We soon bid adieu to April and follow the long awaited path of the sun into May with choral pairings, partnerships and premieres. A youth orchestra splits its personality to partner with two different choirs; two separate ensembles bring us two very different Requiems and another ensemble serves up their music two ways. A couple of choirs share the stage to honor diversity and promote social change and a women’s ensemble performs in Parkrose.
But wait, there’s more. Get some R & R when two composers currently riding the choral jet stream drop into PDX; stop by to help celebrate a co-conductors’ 25th season; chill out to sacred choral music resonating through Mt. Angel Abbey; and appreciate a festival that nurtures new choral music, this time premiering two works.
Yes, premieres will spring up like leaf lettuce in May. There are eight Northwest or World premiere choral pieces in the next three weeks. Time for a closer look.
Apparently there are mood-accommodating algorithms built into music streaming apps. If you request “classical, choral/orchestral, sorrowful” you are likely to get music in D minor (yeah, somebody actually crunched the data) and you might even get a Requiem. But here’s the thing. Some Requiems rage (Verdi), some extol the hereafter (Brahms). In the next two weeks you can match your mood to two live-performance Requiems being presented: one that soothes and one broods. Both masterworks.
“Oh, Leonard” (a good name for a virtual assistant, don’t you think). “Leonard, give me sad, but not angry. Hopeful. I need to cry and move on. Classical, choral with orchestra.”
“Bien sûr, sir,” Leonard replies, and cues up Fauré.
On April 29 and 30, Choral Arts Ensemble’s season-closing concert features the Requiem Mass setting by Gabriel Fauré. A special treat is the use of organ only for this performance. Fauré, a master organist, approved the organ version; Hannah Brewer will perform it in these concerts. He also approved of the women’s voices for the rapturous “In Paradisum”, even though the first performance in 1888 dictated boy choir. Listen to that movement here.
You’ll get double the pleasure of Fauré (this time in French) when CAE sings his Cantique de Jean Racine and you’ll be treated to Allegri’s “Miserere mei” and a work by Stephen Paulus. But one of the extra special pieces on this concert is a work co-commissioned by CAE, alleluia (from quarantine) by Joshua Shank. The story behind the creation of the work and the money that was raised in the co-commission project is heartwarming. CAE and the University of Portland (where CAE Artistic Director David De Lyser teaches) were the Oregon participants in the effort. Read Shank’s account of the project here and appreciate the Northwest premiere of alleluia (from quarantine) on this concert.
For all repertoire and program notes please read CAE’s choral blog article by Susan Wladaver-Morgan. Bravo to CAE for posting program notes on their website weeks prior to the concerts. See “Connections” below.
What keywords would you lob at “Leonard” to get the Mozart Requiem to come up? “Leonard” is ready. You’ve got this one. 3-2-1.
Did you say sorrowful, frightening, wrathful, ominous? Oh, you probably said Wolfie just for fun? If it’s wrathful you crave, you might feel the “Dies Irae” says it all. But for sorrowful, that unrelenting “Lacrimosa” just tugs and tugs. Listen to it here.
As a counterbalance, Vancouver Master Chorale conductor Jana Hart has programmed music that offers unambiguous love and compassion. Hart said in email to OAW that she thinks Five Hebrew Love Songs by Eric Whitacre is “one of the most sensual and romantic choral pieces ever written.” Violinist for these hauntingly beautiful pieces is Joy Fabos, a Portland artist and teacher who is equally comfortable with Bach or Storm Large.
Hart has also programmed Mozart’s delicate and celebrative Regina Coeli and the music of her dear friend, composer Henry Mollicone, who died in May of 2022. A well regarded opera composer, Mollicone was commissioned by and composed All God’s Children for VMC in 2012.
Two concerts, two Requiems. You choose the mood. Fauré concludes his Requiem by gently placing a D major chord at your feet as if to say “go in peace”. Mozart ends on an open fifth, leaving you the choice of how to fill that in.
