Brett Campbell

 

Music Notes: gone virtual

With so many performances going online, our news roundup follows suit with video and audio from Oregon musicians

With so many performances going online, our news roundup follows suit with video and audio from Oregon musicians for your home streaming enjoyment

Since we’re all streaming instead of attending these days, this latest edition of our irregular music news roundup accordingly boasts lots of  recent music related video and audio treats to tune into while we impatiently await the return of live music. And it’s replete with announcements of upcoming music seasons gone virtual. Since for the most part we can’t actually be there, we’ll just have to be square — or actually (checks screen dimensions) rectangular.

Double Dash offered a behind-the-scenes peek at the improvisational creative process.

However, live music is creeping back in occasional, socially distanced performances featuring a few musicians and spaced-out audience members. Last time, we told you about the Driveway Jazz Series (streamable socially distanced outdoor performances by top Portland jazz artists held in front of a bungalow in Southeast Portland, which continues every Friday at 4 pm), Boom Arts’s parking lot shows, and Eugene Symphony/Delgani Quartet cellist Eric Alterman’s solo recitals (featuring his own music and J.S. Bach’s) in a Eugene park. Now comes news that pianist Hunter Noack’s In a Landscape project and the Oregon Garden have each found ways to bring the music back to live. 

• On August 21–23, IAL will present Noack at Sunriver Resort as part of the Sunriver Music Festival (which Noack’s mom used to run), in three already sold out performances with strict social distancing rules: masks, spacing, sterilized headphones or bring your own. The site also wisely warns that refunds will provided if state and local regulations require it.

• The Oregon Garden’s Tunes and Tastings Summer Concert Series opens Friday with country singer Britney Kellogg, turns toward smooth jazz with Patrick Lamb’s quintet August 14, and presents an act every Friday, through rock violinist Aaron Meyer’s September 4 show. All shows feature local wine and beer tastings and safety guidelines including six-foot separation between household groups, face coverings etc. 

Of course it helps that both series were already located in magnificent scenic Oregon outdoor landscapes, and science keeps reaffirming that being outside is about as safe as it gets, virus wise, these days.

• Eugene singer Laura Wayte and keyboardist Nathalie Fortin are doing a pair of porch/driveway shows Friday and Sunday, featuring an eclectic mix of music by great American composers including Cole Porter, Samuel Barber, Paul Bowles and more, plus German songs by Meyerbeer, even some sea shanties.

If you want to hear live music, with a bonus of Oregon natural beauty, these outdoor shows might be the best chance to do so before the rains and darkness return, and the music goes away again. Shows like these could provide a test run for other music presenters hoping to find alfresco alternatives to live performance.

• Speaking of Sunriver festival, its first-ever Festival Faire online auction begins today, August 6, and runs through August 11. Register online to help support music education scholarships, festival performances and more.

Last week’s story by Portland opera singer Onry mentioned his film in progress about Black Lives Matter. Today, he released a music video drawn from that project, Livin’ in the Light.

• One of the many events we were looking forward to experiencing live before the deadly twin viral afflictions of COVID-19 and presidential malfeasance struck was a performance of Portland composer Darrell Grant’s Ruby Bridges Suite. Here’s an inspirational taste of what we missed, with newly added connections to today’s crises. 

Grant just dropped a new video, Take Flight, featuring vocalist Michelle Willis and co-created with filmmaker Adolfo Cantú-Villarreal and visual artist Alex Chiu. Half of all funds raised through the release on his social media channels and Bandcamp will be donated to the Portland branch of the national non-profit Friends of the Children, an organization breaking the cycle of generational poverty through one-on-one youth support. To support the project, make a direct donation to Paypal.me/Takeflightsong, through Venmo or Cashapp, or purchase through Bandcamp. And, for another week or so on All Classical’s Played in Oregon, you can hear more Grant music performed in Portland back in November with his MJ New Quartet.

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble Online series last weekend featured Portland duo Double Dash. Drummer Machado Mijiga and keyboardist Dario LaPoma took an online audience behind the scenes as they workshopped original compositions for an upcoming album project — a fascinating glimpse of how music is born and evolves, from the inside. 

• We at ArtsWatch grieve the apparent if so far unannounced departure of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s State of Wonder show and its whip-smart founding host, April Baer, who left for Michigan. But the station still offers occasional artsy treats like these videos.

Portlanders joined the national outpouring of violin vigils lamenting the atrocity in Colorado that resulted in the death of gentle violinist Elijah McClain.

And here’s a cool OPB story featuring Portland drummer/composer/entomologist Lisa Schonberg’s creative work with music and … ants.

Cascadia Composers continues to present new music from its members via Cascadia Streams, a monthly livestream series hosted by Daniel Brugh. Check its website regularly for updates on those and other livestreamed concerts, including the latest addition, the In Good Hands recital we told you about last month.

•  Portland classical music commentator and violinist Casey Bozell has launched ​Keep Classical Weird​, a new 15-20 minute weekly podcast that “connects the Portland arts scene to weirdness in classical music at large,” according to the press release. “Casey explores all manner of kooky, mysterious and outlandish oddities associated with the wide world of classical music…. With friendly cameos from local and national figures in classical music, this is a light-hearted and joyful look at why weirdness in classical music is part of what makes this art form so special.” Find it on Apple podcasts, Spotify podcasts, or Google podcasts 

• We’ve posted several stories recounting the educational adventures of intrepid Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Director Raúl Gómez-Rojas. Hear him talk about his own life with Third Angle New Music’s Sarah Tiedemann.

Regrets & Reschedulings

• Not all outdoor concerts will work amid the pandemic, of course. Last weekend, Pickathon fans had to be content with watching (excellent!) archived videos from our home screens instead of Pendarvis Farm, just as last month’s Northwest String Summit moved from Horning’s Hideout in North Plains to your screen. The Eugene Symphony’s summer concerts, which would have been happening in Cuthbert Amphitheater and in Cottage Grove and Roseburg, have been canceled, and all remaining 2019-20 concerts postponed till next season, leaving fans to connect only through its Virtual Hub, which we detailed in last month’s roundup. 

Eugene Concert Choir cautiously announced its new season, commencing in November with a concert dedicated to women’s voices, with a caveat that each program is “being creatively re-imagined to include a mix of live and recorded content.” Exact details are still up in the air, much like the respiratory droplets that make choral music so problematic these days, but the choir is figuring out how to sing in a way that protects both choristers and audients. 

• Portland’s Choral Arts Ensemble put its next season on hold, canceling its opening October show and “will make a call on the rest of our season’s concerts as more information comes in,” the announcement reads. “We recognize that the situation is changing rapidly, and that there is a strong possibility of a ‘second wave’ this fall.” 

• The Oregon Symphony canceled the rest of its 2020 concerts and — well, let symphony prez Scott Showalter tell you the rest.

Please do help out your favorite organizations by checking out their current plans — and being patient and flexible in the likely event they change.

• After what it termed a successful virtual summer festival, Chamber Music Northwest has decided to take its 2020-21 season digital, again streaming live performances to audience living rooms. We’ll tell you more about this summer’s festival, and the upcoming season, soon. 

Friends of Chamber Music is moving its four fall 2020 concerts online, with the Pacifica Quartet, Richard Goode and Sarah Shafer, Tambuco Percussion and Faure Piano Quartet performing virtually instead of at Lincoln Hall or Kaul Auditorium. For now, the 2021 shows remain scheduled for Portland venues.

Oregon Mandolin Orchestra is taking a course navigated by other music organizations by periodically posting past concerts online, while producing “a COVID, socially distanced performance video of orchestra members playing separately in their own homes, but united by modern technical magic and a longing to play music,” and planning to resume live performances in 2021.

Oregon Koto-Kai’s annual October concert has gone temporarily digital, but not before making face-masked performance last month at the Portland Japanese Garden. 

By the way, both those last two groups play Western classical music along with the rest of their diverse menus. You can find a helping of Handel and a dash of Vivaldi among many treats at their respective websites, YouTube channels and social media outlets.

Kudos

• We’re big fans of the words and music of Portland composer, singer and occasional ArtsWatch contributor Damien Geter, but we’ve been jonesing to see more of his trenchant thoughts on our pages. It’s hard to be too miffed at his absence here, though, since he’s drowning — or at least swimming — in commissions for new music. While Geter’s African American Requiem premiere was pandemically postponed till January by Oregon Symphony and Resonance Ensemble, he’s hard at work on new commissions from Washington Choral and Washington National Opera, and just received another from Portland’s Opera Theater Oregon to compose a new work for voice and chamber ensemble adapted from the prologue of Ralph Ellison’s classic novel​, ​Invisible Man. 

Damien Geter and Catherine Olson in Opera Theater Oregon’s ‘The Little Prince.’ Photo: Theodore Sweeney

You can hear the premiere of yet another new Geter creation, Neo-Soul, this coming November 19 on All Classical Portland radio and online. The station commissioned Geter’s first string quartet along with another new work to be broadcast, a poem by another Resonance Ensemble performer and multifaceted Portland creative “heARTivist,” writer S. Renee Mitchell.

Geter and soprano Karen Slack have also been appointed as Artistic Advisors to Portland Opera, where Geter has sung in many productions. In  a medium many decry as racist, the company is commendably seeking the two African American artists’ advice on “expanded repertoire, casting, public programming, and community engagement.” 

• Of the five winners of Oregon’s 2020 Governor’s Arts Awards, two were Portland musicians: composer/pianist/educator Darrell Grant, and Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. They’ll be celebrated during a virtual ceremony at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, on the Oregon Arts Commission Facebook page.

• Portland composers Luz Mendoza, Olivia Awbrey, Susan Chan and ArtsWatch contributor Christina Rusnak received Oregon Arts Commission grants to support creative work, tours or residencies.

Random Notes

• Portland writer Aaron Gilbreath offers reading lists for classical, hip hop, jazz, and country music newbies. 

• Clean sweep. Portland’5 Centers for the Arts became one of the first performing arts centers to pursue Global Biorisk Advisory Council STARTM accreditation, which the press release calls “the gold standard for prepared facilities…. Portland’5 will implement the most stringent protocols for cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Keller Auditorium, and the Brunish, Winningstad and Newmark theatres in Antoinette Hatfield Hall.”

