MUSIC

MusicWatch Weekly: sax attacks!

Saxophonic sensations ensorcel Oregon stages, Astoria Music Festival opens, and more classical and jazz sounds highlight this week’s concert scene

A squadron of saxophone sorcerers descends on Oregon’s music scene this week, many combining jazz with classical influences.

Soweto Kinch plays and raps Thursday.

British saxman and MC Soweto Kinch has been blending jazz, funk, hip hop and poetry in original ways for years, garnering a passel of prizes in the UK and Europe for both his instrumental mastery and his compelling compositions. Fans of all those genres and those who dismiss pigeonholes should check out his shows at Portland’s Jack London Revue Thursday.

Also thanks to PDX Jazz, two more sterling saxophonists, Lewis & Clark College alum Tim Berne and Chris Speed, join Bad Plus bassist and drummer Reid Anderson and Dave King in a tribute to 1960s jazz avant garde legends Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill, and Dewey Redman in Broken Shadows’s concert Friday at Portland’s Old Church.

And on Saturday, PDX Jazz brings young Norwegian sax phenom Marius Neset to the Old Church. Influenced by sources from Grieg to Radiohead, his trio music also seems to channel ’80s jazz sax masters like Michael Brecker.

Saxophone doesn’t always mean jazz. Portland saxophonist and ArtsWatch contributor Patrick McCulley has demonstrated his excellence in composed contemporary classical music (at Cascadia Composers, Classical Revolution PDX, March Music Moderne, Creative Music guild and elsewhere) as well as his own original improvs and creations using circular breathing, multiphonics, growling and other extended techniques. He’s recording an album of new compositions for solo saxophone and will give us a taste in a Saturday performance at Portland’s St. Paul Lutheran Church, 3880 SE Brooklyn St.

Patrick McCulley premiers new compositions Saturday.

That same night at Astoria’s Liberty Theater, in an Astoria Music Festival concert, you can hear Los Angeles Opera Orchestra saxophonist Chika Inoue, violinist Olivia Tsui and cellist Rowena Hammill playing classical sax masterpieces by Debussy, Milhaud, Leonard Bernstein, and the world premiere of a new piece by Todd Mason, Daybreak, commissioned by the festival.

Idit Shner plays standards at Eugene’s Jazz Station.

University of Oregon music prof Idit Shner plays and teaches both jazz and classical music. She’s performed many of the classical saxophone standards with symphony orchestras in Israel (source of many terrific contemporary jazz musicians) and also commissioned and performed contemporary post-classical music for smaller ensembles. Her Quartet plays American songbook standards Saturday at Eugene’s Jazz Station. And if your sax jones still isn’t satiated after this week, well, there’s always Portland’s Quadrophonnes June 30 at Alberta Street Public House.

Jazz doesn’t always mean saxophone. Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker brings his own, funkier yet still original New Breed quartet (which, yes, includes saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi) to Portland’s Mission Theater Wednesday.

Another jazz guitar star, Fareed Haque, has recorded for jazz’s esteemed Blue Note label, worked with Dave Holland, Joe Henderson and other legends, even taught jazz studies at Northern Illinois University. But he also teaches classical guitar there, has played all the major classical guitar concertos and worked with early music authority Stephen Stubbs, the Vermeer Quartet and many symphony orchestras, as well as Sting.

Fareed Haque gets funky Thursday.

The Pakistani / Chilean virtuoso has played in Latin bands, studied various South Asian musical forms, and added tabla (as well as DJ) to his ‘70s fusion-drenched jazz ensemble. Plus, thanks to his work with his band Garaj Mahal, Medeski, Martin and Wood, and others, he’s a player on the jamband scene. He’s in at least three other bands. But the name of the band he’s bringing to Jack London Revue Thursday, Funk Bros (not the Motown guys) shows what Haque’s up to now.

