MUSIC

MusicWatch Monthly: Second winter descends

Hymns, films, saxophones, French music, Local music

Oregon has two winters as well as two summers. We’ve just wrapped up First Winter: the time when it hasn’t gotten too terribly cold and miserable, holiday cheer is in the air, and everybody’s all excited for the solstice and the new year. Now that all that busyness is behind us, it’s time to hunker down for the rest of winter, the long cold dreary late morning of the soul, a grim season that seems to grind on forever and promises only the occasional snow day in compensation.

But we’re in luck: we get to ring in the Coming of Second Winter with a month of pleasantly undemanding concerts of medieval hymns, saxophone ensembles, live film music, and classical chamber music by a variety of French and Local composers. It all starts this weekend with Cappella Romana and the Hymns of Kassianë.

This weekend: nuns, saxes, oboe, and movies

“With a golden apple in his hand, Emperor Theophilos slowly walked between two lines of contending beauties; His eye was detained by the charms of Kassia, and, in the awkwardness of a first declaration the prince said that in this world, women had been the occasion of much evil,” from Eve on down. “And surely, Sir,” Kassia pertly replied, “they have likewise been the occasion of much good,” including Mary, who birthed Jesus.

Kassia’s impudence at a medieval beauty contest aimed at finding a bride for the ruler of Medieval Europe’s Eastern Empire may have cost the composer (born 810 in the Byzantine capitol Constantinople) her chance to become Byzantine empress. But it might have also sparked her to overcome the barriers female artists faced in her time—some of which remain. Kassia subsequently left the royal court, earned fame as a poet, philosopher, and activist who endured beatings and other persecution. And, like the later, more famous female medieval composer Hildegard of Bingen–she became abbess of her own convent. The Orthodox church later beatified her as St. Kassianë.

Continues…

Vision 2020: Niel DePonte

A Portland musical standout for more than 40 years, the percussionist, composer and conductor thinks about the thorny issues ahead

At the Oregon Symphony’s June 1 concert this year, Niel DePonte will play the famously energetic snare drum part in Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. The spring season will end his 42-year career as the symphony’s principal percussionist, a job he’s had since he was 24 years old. Symphonic percussionists’ duties have grown more complex in the past half-century, with all manner of bells and whistles added to scores. His responsibilities have burgeoned along with the bigger and, usually, better drumming parts.  

He’s retiring from that role, but head percussion guy is only one of several jobs DePonte juggles on Portland’s arts scene.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


He will continue to conduct the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra, something he’s done since 1985, and carry on his 26 years of work with MetroArts Inc. mentoring young musicians and pushing educational programs. Then there’s his composing and arranging, including his arrangement for Houston Ballet’s Peter Pan, played since 2002. That won’t stop, either.

Keeping all those artistic balls moving in harmony has gotten tougher as DePonte has turned grayer, he said in a recent interview. “These are high-wire jobs. When you’re trying to be perfect all the time (as a musician and conductor), and the number of performances has increased, it’s demanding. Artistic organizations are trying to grow and help artists to make a living. It’s a lot.”

Niel DePonte, amid the clatter and bang. Photo courtesy Oregon Symphony

DePonte grew up in the New York area in a high-achieving family where “education was the thing, and music was played.” His mother sang Italian opera by heart, a piano was in the house, he started drumming at 7, and earned a masters degree at Eastman School of Music. All in all,  “expectations were high,” he said.

Continues…

MusicWatch Holidays: Auld lang syne

Wring the last drops of joy from 2019 with punky, funky, trippy New Year's Eve concerts

New Year’s Eve, like Death, is the great equalizer. We all celebrate the solstice-adjacent holidays differently–Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule, Festivus, Hogswatch, and so on–but those of us who follow the Gregorian calendar all come to the end of 2019 at more or less the same time. As we look back on one crazy year and look forward to another that promises to be just as bonkers, we’re reminded that we’re all stuck in this Weirdest Possible Timeline together.

So now that the presents have all been opened and the grievances have all been aired, it’s time to kill the fading year’s unfulfilled hopes and dreams and plant them in the dark soil of the coming year, where they will either germinate and bloom or get eaten by squirrels.

Continues…

Music Notes: Comings, goings, stayings

Year end round up of recent news and moves in Oregon classical and jazz music

Portland Opera has named Sue Dixon the company’s sixth general director, replacing Christopher Mattaliano, who departed in June after 16 years. She’s served the company in other capacities since 2014. PO also temporarily assigned Mattaliano’s artistic direction responsibilities to Palm Beach Opera’s Daniel Biaggi, who’ll serve as interim artistic director until a permanent AD is found. The opera recently announced its return to a September – May schedule, beginning with the 2020/2021 season, and a five-year strategic plan to modernize business practices, augment community engagement, and balance the company’s budget. 

