Tin House: vulnerability & risk

As its celebrated literary journal shuts down, the Portland publishing house's summer writing workshops at Reed College continue to thrive.


By BEN BARTU


Midsummer has arrived in Oregon, and every surface at Reed College seems ripe with books. The campus is hosting the sixteenth annual Tin House Summer Workshop, as a few minutes walking the grounds makes plain. Signs for lecture destinations and attendee housing point in every direction. Above Cerf Amphitheatre, tables are stacked high with various issues of Tin House’s quarterly journal. 

The journal’s final issue – printed in July, and marking the end of a 20-year run for one of Portland’s most esteemed and far-reaching literary magazines – stands out from its predecessors, a robust volume with a pitch-black cover on which is etched a gilded rendition of the press’s logo.

Tin House has come a long way since it was founded in 1999 as a literary journal and nothing more. It was established by Holly MacArthur and Win McCormack (MacArthur remains a founding editor and deputy publisher; McCormack, who is also editor in chief of The New Republic since buying the magazine in 2016, is Tin House’s publisher and editor in chief), but it was not until 2003 that the publishing house held its first writing workshop at Reed. Another five years went by before Tin House also became a press, publishing novels, nonfiction, and poetry.

This was my first year attending the conference. Its lectures, panels, and readings have always been open to the public, although the workshops themselves are strictly for accepted applicants. In most cases, those accepted are also required to pay a substantial fee to cover the cost of working closely with some of the United States’ literary superstars.

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Poet D.A. Howell, “The Godfather” of Tin House’s writing workshops.

THE 2019 WORKSHOP, which ran July 7-14, included many big-name authors, among them R.O Kwon, Garth Greenwell, Natalie Diaz, Camille T. Dungy, Kaveh Akbar, and Mitchell S. Jackson. Also in attendance was poet D.A. Powell, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, who has earned the affectionate nickname “The Godfather” for having attended every Tin House summer workshop since 2003.

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


On a clear warm Saturday evening at The Round in Beaverton, the joint was jumpin’. The propulsive sounds of drums and dancing feet were rising to the sky, and a big crowd was milling about the curved concrete of this suburban city-center-in-the-making. People were checking out jewelry or fabrics at the rows of market stalls, stopping for a quick snack, blowing bubbles, skipping rope, sitting down to get a little artistic inking on the forearm, even hopping up front with the musicians and breaking into a spot of foot-stomping with the band.

It was Beaverton Night Market, the first of two this summer, a celebratory gathering of the cultures in one of the most diverse and fast-growing areas of Oregon. Washington County, to the west of downtown Portland, is home to a surprising stew of suburban housing, high-tech corridors and agricultural areas, and also to a vibrant variety of communities with roots in India, Central and South America, the Middle East, Native America, Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, and elsewhere, creating a rich blend of cultures and traditions. Beaverton Night Market, a project of the city’s Diversity Advisory Board, began in 2015 and now attracts something in the neighborhood of 14,000 visitors each summer.

Faces in the crowd from around the globe.

It’s easy to see – and hear – why. Saturday night’s performances on two stages featured Chinese dragon dance; Bollywood dance; traditional Andean music; flamenco, classical Thai, and Peruvian dance; Ghanaian dancing and drumming. You could get South Korean, Hmong, Filipino, Japanese, Cambodian, Salvadoran, authentic Mexican, Liberian, Somali, Swedish, Nigerian, Senegalese, Lebanese, Persian, Algerian, Belgian, vegan Cuban food – even Chinese hand-spun cotton candy. You could check out Afghani embroidery, Pakistani beaded handbags, Turkish nomadic rugs. And if you missed it on Saturday night, don’t worry, it’ll all be back at The Round on August 17.

The gifted photographer Joe Cantrell, himself a Beavertonian, dropped down to The Round with his cameras and started snapping, capturing not only the performing groups but also the people in the crowds and the vendors and the whole surging scene. He stayed until the sun dropped down, and headed home with a fat portfolio of images documenting the energy and innovation and sheer happiness of the night.