Cappella Romana two ways
First Way: Greek
One of Ivan Moody’s composition teachers was Sir John Tavener. And perhaps to appreciate Moody’s own Greek Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, premiering in the Pacific Northwest by Cappella Romana on April 28-30, we can refer to his reflection on Tavener’s Orthodox artistry. Moody, an Orthodox priest, composer and scholar, writes that Tavener became “a professional composer…confronted with the necessity of using his art as an expression of Orthodox spirituality.” Not writing pieces for liturgical use, but to allow “Christ’s message to be transmitted through one’s own art” (read the full article here).
The Greek Liturgy is written with this intention. Now the music will be placed in the hands and voices of Cappella Romana and that intention will be nurtured by conductor Peter Jermihov, whose Society of St. Romanos in Chicago commissioned the work in 2016. Priest intonations are sung by Eleftherios Chasanidis, Protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York City.
Cappella Romana’s “Greek Liturgy” is in Seattle, Fri., April 28, 7:30 at St. James Cathedral; in Portland on Sat., April 29, St. Mary’s Cathedral, 8:00; and Sun., April 30, The Madeleine Parish, 3:00. Tickets for live and Digital on Demand can be purchased here.
Second way: Ukrainian
Nadia Tarnawsky is a Fulbright Award recipient who spent a year collecting – cherishing – the folk songs of Ukraine. She has been singing in the tradition of her Ukrainian ancestors since she was a child and now enjoys sharing the unique singing style and sound with audiences around the world.
Tarnawsky is going to teach the women of Cappella Romana how to sing. She chuckled as she said this in a recent phone conversation with OAW from her home in Cleveland. They will learn, said Tarnawsky, how to place the sound in a “smile” and not let the jaw drop open. They might feel a unique vibration created in the face just behind the front teeth. Cheek bones are going to buzz. Notice the mouth contour and hear vocal production of some women of Ukraine in this video:
“We sing to the earth,” in these traditional songs, continued Tarnawsky. “Spring calling songs; harvest songs; whoops and calls to wake the ancestors above and below us.” As the women sing you will imagine them kneading the breads, preparing the soups and setting the tables for a wonderful concert of Ukrainian wedding and folk songs. The choir also welcomes a few guest singers, Hanna Tischenko from Chicago and Inna Kovtun who now resides in Portland.
Join the women of Cappella Romana for a “Ukrainian Wedding” on Fri., May 19, at 7:30 in Seattle at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church; Sat., May 20 at 8:00 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland; and Sun., May 21 at 3:00 at Christ the King Parish, Milwaukie . Tickets can be purchased here.
Filling a void
The celebration of treble voices continues with a collaboration between the Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Camerata and the singers of In Mulieribus. Here are just two of the ways in which this concert is so exciting.
Firstly, the two works on the concert are both premieres. One is a West Coast premiere of Kareem Roustom’s Hurry to the Light in which the ancient narrative of Homer’s Odyssey is flipped from male to female. Read scholar Emily Wilson’s New Yorker piece about her new Odyssey translation which was the inspiration for Hurry to the light. Listen to one striking movement, “Sirens,” here:
The other, a world premiere, is Because I Will Not Despair composed by Jessica Meyer and based on a set of poems by Portlander Alicia Jo Rabins. Of Rabin’s poetry, Meyer says (PYP media): “Her imagery is already visceral, so it made my job easy to set her works to music.”
The second exciting thing about this music is that these forces are together. Works for orchestra and women’s chorus are rare. “The reason that the orchestral world doesn’t nurture repertoire with women’s voices is because there aren’t many,” said conductor Anna Song in a recent email to OAW. Hooray for something new that is filling a void and for the co-commission by PYP and IM that brought Because I Will Not Despair to life.
In Mulieribus Artistic Director Anna Song and Portland Youth Philharmonic Musical Director David Hattner worked together in 2017, when IM, PYP and Portland State University Choirs collaborated on the Northwest Film Center’s screening of Voices of Light by Richard Einhorn.
Song continues, “we walked off stage after the show, and said to each other, we will have to do something again together!”
