Brett Campbell

 

MusicWatch Weekly: Mahlerian May

Mega-symphonies and more resound in Oregon concerts this week

Mahler’s symphonies seem like a closing chapter, a culmination of big, Romantic orchestral music. So large (and expensive!) are the forces required, that orchestras often save them for the end of the season. On Thursday, Francesco Lecce-Chong concludes his debut season with the Eugene Symphony with Symphony #5, along with Haydn’s delightful Symphony #88, still one of his most popular. Mahler wanted to pack a world into each of his symphonies, and this 1902 colossus traverses an astonishing emotional range, veering from funereal to violent to inebriated to anxious to ardent to a demented orchestral punch line.

Gustav Mahler.

In Portland, the Oregon Symphony closes its season this weekend at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with Mahler’s relatively infrequently played 1905 seventh symphony (“A Lotta Night Music”), which does not need more cowbell. And next Tuesday, Corvallis OSU Symphony Orchestra plays his massive, summery third symphony at Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center.

The excellent Delgani String Quartet also goes big in its season-ender Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night at Eugene’s Temple Beth Israel, and Monday night at Portland’s Old Church, adding a second violist (Elizabeth Freivogel of the award-winning Jupiter Quartet) so they can play a pair of too rarely heard (because they require that “extra” player) classical masterpieces: Mozart’s G Minor quintet and Brahms’s G major quintet.

Delgani Quartet adds a guest for its performances in Portland and Eugene.

In “Rituals” Friday night at N.E.W. Expressive Works, Portland/Seattle new music ensemble Sound of Late, one of the freshest additions to the Northwest’s burgeoning contemporary classical music scene, offers a pair of Portland premieres by Alvin Singleton and acclaimed Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, a composition by Chet Udell that uses motion-sensor electronics and horn, a 20th century classic by the late pioneering composer Pauline Oliveros, and the world premiere of a lament by promising Oregon composer Andrea Reinkemeyer, who just scored a major national award for emerging women composers.

Sophiko Simsive performs in Portland, Salem, and Hood River.

Speaking of Oregon composers, Portland’s Kenji Bunch contributed a new piece to Sophiko Simsive’s performances at Portland Piano Company (Wednesday), Salem Library (Thursday), and Hood River Middle School (Friday afternoon). The award-winning Georgian pianist’s free recital, part of Portland Piano International’s admirable Rising Star program that pairs new music by Oregon composers with emerging young touring pianists, also features sonatas by Mozart and Scriabin and Ravel’s marvelously modernized reinvention of an old dance form, The Waltz (La Valse) — which in turn inspired Bunch’s new Discothèque.

Speaking of Bunch, his father Ralph wrote the libretto for another new piece by still another Portland composer, John Vergin, which the latter will perform on piano with singers Alexis Hamilton and Brian Tierney Sunday night at Reed College’s Eliot Hall Chapel. Their song cycle Eleanora Andreevna takes its title from the name of Bunch’s Soviet-born wife, who escaped German bombing during World War II and grew up to become one of the nation’s top female computer scientists and to save Ralph’s life. They married when both were in their late 50s and she died in 2012.

Frank Martin didn’t even publish his 1922 Mass for 40 years, considering the devotional music too personal. But choirs have increasingly taken it up, including recent performances by Oregon Repertory Singers, Cantores in Ecclesia and now these Portland Symphonic Choir performances Friday and Saturday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral led by PSC music director candidate Richard Sparks. When Sparks was with a Canadian choir, he also commissioned the other work on the program, Canadian composer Allan Bevan’s 2005 Good Friday meditation Nou goth sonne under wode, and now he’s bringing it here for its Portland premiere.

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‘Blithe Spirit,’ ‘Oklahoma!’ reviews: way out west

Theatre in the Grove and Bag & Baggage Productions add darkness and depth to 20th century classics

It started as just a chance to take the parents to a show we knew they’d like. They’re big fans of classic American musicals, and they don’t come more classic and American than Oklahoma! The folks are a bit too superannuated to make it down to Ashland. But a drive to familiar Forest Grove, they could handle. That’s how we wound up on closing night of what I foolishly assumed would be a podunk production of an overfamiliar American classic perpetrated by a team from west of Portland’s creative center, and produced by a community theater company on a too-small stage miles from Portland. At best, I thought, maybe the folks would enjoy it even if I rolled my eyes.

Boy, was I wrong! Theatre in the Grove’s May production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1943 classic turned out to be one of my most surprisingly delightful theatrical adventures this year.

