ArtsWatch Weekly: Banging the can

David Lang's "Match Girl" opera, JAW snaps open, Chamber Music Northwest's race to the finish, Brian Cox chats, art and science meet

Poor little match girl, and chamber music too: David Lang, cofounder of the effusive Bang On a Can and 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winner for The Little Match Girl Passion, is all over the Portland cultural calendar this week.

Damien Geter, Cree Carrico, and Nicole Mitchell in David Lang’s “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field” at Portland Opera. Photo: Cory Weaver

Portland Opera’s shift to a mainly summer season concludes with a double bill of Lang’s contemporary one-acts Match Girl and The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, opening Friday in the intimate Newmark Theatre. And his music will be on the bill Thursday and Friday at Chamber Music Northwest. Get the lowdown on Lang and his fascinating career from ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell in his profile David Lang: From iconoclast to eminence.

Portland Opera’s given the Lang story its own twist. The company asked Imago Theater cofounder Jerry Mouawad, celebrated for his inventive design and direction in shows like Frogz, La Belle: Lost in the World of the Automoton, and Sartre’s No Exit, to transform Lang’s spare, poignant choral setting of Hans Christian Andersen’s tragic fable The Little Match Girl Passion into a staged work. (His Imago partner and cofounder Carol Triffle is in the Match Girl cast.) Mouawad also directs Lang’s earlier one-act chamber opera (string quartet and voices), The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, based on a story by Ambrose Bierce.

Max Young (left center) is the match girl and Imago Theatre cofounder Carol Triffle is a movement artist in Portland Opera’s new production of David Lang’s “The Little Match Girl Passion.” Photo: Cory Weaver

Meanwhile, open the gates: Chamber Music Northwest is entering the final stretch of its five-week summer festival run, which hits the finish line with performances Saturday and Sunday of Bach’s complete Brandenburg Concertos. See the details in Brett’s weekly music picks below.

 


 

JAW: A PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL

One of the biggest deals on the city’s summer theater calendar is JAW, Portland Center Stage’s annual festival of new plays in development. Since debuting in 1999 the festival has presented staged readings of works by 73 playwrights from across the country, and 68 percent of the featured plays have gone on to have premieres at American professional companies, including PCS. Works by Constance Congdon, Will Eno, Marc Acito, Lauren Weedman, Julia Cho, Adam Bock, Craig Lucas, Mia Chung, Yussef El Guindi, rockers Storm Large and Blitzen Trapper, Liz Duffy Adams, Steve Patterson, Itamar Moses, Jordan Harrison, Sue Mach, Rob Handel, Kimberly Rosenstock, and many others have taken significant steps here.

Portland Center Stage’s JAW Festival fills The Armory with new plays, fresh ideas, and related performances each summer. In 2013’s Press Play, above, the breakdance crew Wes Guy and the New Birth captivates the lobby crowd. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Festival artists began gathering in town a week ago, and public performances – all of them free – run Friday through Sunday, with four main productions and a host of related events, from a clown show to site-specific dance, a street dance battle, and more. The festival kickoff is Friday evening with readings of six short plays by JAW’s young Promising Playwrights.

The four main staged readings:

Tiny Houses, by Stafanie Zadrivic. When pro-Russian separatists shoot down a Malaysian airliner over a war-torn east Ukraine village, several village women “suddenly realize they can disrupt the staus quo.” Oglesby is a resident playwright at New Dramatists and playwright in residence at Women’s Project. 4 p.m. Saturday.

Testmatch, by Kate Attwell. Cricket then and now: a tense present-day match between England and India, and during the height of colonialism in the days of the British East India Company. It’s not all fun and games. Attwell is a resident artist for Mabou Mines and a member of the devised theater working group at the Public Theater in New York. 8 p.m. Saturday.

In Old Age, by Mfoniso Udofia. “Isolated within the walls of her derelict New England home and suffering the residual pain of years of abuse, an ancient Abasiama Ufot makes an unlikely spiritual connection with an elder stranger.” Udofia is a first generation Nigerian American storyteller whose play Sojourners opened at New York Theatre Workshop, and is working on a translation of Othello for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On! project. 4 p.m. Sunday.

Small Steps, by Briandaniel Oglesby. “Finally fed up with the bot-and-disappointment-filled world of online gay dating, Skip Powers volunteers to go to Mars.” In this comedy, NASA says OK. Oglesby is a queer, half Latino, on-the-rise writer of plays for teens and other plays for adults. 8 p.m. Sunday.

Complete schedule and details here.

 


 

BRETT CAMPBELL’s MUSIC PICKS OF THE WEEK:

Chamber Music Northwest

The most exciting and forward-looking edition of the venerable summer festival I’ve ever attended concludes this week with still more contemporary music.

Tuesday afternoon’s free concert brings the superb quintet Imani Winds to Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium to play nature-inspired music (including their arrangement of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring) to complement the museum’s excellent Jennifer Steinkamp exhibition.