He also came home with this story to tell:

“I understand that the Beaverton Night Market was inspired by some enlightened soul from the city polling a group of immigrants. ‘What do you miss most from your country, your culture?’ The favorite answer was, ‘The smells of the food, the night markets where we could sit in the cooling dusk visiting with our community, sharing what we enjoyed most there.’

“This exactly mirrors my own years abroad, mostly in Southeast Asia; the food carts and nightly-blocked streets in many cities and towns. It felt like paradise in retrospect, while the local beers helped over rough spots. In early 1971 I felt that my family, village, country had deserted me while I served two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy. I did not move back to the U.S. until 1986. My saviors were the cordial, generous, compassionate people (almost) everywhere I went. It was the same for many of us. This was a chance to go home to that, and Beaverton delivered as it has for several years. 

“Thank you, brothers and sisters of every hue and whim. Come home with us.”

Just a little bit of what Joe saw:


NII ARDEY ALLOTEY & EKOME, GHANAIAN DRUMMING AND DANCE


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Drammys: Where’s the party?

DramaWatch: Attendance dropped and the drama crept behind the scenes at this year's Portland theater awards. What comes next?

Once upon a time I had a dream about the Drammys.

I don’t mean dream as in a sleepytime movie, but rather a hope, a wish, an ideal of a future. When I first began to care about the Drammy Awards, the annual celebration of Portland-area theater was held at the Crystal Ballroom. At one end of the oblong room, outstanding theater work was honored onstage. At the other end, the combination of the entrance and the bar catalyzed a sometimes raucous social scene as friendly acquaintances convened. There was tension between the two elements, with the loud, lubricated chatter from the back sometimes drowning out the official proceedings, but it had the feel of a fabulous party. That feeling continued once the event was done, as the crowd spilled outside into a stream of sidewalk clusters stretching around the block and into Cassidy’s, which suddenly boasted more actors than you could shake a script at. 

Drag clown Carla Rossi was emcee at this year’s Drammy Award ceremony, where attendance was down. Photo: Scotty Fisher/Sleeper Studios

I was writing about theater for The Oregonian, and was thrilled about all the interesting and talented local artists I was encountering. Seeing so many of them all together, as one big, convivial community, celebrating one another and the fine work they’d done over the past season, was exhilarating. 

I figured that excitement should be shared.

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A synergistic triumph of wills

Eugene Symphony closes a half-season of Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Adams with popular ruckus Symfest

by Daniel Heila

The five Eugene Symphony concerts I attended in the first half of this year (I was unable to attend the all twentieth-century music Valentine’s Day concert) were of such diverse programming that it is hard to ally them all with one unifying concept. Audiences witnessed world-class virtuosic performances of standards of the classical concerto repertoire; giant assemblages of musicians filling the hall with stunning walls of sound; boundary-pushing, comfort-zone-crashing chromatic works from the late nineteenth century; mid-twentieth-century dance works; twenty-first century ensemble works of consonant complexity; ethereal experiments of light and sound; and an evening of international jazz artists, contemporary ballet performance, pop sonorities, and a knock-out performance by a high-school glee club.

Whew! That sounds like a good season from a selection of arts organizations in a city twice the size of Eugene, let alone the half-season output of one orchestra. Can that one orchestra maintain high standards in such a diverse array of programming?

Yes. And here’s how.

Cognitive dissonance

Pianist Natasha Paremski performed with Eugene Symphony Orchestra.
Pianist Natasha Paremski performed with Eugene Symphony Orchestra.

Natasha Paremski’s performance, in January, of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto was a synergistic triumph of wills. After the orchestra’s horn-blasting introduction, Paremski muscled her way into the tempo-control seat by pushing the ensemble to meet her slightly faster pace. Maestro Francesco Lecce-Chong and company worked hard to match her, the Maestro single-handedly lifting the orchestra up a notch with powerful gestures that belied his featherweight stature. This man knows how to work hard.

That effort defined the entire performance, with Paremski employing sophisticated nuances of tempo, articulation, and phrasing that stretched time and tension and even the orchestra’s cohesion. The results were a deliciously tense rapport that had everyone on the edge of their seats—musicians, pianist, audience—and a stunningly emotional performance that belonged not just to the virtuoso but to the orchestra and Maestro as well. 

