Joe Cantrell

I spent my first 21 years in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, assuming that except for a few unfortunate spots, ‘everybody’ was part Cherokee, and son of the soil. Volunteered for Vietnam because that’s what we did. After two stints, hoping to gain insight, perhaps do something constructive, I spent the next 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, living much like the lower income urban peasants and learning a lot. Moved back to the USA in 1986, tried photojournalism and found that the most important subjects were football and basketball, never mind humankind. In 1992, age 46, I became single dad of my 3-year-old daughter and spent the next two decades working regular jobs, at which I was not very good, to keep a roof over our heads, but we made it. She’s retail sales supervisor for Sony, Los Angeles. Wowee! The VA finally acknowledged that the war had affected me badly and gave me a disability pension. I regard that as a stipend for continuing to serve humanity as I can, to use my abilities to facilitate insight and awareness, so I shoot a lot of volunteer stuff for worthy institutions and do artistic/scientific work from our Cherokee perspective well into many nights. Come along!

 

Classical Up Close 7: Brass & sass

As the festival of free and casual outdoor concerts enters the home stretch, the brasses come out to play and the tango music does an encore

Garage band: Horn player Joe Berger (left), trumpeter Jeffrey Work (center) and tuba player Ja’Ttik Clark in front of garage door. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Classical Up Close’s June series of free, casual, intimate neighborhood concerts in and around Portland entered the home stretch on Wednesday and Thursday with a pair of shows that shifted from trumpets to tango and brass to sass.

Wednesday’s concert, beneath a brooding but ultimately benevolent sky on the driveway of trumpeter Jeffrey Work’s Southwest Portland home, was a brassy sort of thing. It featured Work, principal trumpeter of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra; and four fellow members of the orchestra’s brass section: assistant principal trumpeter David Bamonte; associate principal horn player Joe Berger; assistant principal trombonist Robert Taylor; and principal tuba player Ja’Ttik Clark; plus orchestra percussionist (and assistant principal timpanist) Sergio Carreno.

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Classical Up Close 6: Noble sounds

The festival of free outdoor concerts soars past its halfway point with a pair of shows – and violist Charles Noble's in the middle of the mix

If a songbird were flitting from bush to bush across greater Portland, bent on catching every musical note of this month’s Classical Up Close festival of free outdoor chamber concerts, it would hear and see a lot of Charles Noble. How many of this year’s 14 public concerts is he playing in? On Monday morning – the day after he’d played an afternoon concert in Portland’s Southwest Hills built around Fanny Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, and before picking up his viola again for the concert he and his musician wife, Stephanie Noble, were hosting that evening outside their Milwaukie home – he needed to stop to figure it out.

Cellist Nancy Ives and violist Charles Noble, performing Witold Lutoslawski’s Bucolics for viola and cello, outside at Noble’s Milwaukie home on Monday. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Let’s see: Sunday was No. 4; Monday’s show would be No. 5. And then, coming up were shows on June 12 and the finale on the 14th. “Seven,” he concluded – or, half of this summer’s shows. “It’s kinda nuts,” he added. “At some point I guess I thought, ‘I’m busy enough already. I may as well just keep saying ‘yes’.”

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Classical Up Close 5: Bikes & Brass

A pair of adventurous Saturday concerts draws the committed and curious into the sounds of brass in the park and woodwinds in a Beaverton neighborhood

On the southwest edge of Portland’s Mt. Tabor Park, the bikes and brass mingled for a little music on Saturday afternoon. Photo: Joe Cantrell

SATURDAY WAS A DOUBLE-CONCERT DAY in Classical Up Close‘s festival of free outdoor shows across metropolitan Portland, and although the temperature had dropped considerably from the upper 90s of opening day on June 1, it still felt like things were warming up. For audiences and musicians alike, the concerts have had a celebratory feel, a sense of reawakening, like a modern-day Sleeping Beauty yawning and stretching and getting back on her feet after more than a year in a coronavirus slumber. Until Wednesday’s rehearsal, said Oregon Symphony cellist Ken Finch, who hosted Saturday’s evening concert outside his Beaverton home, “I hadn’t seen some of these musicians since March 12 last year,” when Covid-19 restrictions shut down the symphony’s season.

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Classical Up Close 4: High on a hill

From high up in Oregon City, an open-air concert lifts spirits with the sounds of Brahms and Strauss and the young percussion composer Andy Akiho

Violinist Chien Tan: when the movement gets swift, the swift get moving. Photo: Joe Cantrell

“I want to take you higher,” Sly and the Family Stone sang way back in 1969, and on Friday night that’s just what Classical Up Close did, ascending the appropriately named Hilltop Road in Oregon City and, on a wide expanse of open lawn amid swing sets and trees, playing the heart out of some sextets by Brahms and Strauss and a quartet of contemporary percussion pieces by the young composer Andy Akiho, who was also one of the musicians, playing steel pan. It was enough to make you want to lift up your eyes unto the hills – and if you had, you’d’ve seen Mt. Hood looming bright and clear to the east.