In this season-ending concert (and what a season it’s been) the artists of IM – Song, Susan Hale, Catherine van der Salm, Kari Ferguson, Henriët Faurie, Amanda Jane Kelley, Hannah Penn and Ann Wetherell – are joined by Sarah Beaty and Emily Lau.
Breaking News: on Thursday, April 27 you can join a “Hurry to the Light” panel discussion with the two conductors, composer Roustom and Willamette University Professor of Classics Dr. Mary Bachvarova. Register for this free event here.
The first offering of this PYP Camerata/IM program is May 5, at 7:30 at Willamette University Hudson Hall. Students attend for free; general seating is only $10. The concert comes to Portland on Fri., May 12 at 7:30 at St. Philip Neri and Sat., May 13 at 7:30 at Evans Auditorium, Lewis and Clark College. Tickets are here.
PYP debuts Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Wait, that can’t be right. Well, of course, it’s not a premiere of the work. But it is the mind-blowing first time in 99 seasons that Portland Youth Philharmonic has programmed Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. And this history-making concert is in partnership with the venerable Portland Symphonic Choir.
Now, chances are if you polled the 103 PSC singers in this concert about how many Beethoven Ninth concerts they have racked up in over the years you’d reach 99 at least. By heck, double or even triple that. After all, the first PSC performance of the Ninth in Portland was in 1949 with the Portland Symphony Orchestra (predecessor of OSO) and with many more such concerts to come.
There is something special about this choir with such a long history with the work performing with these young orchestra members whose history is only beginning.
Hear her story
Part of Debra D. Burgess’ story begins 25 years ago when Roberta Q. Jackson, founding conductor of the Portland Symphonic Girl Choir since 1989, invited her to share the conducting podium. Two conductors sharing the programming, teaching, nurturing and business of running a successful girl choir (any choir!) is unusual. For twenty-five years, it is remarkable! And it is a cause for celebration as the PSGC season comes to a close on May 13. Wonderful music, senior goodbyes and oodles of accolades from singing alumni and composers with whom the co-conductors have worked over the years.
But a more important part of the Burgess life story began much earlier, and one of her children–New York based composer Amy Burgess–will be on hand to help tell it in her own special way. Be present at this concert when the Portland Symphonic Girl Choir premieres Amy Burgess’ Hear Her Story in honor of her mom. Did you know the next day, May 14, is Mother’s Day?
Aurora women’s and treble-voice choir invites you to help explore the deeper message of spring. This is yet another choir, now entering their fourth decade, whose music is dedicated to, performed by and created by women. They will be performing in Parkrose on May 21. Join the choir as they complete their first season under the direction of Rebecca Parsons for “Emerge.”
“We gather around what it means to emerge: to practice the cultivation of our voice and our courage.” (Aurora media)
Aurora presents “Emerge” on Sun., May 21 at 4 pm at Parkrose High School. Tickets here (pre-purchase recommended at seating is limited).
A little R & R with ORS
Oregon composer Joshua Rist popped up from his home in Salem to take in a recent Oregon Repertory Singers rehearsal. He sat on the floor letting the sounds of his piece The Runner wash over him. When the choir finished singing, ORS conductor Ethan Sperry asked him for comments or suggestions. Rist looked at the choir and at Sperry and said “it’s yours now.”
In a recent phone conversation with OAW, Rist laughingly admitted that he doesn’t always say that when he works with a group performing his works. Some “interpretations” can be a source of frustration–and he vented about this feeling on social media around five years ago. Another composer chimed in, and the two agreed that they could talk for hours about this. And they did. And they still do. That other composer was Jake Runestad.
Well, they do a little more than talk about it these days. Their friendship has blossomed and they’ve been teaming up for workshops, like one just weeks ago in Calgary. You will get to see them both on May 13 and 14 when Runestad’s week of residency with ORS adult and youth choirs culminates in a concert of his music, and Rist’s.