I realized we were in for something special in the fraught duet “Pore Jud is Daid,” in which the protagonist Curly McClain (winningly played and sung by Austin Hampshire) tries to inveigle his nemesis, farmhand Jud Fry, into committing suicide. Jason Weed directs it as a dangerous dance, with Curly circling Jud, smiling and nodding toward an imagined noose. And in the crucial scene between Jud and Laurey Williams, the woman he and Curly both desire, director Weed and actors Brandon Weaver and Jade Tate show us that Laurey isn’t a simple goody two shoes love interest, nor is Jud a stereotypical bad guy. She’s shallow, self-absorbed, while he’s vulnerable, even damaged. Yet those dimensions somehow don’t conflict with their main actions in the story. They’re complicated humans, not inconsistent characters.

Brandon Weaver (l) as Jud Fry and Austin Hampshire as Curly McLain in Theatre in the Grove’s ‘Oklahoma!’ Photo: Jennifer McFarling.

The main credit for Jud’s dimensionality — and the lion’s share of the abundant audience applause, rare for the bad guy in any show — went to Weaver, whose spectacular, deeply considered performance is one of the finest I’ve seen in an Oregon musical. Far more than a simple black hatted villain, he could be genuinely terrifying, even while merely glaring at other characters, and yet in the same scene subtly reveal the anguish beneath the brutality. Weaver, another Hillsboro native who’s appeared in two dozen Grove performances since 1990, deserves wider exposure. I hope to see him on other Oregon stages soon.

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MusicWatch Weekly: a river runs through it

New music inspired by the Columbia River, Chekhov stories, homelessness, and other sources highlight this week's Oregon concerts

The biggest reasons many of us live here ultimately trace back to the rivers that course through this beautiful land. Much of Oregon’s prosperity stems from our proximity to the Columbia River and its watershed, so it’s appropriate for our artists to draw inspiration from the big river — and from the indigenous Oregonians who have so long strived to protect it. Cascadia Composers’ “Our Waters: Big River to the Pacific” concert Saturday at Portland State’s Native American Student and Community Center, 710 SW Jackson St., features works for chamber instruments and voice by Northwest composers Jack Gabel, Theresa Koon, Brent Lawrence, Liz Nedela, Dawn Sonntag and Jennifer Wright that honor the history and culture of the Columbia River watershed. The multifaceted show also includes performances by Native storytellers Ed Edmo and Will Hornyak and visual art by Bonnie Meltzer.

Another new music concert at Portland State Tuesday (Lincoln Hall Studio Theater, LH115) and the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall Monday returns to a theme that’s popped up in other recent contemporary classical shows: mixing music and theater. New York’s Elsewhere Ensemble, a theater-music group whose members hail from the USA, UK, France, Belgium, Russia, Switzerland, Japan and beyond, sports a recent Oregon arrival: newly appointed UO viola prof Arnaud Ghillebaert, who joins the distinguished ranks of Oregon new music violists that includes Kenji Bunch, Joel Belgique, Charles Noble, Sound of Late’s Andrew Stiefel and more. Various configurations converge on different projects. Chekhov Triptych, which revolves around three stories by the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, features award winning Broadway actors and a new original score for string trio composed by the ensemble’s violinist, Colin Pip Dixon.

Elsewhere Ensemble performs new music with Chekov stories Monday and Tuesday in Portland and Eugene. Photo: A. Blasberg.

Another recurring theme in recent Oregon music: tango. Not only did Eugene Opera just stage Astor Piazzolla’s 1968 tango operita, Maria de Buenos Aires, but on Wednesday at Portland’s Old Church, two of Argentina’s finest tango masters, Pablo Estigarribia & Adrian Jost join a pair of Portland tango veterans in a concert that celebrates both traditional and new tango music. Pianist Estigarribia has won awards for his performances, arrangements, and original tango compositions. Jost, who co-founded San Francisco’s Trio Garufa tango band, plays the traditional tango instrument, the bandoneón button accordion. Along with Oregon Symphony bassist Jeff Johnson and violinist Erin Furbee of Portland’s Tango Pacifico, they’ll play traditional tangos, nuevo tangos by Piazzolla, and originals. And with Portland State faculty violinist Tomas Cotik, a Piazzolla specialist, ensconced here, look for more tango treats soon.

Pablo Estigarribia and Adrian Jost perform Wednesday at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall.

