Brett Campbell

 

Virtual and vital: Strike up the band

Caught short by the pandemic, the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra takes to technology and shows that shutdown doesn't have to mean shut up

On that dark day in March when Oregon began to shut down, Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s leaders knew they had to move fast. “As soon as we knew we were going into lockdown, we tried as quickly as possible to transition to what’s next,” recalls music director Raúl Gómez. The Portland organization had to cancel not only its four upcoming spring concerts, but also its weekly Saturday rehearsals and its classes, affecting more than 500 students in 14 orchestra, band, string and jazz ensembles, including the 90-member Symphony Orchestra, and in beginning strings and theory classes. MYS leaders knew nothing could fully replace the lost programming, but they were determined not to leave a musical void in their teenage students’ lives.

“We had to find a way to keep the students engaged,” Gómez says, “to keep making music in some way.” 

Raúl Gómez conducts MYS way back in the days when they could all play together on stage.

But how? Governor Kate Brown’s emergency announcement prohibited gatherings required to put on a concert or a group rehearsal in the band rooms at its regular Northeast Portland and Hillsboro high schools. Nevertheless, MYS found a way to rethink — if not entirely replace — its major programs, including its crown jewel season closing concert. ArtsWatch readers, and everyone else, can see the result on their own screens this Saturday.

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Barra Brown: Sense of Urgency

Portland musician’s diverse projects embrace his expansive creative mentality

On the day Portland drummer/composer Barra Brown entered the studio to begin recording his second album of original compositions, he got the news: a family friend he’d known all his life was in the hospital. Valeria Ball, a close friend of Brown’s mother who led a Southern Oregon dance company that once included Brown, had a brain tumor, and needed emergency surgery. 

Brown, a Lewis & Clark College alum who’s one of Oregon’s widest-ranging musicians, was devastated, but  “she would want you to make the album,” his mother told him. He forged ahead with  Dreaming Awake,  released in 2015 and dedicated to Ball, who died the following year, and others who have battled cancer. Since then, Brown, now 30, has unleashed a flood of music in varied styles, playing various instruments, as though he needs to try everything now and take it as far as he can — before it’s too late.

Barra Brown. Photo: Reed Ricker.

“I think I have a sense of urgency just because I don’t know when I’m going to die,” he muses. “Maybe that comes from my friend dying. There’s no excuse for not doing what it is that you’re meant to do. There’s this urgency: all these ideas are here. The struggle is having time to get them all out.”

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Safe Distance Sounds, Part 2: Chamber terroir

Recent recordings by Oregon composers offer sonic solace in troubled times

With live performances temporarily out of the picture, I’ve been fulfilling my jones for homegrown sounds by listening to recent releases from Oregon-based or -born musicians that caught my ear. Many listed below offer atmospheric, even ambient sounds that offer a kind of sonic solace in a turbulent  time. With so many spring and summer concerts and festivals canceled or postponed, this roundup offers a chance to continue exploring Oregon sounds remotely. Most of this music is available to sample in whole or in part online; click the links. 

It’s also a chance to sustain Oregon musicians. Time was when recordings were the end, and touring the means to sell them. This century’s shift to online content has reversed that formula, as most musicians use recordings (usually found free or cheap online) to entice fans to pay for tickets to their live performances. And with the latter now suspended, that puts musicians in a pickle, and shifts the focus back to their recorded artifacts. 

We’re looking here primarily at music available on CD or through paid downloads, though you can often listen to many of those listed here for free at least once. If you like what you hear, buy the music from the artists themselves or their record companies, which right now is even more important to sustaining their music making ability. On the first Fridays of June, and July, in fact, the streaming platform Bandcamp, home of several of the recordings below, is again waiving its fee, meaning that the Oregon artists whose music you buy there on those days will receive every penny of your purchase price.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Virtual Classical

Deprived of live shows, Oregon musicians take their talents to the interwebs

Oregon musical performances may be suspended, but Oregon music plays on. Oregon classical musicians aren’t letting a little thing like a deadly pandemic and total cancellation of live performances stop them from bringing the sounds. Tonight, Friday May 8, at 10 pm, for example, the latest worthy project from 45th Parallel Universe, Portland Social Distance Ensemble, debuts with a performance of that seminal (or, as one of my fellow feminist friends used to say, “ovular”) work of contemporary classical music, Terry Riley’s In C. Tune in at their Facebook livestream or YouTube livestream.