Like Kinch, GoGo Penguin has been imbuing British jazz with outside influences, mostly various species of electronica, yet performed by an acoustic piano trio. Their sparkling sounds appear on Blue Note records but have also cheekily upstaged Philip Glass by touring their own soundtrack to Godfrey Reggio’s film Koyaanisqatsi. They’re playing with the always fun Portland duo Korgy & Bass Sunday at Portland’s Revolution Hall.

Despite the title, you’ll find some saxophone at Matt Hannafin’s CD release show John Cage: Four Realizations for Solo Percussion Wednesday at Portland’s Performance Works Northwest. Along with Hannafin’s percussion, you’ll hear Lee Elderton on sax and clarinet, fellow Creative Music Guild stalwarts Brandon Conway and Branic Howard on guitars, and singer Margaret McNeal, and see dancers Emily Jones and Taka Yamamoto in music by Cage and fellow mid-20th century modernists Christian Wolff and Toshi Ichiyanagi, now probably better known as Yoko Ono’s first husband than for his intriguing avant garde music.

Classical

Fear No Music has commendably devoted its splendid season to contemporary classical music that squarely addresses the social issues that confront us today. Thursday’s noontime Worldwide Welcome bonus concert presents “new music from countries across the world that have been recently maligned and misunderstood in our national conversation,” including Arturo Corrales of El Salvador (​Folk You, Too​ for piccolo, violin, and piano), Joshua Uzoigwe of Nigeria (​Ukom​ for piano and hand drum), and Haitian-American Nathalie Joachim’s ​Aware​ for solo flute and electronics. Singer Arwen Myers stars in the Portland premiere of Daniel Felsenfeld’s ​Presidential Address.

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‘Faust’ review: giving the devil his due

Portland Opera’s dazzling new co-production lends depth and color to Gounod’s take on Goethe 

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

“Music,” the saying goes, “is the language of the soul.” But when that soul is sold to the Devil, as in Charles-Francois Gounod’s opera Faust, even some of the most beautiful musical lines ever written could not prevent the hell-bound downward spiral. In a slowly unraveling demonic mode, Portland Opera Association’s artistic forces presented an interdisciplinary Faustian wonderment on opening night last Friday at Keller Auditorium.

Setting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s massive Faust to music, let alone opera, is a huge undertaking. Gounod took several passes at getting his produced. When it was finally tweaked to his satisfaction in 1859, distilled to the dramatic essence, the five act opera went 19th century viral and has since become one of the most often staged operas of all time. New York’s Metropolitan Opera opened its doors in 1883 with a production of Gounod’s Faust.

Angel Blue and Jonathan Boyd in Portland Opera’s ‘Faust.’ Photo: Corey Weaver.

You might think Faust is the only reason his name is known, but wait: 1) Who superimposed a Catholic “Ave Maria” chant over the top of a Bach C major prelude to create one of the most loved works of all time; 2) Who wrote the ‘National Anthem’ of Vatican City (the Papal Hail to the Chief, as it were); 3) Who wrote the original theme to the Alfred Hitchcock television program? The answer to all three: Charles Gounod.

Gounod was born in Paris almost exactly 200 years before the June 17 closing performance of POA’s 2018 Faust production. He received composition awards in his early years at Paris Conservatory and in Rome. A devoted Catholic and family man who loved the music of Palestrina and Bach, Gounoud was an admirer and friend of Berlioz. He wrote symphonies that are not widely performed, a large number of choral works and one other opera of note, Romeo and Juliet.

With a handful of major singing roles, large mixed chorus and large orchestra, the story (libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre) is a balanced and dramatic work. An artist, Faust, his body and creativity degraded by old age, is contemplating suicide. He is enraged by young women outside singing of nature and God and calls out for Mephistopheles, who takes it from there.

Crossing Faust’s pathway to doom are Marguerite, paragon of feminine purity; Siebel, young boy, love-struck over Marguerite; Wagner, a soldier off to war; Valentin, also a soldier, and brother of Marguerite; and Marthe, a matronly friend of Marguerite. And for all except Marthe, Gounod has written arias that have become staples in solo vocal literature.

