Column Zero: Summer comes alive

Chamber Music Northwest blows its clarinets, Storm Large sings about craziness, Makrokosmos gets nightmarish

We here at Oregon Arts Watch tend to pay a lot of attention to Oregon composers. In a sense, our job is made easier by the problem outlined yesterday by Senior Editor Brett Campbell: we like local composers, living or recent, diverse in gender and age and race and genre. That’s exactly who is often underrepresented in the largest institutions, and—lucky us!—that means we have a journalistic obligation to write about exactly the artists we’d want to write about anyways.

Wolfie

But never mind that for a moment—I want to talk to you about Mozart. We’ll come back to Kenji Bunch and Storm Large and George Crumb and Tōru Takemitsu and all the rest, but for right now I want to take the somewhat contrary position that we should absolutely be happy about hearing Mozart’s clarinet music at Chamber Music Northwest this week.

The pair of opening concerts (Reed College June 24, PSU June 25) are a handy confluence of musical meanings. Outgoing CMNW Artistic Director David Shifrin is, of course, a very fine clarinetist himself, and in past years has dazzled and transported us with gorgeous renditions of everything from Bach and Mozart to Messiaen and Akiho. This season—his second-to-last before handing the reins to Gloria Chien and Soovin Kim for the 2020/21 season—thus fittingly concludes with a whole lot of clarinet music. And, because this is CMNW, the concerts stretch all the way back to the instrument’s first great composer and all the way forward to recent and newly commissioned works by those beloved modern composers we talked about earlier.

But they’ll have to wait a little longer while I justify Mozart to the kids.

Chamber Music Northwest Artistic Director David Shifrin

You probably learned in music history class or here on internet that Mozart was pals with pioneering Viennese clarinetist Anton Stadler, an early virtuoso who sold Mozart on the new instrument’s charms. It’s a pretty weird instrument, essentially three instruments in one body, its lower chalumeau register stretching almost to the bottom of the cello’s range, its upper clarion and altissimo registers covering the violin’s entire range. Its tone is unlike any other woodwind instrument, a “long purply sound” in Berio’s phrase, somewhere between a human voice and a bowed string instrument.Mozart ended up composing plenty of really good music featuring clarinets and their sibling basset horns, and the best of it pairs the Frankenstein instrument with voices and/or strings—an ideal blend of sound colors and expressive possibilities.

Mozart ended up composing plenty of really good music featuring clarinets and their sibling basset horns, and the best of it pairs the Frankenstein instrument with voices and/or strings—an ideal blend of sound colors and expressive possibilities.

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The Sound of Changing Times

ArtsWatch welcomes new music editor; predecessor reflects on Oregon’s blossoming contemporary classical music scene.

A concert is never about only the music. Otherwise we’d just listen to a recording on headphones. At Pyxis Quartet’s Feb 15 concert at Portland’s Old Church, which on that rainy evening felt like the most consequential performance I’ve attended in Portland, the music offered some splendid moments. But there was much more at stake.

The most important was the event that sparked it. The concert was an artistic response to the horrifying homicidal 2017 stabbings on Portland’s Max train. One of the survivors, poet Micah Fletcher, already known around Portland State University as a superlative poet even before he became famous in a way no one wants, performed his original poetry, which also inspired all the compositions on the program, including Nicholas Yandell’s opening Crisis Actor.

Nicholas Yandell and Pyxis Quartet perform at The Old Church in 2018. Photo by Milton Bliss.
Nicholas Yandell and Pyxis Quartet perform at The Old Church in 2018. Photo by Milton Bliss.

Just before the composer intoned Fletcher’s words as part of the performance, the lighting turned blood red. That chilling extra-musical effect (made possible, not incidentally, by contributions to the Old Church that allowed a new lighting system that dramatically enhances the music performed in that essential Oregon arts venue) added a dimension to the performance by evoking the bloody attack that inspired it.

Both poetry and music were commissioned by Pyxis’s parent organization, 45th Parallel Universe. That is: they paid some of Portland’s most accomplished artists to create this artistic response to the terrifying crime against our community — a wholly admirable act of artistic and community vision. They put their money where their morals were. They saw their community attacked — and they responded in the best way artists can, with original creations that directly defied it. Many moments in that concert rose to the occasion, and as a whole, it helped me engage with the still unresolved feelings the killings provoked.

What made that possible was the vision of 45th Parallel founder Greg Ewer, who conceived the concert, composers Yandell, Kenji Bunch, Bonnie Miksch and Texu Kim, supporters like the invaluable and indefatigable Ronnie Lacroute, ticket buyers, and above all poet Fletcher, who insisted on being more than a victim. These committed community members deserve our deepest gratitude.

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OUTwright: a Booty Candy tale

Fuse's annual festival of queer theater focuses on a comedy about a black man navigating the world of sex. It's laughter with an edge.

For a long time now, Fuse Theatre Ensemble has been one of the most openly political theater companies in town. Queer-forward, inclusivity has been a hallmark and a principle of its work for years. But this season is different. This season, the crowning gem of Fuse’s OUTwright Festival is Robert O’Hara’s Booty Candy, and, for a theater company that prides itself on pushing boundaries and upsetting expectations, this production is yet another new direction.

