Brett Campbell

 

Resonance Ensemble preview: questions of faith

Choral organization's 'Souls' concert is part of a season-long musical exploration of timely social concerns

“This year, a lot of us are feeling the need to make sure our art is responding to the times we are in,” says Resonance Ensemble founder and director Katherine FitzGibbon. On Sunday, the acclaimed choral organization presents a concert that revolves around religious conflict and misunderstanding — part of a season-long emphasis on music and other arts that revolve around pressing social issues.

‘Souls’ is the second of three concerts in Resonance’s 2017-18 season, whose programming explores contemporary concerns through art. “Resonance has always had a desire to do concerts that have themes that connect deeply with people,” says FitzGibbon, whether connected to social justice or personal topics. “Because we sing choral music where the texts are paramount, we get to overtly explore these questions.”

Resonance Ensemble performing in 2015. Photo: Alan Niven.

Actually, the ensemble’s intensified focus on social issues started earlier, immediately after last year’s presidential inauguration, with sharp political commentary in some pieces in the choral ensemble’s February 2017 “Dirty Stupid Music” cabaret show. Resonance’s next concert last June focused on grief and healing, with works by Portland composer Renee Favand-See and singer-songwriter Nikole Potulsky about the loss of children, and also an original song by Portland theater artist Vin Shambry about “the decline of compassion and other changes in the political climate and how he was experiencing it personally,” FitzGibbon recalls.

The ensemble then decided to organize this season around a trio of urgent social concerns. For November’s “Voices” concert, “we collaboratively explored a lot of music that’s not part of the canon so much,” she explains. “There’s nothing wrong with the canon, but we had to think critically why certain works are in the canon and others aren’t — which composers’ voices are underrepresented. Especially in the divisive political climate we’re experiencing, we need to be really mindful of whose voices who are — and aren’t — at the table in the arts and particularly in Portland.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: musical warming

PDX Jazz Festival, symphonic concerts, chamber music gems, and mixes of choral and opera music keep Oregon listeners warm this week

It’s a chilly week in Oregon, but there’s plenty of jazz, of both the hot and cool variety, to keep us warm. Read Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch’s preview of this year’s PDX Jazz Festival, check out the extensive calendar for the many fine concerts we haven’t the space to list here. On Wednesday at Mission Theater, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, one of jazz’s  most acclaimed rising young ensembles, combines avant garde improv, 21st century compositional approaches and jazz tradition with a sense of fun.

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That same night at Jack London Revue, Kandinsky Effect, takes a different approach to contemporary jazz. The French-American trio electronica meets jazz combo swirls funk grooves and rock beats with relaxed sax melodies.

If your tastes tilt more trad, catch legendary South African/New York bandleader Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya ensemble also Wednesday, at Revolution Hall. No less than Nelson Mandela called the former Dollar Brand “South Africa’s Mozart,” and Duke Ellington thought enough of him to arrange his American record debut. He’s been blending African and American jazz influences ever since, and this ensemble, which includes cello and flute as well as more traditional jazz instruments, is one of the 83-year-old composer/pianist’s best.

On Thursday at Newmark Theater, an all star lineup of drummer Terri Lyne Carrington,saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, and Portland-native bassist Esperanza Spalding celebrate the great composer/pianist Geri Allen, who died last year. Portland’s own great jazz pianist/composer, Darrell Grant, opens with a solo tribute. Afterwards, check out yet another great Oregon original, multi instrumentalist George Colligan, leading another all star trio from his New York years with the great bassist/composer Buster Williams and drummer Lenny White. And for a nightcap, catch young Portland saxman/composer Ian Christensen’s quartet at Portland5’s Art Bar.

Esperanza Spalding performs in a tribute to Geri Allen. Photo: Andrea Mancini.

On Friday at Mission Theater, still more Portlanders (pianist Randy Porter, drummer Charlie Doggett and more) join another tribute show: soul jazz septet Under the Lake’s celebration of Houston’s groovy ‘70s band the Crusaders (earlier called Jazz Crusaders) featuring pianist Joe Sample. Also Friday: terrific pianist Marcus Roberts’s long-term trio with drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Roland Guerin, double-billed with guitarist Russell Malone’s quartet at Newmark Theatre.

Another ‘70s-’80s plugged in jazz tribute follows Saturday at Revolution Hall with Miles Electric Band’s tribute to the visionary musician called jazz’s Picasso, Miles Davis, featuring members of his various electric ensembles including his nephew, drummer Vince Wilburn, Jr., Neville Bros/Rolling Stones bass great Darryl Jones, sax titan Antoine Roney and more.

