MUSIC

MusicWatch Weekly: Getting creative

Third Angle welcomes Oregonian composers home, Creative Music Guild improvises

The best and worst thing about Portland audiences is that they really, really listen to the music. At rock shows like the one your night owl music editor attended Tuesday night at Southeast’s Bit House Saloon, the audience stood around intently focused on listening to loud, thrashing, doomy punk and metal. It’s pretty much always like this at bar shows in this rainy, hoodied town: one hand cradling a glass, the other loosely plunged into one pocket, earplugs in, heads bobbing, but usually no dancing, no mosh pits, no movement from anyone but the musicians. Moving around too much would get you all sweaty and uncomfortable. And besides, you’re here to listen to some damn music.

Meanwhile, across town at the venerable Schnitz, enthusiastic audients got shushed for applauding the first movement of Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England last Sunday. Have a listen to that beautiful barnstormer of luscious melodic overload for yourself:

Ah, but it’s only the first of three movements, so the scattered applause didn’t really take off. It’s always a little embarrassing when this happens. There are valid psychoacoustic reasons for not applauding between movements, but it’s also sad to hear spontaneous joy being stifled.

Anyways, it was the only low point of a wonderful concert full of melodic bliss and rhythmic verve. Three Places and Stravinsky’s Firebird are both swarming with melodies, mostly borrowed from hymns and other folk musics, all given the Modern Classical twist: everything all at once in rhythmic counterpoint and overwhelming panmelodic delight. Andy Akiho’s Percussion Concerto was sandwiched tastily between these, a new work in the Ives-Stravinsky vein, comfortable treating melody and harmony and rhythm and color and texture as isomorphic layers of some Hermetic miracula rei unius.

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Being the song

Anne Sofie von Otter and Kristian Bezuidenhout show Schubert’s classical roots at Friends of Chamber Music concert and masterclass

By KATIE TAYLOR with contributions by SUSAN HARRIS

When pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout launched into the fourth and final song in Swedish mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter’s opening Mozart set at her Friends of Chamber Music Vocal Arts Series recital last week, I thought, “that sounds like Schubert.” With its rolling arpeggios, Mozart’s “An Chloë” irresistibly brough to mind Schubert’s “Das Wandern,” which opens his famous song cycle Die schöne Müllerin. That wasn’t an accident.

This beautifully crafted program began with Mozart, progressed seamlessly into Schubert through a classical lens and ended with Schubert’s romantic side. The effect worked in both directions, revealing intriguing hints of a view forward to early romanticism in late Mozart and showing Schubert’s classical roots with a clarity that was wholly surprising to a listener accustomed to the more barn-burning approach many singers take to his songs. 

The program made a side trip midway to listen in on Schubert’s Swedish contemporaries, Adolf Fredrik Lindblad and Franz Berwald, and von Otter’s lyrical art song sets were thoughtfully interwoven with solo turns by Bezuidenhout.

The pairing of singer and accompanist couldn’t have been more perfect. Both artists combined relaxed, spontaneous delivery with meticulous attention to detail and delivery that was never anything less than divinely subtle.

Anne Sofie von Otter and Kristian Bezuidenhout at Friends of Chamber Music concert October 2019. Photo courtesy of FOCM.
Anne Sofie von Otter and Kristian Bezuidenhout at Friends of Chamber Music concert October 2019. Photo courtesy of FOCM.

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A Baroque groove master at work

A conversation with composer Andy Akiho and percussionist Colin Currie, featured on this weekend's Oregon Symphony concerts

Composer-percussionist Andy Akiho gestured across the room to a table in the corner of the Heathman Hotel’s cozy library. “I composed most of it right there,” he said. “They let me stay here until three in the morning sometimes.”

Akiho is speaking of his Percussion Concerto, which Colin Currie and the Oregon Symphony will premiere this weekend alongside two of Akiho’s heroes, Igor Stravinsky and Charles Ives. Currie himself joined us, and both spoke fondly of Portland, where Akiho now spends half the year. Currie told me the first time he landed at PDX airport, he was immediately reminded of his native Scotland. “Then it rained all week,” Currie said, “and I thought, ah this is bliss!”

The percussionists maintain busy schedules. Currie will be conducting Steve Reich’s tribute to painter Gerhard Richter, Reich/Richter, and is excited about Scottish composer Helen Grime’s Percussion Concerto–very different from Akiho’s–which Currie commissioned and will be performing several times this year. Meanwhile, Akiho has been finalizing the recording of his LIgNEouS Suite for marimba and strings, is currently finishing an album with his band Miyamoto is Black Enough, and somehow also finds time to work on an eleven-movement quartet for Ian Rosenbaum’s Sandbox Percussion.

This weekend, though, it’s all about the long-awaited concerto: Akiho’s first major orchestral work (2015’s Ping Pong Concerto notwithstanding) is full of ceramic bowls, a meaty marimba, and all the rhythmic complexity and melodic verve we’ve come to expect from one of our favorite young composers. The Oregon Symphony performs at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall this Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Arts Watch recently spoke in person with Akiho and Currie; their answers have been edited and condensed for clarity and flow.

Inception, inspiration, orchestration

Andy Akiho: I’m obviously inspired by the city, because I wrote almost all of it here. There’s no story or anything, that’s why it’s just called Percussion Concerto for now—until Colin comes up with a story, then we’ll change the title.