Imani Winds responds for Chamber Music Northwest to Jennifer Steinkamp’s “Kamp Tree” at the Portland Art Museum. 2015, video installation, dimensions variable, Edition of 1; Courtesy the artist, ACME, Los Angeles, greengrassi, London and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Tuesday night’s concert at Portland State includes new music by CMNW Protege composers Chris Rogerson and Daniel Schlosberg (inspired by the newly updated Twin Peaks TV series), plus Bach and Poulenc.

Wednesday night’s show at Alberta Rose Theatre includes two tributes to one of America’s greatest composers, Duke Ellington, one composed for by the group’s own hornist, Jeff Scott, the other a suite based on major Ellington compositions arranged for clarinet and piano by Reed College’s own composing eminence David Schiff, author of The Ellington Century, a recent important book about Ellington’s tremendous significance to 20th century American music. The concert, one of the summer’s best, also features another extended work by Scott, Of Good and Evil, for oboe and piano featuring Imani oboist and singer Toyin Spellman-Diaz.

CMNW partnered with Portland Opera to bring Pulitzer winner David Lang back to Portland for performances of his music (see above), including Thursday night at Reed College and Friday at a Portland State noon concert. Both shows include tangy Lang solo works for flute and bass clarinet and a lovely song from his score for the 2015 Michael Caine film Youth. Thursday’s concert also includes sweet wind music by Mozart and Schlosberg’s ten-minute traversal of La Boheme’s greatest hits, while Friday’s instead focuses on more new music, by Imani flutist Valerie Coleman – like Scott, a fine composer herself. At CMNW’s free Coffee with the Composers last week, Coleman spoke movingly about how important it is for composers to embrace history, including current events, in their work. She’s writing a piece about her fellow Louisville native Muhammad Ali and has composed lovely tributes to Josephine Baker and Langston Hughes, and it’s the latter, an evocative series of Parisian and Harlem musical portraits for flute, clarinet, piano and narrator (interpolating Hughes’s poetry) that we’ll hear Friday.

Then it’s way back to Bach for the closing concerts at Reed and PSU featuring the ever-popular Brandenburg Concertos. Stay tuned to ArtsWatch for an extensive series of reports on the this summer’s terrific festival.

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Jazz in the Garden

This new summer series with PDX Jazz makes an attractive matchup of a pair of essential Portland institutions. Tonight (Tuesday, July 25), award-winning Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett leads an all-female sextet in original and classic Afro Cuban jazz and more. Tuesday, Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everett Street.

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Fair Trade Trio

In this free lunchtime concert, the New York string trio plays the Portland premiere of Scottish composer Emily Doolittle’s new trio, plus a trio by Beethoven, and more. Wednesday, The Old Church.

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Abbey Bach Festival

Oregon’s most pastoral musical festival returns for its 46th edition. On Wednesday, organist James Welch plays music by J.S. Bach, Mendelssohn, and Robert Hebble. Then Canada’s Saguenay Quartet performs Bach’s Art of the Fugue, a quartet by Schubert, and American composer Marcus Goddard’s enchanting Allaqi, which incorporates influences from Inuit throat singing to flamenco.

Welch returns Thursday to play more Bach, Reger, Carvalho and Dale Woods, followed by the fortepiano and cello duo Elinor Frey and Lorenzo Ghielmi in a program of rarely heard post-J.S. Bach music by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, Benda, Graun, Abel, and Kirnberger.

On Friday, Welch plays more Bach, followed by pianist Sean Duggan in one of Bach’s great so-called English Suites and Beethoven’s mighty Hammerklavier sonata. Wednesday-Friday, Mt. Angel Abbey.

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Good News!

Set in the Roaring ’20s, this fizzy musical sports a lightweight plot that includes a romance between a football coach and an astronomy prof, another between a football star and a nerdy student, plus sorority girls, varsity dances, jazzy dance numbers, and a few standout songs whose upbeat titles (“The Best Things in Life Are Free,” “Lucky in Love,” “Just Imagine,” “You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”) give a sense of the musical’s upbeat, pre-Depression sensibility. Friday-Sunday, The Shedd, Eugene.

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Josh Deutsch Quartet

Before all that old music arrives, check out the new original music at a Broadway House concert in a Eugene bungalow, featuring the lyrical trumpeter Deutsch joined by a fellow former UO musical colleague-turned-New Yorker, saxophonist Hashem Assadullahi, plus keyboardist Torrey Newhart and other excellent young jazz artists. Friday, 911 W. Broadway, Eugene.