• “I really fear for classical music in America. We’re a slow-moving art form, not particularly able to adapt to change.” How are classical composers and performers navigating the shutdowns? It’s tough.

• The future of orchestra music? One word for you: crossover. “A marketing machine capitalized on the ideas we had about classical music, manufactured an entire genre for it, succeeded for a while, then lost us the moment our imagination shifted.” Before the pandemic struck, orchestras were finding success in gaining cultural relevance — and customers — through new kinds of crossover concerts.  YouTube chic?

• We know music can heal. Here’s how one scientist / musician does it. 

• Remember, tomorrow, the first Friday in August, is Bandcamp’s monthly fee-free day, so if you go there and purchase music by Oregon artists — like, say, any of the many recordings we surveyed in our recent threepart series — the artists get to keep 100 percent of whatever you pay.

• Who says early music has to be staid? I’m waiting for Portland Baroque Orchestra to try this…

… but until then, you can always catch PBO’s new season, which — whoa!– opens Friday night with a live-streamed performance featuring violin goddess and PBO music director Monica Huggett and fellow baroque music superstar Byron Schenkman performing several of J.S. Bach’s lambent sonatas for violin and harpsichord.

• I always enjoy ArtsWatcher Marty Hughley’s sign- offs: best thing I read this week. Here’s a few I spotted recently.

“It’s a privilege to have a “safe haven” where you can squeeze your Airpods into your auditory canals and block out the ongoing calls for racial equality, the protests against police brutality, or the other literal cries for help from marginalized communities that have been amplified by bands like Rage.” —  Jelisa Castrodale, Vice 

“I don’t miss concerts half as much as I miss running into people at concerts.” -— Marc Weidenbaum, Disquiet

“I enjoy listening to classical music, but even more I enjoy telling people I enjoy listening to classical music.” — Stephen Colbert

Got more music news you think ArtsWatch readers need to know? Let us know in the comments section below, or email music@orartswatch.org.

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch

Safe Distance Sounds 3: Oregon voices

Recent recordings by Cappella Romana, the Broken Consort, Portland State University Chamber Choir and The Industry showcase Oregon choral and vocal music

Of all the music we’re missing in these days of suspended live performances, perhaps the most missed — and most lethal — is choral music. One of the first major outbreaks of Covid 19, after all, derived from a Northwest choir rehearsal, and every choral performance involves slinging a lot of breath and its hangers-on droplets around a stage.

And yet, choral music is to many of us the most life-giving music. Not just because it directly involves the breath — the same breath the virus threatens — but also because it combines musical and verbal communication. Even when we don’t even understand the language being sung, many of us crave the sound of the live human voice, especially when many of us are denied it during the lockdown when, sadly, we’re denied it. And it may be some time before we can hear it again live. Although, lots of folks are trying new things.

So, to continue our series of reviews of recent recordings of Oregon music (earlier installments covered jazz/improvised and chamber music), here are some choral, vocal and opera recordings that might help assuage the loss of live performances. For more Oregon voices on record, check ArtsWatch’s recent archives for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch reviews of recent albums by Oregon Repertory Singers and In Mulieribus.

Isle of Majesty

The Broken Consort

Our recent story Open Wide described how Portland composer/performer Emily Lau insists on high artistic standards and a communal creative process in her Big Mouth Society. Both qualities enrich Lau’s 2019 album with her chamber music ensemble, The Broken Consort. The seven musicians, who live in far flung cities across North America, lived and rehearsed together while creating it, and that cohesion, as well as their estimable chops, elevates Lau’s impressive original compositions performed by voices, marimba, oboes, viola, recorders, cello, piano and other percussion.

Lau (who also sings on the Cappella Romana CDs below) is part of a significant cohort of contemporary American musicians who are drawing on pre-Classical era aesthetics, and fans of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music will find plenty to enjoy. So will admirers of traditional Chinese music and poetry, and the words of Emily Dickinson, which Lau also sets to bewitching music, including the closing anthemic “I shall keep singing.” For all its historical influences, though, Lau’s sound world is decidedly 21st century oriented, and unapologetically embraces beauty as well as originality.

Lou Harrisons Young Caesar

Los Angeles Master Chorale, LA Philharmonic New Music Ensemble, The Industry

In Lou Harrison’s long, productive, and magnificent musical journey, no project drew so much effort — or frustration — than his opera Young Caesar. A proud lifelong gay rights advocate, the Portland-born composer desperately wanted to contribute an opera on gay themes to the canon. He created the initial version as a puppet opera in the early 1970s, using the instruments and musical styles of Asia and the Middle East and the West (including his homemade American gamelan instrumentarium) to re-tell the true story of on-the-rise Roman general Julius Caesar’s fateful affair with a young prince of Bithynia (now part of Turkey). Its original 1971 Pasadena production, featuring a quintet of musicians, singers and narrator, handmade puppets and backdrops painted by Harrison himself, drew praise for its homespun musical and visual charm and Harrison’s enchanting compositions, but criticism for its undramatic story and overextended libretto and narration.

 Harrison kept laboring on it for the rest of his life, even rescoring it and adding conventional operatic arias in hopes of a full staging, but the project never quite fulfilled his hopes, either in a Portland staged reading by the Gay Men’s Chorus in the 1980s, a planned but ultimately scuttled Lincoln Center production, or an intermittently engaging posthumous 2007 production by San Francisco’s Opera Parallele, all of which suffered by using conventional Western instruments and tunings. (You can read the twisty story of its troubled history in this excerpt from Bill Alves’s and my 2017 biography of Harrison.)

In 2017, during Harrison’s centenary, the visionary Los Angeles opera company The Industry mounted yet another version at Disney Hall: a hybrid of Harrison’s original score for his American gamelan and Asian instruments, and a baker’s dozen of Western instruments that trimmed enough of the bloated libretto to produce an acclaimed, beautifully-staged 90 minute production. Shorn of big thickets of its labored libretto and clunky storytelling, and powerfully performed by the superb Los Angeles Master Chorale and the LA Philharmonic New Music Group, it nevertheless failed to fully tune into Harrison’s musical intentions. 

As with composers like J.S. Bach, musical tuning was a major aspect of Harrison’s latter-day aesthetic, and whenever possible, he wrote music for the purer, natural tunings called “just intonation” instead of the clangorous, compromised equal temperament that’s dominated Western music since the early 20th century. While it sounds technical, tuning makes a real difference: when a piece is played in a different tuning than originally intended, you’re literally hearing different sounds. “You haven’t really heard a composer’s music,” Harrison said, “unless you hear it in the tuning he intended.” He was speaking especially of Baroque composers, to whom tuning often mattered more than instrumentation, but the same goes with his own music. Unfortunately, the Industry’s recording and performance freely mixed some of the just-tuned original instruments with modern ones, vitiating much of the original version’s charm and originality, while grafting bits of it onto the later version.

Still, with stellar soloists and acting fully up to exalted Industry standards, this new recording, released in time for Pride Month, otherwise makes an appealing case for Harrison’s glorious music. I still prefer the intimate charm of Harrison’s original musical — as distinct from dramatic — vision (which you can actually hear, sort of, in this 1974 amateur recording), even though it lacks the gorgeous later-added arias and the rest. But it’s a treasure to at last have so much of this incomparable American composer’s intended magnum opus at last available on our speakers, and so splendidly performed, even if the ideal Young Caesar still awaits its definitive incarnation.

AU and the Camas High School Choir – Live at Yale Union

Pop artists from Aretha Franklin to the Rolling Stones to Ray Davies to David Byrne and many others have used choirs to bring a bigger sound or at least a new perspective on their hits. But for his seventh album under the moniker of AU, Portland songwriter Luke Wyland did something different: he made the choral sound an integral part of the creative process from the outset. In 2016, Wyland began a yearlong collaboration with the 155 singers of the Camas High School Choir and their enterprising director, Ethan Chessin (a trombonist late of March Fourth) to produce an entirely new body of music, which they performed and recorded live that year at Portland’s Yale Union and Time Based Art Festival. 

The combo is enhanced by an all-star lineup of instrumentalists well known in Portland jazz and pop circles, including Blue Cranes saxophonists Reed Wallsmith and Joe Cunningham, bassist/guitarist Andrew Jones (Julia Holter, Te Crenshaw), Lan drummer Dana Valatka, and, most prominently, the gripping singer (recently decamped to New York) Holland Andrews (Like A Villain). 

Wyland’s expansive music is well suited to the added vocal forces. The bigger palette seems to have inspired him, for the result is clearly much more than just adding bigger harmony vocals, with the chorus fully integrated as a unique and distinctive instrument, as on the opening chant-like “Siren,” with its percussive vocal sounds, and “Source”’s swirling choral textures. The big sax sound blends nicely with massed male voices and gamelan like percussion on “Ox Eyed Sky.” Nor has Wyland eased his inventiveness, as in the found sounds of students talking morphing gradually into words and music of “Epithet.” And even on the anthemic “All My Friends,” the choral wall of sound never sounds overinflated. As much as I’ve enjoyed AU in its small ensemble incarnation over the years, this recording sounds like how his music — or at least this batch of it — was always meant to be. 

This recording is part of a most welcome trend to transcend the false barriers separating pop, classical and other genres that were always dictated more by commercial rather than artistic considerations. Wyland joins the parade of both pop-oriented (Byrne, Merril Garbus, Bryce Dessner, Rufus Wainwright) and classically trained (Nico Muhly, Sarah Kirkland Snider) musicians who want to use the widest range of musical forms available to express their visions, regardless of restrictive genre categories.

Venice in the East, Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia: Medieval Byzantine Chant

Cappella Romana

“The music on this recording witnesses to interactions between Greeks and Latins within the shared cultural space of Venetian rule,” according to artistic director and scholar Alexander Lingas’s characteristically thorough liner notes for Cappella Romana’s 2019 Venice in the East. “Crete, acquired by Venice in 1204, was for over 400 years the Serene Republic’s most important and prosperous Greek colony. The island developed a flourishing Greco-Italian Renaissance culture that it came to share with Cyprus, control of which passed in 1489… to the Venetian Republic. Meanwhile, Venice herself came to host a prominent Greek minority,” composed of immigrants from those colonial islands.