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‘Rosa Red’ and ‘Spellbinders’ reviews: staging history

A pair of Fertile Ground readings show the tricky challenges of using historical characters in contemporary drama

Putting history on stage can be challenging when the figures aren’t well known. Playwrights must provide much historical context, and after months or years of researching their lives, it can be hard to maintain audience perspective. Two of this year’s Fertile Ground Festival plays by Portland writers involving historical figures from the early 20th century smacked into both roadblocks. But with some repairs, both might make fascinating history-inspired dramas.

“This isn’t a historical drama!” cautioned Laura Christina Dunn, the multitalented singer/songwriter/multi instrumentalist/ writer at a talkback after a staged Fertile Ground reading of her new Rosa Red at Portland’s My Music. But it turned out that the audience did need to learn more of the basics of the early 20th century socialist/feminist/pacifist Rosa Luxemburg’s eventful life than appeared in this early incarnation of her show. Not just because she’s the title character, or because of her historical importance, but so we can fully understand what’s at stake: destroying capitalism to save humanity, and why it meant so much to her that she was willing to risk her life for it.

Playwright/musician Laura Dunn

At the talkback, at least one audience member said he wasn’t even sure Rosa was a real historical character. She sure was, and a captivating one at that, but the details of her life probably aren’t too familiar to many of today’s Americans. Program notes can provide some background, and the show uses Luxemburg’s own letters to supply more. But because she wrote them from prison, locked up for seditious behavior,  the fiery activist had to use innocuous or coded language, which requires still more explication.

We don’t need need a full biography because Rosa Red isn’t really about its title character. The musical focuses on the dilemma of the recipient of those missives. Sophie Liebknecht is torn between two newborns: her friend Rosa’s revolutionary ardor (shared by Sophie’s husband Karl) for the birth of a new world, and Sophie’s own need to nurture and protect her baby from the repercussions of standing up to state violence, the violence that put Rosa in prison in the first place and ultimately killed her and Karl. Had it not already been taken, Sophie’s Choice might have made an apter title.

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4X4 review: quality quartet

PDX Playwrights' Fertile Ground showcase presents diverse selection of short takes

An agitated, hooded man angrily approaches a Transportation Security Administration agent at an airport security station, demanding to know what they’re doing to his son. Violence seems likely to erupt any moment.

That was the arresting opener of Contraband, the opening play in Fertile Ground‘s 4X4: a Collection of One Acts. Produced by PDX Playwrights, the local reading group whose many contributions to the annual showcase of new works amounted to a festival within a festival, the four short one-acts performed at Portland’s Hipbone Studios demonstrated the group’s eclectic variety of theatrical approaches. This creative generator (whose meetings I attend) makes a fine pairing with Fertile Ground’s annual performing arts incubator.

Tom Wiitherspoon and Jonathan Wexler (or is it the other way around?) in ‘Steve and Steve,’ at PDX Playwrights 4×4: A Collection of One Acts. Photo: Charlie Latourette.

As Contraband’s tense encounter continued, a TSA supervisor joined in, until the low-level agent was able to find enough common ground to get the dad conversing instead of confronting. As Karen Polinsky’s play progressed, with the guard mediating between the father and the higher level TSA bureaucrat, we learn that the dad’s obnoxiousness really arises from fear — not just about the incident that landed his son in lockup, but about the boy’s differentness, and more.

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MusicWatch Weekly: jazzing Portland

Jazz reigns this week in Portland, but the state has plenty of other recommendable musical choices, from classical to contemporary

Jazz is all around Portland for the next couple weeks as PDX Jazz Festival’s 15th annual celebration commences Thursday. Angela Allen has ArtsWatch’s preview, and here’s a few recommendations among this week’s shows. But don’t stop there. With so many performances by excellent musicians, local and national, scattered around the city, many, many other fine choices abound. And don’t neglect the local artists. Even though we say we can see them anytime, let’s face it: that means we often take them for granted. Now, when jazz is front and center, use the festival as a chance to not only see legends you’ve heard on airwaves and recordings, but also to check out the outstanding jazz artists among us. I’ve often found their performances superior to, and more affordable than, much bigger names.

Edna Vazquez performs with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble Thursday through Saturday.

For example, Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s show with Edna Vazquez Thursday at Portland’s Old Church, Friday at Mt. Hood Community College and Saturday at Hood River’s Columbia Center for the Arts continues the innovative series that pairs a dozen local jazz musicians with local singer-songwriters, all performing new, made-in-Portland arrangements of their music for jazz orchestra.

