Brett Campbell

 

‘Locally Sourced Sounds V’: showcasing homegrown classical music

FearNoMusic's annual composers showcase reveals Oregon's burgeoning contemporary classical composition scene

When violist Kenji Bunch left his native Portland for music school in New York more than a quarter century ago, contemporary classical music wasn’t much on the city’s radar. Outside New York, “there wasn’t a lot going on anywhere, compared to today,” Bunch remembers. “New music didn’t have the cachet or excitement it generates today.”

The next year, a group of Portland musicians formed an ensemble devoted to elevating contemporary classical music. And five years ago, that ensemble, FearNoMusic, selected Bunch as its new artistic director. Returning home after winning a reputation in New York as one of the nation’s finest and most listener friendly composers of his generation, he found a very different city and musical culture than the one he’d left.

FearNoMusic artistic director and Portland composer Kenji Bunch. Photo: Meg Nanna for Artslandia.

“Definitely there’s a real vitality now in the new music scene,” he says. “The level of attention nationally to our region has only grown and developed. There’s a real interest in and fascination with Portland nationally. Maybe that comes from things like Portlandia, but it’s also deeper than that. I think it’s recognized as a hub of activity and innovation. It’s pretty evident the West Coast is leading innovation in orchestral music — look at  LA, San Francisco, Seattle [symphony orchestras], and the Oregon Symphony is starting to hold their own in that mix as well.”

Bunch immediately decided to showcase his hometown’s contemporary classical vitality by creating an annual concert of music by Portland composers. On Monday, FearNoMusic plays its fifth Locally Sourced Sounds concert, featuring half a dozen homegrown compositions.

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MusicWatch Weekly: hidden figures

This week's Oregon concerts include music unfairly consigned to the background

Best known as the premier exponent and explorer of the musical traditions of Byzantium and other early Christian music, Cappella Romana has recently branched out into other Orthodox Christian music descended from Byzantine origins, including Russian, Finnish, Ukrainian and more. You’re unlikely to hear any of this music performed anywhere else by anyone. Now the incomparable vocal ensemble shares its latest discovery: long lost Armenian Orthodox liturgical music.

In a concert directed by founding artistic director Alexander Lingas and Haig Utidjian, a British conductor of Armenian descent, they’ll sing traditional Armenian chants and later arrangements of them by 19th century Armenian choirmaster Makar Ekmalian and his student, Komitas Vardapet, regarded as the savior of Armenian music, who collected and transcribed thousands of works that would have otherwise been lost to history. It’s a chance to experience a lost world through music.
Thursday, Central Lutheran Church, 1857 Potter St., Eugene; Saturday, St. Mary’s Cathedral, NW 18th & Couch St, Portland; and Sunday, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, 1112 SE 41st Ave, Portland.

Edgar Meyer, here shown at Chamber Music Northwest, performs with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Jim Leisy.

• Bassists usually lurk in the background onstage, but Edgar Meyer has turned his big acoustic bass into a lead instrument. One of the country’s most in-demand studio musicians, he’s scored a MacArthur “genius” grant, formed a popular ensemble with Yo Yo Ma and Bela Fleck named after his composition “Appalachia Waltz,” starred in bluegrass, classical, folk and country music recordings, and composed major orchestral works. Meyer joins the Oregon Symphony as soloist in his third double bass concerto, written in 2011, and he’ll be back this summer at Chamber Music Northwest. The concert also features an 1845 bass concerto by Italian composer Giovanni Bottesini, Aaron Copland’s ever-popular 1943 ballet score Appalachian Spring, and another tuneful, landmark 20th century work by the dean of African American composers: William Grant Still’s exhilarating 1930 Afro-American Symphony — a most welcome addition to an orchestral music scene still lacking demographic diversity.
Friday, Smith Hall, Willamette University, Salem, and Saturday Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, Portland.

Leslie Odom, Jr. performs with the Oregon Symphony.

• On Sunday, the orchestra backs Grammy- and Tony Award-winning show tune singer Leslie Odom, Jr., who er, shot to fame in the role of Aaron Burr in Hamilton, and parlayed it and his considerable vocal talent into a successful side career singing jazz and Broadway hits.
Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

• More welcome diversity distinguishes Oregon Sinfonietta’s free Sunday concert: a work by a female composer. British composer Ethel Smyth’s breakthrough, four-movement 1890 Serenade silenced many skeptics who wondered whether women had what it takes to write for orchestra. She went on to excel in opera and choral composition before her career was sadly shortened by deafness. The concert includes music by  Mozart, Debussy and Smyth’s English contemporary, George Butterworth, whose career was truncated even more tragically and abruptly by a German sniper’s bullet in World War I at age 31.
Sunday, Sunnyside Seventh-day Adventist Church, 10501 SE Market St, Portland.