Like most music, the album’s luminous liturgical sounds emerge from cultural hybridization, in this case between European Roman Catholic and Mediterranean Byzantine Greek Orthodox cultures. Rediscovered by Lingas and sung here in period Greek, it was written by now-obscure 15th– and 16th-century composers like Hieronymos Tragodistēs, Plousiadenós, Ioannis Laskaris and others for church services and other religious occasions, and sets prayers, hymns, and stories about Jesus’s life and death.

As ever with Cappella Romana, Oregon’s most internationally renowned choral ensemble, the recording (made at Portland’s St. Stephen Catholic Church) is clear yet resonant, the performances immaculate and stirring for any listener regardless of faith tradition or lack thereof. Although the music lacks the polyphonic complexity of other European music of the time, it does contain occasional harmony (unlike the group’s chant CDs), and benefits from the singing’s sheer, almost symphonic power, skill and commitment. Read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review of the first half of the ensemble’s 2018 Portland concert, which included some of this music, for more.

Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia: Medieval Byzantine Chant

It’d be a shame if the admittedly fascinating story of how Cappella’s latest album, which is topping the classical music charts this summer, was made overshadowed the music it contains. The short version: Cappella Romana worked with Stanford University (where it was recorded) acoustic scientists to recreate the way sacred music actually sounded when it was sung in Orthodox religions services in Constantinople (now Istanbul’s) famous Hagia Sophia cathedral centuries ago. We’ll tell you more about that another time, but what you want to know is: should I listen to the CD, which the group touts as “the first vocal album in the world to be recorded entirely in live virtual acoustics”? 

And the answer is: yes! Especially if you enjoy Byzantine chant presented in as sympathetic a setting as imaginable. If you didn’t know about the whole “auralization” thing, or care about historically authentic performance practice, you’d still likely be moved by the vastness conjured by the choir’s acoustically enhanced reverberant drone voices, especially their legendary basses. 

Where music is heard affects how we hear it, as David Byrne and many others have noted. The music of composers who wrote for specific environments can lose essential qualities when wrenched out of those contexts, as anyone who’s heard some of Bach’s smaller-scale pieces in vast 19th or 20th century concert halls can attest. The music on this recording was written to take advantage of — and not be blurred by — the colossal space’s up-to-12-second echo delay. The effect is to surround listeners in a sonic shimmer that, like the light streaming in from Hagia Sophia’s windows, must have evoked a sense of genuine spiritual transcendence in believers of the time. I can attest that, even on my desktop speakers (and, crucially, subwoofer), it works its magic on at least one 21st century secular humanist.

Although I’ve only streamed the recording so far, I expect real fans will want the physical deluxe package, containing a surround-sound Blu-Ray disk, documentary about the making of the album, and handsome extensive 40 page booklet that delves into both the history and the recording tech. With Hagia Sophia converted to a mosque half a millennium ago, then a museum in the 20th century, and now about to become a mosque again, it’s likely this recording will be the closest we’ll ever be able to come to imagining what it was like to hear this music as it was originally intended and experienced. 

The Doors of Heaven, Translations

Portland State Chamber Choir, Ethan Sperry, Conductor

One of Oregon’s most acclaimed vocal music institutions isn’t a professional music ensemble. The Portland State Chamber Choir has achieved national and even international accolades, first under the direction of Bruce Browne and, for the past decade, Ethan Sperry. Along with scoring awards in the major international collegiate choral competitions, the choir has made some splendid recordings that have garnered worldwide airplay and even reached the classical music charts, thanks to its last two recordings featuring the music of Eriks Ešenvalds. 

The 43-year-old Latvian has become one of the most performed choral composers in the world, with eight CDs already devoted exclusively to his music. He follows in the lush, leisurely style popularized by Oregon’s Morten Lauridsen and California’s Eric Whitacre, but as Sperry’s extensive, eloquent liner notes contend, “Ešenvalds is equally comfortable writing in an angular, aggressive style that channels more stringent tonalities of the previous century. What makes Ešenvalds’ music so compelling is that he uses these two musical vocabularies side by side.” 

The prescient Sperry commissioned him to compose The Heavens’ Flock, in 2014, and made PSUCC the first American choir to record Ešenvalds’s music with its 2017 The Doors of Heaven. The choir’s enthusiasm for his music is definitely mutual, as they’ve brought him to Oregon and he’s set to music poetry by one of Oregon’s own poet laureates, Paulann Petersen. That’s a tribute to the singers’ precocious ability to deliver Ešenvalds’s often complex (sometimes eight or even 16 parts) music with such persuasive precision. 

The choir’s 2017 recording, The Doors of Heaven, showcases Esenwalds’s proclivity for enveloping relatively sweet melodies amid placid choral backgrounds, and for setting narrative tales to music.

In the shimmering 2015 composition The First Tears, based on an Inuit legend, low and high voices switch off between singing verses and providing a choral halo setting for them. Accompanied by Native American flute, jaw harps, and percussion, it builds to a percussive climax. Inspired by the aurora borealis, Rivers of Light sends a folky tune skittering over ripples of choral beauty. Hannah Consenz’s soaring soprano ignites the album’s most ambitious composition, Ešenvalds’s melancholy oratorio Passion and Resurrection, an expression of the Christian Passion myth drawn from various sources, not just the usual Gospels. If we ever have a live Oregon Bach Festival again, this contemplative modern take (which also employs vocal quartet and PSU’s string ensemble) would make an excellent addition to its stellar history of Passion performances. The placid A Drop in the Ocean ranges from soothing to wistful before echoing into the distance, setting the stage for Ešenvalds and PSU’s 2019 encore CD. 

Translations takes flight with the prayer for peace O Salutaris Hostia’s stratospheric soprano solo, sent heavenward by Kate Ledington and Maeve Stier, landing gently on the pillowy The Heavens’ Flock, which, like the next piece, the gently glowing, handbell-enhanced world premiere recording of Translation (also a Paulann Petersen setting) evanesces to an end. It’s a treat to hear Ešenvalds and the PSU singers bringing Petersen’s plangent lyrics to choirs worldwide.

My Thoughts also unfold with due deliberation — no ADD in this St. Silouans setting — but is dynamically enlivened with a swelling, precisely managed crescendo. The mysterious Vineta finally darkens the tone with occasional dissonance and bass drum thunder, but continues the plodding pace while refusing to settle into a groove, an aptly asymmetrical expression of the text by 19th century German poet Wilhelm Muller, whose words also served Schubert magnificently in his classic Winter’s Journey and The Lovely Maid of the Mill. The Legend of the Walled-In Woman goes even darker, a haunting evocation of a Latvian folk tale. In Paradisum makes an appropriately warm and soothing closer as the lyrics wish angels leading us to eternal rest. 

Given that these are after all recordings of a college choir, you might not expect professional recording standards. Wrong! The pristine recorded sound surpasses almost any choral recording I’ve heard. The intentionally resonant acoustic (Portland’s St. Stephens Catholic Church and Mt. Angel’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church respectively) both suits Ešenvalds’s voluptuous aesthetic yet somehow sacrifices no clarity. Kudos to producer Erick Lichte (a former PSU grad student and singer who now directs Vancouver’s superb Chor Leoni Men’s Choir) and engineers John Atkinson and Doug Tourtelot. 

As compellingly as Ešenvalds does lush ’n leisurely, though, I could have stood for a tad more variety on the CDs. After one too many languorous strolls through his fragrant harmonic garden, I was ready to sell my kingdom for an allegro or three, and a minor principality for a spicy dissonance. Still, a couple of alluring disks of mostly measured, expertly performed harmony singing featuring music by one of today’s finest choral composers provides a soothing though never saccharine balm in a troubled time.

Heard more Oregon music that ArtsWatch readers might want to check out? Let us all know in the comments section below, or email music@orartswatch.org.

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch

Play it Forward: restoring music education

This month's Virtual Supper Club event supports pianist Michael Allen Harrison's program to bring music lessons to Oregon students

When Michael Allen Harrison was growing up in 1960s Portland, arts education enriched his life. “All the public schools had band programs, strings programs, choir, theater, painting, sculpture,” he remembers. “There were piano teachers in every neighborhood. We had everything at our fingertips to figure out what we were good at, what inspired us.”

What inspired Harrison was playing piano and composing music. He used the skills and qualities he gained from his arts education to become one of the most successful pianists in so-called New Age music, found his own record label, record more than 60 albums, score musicals, films, ballets, theater productions and orchestral compositions, and much more. He was recently inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.

Michael Allen Harrison

But as his own star rose, Harrison watched with disappointment and then alarm as his home state systematically dismantled the public school arts education system that had so enriched his life and helped him create the music that delighted so many listeners. 

Harrison decided to do something about it. He resolved to help restore access to music education to Oregonians who couldn’t afford it. Two decades ago, he created the Snowman Foundation program to support music education in Oregon and eventually Seattle, then the Ten Grands fundraising concert to bring pianos to students whose families couldn’t afford them. And three years ago, his Play it Forward program embarked on the culminating phase of his original vision. 

But like so many other worthy educational and musical efforts this year, Play it Forward has had to shift gears — though the engine is still running strong and moving forward. And this week, Oregon arts lovers can help.

Defunding the Arts

Harrison became a music educator not long after becoming a music student at age six, when he started taking piano lessons. When he became a young teen, he wanted a car, and his paper route wasn’t going to earn him enough to buy one. So he started giving lessons to Northeast Portland neighborhood kids as a teenager, and he’s been teaching ever since. 

Music lessons helped him achieve more than transportation. “You learn so much about life from learning music,” he says. “You gain confidence when you’re asked to do things you’re uncomfortable with, you learn discipline preparing for recitals. Even when I got into high schools, when I was trying out for musicals and singing in choir, going through auditions, performing on stage, learning how to dance. All these activities in the arts created a confidence in me that I could take to any other discipline.”


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


That’s why it was so important to him that other kids have the same opportunities. But those started to shrink thirty years ago, when voters endorsed a disastrous property tax limitation that failed to provide alternative funding for the social benefits those taxes paid for. “It started with Measure 5,” Harrison says. “It wasn’t the main cause, but it was the starting point for the downward spiral. Educational sources were forced to cut budgets and one of those things was the arts.”