Sue Dixon, Portland Opera's new general director. Photo by Gia Goodrich.
Sue Dixon, Portland Opera’s new general director. Photo by Gia Goodrich.

Portland Piano International has named renowned Russian-American pianist Vladimir Feltsman its next Guest Curator for the 2020 / 2021 season. He will also open the season, performing on October 3 & 4, 2020.

• The Oregon Symphony has appointed Brooklyn-based composer and singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane to the newly-created post of Creative Chair. “In addition to writing and performing three substantial works over the next three seasons, Kahane will serve as an advisor for contemporary programming on the Classical series … and produce two new concert series: Open Music, a composer-driven chamber series held in smaller Portland venues, and an as yet unnamed indie concert series in which marquee pop artists will collaborate with dynamic composers and orchestrators,” the OSO press release announced.

Gabriel Kahane’s ‘emergency shelter intake form’ featured a “Chorus of Inconvenient Statistics.” From left: Holcombe Waller, Kahane, and Holland Andrews. Photo: Yi Yin.

Kahane’s emergency shelter intake form, co-commissioned by the orchestra, was a highlight of its previous season. In early December he presented the first of his new commissions (the world premiere of Pattern of the Rail, six orchestral settings from his 2018 album Book of Travelers, inspired by a cross country train trip through America following the contentious 2016 presidential election, and the premiere of the full orchestral version of “Empire Liquor Mart (9127 S. Figueroa St.)” from his moving 2014 album, The Ambassador).

• While artistic leaders come and go, the Eugene Symphony announced that its artistic director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, is staying, and has renewed his contract through 2023. In his two seasons at the helm, Lecce-Chong has undertaken a number of initiatives, the most promising being ESO’s First Symphony Project, co-commissioning (with his other orchestra, California’s Santa Rosa Symphony) four American orchestral works to be performed over the next four years, beginning with a new work from New York-based composer Matt Browne in March 2020.

Francesco Lecce-Chong conducting the Eugene Symphony Orchestra at the Hult Center.

• Eugene’s other major classical music institution, the Oregon Bach Festival, parted ways with its controversial executive director, Janelle McCoy, blaming the elimination of her position on university budget cuts. Earlier, the festival reversed her decision to replace the popular artistic director she reportedly chased away, Matthew Halls, with rotating curators and instead embarked on a search for an actual artistic director.

Oregon Mozart Players has appointed a new Executive Director, Daren Fuster. He comes to the Eugene chamber orchestra from Ohio’s Columbus Symphony. Kelly Kuo remains the organization’s Artistic Director.

Siletz Bay Music Festival has named Jain Sekuler, its stage manager and production coordinator for the last three years, as its new Executive Director. Yaacov Bergman continues as Artistic Director, a position he has held for ten years.

Resonance Ensemble board president Dinah Dodds died in September. The longtime Lewis & Clark College professor was a great friend to Oregon music. Resonance has set up the Dinah Dodds Fund for the Creation of New Art in her memory.

• Portland-based jazz legend Dave Frishberg is, happily, still with us, but the 86 year old composer/singer/pianist and his wife April need some help with medical issues, which you can provide here

• Frishberg was the first recipient of PDX Jazz‘s Portland Jazz Master award, in 2011. The organization just named the 2020 winner, the superb singer Rebecca Kilgore, who’s recorded with Frishberg and many other American jazz legends. Already a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame and Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Fame, she’ll be honored during the PDX Jazz Festival’s February 27 event at The Old Church and perform with her trio the next day.

• Opera tenor Marcello Giordani, who made his American debut at Portland Opera in The Pearl Fishers and sang with the company several times under artistic director Robert Bailey before becoming a star at the Metropolitan Opera and Paris Operas and other major companies, has died in Sicily at age 56. 

• After 14 years running Central Oregon’s Sunriver Music Festival, executive director Pam Beezley is retiring at the end of the year, and the festival has launched a search to succeed her. 

•  Richard Lehnert, the respected longtime copyeditor of Stereophile, most recently at the magazine’s Ashland offices, has retired after 34 years, leaving behind a sweet reminiscence of his long tenure at one of the world’s leading music magazines.

Laurels & Shekels

Ethan Sperry conducts an Oregon Repertory Singers rehearsal at Portland State University. Photo by Paige Baker.
Ethan Sperry conducts an Oregon Repertory Singers rehearsal at Portland State University. Photo by Paige Baker.

