MUSIC

Francesco Lecce-Chong: at home in Oregon

Eugene Symphony's new music director, who conducts the orchestra's season-opening concert this week, begins by engaging with his new community

Not every orchestra music director lives in the city where they conduct. Most have multiple gigs and spend much of their time on airplanes and in hotel rooms. But newly appointed Eugene Symphony music director Francesco Lecce-Chong decided to move to Eugene — during July’s 107 degree heat wave, no less.

“You travel so much as a conductor anyway that you can pick your spot,” he explains. “It’s such a beautiful place, and when you’re starting a new job in a new place, you want to invest in it.”

Francesco Lecce-Chong conducted the ESO last spring at Eugene’s Hult Center.

Besides, it already feels like home. After a decade at East Coast conservatories (Mannes College of Music and Curtis Institute) and orchestras (assistant conductor at Milwaukee and Pittsburg Symphonies), Eugene reminds him of another outdoor-friendly college where he was born and raised — Boulder, Colorado — where he started conducting youth orchestra at age 16. Even then, Lecce-Chong admired how Eugene Symphony music director Marin Alsop took her other orchestra, the Colorado Symphony, from community ensemble to professional orchestra.

As a student, he encountered both of Alsop’s successors, Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Giancarlo Guerrero, who like Alsop went on to conduct prestigious orchestras. Both told him how how valuable the ESO position had been for their development. “They said that back before it was cool, Eugene was only orchestra in US that was was taking risks and picking young, first-time music directors and giving them space and support to grow,” Lecce-Chong remembered. That put the ESO on his radar, and when Danail Rachev’s contract expired last year and the job opened up, he went for it, beating out more than 250 other applicants. Read Tom Manoff’s ArtsWatch story about his audition concert. (He’ll keep his current assignments as assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, with whom he’s currently on a big European tour, and principal conductor of its youth orchestra, for the rest of this season.)

Lecce-Chong arrived to find the Eugene Symphony’s current season already set (orchestras plan way ahead), so this season doesn’t really represent his own vision. However, he was able to make a few tweaks that reflect his own priorities and give insights into what lies ahead.

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Urban Renewal Project review: genre blenders

Los Angeles big band’s danceable fusion of jazz, hip hop and other musical genres heralds a multifaceted musical future

by PATRICK MCCULLEY

Take a trip to downtown Portland’s Rialto Poolroom, walk to the back and down a flight of stairs, and you will find one of Oregon’s newest music venues. The Jack London Revue, formerly just the basement section of the Rialto Poolroom, is everything you might imagine an old school jazz club might have looked like. Long and rectangular, low ceilinged, dimly lit, a half dozen tables with chairs upfront, crimson curtains hanging from one wall, it’s almost like being thrown back to the golden age of jazz.  One could easily imagine the likes of Charlie Parker or Ella Fitzgerald taking to the small stage upfront while patrons crowd for drinks in the back at the bar.

Urban Renewal Project performed at Portland’s Jack London Revue. Photo: Patrick McCulley.

But the Jack London Revue, considered the heir to Jimmy Mak’s jazz club that closed at the beginning of this year, offers a much wider range of music than those historical names and even the legendary Jimmy’s. The people doing the bookings might be taking on a lot of the local jazz scene that was left without a flagship venue due to the closing of Jimmy Mak’s, but also inviting performers and audiences who are open to branching out beyond jazz and into soul, hip hop, and more uncategorizable genres of music. And it was that spirit of openness and experimentation that helped bring the Urban Renewal Project to Portland on August 11.

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MusicWatch Weekly: in- and outdoor sounds

It's worth venturing outside, smoke and all, to catch some late summer sounds this week, and indoor music is available too

Our weekly music listings, having recently moved back in with the parents over the summer, as so many graduates are doing these days, are pleased to announce that they’ve found their own place again and are busily furnishing it with shiny new previews of a select few music events around the state — many of them alfresco. There is no truth to the rumor that the Music listings were jealous that their Drama siblings just got their own place too….

Tia Fuller performs two shows with her quartet in Portland Friday.

Portland SummerFest

The annual summer music festival temporarily relocates from Washington Park (thanks to construction) to downtown Portland’s so-called “Halprin Sequence,” the lovely if sometimes overlooked public spaces designed by famed architect Lawrence Halprin to restore a few human-scale spaces to a downtown Portland neighborhood ravaged by ‘60s-style car centric urban renewal. As you stroll among Lovejoy and Keller Fountains, Pettygrove Park and the little Source Fountain from 5–9 pm, hear urban soundscapes, music by inventive Cascadia composers Jennifer Wright and Daniel Brugh, local opera singers accompanied by pianist Chuck Dillard, and more.