Harrison saw a lot of the damage first hand, as he’s been doing artist residencies in schools over that span. “Arts are the most important thing in education, because they support all the other disciplines,” he says. “Everybody in the educational system knows it. There are so many studies, tests, data, that all show how the arts enhance other disciplines. And yet the action has been to cut the arts. It’s been breaking my heart for 30 years.”

Building the Snowman

Nearly a decade of seeing the catastrophic effects of tax cuts and misplaced priorities on the lives of Oregon students persuaded Harrison to found his Snowman Foundation in 1999, using fundraising concerts like his long-running Ten Grands at Portland5 and Christmas at the Old Church series to finance the purchase of new instruments and endow scholarships. To date, it’s raised about $3.5 million for music education and reached more than 100,000 students.

“Then all of a sudden people started donating their instruments to us,” Harrison recalls. “There’s thousands of wonderful used pianos, even Steinways, sitting in people’s living rooms: ‘This belonged to my Aunt Nellie.’ They become furniture not being used. The idea came from the community: we can stretch our dollars a lot further if we’re getting an instrument for free.” The foundation sends an assessor to figure out whether an instrument was salvageable, then picks up usable instruments and deliver them to students who needed them. And as word spread, “we began getting these nice gently used instruments from people’s living rooms — oboes, violins, drum sets, saxophones, keyboards.”

But a crucial element was still missing. “It was always my dream to give every child who needed one an instrument and a teacher,” Harrison explains. “So as we grew, we were finally able to start an after-school program in which everyone gets a free piano and every child gets a teacher.” The Snowman Foundation paved the way for Play It Forward, an independent program that over the last three years has provided lessons to 150 students, delivered nearly 4,000 hours of music instruction, and gifted 450 instruments to students, community centers, schools and churches, according to its spokesperson. This year, the program employs 10 teachers, including college students and young musicians who’ve just graduated from college and have teaching experience, “so we’re able to support young teachers, kids and families.”

Life Lessons

One of them is Diane Tran, a Portland Community College-Rock Creek student who signed up in 2019 and is teaching students in this summer’s workshops. “Learning music can help you in so many ways,” she says. “There’s always a way to apply everything you learn here in the real world. Reading sheet music trains observation and motor skills. I tend to see problem students who are having trouble keeping focus become more receptive and willing to change themselves. I also see them starting to open up a lot more. They’re more receptive to a bit of growth.”

Diane Tran gives a Zoom lesson with Maria Herrera

Harrison, who’s teaching four students himself this summer, has seen that extra-musical growth throughout his many decades of learning and teaching piano.

“The act of practice and learning how to practice properly is giving you great learning skills,” he explains. Even after their school years, students continue to benefit from music lessons. “If you’re in a board meeting, team meeting, situations where you need to speak up, or you’re going for a job interview,” he says, “the more experience you have of sharing who you are, the more confidence you have and more success you have later in life. It helps you develop as a human. I’ve witnessed it in others and witnessed it in myself.”

Students aren’t the only ones learning from piano lessons. “As a pianist I’ve learned there’s a lot I can learn from my students,” Tran says. “What they often teach me is how they want to have fun. I don’t have memories of having fun when I was taking lessons. I want to give them what I couldn’t get.” 

If they like playing a piece that’s in the standard syllabus, she’ll continue with that, but if not, she’ll find something they do like, often starting reluctant learners out playing the music they want to hear, even something like the Pokemon theme. And she’s sensitive to how they’re feeling about what they’re playing. “If they’re having a negative emotional feeling about what they’re playing, I have to address that,” she says..” ‘How does this negative mood affect you? How can we change that?’ Play it Forward is very open about how we teach.”

Tran’s responsive attitude mirrors Harrison’s approach. He says, “I’m always asking them, ‘How does this feel to you? In your body? What’s happening? What are you feeling in the moment? Are you frustrated?’ I try to help kids to be nice to themselves.”

Julianne Johnson and Michael Allen Harrison

Play it Forward has developed along with its students and teachers, becoming mentors as well as teachers. In the wake of this summer’s national reckoning with racial injustice, Portland singer and frequent Harrison collaborator Julianne Johnson came to speak to PiF’s teachers and board about her experience and share her family’s history and her insights about white privilege.

Harrison says that since his wife, Marietta, took over management, “it’s grown 400 percent. She’s really turned it into a shining light of a program. We’ve learned so much about some of the kids we’re serving. Some kids are sharing intimate things happening in their family, so we’re training teachers how to handle that and how to refer certain information to the right people.”

That mentorship can happen only when teachers go beyond teaching the notes. “One of the biggest motivational tools on the planet is when you as a teacher can show a student you believe in them and are interested in who they are,” Harrison insists. “That makes the whole difference. Human contact is so important.”

Shifting Gears

Human contact, unfortunately, is exactly what’s severely limited in this pandemic summer. But that’s not stopping Play it Forward. In the spring, the Harrisons immediately began planning how the program could adjust to the new reality. “She’s a tenacious facilitator,” Michael said of Marietta. “She makes it all happen. When Covid hit, we shifted our entire program to being online.”  

This summer, rehearsals and recitals happen over Zoom. For their upcoming performance of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” at PiF’s virtual summer fundraiser, “all the kids are learning their parts, practicing over Zoom on multiple screens,” Harrison says. “Everybody performs for each other, and we also have kids assess each other, what they could work on.”

Play it Forward Zoom recital

Like other organizations and piano teachers forced to adapt, Play it Forward is finding lasting value in what was originally intended as a temporary accommodation to the virus crisis. In previous years, students interacted primarily with their own teachers. “One of the things Zoom is doing is building a closer community” among the students, Harrison explains, “because we’re able to put kids closer together on the Zoom screen. So even when we’re all back to being able to hug each other, we’re going to integrate the online stuff. We plan to keep doing Zoom meetings so the kids can see each other and check in and have everybody play for each other, maybe even offer master classes online.”

Virtual Supper Club

The program might have adeptly adjusted to new circumstances, but teachers still had to be paid, as did its other expenses. Harrison finances most of his educational work through concerts — but the pandemic has squelched those for now. Even the banquet rooms of hotels often used for fundraising functions were off limits. How could Play it Forward bring its music to supporters? 

Marietta Harrison remembered the ‘60s supper clubs that the title character in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel TV series performed her standup act in. They’d considered using the theme for PiF’s fall gala, which, like every other fall performance, was now in doubt. Why not, she suggested, turn this summer’s fundraiser into a virtual supper club?

On July 25, Play it Forward will bring the music and dinner to supporters’ homes. Participants can order a full dinner complete with paired wine prepared by Pearl Catering and Script Cellars for no-contact delivery. Then, they can tune into the main event online: a livestream show featuring local musicians and youth performers, along with an opportunity to bid on a curated offering of auction items. Harrison and Johnson will perform, and Harrison’s friend and fellow songwriter, New Age pianist, radio show host and PBS fave Jim Brickman is recording a special video for the occasion. Harrison hopes that around 30 of the 44 summer workshop students will also prepare videos, including the “Ode to Joy.” 

Rebuilding Trust

Play it Forward’s creative persistence in the face of this year’s unprecedented challenges reaffirms Harrison’s lifelong belief that learning and playing music builds confidence, discipline, and creativity throughout life, and beyond music. Harrison himself has also been adapting to current circumstances, offering a daily video performance of some of his favorite pieces, and creating a series of Wednesday Night Experiences to be enjoyed virtually at home — “an evening for relaxation, meditation, prayer, peace of mind or just whatever you want it to be. An opportunity for an intimate personal experience. An hour and a half of straight music. “It’s different every time” Michael explains “because the day is different, the group of people in the room changes, my personal thoughts and mood changes, it just flows according to the feelings in the room.”

From Harrison’s Anti-Anxiety playlist

 Along with his own substantial contributions through such efforts, Harrison is continuing to advocate restoring the much greater support possible through public investment in arts education. 

 “I grew up with the kind of support I envision,” he remembers. “All those activities create so many great memories — the kids you were with, the trips you went on, everybody comes to the shows, the sports events with music, the spring musical. We all get together.  It’s the arts that lift us up to higher heights. The more you take the arts out, the more you hurt the community.”

Still, he acknowledges that rebuilding arts education is going to require building trust among voters and lawmakers.

“There’s a lack of trust in the people who lead our educational system,” he says. “How do we find a way to trust the leadership and the organizations that are making these decisions when they come to us and say we need more money to fund these important programs? Will that money be spent on what we voted on? How can we help educational organizations deliver a much better message, so people will trust what they’re doing?”

“I think the Play it Forward program is one of those things that leads by example. So I’m hoping that as we grow, maybe this program will expand to every school in the state. Through that example people will see and trust that arts education is something we have to have in our community and in our educational system.”

Harrison wants to play a personal role in rebuilding support for arts education.  

“I’m happy to get on my soapbox. I would love to participate in any group bringing forth legislation, be a pied piper and a voice. Oregon has led the way in so many things that later filter through the rest of the country. We can be that leader again.”

Limited tickets are available now for the Play It Forward Supper Club event at www.pifmusic.org. Individual tickets start at $125, with group packages and children’s meals also available. Guests purchase a ticket, reserve their meal and bottle of wine, and prepare for a fun evening. The event is expected to sell out, so early reservations are encouraged. Deadline to sign up is July 19.

The 20th anniversary Ten Grands concert originally scheduled for April 11 at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall is now planned for November 15 at  Keller Auditorium, but of course everything is subject to changing pandemic restrictions.

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Passing the Torch

Cascadia Composers' In Good Hands program expands students' musical horizons and brings Oregon music to the next generations

The typical piano recital goes something like this: assigned standard works by teachers, students dutifully perform some bite-sized Bach, a morsel of Mozart, a sampling of Schumann, maybe a token 20th century work created a century or more before they were born. Parents proudly applaud. Then the students go home and listen to the music they really like, the music of their time, until it’s time to practice Ye Olde Masters again. After a few years, many student recitalists find other outlets for their musical interests.

What if it didn’t have to be that way? What if students could play music from their own time and place? And instead of merely “reciting” standard rep that’s been played zillions of times by as many students — what if they could also engage creatively with the music they’re playing?


