Virtual and vital: Strike up the band

Caught short by the pandemic, the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra takes to technology and shows that shutdown doesn't have to mean shut up

On that dark day in March when Oregon began to shut down, Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s leaders knew they had to move fast. “As soon as we knew we were going into lockdown, we tried as quickly as possible to transition to what’s next,” recalls music director Raúl Gómez. The Portland organization had to cancel not only its four upcoming spring concerts, but also its weekly Saturday rehearsals and its classes, affecting more than 500 students in 14 orchestra, band, string and jazz ensembles, including the 90-member Symphony Orchestra, and in beginning strings and theory classes. MYS leaders knew nothing could fully replace the lost programming, but they were determined not to leave a musical void in their teenage students’ lives.

“We had to find a way to keep the students engaged,” Gómez says, “to keep making music in some way.” 

Raúl Gómez conducts MYS way back in the days when they could all play together on stage.

But how? Governor Kate Brown’s emergency announcement prohibited gatherings required to put on a concert or a group rehearsal in the band rooms at its regular Northeast Portland and Hillsboro high schools. Nevertheless, MYS found a way to rethink — if not entirely replace — its major programs, including its crown jewel season closing concert. ArtsWatch readers, and everyone else, can see the result on their own screens this Saturday.

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In Grants Pass, the show goes on

ArtsWatch Weekly: In spite a Covid-19 museum shutdown, a Southern Oregon showcase of student art finds a way to get out into the world

WE TEND TO THINK OF “CULTURE” AS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS IN BIG SPACES in big metropolitan areas, places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera, or the Portland Art Museum and the Portland Opera. But every corner of the country, and every region of Oregon, has a culture of its own, and the drive to express it, in spaces that may be much smaller but are equally important in their communities. They might be cultural centers, like the Pendleton Center for the Arts, or small museums, like the Favell Museum in Klamath Falls, or historic small theater spaces, like the Elgin Opera House in the far stretches of Northeastern Oregon. In an age of freely flowing information around the globe, sometimes smaller places bring the outside world in. Sometimes they highlight their own local culture, the things that make their communities specifically what they are.
 

Upstairs, downstairs: The Grants Pass Museum of Art occupies the 4,000-square-foot second floor of a historic downtown building at 229 Southwest “G” Street.

Like most museums and performance spaces across the United States, the Grants Pass Museum of Art in Southern Oregon is shut down for the duration. The museum isn’t very big – it’s on the second floor of a historic building in downtown Grants Pass – but it’s a crucial part of its community, with a permanent collection, a small retail gallery, workshops for kids and adults, music, poetry readings, and an ordinarily full schedule of special exhibitions. Just when it might reopen is up in the air: The museum’s two large open galleries would allow ample space for social distancing, but traffic on the stairway from the building’s first floor would need to be strictly controlled. It’s the sort of logistical issue that most cultural organizations, from the biggest to the smallest, are grappling with as they wait for the go-ahead to reopen.

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Final call for a Newport original

Art by the late Juergen Eckstein is included in an online sale and show at the Newport Visual Arts Center

A three-month online art exhibit at the Newport Visual Arts Center will showcase Oregon artists and raise money for the artists and the center. It also is likely to be one of the last opportunities to buy a piece of art by the late Juergen Eckstein, who died Oct. 31 at age 77, following a stroke.

“Juergen’s art is just stacked downstairs,” said his wife, Dianne Eckstein. “He has so much work. It seems to me it should be in a good place.”

Juergen Eckstein invited all of Newport to join “The Yellow Umbrella Project” in 2004. “First individuals, forming trickles as others join creating streams of yellow umbrellas as they move closer towards the center of Nye Beach where they gather as a sea of yellow,” he wrote on his website. Photo courtesy: Gary Lahman
Juergen Eckstein invited all of Newport to join “The Yellow Umbrella Project” in 2004. “First individuals, forming trickles as others join creating streams of yellow umbrellas as they move closer towards the center of Nye Beach where they gather as a sea of yellow,” he wrote on his website. Photo courtesy: Gary Lahman

Eckstein, who is considering a move, gave two paintings and one sculpture to the city to be displayed in Newport City Hall.

Juergen Eckstein was a German native who traveled the world before settling with Dianne in Newport in 2000. A familiar presence around Newport, he co-founded the For ArtSake artist co-op and created the driftwood sculptures that stand outside the Newport Performing Arts Center and the Visual Arts Center. He was self-taught and worked in almost all mediums, including oil wash, wood, and pottery, his wife said.

“If he found a stone or piece of wood, he’d see something in it and go from there. He’d find something on the beach and make something of it,” she said. “He was always seeing something in an object that I wouldn’t. I think he just had a very wonderful imagination.”

The Oregon Coast Online Art Show, open to artists who have shown previously at the center, who live on the coast, or who are members of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts (OCCA), received more than 120 submissions. All of the work has been organized and presented remotely. The show goes live Friday, May 29, and continues through Sept. 7.

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Accounts to follow: Natural refreshment

The Instagram accounts of artists Katy Abraham, Stirling Gorsuch and Aimée Brewer offer viewers the chance to engage with Oregon's natural beauty from anywhere

This is the first in a series of stories about outstanding Oregon-based artists to follow on Instagram. The series focuses on accounts that are regularly updated with engaging content and high-quality images that allow followers to enjoy artwork regardless of location. Curated by the artists themselves, Instagram accounts offer a relaxed opportunity to view completed and in-progress artwork and to get a glimpse into the artists’ ideas, process, and studio practices.

