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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‘Much Ado’: Where’s the story?

Bag&Baggage's adaptation of Shakespeare's great comedy is glorious to look at. But its big concept gets in the way of the storytelling.

The “nothing” in Much Ado About Nothing has multiple meanings. In Shakespeare’s time, as in our own, it could be used to refer to something inconsequential, not worth “noting.” This play asks us: What do we notice in our lives? How does this affect our ability to love and be loved? 

Bag&Baggage’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing presents a lot to take note of: gender-fluid casting, glitzy and glamorous sets, funny props. But in all of its visual splendor, this adaptation seems to overlook what’s most important: the storytelling.

Phillip J. Berns as Bertram and Christian Mitchell as Hero. Photo: Casey Campbell

Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s great comedies. It follows two pairs of lovers. On one hand, we have Claudio and Hero, the young sweethearts set to get married. Claudio’s insecurities make him easy prey for the machinations of Don John, who sets a trap to make Claudio think Hero is “dishonest” (a.k.a. not a virgin). Then we have Benedick and Beatrice (though in this adaptation Beatrice has been converted to a male Bertram), an older pair of guarded cynics. They don’t want to admit they love each other because that’d require vulnerability. This mix of guardedness and longing makes them easy prey for a trap set by their friends to make them do just that: be vulnerable and accept love. The play is full of funny traps and misunderstandings, and in the end, both couples see through the fog to the truth of their requited love.

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The Madness of Asae Dean

It's a Shakespearean double or nothing – in rep! –for the mastermind of Salt and Sage's "Troilus and Cressida" and "Antony and Cleopatra"

Making art is often a difficult and thankless proposition. Producing theater, in particular, can be even more of both. It follows that for most fringe theater companies, producing either Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra OR his Troilus and Cressida would be an arduous enough undertaking. Tackling both at the same time, as Salt and Sage Productions is doing with a repertory that opens on Friday, would be an epic task of Herculean proportions – maybe even a little crazy.

Salt and Sage artistic director Asae Dean probably wouldn’t even deny the charge. “Theatre is hard work,” she says on her website, “it’s supposed to hurt a bit – you should break a sweat, you should shed a tear – you are doing work that stretches the soul.” 

Asae Dean, double or nothing. Photo: Heath Hyun Houghton

IN THE DIGITAL AGE, THEATER IS THE LOWEST RUNG on the pop culture ladder, and Dean is the outsider’s outsider. She’s been knocking on the door for the past seven years and just can’t get in. “I’d be totally lying to you if I didn’t say that it disappoints me that it seems so hard to gain traction in this city,” she admits. Many who have tried to break into the Portland theater scene have found it a tough shell to crack. If you’re trying to break in solely as a director, it can be even more difficult. When you’re on the fringe level, producers either hire themselves or artists whose work they’re familiar with for the spots that do come open.

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Envisioning the human body — and life itself

Artists Tammy Jo Wilson and Amanda Triplett explore the beauty and metamorphosis of the organic form in a show at the Chehalem Cultural Center

Biological Dissonance, a collection of paintings and sculpture by Portland-area artists Tammy Jo Wilson and Amanda Triplett, is the newest exhibit to take up residence in the Chehalem Cultural Center’s largest gallery. While I was visiting it recently, two other names came to mind: David Cronenberg and Russian art critic Aleksandr Voronsky.

The former, of course, is the Canadian filmmaker who in 1986 gave us a gruesome remake of The Fly and is best known as a pioneer in so-called “body horror” cinema. The lesser known Voronsky wrote in the early 20th-century that art — all art — is, to varying degrees, the “cognition of life” itself.

To cite Cronenberg is perhaps unfair, as there’s nothing in the Newberg-based gallery that is extreme or gross, nothing for shock value, nothing that would be obviously at home in one of his stomach-churning films (although a couple of blob-like textile sculptures, which are beautiful, come close). The key parallel is artistic focus: a sustained and deeply considered exploration of the human body — from the recognizable shape of a single form all the way down to a hair, or even the follicle that contains it. Or an ovum. Life itself.