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


That was the vision Cascadia Composers founder David Bernstein suggested to Portland Piano International founder Harold Gray in 2009. Before moving to Oregon, Bernstein had been involved in a program in Cleveland, where he was a music professor, that connected area composers to piano students. A concert of music by Northwest composers, performed by Portland-area piano students, would make a splendid addition to a summer festival almost entirely dominated by music from centuries ago and oceans away, Gray and Bernstein thought.

The 2018 In Good Hands performers

This Saturday afternoon, July 11, Cascadia presents its 10th annual In Good Hands recital, featuring student performers from both the Portland and Eugene metro areas will play new music written by eleven Cascadia Composers members. Anyone interested in the future of Oregon music can tune in via Zoom or at the archived video on the Cascadia website. It’s a milestone for a program that not only provides unique educational benefits for its student participants, but also bolsters contemporary Oregon classical music’s future.

Matching Music to Students

Many if not most classic European composers (Ravel, Prokofiev, Schumann, Bartok etc.) enjoyed, and/or paid the bills by teaching and writing music for students. Many Cascadia Composers are piano teachers too, including Dan Brugh, the 2009 Oregon Music Teachers Association Composer of the Year, whom Bernstein and Gray tapped to lead what Gray dubbed In Good Hands. Brugh quickly realized that managing a score call and recital program, and coordinating among Cascadia, OMTA, and PPI, demanded hyper organized help. 

He found it in Cascadia president Jan Mittelstaedt, and the two have traded off the lead role and shared most of the managerial duties ever since. Other members of the organization have helped out in different ways, from getting programs printed to obtaining the roses that participating composers charmingly present to the students who play their pieces at the recital — a symbolic passing on of the legacy of keeping Oregon music flowering through succeeding generations. 

Cascadia supplies a database of compositions suitable for student performers at various skill levels, supplied by member composers in response to an annual call for scores. OMTA publicizes the program to its member teachers, and those interested peruse the available scores (including recordings and program notes) for those they think suitable to their students’ interests and educational needs. Once a student and teacher agree on a piece, they get to meet with the composer to discuss its background, technical issues, adjustments if necessary, and so on. 

Dan Brugh congratulates an In Good Hands performer.

The pieces are as varied in style as the composers and students, with some students occasionally even embracing works written in the 20th century 12-tone modernist style. But in general, composers look to grab students with “catchy, rhythmic pieces that engage them initially and not too difficult technically or notationally,” says Eugene composer Paul Safar, who has several students participating in this year’s program.

Another longtime participant, Portland’s Dianne Davies, recalled a meeting at which participating teacher “Irene Huang said students like ‘melody, melody, melody.’ If it doesn’t have a melody, kids don’t want to play it. They also like consistent and driving rhythm. It has to have one of those two, and it’s best if it has both.”

Veteran teachers like Davies and Mittelstaedt tailor pieces to students’ interests and educational needs. “When I compose for students, I think about what they do well,” Mittelstaedt explains, “for example, if they like fast pieces, if they can do a five finger pattern fast, if they can move around the keyboard. It’s a different kind of composing when you’re writing for students.”

Going Virtual 

The recitals initially took place at the World Forestry Center during PPI’s annual summer festival. They differ from standard recitals because they’d involve a dozen on more students from various teachers instead of just one. Moreover, the programs consisted entirely of contemporary music rather than pedagogical classics, with a much greater variety of styles, ranging from neo-romantic to jazzy and many others.  

But after three years, Gray retired, putting IGH on hold, its future in doubt. After skipping a year, Brugh determined that In Good Hands must survive, solely as a Cascadia Composers initiative. Since then, Mittelstaedt says, the series has occasionally looked beyond the usual single-pianist format to include Tomas Svoboda’s Canon for Unlimited Voices featuring 14 (!) pianists, another Svoboda composition for organ, works for toy pianos (courtesy of Cascadia’s Jennifer Wright), solo flute, voice, and even combos (flute, violin and piano, flute and cello). The annual recitals moved from Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall to The Old Church Concert Hall to Portland Piano Company and for the last two summers, back to PSU.

Portland Piano International’s Harold Gray

Until this year, that is. With the pandemic scuttling so many performances, In Good Hands faced its toughest challenge since separating from PPI: how to continue performances when crowds of the size that thronged previous concerts weren’t permitted?

Once again, Dan Brugh said, “I will not let it die. It’s too important for young people and the composers. I will do anything I have to to make sure it continues. It could have ended [in 2014 after PPI pulled out]. It could have ended this year. I said, ‘we can do video.’” 

So, like many others in this plagued spring and summer, In Good Hands is going online. Students will record their own performances and Cascadia will stream it live and then archive the video. And with physical distance no longer posing a barrier, this year’s virtual performance will also be the first time students from Eugene will be participating. 

“With this pandemic [response], we’re teaching students how to embrace technology and videos,” Brugh says. “It’s important that students realize that they should have a YouTube station. It’s pushing us all into this new level of artistry. I hope we continue this live streaming even if we come back to live performances, maybe some combo of pre-recorded performances and some live, with students doing their own recordings.”

Expanding Horizons 

Teaching students about video making and streaming will be only the latest aspect of In Good Hands’s contribution to Oregon musical education. Compared to performing classics of past centuries, playing new music “opens up their ears to new sounds, new techniques, new things to learn,” says Safar. “Every composer’s got a different voice. It’s so important not be boxed into any particular genre, especially antiquated ones. When I was younger, [playing new music] helped me  not be afraid of it, to take it on its own terms. Learning new music can’t help but expand them musically, whether they end up becoming professional musicians or not.”  

Composer, teacher and pianist Paul Safar

Not only does participating in IGH keep students practicing music over the summer when many stop taking regular lessons, the program also provides a unique motivation for study that standard recitals can’t. Portland teacher Irene Huang, who has 13 students participating this year, normally plays through the classics when introducing them to her students and helps them understand various ways they’ve been interpreted. But Huang, whose own musical education was dominated standard classical repertoire, she can’t do that with new, unfamiliar music. 

“I hand the music to the students and tell them, ‘This is fresh out of the oven. I’m not playing it for you because I’ve never played it. You’ll be in charge — take it home bring it back to me and let me know what have you learned,’” Huang explains. “So they get to be the teacher. It’s more a motivation to them to be in charge instead of ‘this is what my teacher assigned me and I need to follow what she said.’ And when I tell them ‘you’ll be premiering this piece, and it’s never been played before in public and you’ll be the first one — that sends them to the moon!”

Because of that sense of ownership, Huang says, performing in In Good Hands especially encourages reticent performers. “Most of my students are Asian,” she laughs, “and some can be shy and timid, so sometimes it’s hard to get them up there to perform. Through In Good Hands, many of my students become not as passive. They’re very happy and excited to show everyone what they’ve learned.”

Finding Their Voices

Students’ personal stake in the music also comes from their personal connection to the composers. Working with composers on their interpretations gives students an opportunity to divine what the composers intended in a way that’s impossible to do with long-dead composers. “If composer and students are working together and the composer explains their motivation and inspiration in writing the piece, or gives suggestions on how want it played, it helps them a lot,” Mittelstaedt says. For example, one of this year’s performers, a student of Safar’s, is playing her “Dusk,” and she was explaining how she imagined the different sections sounded. “This area is like velvet,” she told him. “Imagine you’re touching velvet — that’s how you’d play it.” 

Composer, teacher and pianist Jan Mittelstaedt

In a piece called “Childhood Memories,” a student didn’t understand why the middle section was dark and spooky. “It’s about the things you’re afraid of, like the monster in the closet,” composer Dianne Davies told her. One piece of hers played by one of Huang’s students is based on a story about a jaguar chasing its prey, and Davies allows students to inform their performances of the ending based on whether they think the jaguar caught its victim or not.

“I’m honored to be part of In the Good Hands concert,” wrote Huang’s 11-year-old student Thalia Wong. “When I play piano, I try to imagine what the composers try to express in their music. This time, I get to personally connect with the composers! I love that they can give me feedback for my performance. This helps me to understand the music more, and makes it more special. It’s also exciting to be the first to perform this brand new piece of music.”

Davies, Brugh and Safar also acknowledge how educational it can be for students to bring their own interpretations to a work, even if different from their own original intentions. “It was really touching to hear a student play a piece of mine called “Lonesome Waltz,” Davies recalls. “She didn’t play it exactly how I envisioned it, but it was incredible to hear someone play a piece I’d written with such deep emotional attachment that she made something I’d brought into existence mean something to her, too.”  

Brugh had a similar experience, when a teacher suggested a student play his piece without using the pedal that adds reverberation. Brugh heard it and said “bathe it in pedal! But the teacher said ‘I told her not to do that!’ That’s the beauty of In Good Hands. The teacher, composer and student come together and they learn from each other.”

Ultimately, it’s up to the student to decide how to interpret the music, as long they keep the spirit of the music, Brugh says. “To learn the expression of a new piece, to make it their own benefits the students musically. You’re not just learning it by rote, but you really learn about yourself and what music means to you. You’re teaching a student to find their own voice.”

This year, some composers are even able to give students rehearsal feedback because the students can send them videos of their practices. One student this year even said participating in the process has made him more interested in doing his own composition. “I recently learned the piece entitled “Snowbound” by Jan Mittelstaedt for part of my syllabus Level 6 exam,” wrote student Tyler Raven. “I enjoyed learning and performing it. It was awesome to then be able to meet Jan. I was able to play the piece for her and we talked about what the piece was about, what inspired her to write it, and discussed different parts of it. This program was a great way for me to learn about a composer and has inspired me to continue to write my own music.” 

Enriching Oregon Music

Composers benefit too.  “As a composer you realize the value of writing a piece that’s not hard,” Brugh explains. “We all write these extraordinarily complex pieces with big concepts but this year I wrote a piece called “Martian Camper” and it’s fun and it’s still music. You don’t always have to reinvent the world. In simplifying, sometimes you get closer to your inner voice.” 

Davies has gained valuable perspective from IGH. “It’s made me more aware of different subject matters to write about,” she says. “My first pieces were about me — my childhood memories. The other pieces have been about topics that students would be interested in,” like disappearing wildlife threatened by humans’ encroachment on their habitats. “I’m finishing my second set of Rainforest Animals,” inspired by endangered species like jaguar, Toucan Macaw, three toed sloth, golden poison dart frog. “Kids care more than adults — they’re worried about their world. So in thinking about what students want to play, my perspective has changed. It’s expanded beyond myself.” 