Among the big names, Luciana Souza’s Saturday show at Revolution Hall (doubled billed with the Bad Plus drummer Dave King’s other trio) mingles words by famous poets (Elizabeth Bishop, Leonard Cohen, Octavio Paz, Gary Snyder and more) with original music by a sublime singer who’s worked with classical artists like Osvaldo Golijov as well as jazz stars like Herbie Hancock. Violinist Regina Carter’s band honors Ella Fitzgerald in a double bill Sunday with Seattle guitar god Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan, whose new CD was one of my last year’s favorites. That duo also plays The Shedd in Eugene on Saturday.

For more forward-facing jazz sounds, check ensembles featuring composer-performers bassist Ben Allison, young pianist Tigran Hamasyan, and drummer Scott Amendola. Jazz guitar fans have a wide range of shows this week: Portland avant jazz guitarist Mike Gamble, local Brazilian Guitar Duo, and renowned Julian Lage and his trio, with a glimmering new album that really displays his varied gifts.

Improvisation fans can also check older, non-jazz styles at Portland Baroque Orchestra’s weekend concerts at First Baptist Church and Reed College. One of Italy’s finest Baroque fiddlers, Riccardo Minasi, leads Portland’s own period-instrument ensemble in rarely performed concertos by Baldassarre Galuppi, Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, and, of course, Vivaldi.

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‘Living Things’ review: animating the everyday

Fertile Ground musical finds magic in unexpected places

Not all the characters in Archie Washington’s enchanting new musical Living Things are, strictly speaking, alive. Carnival bowling pins that get knocked over and set back up again over and over; components of a science fair rocket; a robot Mars lander and its orbital companion; a decommissioned rocking horse in a doomed shopping mall— all have speaking roles in this charming six-episode anthology, as do other creatures not generally understood by humans to be conversational: a fly, a moth, a butterfly, a potted plant.

Yet in Washington’s unbounded imagination, all those objects, animate and otherwise, have something to say, and plenty to feel. Even in the preliminary version showcased last month at Portland’s Fertile Ground Festival,  Living Things magically takes us back to when we were kids and we imagined what everything around us— animals, plants, toys— might be saying or thinking or feeling. Some of us still do that, even after we’ve grown up, though not as often as we probably should.

Jenna Yokoyama, Sean Dodder, Netty McKenzie, Camille Trinka, Zachary Johnsen in ‘Living Things.’

A moth unexpectedly finds himself attracted to an injured butterfly, even though he can’t quite figure out what she is. “It’s Always the Pretty Ones,” sings the horny moth’s friend, warning him against getting too close, but he can’t help it.

That story’s resolution needs a little more action to believably motivate the moth’s final act of generosity, and in a later episode, I had trouble understanding the carnival bowling pins’ escape plan. Most of the episodes could stand a bit of trimming (none run longer than about 10 minutes or so), especially a short-lived housefly’s near-monologue— the most melancholy and least successful of the lot. Yet despite such minor blemishes, I was captivated by their stories, and I wanted these animate objects to achieve their goals —that’s the magic Washington imbued in them.

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MusicWatch Weekly: spanning the centuries

Music ranging from the Renaissance to today highlights Oregon performances this week

Pick a century, and there’s an Oregon concert to suit your taste this week. Working backward from contemporary to ancient, Saturday’s southeast Portland house concert by Ashland based duo Caballito Negro features flutist Tessa Brinckman and percussionist Terry Longshore playing music by David Lang, the West Coast premiere of rising American composer Wally Gunn’s Bare White Bones, a charming composition for toy piano and percussion by Christopher Adler, and new pieces by Brinckman and Longshore themselves that variously involve Baroque flute, hybrid flute, tabla, waterphone, and various electronic doodads.

Caballito Negro performs Saturday night in Portland.

Chamber Music Amici’s Monday concert at The Shedd presents a welcome mix of new and old sounds, by composers of African heritage. The excellent Eugene ensemble performs American composer Jonathan Bailey Holland’s 2016 String Quartet No. 2, Forged Sanctuaries, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, whose mission is endangered today by our current rulers catering to greedy private interests. Holland has also addressed current topics like Black Lives Matter in other works. The enticing program also includes music by one of the finest 20th century American composers, William Grant Still’s lovely Lyric Quartette. And the band also plays a pair of chamber works by 18th century rock star Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George, the first composer of African ancestry to rock the classical world. Also a dashing fencer, soldier, violinist, conductor and more, his fascinating story and music are finally being rediscovered, but it’s a rare treat to hear his chamber music hereabouts.