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Music Notes: new year, new directions

New year brings new leadership to Oregon music institutions, and more recent news in Northwest classical and jazz music

Portland’s classical music scene is experiencing a leadership transformation. This season, Third Angle New Music selected Sarah Tiedemann as its artistic director, replacing Ron Blessinger, who had moved over to 45th Parallel Universe as interim artistic director of the now collectively run organization. Now two of the city’s biggest classical presenting organizations have announced upcoming new directors.

Marc-André Hamelin

Portland Piano International announced that one of today’s most esteemed performing classical pianists, Marc-André Hamelin, will curate the presenting organization’s 2019-2020 SOLO season. The Boston-based Canadian ultra-virtuoso is the first guest curator in PPI’s new, annual single-year guest curatorial system, instituted after artistic director Arnaldo Cohen ended his five-year tenure last year, leaving founding artistic director Harold Gray to step in and curate PPI’s current season.

• Another venerable Oregon classical music institution that recently flirted with the rotating curator model PPI has adopted is evidently having second thoughts. The Oregon Bach Festival has announced a search for a new artistic director, apparently prompted by its School of Music and Dance’s new dean, Sabrina Madison-Cannon, who oversees the festival. (Last year’s festival was run by a committee of music school faculty and others.) Eugene writer and longtime festival observer Tom Manoff argued recently in ArtsWatch that the absence of a single artistic leader in the wake of the messy and still mysterious dismissal of its respected previous AD created a vision vacuum at the nearly half-century old Oregon music institution. The good news: the search will be headed by savvy Eugene lawyer Roger Saydack, who spearheaded the successful searches for Eugene Symphony conductors Marin Alsop, Giancarlo Guerrero, and others who have gone on to starry careers on larger stages.

Soon-to-be CMNW artistic directors Kim and Chien

Chamber Music Northwest announced that violinist Soovin Kim and pianist Gloria Chien will become joint artistic directors in fall 2020. They will succeed David Shifrin, the New York clarinetist who has led the organization since 1980 and who will curate the next two summer festivals before passing the baton to the husband and wife team, chosen from among 60 candidates. They’ve run chamber music series in Tennessee and Vermont, and Chien was a CMNW Protege artist in 2017.

• Portland’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras named Cecille Elliott to the newly created position of Director of Creative Play, which has to be the coolest title on any music resume in memory. “Her primary responsibility is to find existing activities and develop new ones that are not usually seen as components of classical music education,” the press release says, “using body percussion, rhythmic chants, songwriting, singing, circle songs and games, as well as body movement.” She’s been with the admirable youth organization since 2015.


BREAK THE CAGE – Collective Composition at BRAVO from Seth Truby on Vimeo.

•  All Classical Portland’s new Artist in Residence program has chosen renowned Portland pianist Hunter Noack as its first Artist in Residence, and  Lakeridge High School senior and cellist Taylor Yoon as its first Young Artist in Residence. The program provides residency for both a professional and a young musician, with plans to announce a poet and visual artist in the fall of 2019. They’ll have access to All Classical Portland’s facilities and studio time, including on-air opportunities including appearances on Thursdays @ 3, at station events, concerts and special broadcasts. Noack is best known here for his In a Landscape: Classical Music in the Wild project, an outdoor concert series involving a 9-foot concert Steinway in state and national parks, historic sites, and other spectacular locations. Yoon and her sisters formed a musical group, Yoontrio, and she helped launch Olivenbaum, a non-profit organization that uses music to promote social harmony. This past summer, the group performed in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea as part of the Lindenbaum Music Festival. Noack and Yoon will make their performance debut at All Classical Portland’s Lovefest Concert on February 26 at Portland’s Newmark Theatre.

Hunter Noack, playing in the wild

• The Siletz Bay Music Festival named Karin M. Moss as the festival’s new executive director. She’s a 30-year veteran of music promotion and business development at organizations in California, New York, Chicago, North Carolina and beyond.

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‘Indian Music Now:’ navigating dual identities

Third Angle New Music presents dance-enhanced music by contemporary Indian-American composers

When Sarah Tiedemann was growing up in Hillsboro in the 1980s, the city looked quite different than it does now. Its residents were mostly white, its identity mostly derived from its agricultural heritage. Now, Hillsboro is Oregon’s fourth largest city, many of its residents work in tech-related fields, and many are people of color from India and nearby nations.

“I’ve seen Washington County … evolve into a more diverse and inclusive area,” Tiedemann, artistic director of Third Angle New Music, wrote on the ensemble’s blog. So when she was planning the ensemble’s 2018-19 season, which involved “giving voice to different parts of Portland, to people who might not have been heard” in contemporary classical music, Tiedemann included a concert that reflects those evolving identities in music.