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MusicWatch Weekly: A wider net

In which we stumble upon a Hall of Fame inductee, learn about joiking and konnakol, and hear from the audients

There’s so much going on this month that I’m going to refer you to our monthly column, cast a wider net, and focus on telling you about different concerts, music that flies under the radar or comes up at the last minute. But you still deserve to hear about more than just what I can tell you about. The delicate imbalance of mental variance my Muse demands of me requires a certain amount of rest and risotto, and if I went out and did all the things you hear about here I’d soon be reduced to a burbling mess of incoherence.

So I’ve been sending my team of loyal brigands around town, collecting intelligence for me and turning in hot takes like Odin’s snoopy ravens. Call em the Rose City Irregulars. In a moment, you’ll hear about symphonic Batman, choral Oliveros, and Third Angle. But first, a digression.

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The music of our time?

Recent Delgani String Quartet concert featuring living local composers raises questions of tradition and timeliness

By DANIEL HEILA

It would be hard to come up with a better scenario for listening to new art music than the A2 Productions concert Local Sounds, Local Stories, presented at Springfield’s Wildish Theater September 7th and 8th, featuring the Delgani String Quartet performing works of Eugene composers. Gifted performers, local composers, quality production, state-of-the-art venue–and top-notch local brew, booze, and food just a block or two in any direction. The program was well curated, with varying styles and formats, keeping the appreciative audience engaged throughout the program. A recipe for success. However, I left the venue wondering, “Why was this music written?” “Where did this music come from?” “How does it fit in the now?”

It is fair to say that most of the pieces evoked western classical musical languages from the first half of the twentieth century and earlier, all stylistically anachronistic, with one particular work speaking in a solidly mid-nineteenth century voice. Exceptions were Paul Safar’s Quartet in Red, Black, and Blue and The Walrus and the Carpenter, and Terry McQuilkin’s Invisible Light: Fantasy for String Quartet. Both used musical languages of our time: touches of pop, blues, and jazz in Safar; post-minimal textures in McQuilkin. Their general tonal language was in the western tradition. Even so, as evidenced by the enthusiastic response, the large audience had no problem with that. So, why did I?

A question posed

Having studied the art music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in depth and at length, I have an expectation that contemporary art music be a logical continuation–or in some cases perfectly illogical discontinuity–of this history and development, that it be cognizant of this trajectory or at least be responsive to the popular music of our time. I do not think this is an unreasonable expectation since other artistic genres exhibit a similar arc (outsider art being a notable exception). So why would a new music composer write music that does not communicate in a musical language of their time? I am not speaking of quotation but of whole cloth imitation. That is my vexing question, and it is difficult to answer. So I emailed the composers and asked them: “How do you see your music in relation to the music of our time?”

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MusicWatch Monthly: Hot music in the cold city

Warm up your fall with saxophones, film and classical music, international virtuosi, and metallized Metroids

Are you cold yet? Have your fingers and toes and hearts and guts frozen as Winter creeps closer and you face down the end of the world? Are you ready to put on a sweater and a balaclava and drown out the chaos with frosty music and a fire in the belly?

Good! Here’s your prescription for October.

Saxomaphones

Now that you’re all sweatered up, it’s time for some hot sax. Tuesday, October 2nd–tonight!–it’s the zany trio Too Many Zooz at Crystal Ballroom, wherein baritone saxophonist Leo Pellegrino, trumpeter Matt Doe, and drummer David “King of Sludge” play their stompy dancey “brass house” music. If that’s not zany enough for you, wait until tomorrow and check out skronky Skerik at Goodfoot Lounge on the 3rd. Then, at 4 in the afternoon on the 5th, head over to the Midland Library on Southeast 122nd for the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s tribute to Portland’s Native American saxophonist Jim Pepper. Or wait all the way until next week and dig local diy jazz quintet Blue Cranes at The 1905 on Sunday the 13th.

Oregon Symphony Orchestra

After a cancelled zoo concert and a weekend of Empire, the OSO’s symphonic season is officially underway. We heard from composer Oscar Bettison last week, and you’ll hear all about his rewilded music (performed last weekend alongside Mozart and Brahms) from Charles Rose soon enough. This month, the oldest orchestra west of the Mississippi continues into full fall mode with concerts of music all over the “classical” map, from film music to Stravinsky to Coldfuckingplay.

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Light amid darkness

Oregon Repertory Singers perform Portland composer Joan Szymko’s oratorio inspired by people confronting Alzheimer’s dementia

This is what we fear…
Nothing to think with
Nothing to love or link with

From “Aubade” by Philip Larkin, excerpted in Shadow & Light.

When Eugene Concert Choir and Vocal Arts director Diane Retallack approached Joan Szymko in 2014 to write a new piece for choir about Alzheimer’s dementia, the Portland composer faced three challenges. First, she had no friends or close family members with the disease. Second, though she was an award-winning composer who’d written more than 100 choral works, it would be a much bigger piece than she’d ever attempted. Finally, she worried that it would be a depressing work — “a horror story.” 

But after spending two years researching and composing music and libretto about the heartbreaking subject, Szymko discovered a way to cope with the epic scale it demanded. And she also found that it’s possible to find hope and even peace at the end of an Alzheimer’s journey.

Shadow and Light is a touching and hopeful look at the effects of Alzheimer’s,” says Christine Meadows, who sings one of the central solo parts in Oregon Repertory Singers’ Portland premiere of Szymko’s 2016 work this weekend. “[Szymko] captures the huge range of emotions and experiences that many of us have journeyed through with our loved ones.”

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