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Classical Up Close 3: Tango Plus

A pair of shows in the series of free summer outdoor concerts spotlights Black and contemporary woman composers, and some tingling tango, too

From left: Robert Taylor, Erin Furbee, and Peter Frajola get in the swing. Photo: Joe Cantrell

On a comfortably warm Thursday evening about a hundred people gathered outdoors in Portland’s Hollywood/Rose City Park neighborhood for a decidedly different show in Classical Up Close‘s June series of intimate outdoor concerts – a breezy program of tangos, a little bit of Elgar and Haydn, some Duke Ellington (including his 1931 jazz classic It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing), and some movie music by John Williams from the Harry Potter films. As eclectic as the music was, the instrumentation was just as agreeably offbeat: two violins (Erin Furbee and Peter Frajola) and a trombone (Robert Taylor).

Indeed, the joint was jumping. “I think we had about a dozen tangos,” Frajola said in a telephone conversation the next day. “Mostly they’re two to three, maybe four minutes. What we played were more dance pieces than concert tangos. And then, some Astor Piazzolla, which are concert pieces.”

Not much, of course, is written for two violins and a trombone, which meant a lot of arranging needed to be done. Taylor mostly did the arrrangements, Frajola said, and did them well. The trombone took the bass lines, Furbee played the melodies, and Frajola emulated the inner chords of the piano to cover the range of compositional sound with the particular resonances of the three instruments. As Furbee noted in the brief program notes, “We had a lot of fun putting this together!”

And after more than a year of Zoom meetings, maybe a little recording, and a lot of practicing on their own, there was something more than simply fun about the actual performing: The evening was as much of a breakthrough for the musicians as it was for the audience. After fifteen months of almost no live performances, “it was just so great to get out playing,” Frajola said. All three musicians are members of the Oregon Symphony (Frajola is associate concertmaster, Furbee is assistant concertmaster, Taylor is assistant principal trombonist), and with the symphony musicians set to gather September 1 after more than a year off for their first rehearsal of the new season, it felt like a door opening. “It’s just exhilarating to know we’re on our way back,” Frajola said. “Performing is what we do.”

With increased vaccinations and relaxed coronavirus restrictions, Thursday’s neighborhood concert felt like a door opening in a lot of ways: a recalibration of broken habits; a sense of emerging, if tenuously, from a social isolation; a reconnection with the act of gathering. “Most people in the crowd were a little closer together than a year ago,” when many of the Classical Up Close musicians performed in a series of very small porch and yard concerts, Frajola noticed. “A year ago, everyone carefully distanced.”

Is a new, or renewed, reality around the corner? “It just felt great to be in front of people,” Frajola said. “Trust me, it felt fabulous.”

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Jennifer Arnold, violist in the ensemble Mousai REMIX. Photo: Joe Cantrell

ON THE PREVIOUS EVENING on a spacious side yard in Northeast Portland’s Irvington neighborhood, a couple of miles away from the tango concert, the festival’s third concert broke away from classical music stereotypes in its own way. The program consisted of works by actual young and adventurous living composers (the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, violinist and singer Caroline Shaw’s Enre’acte; violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery’s Voodoo Dolls) and by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (String Quartet No. 1 “Cavalry”), a leading 20th century composer who, like many great Black musicians, spanned genres.

Perkinson, who was born in 1932 and died in 2004, was comfortable in the worlds of jazz, pop, dance, and classical music. He played piano for the great jazz drummer Max Roach, composed dance music for Alvin Ailey and Jerome Robbins, did arrangements for Harry Belafonte and Marvin Gaye. Shaw and Montgomery are active composer/performers who know this neck of the musical woods: Shaw’s performed with Chamber Music Northwest and the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival (see Matthew Neil Andrews’ ArtsWatch interview with her); Montgomery’s appeared with Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival (see Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch interview with her).

Wednesday evening’s concert attracted a crowd of neighborhood people and a goodly share of the city’s musical luminaries. The players were local luminaries, too: The Pyxis Quartet (violinists Ron Blessinger and Greg Ewer, violist Charles Noble, cellist Marilyn de Oliveira) and Mousai REMIX (violinists Shin-young Kwon and Emily Cole, violist Jennifer Arnold, cellist de Oliveira). The evening sounded something like America, in its roots and in its moment now.