The ESO’s March program included John Adams’s Doctor Atomic Symphony, a masterful reduction of the score to his opera of the same name. Dr. Atomic is J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Los Alamos Laboratory of Manhattan Project fame, where he and hundreds of brilliant minds worked under great duress to create the atomic bomb. Gosh, what a romantic character, right? I must confess that I cannot understand how anyone would feel remotely forgiving of a man who worked so hard to bring about such a monumentally horrifying event: between 129,000 and 226,000 people died at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, most of them civilians.

Francesco Lecce-Chong conducting the Eugene Symphony Orchestra at the Hult Center.

Cognitive dissonance aside, I observed an audience transformed by the performance. Lecce-Chong labored for ten minutes to prepare listeners for the coming experience of Adams’s piece. He described the overall form and its relation to the dramatic structure of the opera, shared his own personal experience of its premier run, and called listeners’ attention to various standout elements of the symphony with section demos (the horns delivering a mighty fine sampling of their potential). Ultimately, the conductor assured listeners that the piece didn’t offer anything they haven’t heard before in other contexts.

J. Robert Oppenheimer
“Doctor Atomic”: J. Robert Oppenheimer

But, several minutes in to the piece, I started wondering whether Adams’s angular melodies, whiplash transitions, and relentless development might be losing the audience. What was there to hang on to? A glance around the orchestra seating area revealed an audience in rapt attention, almost as if in a trance. The final trumpet obligato (an instrumental setting of Oppenheimer singing John Dunne’s Batter my heart, three-person’d God, from the final tragic moments of the opera, performed exquisitely by principal trumpeter Sarah Viens) reached in and twisted the heart strings, leaving some, no doubt, with tender feelings for Oppenheimer’s struggles. Though I did not share their sympathy, it was obvious to me that the audience had just had a transformative experience. Presented with challenging music on harmonic, textural, and rhythmic levels, they met the challenge with eager ears.

Color of sound

April’s “Color of Sound” concert, a collaboration with Eugene media magicians Harmonic Laboratory, was the culmination of over two years of planning, design, and production that succeeded brilliantly, and featured projections of digital imagery created by local high school and college students. Standout work included Rimona Livie’s aquatic setting of Debussy’s Claire de Lune—impeccably timed, with a remarkably wry wit and references to the ocean-born plastics crisis and tadpole-esque creatures (dare I say spermies?) morphing their way into a lunar orb. Felix Neelemen’s painterly response to Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream brought energetic brush strokes to life as dancers moving about a bright, fairy-world light canvas, fully embracing the canvas space and the whimsy of the music.

Ballet Fantastic performed with ESO.
Ballet Fantastic performed with ESO. Photo by Amanda Smith.

The showstopper of the evening was the giant “Radiance Orb” created by Light at Play and suspended above the orchestra. The impetus behind the evening was the elusive full staging of Alexander Scriabin’s Symphony No. 5, Prometheus: Poem of Fire. The composer’s dream for the lush symphony was to have a colored-light accompaniment throughout: a color organ, so to speak. Lecce-Chong and Harmonic Laboratory collaborated with Light at Play to bring that staging to life. Lecce-Chong transcribed the “light organ” part according to the composer’s specifications. The light organ itself (played by Jeremy Schroop) was specially designed to activate the eight-foot Radiance Orb—an intricate, spherical framework of light ropes and LEDs—which pulsed, throbbed, and glowed with unearthly energy. Even in a small space, such as a classic black box theater setting or a media gallery, this kind of mixed media production can be a huge undertaking and investment in time. At the scale of the cavernous Silva Concert Hall, the logistics are mind boggling. Yet, the dedicated creatives that envisioned the spectacle succeeded with a masterful production. 

Radiance Orb
The Radiance Orb. Photo by Amanda Smith.

At ESO’s May concert, the assembled forces for Verdi’s Requiem topped 200 people. Each one of them had to have a chair; half had chairs and music stands. That’s a lot of setting up. And then there’s the take down. The stacking, the carting, the storage. Oof. Lot’s of work. Done well by the efficient, barely noticeable, Hult Center stage crew. Kudos to you all. I just wish the folks who put together the distracting super titles would have paid as much attention to detail. Perhaps the embarrassing typos would have been caught and corrected.