Third Angle commissioned new music from composer Nina Shekhar.

Many immigrants and their families feel tugged between where they came from and where they are, between tradition and reinvention or innovation. For their next concert, Indian Music Now, Tiedemann and other Third Angle musicians will play music by four American composers of Indian heritage, all inspired by notions of dual identities, and including original Indian-inspired dance choreographed by Portland’s Creative Laureate, Subashini Ganesan.

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MusicWatch Weekly: dead of winter

A new year brings a week of concerts mostly featuring old music — with a few strong exceptions

If you’re looking for new music in the new year, pickings are slim, but a few shows provide some 21st century sounds.

• The Creative Music Guild’s Extradition Series explores the connections between today’s sounds and mid-century 20th modern classical music, especially venerated figures like Pauline Oliveros and the so-called New York School of 1950s and ‘60s composers led by John Cage. Flutist John C. Savage and pianist Matt Carlson get to choose exactly when to play the notes in Cage’s Two. The contemporary pieces on the program also embrace Cage’s aleatoric aesthetic. Mark Hannesson’s A Moment Is a Window gives Savage, guitarists Brandon Conway and Mike Gamble, clarinetists Lee Elderton and Jonathan Sielaff, and oboist Catherine Lee discretion as to when to enter, how long to play, and even whether or not to play any given note. Instead of dictating actual notes, Morgan Evans-Weiler’s one-page score for Constructed Objects consists of words explaining how Elderton, Sielaff, cellist Collin Oldham, percussionist Loren Chasse and electronic musicians Derek Ecklund, Branic Howard, and Juniana Lanning approach their respective roles. Matt Hannafin’s Variations on a Picture of Snow by Evan Cordes uses another midcentury mod technique, graphic scores, this one based on a photo of snow falling through the cracks in a wooden porch, with nine variations created in Photoshop. The black lines and white spaces tell Carlson, Ecklund, Lee, Oldham, Howard, and flutist Maxx Katz when to play; beyond that, they get to improvise based on this instruction: ”a cold morning, still and quiet, woken to new snow.” Cage and his followers left a lot of their performances to chance, so you’ll never hear this music played this way again.
7 PM Saturday. Leaven Community, 5431 NE 20th Ave. Portland.

Laura Beckel Thoreson.

• Most of the Indian music we see in Oregon is in traditional forms and for traditional instruments like sitar, sarod, tabla, and the rest. But today’s Indian composers, like any others, also look forward, embracing various contemporary classical techniques and approaches. Portland new music ensemble Third Angle’s Indian Music Now features some of today’s new music by American composers of Indian heritage, performed on flute, piano, clarinet and electronics. The seven 21st century compositions by Reena Esmail, Shirish Korde, Nina Shekhar (a Third Angle commission) and Asha Srinivasan — reconcile the music and traditions of the past with contemporary cultures and influences. Integrated into the no-intermission performance: original dance movement choreographed and performed by Portland’s Creative Laureate, Subashini Ganesan, along with contemporary Bharatanatyam dance. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch preview.
7:30 pm Thursday, 7:30 and 9 pm Friday. New Expressive Works’ Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont, Portland, and 7:30 pm Saturday 19 January, The Vault Theatre, Hillsboro.

Old Music

• Coming out of the holiday season when the biggest classical performances in Portland featured Messiah and the Christmas Oratorio, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the biggest music stars of Baroque Europe were Handel and J.S. Bach. In fact, in their time, neither was as famous as Georg Philipp Telemann. (Bach got a music director job only after Telemann, the first choice, turned it down.) Yet even though his 3,000 plus compositions make him history’s most prolific composer, these days, we don’t hear Telemann’s elegant music nearly as much as those other two 18th century titans. But with The Ensemble of Oregon’s concert of intimate solos, duos, trios and quartets (including four delicious mini cantatas) and last October’s Portland Baroque Orchestra all-Telemann show, a revival may be afoot. Played here in historically informed style and tunings with Baroque cello, violin, organ, and featuring the sublime voice of soprano Laura Beckel Thoreson, they may lack Handel’s grandeur or Bach’s profundity, but make up for it in the charm that made Telemann a Baroque rock star.
7 PM Saturday. First Christian Church, Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: exploratory opportunities

Relatively quiet opening week of 2019 offers chances to check out music beyond the comfort zone

Like the rest of our post-holiday recuperation, the first week of Oregon’s 2019 concert season starts relatively sluggishly. But there are a few good shows that you might have missed during a busier time of the season. Each offers a great chance to fulfill that New Year’s resolution to explore new and different experiences.