For eight years Fuse’s OUTwright Festival, which this year continues through June 30 at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, has been one of the most anticipated and adventurous events of the theatrical year. It’s never quite the same from one season to the next. Sometimes it engages several venues, sometimes only one. It started out as only table readings of scripts, but now incorporates readings, full productions, and forums exploring a variety of topics centered on the company’s mission. Whatever the offerings, however many venues, whoever the artists are that are involved, the goal of the OUTwright Festival stays constant. “The mission never really changes,” says Fuse Artistic Director Rusty Tennant. “We’re here to celebrate the queers.”

Gerrin Mitchell, Charles Grant, Shareen Jacobs in OUTwright Festival’s Booty Candy.

Tennant, who wears many hats as a theater artist (director, scenic designer, actor, technical director, teacher are just the ones I know off the top of my head) is forthright about what makes this particular OUTwright Festival different from the ones that have gone before. “The focus of this year’s festival,” he says, “is centering people of color and underrepresented groups within the LGBTQIA-plus umbrella.” When asked why this was the year to focus on people of color in the queer community, Tennant says simply, “Because we hadn’t.”

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Festival changes with tide and time

Siletz Bay Music Festival, with roots stretching back 32 years, begins Wednesday and offers chamber, jazz, cabaret, and symphonic concerts, but no hip hop -- yet

Can a festival founded three decades ago and dedicated to chamber music remain relevant today with a younger crowd?  

As a matter of fact, says Siletz Bay Music Festival conductor Yaacov Bergman,  it can and does. The festival hasn’t been about only chamber or classical music for some time, opening its program to performances of jazz, cabaret, big band, musical theater, and beyond.

Yaacov Bergman, artistic director of the Siletz Bay Music Festival since 2009, says of artistic fusion at the 32-year-old festival, “let’s bring it on.”
Yaacov Bergman, artistic director of the Siletz Bay Music Festival since 2009, says of artistic fusion at the festival, “let’s bring it on.”

“It started out so much more conservative from where we are today,” said Bergman, who has been the festival’s artistic director since 2009. “This festival attracts remarkable composers and performers. They come with a repertoire they always wanted to do, one that stretches the imagination. This is so advanced and so stimulating, I imagine that will be one of the things that helps us bring in a younger audience in the future, too. We already see younger members in our audience. My philosophy is artist fusion, let’s bring it on. Anything in good taste, anything not mediocre, I’m totally open to.”

Even, I ask, hip hop?

Bergman laughs. “Are you kidding? I grew up with hip hop.”

The festival begins Wednesday, June 19, and runs 16 days. Performances in four Lincoln City-area venues include eight chamber music concerts; four evenings of jazz, cabaret, musical theater and American songbook concerts; and three symphonic concerts, including a free Young People’s Concert, Peter and the Wolf. Seating is full for two other free concerts, but concert rehearsals also are free.

Sarah Kwak
Sarah Kwak

Performers include Sarah Kwak, violinist and concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony; Mei-Ting Sun, gold medal winner in the 2005 National Chopin Competition; and Ken Peplowski, the clarinetist often referred to as the “living Benny Goodman.”

The festival’s roots stretch back to an informal series of salons held in the 1980s in the home of music professor and part-time Coast resident Sergiu Luca. In 1987, the  Cascade Head Music Festival was born, with Luca as artistic director. The festival was renamed the Siletz Bay Music Festival in 2011.

But as the festival racked up the years, so did its most loyal fans, leaving its fate in the hands of a younger audience.

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Exquisite Gorge 2: The Witness

Woodcarving in Goldendale with Roger Peet in Maryhill Museum's 220-mile Columbia River printmaking project. Part 2 in a series.

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER

HOW DO YOU TELL A STORY that is not necessarily your own? How do you draw a landscape that did not always belong to you? How do you document reality without appropriating someone else’s history? These questions pose themselves to any artist, anthropologist, historian who is aware of the limitations of their own perspectives.

These kinds of of questions also arise for me when constructing profiles of people who I find interesting, whose work I admire, whose politics I likely share, and who I get to talk to only once.

Roger Peet, printmaker and muralist

Case in point is today’s portrait of one of the artists chosen for Maryhill Museum’s Exquisite Gorge project: printmaker and muralist Roger Peet, who I met last Saturday during a public woodblock carving session at the Goldendale Public Library, a few miles north of the museum on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. He 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.


THE EXQUISITE GORGE PROJECT

“…a collaborative printmaking project featuring 11 artists working with communities along a 220-mile stretch of the Columbia River from the Willamette River confluence to the Snake River confluence to create a massive 66-foot steamrolled print. The unique project takes inspiration from the Surrealist art practice known as exquisite corpse. In the most well-known exquisite corpse drawing game, participants took turns creating sections of a body on a piece of paper folded to hide each successive contribution. When unfolded, the whole body is revealed. In the case of The Exquisite Gorge Project, the Columbia River will become the ‘body’ that unifies the collaboration between artists and communities, revealing a flowing 66-foot work that tells 10 conceptual stories of the Columbia River and its people.”

