ArtsWatch Weekly: pop bang boom

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and freedom of the press; Gore Vidal's visitor from outer space; Shakespeare in the parks; music fests

It’s the Fourth of July, by general agreement the 241st birthday of the great American Experiment, although some might date the nation’s existence from the ratification on March 1, 1781, of the weak and short-lived Articles of Confederation, which declared a central government while reserving most authority to the independent states; or the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783, which ended the Revolutionary War; or the creation of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787, or its ratification on June 21, 1788, or its effective date of March 4, 1789. Others might argue for something earlier and more gradual, dating to the establishments of the various colonies far from the British throne, a situation that gave rise to a sort of natural independence long before any official break. And many point out that the “new” continents and islands of the Americas contained thriving civilizations long before the permanent arrival of Europeans in 1492, and that the descendants of those civilizations justifiably might have radically differing points of view on what precisely the American Experiment means.

“A VIEW of the FIRE-WORKES and ILLUMINATIONS at his GRACE the Duke of RICHMOND’S at WHITEHALL and on the River Thames on Monday 15 May 1749. Performed by the direction of Charles Fredrick Esq.,” hand-colored etching, 1749, artist unknown.

Right now the Experiment, launched on the principles of an Age of Reason that seems to be slipping from our grasp, feels waist-deep in troubled waters. The First Amendment to the Constitution, which among other things guarantees the freedoms of speech and the press on which organizations such as Oregon ArtsWatch rely, is under strenuous attack from the center of the government that is supposed to be protecting them. The history of the Second Amendment is being so magnified and radically reinterpreted that you’d almost swear Moses had hauled it down from the mountaintop engraved in smoking Day-Glo lettering by an open-carrying Lord High Almighty Himself.

Still, if the reasons for celebration sometimes seem lost in the post-postmodern shuffle, the nation’s fondness for things that go boom! appears to be unabated. And as the illustration above attests, it seems rooted not just in the explosions of the Revolutionary War but also in the enthusiasms of old England, a country that still celebrates the spirited defiance of Guy Fawkes and his gunpowder plot of 1605. The British enthusiasm continued with His Grace the Duke of Richmond’s little fireworks display along the Thames in 1749, an occasion for which George Frideric Handel, who already had composed his fabled Water Music for a similar celebration in 1717, composed a new work, Music for the Royal Fireworks. All in all the event was a huge success, except for the accidental blowing up of the Temple of Peace onshore and consequent demise, according to some reports, of three spectators. (Other sources insist there were no injuries. That’s history for you: a jumble of hard-to-confirm, and possibly convenient, alternative facts.)

Have a good Fourth. Enjoy your baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and high-decibel cranking-up of Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner. And give your dogs and cats a nice quiet getaway from it all, somewhere indoors.




With apologies to William Shakespeare, whose Elizabethan world view was a little more constricted than our own, All the universe is a stage. At least, it is in Lake Oswego, where Gore Vidal’s stage play Visit to a Small Planet opens Friday at Lakewood Theatre. Tobias Andersen directs the play that Vidal subtitled A Comedy Akin to a Vaudeville, and which began life as a television play in 1955.

Vidal reworked it for a 1957 Broadway stage production starring Cyril Richard as Kreton, the visiting space alien who finds himself fascinated by the habits and emotions of the inhabitants of the third speck from the sun, and finally as a 1960 movie, in glorious black and white, starring Jerry Lewis. At Lakewood, Jeremy Southard plays the space- and time-traveling outsider with the anthropologist’s view of human culture.

— The Good Bard, meanwhile, is popping up on stages up and down the state. In Ashland, Henry IV, Part Two joins the repertory at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Tuesday, where Henry IV, Part One and The Merry Wives of Windsor are already playing – which means, as Suzi Steffen noted in her tale of two Falstaffs for ArtsWatch, that this year’s Ashland season includes all three plays in which the Large Knight appears.

A Portland farewell to Eowyn Emerald. Photo: David Krebs

— The venerable Portland Actors Ensemble kicks off its annual Shakespeare-in-the-Parks schedule on Friday in the Lone Fir Cemetery with free performances of Troilus and Cressida, that rattling look at bad behavior in the Trojan Wars. It runs at the cemetery through July 29; later in the season, PAE will present that grand late romance The Winter’s Tale at Concordia University and on tour at several wineries.

— On Thursday, Éowyn Emerald & Dancers will present their final performance in Portland before relocating to Edinburgh, Scotland. It should be a happy/sad farewell to a choreographer and dancers who’ve done fine work here: some Debussy, some of Duke Ellington’s sophisticated reworkings of Tchaikovsky and Grieg, some of Emerald’s early work. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Lincoln Performance Hall, PSU.

— And CoHo Summerfest continues Thursday-Sunday with Eric Davis’s solo piece Red Bastard: Lie with Me, co-written and directed by Aitor Basauri. Davis, a former Cirque du Soleil clown who’s done this show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and elsewhere, vows to “expose the lies we tell our lovers and the bastards who made us lie in the first place.” It is, by good report, a comedy.