• Two of the city’s major classical music directors were born in Latin America, including Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s Costa Rican-born conductor Raúl Gómez. With help from Pacific Youth Choir, the young musicians will perform broadly appealing but too often neglected (by terminally Eurocentric adult American orchestras) classics by Mexico’s ​Arturo Márquez and José Pablo Moncayo, Costa Rica’s Carlos Guzmán and more. As Oregon grows more demographically diverse, so should its classical music concerts, and this show offers not only a chance to encounter some excellent music we should all be hearing more often on classical concerts, but also these accomplished young musicians and their visionary conductor.
Sunday, Newmark Theater, Portland

Raúl Gómez leads Metropolitan Youth Symphony Sunday.

• The Oregon Symphony starts the year off light, with this weekend’s light classical program of excerpts and classical greatest hits (Bernstein’s ebullient Candide overture, Barber’s Adagio for strings, hits by Bach, Beethoven, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Rossini, Mozart and more, including the inevitable Taco Bell Cannon) that make a nice musical tapas menu to introduce those lingering visitors and family members to classical music.
Saturday & Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland

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Oregon Music 2018: looking outward

Socially engaged sounds, multimedia productions, and other trends in 2018 Oregon music

Last year’s music roundup first looked homeward. ArtsWatch’s 2017 music coverage focused, as we have from the outset, on our state’s creative culture: music conceived and composed in Oregon. We touched a lot of other bases, too of course, and homegrown music remained a touchstone our 2018 coverage and this recap.

But as with other Oregon artists this year, Oregon music increasingly gazed outward — and often askance — at our nation’s continuing descent into turmoil, division, lies, and political corruption, starting right at the top and oozing down. Therefore, so did much of our music coverage. So we’ll start with what ArtsWatch’s David Bates called…

“Socially Engaged” sounds

Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic and choir Resonance Ensemble devoted entire seasons to contemporary classical music that responds to today’s social issues.

Resonance Ensemble preview: questions of faith
Choral organization’s ‘Souls’ concert is part of a season-long musical exploration of timely social concerns
Brett Campbell, February 23

‘Bodies’ review: Pride is a verb
Resonance Ensemble’s Pride Week concert commemorates LGBTQIA community’s struggles and celebrates its creativity.
Matthew Andrews, August 14

Resonance Ensemble

Resonance Ensemble: amplifying ‘Hidden Voices’
Vocal ensemble’s collaborative concert features musical responses to experiences marked by racism and resistance.
Matthew Andrews, November 17

Fear No Music: music of migration and more
New music ensemble demonstrates dedication to diversity and development.
Matthew Andrews, December 10

New music ensemble Fear No Music

Other classical music organizations also presented issue-oriented new music.

Oregon Symphony reviews: immigrant songs
Fall concerts include a world premiere theatrical commission and 20th century works by immigrant American composers
Matthew Andrews, January 9

Lawrence Brownlee preview: a journey
In a Friends of Chamber Music recital, the celebrated tenor sings a Romantic classic and a new, timely composition about America’s most pressing crisis
Damien Geter, April 2

Shredding it at “Pass the Mic” camp.

Portland Meets Portland
The innovative “Pass the Mic” summer music camp pairing music pros and young refugees and immigrants will give a free concert Friday.
Friderike Heuer, July 14

David Ludwig: telling the earth’s story through music
Composer’s Chamber Music Northwest commission inspired by ancient Earth, threat of extinction from human-caused climate change.
Matthew Andrews, July 27

Gabriel Kahane’s new oratorio confronts America’s empathy deficit
Commissioned, performed and recorded this week by the Oregon Symphony, ’emergency shelter intake form’ humanizes homelessness.
Interview by Matthew Andrews, August 28

Multimedia

Besides addressing today’s social issues, another trend among some classical music organizations in 2018 was updating their presentations by augmenting music with other art forms such as theater, literature, visual arts, and more. At ArtsWatch, we try to provide constructive feedback on how these often experimental productions worked, so we can help risk-taking artists move forward into unexplored territories — without leaving the audience behind.

Fin de Cinema’s “Beauty and the Beast”: spirit of discovery
Latest mix of classic film and Portland contemporary music captures Cocteau creation’s mix of beauty and grit.
Douglas Detrick, January 23

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Cappella PYP, Portland State choirs, and In Mulieribus perform Richard Einhorn’s ‘Voices of Light’ during a screening of Dreyer’s film Friday.

‘Voices of Light’ preview: trial by fire
Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus, Portland State University choirs perform Richard Einhorn’s popular oratorio ‘Voices of Light’ with Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc.’
Brett Campbell, January 25

“Tesla” lab report
Harmonic Laboratory’s ambitious experimental multimedia performance produces mixed results.
Brett Campbell, February 6

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