45th Parallel musicians perform live on the internet Friday

The eight musicians will be playing live, in real time, from six different houses, all in sync through the magic of what must be a really fast internet connection to overcome the latency problem that plagues so many attempts at simultaneous playing from scattered locations. “We’ve built a live digital platform that allows us to collaborate remotely online,” enthuses 45th Parallel’s Ron Blessinger. “No one else is doing anything even close to this. This is as close to a live performance as anyone is able to do with players playing in their own homes. Next, we’ll try it with players in Poland and Holland too.”

Riley’s proto-minimalist masterpiece is a canny choice for this test run, as it allows the individual musicians a degree of latitude that makes absolute precision not quite as important to the musical outcome. 45th Parallel plans to repeat it, with a different program each Friday from 6-6:30 pm, at the same websites above. Next week’s program by the organization’s Pyxis string quartet includes music by two of America’s greatest living composers, Philip Glass and George Crumb, and more.

PSDE is a commendably bold and fascinating experiment, so do have a little patience with this debut performance, and join us in admiration for their willingness to take a risk. Tough times demand bold responses. 

Like so many other Oregon classical performers, 45th Parallel had to cancel its spring shows, so it’s nice to see them bouncing back undaunted. They’re not the only musicians livestreaming events this month.

• Legendary Portland club team DJ Anjali and The Incredible Kid celebrate the seven-year anniversary of their Tropitaal Desi Latino Soundclash party over livestream  next Saturday, May 16.

• On May 22, Portland State University’s Sonic Arts and Music Production’s Laptop Ensemble will livestream several new quarantine-appropriate pieces, including Social Distance, a live music performance with 20 networked laptops, and Inside Voices, a pre-recorded piece written in series by the ensemble. This one, sponsored by the vital Portland club Holocene, requires a ticket purchase.

• Portland’s Creative Music Guild has moved its fascinating Outset Series online, starting a series of live streamed shows this month via its YouTube channel. Next up: Jamondria Harris this Tuesday, May 12. It’s an excellent way to get familiar with a vital but hard-to-describe segment of Portland’s less conventional music scene.

We’ll do our best to keep you apprised of others — please let us know about other Oregon livestream music at music@orartswatch.org. Meanwhile, here are some other — what shall we call online presentations of chats and archived performances, as opposed to the livestream concerts listed above? “Deadstreams” sounds a little harsh….

• On May 8, 9 and 10, Lincoln City Cultural Center’s Center’s Creative Quarantine Studio program present a Siletz Bay Music Mini Festival smorgasbord featuring jazz, classical, chamber and family offerings with some of the festival’s favorite artists,  including jazz clarinet master Ken Peplowski, pianist Rosanno Sportiello, artistic director Yaacov Bergman, cellist Nancy Ives, pianist Mei Ting Sun, violist Miriam Ward English and her family, and more.

• Also this weekend, KWAX (FM 91.1) re-broadcasts the Eugene Symphony’s January 23 concert featuring music by Missy Mazzoli, Brahms and Sibelius. You can also see a video of the Eugene Symphony’s photo-enhanced Four Seasons of the McKenzie River concert from February on YouTube. 

• ESO music director Francesco Lecce-Chong has been offering weekly online Watch Parties in which he talks about classical music masterpieces and instruments. You can catch up on past episodes on his YouTube channel, and the series resumes at month’s end, when he returns with new episodes from his childhood home in Boulder, where he and his fiancé are sheltering.

• On May 11, Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar is starting his own series of weekly chats, Mondays with the Maestro, accessible on Artslandia website or Facebook.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Director Raúl Gomez hosts a daily YouTube show “MYS Virtual Hangouts” from Tuesday-Friday at 4pm on the MYS YouTube Channel. He and guests (so far including Oregon Symphony Artist-in-Residence Johannes Moser and principal cellist Nancy Ives, composers Gabriela Lena Frank and Kenji Bunch, and more) chat about life stories, musical advice and even include world premiere collaborations with local artists.