“Red Bastard” at CoHo Summerfest. Photo: Steve Ullathorne




Chamber Music Northwest

On this Independence Day, the summer festival declares long-overdue independence from slavish near-exclusive fealty to music by European males by including a program of American music that includes a world premiere by one of our nation’s finest composers, William Bolcom. And no doubt in honor of the victors in the last American national election, Thursday’s concert is hacked by Russian music.

The Emerson Quartet playing in 2015 at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson

It’s back to America for Friday’s show featuring music by American composers (and Emerson Quartet members) Gene Drucker and Philip Setzer, Augusta Read Thomas, and (especially commendably) a world premiere commissioned by the festival from rising young American composer Gabriella Smith, with a Finn (the great Kaija Saariaho) in the mix as well. Russians and Europeans re-conquer Saturday’s Emerson program of music by Shostakovich, Purcell, and Mendelssohn’s dazzling youthful Octet.

In Mulieribus will perform at Chamber Music Northwest.

The second week turns the focus to female composers, leading off with Hildegard of Bingen’s medieval morality play The Play of the Virtues on July 10. The amazing abbess is one of the first composers we know by name, and her soaring music and life story are still popular a millennium later. Ordo Virtutum, its Latin name, pits the Devil (naturally voiced by a man, Portland actor Isaac Lamb) against various Virtues, sung by Portland’s fine In Mulieribus choir, in a battle for the soul.

July 4-10, various venues.


Oregon Bach Festival

Stay tuned for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review of the opening St. Matthew Passion, with its last-minute conductor substitute thanks to the early arrival of music director Matthew Halls’s baby in Toronto. He’s expected back next week. Wednesday begins the first episode of this year’s [Re]Discovery Series (July 5, 10, 12), exploring Bach’s other surviving Passion setting (and masterpiece) in a combination of conductor workshop, lecture demonstration and performance at Beall Concert Hall. On Thursday, one of the greatest living organists, Paul Jacobs plays Bach at Central Lutheran Church.

“Venus and Adonis,” Cornelis van Haarlem, 1614, oil on canvas, 37.4 x 29.2 inches, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen, France

Friday’s Berwick Academy performance brings Venus & Adonis to Beall. John Blow’s musical setting of the ancient myth of the goddess and the hunter is the oldest surviving English opera. The period-instrument performance also includes works by two of the finest French Baroque composers, Rebel and Lully.

Saturday’s production of Hercules, the only big Baroque production in Silva Hall this year, presents a music drama — not quite an opera — whose characteristically stirring arias and choruses tell the tale of a hero’s downfall.

Though this year’s festival is disappointingly short of contemporary music, Sunday’s Beall concert does feature one of the finest works by one of the three so-called late 20th century “Holy Minimalist” composers, Britain’s John Tavener. The Orthodox composer’s expansive 1989 cello concerto The Protecting Veil was inspired by a 10th century Byzantine miracle. His fellow English composer Herbert Howells’s 1933 Requiem is a rarely performed (hereabouts, anyway) Psalm setting of quiet intensity.

July 5-10, various venues.


Remember, both CMNW and OBF sport numerous free events: rehearsals, talks, and more. Check the respective websites for info.




ArtsWatch links


Lisamarie Harrison as Morticia, with ensemble in Broadway Rose’s “The Addams Family.” Photo: Sam Ortega

A band of ghoulish outsiders. Christa McIntyre traces America’s love/hate affair with nonconformists, and the evolution of the nation’s foremost outsider clan, in her review of Broadway Rose’s new production of the musical comedy The Addams Family.

Montrose Trio: passion restrained. Jeff Winslow found the fine pianist Jon Kimura Parker and the Montrose elegant and restrained in performances of youthful works by Brahms, Beethoven, and Shostakovich. That was a good thing, except when it wasn’t.

Choreography XX: bringing individuality to ballet. Our dance writer Jamuna Chiarini did triple duty on Oregon Ballet Theatre’s recent evening of free dance, all by women choreographers, in Washington Park. In this piece, she talks with choreographer Giacanda Barbuto and company artistic director Kevin Irving. In Nicole Haskins stands on the merits, she gets insights from another of the XX choreographers. And in Choreography XX in the park, she sets the table for the full feast.

Cascadia Composers, Third Angle: Northwest inspirations. Ah, nature: It’s such a Northwest thing. And Brett Campbell finds evidence of natural inspiration in separate concerts by the two contemporary music organizations.

The hound of the comic thrills. Christa McIntyre reviews Ken Ludwig’s quick-as-a-lick detective spoof Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at Clackamas Rep.

New grads, old pros, big names, prison art. What’s new in the galleries and museums in July? Before this week’s First Thursday gallery walk, we take a look at a few of the new shows.

Storm Tharp, “Figurine,” 2017; ink, fabric dye and acrylic on paper; 62″ x 118″. PDX Contemporary.

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