Composer, teacher and pianist Dianne Davies

Even teachers benefit from IGH. “Seeing my students wanting to learn something new out of their teacher’s comfort zone helps me get out of my comfort zone to play more contemporary music,” Huang says. “My tastes and appreciation of contemporary music has changed through these years. I’m starting to enjoy Oregon music more. The different rhythmic and tone colors have been getting into my ear and head more. I feel like I’m getting a little bit younger through exposure to new music.”

As IGH teachers, students, and audience members gain exposure to contemporary Oregon music, they, in turn, provide the next generations of Oregon music performers and listeners. “The hope is that it will carry over” beyond the recital performance,” Mittelstaedt says. “We’re also training future listeners. The more experiences with Oregon music they have like this, the more they’ll understand it.”

Safar, who’s had music played in almost every IGH recital, has seen the legacy growing as In Good Hands begins its second decade of seeding Oregon music. “Early on, one student played a piece of mine,” he recalls. “His hands were so little he couldn’t even reach the octaves. Maybe four or five years later, he played a piano duet of mine with another student — and he was all grown up, no longer a 10 year old, still playing my music.” 

***

You can Zoom into this year’s virtual In Good Hands performance at 3 pm Saturday, July 11. After the event, see videos of the performances at Cascadia Composers website. Teachers, parents, and students interested in the program should contact Jan Mittelstaedt at janrmitt@gmail.com.

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch

Virtual Festivals

Oregon festivals keep the music spreading online and in other virus-resistant ways

Summer is festival season in Oregon music, and last month, we noted how several major Oregon summer festivals were making the transition from onstage to online. The parade continues in July and August, beginning with what’s always the major musical event of Independence Day weekend. As ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks explained in Blues Minus the Waterfront, Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival is shifting its annual July 4 show from one large stream — the bank of the Willamette River — to a mostly virtual one. The fest will stream highlights of past festivals on KOIN 6 over the air and online July 4, and on KBOO 90.7 FM and online July 4&5. But happily, the festival has also managed to safely add a live component. Instead of grooving to the blues in big, virus-friendly crowds, Blues Fest Bandwagon brings performances to select driveways, cul-de-sacs, and front porches in the Portland metro area Friday and Saturday.

Amenta Abioto performs at Pavement on July 18.

That’s not the only show to venture out to non traditional outdoor spaces for distanced live performance. On July 18, Risk/Reward Festival and Portland’s Boom Arts theater company present Pavement: pop-up performances in a public parking lot on Portland’s Central Eastside. Where? Excellent question, and to find the answer, and see and hear music by Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi, Portland Opera, and Amenta Abioto, plus some of the city’s top dance and theater artists, you’ll need a ticket. All these free streams we’ve enjoyed are a treat, but artists still need to eat and pay rent.

Though the live event, which also airs on Xray FM, is set up as a drive-in experience, standing room tickets (spaced apart, masks required) are also available for environmentally responsible Portlanders who are trying to protect the planet by avoiding driving and instead using Earth-friendly transportation like feet, bikes, scooters, skateboards and public transportation. 

Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi

From Field and Forest to Screen

Actually, there is an Oregon festival that’s always been free, even when it happened offline. But this year, instead of its scenic location under the St. Johns Bridge, the Jazz Society of Oregon’s 40th Annual Cathedral Park Free Jazz Festival is going virtual, streaming live online Friday through Sunday, July 17-19. Starting at 5 pm, Friday’s blues-tinged show features Louisiana transplants Steve Kerin and the Bayou Boyz, preceded by Tevis Hodge, Jr., then a pair of International Blues Challenge finalists: the Rae Gordon Band, and Johnny Wheels and the Swamp Donkeys.

Cathedral Park Jazz Festival usually happens under Portland’s St. Johns Bridge. Not this year.

Saturday’s sounds commence with another Louisiana immigrant, sterling saxophonist Devin Phillips with his trio, followed by leading jazz violinist Eddie Parente’s quartet summoning the spirits of Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith and Stephane Grappelli. After sets by Outer Orbit and Latin-favorite Picante, the sublime singer Saeeda Wright fronts a nine-piece orchestra for a strong closer.

Sunday’s show starts at 130 pm with with the Minidoka Swing Band, followed by John JB Butler Quartet, the Christopher Brown Quartet, his dad and Oregon jazz legend Mel Brown’s Trio with great guest vocalist Shirley Nanette, and festival closers, the deliciously danceable Ethio-soul Tezeta Band.

Still another longtime Oregon festive institution, the Oregon Country Fair, also goes virtual July 10-12, including an interactive Fair in the Clouds 3D Experience: “a 3D-virtual representation of the OCF, complete with stage acts, booths, and the ability to wander the Fair in the Clouds.” It won’t be the same without the colorful community in person, but there’s nothing stopping you from wearing body paint at home, or nothing at all. And of course there’s always the fair’s own streaming station. Check the festival website for details on musical and other entertainment. Virtual drum circle anyone?

Another pandemic casualty: Oregon Country Fair’s live music up close and personal.

Dry August

While June and July provided a surprising albeit distanced abundance of musical festivities, August so far looks a little sparser, but conditions and plans are changing rapidly, and we’ll try to keep you posted as we learn more. 

• Happily, the relatively new Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival is diving into the streaming scene. But it’s also combining that forward looking move with a decidedly retro strategy: releasing an album. The August 8-22 performances will be streamed live from Oregon wine country as usual — but the difference is, only the musicians (players from FearNoMusic, Oregon Symphony, and more) will be there, not the audience. 

Another thing that won’t change: the festival’s commendable, long-standing inclusion of composers of color. “Virtual Composers-in-Residence” Gabriela Lena Frank (first week, from Newberg’s J. Christopher Wines) and Jessie Montgomery (second week, from Dayton’s Archery Summit Winery) return to the Festival after previous residencies there, and dynamic violinist/composer Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) makes his first festival appearance on the final weekend, from Dayton’s Sokol Blosser Winery. All three have won national acclaim for their inventive, accessible 21st century music, as has another composer whose music appears on this year’s second weekend tasting menu: Portland’s own Kenji Bunch. The program also contains still more contemporary music by Frank protegé Akshaya Tucker, plus old music by rarely heard Baroque composer Isabella Leonarda and immortal classics by an old dead white dude named Ludwig, in celebration of his birth a quarter millennium ago. All the concerts make a nice combo of old and new music, and we’ll tell you more about that as the performances draw nigher. 

Composer Gabriela Lena Frank. Photo: Mariah Tauger

One piece you will hear, Frank’s popular string quartet Leyendas (Legends): An Andean Walkabout, also appears on the festival’s debut album Her Own Wings along with the world premiere  recording of her Milagros. Recorded in the Barrel Room at J. Christopher Wines, the album drops August 7.

You can buy viewing passes to the live stream links beginning July 7, and, though there’s nothing quite like actually hearing chamber music in an intimate wine country setting, the festival is maintaining its oenophilic focus by offering wine pairings for purchase and delivery.

Bend’s Sunriver Music Festival has suspended its August concert series, and moved its annual Festival Faire fundraiser to an online auction August 6-12, including a virtual Beethoven birthday party August 8 that includes a video premiere, online chats and performances by scholarship recipients. It’s still planning to stage its annual Young Artists Scholarship Concert in late August, and to award $35,000 to classical music students for next school  year. The organization has reopened its offices and plans further announcements about upcoming performances soon.

Another August musical highlight, Portland’s 23rd annual William Byrd Festival, has postponed all lectures, concerts, liturgies and music to next year’s festival. The festival hopes to provide some online material from regular festival participants later this summer.

Finally, Jacksonville’s Britt Festival has postponed its 2020 classical season to 2021. Instead, the festival will stream “BrittVids, an online series that showcases musicians, artists, and storytellers sharing their craft,” the festival’s press release explains. “BrittVids include members of the Britt Festival Orchestra, friends of Britt’s Education programs, and popular local musicians,” with new videos posted every Tuesday and Thursday on the festival’s YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram pages.

Caught in Midstream

Oregon’s two major summer festivals, which we previewed last month, continue in July. The Oregon Bach Festival’s Radio Festival, broadcast live on KWAX, offers Mendelssohn’s spirited music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a Schubert Mass on Thursday, July 2. Friday’s stream features a 1995 performance of JS Bach’s St. John Passion, conducted by Helmuth Rilling and featuring the great baritone Thomas Quasthoff, who also stars in a 1998 Romantic song recital on July 8. That segment hat also includes festival fave pianist Jeffrey Kahane leading the OBF orchestra in Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. 

Helmuth Rilling conducted J.S. Bach’s ‘St. John Passion’ at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall in 2013. Photo: Turrell Group.

Monday’s concert revives Rilling & Co.’s modern instrument performance of Bach’s ever-popular Brandenburg Concertos. Tuesday’s features the great Scottish composer James Macmillan’s European Requiem and Alleluia, plus Bach’s Magnificat and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. 

Next Thursday’s contemporary-oriented broadcast features selections from American composer Richard Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshua (which debuted at the 2018 fest) and from Sven-David Sandström’s modern, moody Messiah update on Handel, along with the expansive Grammy-winning Credo by great 20th century Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. The radio festival closes July 10 with Bach’s mighty b minor Mass.

Chamber Music Northwest’s free Virtual Summer Festival also mostly streams music from past festivals, but couple of new shows recorded at the homes of some of its veteran performers – literally, hausmusik — have conveyed a charming intimacy that’s always been a festival hallmark. Prime recommendation: this Thursday’s new American music concert featuring performances from recent festivals of new music by Joan Tower, David Lang, Kevin Puts, Hannah Lash, and other American composers. Don’t miss the July 6-12 presentation of contemporary Chinese American composer Bright Sheng’s gorgeous chamber opera The Silver River, one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my decades of attending the festival. You can hear the Miro Quartet play Beethoven’s immortal string quartets Saturday and Sunday, live-streamed from their Austin home base. 

