MUSIC

‘Spin’ review: women on wheels

Boom Arts hosts Evalyn Parry's musical theater piece chronicling connections between the women's movement and bicycling

Want to control women? Limit their freedom to get around. There are many places in the world  — even in our country — where women are virtual prisoners in their own homes, forbidden freedom by law, religion, custom, or just plain male domination.

When America’s late 19th century suffragists challenged this stultifying situation and started a social revolution, they were aided by a concurrent technological revolution. “I believe the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in history,” said someone who should know.

Evalyn Parry performed “Spin” in Portland. Photo: Frederike Heuer.

That connection between two revolutions is the subject of Spin, Toronto singer/songwriter/spoken word artist Evalyn Parry’s entertaining theatrical song cycle that Boom Arts wheeled into northeast Portland’s The Sanctuary earlier this month. It was a fun if wobbly ride that didn’t quite find the right balance between between two important stories: a quick history of the historical connection between women’s equality and bicycling, and a fascinating, too-little known story of one of the early female pioneers of both.

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MusicWatch Weekly: transformations

This week's Oregon concerts feature music that transforms words into music, one kind of music into other kinds, stories into music, and more.

Eugene Symphony
Maybe the best known violin virtuoso in his time was Niccolo Paganini, the early 19th century Italian phenom whose reputation for flashy performances enchanted audiences but also overshadowed his compositions (for guitar and violin) after he died. Simone Porter, a 20-year-old rising star from Seattle joins the orchestra for Paganini’s dazzling first violin concerto from 1818. The orchestra also plays Dvorak’s dark, dramatic seventh symphony and Berlioz’s sizzling Roman Carnival Overture.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Ari Shapiro
The NPR newsman, Portland native and occasional Pink Martini guest vocalist brings his new Homeward project, featuring  his stories and songs (accompanied by veteran Portland musicians including at least one regular Pink Martini chanteuse) that Shapiro found were important to displaced people he’s interviewed in far-flung lands.
Thursday-Saturday, World Trade Center #2, 121 SW Salmon, Portland.

Ari Shapiro performs this weekend in his hometown.

Reed Orchestra Concert: In Remembrance
In memory of three of their fellow students who died last year — Mara Gibbs, Nico Villarreal, and Max hero Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche — the students play a free concert of appropriate music: Henry Purcell’s Dido’s Lament, Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question, and the Unfinished Symphony by another composer who, like Purcell, died too young.
Thursday, Kaul Auditorium, 3203 Southeast Woodstock, Portland.

Portland Baroque Orchestra
When you think of the great cities of Baroque music, Dublin doesn’t leap to mind. Turns out, the Irish city drew famous performers and composer like Handel and Geminiani, both of whom have works on PBO’s bassoon-boosted program this weekend, along with Vivaldi and others. The ensemble’s own crack bassoonist, Nate Helgeson, joins guest director Peter Whelan in a two-bassoon concerto (transformed from a two-cello concerto) and more.
Friday-Saturday, First Baptist Church, 1110 S.W. Taylor St. and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, 3203 S.E. Woodstock Blvd. Portland.

Ronn McFarlane rocks the Portland Guitar Society Friday.

Ronn McFarlane
The ace lutenist, Baltimore Consort stalwart, and Portland resident gives a too-rare hometown recital, including Renaissance, Baroque, Celtic, and his own splendid original music.
Friday, Marylhurst University’s Wiegand Hall, 17600 SW Pacific Highway, Marylhurst.

Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Piano star Andreas Klein takes the solo spotlight in Beethoven’s spectacular Piano Concerto #4, and the orchestra also plays a Beethoven overture and a neglected 20th century masterpiece: the Variaciones Concertantes by Argentina’s most venerated composer, Alberto Ginastera, whose frenzied conclusion was inspired by the dueling cowboy dances of Argentine gauchos.
Friday, First United Methodist Church, and Sunday, Reynolds High School Performing Arts Center, Portland.

Nonsense: The Fantastical Musical Multiverses of Daniel Brugh
In Cascadia Composers concerts over the years, Dan Brugh has forged a distinctive aesthetic, at once a kind of mad genius of Portland contemporary classical music as well as a composer whose music reaches beyond the traditional classical audience to embrace electronic textures, audience-appealing stage sensibility, and 21st century artistic ambition. This free concert taking place in an appropriately offbeat venue (a Portland design firm) includes three keyboardists, singer, clarinet, narrator, contemporary dance (courtesy of Portland’s Agnieszka Laska Dancers), unusual tunings and sounds, colorful synth wizardry, absurdist poetry, and even flying fish.
Saturday, The Place, 735 NW 18th Ave. Portland.

