Audio drama PDX: Curated nostalgia

In the first of two parts – and before a Tolkien birthday bash on Saturday – a look at the old-time radio roots of a modern media movement

For most of my life I’ve been chronologically out of step. I was born in 1965, and my favorite clothes were out of fashion by 1930, my favorite authors were all dead by 1945, and one of my favorite artistic mediums, audio drama, culturally peaked in about 1950 and was until recently virtually extinct.

As a kid in the isolation of small-town Alaska, I would stay up late to hear, via the hit-and-miss bouncing signals of AM, re-broadcasts of the radio dramas from the 1930s and 40s, shows like The Shadow and Inner Sanctum. For a while anyway in the ’70s there was also the five-a-night broadcast of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, a project helmed by grizzled radio veterans that featured fun performances though generally mediocre scripts.

Promotional photograph from November 1930 for the CBS Radio series “The Detective Story Hour,” the program that introduced The Shadow to radio audiences. The character was initially played by James La Curto. Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of the general hokiness of many of the shows, new and old, for reasons that were clearly thought peculiar to my friends and family I was hooked. How did they do so much with nothing more than a script, a few actors, and some carefully placed sound effects? (The answer, of course, is that the listener’s imagination does the work. As radio pioneer and general funny guy Stan Freberg once said, “the monitor of our head is limitless.”)


In the Frame: Eleven Men

In photographic portraits, K.B. Dixon captures the essence in black and white of eleven people who've helped shape Portland's creative soul

Essay and photographs by K.B. DIXON

A good picture tells a story, and nothing tells a story better—more eloquently, more efficiently—than the human face. The story these eleven faces tell, in part, is Portland’s. These are talented and dedicated people who have contributed in significant ways to the character and culture of this city, people whose legacies are destined to be part of our cultural history.

Why eleven? Why not? It is the atomic number of sodium, the number of players on a football team, the number of thumb keys on a bassoon. I am a retentive sort with a bias in favor of symmetry who prefers numbers that divide evenly by two. I thought I would challenge myself. If the helping professions are to be believed, it is a way for one to grow.

With each portrait it has been my hope to produce first a decent photograph—a truthful record, one that honors the unique strength of the medium; but I have also sought to produce a photograph that is more than just a simple statement of fact, one that preserves for myself and others a brief glimpse of the being behind the image, one that presents a feeling as well as a form.

Soon I hope to be doing portraits of eleven Portland women. I have written to the President & CEO of one of our major cultural institutions, but she has not gotten back to me. Ms X, if you’re listening…. The portraits will be black & white, casual, available light, and done, ideally, in your office or work space. (My style is pretty straightforward as you can see—a nondenominational mix of street, fine art, and documentary photography.) Time, I know, is always an issue so I try to keep the intrusion to a minimum—30 minutes or so. Please let me know if you would be interested. We could set up a shoot at your convenience.



Will Vinton

Oscar-winning filmmaker. Vinton was a pioneer in stop-action animation. He is the head of Vinton Entertainment.


Angelo Xiang Yu & Andrew Hsu review: Instant chemistry

Chamber Music Northwest duo's intuitive aesthetic accord produces memorable music

It was really about the best that could be hoped for when musicians meet to rehearse together for the first time only a few days before a performance. That’s typical for Chamber Music Northwest concerts, in which top musicians from New York and beyond converge on Portland for five weeks, usually with time for only a few rehearsals. Luckily, as violinist Angelo Xiang Yu assured the audience during his July 27 two-man show at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre with pianist and composer Andrew Hsu, the two intuitively agreed on their interpretations.

Their simpatico styles may explain why the tightest works were a Mozart sonata (K 378) and CMNW Protege Project composer Hsu’s own piece, Sea Meadows. The Mozart is relatively easy to put together, and that enabled them to pump real life and personality into it despite the whirlwind rehearsal schedule. Sea Meadows was deliciously atmospheric, pulseless with an easy-sounding piano part. It really just needed a top-notch violinist, and Yu was all of that, executing lots of harmonics and double-stops, all seemingly flawlessly and with feeling.

Violinist Angelo Xiang Yu and composer/pianist Andrew Hsu performed at the The Alberta Rose Theatre. Photo: Jonathan Lange.
Violinist Angelo Xiang Yu and composer/pianist Andrew Hsu performed at the The Alberta Rose Theatre. Photo: Jonathan Lange.

The other performances were a mixed bag. Claude Debussy’s violin sonata had plenty of spirit but didn’t really jell, in some elusive way. Cesar Franck’s famous sonata was full of passion as it should be, with lots of dynamic and tempo contrasts, but the short rehearsal told in details, such as the piano covering up the violin here and there, and a few phrases that would have gained needed intensity from lingering over them or adding even more energy. On the other hand, the end of the stormy second movement was way exciting. It’s a bit tricky because Franck didn’t give the last piano run a lot of oomph, but the duo made it careen right into Hsu’s last big thunderous chord.

For some reason the crowd took it into their heads to applaud in between each movement of everything, even tepidly after slow and soft movements. They were about ready to burst after this dramatic conclusion, but the pianist immediately hit the chord opening the slow movement, cutting them off. It was an understandable move, but it had an anticlimactic side effect. Applause there would have been good for scene setting, and was also richly deserved.

The very end was more elegant than explosive, but the crowd just went crazy; you’d hardly know the hall was less than half full. People didn’t just hoot and holler, there were calls of “more!” “more!” Hsu and Yu wound up doing two potboiler encores: Vittorio Monti’s gypsy fluff Csárdás and Edward Elgar’s Romantic fluff Salut d’Amour. The audience would have stayed for at least one more. Finally, during the curtain call after the second encore Yu smiled and mouthed at people “go home,” which slightly diminished what had been a total class act. People just laughed, though.

Hsu & Yu at CMNW. Photo: Jonathan Lange.
Hsu & Yu at CMNW. Photo: Jonathan Lange.

Yu seems quite a character. He talked to the crowd a little, just after intermission, and had them almost eating out of his hand. At one point he said he was envious of Hsu because he looked so hot. That got a big (seemingly appreciative) laugh. He didn’t always have the sweetest tone, or invariably play precisely in tune, but somehow his “lapses” seemed like part of his intended expression. He achieved quite a bit of expressive variation in tone quality by bowing in different places along the string, without ever getting right on the bridge or over the fingerboard. In another performer, it might have seemed like lack of control, but the force of his personality made me believe in him. What matters is that it worked for me and the audience.

Lack of rehearsal time seems to be an unavoidable evil of the festival format, when the practicalities of busy top-notch artists’ schedules are considered. The result, too often, is a good, smooth, but lackluster performance, which CMNW patrons admittedly happily tolerate in return for the concentrated variety of festival repertory. Sometimes though, when interpersonal chemistry, skill, and attitude are right as they were here, magic can still happen.

Jeff Winslow is a Portland composer and pianist who serves on the board of Cascadia Composers. 

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