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Classical Up Close Summer Festival 2021

The intimate concert series began June 1 and continues through June 14. You can see this year’s full Classical Up Close Festival schedule here. Coming up next:

  • Friday, June 4, 5-6 p.m.: 16306 Hilltop Road, Oregon City. Sarah Kwak, Chien Tan, Searmi Park, Ruby Chen, violin; Charles Noble, Vali Phillips, Kelly Talim, Leah Ilem, viola; Marilyn de Oliveira, Trevor Fitzpatrick, Antoinette Gan, cello; and Andy Akiho, percussion, play sextets by Brahms and Strauss, and four contemporary pieces by percussionist Akiho. Limited parking; carpooling suggested.
  • Saturday, June 5, 2-3 p.m.: 6318 S.E. Lincoln St., Portland. Rose City Brass Quintet (Joe Klause and Logan Brown, trumpets; Dan Partridge, horn; Lars Campbell, trombone; JáTtik Clark, tuba) plays music by Jennifer Higdon, Axel Jorgensen, Joyce Solomon Moorman, Joey Sellers, and Jack Gale’s arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story Suite.
  • Saturday, June 5, 7-8 p.m.: 2966 N.W. Telshire Terrace, Beaverton. Emily Cole, Ruby Chen, Shin-young Kwon, violin; Charles Noble, viola; Ken Finch, cello; Karen Wagner, oboe and James Shields, clarinet, perform Bartok’s Duo for Two Violins; Dohnanyi’s Serenade in C Major for String Trio, Op. 10; and Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F Major, K. 370 and Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581.
  • Sunday, June 6, 2-3 p.m.: 4037 S.W. Iowa St., Portland. Greg Ewer, Emily Cole, violin; Charles Noble, viola; Antoinette Gan, Marilyn de Oliveira, cello; Martha Long, flute, perform Fanny Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E-flat Major;  Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Assobio a Játo; and Mozart’s Flute Quartet in G Major.

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Classical Up Close: Bassist Instinct

In the second show in Classical Up Close's free outdoor festival, bassist Colin Corner and friends have young fans dancing in a parking lot

The music flows: Bassist Colin Corner leads the party in the parking lot of Lake Music in Lake Oswego on Wednesday, and young fans leap in on the action. Photo: Joe Cantrell

And then came the bass.

On a balmy Wednesday early afternoon in the surprisingly comfortable parking lot of a Lake Oswego music store, Classical Up Close embarked on a deep-toned musical adventure. “The bass is sort of front and center for a lot of it,” Colin Corner, a Classical Up Close regular and principal bassist of the Oregon Symphony, said shortly after the show. That was pretty much how he planned things for this second concert in Classical Up Close’s summer festival of free outdoor concerts, which began June 1 and continues through June 14.

After a sweltering beginning for the festival on Tuesday, when the temperature spiked into the high 90s, things eased off a little on Tuesday, and musicians and audience alike took advantage of it. There was dancing in the parking lot, mostly by people with very young feet, and a lively, rumbling swing from the makeshift stage. And the blend of instruments – violin, viola, cello, bass, flute – was a little different from your ordinary chamber quartet stuff.

Sounds good: The music prompted smiles from pianist and composer Marek Harris, whose piano prelude “Gypsy Dance” was performed as a concert encore. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Joining Corner in the program’s four pieces of bass-centric composition were violinist Inés Voglar Belguique, violist Hillary Oseas, cellist Trevor Fitzpatrick, and flautist Martha Long. Classical Up Close (or CLUC, for short) is an independent nonprofit group made up mostly but not entirely of musicians from the Oregon Symphony Orchestra: violist Oseas, for instance, is principal violist for the Portland Opera Orchestra. CLUC’s musicians are interested in taking music out of the concert halls and into workplaces and neighborhoods – places where people can listen to small-scale, intimate performances in a low-key, relaxed atmosphere.

Dance to the music: A young fan joins in. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Corner organized the concert of what he calls “bass-centric chamber music” himself. That meant choosing the pieces, bringing the players together, arranging rehearsal times and spaces (he booked space in the American Federation of Musicians Union Local 99’s rehearsal hall, which had been shut down for months but reopened, with improved ventilation, in the spring) and finding a place to perform the concert. “It was kind of a new experience for me, in a lot of ways,” he said. “I kinda had to scramble to find a space.” One possibility was the yard at a friend’s house in Beaverton. But there were already CLUC concerts set up in Beaverton, and Classical Up Close likes to spread its shows around the metro area. So Corner posted a notice online on Nextdoor, and that’s how the concert got to Lake Oswego. “The owner of Lake Music said, ‘Yeah, sure, you can do it in my parking lot.’” It worked out really well.