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Portland Concert Opera preview: up close and personal

New company's performances in intimate spaces brings audiences deeper into the music

When Lance Inouye was studying music in St. Petersburg, Russia in the early 2000s, he really enjoyed going to the opera. Not just the big fully staged productions, but also concert operas: every sung note of a full opera, but performed without full stagings (like extensive props and full orchestras) in smaller theaters, including the legendary Mariinsky, churches, and concert halls throughout the city.

He wasn’t alone. “They were usually completely packed,” Inouye remembers. “Even after I stopped living there, I’d visit all the time and see a ton of those concert operas.”

Portland Concert Opera’s Lance Inouye.

After working as a conductor with the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic and then opera companies in Florida, Israel, Cincinnati, and other companies (with many more guest conducting engagements around the world), in 2013, Inouye moved to Portland, where he serves as music director and conductor of the Lewis & Clark College orchestra. But he never forgot the intimate thrills he experienced at those Russian concert operas.

Now, Inouye is bringing concert opera to Portland. This Saturday, his Portland Concert Opera’s gala fundraiser concert at Portland’s acoustically enchanting Old Church Concert Hall showcases the formidable lineup of local musicians he’s assembled, and raises funds to support one of those full-opera concert readings that so enchanted him in Russia.

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Portland State Choirs preview: knocking on heaven’s door

University's award winning Chamber Choir, Man Choir and Vox Femina sing music by acclaimed choral composer Eriks Esenvalds and more in CD release concerts

What a year it’s been for Portland State University’s Chamber Choir! In July, it became the first American choir to compete in the prestigious Bali International Choir Festival — where it won top prize among 124 choirs and went on to perform in several other concerts and other events in Indonesia.

A few weeks later, the choir’s newly released third CD, The Doors of Heaven, not only became the first college choir recording to make Billboard’s chart of best-selling traditional classical albums but also debuted at No. 1 and stayed on the chart for two months. The album earned worldwide play on streaming platforms, like Apple Music, and favorable, sometimes ecstatic reviews in Europe and the US.

The Doors of Heaven was the first recording by an American choir entirely devoted to the enchanting, sometimes haunting music of Latvia’s Eriks Esenvalds, who’s become the world’s hottest young choral composer. Portland State’s choir had previously been the first to record his music in this country after the choir’s director, Ethan Sperry, heard it at a choral directors conference. Impressed, Esenvalds specifically asked Naxos, the world’s largest classical CD label, which wanted to record an album of his music, to use the Portland State singers.

A recent review in the online journal Classics Today praised “the extraordinary performances by the Portland State Chamber Choir, whose virtuoso work here… place(s) it among the world’s finest choral ensembles.” Another praised its “stirring performances,” adding “any lover of contemporary choral music would do well to seek out this worthy collection.” If PSUCC isn’t already America’s top college choir, they’re surely knocking at the door.

This weekend, Oregon audiences get to hear the Chamber Choir and two other Portland State choirs sing Esenvalds’ music. The concert includes his prayer for peace, O Salutaris Hostia; a rare choral setting of a poem by Leonard Cohen; another featuring a poem by former Oregon poet laureate Paulann Petersen that Esenvalds wrote especially for the Portland State Chamber Choir.

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Portland Symphonic Choir review: magnificent melange

Triumphant Oregon premiere of composer John Muehleisen's massive 'Pieta' combines varied musical styles and poetry to respond to social ills

By BRUCE BROWNE

John Muehleisen 90-minute Pieta is a mélange – in a good way – of all sorts of musical gestures: Byzantine chant; Catholic and Eastern Orthodox hymnody; Bulgarian hymns; and familiar chorale tunes, many based on tunes melodies from J. S. Bach’s St. John Passion. Too, there is plentiful use of borrowed music, from a Civil War song by George F. Root to quotations from Bach, and a short motif from early baroque composer Antonio Caldara’s Stabat Mater. Muehleisen is certainly an equal opportunity borrower.

Since its Seattle premiere in 2012, Pieta has received several significant performances and, is receiving nationwide recognition. The composer was on hand to participate in and to witness Portland Symphonic Choir‘s rousing performance of its Oregon premiere in First United Methodist Church, on the last Saturday and Sunday afternoons in October.

Arwen Myers and Brendan Tuohy sang with Portland Symphonic Choir. Photo: Toni Wise.

An opportunity was missed, since Mr. Muehleisen was in residence with the choir most of the preceding week. Why not offer a pre-concert encounter sometime earlier in the evening/day? I loved what the composer had to say about his work; it was enlightening, and important. But this forced a 4:20 PM downbeat for the concert. Still, what followed was well worth it— for Muehleisen, for the guest conductor Erick Lichte, for the Portland Symphonic Choir and soloists Arwen Myers and Brendan Tuohy.