Portland Opera’s ‘Faust’ closes this weekend. Photo: Corey Weaver.

It wasn’t just the language of music, however, that told the tale at Keller Auditorium. The prodigious visual stagescape was the collaborative work of a troupe of stage-craft artists taking their artistic vision from California sculptor John Frame. (Read Paul Maziar’s ArtsWatch interview with Frame.) David Allen Moore (projection design) targeted images, some 3D, onto the stage with eerie precision. Vita Tzykun (set and costume), Duane Schuler (lighting) and stage director Kevin Newbury. colored, textured and shaded the drama.

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Designing ‘Faust’

In Portland Opera's new production of Gounod's classic, visual artist John Frame relies on collaborators to bring the audience inside the mind of the man who made the original deal with the devil

by PAUL MAZIAR

This June, the new Lyric Opera of Chicago-Portland Opera co-production of Charles Gounod’s Faust, directed by Kevin Newbury, will fill the Keller Auditorium stage for four performances, the production’s West Coast premiere. The visual artist John Frame —whose vignettes, sculptures, score and installations were a distinct hit when exhibited at the Portland Art Museum back in 2012 for his Three Fragments of a Lost Tale show — is the opera’s production designer. For Faust, Frame’s novel approaches to composition and his visionary aesthetic manage to locate the production inside Faust’s mind—and soul.

A scene from Portland Opera’s ‘Faust.’ Photo: Corey Weaver.

Although Gounod’s Faust is familiar, the Lyric Opera version was widely anticipated, in large part because of Frame’s reimaging of it, which includes sculpture, 3D projections, and a live video feed. It’s a production that, however augmented by contemporary technology, presents a world that’s of its own unique timeframe—neither present nor past.

“His art sees the world in a completely different way, reflecting the human condition in a way that’s poignant, dark and funny,” director Newbury told the Chicago Tribune about Frame’s work on the opera. “Our production team is taking his work as our inspiration. Because much of the opera is about Faust’s search for knowledge and truth, we portray him as an artist, searching for truth through his art.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: stagy sounds

From opera to musicals to concerts influenced by musical theater, this week’s Oregon stages teem with music written for dramatic productions.

This year’s PAMTA Awards may be history, Cabaret has closed and Les Miz and Portland Gay Men’s Chorus’s United States of Broadway don’t arrive till next week, but this week still offers abundant opportunities to hear music that originated in musicals, opera and other dramatic productions. 

 “Portland Opera’s brewing up a deal with the devil with its latest production of Charles Gounod’s Faust, opening June 8, and it’s likely to attract sizable audiences,” ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks, who apparently traded his soul for extensive knowledge of visual art, theater and music, told subscribers to our newsletter last week. “Something about this legend’s been fascinating readers and theater- and music-lovers for centuries. The thirst for knowledge, the overwhelming desire for pleasure and experience, the human who would be more than a god, the man with the ambition and arrogance to believe he can outwit the devil, or who just cares about winning right now so much that he doesn’t quite believe the future price he’s agreed to pay. The ripples of the story are everywhere, from politics to business to people’s love lives: win now, and damn the consequences.

Portland Opera’s ‘Faust’ opens this weekend. Photo: Corey Weaver.

“Portland Opera’s new Faust – a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago, where it premiered in March – is based visually on a world created by sculptor and artist John Frame. But the story he interprets is ageless. Gounod’s opera is based mostly on Part 1 of Goethe’s famous version of a legend that stretches back to a real person from the 15th and 16th centuries, Johann Georg Faust (and various other medieval/Renaissance folk characters) and forward to, well, at least now. Christopher Marlowe famously dropped in for a visit, as did traveling puppeteers who used Faust and Mephistopheles as sort of stock Punch-and-Judy characters. Turgenev and Thomas Mann tackled the subject. So did Berlioz and Wagner and Mahler and Liszt. Stephen Vincent Benét had fun with it in “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” and legend has it that the blues guitarist Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads and sold his soul in exchange for musical greatness (practice and innate talent no doubt had more to do with it). In István Szabó’s great 1981 movie Mephisto, based on Klaus Mann’s novel, a German actor essentially sells his soul to the Nazis in exchange for prestige and success.