•  Oregon Repertory Singers has won the 2019 American Prize in Choral Performance in the community chorus division. The major national performing arts prize is the latest earned by choirs directed by Ethan Sperry, the ORS artistic director who has also guided Portland State University’s choral singers to many national and international awards.

• Another Portland chorus, Sing Portland!, was the only adult choir from the US selected to perform at Carnegie Hall at a conference and three-day residency organized by Distinguished Concerts International New York that featured 500 singers from around the world. They’ll be returning in 2021. 

Sing Portland! at Distinguished Concerts International New York. Photo by Kristin Jacobson.
Sing Portland! at Distinguished Concerts International New York. Photo by Kristin Jacobson.

• The University of Oregon Chamber Choir won first place in the chamber choirs/vocal ensemble category at the Grand Prix of Nations in Gothenburg, Sweden, earlier this month, beating out 15 other choirs from around the world at one of Europe’s most prestigious choral competitions.

BRAVO Youth Orchestra trombonist Eric Acosta-Medina was among 100 students from around the country selected to perform in a July concert with the YOLA National Orchestra in Los Angeles’s Walt Disney Concert Hall conducted by Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel. BRAVO is performing seven times around Portland in December.

• Portland’s Resonance Ensemble has been awarded a $100,000 grant from Oregon Community Foundation’s Creative Heights Initiative to help fund the world premiere of composer (and ArtsWatch contributor) Damien Geter’s An African American Requiem, which the choir commissioned and will perform with the Oregon Symphony on May 23 at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

• Several music organizations received grants in the Oregon Cultural Trust’s 2020 grants:

Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s Music and Equity Program that addresses barriers to instrumental music for low-income youth;

Ethos Inc.’s rural outreach program Music Across Oregon;

My Voice Music’s artist mentorship after school programs for working families;

Phame Academy’s original rock opera;

Oregon Symphony’s programs for low income students (Kinderkonzerts, Young Peoples Concerts, Link Up, open rehearsals and Prelude Series);

Pacific Youth Choir’s expanded Neighborhood Choir for elementary school students;

Eugene Symphony’s youth music education programs;

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s touring program; 

Eugene-Springfield Youth Orchestras’ introductory strings classes;

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s From Maxville to Vanport program;

Marilyn Keller with PJCE in ‘From Maxville to Vanport.’

Montavilla Jazz Festival’s program expansion;

Third Angle New Music’s upcoming Sanctuaries original chamber opera by Portland composer, arranger, educator and pianist Darrell Grant (last year’s winner of the Portland Jazz Master award that Becky Kilgore just won) with a libretto by two-time National Poetry Slam Champion Anis Mojgani and directed by Alexander Gedeon. Sanctuaries also scored a $25,000 from the New York-based MAP Fund, the only Oregon-based arts group to earn one of the 42 original live performance projects to receive that grant.

Chamber Music Northwest’s 50th anniversary season’s community outreach activities for resident ensembles;

Fear No Music’s “The F Word” concert;

In Mulieribus’s October concert commemorating the 400th anniversary of the birth of composer Barbara Strozzi;

and operational support for Portland Baroque Orchestra, Portland Columbia Symphony, Southern Oregon Repertory Singers, Eugene Opera, and Shedd Institute for the Arts.

Composer Jake Runestad discusses his new orchestral work World On Fire, commissioned by the Oregon Coast Music Festival, and inspired by the massive fires that swept over Oregon in 2017. It premiered in July at Coos Bay’s Marshfield High School Auditorium. 

Positive Developments

All Classical Portland announced a new Music Heals initiative, a comprehensive radio, web, and social media campaign designed to raise awareness of local organizations that are using music to heal and help connect community members to those resources. It follows on the public radio station’s 2017-18 Music Feeds campaign, which provided 53,538 meals to those in need in Oregon and SW Washington.

Portland’5 Centers for the Arts has partnered with KultureCity to make Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Keller Auditorium, Newmark Theatre, Winningstad Theatre, and Brunish Theatre, and all of the programs and events that they host, to be sensory inclusive. Portland’5 staff received training and equipment to improve the listening experience for customers with autism, dementia, PTSD and other similar conditions.

Classical Music ain’t dead yet! If you have more news about Oregon music you’d like us to consider for these occasional roundups, or for other OAW coverage, please let us know at music@orartswatch.org.

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch

MusicWatch Weekly: Year end album guide

Get your healthy 78 minutes of listening with albums of modern classical, vintage pop, nouveau prog, Australian psych, and Portland Gothic

We recently came across a study showing that 78 minutes of music a day can have a positive impact on mental health. Now, this particular study wants to break it down into percentages and so on: yet another instance of the commercialized slicing and dicing that gave us the one-minute bible and endless “classical adagios” compilations. I say cancel all that noise and damn it to hell. Listen to what pleases you. Don’t make a goddamn recipe of it, reducing Glorious Music to a set of instructions. If you’re going to do that, you might as well buy one of Philip K. Dick’s Penfield Mood Organs and relax into navel-gazing oblivion.