Wednesday, SW Lincoln and SW Market Streets, Portland.

Hunter Noack performs in three outdoor Oregon settings this week.

“In a Landscape”

Portland pianist Hunter Noack has embarked on a second September series of outdoor performances around Oregon. (Read my ArtsWatch story about the first one.) This time, he’s put a nine-foot Steinway on a trailer, and is toting it to Astoria, Pendleton, Eugene, and ten other towns from the coast to the Steens. He’s also bringing wireless headphones to distribute to listeners so they can experience the music without alfresco acoustical limitations, and various guest artists, from singer and former Miss America Katie Harman Ebner, Pink Martini founder/pianist Thomas Lauderdale and members of various Oregon orchestras. Check the website for who’s playing what and where and other details on individual performances (and probably fire/weather related updates) through September 30.

Wednesday, Agate Beach Golf Course, Newport; Thursday, Mount Pisgah Arboretum, Eugene; Saturday, Suttle Lodge & Boathouse, Sisters.

Al Di Meola shreds on Wednesday in Portland. Photo: Alessio Belloni.

Al Di Meola

The paragon of jazz fusion guitar returns, augmented by a quintet that includes electric violin, on a 40th anniversary tour that features both electric and acoustic axes and tight, tuneful jazz influenced by various global traditions, from Middle Eastern to flamenco.

Wednesday. Revolution Hall, Portland.

Sam Hong plays Oregon music and more this weekend.

Sahun “Sam” Hong

Portland Piano International kicks off its next admirable (and free of charge!) Rising Star series with the young prize winning pianist playing Beethoven and Chopin sonatas, Brahms’s lovely Op. 119 pieces, and a pair of intermezzi by the fine Oregon composer Brent Weaver.

Thursday, George Fox University, Bauman Auditorium, Newberg; Friday, Terwilliger Plaza and Monday, Classic Pianos, Portland.

Tia Fuller Quartet (early and late shows)

The rising jazz alto/soprano sax star is probably best known for her work in Beyonce’s band and other pop star gigs (Aretha, Jay Z, et al), but jazz heads and critics have long admired her supple, energetic work with her own quartet over four albums.

Friday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

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It’s like a Death Dance: An interview with Demian DinéYazhi´

Death Dance honors indigenous and brown punk energy during TBA on Sept. 16

Death gives way to life, to regrowth, and to rebirth, but there is a certain nuance to the dying that has much to tell us about the times, observable in the particular ethos of destructionbe it environmental, social, or political. For Demian DinéYazhi´, a Portland-based indigenous queer artist born to the clans Naasht’ézhí Tábąąhá (Zuni Clan Water’s Edge) and Tódích’íí’nii (Bitter Water), ideas surrounding a death have become the lynchpin of an evening he has curated to honor “the labor and intelligence of indigenous and brown punk energy.” Set to take place Sept. 16 and happening as part of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Arts Festival, it will be a Death Dance.

Rebecca Jones, lead singer of WEEDRAT

A person of many practices, including poetry, visual art, curation, and organizing through R.I.S.E.: Radical Indigenous Survivance & Empowerment (of which he is founder and director), DinéYazhi´ is no stranger to culling a variety of mediums into one compelling happening. However, the name of the event was originated by another indigenous artist from the region, Sara Siestreem (Hanis Coos and American) in a pivotal conversation with DinéYazhi´ after the 2016 national election. “This is a conversation that I was having numerous times with primarily indigenous and activist-based friends,” DinéYazhi´ explained, noting their pervasive sense of being overwhelmed by the burgeoning of white supremacist momentum in the United States and its perpetuation by the government.

Through these conversations, DinéYazhi´ was seeking clarity. “Of course this makes sense,” he reflected. “These people will be out of power. They stole this country. They will be out of power in a few generations, and this is just one of the last attempts to maintain and assert that power, and really just f*ck people over as a way to hang on to this archaic heteropatriarchal, settler colonial mentality.” DinéYazhi´ was discussing this mode of thinking with Siestreem during a visit to her studio, when Siestreem made the connection: it’s like a death dance, like the morbid movements that salmon do as they are in the process of dying—the final throes.