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing: Violist Hillary Oseas gets in the groove. Photo: Joe Cantrell

A smaller-scale plan for this concert was delayed a year when the pandemic shut down a lot of activities. “I had this piece I wanted to do, Hoffmeister’s Solo Bass Quartet No. 4,” he said, as one of Classical Up Close’s “blitz” concerts – short, quick-hitting shows at out-of-ordinary spots for concerts but familiar everyday places in “ordinary” life: Corner had a bakery all picked out. Then the world shut down, including the blitzes, and after a year a bigger plan emerged for a full-blown summer festival show: Sarah Kwak, Classical Up Close’s executive director and the concertmaster for the Oregon Symphony, “pulled me aside and said, ‘You know, you can just do the whole program.’”

That ended up including the Hoffmeister, a pair of duos for violin or violin/viola by Corner’s bassist colleague Tom Knific, and Erwin Schulhoff’s Concertina for Flute, Viola and Contrabass. Knific’s Zhang Song, Corner writes in his program notes, “is dedicated to the family of DaXun Zhang, who is an incredibly accomplished bassist and professor at Juilliard in Tianjin. He and I went to school together, and he is one of my oldest and best friends in the world, so I have a deep personal connection to this piece. Tom’s Duo for Violin/Viola and Bass was written for Thomas Martin, who was principal bass of the London Symphony. The composer went to visit him, and describes the feeling of nostalgia in the quaint town, Henley-On-Thames, in which Martin lives, in the first movement. The second movement, “The Event,” describes an equestrian outing they attended, as Thomas Martin is a horse owner.”

Made in the shade: Cellist Marilyn de Oliveira and kids relax with the music. Photo: Joe Cantrell

The program closed with Schulhoff’s concertino, which the Czech-born composer wrote in just four days in 1925. “The Schulhoff has become a staple of bass repertoire,” Corner said. “There’s a lot of really cool stuff for the bass to play.” For the other end of the spectrum, too: The quartet includes a flautist, in this case Martha Long, who sometimes moves up the scale to piccolo, creating a bottom-to-top sound. The piece represents a move into modernism: Music writer John Mangum notes that, after World War I, Schulhoff moved to Dresden, “broke with the late Romanticism espoused by his conservatory teachers,” began to create “expressionist, atonal” music, and joined the company of forward-thinking artists including the painter George Grosz (with whom he listened to American jazz records) and Otto Dix. “Following his return to Prague in 1923,” Mangum writes, “Schulhoff began to compose works synthesizing all of these influences – Czech music, Russian and eastern music, late Romanticism, expressionism, and jazz – into a compelling, personal style.” Or, as Corner puts it: “It is so much fun to play, and the mix of voices between the flute, often doubling on piccolo, viola, and bass really go well together.”

Well enough, on a sunny late spring day, to get you dancing in a parking lot.

Colin Corner bends over the score …
… which marks the music. Photos: Joe Cantrell

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Classical Up Close Summer Festival 2021

The intimate concert series continues through June 14. You can see this year’s full Classical Up Close Festival schedule here. Coming up next:

  • Thursday, June 3, 5-6 p.m.: 1805 N.E. 56th Ave., Portland. Violinists Erin Furbee and Peter Frajola, and trombonist Robert Taylor, play tango music.
  • Friday, June 4, 5-6 p.m.: 16306 Hilltop Road, Oregon City. Sarah Kwak, Chien Tan, Searmi Park, Ruby Chen, violin; Charles Noble, Vali Phillips, Kelly Talim, Leah Ilem, viola; Marilyn de Oliveira, Trevor Fitzpatrick, Antoinette Gan, cello; and Andy Akiho, percussion, play sextets by sextets by Brahms and Strauss, and four contemporary pieces by percussionist Akiho. Limited parking; carpooling suggested.

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Classical Up Close: sweet & live

As the world starts to open up, a group of elite Oregon musicians kicks off two weeks of intimate outdoor concerts in and around Portland

… and it’s off and running! On a blazing-hot June 1 evening, music lovers and musicians gather amid the verdant shade of Southwest Portland’s Albert Kelly Park for the opening concert of Classical Up Close’s 2021 summer season. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Wake up, world: the music’s on its way. As coronavirus restrictions loosen and live performances tentatively start to tune up again, Classical Up Close kicked off a summer festival series of fourteen free outdoor neighborhood concerts on Monday with an intimate appearance by violinists Greg Ewer and Adam LaMotte. Photographer Joe Cantrell was on hand to capture the moment and pass along his impressions. “Beautiful evening at the verdant junction of Portland’s Southwest 35th Place and Albert Kelly Park,” he noted afterwards.

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