A recurring theme I’m happy to see suspended: bring to Oregon a Famous Soloist, even one who performs or commissions new music — and assign them an over-played European Romantic perennial that they could (and sometimes seem to) play in their sleep, so often have they performed it. Thankfully that’s not the case, for once, when the great American violinist Joshua Bell & Oregon Symphony team up this weekend at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on one of 20th century America’s most delightful concertos: Leonard Bernstein’s 1954 Serenade. Inspired by, of all things, Plato’s Symposium, the violin concerto’s five movements evoke the different moods and personalities involved in each dialogue, but it’s far from academic — joyous, playful, boisterous and even inebriated.

Gabriel Kahane. Photo: Josh Goleman.

Even better: the show sports the world premiere of emergency shelter intake form, commissioned by the symphony from New York’s Gabriel Kahane, one of the most appealing of the rising generation of 30-something composers. It’s the final installment of the symphony’s Sounds of Home series that purports to respond to current issues here and now. In this case, the issue is homelessness, and Kahane drew on interviews with people who’d endured it. He’ll join Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman, Portland singers Holcombe Waller and Holland Andrews (a/k/a Like a Villain) and Portland’s Maybelle Community Singers in the OSO performance. It’ll be played at Jacksonville’s Britt Festival in July, too.

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MusicWatch Weekly: nevertheless, she persisted

This week's Oregon concerts include music by and about women, Italian opera, piano powerhouses, and more

“Born on a day God was drunk,” Maria inhabits a Buenos Aires demimonde populated by ghosts, criminals, marionettes, pasta makers, psychoanalysts and and other shady characters. She’s seduced by tango, becomes a prostitute, is murdered — and then things get really weird.

Eugene Opera performs ‘Maria de Buenos Aires’ this weekend.

That’s just act one of Astor Piazzolla’s surreal, melancholy Maria de Buenos Aires, which Eugene Opera brings to the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater this Friday and Sunday. The great 20th century Argentine composer’s 1968 “tango operita” been performed often all over the world, including by Portland’s Third Angle. Set mostly in a shadowy Argentine night club, this production, this production features Colombian-born soprano Catalina Cuervo, who claims to have starred in the title role (with multiple opera companies) more often than anyone else, and also features experienced American baritone Paul La Rosa, Argentine born actor Milton Loayza, renowned Argentine tango dancers Fernanda Ghi and Guillermo Merlo, and a quartet of local dancers.

Piazzolla’s tango-tinged music is as dramatically seductive as poet/lyricist/editor/musician Horacio Ferrer’s story is strange. In act two, Maria goes to hell — yet still she persisted. Among other adventures, she bears a child who may be herself, maybe a metaphorical parallel to Eugene Opera’s own recent financial collapse and rebirth? It’s good to have both the company, contemporary opera, and, on her 50th birthday, Maria de Buenos Aires back from the brink.
On Monday at Portland’s Old Church, FearNoMusic closes its season devoted to music that responds to today’s troubled times with “Hope In The Dark,” a concert that, like the Rebecca Solnit book it draws its title from, offers more than just sonic despair. Quartets by Kevin Puts (Dark Vigil) and Arvo Part (Da Pacem Domine) were composed in the wake of the 1999 Columbine school slaughter and 2004 Madrid train bombings, respectively. Chinary Ung’s intense cello solo Khse Buon and Eve Beglarian’s haunting I will not be sad in this world arose from genocides that claimed the composers’ ancestors or family — the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and Turkey’s massacres of Armenians. But hope as well as haunt emerge in Chen Yi’s Night Thoughts, inspired by her youth in China’s notorious Cultural Revolution-era labor camps, and in the title of Georges Lifermann’s “Ça ira mieux demain” (Tomorrow Will Be Better). The French-born composer, whose parents died in Auschwitz, survived World War II German-imposed childhood labor duty, became a popular songwriter in France, and lived happily for decades in Corvallis until his death in March at age 95.

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MusicWatch Weekly: musical collisions

Old and new, east and west, and other traditions interact in Oregon concerts this week

While some want to keep cultures/races/music “pure” and keep others out, history shows that the greatest accomplishment emerges from the collision of diverse influences, often originating where cultures cohabit. Cappella Romana’s performances of Renaissance music from the Greek islands Saturday night at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, and Sunday afternoon at Lake Oswego’s Our Lady of the Lake Church reflects the fruitful musical hybrids born on islands such as Crete, where Western/Italian music intermingled with Byzantine/Greek sounds. The estimable Portland vocal ensemble, which sang this music at the world’s pre-eminent early music festival in Utrecht, brings it home to Oregon for first performances and a recording.