Verdi’s music, of course, is brilliant and impressive, offering the chorus the opportunity to open up the pipes and shake the foundations. Throughout the performance, the vocal soloists maintained the physical prowess that is required to sing over such an assembly; in fact, soprano Katie Van Kooten had the remarkable ability to drown out the orchestra with her brilliant, dramatic-coloratura delivery. The performance was what I’ve come to expect from the ESO under Lecce-Chong’s baton: inspired and, for this caliber symphony in this size city, likely inimitable. But the plus-80-minute duration, the relentlessly morbid, apocalyptic text (with its bizarre biblical grammar), and the visible test of endurance that the singers endured during their largely seated-staring-stoically-forward performance had me working hard to keep my eyes open. A few seats down, a fellow concert goer gave up pretty early on and snored gently till the standing ovation. However, the standards of the repertoire must prevail, and the spectacle that is Verdi’s Requiem was made anew to the high standards of the Eugene Symphony.

Year-end party

June’s Symfest 2019 (my first experience of the year-end party) was a delight to attend. After such a successful season of relevant new music, local creative collaborations, and stunning virtuoso performances, the musicians and the audience needed to blow off some steam. And once again, the ESO programming delivered. The preconcert activities included local Kutsinhira marimba band and other small ensembles performing inside and outside to a happily milling-about crowd of well-dressed scenesters (did I mention the yummy food carts?).

The main concert in the Silva Concert Hall featured Halie Loren and Tony Glausi, both local jazz favorites (Loren lives in town and Glausi studied at the UofO School of Music and Dance jazz program and now lives in NYC) as well as local dance troupe Ballet Fantastique, who offered oddly costumed, awkward dance numbers to accompany several of the night’s selections (the choreography had a bit of a “last minute” feel). Loren and Glausi delivered smooth, sultry standards including a lush rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” Though the evening suffered with lackluster non-vocal, instrumental arrangements of tunes made famous by Whitney Houston in a tribute to the singer (no singer in a tribute to a singer?), it shined in other areas. The Dorians of South Eugene High School stole the show with knock-out renditions of “Can’t Buy Me Love” by Lennon and McCartney and “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall and Oates.

Halie Loren and Tony Glausi at SymFest 2019.
Halie Loren and Tony Glausi at Symfest 2019. Photo by Amanda Smith.

After the concert, the black- and white-checked dance floor in the lobby was hoppin’ with happy ESO fans who shook it loose to the sounds of DJ Food Stamp. And up in the Soreng Theater, the Jazz Station sponsored a jazz cafe with local performers playing standards and a brief, intimate set with Loren and Glausi that crowned the evening of celebration. All-in-all an eclectic wrap to an eclectic, challenging, and greatly rewarding season.

On my way out of the Hult at the end of the night, I caught up with two musicians, toting violin cases, who had been tearing up the floor during Food Stamp’s set. 

“You two were sure having a good time!” I said.

“Yeah, the Symfest is the only time of year we get to have any fun,” said one. “All the rest is that serious stuff.” They laughed hard at this and waltzed off into the night arm in arm. 

I sure am glad that the musicians of the Eugene Symphony take the music so seriously. The lives of their audience are enriched immeasurably for their efforts.

Eugene Symphony hosts summer pops-style concerts at the Cuthbert Amphitheater in Eugene on July 26, at Bohemia Park in Cottage Grove on July 29, and at Stewart Park in Roseburg on July 30. Check the website for more details.

Daniel Heila writes music, plays flute, and loves words in Eugene, OR.

Loving the chaos

Portland pianist Hunter Noack’s annual traveling summer series In A Landscape brings classical music to Oregon’s wild places, helps bridge urban-rural divide

Hunter Noack grew up in Sunriver cherishing both classical music and outdoor Oregon. His mother, Lori Noack, directed the Sunriver Music Festival, which each year included top American classical pianists. “Growing up in central Oregon, I spent all my time outside when I wasn’t practicing,” Noack remembered. 

