Brett Campbell

 

Open Wide

Big Mouth Society embraces inclusivity, high artistic standards, and socially engaged art

A shipwreck brought musician Emily Lau to Portland. It didn’t happen in Oregon but off the Italian coast, where in 2012 the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground, capsized and killed 32 people. Lau was on her honeymoon, and though she and her husband weren’t injured, the Mediterranean disaster changed her life. A virtuoso musician and composer, the perfectionist Hong Kong native was then stressing out trying to make it in Boston’s highly competitive early music scene.

Big Mouth’s Emily Lan.

“I’m a classical musician, and my whole life I’ve been trying to… perfect something,” she told CBS News at the time. “And fear comes with being a perfectionist. And I think the emotional take for me, after being almost dead, was that I don’t have to be so scared any more.”

Seeing dead bodies and wondering for hours whether they’d survive clarified Lau’s priorities. 

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Kathy Coleman, beyond disability

The disability-arts champion's unexpected death shocks the community. But the organization she built vows to keep building.

When Kathy Coleman had cancer many years ago, the treatments changed her body. She wanted to understand those changes, and as someone who loved to dance, she thought dance might help.  “I really wanted to explore my body,” she said in a 2014 interview with Cheryl Green.  “And I really wanted to connect with it in a way and learn about it differently.” She began taking dance classes, then joined a dance company, where one of her teachers — herself not standard dancer-size — had the unusual notion that “you didn’t all have to look the same way. [That] was really powerful to me.” 

That mind-opening experience helped inspire Coleman to found Portland’s Disability Art & Culture Project, which over the past 15 years has shown artists and audiences alike that art doesn’t have to be limited to narrow traditional notions of what is beautiful, or who can create it. It’s spawned a groundbreaking dance company, a festival dedicated to art created by people with disabilities, a leadership training project, and more. And under her leadership, DACP showed how the arts can uniquely contribute to social change.

Kathy Coleman, far right, and dancers.

Coleman, who died unexpectedly last month in Portland, left a lasting impression on Oregon artists and audiences — that rare figure who not only creates an enduring new institution, but also an enduring new perception, by expanding artists’ and audiences’ idea of what art can be. 

“She was just a force, an irreplaceable piece of Portland arts,” says Wobbly Dance co-founder Erik Ferguson.

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Storming Viking Pavilion

PSU brings choral music’s first ‘rock star’ and 500 singers to campus basketball arena

One night in 1999, Ethan Sperry heard five minutes of music that changed his life. At choral music’s biggest annual event, the American Choral Directors Association conference, the 28-year-old choral director was transfixed by Minnesota’s famed St. Olaf Choir’s performance of Eric Whitacre’s Water Night, a setting of a poem by Nobel Prize winning Mexican poet Octavio Paz.

“It changed my life and the life of all the thousands of choir directors at that conference,” recalled Sperry, who has directed Portland State University’s choral programs for the past decade. “We were all talking about it. Here was a new language in writing for choir, and a new way of setting poetry. Not only was there a new voice in choral music, but also somebody bringing new secular poetry into the realm of choral music,” which typically relied on Latin or other dead poets’ texts. Sperry, only a year younger than the then little-known Nevada-born composer, heard “something extremely profound about what he was doing at a young age,” he said. “It was the first time I’d been moved so much by music written by someone my own age.”

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From Jazz to Minimalism to India and back

A profile of pioneering composer Terry Riley, performing with son Gyan in Portland tonight

What’s one of the 20th century’s most influential and widely accessible contemporary classical composers doing at a jazz festival? Terry Riley’s jazz roots and cred might surprise classical fans who know him as the principal pioneer of minimalism, the dominant contemporary music of the past half century or more, or even as one of the first so-called “world music” figures or as an influence on psychedelic rock. In fact, jazz lies at the heart of all those innovations, and Riley has continued throughout his long and starry career to play the kind of improvised piano he’ll perform in Portland.

Composer Terry Riley at the keyboard. Photo courtesy of the composer.

Jazz Roots

Growing up in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills during World War II, Riley naturally imbibed the jazz and crooner pop of the time, and taught himself to play piano by picking out the tunes he heard on the radio. He helped pay the bills at the University of California by playing ragtime piano in a San Francisco bar.