Is this whole #meToo thing going #toofar? I don’t think so, but decide for yourself Sunday night at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall when the superb singers of Portland’s Northwest Art Song seize a famous composition written for a single male singer with pianist and — transform it into a duet by two nonpareil female vocalists, soprano Arwen Myers and mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, with pianist Susan McDaniel. The gender switcheroo — and the transformation from monologue to dramatic dialogue — should add dimension, sugar and spice to Franz Schubert’s 1823 song cycle about unrequited love, The Miller’s Daughter (Die schöne Müllerin). It sounds fascinating, and with performers and music as great as those involved here, an experiment worth trying. By coincidence, another Oregon soprano is pulling the same move, as you’ll learn in this space next week.

Northwest Art Song sings Schubert on Sunday.

Earlier Sunday at Eugene’s United Lutheran Church, Oregon Bach Collegium’s all-JS Bach show features the Delgani Quartet and others performing three of his ever popular Brandenburg Concertos and a couple of equally lovely sonatas, all played on period instruments by historically informed experts.

Also on Sunday afternoon, Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko plays Mozart, Beethoven and Prokofiev at Corvallis’s LaSells Stewart Center Sunday afternoon.

For a glimpse into classical music’s future, check out either or both Sunday afternoon concerts in one of Oregon’s most valuable artistic incubators: Fear No Music’s Young Composers Project. Young composers, age 10 through 18 have been working with the Portland new music ensemble’s pros all year to develop their musical ideas into playable pieces, culminating in these concerts in Lincoln Hall at Portland State University.

Sonia Wieder-Atherton on cello in the frame of Chantal Akerman’s film “Saute ma ville” (1968). Photo: Fondation Chantal Akerman.

Wild card of the week: Tuesday and next Wednesday’s performances by Paris-based cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton’s CHANTAL? A dialogue between a movie, a cello and a text at Pacific Northwest College of Arts’s Mediatheque. This intriguing multimedia collision about the great avant garde filmmaker Chantal Akerman involves film, personal memoir, and more; the musical segments include works by Prokofiev, Béla Bartók, Leoš Janáček and more.

And speaking of music and film, the documentary Itzhak about the legendary violinist whose last name, like Prince and Madonna’s, is unnecessary, returns this weekend to Portland’s Living Room Theaters.

Classical UpClose continues breaking down barriers between music fans and classical music with its third week of free Portland-area shows performed by Oregon Symphony musicians, including concerts Friday at Tigard United Methodist Church, and Tuesday at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church. Smaller scale mid-day chamber music “blitzes” pop up throughout the week at Tigard’s Symposium Coffee House, ​Milwaukie Center, and Hollywood Senior Center. Check the schedule and interactive map for details.

Speaking of family friendly classical fare, well known Eugene actor Bill Hulings stars in Eugene Symphony’s Sunday concert, The Composer is Dead, based on Lemony Snicket’s delightful murder mystery and featuring original music by American composer Nathaniel Stookey. It’s an inviting — and interactive — introduction to music and instruments.

Show Tunes

Music and theater also collide Friday and Saturday in Eugene at The Shedd’s annual cabaret presentation of Evynne Hollens’ Contemporary Songbook, which brings music from today’s Broadway stages to Oregon. This time the featured musicals are biographical, from Hamilton, Beautiful, Anastasia, Grey Gardens, Fun Home, Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, and recent hits like last year’s Come from Away and the current movie musical The Greatest Showman inspired by the true story of P. T. Barnum’s creation of Barnum & Bailey Circus, plus a peek at singer Hollens’s new musical in progress with Portland singer-songwriter Anna Gilbert, Milagro.

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MusicWatch Weekly: new sounds from Oregon

This week’s Oregon music schedule boasts numerous new works by today’s composers from the Northwest, Midwest and beyond, mixed in with classics from across the ages and oceans

Big Horn Brass, a baker’s dozen of brass players and two percussionists, feature brassy new music by Cascadia Composers Greg Steinke, Jan Mittelstaedt, John Billota, Greg Bartholomew, and fellow Northwest composer Anthony DiLorenzo at their Saturday night concert at Beaverton’s St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Some other guys named Debussy, Bach and Puccini will provide filler.

New Oregon music by Eugene composer Paul Safar is also on the program when Eugene’s excellent Delgani String Quartet goes all homicidal Friday at Portland’s and Saturday at Springfield’s Wildish Theater. The program features music inspired by murder, with theatrical readings from literary works that inspired them interpolated by actor Rickie Birran of Man of Words Theatre Company. Janacek and Shostakovich will be represented too. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview.