Jake Runestad’s music is the concert showcase; the concert theme Come to the Woods comes from his 11-minute choral/piano setting of writings of John Muir. Runestad shot to choral notoriety in 2006 with his sound extravaganza Nyon, Nyon, one of the works performed on this concert. In 2016, Bruce Browne wrote in Oregon ArtsWatch: “The 30-year-old Runestad is becoming a new household word among the choral cognoscenti in this country.”
Since that time Runestad’s choral output alone (he also composes for orchestra, winds and has a few operas out there) has ballooned! On the weekend prior to his ORS residency, a commissioned work and his tenth collaboration with poet Todd Boss is being premiered by the San Antonio Chorale. Sperry chatted with Runestad earlier this month in anticipation of the ORS residency and concert. View that interview here:
ORS adults will perform Rist’s The Runner and the Youth Choir performs his I Will Walk You Home. Rist says Aubrey Patterson, ORS Youth Choir’s Director, has been his mentor for years. “She took chances on me in state competitions. And she commissioned some works. Promoting – marketing – my own music can be a struggle.”
You aren’t alone in that, Josh! It sure helps composers to have people in their corner and conductors they can trust. “That’s Sperry,” said Rist. “He has a remarkable musical intuition.”
These composers are two busy fellas. Composing, marketing, research and summoning the courage to place your artistic creation in the hands of others and saying “this is yours now.” No wonder they enjoy their R & R time together. And how great that we get to share it with them.
Powerful agents for social change
The Eugene Concert Choir is sharing the stage and opening minds and hearts with their May 7 concert “Black Is Beautiful.” A grant by the National Endowment for the Arts (ECC’s first) is enabling Dr. Eugene Rogers and EXIGENCE to come to Eugene for a 4-day residency. Rogers and EXIGENCE, with parent organization Sphinx, will lead workshops in local schools and at the University of Oregon; Rogers will work with U of O ensembles.
“This (NEA) grant will support the Eugene Concert Choir in bringing this deeply moving, important repertoire to our community” remarks Conductor Diane Retallack (ECC media). The concert on May 7 features Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed based on the tragic deaths of 7 African American men and Undine Smith Moore’s oratorio Scenes from the Life of a Martyr in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for orchestra, choir, solo voices and narrator. Moore worked on the 40-minute work over a four year period and in 1981 it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Moore believed that art could be a powerful agent for social change.
In a “Behind the Scenes at the Hult” video, performers, local teachers, Retallack and U of O School of Music and Dance Dean Sabrina Madison-Cannon discuss this upcoming event; you can view it here.
Twenty five years ago Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard was murdered. The motivation was hate; he was hated because of who he was. In 2016, composer and conductor Craig Hella Johnson’s oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard premiered, in the hope that the world would continue to consider the significance of Matthew Shepard’s death–and, more importantly, his life. Over the years you may have heard movements from this poignant work. On May 19 and 21 Portland State University Choirs will perform the oratorio in its entirety.
“In composing Considering Matthew Shepard I wanted to create, within a musical framework, a space for reflection, consideration and unity around his life and legacy” (Johnson’s notes). Johnson took text from ancient and modern poets, newspaper accounts, the words of Shepard’s parents Judy and Dennis and Shepard’s own journals.
The “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009” criminalized hate crime. Considering Matthew Shepard continues to be one of the most often programmed choral works around the world. A story to be retold.
The beautiful Mt. Angel Abbey is always the ideal destination for serenity and solace. Willamette Master Chorus will fill the Abbey sanctuary with sacred music on two separate upcoming weekends. The choir will reconnect with their Founding Director Wallace Long who will share the podium with Paul Klemme for a unique liturgical offering.
This is a carefully crafted array of music new – including some premiere works – and old; a cappella or accompanied by organ. In the “Ordinary of the Mass” alone are works by Palestrina, Schubert, Jeffrey Rickard. In “Psalms” you will bask in the beauty of works by Allegri (yes, the “Miserere”) and Jean Berger. Two “Songs of Mary”–Ave Maria by Father Teresio Caldwell OSB and Magnificat by Chris Jones–are premieres, as is an arrangement of Sacred Harp by David Schmidt. Two spiritual arrangements and Gretchaninoff’s Nunc Dimittis close the afternoon.