• For audio-only streams, check Portland’s essential classical music resource, All Classical FM, whose Andrea Murray devoted the current episode of her valuable Club Mod program — streaming for the next two weeks — to Portland composers), while Christa Wessel’s excellent Thursdays @ 3 program is bringing live performances from Oregon musicians’ home studios. Cellist Diane Chaplin, singer Arwen Myers and Oregon Symphony flutist Martha Long’s performances are currently available, as are recordings of earlier live performances on the station’s Played in Oregon program by Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Music Northwest. 

• The Creative Music Guild‘s Extradition Series has started a Social Distancing Project, with videos of performances recorded during the current period of isolation by some of Portland’s most accomplished improvising musicians.

• You can also find pre-pandemic performances of Oregon music streaming at Cascadia Composers YouTube channel. Portland Baroque Orchestra and Cappella Romana offer online recordings of their recent concerts on YouTube, the University of Oregon is releasing archived concerts from Beall Concert Hall, and many other Oregon music institutions are streaming videos of earlier performances or even home-grown (more literally than ever) current music making, like Artslandia’s happy hours

This is far from a comprehensive list. Check your own favorite organization or band’s website often to see what online offerings, from playlists to archived concerts and more, might appear in this fast-changing environment. Since most is free to stream, think of this troubled moment as an opportunity to virtually test-drive Oregon music makers you’ve missed or never gotten a chance to hear live. That way, when the live music resumes, you might have a lot more items to add to your musical agenda. And feel free to share more streaming links to Oregon music in the comments section below. 

News & Notes

Meanwhile, the cascade of classical cancellations continues. The latest series to fall victim to the virus: Chamber Music Northwest, which yesterday announced cancellation of its upcoming spring concerts and all Summer Festival concerts and events — a bitter pill for what would have been the 50th anniversary season of one of Oregon’s most valuable classical music events.

But CMNW won’t leave listeners entirely bereft. Beginning May 21 and running through June 21, All Classical Portland 89.9 FM will air a new five-part series of music and interviews from recent Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festivals on Thursdays at 7 pm, repeated on Sundays at 4 pm. The series will feature the Verona Quartet, Imani Winds, Opus 1 Piano Quartet, Harlem Quartet, and more.

Chamber Music Northwest also hosts a free Virtual Summer Festival June 22 – July 26 featuring highlights from recent seasons and special live concerts, including performances by CMNW regulars including the Emerson, Miró, and Dover Quartets, Ida and Ani Kavafian, Andre Watts, Edgar Meyer, Peter Schickele, and David Shifrin, who this summer would have celebrated 40th and final festival as artistic director. The organization earlier decided to send this summer’s scheduled musicians 50 percent of their pay for the festival immediately, to help out with pressing needs since so many have lost so many gigs, and specified that the money was theirs to keep “regardless of what happens this summer.”

• Along with CMNW and the Oregon Bach Festival, Bend’s Sunriver Music Festival canceled this August’s edition, which would have been the tenth and final season for artistic director and conductor George Hanson.

• And Jacksonville’s Britt Festival canceled its August classical music season, vowing to return in 2021 with the same lineup, including the festival orchestra’s premiere of acclaimed American composer Caroline Shaw’s new experiential, site-specific Hiking the Woodlands inspired by the Jacksonville Woodland Trails. Even though this summer’s live attractions are fading fast, at least we have plenty to look forward to next year.

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Safe distance sounds

A roundup of recent recommended Oregon jazz for your stay-at-home enjoyment

April is really the cruelest month this year. We haven’t gotten to appreciate jazz during this plague-plagued Jazz Appreciation Month in the way we should: by personally observing the spontaneous creation of the “sound of surprise” in a club or theater. So we indulged in the next best thing: listening to recent releases by Oregon jazz — and jazz-ish — musicians. You can do the same with any of the recommended recordings below by following the links.

Much of the music listed here involves at least some improvisation, making it ideal for this moment where we’re all making it up as we go. If you like what you hear, be sure to tip your servers — by paying for a download, supporting your neighbors who created that beauty, and thereby equipping your digital device with a musical survival kit for the next pandemic.