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Britt Festival

Young dynamo music director Teddy Abrams continues his refreshing of the southern Oregon institution into a new-music powerhouse with Friday’s opening night concert features the fabulous Seattle celist Joshua Roman and music by several generations of West Coast composers, from 1930s California ultramodernist Henry Cowell to Darius Milhaud (the French eminence who taught for many years at Oakland’s Mills College after fleeing France during World War II) to film score master John Williams, the most performed American composer John Adams, and three of the finest composers of the current generation: California’s Mason Bates (whose new opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs is on stage at Santa Fe); USC-based prize winner Andrew Norman; and Portland’s own Kenji Bunch — the world premiere of his Song of Sasquatch.

Saturday night’s old-music concert has Brahms’s violin concerto and Sibelius’s fifth symphony. Both concerts in the Britt Pavilion, Jacksonville.

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Portland Gay Men’s Chorus and Portland Lesbian Choir
Mary McCarty directs two dozen singers, accompanied by pianist Michael Barnes, in words (e.e. cummings, Wendell Barry, Emily Dickinson, Helen Keller, Rilke) and music by contemporary composers including Morten Lauridsen, Andrea Ramsey and more. Monday, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, 2201 S.W. Vermont St.

 


 

MORE TOP PICKS OF THE WEEK:

Movement and Flow: Portland Dance Films. On Wednesday evening the Northwest Film Center presents an evening of six films about the city and its dance scene, and Jamuna Chiarini has the lowdown in her DanceWatch Weekly column, including an insightful interview with filmmaker Fuchsia Lin.

Brian Cox at The Carnegie Club in New York City on May 23, 2017 for Observer.

An Evening with Brian Cox. Cox, the two-time Olivier Award-winning actor who recently played Sir Winston in the film Churchill and whose other triumphs range from his Lear for the Royal Shakespeare Company to film and TV turns in the likes of Manhunter, The Bourne Supremacy, Braveheart, Deadwood, Frasier (as Daphne’s dad) and Nuremberg, is an old friend of Randall Stuart (Stuart officiated at Cox’s wedding), the Portland actor/producer who runs the always interesting Cerimon House cultural and community center in the Alberta Arts District. In this benefit for Cerimon House, Stuart and Portland actor/writer Margie Boulé will interview Cox about his life and career, and there’ll be time for Q&A and a chat with Cox afterwards. Wednesday, Cerimon House, 5131 N.E. 23rd Ave.

Kabuki onstage and on exhibit. The Portland Japanese Garden brings rising Tokyo kabuki star Nakamura Umamaro for his U.S. debut in a solo performance as “a young girl on her way home from a calligraphy lesson who fantasizes about the life ahead of her, composing imaginary love poems from the words she wrote in class as butterflies dance around her.” It’s an onnagata role – a male actor portraying a woman – and will play Saturday and Sunday evenings. Umamaro’s performance kicks off the costume exhibition Kabuki: A Revolution in Color and Design, running Sunday through Sept. 3.

Mad Pursuit: Exploring Science through the Lens of Art. Ford Gallery’s new show opening with a reception Saturday evening explores the work of five Portland artists whose work bridges science and art: Kindra Crick, whose interests range from neuroscience to the double helix of the DNA molecule that her Nobel-winning grandfather helped discover; Julian Voss Andrae, who uses contemporary technology in his sculpture; encaustic painter Elise Wagner, whose work often has a geologically layered feel; Laurence Murrell, who is fascinated by the structure of tiny organisms invisible to the naked human eye; and Sienna Morris, whose drawings made up entirely of numbers or equations take an average of 200 hours to complete and up to a year to research. Through Aug. 23.

Kindra Crick, “In Forgetting,” 30”x 40”, Chalkboard, chalk, pastel, oil and ink on birch panel.

 


 

ArtsWatch links

 

Eugene Drucker: Emerson to Shakespeare to Bach. Alice Hardesty interviews the Emerson Quartet violinist, whose famed group has been playing at this summer’s Chamber Music Northwest. He talks about the ensemble’s origins, his novel, his own compositions, and the differences between playing first and second violin.

Makrokosmos 3: powered by percussion. Matthew Andrews writes about Makrokosmos’ latest explosion of music – five hours of contemporary classical sounds gathered, once again, by the piano duo Stephanie & Saar. Masataka Suemitsu provides the energetic photos to go with it.

Extradition Series: open season. Composer and percussionist Matthew Andrews writes about the Creative Music Guild’s latest in its quarterly series of experimental music, and provides video evidence of what it was all about.

Cosí fan tutte: psychedelic shtick. Portland Opera “does itself proud with its production of Mozart’s silly, sexist, lighthearted, and hilarious opera,” Terry Ross writes. Cosí concludes with performances Wednesday and Saturday in the Newmark, working around the opening performances of the David Lang double feature The Little Match Girl Passion and The Difficulty of Crossing a Field.

China/Oregon: Bridging the Pacific through music. Gary Ferrington writes about the eight-year connection between Chinese conservatory students and faculty in Beijing and the University of Oregon’s Summer Academy for Computer Music, led by UO music prof Jeffrey Stolet, who is also head of Future Music Oregon.

 

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