When invited to curate an evening of performance for TBA, DinéYazhi´ explained, “I was just really interested in continuing this idea of the Death Dance, but while also trying to support indigenous and brown artists, indigenous and brown communities, that continue to be largely underrepresented within the Portland contemporary art scene, the Portland music scene, but also the theoretical and critically engaged communities who are really trying to dissect race politics, you know, death and survival politics. All these communities are, I still feel like, ignoring indigenous and brown bodies.”

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‘Two Yosemites’ review: mythological quest

Opera Theater Oregon premiere effectively dramatizes a famous camping trip that had a monumental effect on America

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

I confess to approaching Oregon composer Justin Ralls Two Yosemites: An Environmental Chamber Opera with a few biases and reservations. For one thing, I usually skew more urban than rural in my musical tastes. I like a Gershwin tune (how about you?) and I tire of the pentatonic open-fifth/open-prairie sound pretty quickly. Worse still, I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle listening to an environmental opera about my home state while my adopted state is engulfed in flames.

Short and Meyer as Roosevelt and Muir in ‘Two Yosemites.’ Photo: Ted Sweeney.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. The UO doctoral candidate’s music was Copland-esque, sure, and I had a few emotional moments as I reflected on the hundred-year-old argument about whether nature is worth treating with respect (we haven’t figured this out yet? really?). But I ended up enjoying last Friday’s premiere at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel so much that I’ll probably go back for the undoubtedly more epic outdoor premiere at L&C’s Law School Amphitheater this weekend.

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Turn that Heartbeat over Again: Donald Fagen flies solo

Now bereft of his creative partner, the Steely Dan co-founder brings his new band to Portland

by MARIA CHOBAN

Update: several of Fagen and the Nightflyers’ upcoming shows, including the Portland performance, have been canceled due to illness, according to a release from the Oregon Symphony, which sponsored the concert.

It was still September when [I] was quite surprised to findthat Walter Becker died. Paul McCartney without John Lennon, Don Henley without Glenn Frey, and now, Donald Fagen without Walter Becker. Death came for Becker on Sunday, September 3, 2017, splitting up Steely Dan forever. I stalk the obits. I’d forgotten that it’s Becker’s early pictures, his long hair and camera stare-down, I associate with the band as much as Fagen’s acidic vocals.

On Tuesday, September 12, Fagen brings his new band The Nightflyers (named for Fagen’s first solo album, The Nightfly) to Portland5’s Arlene Schnitzer concert hall. We’re promised Steely Dan hits, Fagen solo numbers and a few surprises.

Donald Fagen & the Nightflyers perform in Portland September 12.

I Got the News. A few days before the show, the biggest surprise — shock, really— is the loss of Fagen’s life-long creative partner. In his elegy to Becker, Fagen wrote “I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.” We don’t know whether that means Steely Dan will continue (as the Eagles have without Frey) or that Fagen will continue to play their music along with his own, as McCartney has done since a few years after the Beatles’ demise and Fagen has done between Steely Dan tours.

I do know that both with and without Becker, Donald Fagen is worth hearing, and even worth reading.

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Voice in the Wilderness: opera singer Nicholas Meyer

Childhood friends shape new made-in-Oregon opera 'Two Yosemites'

by ANGELA ALLEN

Nicholas Meyer’s friendship with Justin Ralls began decades before they collaborated on Ralls’s new Two Yosemites opera. The two boys  grew up kicking around the soccer ball in their southeast Portland neighboring ‘hoods of Eastmoreland and Sellwood. They played in the Sellwood Middle School jazz band (Meyer on clarinet, Ralls on drums) and sang in the Cleveland High School award-winning choirs.

Most memorable in their teenage years was their collaboration in Cleveland’s take on the Broadway musical, The Pajama Game, where Meyer performed the lead and Ralls played drums.

Both made the Cleveland junior varsity soccer team, but as they moved into their later teens, sports gave way to music. Their futures dawned, if not in synch, in parallel.

Aaron Short and Nicholas Meyer as Roosevelt and Muir in ‘Two Yosemites.’ Photo: Carole Montarou.

“Justin wanted to write operas in high school,” said Meyer, 29, who will sing the role of John Muir in Ralls’ upcoming Two Yosemites, an “environmental chamber opera” opening on Friday at Lewis & Clark College.

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