“So, here comes Gounod’s Faust again. Our advice? Give the devil his due. But lend the opera your eyes and ears.” Our kissin’ cousin Artslandia’s new Toi Toi Toi magazine for Portland Opera has interviews with production designer Frame and star soprano Angel Blue. Stay tuned for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review. And ArtsWatch’s Marty Hughley will soon have the scoop on a couple of other musical theater productions onstage, Portland Center Stage’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill and Mocks Crest’s The Light in the Piazza.

When it appeared in 1970s, Leonard Bernstein’s Mass was, er, crucified by some who disapproved of the great American composer/conductor transforming sacred music into show tunes, or, even worse, rock and/or roll. Bernstein, whose centenary this year has occasioned numerous performances of his always dramatic music, just couldn’t keep theater out of even his non-Broadway compositions. He even called his Mass “a theater piece.”

Directed by Jon Kretzu and conducted by Justin Smith, Stumptown Stages’ new production Saturday and Sunday at Marylhurst University’s St. Anne Chapel stars stalwart baritone Douglas Webster as the Celebrant (a role he pretty much owns) plus the terrific Julianne Johnson, Katie Harman and Broadway veteran Kirk Mouser, experienced local soloists, Marylhurst Choral Union, Women’s Chorale and Pacific Youth Choir. Co-created by Marylhurst University’s music department, it’s an example of the loss to Oregon arts caused by the school’s impending closure.

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Brooklyn Rider & Kayhan Kalhor review: unchanging aesthetic

Poorly programmed contemporary music concert's strong opening and closing numbers can't compensate for a sagging middle

by TRISTAN BLISS

Beloved, do not let me be discouraged closed the first half of Brooklyn Rider and kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor‘s concert at Corvallis’s LaSells Stewart Center with the exact same highly digestible aesthetic it opened on. The May 24 program’s unchanging syrupy aesthetic left my mind to wander to the harsh life of the Himalayan mountain goat. I imagined David Attenborough so gracefully narrating the subsistence existence or brutal death which certainly lay ahead for my little goat. That is to say, Beloved and the concert’s unchanging aesthetic was that of music written to serve a function subservient to another medium, such as nature visuals.

The problem was: there was no other medium. Just a poorly programmed show with so much filler that my ears were deadened before I could enjoy the few compositions I would have otherwise appreciated.

Brooklyn Rider and Kayhan Kalhor. Photo: Reza Maleki.

I had attempted to spare myself this fate by researching BR to make sure I was part of the target audience. I perused their website and listened to their 2017 release of Philip Glass’s String Quartets 6 & 7. Now admittedly, I didn’t seek out Brooklyn Rider’s music with Kalhor or Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen’s compositions, both included in this particular show. But the signs seemed promising: A recent release of new music from a composer I enjoy (if not necessarily those specific works); a review hailing them as the “future of chamber music” (Strings magazine 2010); Kronos Quartet being considered a “similar artist” on their Spotify page, possibly for their release of Glass quartets; a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette description that called them “four classical musicians performing with the energy of young rock stars jamming on their guitars, a Beethoven-goes-indie foray into making classical music accessible but also celebrating why it was good in the first place.”

But Brooklyn Rider’s marketed image didn’t align with the actual programmatic flatlining I experienced. It’s true that Brooklyn Rider is accessible and “why it was good in the first place” is subjective, but there was no “rockstar” energy emanating from the stage. A “rockstar” implies a larger-than-life persona, a personality that seems irresistibly engaging, and the energy to sell that image so effectively the audience believes it’s who you really are. A “rockstar” knows they are not just performing separate musical pieces, but that a concert is one singular performance from the moment you step on stage to the moment the curtain drops, and if you’re not holding the audience’s attention, you’re losing it.