Georgia O’Keeffe knew a thing or two about nature. Among American artists, no one is as closely associated with capturing the vitality and brilliance of the natural world as O’Keeffe. In 1937, she said of her work, “I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at—not copy it.” I was thinking of O’Keeffe while thumbing through Mark Getlein’s Living With Art, in which the author outlines six functions artists perform. The last of these is “artists refresh our vision and help us see the world in new ways.” It is by no means a new idea, but the language is still striking; that art could “refresh” us seems to capture so many possibilities at once. It could imbue us with energy, capture the feeling of a specific place or moment, maybe even help us see as if through someone else’s eyes. As O’Keeffe understood, artistic explorations of the natural world can help us rediscover what is already there, and to feel what we cannot always articulate.

Katy Abraham, Stirling Gorsuch, and Aimée Brewer explore the beauty and wonder of the natural world, reimagining it in watercolor, ink, and porcelain. They do not just capture the image of nature, but the feeling of a particular landscape, the character of a flower, animal, or tree, and the sense of how we are part of the Earth’s rhythms. Their Instagram accounts capture both the teeming energy and quiet strength of nature and allow us to experience a sense of the outdoors wherever we may be.

watercolor sea and sky with birds
Katy Abraham. Where You Left Me. Watercolor on paper. 9” x 12.” Image courtesy of the artist. Instagram account: @cascadiaartproject.

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Barra Brown: Sense of Urgency

Portland musician’s diverse projects embrace his expansive creative mentality

On the day Portland drummer/composer Barra Brown entered the studio to begin recording his second album of original compositions, he got the news: a family friend he’d known all his life was in the hospital. Valeria Ball, a close friend of Brown’s mother who led a Southern Oregon dance company that once included Brown, had a brain tumor, and needed emergency surgery. 

Brown, a Lewis & Clark College alum who’s one of Oregon’s widest-ranging musicians, was devastated, but  “she would want you to make the album,” his mother told him. He forged ahead with  Dreaming Awake,  released in 2015 and dedicated to Ball, who died the following year, and others who have battled cancer. Since then, Brown, now 30, has unleashed a flood of music in varied styles, playing various instruments, as though he needs to try everything now and take it as far as he can — before it’s too late.

Barra Brown. Photo: Reed Ricker.

“I think I have a sense of urgency just because I don’t know when I’m going to die,” he muses. “Maybe that comes from my friend dying. There’s no excuse for not doing what it is that you’re meant to do. There’s this urgency: all these ideas are here. The struggle is having time to get them all out.”

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Fortepianos and a Misty Lake in the Moonlight

Historically, a keyboard isn't just a keyboard. How you hear Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata can depend on the instrument it's played on.


By JOSEPH ALBERT


When Baroque or earlier music is performed, the question of whether to use period instruments often is at the forefront of the interpretive conception. Organizations like the Oregon Bach Festival and Portland Baroque Orchestra must answer this question for every performance. With keyboard repertoire or keyboard parts of a chamber or orchestral work, this might be a decision of whether to use a piano or a harpsichord. The two instruments have such different sound, however, that asking which is preferred is not unlike asking whether a piece should be played on violin or flute. Thus, while pianists playing solo may choose to play on the piano music that was composed for harpsichord, Baroque and early music ensembles generally will use a harpsichord or organ for keyboard parts to satisfy aesthetic preferences and maintain historical integrity.

During the Classical era, fortepianos (early versions of the piano) began supplanting harpsichords and organs as the keyboard instrument of choice for secular keyboard music. While the earliest keyboard compositions of Haydn were written for the harpsichord, the fortepiano had supplanted the harpsichord by the time of Beethoven and Schubert. Today, keyboard music of the Classical era generally is performed on a modern piano, but the decision of whether to use a period piano (fortepiano) or modern piano can be interesting.

Fortepianist Tom Beghin, in a screen shot from the video below, demonstrating Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” From a demonstration at the Orpheus Institute, Ghent, Belgium, March 3, 2015.

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In Brief: Visual Chronicle wants you

Portland's collection of visual history is looking to expand; grants for emerging artists; Chinatown Museum reschedules exhibitions

Time’s running short for Portland artists to throw their hats in the ring to add their work this year to The Visual Chronicle of Portland: Deadline for submission is 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 27. A second, broader opportunity open to artists in Oregon and Southwest Washington, Support Beam, offers a little more breathing room: Its application deadline is 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 3. Information on both is available here from the Regional Arts & Culture Council.

Willow Zheng, “Classical Chinese Garden, Portland, Oregon III,” Chinese watercolor and ink, 2002; collection of the Visual Chronicle of Portland.

Support Beam, with an overall budget of $70,000, is intended to support works of art created by emerging artists over a period of three to six months. Individual grants will be between $3,000 and $5,000. The Visual Chronicle funding is for direct purchase of pieces to add to the City of Portland’s collection of works on paper that chronicle the life and identity of the city. Total budget for this year’s additions is $15,000, and no individual piece can be priced higher than $1,000. Eligible artists may apply for either or both awards.

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