Speaking of new music by Oregon composers, read Gary’s ArtsWatch preview of Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse’s new composition commissioned by Rogue Valley Symphony, which the orchestra performs this weekend in Medford and Grants Pass. Beethoven is the closing act.

Estelí Gomez sings new music by University of Oregon composers at  Eugene’s Beall Concert Hall. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

There’s even newer Oregon music for voice Sunday at the Oregon Composers Forum’s Sunday concert at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall. The superb soprano Esteli Gomez, one of the singers in Grammy winning Roomful of Teeth ensemble, returns to sing new music by UO composers.

Joe Kye performs at Portland State Friday.

That same night, Portland based, Korea-born songwriter-composer and looping violinist Joe Kye plays his engaging, often autobiographical songs at Portland State’s Lincoln Recital Hall.

Shades of Sufjan Stevens and his albums inspired by American states! Does a symphony called “Portland” and named after Oregon’s largest city qualify as Oregon music — if it wasn’t written by an Oregonian? Decide for yourself at the University of Portland’s free concert featuring Erich Stem’s orchestral work Tuesday night at Buckley Auditorium. His website bio says nothing about where Stem resides or was born, but Indiana seems a likely suspect. The piece is part of Stem’s project called America By: A Symphonic Tour, which includes a collection of commissioned works from across the country, “each work reflecting the unique qualities and history of a specific location.”

New American Sounds

One of the most frequently performed and commissioned composers of choral music, Minnesota’s Jake Runestad, seem poised to follow Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre as a choral music star, and he’s also written several operas and other works. On Saturday night at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Choral Arts Ensemble and Linn-Benton Community College Chamber Choir team up to present the Music of Jake Runestad, the first major opportunity for Portland to get a healthy sampling of his heartfelt songs and broad, audience-friendly musical range.

Bells toll in Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas’s new, half-hour orchestral composition, Sonorous Earth (an evolution of her earlier Resounding Earth), which Eugene Symphony performs Thursday at the Hult Center to complete her artistic residency there. Each of its four-movements also uses techniques associated with the major composers who made percussion the defining sound of 20th century classical music: Stravinsky, Messiaen, Varese, Berio, Cage, Ligeti, Partch and Oregon’s own Lou Harrison.

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Imani Winds preview: celebrating the differences

Chamber Music Northwest brings the renowned wind ensemble back to Portland this week as its artists in residence

Classical music has a diversity problem. So it marked a turning point when the Portland classical music presenter Chamber Music Northwest announced that its next annual artists-in-residence — following the 2015-16 tenure of the storied Emerson Quartet, composed entirely of older white men — would be Imani Winds, a younger, equally talented and until recently, entirely black ensemble.

Bassoonist Monica Ellis, hornist /composer Jeff Scott, flutist/composer Valerie Coleman, oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz and clarinetist Mark Dover delighted audiences at last summer’s annual summer festival. They’re also in town this week for a series of concerts, dance performances and educational and outreach programs, and will return to this summer’s Chamber Music Northwest festival.

Imani Winds returns to Chamber Music Northwest this week.

It’s not just the group’s race and age that represents greater diversity in chamber music. At last summer’s CMNW festival, Scott noted in a composers panel discussion that the group’s values arise in part from its music. Unlike the Emersons or any other string quartet,  “a wind ensemble is celebrating the differences among instruments, rather than the homophony of string or sax quartets,” he pointed out — a metaphor for Imani itself. “Chamber music, more than orchestral music, allows the individuality of the musicians to shine through to audiences, because there’s no conductor intermediary,” Scott continued. “The musicians are allowed to establish their own individuality and tradition. ”

Imani’s 2017-18 residency grew out of the ensemble’s long relationship with CMNW. “We’ve been coming to Portland every two or three years for 15 years,” Scott recalls. “The audiences have been so nice to us!” says Spellman-Diaz. “It’s hard to think of nicer audiences than in Portland and Eugene.” The ensemble enjoyed their Oregon experiences so much that when artistic director David Shifrin asked if they’d be interested in becoming CMNW’s resident ensemble, Scott says, “it took about five seconds for us to say yes!”

The feeling is mutual. Since their founding in 1997, Imani has cultivated a substantial, diverse and enthusiastic audience in Oregon and beyond. Their skill as musicians plays the biggest role, of course — they’re among the finest of all chamber ensembles. But their genuinely enthusiastic, refreshingly un-canned stage charisma, and their audience-conscious programming, also encourage broader listenership than most classical music concerts’ traditionally narrow demographic. They’ve collected innumerable awards, toured the globe, given hundreds of concerts, and made eight recordings.

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