MUSIC

‘Romeo and Juliet’ kicks off summer theater in wine country

Penguin Productions brings Shakespeare's tragedy to the outdoor stage, plus more Bard outdoors in Beaverton, and World Beat Festival in Salem

Penguin Productions was the new kid on Yamhill County’s theater scene just a couple of years ago, mounting productions of Macbeth and As You Like It right out of the gate. Last year, they forged ahead with Hamlet and Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. On Friday, the company opens its third season with more Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet.

Cambria Herrera will direct "Romeo and Juliet" at Penguin Productions.
Cambria Herrera will direct “Romeo and Juliet” at Penguin Productions. Photo by: Piper Tuor Photography

These are professionals, many of whom have been seasoned on Portland stages in recent years, and for season three we have a couple of George Fox University alums who are doing some heavy lifting for one of Shakespeare’s oft-performed tragedies.

Director Cambria Herrera earned a BA in acting and directing from the Newberg-based Christian college. Recent credits include: Peter/Wendy at Bag&Baggage, The Little Mermaids Project at Enso Theatre Ensemble, Proof at Valley Repertory Theatre, and Balkan Women and Twelfth Night at George Fox. Herrera is also a facilitator/co-founder of the AGE Women of Color in PDX Theatre Collective and serves on the leadership committee for PDX Latinx Pride.

Also from George Fox is Olivia Anderson, who spent a year at the university as an adjunct director for University Players, a traveling, student storytelling-ensemble that tours original shows around the region. She will play Juliet across from Brandon Vilanova’s Romeo. Vilanova hails from the Pacific Conservatory Theatre Professional Acting Training Program and has worked at San Diego Repertory Theatre, San Diego Old Globe Theatre, Santa Maria Pacific Conservatory Theatre, and Bag&Baggage. Stephanie Spencer, who played Ophelia in last year’s Hamlet and Mabel in An Ideal Husband, takes on the coveted role of Mercutio.

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Makrokosmos Project: expansive vision

Fifth annual festival of 20th and 21st century music creates and relies on community

When Portland native Stephanie Ho first heard Makrokosmos, the massive, four-volume cycle of amplified piano and percussion music written in the 1970s by one of America’s greatest living composers, George Crumb, she thought, “I haven’t lived on this Earth until I heard this music,” she remembered. 

Years after that epiphany at Oberlin College’s prestigious music school, Ho and her husband and piano duo partner Saar Ahuvia decided to play Crumb’s mega-masterwork to inaugurate their first Portland festival — which they named.

Makrokosmos Project turned out to be an apt name for their annual five-hour, come-and-go-as-you-please music marathon, which happens for the fifth time from 5 to 10 p.m. this Thursday, June 27, at Portland’s Vestas Building. A macrocosm is a social body made of smaller compounds — in this case, a series of five 30- to 45-minute concerts with breaks for locally sourced vino, vittles, and conversation. And the expansiveness the name suggests also alludes to the broad audience the festival seeks for new and often unfamiliar music by creating a relaxed, communal experience.

E Pluribus Unum

The festival started because Ho and Ahuvia, a married couple who live in New York City, visited Ho’s native Portland each summer to catch up with family — and nature. Their friend Harold Gray, the Portland State University professor and pianist who founded Portland Piano International, suggested that “instead of only doing so much hiking, we should do something musical, too,” Ahuvia recalled.

Stephanie & Saar performing in Portland.

After all, as DUO Stephanie & Saar, the pair of powerhouse pianists had earned a national reputation for their performances of classical and contemporary music. Since moving to New York in 2004, they’d staged performances in “strange venues” like World Financial Center and One Liberty Plaza in lower Manhattan, Bank of America building in LA, (le) poisson rouge in NYC (the old Village Gate – a grungy indie-rock club), Knockdown Center in Queens (an old doorknob factory that has been transformed into a gallery and performance space), and the basement bar of the now closed Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village. “If any place was up to that, it was Portland,” which is all about keeping it weird.

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Column Zero: Summer comes alive

Chamber Music Northwest blows its clarinets, Storm Large sings about craziness, Makrokosmos gets nightmarish

We here at Oregon Arts Watch tend to pay a lot of attention to Oregon composers. In a sense, our job is made easier by the problem outlined yesterday by Senior Editor Brett Campbell: we like local composers, living or recent, diverse in gender and age and race and genre. That’s exactly who is often underrepresented in the largest institutions, and—lucky us!—that means we have a journalistic obligation to write about exactly the artists we’d want to write about anyways.

Wolfie

But never mind that for a moment—I want to talk to you about Mozart. We’ll come back to Kenji Bunch and Storm Large and George Crumb and Tōru Takemitsu and all the rest, but for right now I want to take the somewhat contrary position that we should absolutely be happy about hearing Mozart’s clarinet music at Chamber Music Northwest this week.

The pair of opening concerts (Reed College June 24, PSU June 25) are a handy confluence of musical meanings. Outgoing CMNW Artistic Director David Shifrin is, of course, a very fine clarinetist himself, and in past years has dazzled and transported us with gorgeous renditions of everything from Bach and Mozart to Messiaen and Akiho. This season—his second-to-last before handing the reins to Gloria Chien and Soovin Kim for the 2020/21 season—thus fittingly concludes with a whole lot of clarinet music. And, because this is CMNW, the concerts stretch all the way back to the instrument’s first great composer and all the way forward to recent and newly commissioned works by those beloved modern composers we talked about earlier.