Soprano soloist Myers was radiant in the role of the Mother of Jesus, and probably, a universal mother to all. Her part demands a sprawling range, and an armor-piercing tone at times, all beautifully executed. In character throughout, Myers came through it all with a perfect aplomb, and pitch perfect musicianship.

Tenor soloist Tuohy has a silvery toned delivery. He too met most of the challenges of the score, but occasionally fought with the pitch center. After he returned to the stage following a dramatic exit in the first half of the show, the voice was perfectly in command.

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MusicWatch Weekly: pianos aplenty

There’s also organ music, choral music, string ensembles and a couple orchestras’ worth of fine young classical players and more on Oregon stages this week

Portland’s most welcome frequent contemporary classical guests, DUO Stephanie & Saar, return for a pair of entirely different shows, bringing plenty of piano-playing colleagues with them; Portland Piano International’s latest Rising Star flashes across the keyboard; and two of jazz’s most forward looking pianists, Jason Moran and Ethan Iverson, bring their trios to town, the former celebrating still another great pianist/composer, Thelonious Monk.

Stephanie & Saar perform twice in Portland.

DUO Stephanie and Saar
The renowned New York based piano duo visit Portland, Stephanie Ho’s hometown, frequently. This time, they perform J.S. Bach’s final work, the massive keyboard monument to counterpoint, The Art of Fugue, which they recently recorded. The next night, they join some of Portland’s finest pianists (from Third Angle, FearNoMusic, and local universities) to reprise some of the “greatest hits” from the three annual installments of their Makrokosmos concerts, including music by the greatest living American composers (Steve Reich, George Crumb, John Adams) and more.
Wednesday, Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis & Clark College, and Thursday, Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd. Portland.

Allison Au Quartet
One of Canada’s most acclaimed jazz stars, saxophonist/composer Allison Au’s melodic original jazz just garnered the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy award for best jazz album for her second release, Forest Grove. Unfortunately, they’re not actually playing it in Forest Grove, but you can hear them in Portland and Eugene.
Wednesday, Jo Bar and Rotisserie, Portland and Thursday, Jazz Station, Eugene.

Jerry Douglas Band 
Even if you’ve never heard of Jerry Douglas, you’ve almost certainly heard his dobro, a guitar augmented by a metal plate and amplifying cone that makes a distinctive twangy sound. A Nashville studio regular who’s played on over 1500 recordings, he’s transcended the  boundaries between bluegrass, country, rock, jazz, pop – even contemporary classical. Along the way, Douglas has garnered dozens of awards, including a baker’s dozen Grammies and a Musician of the Year award from the Country Music Association; added zing to albums by Ray Charles, Emmylou Harris, Paul Simon, Earl Scruggs, Bill Frisell, Phish, and dozens of other stars; played in bands with Ricky Skaggs and in Alison Krauss’s Union Station. He’s an American music legend and always worth catching with his own band.
Thursday, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland.

Makrokosmos Project
With duo pianists Stephanie & Saar in town to play Bach (see above) and no doubt visit family, why not celebrate the third anniversary of its valuable Makrokosmos project (which ArtsWatch has covered extensively — type the word into the search field above) by reprising some of the three epic extravaganzas’ greatest hits by some of America’s greatest 20th century composers: Steve Reichʼs Six Pianos, John Adamsʼs Hallelujah Junction, George Crumbʼs Makrokosmos I and II and more, including works by Oregonians like Alexander Schwarzkopfʼs Recycled Wheels. Performers in this free concert include Susan Smith, Deborah Cleaver, Julia Lee, Monica Ohuchi, Jeff Payne, Schwarzkopf and DUO Stephanie & Saar.
Thursday, Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd, Portland.

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Fear No Music & Third Angle reviews: discoveries

Portland new music ensembles open Oregon ears to music from beyond the usual sources

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

I love going to a concert with exactly zero familiar composers. In Oregon classical music programs, the standard is still usually one new composer per concert, sandwiched between the dead white guys. Even in Portland, it’s relatively rare to hear a concert with music by composers who are all new to me. In the last few weeks, veteran Portland new music ensembles Fear No Music and Third Angle delivered two such concerts that led me to new discoveries.

Fear No Music played recent music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. Photo: John Rudoff.

FNM’s October 9 concert at Portland’s Old Church, The Fertile Crescent, featured music by six composers rooted in the Middle East. Although they were new to me, they are all accomplished international composers. Gity Razaz studied at Juilliard with Corigliano, Beaser, and Adler; Kinan Azmeh is a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble; Reza Vali, Kareem Roustom, and Franghiz Ali-Zadeh have all composed for Kronos Quartet (I’m sure they’ll get around to Bahaa El-Ansary eventually). Although the music performed at the concert didn’t always satisfy me, I liked most of it, and the pieces that left me cold still led me to discover other enjoyable music by the same composers.

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