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MusicWatch Weekly: choral collaborations

Choirs join orchestras for major musical matchups on Oregon stages this week

Normally many of us have to wait till August’s William Byrd Festival to hear the fine Portland choir Cantores in Ecclesia in a public concert. But on Sunday afternoon at the beautiful Mount Angel Abbey outside Silverton, you can hear them sing a couple of 20th century French choral classics — Maurice Duruflé’s consoling Requiem with organ and chamber orchestra, and Francis Poulenc’s unaccompanied, exhilarating Mass in G.

Blake Applegate leads Cantores in Ecclesia.

Small ensembles and soloists from Consonare Chorale sing songs about life’s serendipitous silver linings Saturday at Portland’s Imago Dei, 1404 SE Ankeny.

Oregon Chorale continues to raise its artistic ambitions in its Saturday and Sunday concerts in Hillsboro, bringing in a full professional orchestra, PCC Rock Creek Chamber Singers, and four of Portland’s best vocal soloists – soprano Lindsey Cafferky, mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, tenor Les Green, tenor, and bass-baritone Damien Geter — to help perform Ralph Vaughan Williams’s sugary Serenade to Music and Franz Schubert’s Mass No. 5.

Jason Sabino leads Oregon Chorale. Photo: Don White.

Another choral-orchestral collaboration, Holst’s ever-popular The Planets, highlights the Vancouver Symphony’s season-closing concert with Vancouver USA Singers at Skyview Hall Saturday and Sunday. The how also features concertos starring the three gold medalists from its Young Artists Competition, and the Holst is enhanced by  award winning real-time high definition NASA animations and stills on big screens.

Speaking of award winning young musicians, you thought May’s Mahleria outbreak was over, but Metropolitan Youth Symphony performs still another Mahler symphony (his titanic first) Sunday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Three more competition-winning soloists star in concerto movements by Dvorak, Saint-Saens, and Bozza.

Raul Gomez conducts Metropolitan Youth Symphony Sunday.

Slightly older student musicians strut their stuff at the University of Oregon’s annual Spring Concert at Eugene’s Hult Center Saturday. The award winning Chamber Choir sings music by the late, great Estonian composer Veljo Tormis, and other tunes from the Philippines, Haiti, Scotland and even the good ol’ USA. The UO Wind Ensemble, Brass Quintet, and Orchestra also play music by Aaron Copland (the rarely heard Orchestral Variations), contemporary composers, and, on his centennial, the great Leonard Bernstein’s glorious Chichester Psalms (in collaboration with the University Choir) and a suite from his Mass. 

Meanwhile, Portland State’s international award winning choral programs close their season with a cross cultural collaboration with percussionist/ composer Valerie Naranjo, of the Saturday Night Live Band, who stars in a concert featuring African and Native American music. On Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Hall, PSU choirs will premiere new choral versions of her music written by our PSU choral director Ethan Sperry.

Led by Valerie Naranjo, PSU’s combined choirs ignited a dance party onstage during her last Portland appearance.

Another student orchestral collaboration, this one a rare pairing with a jazz big band, distinguishes Portland State University’s Jazz Symphonica concert Monday at Lincoln Hall. The school’s Jazz Ensemble and Orchestra join forces on arrangements of music by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Portland jazz composers Jim Pepper, Ezra Weiss, John Nastos, Dan Gaynor and Douglas Detrick.

Speaking of Portland composers, if you enjoyed our tripartite Composing in the Wilderness series last summer, you can hear four of the Cascadia Composers who participated in that creative Alaskan adventure  (Jennifer Wright, Brent Lawrence, Dawn Sonntag and Christina Rusnak) talk about their experience and share recordings of the music they wrote there Monday night at PSU’s Lincoln Hall.

And don’t forget about Sunday’s free concert of mostly 21st century chamber music by Emblems Wind Quintet. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview.

