ArtsWatch Weekly: Sunny days

Punched-up Mahler, the Yo Yo Ma of ukulele, the dubious stand of "Virginia Woolf," Vanport tales, tap dance legends, and more

ArtsWatch World Headquarters has moved temporarily to the front porch, where the sun is shining and the computer is juiced up and the cat is staring down the squirrel and the squirrel is chattering back and the crows are cawing the play-by-play. With the temperature heading for a balmy 82, visions of summer festivals are dancing in our heads. The Oregon Bach Festival. Chamber Music Northwest. The Astoria Music Festival. The Britt Festivals. The (continuing) Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and more.

Emil Orlik, portrait of Gustav Mahler, drypoint on vellum, 11.5 x 7.9 inches, 1902; Galerie Bessenge/Wikimedia Commons

Not that it’s been all sunshine and lollipops in Portland, even with Monday’s surprise impersonation of a mid-August day. In the evening as we drove toward Schnitzer Hall for the final performance of the Oregon Symphony’s final classical concert of the season, Mahler’s still-astonishing Symphony No. 2, a barricade of fire trucks and police cars just north of Burnside Street rerouted us several blocks: a massive power outage had hit a long swath of downtown, and among many other disruptions, nearly all the traffic lights were out. Fortunately the Schnitzer kept its power (the nearby Portland Art Museum didn’t, and was forced to close on Tuesday while repairs were being done), and the orchestra proceeded to pretty much blow the roof off the joint. Conductor Carlos Kalmar, over roughly eighty muscular minutes, punched up the big moments, and with large choir, several soloists, a bevy of brass, and more kettle drums than you could shake a passel of sticks at, there were a lot of big moments to punch up. Mahler’s swaggering masterwork, which premiered in 1895, is among other things a grand mythical and actual counterpoint of violently competing forces, and it was his genius (a genius that the Oregon Symphony’s leader and musicians convincingly conveyed) to somehow bring those competing forces into a united and coherent whole. The whole thing reminded me at times of our current deep cultural/political divide, which threatens never to reunite, and got me to wondering, half-idly: Might Mahler be available for office in 2020?





Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, Tuesday night with the Oregon Symphony.

Jake Shimabukuro, Oregon Symphony
The enormously popular, virtuosic Hawaiian-born Yo Yo Ma of the ukulele and frequent Oregon visitor returns to play his originals and creatively arranged covers, backed by a band as big as his instrument is small. Tuesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Billy Childs Quartet
The four-time Grammy-winning pianist and composer somehow navigates pop (working with Sting and Dianne Reeves), contemporary classical (Kronos Quartet, Yo Yo Ma), mainstream jazz (Freddie Hubbard, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette) and more, and the music that his quartet will play from his sharp new album Rebirth should appeal to both jazz and pop fans. Wednesday, The Old Church.

Salem Symphony
The orchestra scores a big name — none other than violin virtuoso Joshua Bell — to play Bruch’s violin concerto and Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, after the band plays Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saens. Wednesday, Elsinore Theatre, 170 High Sreet, Salem.

Portland Percussion Group performs at Portland’s ShoutHouse Friday.

Portland Percussion Group
The beat goes on with percussion ensemble music, born on the West Coast in the 1930s thanks to Lou Harrison, John Cage and Henry Cowell. This concert offers brand new music commissioned by the quartet as well as music by contemporary Oregon composers and more, including Toru Takemitsu’s lovely Rain Tree. Friday, ShoutHouse, Portland.

Jason Anick and Jason Yeager
The young violinist/mandolinist and pianist play “jazz without borders,” and their breezy new album United touches on classical, pop (George Harrison’s “Something”) and world music (Aregentine chacarera beat) influences. Monday, Classic Pianos, Portland, and Tuesday (May 30), Roaring Rapids Pizza, Eugene.

The University of Oregon’s annual early music conference not only reaches scholars all over the world, its free concerts also entertain Oregonians with music informed by the ever-increasing research into how centuries-old music was actually performed when it was written. Wednesday features a historically informed performance of one of the great early Baroque masterpieces, Claudio Monteverdi’s Selva morale et spirituale, at Central Lutheran Church, 1857 Potter St. On Saturday, the church hosts a much rarer Italian Baroque gem: Giovanni Bononcini’s oratorio La Maddalena a’ piedi di Cristo on period instruments. More intimate performances happen over the lunch hour Wednesday (Renaissance Wind Band), Thursday (Renaissance lute), and Friday (early Italian keyboard music) at the university’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Then there’s an afternoon medieval poetry and music event featuring Portland Baroque Orchestra cellist Joanna Blendulf and Portland early music singer Aaron Cain May 26 at the UO Collier House, which also hosts a concert the previous evening featuring William Dongois, one of the world’s most respected cornetto (a baroque woodwind instrument) players. It’s a chance to do some musical time traveling with the best possible tourguides. Tuesday-Saturday, various Eugene venues.