The Mirò Quartet plays Beethoven at Chamber Music Northwest

Stay tuned to ArtsWatch and Chamber Music Northwest’s YouTube channel for previews of the remaining concerts, which run through July 26. And please let us know if you hear — or want to hear — other news about Oregon music festivals in this live music bummer of a summer.

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I feared this installment of our occasional news roundups should really be called Music Rests instead of the usual Music Notes. Like others recently, it’s peppered with postponements and cancellations — but scroll down a bit and you’ll also find some happier tidings, as musicians and music organizations creatively adapt to this year’s somber new reality.

Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. Photo: Jennie Baker

As you peruse the gloomy news below to the sound of sad trombones, you might wonder: what can I do to help Oregon music survive this crisis? Well, you might tell your lawmakers to support allocation of Coronavirus Relief Funds to help venues survive this extended closure. Portland’s invaluable Old Church Concert Hall, whose existence is threatened along with many others, has a template letter to your State Representatives, who are considering voting on such measures very soon, that explains the importance of independent music venues to the state’s economy. You can find your own rep here. Reps from the Old Church testified before a legislative work group this month, but lawmakers need to hear from all Oregonians who cherish arts in smaller independent venues.

The Bad News

•  To the surprise of no one but the disappointment of many, Portland Opera announced the postponement of the first two operas of its 2020/21 season, necessitated by Oregon’s pandemic-provoked prohibition on large public gatherings through at least September. I suppose we can all live without Tosca for awhile, since she seems to spring back to life every few months in endless resurrections/recyclings, but it really stings to have to wait longer for the Oregon premiere of a chamber opera by an actual living composer, Robert Xavier Rodríguez’s 1991 Frida, about the eventful life of the great Mexican painter. Both powerful women should appear on Portland stages sometime next year, with exact dates to be announced later. Meanwhile, enjoy this video of Portland Opera Resident Artist Camille Sherman singing Rossini’s “Una voce poco fa” from the balcony of the company’s building on the Willamette River.

• Another seasonal opera source, Portland SummerFest, also announced the cancellation of its Opera in the Park, a consequence of Portland Parks & Recreation’s pandemic-induced cancellation of all summer activities in city parks.

• After the cancellation of the Oregon Bach Festival and Chamber Music Northwest’s live performances, another — and much newer — summer classical music institution is on hold. In a Landscape, which happens outside at various scenic Oregon natural venues, would seem a good candidate for the kind of physical distancing needed to safely attend, but “concerns about travel and crowd limitations, along with the risk of exposure for our audience and crew” have induced impresario/pianist Hunter Noack to hold off on this summer’s series, with hopes of possible resumption of a few performances.

•  Another Oregon classical music institution, Musica Maestrale, announced the indefinite suspension of its concert plans, pending some level of certainty about the resumption of live Oregon musical performance. During the meanwhilst, founder/lutenist Hideki Yamaya has, like many other performers, been scouring the Renaissance/Baroque organization’s video archives and posting past performances on YouTube

• The Newport Symphony is taking a similar tack for its annual Independence Day show, replacing live performance with a radio broadcast of an encore performance on KNPT and KYTE at 4 pm July 4, followed by a 7-10 pm posting on the orchestra’s website.

• Given the almost complete cancellation of live music this year, it’s not surprising that American Public Radio has also canceled its weekly live radio show, Live from Here, hosted by Portland mandolinist/ singer/ composer Chris Thile. The ebullient successor to A Prairie Home Companion reached 2.6 million listeners per week over 600 public radio stations, but “while this news fills me with sadness, I understand the decision,” Thile told Billboard, “ as my extraordinary teammates and I conceived of Live From Here as a celebration of live, collaborative audible art, and there’s just no telling when it could be that again.” The silver lining might be more time for Thile to make music, like his just released album with Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Stuart Duncan, and with other projects like his Punch Brothers band.

Chris Thile. Photo: Brian Stowell

The Good News

On Sunday, the Oregon Symphony inaugurates a free weekly online series. The seven-part Essential Sounds spotlights “people who are holding our community together during this time of crisis,” the orchestra’s press release explains. “Over the course of this free, seven-part series created by Oregon Symphony Creative Chair Gabriel Kahane and director Holcombe Waller, you will experience dozens of heartfelt musical performances, each accompanied by stirring imagery inspired by the stories of essential workers in a particular sector. You will hear stories like that of an Oregon Symphony percussionist, whose cousin went from frontline healthcare worker to COVID patient – and his musical dedication to her.”

Special guests include Portland songwriters Storm Large and Amenta Abioto, and recurring segments like “Composers in Quarantine Making Dinner” spotlight how prominent contemporary American composers like Nico Muhly, Jessie Montgomery, and Missy Mazzoli are responding artistically to the pandemic.

Gabriel Kahane. Photo: Josh Goleman

• The Oregon Symphony is also premiering Symphony Storytime, an original video series designed for kids seven and under. Each episode presents a children’s story narrated by a master storyteller, with accompaniment by an OSO musician performing the book’s “soundtrack,” as well as a lesson about the instrument featured in the episode. Nine English episodes and four Spanish episodes will be released on June 25, July 2, and July 9.

Eugene Symphony music director Francesco Lecce-Chong has added a Thursday night live show, featuring talks with other musicians, to the orchestra’s educational Musical Mondays stream.

• Portland’s Big Mouth Society is hosting weekly online community salons Tuesdays at 6 pm, featuring music, spoken word content and “heartfelt conversation.”

 • Live jazz is scarce these days, but Driveway Jazz Series, a socially distanced outdoor jazz series, is bringing top musicians like singer Marilyn Keller and pianist Darrell Grant to a driveway in front of a bungalow in Southeast Portland, and streamed out to the universe.

Portland Baroque Orchestra is planning to stream its entire next season, reserving the possibility of returning to live audience productions if virus and authorities permit. And it’s also going to use its spiffy streaming technology to allow other Portland artists to do the same.

•  One more Oregon classical music institution holds out enough hope that the music will resume to extend the contract of its artistic director. Eugene’s Oregon Mozart Players announced that Kelly Kuo will remain as artistic director and conductor through the 2023-2024 season.

Kelly Kuo re-ups with Oregon Mozart Players.

•  Though Sunriver Music Festival has suspended its August concert series, it’s still planning to stage its annual Young Artists Scholarship Concert in late August, and to award $35,000 to classical music students for next school  year. The organization has reopened its offices and plans further announcements about upcoming performances soon.

• Fueled by strong reviews, Portland vocal ensemble Cappella Romana’s new CD , The Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia, topped the Billboard classical charts for three weeks during its 15-week run there. You can watch a documentary about the making of the world’s first vocal album to be recorded entirely in live virtual acoustics, as well as video from the original live concert, at the group’s website.

•  Many ArtsWatch readers have enjoyed performances at Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, including Newmark Theater, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and the rest. They and other visitor venues found themselves with lots of unconsumed food and beverages for canceled events. So Metro, the regional planning organization that runs the venues, donated those perishables to groups that are feeding hungry Oregonians. The donations “have helped in providing 11,549 meals to our houseless guests here at the mission and for our search and rescue program,” said Lori Quinney, Union Gospel Mission food service director.

• Portland pianist Michael Allen Harrison has long staged an annual benefit concert and other programs to boost music accessibility to children of all economic backgrounds. Harrison’s July 25 Play It Forward virtual fundraiser supports no-cost music lessons and instruments for Portland youth by delivering to donors homes a music-filled “supper club” featuring live music, dinner and wine pairings.

• Two Portland-based music organizations, Chamber Music Northwest ($20,000) and My Voice Music ($15,000) were among the 14 Oregon arts recipients of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts this month. And Cappella Romana just scored a a $68,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the work of Cappella Romana’s music director and founder, Dr. Alexander Lingas, who will lead a team of scholars to produce a volume of medieval Byzantine chants from the Greek monastery of Grottaferrata near Rome. He’ll also conduct research to create “Christmas 1400: A Byzantine Emperor in King Henry’s Court,” a new concert program of Byzantine and Latin music, slated to be performed in 2021.

• George Floyd was many things: family man, religious man, athlete, friend, victim of homicidal racist police state violence, maybe symbol of long overdue change. But he was also a musician. In the wake of his murder and the national protest movement it sparked, even more than usual, we need to hear from artists of color. Eureka Ensemble has compiled a useful guide to African American composers and organizations that offers “ links to either a) music by Black American composers created as a counter to the racism they faced; or b) information about Black-led/Black-founded groups working towards inclusion and equality.” Music from Other Minds offers a more contemporary oriented playlist of Black composers here.

Musicians aren’t the only performers stifled by the virus crisis, but music is no doubt providing solace to them too. Of course, Oregon’s top major professional team boasts a bona fide professional artist, rapper Dame DOLLA, in its starting lineup, and along with being a good dad to his young son and joining a protest against racist police violence across Portland’s Burnside Bridge, he’s been laying down some tracks — including this one speaking directly about the continuing racist outrages perpetrated against African Americans.

Another perennial NBA All Star, Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, who grew up in Oregon while his dad Mychal patrolled the painted area for those same Portland Trail Blazers, is recuperating from injury and presumably getting through this season’s virus-enforced hiatus with the help of meditation, nature sounds (of course), and classical music. We await a study that would provide arts advocates ammunition by documenting a causal relationship between listening to, say, Chopin, and sinking three point shots at an alarming rate. 

•  Those of us who miss the chance to hear live musical theater like opera and musicals can sympathize with a pair of Oregon Broadway music fans who made a parody video of show tunes they loved (from Frozen to Sweeney Todd to Hamilton and more) – rewritten about life during quarantine. Actor/singer Julia Belanova and writer/director Joel Kwartler ask that if you enjoy their video “please consider a donation to the actors fund.”

Have some more news about Oregon music that ArtsWatch readers should know? Let us know in the comments section below, or email music@orartswatch.org. Meanwhile, enjoy a little serendipitous patriotic musical harmony from Portland State University, whose graduation ceremony fell victim to the virus. But that didn’t stop the music, thanks to a Portland Opera singer and a PSU grad student.