But let us return to jazz. The great Spanish born pianist and composer Chano Dominguez, best known here for his appearances with jazz stars like Wynton Marsalis, Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lovano and many others, brings his Flamenco Project to Portland5 Winningstad Theatre Sunday. This collaboration (with singer Blas Córdoba, flamenco dancer Daniel Navarro, bassist Alexis Cuadrado, and drummer Henry Cole) displays the  multiple Grammy nominee’s inventive fusions of ancient to modern flamenco music with American jazz.

Soprano Helen Huang gives a Portland Opera recital Tuesday.

After all these collaborations, let’s end with a pair of solo showcases. Actually, Portland Opera resident artist Helen Huang will have an accompanist, the company’s Chorus Master & Assistant Conductor Nicholas Fox, in her free Tuesday recital at Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium. But the spotlight will be on the rising young Beijing-born soprano (who grew up mostly in Virginia) in music by the great contemporary British composer Thomas Adès, Qing Yin and other Chinese composers, German late Romantics Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, and the supremely promising early 20th century French composer Lili Boulanger, who died way too young. These recitals are deservedly popular so reservations (503.241.1802 or PatronServices@portlandopera.org) are highly recommended.

Zoe Keating. Photo: Kirsten Shanley

Stellar solo cellist Zoe Keating is a longtime favorite of Oregon audiences and was even involved in the startup of what became Portland Cello Project. Since the 1980s, she’s been renowned for her pioneering DIY approach to both making music (solo electronic looping cello performances of classical and original music) and making a life in music (using the internet way before Facebook et al to build and nurture a worldwide audience). More recently, she’s been all over TED Talks and similar platforms advocating for independent musicians’ rights and dignity in an age of streaming and artistic devaluation. The last few years have brought big changes, including the birth of her child, the untimely early death of her husband, and a move to Vermont. But she seems to be on the road to recovery, and Thursday, that road leads back to Portland’s Aladdin Theatre for the latest reunion with her many Oregon fans, and possibly some new music emerging from her recent turbulent times.

More musical recommendations? By all means enlighten us in the comments section below.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

Portland Symphonic Choir review: new heights

Guest conductor Richard Sparks leads masterful performance of Martin's 'Mass' and a contemporary composition

by BRUCE BROWNE

A choir will rise to the occasion of a guest director, and new literature. But soar to new heights? Portland Symphonic Choir’s third candidate for permanent music director, Richard Sparks, brought something extra, something ethereal, to the confines of Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral last week. He coaxed a finesse, a cohesiveness of vocal tone in a cappella singing, in particular in the Frank Martin (1890-1974) Mass, that has not been heard in PSC for some time.

PSC’s performance shone a new, brighter light on themselves, and the justifiably famous Martin Mass (1922-26). This double choir a cappella mass is arguably one of the great pieces of the 20th century, though it lay in the composer’s desk drawer for a handful of decades, until brought to light by Eric Ericson and the Swedish Radio Choir in their magical BMI recording (first released in the 1970s and re-released in 2014 on Warner Classics.) This was an important impetus for many choral directors to learn the great depths of 20th century choral music, including that of Martin, Messiaen, Dallapiccola and Britten; no previous choral recording had ever had such an impact.

Portland Symphonic Choir

Never derivative, each movement exploring poetic new styles, the Mass is sui generis, compared to others of its ilk in the first half of the 20th century. One hears a pentatonic basis in the Resurrexit; long Renaissance polyphonic lines in the Kyrie; and a kind of thudding neo-primitivism in the Benedictus. The Sanctus is a revelation: washes of harmonic colors softly bouncing from one choir to the other bathing us in varied hues. One can almost hear the praying of the choir here and elsewhere in this work.

The Martin Mass is a barometer for choir excellence. Tuning must be taut – not the “did we end in the same key in which we started?” kind of tuning, but the internal meshing of intervals and harmony in the internal moving parts. This requires listening to each other and to the choral “core.” It also requires letting go of the personal singer sound for the co-operative one. All this must be mentored from the podium, and it happened here in the Martin.

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