Portland Tap Dance Festival. Lots and lots to look forward to here: the legendary Brenda Bufalino and ten more master instructors are coming to town to run these workshops Friday to Sunday, with a faculty and festival performance on Saturday at Lewis & Clark College. Get on your taps, and learn some living history.

Tales from the Vault, New Shorts II. Matt Haynes’ Pulp Stage delivers it latest batch of tales from the macabre on Thursday at The Vault in O’Connor’s Cafe & Bar, from Two Heads on a First Date to Just Desserts, with a couple more in between. Should be fun.

Thom Pain (based on nothing). Sarah Andrews directs Portland leading light Todd Van Voris in Will Eno’s rambunctious solo ramble for the new Crave Theatre. Friday through June 11, Shoe Box Theatre.

Vanport plays: the cast. Photo: Antonio Harris

American Summer Squash and Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water. Jocelyn Seid directs Don W. Glenn’s Squash and Damaris Webb directs Michael A. Jones’s Hercules as part of this year’s Vanport Mosaic Festival, which looks at the roots and consequences of the post-World War II destruction of an entire largely working class and multicultural city by floodwaters in what is now North Portland. Friday through June 4 at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center. Among several other events are educational workshops and an exhibit at IFCC, Vanport: The Surge of Social Change.

Tribute to the Ballet Russes. The professional students of The Portland Ballet perform the Glazunov/Fokine Les Sylphides, excerpts from Balanchine’s Who Cares?, and work by Tom Gold and Lane Hunter. Friday-Saturday, Lincoln Performance Hall.

La Peña: ¡Baila, canta, toca! Final show in Cafe Artichoke’s 2017 series features Portland flamenco dancer Brenna McDonald and several others, including singer Pepe Raphael. Friday, Artichoke Music.

Double Feature. A night of Northwest gothic – Aubrey Jessen’s Ghost Town and Greta West’s Amaranthine Night – continues through June 4 at Action/Adventure Theatre. Both are new plays with echoes of The Twilight Zone.

Hands Up! The August Wilson Red Door Project’s spring tour of seven plays by seven writers on a theme of race continues with shows Saturday and Sunday at Wieden + Kennedy. Performances are free, but you need a reservation.



ArtsWatch links


Playwright Edward Albee, in an undated photo. UH Photographs Collection, 1948-2000/Wikimedia Commons

Who’s afraid of a casting switch? When Portland theater producer Michael Streeter lost the rights to produced Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because he had cast a black actor in one of the roles of Edward Albee’s masterwork, the story spread internationally, from The Guardian to the New York Times. Hailey Bachrach has the inside story for ArtsWatch.

In the kitchen with James Beard. Angela Allen whipped out her notebook when Portland’s food royalty showed up for the premiere of James Beard, America’s First Foodie, the PBS American Masters documentary about the fabulous bon vivant who grew up in Portland and returned repeatedly to Oregon in his years as the nation’s most celebrated food voice.

The meaningful manners of Miss Julie. A.L. Adams gets down in the trenches with the rippling meanings in Craig Lucas’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie at Shaking the Tree.

Calmus: polish and precision. Terry Ross declares a performance by the virtuoso German vocal ensemble for Friends of Chamber Music “the smoothest, the most polished I’ve ever seen.”

Gershwin in Paris: S’wonderful. The Broadway tour of the hit musical An American in Paris stopped at Keller Auditorium for a week, and Martha Ullman West walked out with happy feet and happy thoughts.

A Cascadia Composer in Cuba. Composer Christina Rusnak recounts her adventures exploring the Havana music scene and recording her own work there.

Words of loss, words of love. I review the vagaries of words and the mysteries of passion (or is it the other way around?) in Portland Playhouse’s appealing production of Julia Cho’s nimble, playful, and sometimes deeply touching drama The Language Archive.

Three degrees of fusion. Patrick McCulley considers the variations of jazz, rock, funk, jam, and various other musical approaches in a triple bill of Sexmob, Asher Fulero Band, and Jazz is PHSH.

Black Violin: black & white. At the classical/hip hop duo’s latest shows in town, Maria Choban writes, the action happened as much in the seats as on the stage.

Photography from the cold and wet. Laurel Reed Pavich reviews the chilly and sublime images of Corey Arnold and Aleksey Kondratyev: “There’s always someplace colder than here.”

Aleksey Kondratyev, Untitled, 2016, archival pigment print, 24″ x 30″/
image © Aleksey Kondratyev/Courtesy of Blue Sky Gallery

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