Anyways, the main takeaway here is that curiously specific 78-minute block of time, which just happens to be pretty close to the exact length of a CD (remember CDs?)–and that’s probably no coincidence. Various other studies (start here) have shown that our brains prefer twenty-minute chunks of mental processing, and if you string four of those chunks together you get your basic symphony. Vinyl LPs (remember LPs?) followed the same flow format, their 20-minute sides strung together into 40-minute single albums and 80-minute double albums. Scale that back down and you get mini-albums and EPs. These usually these clock in at a brain-friendly 20-30 minutes, shorter than a full-length album but also distinctly more substantial and coherent than a mere collection of songs.

Continues…

Singing across the centuries

Excoriated musical Americana lives on with Portland Sacred Harp’s recent shape note singing convention

By DANIEL HEILA

I was running a bit late for my visit to Portland Sacred Harp’s Pacific Northwest Convention at the Laurelhurst Club. The parking options were few on Ankeny Street down along the bottom of Laurelhurst Park, but I found a tight space about a quarter mile up the street from the club and squeezed in. Lucky me, since the stroll down to the event was alongside giant evergreens, quiet pathways, and distant green swards where folks walked or jogged, caught up in the serenity of the place. I admit, I was timid about attending the event. I am a bit of an introvert, and, although I like to sing, I was not sure I wanted to put myself out there in a crowd of strangers.

I shouldn’t have worried. That crowd on this October day was nowhere to be found. Instead, inside the woody confines of the lodge ballroom (complete with crackling fireplace blaze) I found a familiar family of folkways enthusiasts. Someone’s grandpa greeted me at the doorway with a smile (there was a definite edge of interest at my unfamiliar face) and thrust a loaner copy of The Sacred Harp songbook into my empty hands. I filled out a name tag with the dorky tagline “Talk to me about Sacred Harp!”, slapped it on my lapel and headed into my foray.

The singers were on a break and milling about saying hello to friends and being introduced to new faces. Volunteers were going about their duties, one of which was preparing the long banquet table for the potluck lunch to come at noon. The comforting smells issuing from the kitchen piqued my appetite, and I sheepishly considered being late to my next appointment. A glance around the room revealed a demographic that I have considerable experience with via the New England contradancing scene: mostly 30-60ish men and women, a handful of seniors and people of color, a few brave teens and twenty‑somethings, and a marauding flock of tweens, tots, and rug rats of various sizes. I started to relax.

Portland Sacred Harp performed shape note music in October. Photo by Daniel Heila.
Portland Sacred Harp performed shape note music in October.

Continues…

Storm Large: from Deadly Sins to Holiday Ordeal

An interview with the star of Seven Deadly Sins, bringing her holiday show to the Schnitz tonight

Local singer-composer-writer Storm Large made a new fan this May. I can’t say I was a huge fan before her stellar performance of Kurt Weill’s creepy Seven Deadly Sins with the Oregon Symphony earlier this year. Her voice is magnificent, and as a performer she has impressively commanding charm, but genrewise the American Songbook sound she usually specializes in is simply not my cup of coffee. It’s all great, of course–I wouldn’t be telling you about her otherwise, and if it’s your cup of coffee you should definitely put on her terrific 2015 album Le Bonheur (or dip into the Pink Martini back catalogue, where you’ll find gems like 2013’s Get Happy). But the present author’s tastes always demand something musically a little nastier. Lucky us: that’s exactly what we got with Large’s Weill.

Our hometown orchestra–a well-balanced band with equal affection for Hadyn and Shostakovich–does a lot of work in the fertile in-between ground where pop and classical hang out to smoke weed. OSO’s Steven Hackman mashup concerts have been well-attended and enthusiastically received: peanut-butter-and-chocolate affairs that have been as much about Brahms and Tchaikovsky as they were about Radiohead and Drake (still waiting for the Bartók v. Björk show). And earlier this year, when the OSO decided to create a Creative Chair position for a living composer, they chose Gabriel Kahane–perhaps the most well-known pop-classical composer alive.

Seven Deadly Sins is another important step into that fertile ground–just playing the rebellious hybrid composer’s music at all is a fairly bold move, and hiring a local singer who’s not generally known for classical music is outright audacious. But the collaboration was a canny move: Large, who first sang the work with OSO in 2010, is hardly a nobody, and her devoted fan base showed up in force to hear her knock it out of the park and steal the whole fucking season.

Continues…