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Vision 2020: Raúl Gómez

Engaging the big issues: In a troubled world, the Metropolitan Youth Symphony leader says, schools need to teach the empathy of the arts

“One of my priorities has always been to promote and empower young musicians, to give voice to living composers,” Raúl Gómez-Rojas told ArtsWatch in 2018. Now in his fourth season as music director of Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Gómez has firmly placed MYS in the forefront of classical music’s development by connecting tomorrow’s classical musicians with today’s music — including music composed by MYS members themselves. Last year, MYS partnered with Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic’s Young Composers Project in a commissioning program, The Authentic Voice, which gives local, student composers an opportunity to write for and hear their work publicly performed by full symphony orchestra, while giving ensemble musicians a chance to play never performed music by their peers. This year, the program includes three symphonic commissions, each receiving a world premiere at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, eight YCP student arrangements of film scores for full orchestra, and other opportunities for readings and performances of works by younger composers with other MYS ensembles.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


At MYS, the Costa Rican native  works with conductors, coaches, staff, families and more than 500 students in 15 orchestra, band and jazz ensembles. Last year, the League of American Orchestra’s 2018 Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview chose Gomez as one of six conductors honored for their “experience, talent, leadership, and commitment to a career in service to American orchestras.”

Raúl Gómez conducting the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. Photo: R. Kobell

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Vision 2020: Molly Alloy, Nathanael Andreini

A new generation of leaders takes the Washington County Museum into a new future under a new name: Five Oaks Museum

Washington County is changing fast, and so is its arts scene. Case in point: the Washington County Museum, which last summer appointed a new young leadership team and this month relaunches under a new name and with an expanded mission that puts the arts at the forefront.

Last July, the museum board named two of its staffers — Community Engagement Coordinator Molly Alloy, 38, and Education Director Nathanael Andreini, 45 — co-directors of what’s now called Five Oaks Museum, whose history stretches back decades before its consolidation as Washington County Historical Society and move to Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus.  They’re leading Five Oaks Museum in new directions that reflect its diverse community’s expanding perspectives.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


The museum describes This IS Kalapuyian Land, its current exhibit and one of the first fruits of the pair’s new direction, as a re-tooling of the museum’s cornerstone historical display: “As viewers move through the space they will encounter hand-written edits and annotations made by [Guest Curator Steph] Littlebird Fogel to highlight errors, update language, and note important passages in the original content. Each edit points towards larger problems in our collective recollection of America’s and Oregon’s history.” Littlebird Fogel also brought in contemporary artworks from 15 Indigenous artists. Read Laurel Reed Pavic’s ArtsWatch review for an in-depth look at the exhibit.

Along with historical and artistic exhibits, the museum offers a research library and classes for elementary, middle school, and high school students from throughout the county and as far west as Forest Grove and Banks, and as far east as Portland.

Nathanael Andreini and Molly Alloy, shifting gears at Five Oaks Museum.

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Five Oaks: What’s in a name?

The former Washington County Museum branches out under a new name, Five Oaks Museum, reflecting a broader cultural umbrella

Last summer the Washington County Museum picked a dynamic new team to lead it into the future, naming Community Engagement Coordinator Molly Alloy, 38, and Education Director Nathanael Andreini, 45 as co-directors. They immediately embarked on a re-thinking of the 63-year-old institution, overhauling its educational curriculum, diversifying its exhibit curation, and expanding its focus to further include the perspectives of the region’s Native American and immigrant communities, giving the arts a higher profile than ever. 

But as the pair accelerated their efforts, which they’d begun in their previous positions at the museum, they realized that something stood in the way of their new, broader vision for the museum: its name. 

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FOR ONE THING, AS THE MUSEUM EXPANDED its digital reach beyond its cozy campus at Portland Community College Rock Creek, the team realized that it risked confusion, because there are Washington Counties across the United States. Nor is the independent museum, whose history stretches back decades before its consolidation as Washington County Historical Society, actually owned by Oregon’s Washington County, though the county is one of its major supporters. 

The new brand.

But the name’s limitations ran deeper. “The ‘Washington County’ designation came to this area when Western settlers established American control of this place,” Alloy explained. “By starting there, we’re cutting off 10,000 years of history that preceded it. The county is only one person at the dinner party. The stories that can be told about this area go so far beyond that that’s it’s not accurate historically for the institution. To retain that name does privilege a certain kind of history that is already the dominant narrative.”

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