For the past few years, Noack, now 30, has found a unique way to combine his twin passions. Beginning last month and extending through September, Noack will be bringing a 9-foot Steinway piano and 300 pairs of wireless headphones to some of Oregon’s most beautiful outdoor spaces. While audience members gaze out onto scenic vistas, they’ll hear him performing live piano music by Romantic composers like Liszt, impressionists such as Ravel and modernists including John Cage, whose placid 1948 composition In a Landscape gave the series its name. 

From his Sunriver childhood, Noack followed a prodigy’s path: Michigan’s famed Interlochen Arts Academy for high school, then music conservatories in San Francisco and London. In 2013, a mutual friend introduced him to Portland pianist Thomas Lauderdale after a concert there by his band Pink Martini. They became friends and then partners, which brought Noack back to Oregon to live with him. Since then, Noack has performed in various settings, including shows with Oregon Ballet Theatre and Northwest Dance Project. Read my ArtsWatch feature on Noack and IaL’s origins.

Hunter Noack at Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Photo by Bridget Baker.
Hunter Noack at Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Photo by Bridget Baker.

Another World

But his passion project has been In a Landscape. The wireless headphones (funded by a grant from Portland philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer) allowed him to re-create a concert hall sound (for “persnickety classical music fans”), unimpeded by ambient noise such as wind, bawling babies and arid open-air acoustics. And it permitted listeners to enjoy classical music amid natural beauty, rather than confined inside a formal concert hall.

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Portland artist John Gnorski’s exhibition Like a Train in the Sky at Stumptown Coffee celebrates the Portland artist’s Stumptown Artist Fellowship award. It was curated by May Barruel, the proprietor of Nationale, and features a suite of woodblock prints and tenuously representational sculptures-as-drawings that readily communicate forms without being didactic. The forms aren’t fixed; they don’t always represent, say, humans, herons, or trains—but they’re also not nothing, far from it. In fact, “far from nothing” would be a good subtitle for a show that announces its attachment to, among other things, dusk and clouds. The fourteen works all involve wood, a material with which Gnorski, a carpenter by trade, is intimately familiar and they refer loosely to the visual world. 

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Down to the sea in ships

Pacific City and Astoria honor their maritime heritage and culture with decades-old celebrations

In many towns along the Oregon Coast, boating isn’t just a livelihood or a means of recreation, but a way of life, the foundation that defines a community. In coming weeks, two towns will celebrate their maritime history with festivals that have been going strong, in one community, for decades; in the other, more than a century.  

In Pacific City, 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of Dory Days, which runs July 19-21. The festival opens Friday, but the real action starts at daybreak Saturday with a dory-boat fishing contest, followed by a pancake feed and the highlight of the weekend, the Dory Days Parade. It starts at 11 a.m. from the Bob Straub State Park, then moves into downtown Pacific City.

There also will be an arts and crafts fair, boat displays, a fish fry with dory-caught fish, a dune climb for the kids, bingo, and a booth manned by members of the Pacific City Dorymen’s Association to answer all your questions. 

The dory fleet got its start at the turn of the century after the Nestucca River fishery was closed, said Randy Haltiner, chairman of the nonprofit association. 

Originally, Pacific City fishermen rowed the flat-bottomed dory boats out to sea, and some continue to fish with them. Photo courtesy: Pacific City Dorymen’s Association
Originally, Pacific City fishermen rowed the flat-bottomed dory boats out to sea, and some continue to fish with them. Photo courtesy: Pacific City Dorymen’s Association

“They used to commercial-fish the river and they caught thousands and thousands of pounds,” he said. “They processed and canned at the mouth of the river in Nestucca Bay. It was unbelievable. When they shut down the river, the fishery moved to the ocean. There’s always been a natural protection from Cape Kiwanda. It protects the beach from wind and swells to where you can get safe launching.”

In those early years, fishermen rowed the boats, which were flat-bottomed for landing on the beach, with pointed sterns and bows. The parade includes the traditional boats, and a handful of the boats still fish, Haltiner said. The newer dory boats retain the flat bottom but generally have a square stern to hang a motor off.

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