MAE.SUN
Vol. 2: Into the Flow

Saxophonist, flutist and composer Hailey Niswanger’s wanderings have taken her from her native Portland to New England’s prestigious Berklee School to Brooklyn and, now, Los Angeles. Her artistry has also found new territories, most recently in her electric band MAE.SUN, whose sunny, spacy new album, Vol. 2: Into the Flow, advances its predecessor, Inter-Be’s creative jazz/pop fusion/electronica and 2015’s groovy PDX Soul and joins the other pop-tinged LA-based bands bringing jazz into the 21st century. Still under 30, Niswanger always sounded fine in more straightahead jazz, winning praise from venerable jazz writer Nat Hentoff in the Wall Street Journal among others, but she’s really found an original voice in MAE.SUN.

Make that voices, because some of these tracks feature vocals, Niswanger’s own as well as guest singers Amber Navran (of Los Angeles-based soul trio Moonchild) and Australian-born, Brooklyn-based Kate K-S. The album also showcases vibraphonist Nikara Warren, guitarist Andrew Renfroe, keyboardist Axel Laugart, bassist Aaron Liao, drummer David Frazier Jr, synthist Jake Sherman and producer Drew Ofthe Drew. Fans of synthy fusion like Herbie Hancock and Charles Lloyd’s 1960s-‘70s forays, jazztronica explorations and even Esperanza Spalding’s more recent efforts will find plenty to enjoy in both volumes’ neo-hippie spirit. 

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A decade on Broadway

Eugene’s intimate Broadway House Series celebrates ten years bringing jazz and more to an intimate downtown bungalow

After retiring from his last teaching job, at Eugene’s Spencer Butte Middle School, Paul Bodin “wanted to see what it was like to be a student again.” And he wanted to explore the music that had enchanted him since childhood but had been put on a thirty-year back burner — jazz. Enrolling in the University’s jazz studies program in 2005, Bodin took composition courses from well-known teacher-performers Mike Denny and Steve Owen, and played saxophone in a student jazz combo. He and his wife Peggy “started meeting wonderful young undergrads and grads in the program,” and occasionally invited the hungry students over to dinner at their bungalow at the corner of Broadway and Monroe Streets near downtown Eugene.

Teacher and musician Paul Bodin.
Teacher and musician Paul Bodin.

“We have this table that expands out, and started having these epic dinners for eight, nine, ten people,” he recalls. Some of them suggested that they bring instruments and jam.

Those informal gatherings grew into a recurring series of intimate living-room concerts open to the public. Since the Broadway House series began in June 2010 with Bodin’s classmate keyboardist/singer/songwriter Ben Darwish’s quartet, Broadway House has presented more than 60 concerts, most but not all jazz. The series is celebrating its tenth anniversary season this year with eight concerts, but the last five have been suspended because you-know-what.

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Looking for Leadership

Oregon Bach Festival artistic director finalists offer three dramatically different visions of the festival’s future

When Roger Saydack lived on a bare bones graduate student budget at the University of Oregon in the mid-1970s, the only way he could afford to hear classical music live was what’s now called the Oregon Bach Festival’s Discovery Series concerts. Following along in a score from Smith Family Bookstore, he’d catch a strong performance of a Bach cantata for $2, explicated by one of the world’s experts on Bach, festival director Helmuth Rilling. 

The festival maintained its attraction for Saydack, a longtime Eugene lawyer, who three decades ago served as president of its board of directors, and went on to be involved in other classical music institutions like the League of American Orchestras, working with about 35 orchestras, opera companies and classical music festivals around the US in artistic leadership searches in various ways. He led the Eugene Symphony’s searches that successively produced probably the strongest crop of young, rising music directors of any midsized American orchestra: Marin Alsop, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, and Giancarlo Guerrero, who all won acclaim and moved on to positions with bigger orchestras.

Roger Saydack, leading Oregon Bach Festival's artistic director search.
Roger Saydack, leading Oregon Bach Festival’s artistic director search.

Now, Saydack is bringing those skills back to the Bach Festival he’s long cherished, leading the search committee charged with finding a successor to Matthew Halls, the talented young artistic director controversially ousted in 2017 by the festival’s then-executive director, who was herself dumped after a backlash against Halls’ never-explained departure. 

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