Oregon Cultural Trust

Classical Up Close: Taking the music to the people

The classical group's spring season of free pop-up and full-length shows gets out of the concert halls and into book stores, cafes, churches, and other places where people gather.

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Classical Up Close’s Shin-young Kwon leading a movement of the Mozart String Quintet at Powell’s City of Books. Photo: Joe Cantrell

If it’s springtime, a gathering of some of Portland’s finest musicians are packing their show and taking it on the road. Not too far on the road, but away from the concert halls: Out and about in Portland and its vicinity, into the places where people, and potential audiences, ordinarily gather.

At 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon, April 23, Classical Up Close‘s 2024-season musical party of free pop-up shows and full-length concerts set up for business downtown inside Powell’s City of Books, where a string quartet consisting of Emily Cole and Shin-young Kwon, violins; Maia Hoffman, viola; and Seth Biagini, cello were joined in the first piece, a Mozart Clarinet Quintet, by Oregon Symphony Principal Clarinetist James Shields.

Classical Up Close musicians playing the Mozart Clarinet Quintet for a gathering at Powell’s City of Books. Photo: Joe Cantrell

It was a celebratory return for Classical Up Close, or CLUC, and musicians and audience members alike appeared to be enjoying every minute of it. The string quartet performed a full Mozart String Quartet, split between the second and third movements for questions and responses from the audience, including a number of Classical Up Close regulars over years of performances. (Read about CLUC’s origin story.)

Oregon Symphony Concertmaster Sarah Kwak, left, discussing Classical Up Close matters with an interested fan at Powell’s City of Books. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Once again, the audience was enthusiastic and the questions and responses were smart — perhaps not surprising in this temple of books, a regular visiting spot over the years for Classical Up Close.

Seth Biagini, cellist in Classical Up Close’s pop-up string ensemble at Powell’s City of Books. Photo: Joe Cantrell
Oregon Symphony clarinetist James Shields during the Mozart Clarinet Quintet at Powell’s City of Books. Photo: Joe Cantrell
Shin-young Kwon and Emily Cole in full voice during the Mozart Quartet. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Earlier last week, Classical Up Close began its 2024 season of public performances with a “pop-up” — a casual performance, usually by one ensemble, lasting around 40 minutes. This one was in the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, a venue familiar to CLUC, featuring the violin duo of Margaret Zeng and Shengnan Li with a beautifully prepared program including a pair of Mozart Duos for Two Violins plus Henryk Wieniawski’s Etudes-Caprices Op.18, No.1 and L’École Moderne Op.10, No.5 Alla Saltarella.

Violinists Shengnan Li and Margaret Zeng performing at Mittleman Jewish Community Center. Photo: Joe Cantrell

The performance was extraordinary, even for musicians of CLUC’s high caliber (most of the group’s members are also members of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra), although attendance was light. Those who made it to the pop-up were rewarded: One couple drove in from the coast and were very happy they had. Acoustics in the room assigned were lovely, and the small audience made up for their number with intelligent and informed questions and obvious engagement with the violinists.

Nancy Ives (right), Oregon Symphony’s Principal Cellist, emcees the performance by violinists Shengnan Li and Margaret Zeng at Mittleman Jewish Community Center. Photo: Joe Cantrell

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Several more Classical Up Close performances are coming up, both pop-ups and full-length concerts:

  • 7 p.m. April 23: Full-length concert with All Classical Radio host Christa Wessel as emcee, First Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1816 N.W. Irving St., Portland.
  • 2 p.m. April 24: Pop-up string trio with Emily Cole, Charles Noble, and Trevor Fitzpatrick, Westmoreland’s Union Manor, 6404 S.E. 23rd Ave., Portland.
  • 7 p.m. April 26: Full-length concert with All Classical Radio host Christa Wessel as emcee, Hillsdale Community Church, United Church of Christ, 6948 S.W. Capitol Highway, Portland.
  • 7 p.m. April 30: Full-length concert with All Classical Radio host Christa Wessel as emcee, The Old Madeleine Church, 3123 N.E. 24th Ave., Portland.
  • 7 p.m. May 1: Pop-up with violin due Peter Frajola and Erin Furbee, Wonderwood Springs Cafe, 8811 N. Lombard St., Portland.
  • 2 p.m. May 2: Pop-up with Rose City Brass Quintet, Beaverton City Library, 12375 S.W. Fifth St., Beaverton.
  • 7 p.m. May 3: Full-length concert with All Classical Radio host Christa Wessel as emcee, Memorial Presbyterian Church, 1814 S.E. Bybee Blvd., Portland.
  • 1 and 2:15 p.m. May 5: Two kids’ concerts, about 45 minutes each and open to kids of all ages, Multnomah County Central Library, 801 S.W. 10th Ave., Portland.
  • 7 p.m. May 7: Full-length concert with All Classical Radio host Christa Wessel as emcee, Red Sea Community Church, 7535 N. Chicago Ave., Portland.
  • 7 p.m. May 8: Full-length concert with All Classical Radio host Christa Wessel as emcee, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, 11265 S.W.. Cabot St., Beaverton.

The musicians taking an end-of-show bow at Powell’s City of Books. Photo: Joe Cantrell

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Photo Joe Cantrell

I spent my first 21 years in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, assuming that except for a few unfortunate spots, ‘everybody’ was part Cherokee, and son of the soil. Volunteered for Vietnam because that’s what we did. After two stints, hoping to gain insight, perhaps do something constructive, I spent the next 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, living much like the lower income urban peasants and learning a lot. Moved back to the USA in 1986, tried photojournalism and found that the most important subjects were football and basketball, never mind humankind. In 1992, age 46, I became single dad of my 3-year-old daughter and spent the next two decades working regular jobs, at which I was not very good, to keep a roof over our heads, but we made it. She’s retail sales supervisor for Sony, Los Angeles. Wowee! The VA finally acknowledged that the war had affected me badly and gave me a disability pension. I regard that as a stipend for continuing to serve humanity as I can, to use my abilities to facilitate insight and awareness, so I shoot a lot of volunteer stuff for worthy institutions and do artistic/scientific work from our Cherokee perspective well into many nights. Come along!

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