Louise Palermo, Curator of Education at Maryhill Museum


During our short conversation before the public portion of the event, I was quickly convinced that the artist is someone who would ask himself the questions outlined above. His section of the river ranges from the Deschutes River to the John Day River, including The Dalles Dam, one of four dams built along this stretch of the Columbia between the 1930s and 1970s that displaced Native American communities and wiped out traditional fishing grounds. We ended up in no time discussing the historical, political and environmental implications of that structure as well as other effects of human interference with nature.

Yet we also talked about whose story this truly is, embedded in the context of all other assaults on Native American rights, and how one cannot usurp that telling.

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Stretching from cultural borders to the state’s borders

In Salem, George Rodriguez's ceramic sculptures comment on community and identity; in Newberg, Brad Isom's watercolors explore the glory of Oregon

We have another gallery show in Newberg this week, but before that, please indulge a brief diversion as we drop in on Salem.

My ArtsWatch colleagues may write more about this later, but for now you should know that the Hallie Ford Museum of Art on the Willamette University campus opened a new show last week that’s worth a visit: Embellished Narratives by Seattle ceramics artist George Rodriguez, a native of El Paso, Texas.

The show, which occupies several rooms in the Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery, is an exploration of the artist’s Chicano heritage and the myriad of political and social issues bound up with the U.S.-Mexico border — both metaphorically and literally. The largest single piece, Instrumental Divide, is a row of nine larger-than-life musicians, sculpted with glaze, steel, and vinyl, lined up in such a way that they form a wall cutting across the room.

"Instrumental Divide" by George Rodriguez (2009, stoneware with glaze, steel, and vinyl). Photo by: David Bates
In “Instrumental Divide,” artist George Rodriguez turns a group of musicians into a wall (2009, stoneware with glaze, steel, and vinyl). Photo by: David Bates

Organized by curator Jonathan Bucci, this is a major exhibition. There is much to take in, and the detail work invites close scrutiny. From the program notes:

“Ideas of ceremony, ritual, and cross-cultural mythology all combine in Rodriguez’s bold yet whimsical artwork. Inspired by childhood memories, international travel, border politics, and the history of art, his richly decorated and tactile sculptures draw the viewer in with a mixture of humor and gravity to address concepts of community and identity in our global culture.

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Music Notes: transitions & triumphs

Summer roundup of recent news in Oregon classical and jazz music

Oregon’s leading classical music public radio station All Classical Portland has launched a brand-new second radio network, for children. The International Children’s Arts Network (ICAN) is a 24-hour radio service and, the station announcement says, is the first of its kind in the US. Designed for young listeners, the network features music, poems, and literature from around the world, locally produced and curated by All Classical Portland. “ICAN provides an audio destination where kids can be inspired to listen, dance, color outside the lines, and create their own adventures,” ICAN Program Manager Sarah Zwinklis said in a press release. “Much of the content on the network will be presented by children – we believe in the power of these young voices.” Listen online at allclassical.org/ican or through an HD Radio.

The station also operates a free arts journalism mentorship program that selects three high school age (ages 15-18) students from Oregon & SW Washington to be Youth Roving Reporters each year. From September – June, they’ll learn how to use recording equipment in the field, attend two arts events, conduct interviews with artistic leaders or performers, and learn to produce their interviews for radio broadcast. As ArtsWatch has previously reported, it also operates JOY: an Artist in Residence program, which includes a young artist residency.

Laurels & Shekels

• Speaking of All Classical Portland, Metropolitan Youth Symphony presented the station its 2019 Musical Hero Award in April. The station’s On Deck with Young Musicians program has featured dozens of MYS musicians in performances and interviews with All Classical Portland host and producer Christa Wessel.

• The Oregon Symphony presented its 2019 Schnitzer Wonder Award to Mariachi Una Voz of the Hillsboro School District. Launched in 2010 and including strings, brass, and singing, the group’s mission is to promote cultural understanding and community unity through music education and performance. Participation is free and open to all Hillsboro middle- and high-school students. It has performed on more than 100 school and community events, performing in venues as diverse as the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts theaters, the Moda Center, major regional cultural festivals, and schools, libraries and hospitals.

“Every child who wishes to learn to play a musical instrument should have the opportunity,” said founder and manager Dan Bosshardt in a press release. “The students that find their way to our group have inspiring personal stories. They have very supportive families that often do not have the financial means to provide transportation, instruments, lessons, or private instruction.”

• ArtsWatch congratulates a pair of Portland choral music leaders who just scored major national awards from Chorus America. Resonance Ensemble artistic director Katherine FitzGibbon won the 2019 Botto Award named after Chanticleer founder Louis Botto. She “has captained a bold organizational shift—from its original mission exploring links between music, art, poetry, and theatre, to a new focus exclusively on presenting concerts that promote meaningful social change.”

Katherine FitzGibbon leading Resonance Ensemble

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