But they’ll have to wait a little longer while I justify Mozart to the kids.

Chamber Music Northwest Artistic Director David Shifrin

You probably learned in music history class or here on internet that Mozart was pals with pioneering Viennese clarinetist Anton Stadler, an early virtuoso who sold Mozart on the new instrument’s charms. It’s a pretty weird instrument, essentially three instruments in one body, its lower chalumeau register stretching almost to the bottom of the cello’s range, its upper clarion and altissimo registers covering the violin’s entire range. Its tone is unlike any other woodwind instrument, a “long purply sound” in Berio’s phrase, somewhere between a human voice and a bowed string instrument.Mozart ended up composing plenty of really good music featuring clarinets and their sibling basset horns, and the best of it pairs the Frankenstein instrument with voices and/or strings—an ideal blend of sound colors and expressive possibilities.

Mozart ended up composing plenty of really good music featuring clarinets and their sibling basset horns, and the best of it pairs the Frankenstein instrument with voices and/or strings—an ideal blend of sound colors and expressive possibilities.

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The Sound of Changing Times

ArtsWatch welcomes new music editor; predecessor reflects on Oregon’s blossoming contemporary classical music scene.

A concert is never about only the music. Otherwise we’d just listen to a recording on headphones. At Pyxis Quartet’s Feb 15 concert at Portland’s Old Church, which on that rainy evening felt like the most consequential performance I’ve attended in Portland, the music offered some splendid moments. But there was much more at stake.

The most important was the event that sparked it. The concert was an artistic response to the horrifying homicidal 2017 stabbings on Portland’s Max train. One of the survivors, poet Micah Fletcher, already known around Portland State University as a superlative poet even before he became famous in a way no one wants, performed his original poetry, which also inspired all the compositions on the program, including Nicholas Yandell’s opening Crisis Actor.

Nicholas Yandell and Pyxis Quartet perform at The Old Church in 2018. Photo by Milton Bliss.
Nicholas Yandell and Pyxis Quartet perform at The Old Church in 2018. Photo by Milton Bliss.

Just before the composer intoned Fletcher’s words as part of the performance, the lighting turned blood red. That chilling extra-musical effect (made possible, not incidentally, by contributions to the Old Church that allowed a new lighting system that dramatically enhances the music performed in that essential Oregon arts venue) added a dimension to the performance by evoking the bloody attack that inspired it.

Both poetry and music were commissioned by Pyxis’s parent organization, 45th Parallel Universe. That is: they paid some of Portland’s most accomplished artists to create this artistic response to the terrifying crime against our community — a wholly admirable act of artistic and community vision. They put their money where their morals were. They saw their community attacked — and they responded in the best way artists can, with original creations that directly defied it. Many moments in that concert rose to the occasion, and as a whole, it helped me engage with the still unresolved feelings the killings provoked.

What made that possible was the vision of 45th Parallel founder Greg Ewer, who conceived the concert, composers Yandell, Kenji Bunch, Bonnie Miksch and Texu Kim, supporters like the invaluable and indefatigable Ronnie Lacroute, ticket buyers, and above all poet Fletcher, who insisted on being more than a victim. These committed community members deserve our deepest gratitude.

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Festival changes with tide and time

Siletz Bay Music Festival, with roots stretching back 32 years, begins Wednesday and offers chamber, jazz, cabaret, and symphonic concerts, but no hip hop -- yet

Can a festival founded three decades ago and dedicated to chamber music remain relevant today with a younger crowd?  

As a matter of fact, says Siletz Bay Music Festival conductor Yaacov Bergman,  it can and does. The festival hasn’t been about only chamber or classical music for some time, opening its program to performances of jazz, cabaret, big band, musical theater, and beyond.

Yaacov Bergman, artistic director of the Siletz Bay Music Festival since 2009, says of artistic fusion at the 32-year-old festival, “let’s bring it on.”
Yaacov Bergman, artistic director of the Siletz Bay Music Festival since 2009, says of artistic fusion at the festival, “let’s bring it on.”

“It started out so much more conservative from where we are today,” said Bergman, who has been the festival’s artistic director since 2009. “This festival attracts remarkable composers and performers. They come with a repertoire they always wanted to do, one that stretches the imagination. This is so advanced and so stimulating, I imagine that will be one of the things that helps us bring in a younger audience in the future, too. We already see younger members in our audience. My philosophy is artist fusion, let’s bring it on. Anything in good taste, anything not mediocre, I’m totally open to.”

Even, I ask, hip hop?

Bergman laughs. “Are you kidding? I grew up with hip hop.”

The festival begins Wednesday, June 19, and runs 16 days. Performances in four Lincoln City-area venues include eight chamber music concerts; four evenings of jazz, cabaret, musical theater and American songbook concerts; and three symphonic concerts, including a free Young People’s Concert, Peter and the Wolf. Seating is full for two other free concerts, but concert rehearsals also are free.

