of music faculty and other UO personnel chaired by McCoy. Her job was made no easier by university-imposed cutbacks that left the festival nearly bereft of star power and big splashy productions and commissions. Yet some highlights shine — if you know where to look.

Beyond Bach

While named after an 18th century master, the festival does provide some space for new sounds, or updates on old ones. My top recommendation for the entire festival: Portland composer and jazz pianist Darrell Grant’s The Territory, which we reviewed here after its second Portland performance. Kudos to the festival for featuring a major recent work by a top Oregon composer. Grant and jazz ensemble perform in Soreng Theater July 12.

On July 2 at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall, one of America’s most acclaimed new music ensembles, Brooklyn Rider string quartet, plays one of the greatest of all chamber works, Beethoven’s Op. 132 quartet, plus five new commissions on the subject of healing written by some of today’s leading composers (all of whom happen to be women): Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank, Matana Roberts and recent Pulitzer Prize winners Caroline Shaw and Du Yun.

Brooklyn Rider. Photo by Erin Baiano.
Brooklyn Rider. Photo by Erin Baiano.

Portland Cello Project has been making a classical instrument hip for over a decade. They also play Beethoven, but mostly new music, and it more often comes from hip hop, rock and other pop artists. A big draw wherever it goes in on its many tours, the ensemble returns to OBF June 29 with a program featuring music by Radiohead, John Coltrane, and more — including, of course, J.S. Bach himself. 

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‘Romeo and Juliet’ kicks off summer theater in wine country

Penguin Productions brings Shakespeare's tragedy to the outdoor stage, plus more Bard outdoors in Beaverton, and World Beat Festival in Salem

Penguin Productions was the new kid on Yamhill County’s theater scene just a couple of years ago, mounting productions of Macbeth and As You Like It right out of the gate. Last year, they forged ahead with Hamlet and Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. On Friday, the company opens its third season with more Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet.

Cambria Herrera will direct "Romeo and Juliet" at Penguin Productions.
Cambria Herrera will direct “Romeo and Juliet” at Penguin Productions. Photo by: Piper Tuor Photography

These are professionals, many of whom have been seasoned on Portland stages in recent years, and for season three we have a couple of George Fox University alums who are doing some heavy lifting for one of Shakespeare’s oft-performed tragedies.

Director Cambria Herrera earned a BA in acting and directing from the Newberg-based Christian college. Recent credits include: Peter/Wendy at Bag&Baggage, The Little Mermaids Project at Enso Theatre Ensemble, Proof at Valley Repertory Theatre, and Balkan Women and Twelfth Night at George Fox. Herrera is also a facilitator/co-founder of the AGE Women of Color in PDX Theatre Collective and serves on the leadership committee for PDX Latinx Pride.

Also from George Fox is Olivia Anderson, who spent a year at the university as an adjunct director for University Players, a traveling, student storytelling-ensemble that tours original shows around the region. She will play Juliet across from Brandon Vilanova’s Romeo. Vilanova hails from the Pacific Conservatory Theatre Professional Acting Training Program and has worked at San Diego Repertory Theatre, San Diego Old Globe Theatre, Santa Maria Pacific Conservatory Theatre, and Bag&Baggage. Stephanie Spencer, who played Ophelia in last year’s Hamlet and Mabel in An Ideal Husband, takes on the coveted role of Mercutio.

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Makrokosmos Project: expansive vision

Fifth annual festival of 20th and 21st century music creates and relies on community

When Portland native Stephanie Ho first heard Makrokosmos, the massive, four-volume cycle of amplified piano and percussion music written in the 1970s by one of America’s greatest living composers, George Crumb, she thought, “I haven’t lived on this Earth until I heard this music,” she remembered. 

Years after that epiphany at Oberlin College’s prestigious music school, Ho and her husband and piano duo partner Saar Ahuvia decided to play Crumb’s mega-masterwork to inaugurate their first Portland festival — which they named.

Makrokosmos Project turned out to be an apt name for their annual five-hour, come-and-go-as-you-please music marathon, which happens for the fifth time from 5 to 10 p.m. this Thursday, June 27, at Portland’s Vestas Building. A macrocosm is a social body made of smaller compounds — in this case, a series of five 30- to 45-minute concerts with breaks for locally sourced vino, vittles, and conversation. And the expansiveness the name suggests also alludes to the broad audience the festival seeks for new and often unfamiliar music by creating a relaxed, communal experience.

E Pluribus Unum

The festival started because Ho and Ahuvia, a married couple who live in New York City, visited Ho’s native Portland each summer to catch up with family — and nature. Their friend Harold Gray, the Portland State University professor and pianist who founded Portland Piano International, suggested that “instead of only doing so much hiking, we should do something musical, too,” Ahuvia recalled.

Stephanie & Saar performing in Portland.

After all, as DUO Stephanie & Saar, the pair of powerhouse pianists had earned a national reputation for their performances of classical and contemporary music. Since moving to New York in 2004, they’d staged performances in “strange venues” like World Financial Center and One Liberty Plaza in lower Manhattan, Bank of America building in LA, (le) poisson rouge in NYC (the old Village Gate – a grungy indie-rock club), Knockdown Center in Queens (an old doorknob factory that has been transformed into a gallery and performance space), and the basement bar of the now closed Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village. “If any place was up to that, it was Portland,” which is all about keeping it weird.

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Exquisite Gorge 3: The Listener

Roots music, laughter, an osprey snaring a computer mouse: In Part 3 of Maryhill's river-art project, Neal Harrington imprints on The Dalles.

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER

How does an artist decide which questions to raise and which, if any, answers to provide? How does an educator reach an audience and communicate innovative ideas hoping to stir up responses that foster curiosity and open or change minds?

Neal Harrington, printmaker, musician, associate professor of art and gallery director at Arkansas Tech University

I wondered about this when meeting Neal Harrington, the third of the printmakers to be portrayed for Maryhill Museum’s Exquisite Gorge project: To recap, he, too, is one of 11 artists who in collaboration with community partners are carving woodblocks filled with ideas about individual sections of the Columbia River. All of the blocks will be aligned and printed by a steam roller at the museum on August 24.

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