Whole lotta jazz heading Portland’s way next week, but for now, try the jazz-influenced pop of Korgy & Bass, opening for Portland world music Tezeta Band Friday at Bunk Bar, or K&B composer/drummer/flutist Barra Brown‘s jazz trio Sunday at Turn Turn Turn.

Nostalgic for the 20th century? Third Angle New Music has you covered with New York composer Morton Feldman’s haunting 1982 Three Voices, a spacious, near hour long interweaving of words by American poet Robert O’Hara sung by three of splendid young female vocal ensemble Quince, Thursday and Friday at Portland’s Studio 2@N.E.W.

Portland pianist Rhonda Rizzo recently decamped to Europe, but she’s bringing Paris back in Portland for a Friday concert at Portland Piano Company with Molly Wheeler when the Rizzo / Wheeler Piano Duo plays 20th century music by Ravel, Faure, Chaminade, Poulenc, and a couple of distinguished visitors, Astor Piazzolla, and Samuel Barber.

Another pianist,  Lukáš Vondráček, plays music by composers from his Czech homeland (Smetana, Suk, Novak) as well as other 19th century Euro masters Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt and Scriabin in his Portland Piano International recitals Saturday and Sunday at Portland State University.

For a mix of 19th and 20th century orchestral works, try the Oregon Symphony’s concerts Friday at Salem’s Willamette University and Saturday-Monday at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The orchestra will record and perform American composer Walter Piston’s Pulitzer Prize winning seventh symphony, and also play Prokofiev’s volcanic 1924 second piano concerto (starring Natasha Paremski, so impressive in her last appearance with the orchestra playing Paul Schoenfeld’s music) and Tchaikovsky’s sweeping final symphony, with its (spoiler) surprisingly subdued and affecting closer.

Portland Opera presents five performances by baritone David Adam Moore of one of the 19th century’s greatest artistic achievements, Schubert’s searing song cycle Winter’s Journey  at Hampton Opera Center Friday through Feb. 17.  Despite its immortal beauty, it’s unfortunately rare enough to hear a complete Winterreise, but this one, accompanied on piano by the company’s chorus master and assistant conductor Nicholas Fox, is enhanced by “an evocative landscape of 3D projection mapping, designed by the NYC-based multimedia art collective GLMMR,” which includes none other than Moore himself as a designer. The fact that he’s performing in the piece makes this one more promising than some other multimedia productions in which the old razzle dazzle doesn’t always enhance the music.

Portland Opera brings digital visuals to its “Winter’s Journey” this week.

And speaking of Franz, the Schubert Ensemble of London also goes 19th century (Schubert, Faure, Hummel) in one of its final concerts Friday at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall.

Still too modern for you? Try Ensemble Primo Seicento’s performance of early Italian Baroque music for organ, harpsichord, cornetto, sackbut, recorder, and voice on February 11 at Eugene’s Church of the Resurrection, 3925 Hilyard St. Sunday. Unfortunately, that’s the same afternoon that another ensemble of early music specialists, Música Eugenia, plays Spanish music inspired by rivers and seas from the 13th – 21st centuries at United Lutheran Church, 2230 Washington Street. The show includes music for guitar, percussion and voice from the Spanish Renaissance, Baroque & Romantic eras, a 20th century piece by Federico Moreno Torroba) and a new Spanish song, written by the ensemble.

Musica Maestrale brings more Renaissance sounds to Tuesday night’s concert at Portland’s First Christian Church featuring American/English soprano Elizabeth Hungerford, soprano and  Renaissance lutenist Hideki Yamaya performing love songs by Dowland, Campion, Morley, Lawes, Purcell, and other English composers.

More recent vocal valentines are heartthobbing at Portland Gay Men’s Chorus soloists Sunday at Portland’s Old Church, and at Johnny Mathis’s Arlene Schnitzer concert hall show Tuesday with the Oregon Symphony.

Speaking of vocals, if you’ve recovered from last week’s choral confluence and are ready for more, check out another of America’s great touring vocal ensembles, Minnesota’s Cantus at Marylhurst University, whose interactive salon Monday builds a program with suggestions from audience members. Their Tuesday concert with choristers from Marylhurst, Reed and Lane Community Colleges includes still more Schubert and Richard Strauss, 20th century music by the great Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, who died last year and leading American choral composer Eric Whitacre, and a world premiere by one of today’s finest younger composers, Brooklyn’s Gabriel Kahane.


Got more recommendations? Please tell us all about them in the comments section below.

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