Sarah Kwak
Sarah Kwak

Performers include Sarah Kwak, violinist and concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony; Mei-Ting Sun, gold medal winner in the 2005 National Chopin Competition; and Ken Peplowski, the clarinetist often referred to as the “living Benny Goodman.”

The festival’s roots stretch back to an informal series of salons held in the 1980s in the home of music professor and part-time Coast resident Sergiu Luca. In 1987, the  Cascade Head Music Festival was born, with Luca as artistic director. The festival was renamed the Siletz Bay Music Festival in 2011.

But as the festival racked up the years, so did its most loyal fans, leaving its fate in the hands of a younger audience.

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Music Notes: transitions & triumphs

Summer roundup of recent news in Oregon classical and jazz music

Oregon’s leading classical music public radio station All Classical Portland has launched a brand-new second radio network, for children. The International Children’s Arts Network (ICAN) is a 24-hour radio service and, the station announcement says, is the first of its kind in the US. Designed for young listeners, the network features music, poems, and literature from around the world, locally produced and curated by All Classical Portland. “ICAN provides an audio destination where kids can be inspired to listen, dance, color outside the lines, and create their own adventures,” ICAN Program Manager Sarah Zwinklis said in a press release. “Much of the content on the network will be presented by children – we believe in the power of these young voices.” Listen online at allclassical.org/ican or through an HD Radio.

The station also operates a free arts journalism mentorship program that selects three high school age (ages 15-18) students from Oregon & SW Washington to be Youth Roving Reporters each year. From September – June, they’ll learn how to use recording equipment in the field, attend two arts events, conduct interviews with artistic leaders or performers, and learn to produce their interviews for radio broadcast. As ArtsWatch has previously reported, it also operates JOY: an Artist in Residence program, which includes a young artist residency.

Laurels & Shekels

• Speaking of All Classical Portland, Metropolitan Youth Symphony presented the station its 2019 Musical Hero Award in April. The station’s On Deck with Young Musicians program has featured dozens of MYS musicians in performances and interviews with All Classical Portland host and producer Christa Wessel.

• The Oregon Symphony presented its 2019 Schnitzer Wonder Award to Mariachi Una Voz of the Hillsboro School District. Launched in 2010 and including strings, brass, and singing, the group’s mission is to promote cultural understanding and community unity through music education and performance. Participation is free and open to all Hillsboro middle- and high-school students. It has performed on more than 100 school and community events, performing in venues as diverse as the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts theaters, the Moda Center, major regional cultural festivals, and schools, libraries and hospitals.

“Every child who wishes to learn to play a musical instrument should have the opportunity,” said founder and manager Dan Bosshardt in a press release. “The students that find their way to our group have inspiring personal stories. They have very supportive families that often do not have the financial means to provide transportation, instruments, lessons, or private instruction.”

• ArtsWatch congratulates a pair of Portland choral music leaders who just scored major national awards from Chorus America. Resonance Ensemble artistic director Katherine FitzGibbon won the 2019 Botto Award named after Chanticleer founder Louis Botto. She “has captained a bold organizational shift—from its original mission exploring links between music, art, poetry, and theatre, to a new focus exclusively on presenting concerts that promote meaningful social change.”

Katherine FitzGibbon leading Resonance Ensemble

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by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

Opening night at the final classical concert of the Oregon Symphony season showcased two masterful works bursting with the drama and imagination that make composers Gustav Mahler and Kurt Weill especially popular today. Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D  and Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins were not popular in their own times and places, however. 

Mahler’s audiences at the premiere in Budapest in 1889 were confused and overtly put off by the unconventional work. The 29-year-old, who had been engaged in his conducting career for almost a decade, went on to make numerous changes until the formal publication in 1888, with the “final” version completed in 1896 (although tweaked by Mahler for years to come). The year it premiered, Mahler, born an Austro-Bohemian, also received the conducting post he had long coveted, the Vienna Hofoper (Vienna Opera). He balanced composing and conducting for the rest of his short life. 

Storm Large joined the Oregon Symphony for Weill’s ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ in 2012. Photo: John Rudoff.

Two generations later, Kurt Weill was experiencing tremendous success in the German Weimar (post World War I) culture as a composer of stage works. Born in Germany in 1900, his professional career blossomed in the 1920 – 1930 period. Though he composed several traditional “classical” works, which showed influences of Mahler and Stravinsky, Weill earned popularity for his politically and socially charged stage works, one-act opera, vocal music and musical theater.  

But by the time he completed his Seven Deadly Sins, the Weimar republic had collapsed, Hitler came to power, and Weill’s music was reviled in Nazi Germany. Mahler’s earlier music was also labeled degenerate and banned. Both composers were Jewish and subjected to the anti-Semitic social/political climate in their homelands. As Jews were not allowed to hold high positions in Vienna in 1889, Mahler “converted” to Roman Catholicism. 

Weill fled the country in 1933, taking his art to Paris, where Seven Deadly Sins was commissioned and premiered that year. The rebirth of Mahler’s music would come after World War II, aided by an American conductor named Bernstein. 

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