“Plasmic,” by Amanda Triplett (fiber installation from salvaged textiles, 12 by 60 by 16 inches, 2019) and (in the background) “Bare Bones,” by Tammy Jo Wilson (encaustic on panel, 18 by 24 inches, 2017). Photo by: David Bates
“Plasmic,” by Amanda Triplett (2019, fiber installation from salvaged textiles, 12 x 60 x 16 inches) and (in the background) “Bare Bones,” by Tammy Jo Wilson (2017, encaustic on panel, 18 x 24 inches). Photo by: David Bates

The show is described by Chehalem’s curators as “an exhibition about the irrepressible metamorphosis of the human body and beauty within the organic form.”

According to the statement, Wilson and Triplett “blend their creative expressions in this compelling and tactile exhibit about the biological body, through works of encaustics, paintings, prints, fiber and textile installations. Pairing together their individual approaches to process and medium, they build a visual dialogue expressing the visceral nature of the vessels to which all humans are confined and examining the relationship between flesh and bone; and society, cultural experience and self-awareness.”

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Hot and cold running summer

Mandolins, saxophones, loopy music, and jazz fusion

Portland summers have a little something for everyone. If you like your summers dry, hot, and aggressive, you can easily get your fill of blinding, baking, oppressively sweaty sunpocalypse. If you like your summers bitter, cloudy, soggy, and unseasonably cold—well, you’ll get your fill of that too. And hey, if you like perfect summers full of warm, friendly blue skies and cool, refreshing breezes chasing fluffy clouds across the golden horizon….well, you live here. You know Portland’s got you covered for that kind of summer too.

The music here is much the same. Just this week we’ve got everything from massed mandolins and stacked saxophones to jazz of all stripes, a lot more Chamber Music Northwest, and digitally looped harp, voice, violin, and cello. Read on to get your weekly forecast—and remember your sunscreen!

This Weekend

If outdoor listening is your bag, you’ve got two good options in Southeast Portland this weekend. The two-dozen strong Oregon Mandolin Orchestra—“mandolins, mandolas, mandocellos and crazy-huge mandobass”—performs at 2 p.m. on Saturday July 13 in Westmoreland Park, as part of the all-day Portland Picnic Wine Tasting Festival. On Sunday, Portland’s favorite saxophone quartet—the majestic Quadraphonnes, led by Mary-Sue Tobin—perform in Western Pacific University’s free “Summer Concerts & Movies In the Park” series. The band plays at 6:30. The surprisingly entertaining blockbuster Aquaman screens afterward, with free popcorn. Keep an eye out for Dolph Lundgren’s astonishing beard!

Portland saxophone quartet Quadraphonnes.

Meanwhile, CMNW is cooking right along with unstoppable verve and ferocity. Just today, at the third New@Noon concert, we heard the Miró Quartet turn in a very lovely performance of Caroline Shaw’s Entr’Acte, and you’ll read all about how their interpretation varied from Calidore’s in a couple weeks, when we all stop going to concerts and finally have time to write about them. For now, I can only tell you that their excellent playing and lively vibes got me all excited for their two appearances this weekend.

On Saturday July 13, Miró finishes their complete Beethoven Opus 18 mini-cycle, begun last Thursday. This will be the good half of old Ludwig van’s early quartet set, with its operatic C minor and its serendipitously transcendent Bb major. Then, Sunday July 14, they’re joined by pianist Gilles Vonsattel, who today gave the only performance of Rzewski that made any kind of sense to me (more on that later as well). Vonsattel and Miró will perform Mendelssohn, Brahms, and the Schumanns.

The Territory and beyond

I can’t even imagine how local jazz composer Darrell Grant must feel about competing with the Sun Ra Arkestra next week. Grant’s The Territory has a two-day run at CMNW (Monday at Reed, Tuesday at PSU), while the Arkestra plays those same two nights at the historic Hollywood Theatre on Southeast Sandy. Although both artists fall broadly under the heading of “jazz,” stylistically and thematically they could hardly be more different. One is as local as it gets, a suite about the Pacific Northwest performed by a jazz great who’s called Portland home since the 90s. The other is—if you believe the hype—literally from outer space.

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