Partake of the calm as the swirling music allows your soul to sit in stillness in the Abbey.
Oh, for the love of, uh, love
ISing Choir of Beaverton brings “a celebration of Hispanic love songs” (ISing media) to the stage. Grupo Condor will add their vibrant sounds to this concert as will ISing concert beneficiaries, Mariachi Una Voz.
Una Voz–one of Hillsboro School District’s Mariachi bands–currently has 14 members, all HSD students, grade 8 through 12. Una Voz Director Samuel Costas said in a recent email that members will appear on stage for this concert and also in their collaborative concert with two other HSD Mariachi groups in concert on May 26 at Glencoe HS.
ISing honors love of faith with the sacred 17th century polyphony of Juan Pérez de Bocanegra and a contemporary Mass setting, Missa Criolla, by Ariel Ramirez. Then, a wordless arrangement of the haunting melody of Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion, which might–according to ISing conductor Stephen Galván–entice some tango dancers to the stage. Listen here to Piazzolla performing Oblivion on the bandoneón.
“¡Viva el amor!” is presented by ISing Choir on Sat., May 6, at 7:30 and Sun., May 7 at 3:00 at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts. For more program detail and tickets click here.
Two premieres at a concert of new music
Southern Oregon Repertory Singers is gearing up for their fourth James M. Collier Festival of New Choral Music. SORS Composer-in-Resident Jodi French reveals her new work, The Kiss of Peace, a seven-movement cantata which explores the “thin places” of Celtic lore in which “the veil between this world and the eternal are stretched thin”. Other music by French is also offered in this concert.
In a recent interview, SORS Artistic Director Paul French and the composer discuss the joy of intimately knowing a choir for whom the work is composed and reveal the motivations behind Kiss of Peace. View that interview here:
Last year you might have heard British composer Will Todd’s Mass in Blue presented by the Oregon Chorale and experienced Todd’s comfort in the jazz and blues world. In m=pV, premiering on this SORS concert, you will hear a second voice of this versatile composer. Four years ago Paul French fell in love with Todd’s Among Angels and contacted the composer.
Todd subsequently visited Oregon, attended a SORS concert and accepted a commission to write a piece for the choir. He states in a recent ZOOM interview, he felt that he could trust them with his creative output. (See, Josh Rist, again, you are in good company.)
That entire interview, in which Todd discusses his approach to his compositions and how m=pV came to be, is here:
“A nice thing about being in the music business over time is getting to know people and having them start to feel like friends and family,” Paul French says at the beginning of the interview. It makes one take another glance at the singers, conductors, poets, composers and communities mentioned above. Diverse in age, race, background, nationality but brought together by music to become partners, collaborators, friends.
SORS offers an on-line viewing option. Who knows, you might be sitting “next to” Will Todd on-line as he attends his own world premiere from almost 5000 miles away.
Southern Oregon Repertory Singers presents “Rivers of Light” in Ashland on Sat., May 13, at 7:30 and Sun., May 14, at 3:00 in Southern Oregon Music Recital Hall, Ashland. Tickets for live and on-line viewing are here.
CAE is one of the few local choral organizations who publish program notes on their website prior to performance. Let’s just take a moment here to appreciate and applaud. Inspired by Matthew Neil Andrews’ recent OAW rant, uh, article on getting more exposure to new compositions, please allow this three sentence Socratic mini rant.
Do you believe program notes bring value to the audience experience? Are the program notes you so carefully crafted worthy of more than a 5 minutes scan before the downbeat? Can you envision a positive impact on audience draw by putting program notes on your website prior to the concert?
All things choral
Portland’s venerable keeper of all things choral in Portland, Tom Hard, informs us that the very first public performance of Beethoven’s Ninth (in Portland) was on March 17, 1930 with the Portland Choral Society and the Portland Symphony prepared and conducted by Willem van Hoogstraten. Thanks, Tom, also keeper of the PDX Choral Calendar, for your dedication and good humor.