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Summer Streams

Chamber Music Northwest and Oregon Bach Festival lead parade of Oregon summer shows from onstage to online

Normally around this time, we’d be telling you all about Oregon’s two major summer classical music festivals, Chamber Music Northwest and the Oregon Bach Festival, both celebrating their 50th anniversaries this summer. But ‘normally’ scampered off awhile back, to return who knows when, if ever. So CMNW and OBF, along with many other festivals, orchestras, ensembles, and opera companies around the world that have turned to streaming live and/or archival video and/or audio as a substitute for suspended live performances. Anyone who’s been writhing in Zoom hell for the past few months knows that online can’t fully replace in-person experiences, but for now, all we have to do is stream, stream, stream. 

Screenshot from Chamber Music Northwest’s trio performance by Ida Kavafian, Peter Wiley and Steven Tenenbom.

Live and Archived

Beginning Monday, June 22 (the opening program is available through 11:59 p.m.Tuesday, June 23) and continuing through July 26, you can hear Chamber Music Northwest’s free Virtual Summer Festival, with three digital concerts appearing each week on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 7 pm and available through the next day at CMNW.org and on Chamber Music Northwest’s YouTube channel. It includes a mix of five all-new streamed performances featuring some of America’s most distinguished classical chamber players, all longtime CMNW/Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center vets who happen to be related by birth or marriage, and so able to perform together from their New York homes without fear of contagion — literally, hausmusik. The performances, prerecorded over the past two weeks, are preceded by introductions commentary by the artists.

Screenshot from Chamber Music Northwest’s Neubauer family concert

A baker’s dozen archived shows feature new music by some of America’s finest living composers (David Lang, Valerie Coleman, Kevin Puts and more), family-friendly fare both classic (Carnival of the Animals) and contemporary (Bruce Adolphe’s Marita and Her Heart’s Desire), a collaboration with Portland dance troupe BodyVox, a multi concert complete cycle of Beethoven’s magnificent string quartets by Austin’s Miro Quartet, a Peter Schickele tribute, an all-French concert, and a streamload of chamber classics from the 18th through 20th centuries — including a swan song starring longtime retiring artistic director and clarinetist David Shifrin.

Bright Sheng’s ‘The Silver River’ finally debuted at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Top recommendation: the July 6-12 presentation of contemporary Chinese American composer Bright Sheng’s gorgeous chamber opera The Silver River, one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my decades of attending the festival. And stay tuned for more previews by ArtsWatch music editor Matthew Andrews.

My Bach Pages

The virus crisis has also forced the University of Oregon’s Oregon Bach Festival to celebrate its 50th anniversary by streaming archival recordings to replace its canceled 2020 edition — essentially a half century’s greatest hits. Hosted by Eugene’s own golden voiced classical music announcer Peter van de Graaff, the Radio Festival will be broadcast live on KWAX FM (over the radio and its website) from June 26 through July 10 and feature one-time (no online archiving) OBF performances recorded from 1979 through last year  — its Bach catalog, as it were. 

Traditionalists will swoon over staples like Bach’s St. Matthew (June 26) and St. John Passions (July 3, featuring the incomparable bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff), Monteverdi’s Vespers (July 1), Mozart’s Mass in C minor and Handel’s Messiah (June 29), Verdi’s Requiem (June 30) and so many more.

New music fans will welcome the chance to hear world premieres of contemporary commissions next month. Celebrated Scottish composer James Macmillan’s A European Requiem airs July 7, and Ralph M. Johnson’s short, sweet This House of Peace June 30, while the July 9 broadcast features selections from American composer Richard Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshua (which debuted at the 2018 fest) and from Sven-David Sandström’s modern, moody Messiah update on Handel, along with the expansive Grammy-winning Credo by great 20th century Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who died earlier this year.

Oregon Bach Festival co-founder Helmuth Rilling conducts a performance of Sven-David Sandström’s “Messiah” in 2009. Photo: Jon Christopher Meyers

You can also tune in to Quasthoff’s memorable, must-hear 1998 recital on July 8, in a segment that also includes festival fave pianist Jeffrey Kahane leading the OBF orchestra in Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. Other concerts include Bach’s ever-popular Brandenburg Concertos on July 6 (a perfect intro for classical newbies and perennial for OG baroque fans), Mendelssohn’s delightful A Midsummer Night’s Dream July 2 and classics by Schubert, CPE Bach (June 30, from 2019, the most recent show), and, sprinkled throughout, cantatas by his dad, the festival’s namesake.

Most of these performances were conducted by the festival’s founding music director, Helmuth Rilling, one of the 20th century’s most respected Bach specialists. But the closing July 10 broadcast featuring maybe Johann Sebastian’s ultimate creation, the mighty b minor Mass, was conducted by Rilling’s successor, Matthew Halls. In that and the July 1 concert, he leads an orchestra of early music specialists playing on the instruments and in the tunings closest to what Bach intended — signaling Halls’s valuable transformation of the festival from so much older then, it’s younger than that now. So it’s at once the most historical performance in the lineup — and the most forward looking, and an excellent chance to compare Halls’ and Rilling’s very different approaches. We fervently hope the festival will continue the since-ousted Halls’s turn toward historically informed performances. 

Hands Across the Web

The pandemic diverted another significant Oregon contemporary classical music anniversary from live to streamed performance. Cascadia Composers’ 10th annual In Good Hands recital showcases talented student performers from the Eugene and Portland metro areas performing homegrown new solo piano music written by Cascadia Composers members David Bernstein, Daniel Brugh, Ally Rose Czyzewiez, Dianne Davies, John De Runtz, Adam Eason, Jan Mittelstaedt, Lisa Neher, Timothy Arliss O’Brien, Paul Safar and Nicholas Yandell. This excellent connector between contemporary Oregon music and the next generation of Oregon musicians streams live at 3 pm Saturday, July 11 and will be available on demand archived at Cascadia Composers’ web site.  

The organization was originally scheduled to be a big part of the annual New Music Gathering that this year was supposed to happen in Portland. It’s since moved online, but CC and Portland composers and performers still enrich the program, including:

• Resonance Ensemble artistic director Katherine FitzGibbon, Geter, and other composers talking about music and activism.

• Portland composer Jennifer Wright and her Skeleton Piano and an all-Cascadia “concert” assembled from earlier performances

• Portland composer Andrea Reinkemeyer’s Triptych, (libretto by  Patrick Wohlmut)inspired by local disasters including the Tillamook Burn, Vanport Flood, and the inevitable Really Big One

• Portland composer Scott Unrein’s bird drawn in the sky of light, whose title is also a line in a gorgeous composition, In Honor of Aphrodite, by the late, great Portland-born composer Lou Harrison that I’ve had the joy of singing several times over the years. Other upcoming Oregon appearances include Resonance Ensemble and Third Angle New Music (Friday), Portland composer Ryan Francis and FearNoMusic pianist Jeff Payne talking about the group’s valuable Young Composers Workshop, eminent new music pianist and Portland native Kathleen Supove, Portland State University Percussion Ensemble, Opera Theater Oregon, Portland new music violist Christina Ebersohl, Portland composer Timothy Arliss O’Brien, and even Portland composer and ArtsWatch’s own music editor Matthew Andrews, and some of the country’s most renowned contemporary classical musicians and composers. Performances, discussions, and talks continue through the month, and it’s all archived for on demand gazing and listening.

R. Andrew Lee plays Scott Unrein’s ‘bird drawn in the sky of light’ at this month’s virtual New Music Gathering.

Other Oregon summer music festivals are also coming to your screens and speakers. Portland’s Creative Music Guild switched its Outset series to streaming, with remaining shows featuring New Orleans percussionist Diamond Kinkade and Portland hip hopper Gohan Blanco (June 23), and Ixnay on the Icket-thay & Quarantet 2020 featuring audio and video by John Niekrasz, Maxx Katz, Benjamin Kates, Mack McFarland and more (June 30).

Since early April, Oregon’s scintillating Pickathon music festival has raised over $140,000 for MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund via its A Concert A Day series of videos drawn from its vault of never-before-seen multi-cam, post-edited, and mastered footage of festival performances over the past decade. Proceeds support the artists who were scheduled to perform at this year’s now-scuppered festival. The organization has now extended the fundraiser through June, streaming sets from Wolf Parade, Langhorne Slim, Charley Crockett, Open Mike Eagle, Blind Pilot, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

• Bend’s  Sunriver Music Festival has suspended its August concert series, and moved its annual Festival Faire fundraiser to an online auction August 6-12, including a virtual Beethoven birthday party August 8 that includes a video premiere, online chats and performances by scholarship recipients. The festival still hopes to award $35,000 in scholarships to classical music students for next school  year.

Lost in Streamland

We may be stuck at home, yet it seems like there’s more music available to us than ever. I’ve been enjoying streams, some live, some archived, from Oregon musicians: 45th Parallel Universe and its Portland Social Distance Ensemble, Resonance Ensemble (ArtsWatch contributor Damien Geter’s The Talk and Agnus Dei, both on All Classical FM’s Played in Oregon show, available for two more weeks, along with an interview with Geter on the station’s State of the Arts show), Juneteenth (a jazz and hip hop-oriented celebration streamed from Portland jazz club Jack London Revue), Musica Maestrale, Cappella Romana, and more, including CMNW’s series of past performances airing on All Classical. 

I’ve also tuned into new music from beyond Oregon from Bang on a Can Marathon 2020, Minnesota Opera (Doubt, based on the Broadway hit play), Seattle’s Music of Remembrance, Metropolitan Opera (the magnificent recent productions Philip Glass’s Akhnaten and Satyagraha, and lots more. I recommend checking out this Friday’s 45th Parallel stream featuring poet Micah Fletcher and Pyxis Quartet, reprising some of the powerful words and music from their extraordinary 2019 concert at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. On Wednesday afternoon, KBOO FM will stream Portland composer Ezra Weiss’ fierce, ambitious big band composition We Limit Not The Truth of God, recommended in our recent round up of jazz-oriented Oregon recordings. And next Thursday, June 24, All Classical Portland’s Thursdays@3 program features sometime Portland composer Andy Akiho, with that episode available for streaming online for two weeks.

Stay tuned to ArtsWatch for more previews of upcoming Oregon performances. Until we can meet again in person, obey the wisdom of Aerosmith and stream on, y’all.

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Want to tell ArtsWatch readers about other streaming Oregon music? The comments section below is open for business.