We sing to celebrate, to give thanks, to grieve, to honor. Choirs mark the seasons of nature and tell the stories of life. We can sometimes hear a choral program and understand the issues facing society; even a folk song can speak our truth.
If Rip Van Winkle awakened today he could glance at the PDX choral calendar and know that it was the Easter season.
Three Easter-time choral choices are available to you on April 2. That’s Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week in the Western Christian Catholic and Protestant traditions, leading toward Easter on April 9 (Orthodox Easter is April 16). These concerts offer a trinity of music: three regions, three different performing forces and three periods.
Leipzig, 1724 (Baroque)
The St. John Passion is one of two surviving passions of Bach. Since the 5th century, music depicting the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion had been recited and chanted–sometimes with dramatic affect–within the liturgy. Bach’s Passions, oratorios really, were offered in worship in their entirety. The St. Matthew Passion is more well known and grander, with double choir and children’s choir, and comes later in Bach’s oeuvre. But the St. John digs into the human horror of the crucifixion with crisp biting recits against a raging public and pleading voices of reason. Then Bach cushions it all with the exquisite “Ruht wohl” (Rest Well). Many a singer, by the end of two impassioned hours, has sobbed their way through that final chorus. And the audience has joined in.
“It is a great honor to be able to conduct it,” wrote Ralph Nelson in a recent email to OAW discussing St. John Passion, which will be performed by the Bach Cantata Choir at 3 pm, Sunday, April 2. Key performers in the BCC performance will be Les Green as evangelist and tenor soloist, Kevin Walsh as Jesus, and BCC members singing roles of Pilate, Peter, High Priest and maid. Concertmaster for the 15-member baroque orchestra is Mary Rowell.
Nelson usually offers a short lecture on the repertoire prior to BCC concerts. But on this special occasion, he welcomes renowned Bach scholar Dr. Michael Marissen, Professor Emeritus of Music at Swarthmore College whose pre-concert lecture will examine “Troubling Voices in Bach’s Sublime St. John Passion.”
In Bach’s time, the performing forces would look at each other or a key performer, watch for subtle movements, cueing off of each other’s “lines” like actors on a stage. And in an ideal performance you too will pick up on those cues and they will invite you to give yourself fully to Bach’s passion, whatever your beliefs. That is the gift of live performance.
Bach Cantata Choir’s Palm Sunday “St. John Passion” is at 3 pm, Sunday April 2, at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church with pre-concert lecture (free to ticket holders) at 2. Tickets can be purchased here. Masks are strongly encouraged.
16th century Spain (Renaissance)
Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), preeminent composer of the Spanish Renaissance, also composed a St. John Passion (and a St. Matthew). But it is his Lamentations of Jeremiah that you can hear performed by Cantores in Ecclesia on April 2. Victoria was a priest, choirmaster and organist who served in Italy until the late 1500s when he returned to his home country of Spain. Victoria was also quite the self-publishing entrepreneur, preserving numerous volumes of his works–the first was in 1572, when he was just 24. In 1585 a collection of Holy Week works were published; that collection included the Lamentations of Jeremiah.
Cantores will present the nine intense and mystical Lamentations in concert form, in three sets of three, beginning with SATB voicing and culminating with SSAATTBB. In liturgical form during Holy Week in 1585 this Tenebrae music would have been spread among several services beginning with Maundy Thursday; the last would have been presented on Easter eve, Holy Saturday. Quite a dramatic arc. Listen here to the the Tallis Scholars sing the first lamentation in the set of nine.
Between the sets, two other works of Victoria will be performed. “Vere languores nostros” and “Tenebrae factae sunt” (It became dark).
Budapest, 1879 (Romantic)
Do you think of Franz Liszt as a choral composer? Piano solo works, yes, 124 original compositions (and many arrangements, like the Beethoven Symphonies). Symphonic poems? Sure. He composed 13. But choral works? Well, here’s the final count: 64 sacred, 27 secular. Many are hymns or march tunes. But there’s a Te Deum, an oratorio, lots of Psalm settings and a Requiem Mass, for heaven’s sake. Indeed, for heaven’s sake, for Liszt was a devout Catholic and one of his last works–Via Crucis (Die 14 Stationen des Kreuzwegs), a work of deep religious conviction–will be offered on Palm Sunday, April 2, by Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Choir.
The work calls for SATB choir, soloists and a choice of three keyboard: piano or organ or an instrument which Liszt is believed to have owned, the harmonium. In this performance Canon Katie Burk and new Artist in Residence at Trinity, Glenn Miller, will share the organ/conducting duties throughout the service.
As the service moves through each of the 14 stations you will hear a Liszt’s musical setting, a readings and prayer. Liszt had envisioned this work, one of his final devotionals, to be performed just this way in Rome, in the Colosseum, accompanied by harmonium, with the Pope. It was not to be. Liszt is said to have been presented to the Pope, but never heard a performance of the Via Crucis; the first performance was in Budapest, 43 years after his death.
Do you think of Franz Liszt as a romantic composer steeped in lush tonal harmonies? Once again, here’s a different perspective of Liszt. He seemed willing to shatter some tonal and stylistic norms. Listen to Liszt leaning toward the 20th century in the final station, number 14, “Jesus is Laid in the Tomb and is Resurrected.”
The out-of-towners: two trios and a quartet
A 2007 concert review in the New York Times dubbed Trio Mediæval “gifted and versatile performers who obviously love their work and the music of all.” That the trio has upheld a sterling reputation for 25 years suggests they are, indeed, gifted; the repertoire in their Portland (April 22) and Eugene (April 23) concerts should have wide appeal.
The landscape of this concert mimics a liturgical flow. An ancient “Sarum” (relating to Salisbury church rite) Kyrie chant is followed by modern expansion of the “Kyrie” by Sungji Hong, followed by another English medieval work from the Old Hall Manuscript, a “Gloria.” Estonian and Norwegian folk hymns and modern works based on ancient texts add dimension to the flavor of the program; two more sections from Hong’s complete Missa Lumen de Lumine are preceded by more anchoring chant. View the entire program on the website of Friends of Chamber Music, sponsoring organization for the Portland concert.
As part of FOCM’s outreach program – bravo – TM will also perform a short set in a local retirement community earlier on Saturday.
Friends of Chamber Music presents Trio Mediæval on Sat., April 22, at St. Philip Neri. Tickets and more information here. Chamber Music@Beall presents Trio Mediæval on Sun., April 23 at 3 pm at Beall Hall, Eugene. Tickets are here.
Speaking of ancient and modern, here’s the other trio coming to Oregon. It’s the Kingston Trio and their first Oregon stop is in Beaverton at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts on April 14th. Be assured, this is not to suggest that the 1960s were “ancient times” (although some days…no, let’s not go there). But today’s modern KT is somewhat of a legacy group, albeit those ties have loosened. While members continue to be “updated” the KT songs they bring to the stage are not. Thank goodness.
That’s the build up, now for the let down. The Beaverton show has sold out to the lucky 550. Doggone it; hang down your head. As of this posting date, however, a smattering of tickets were available for the Eugene performance (4/16) and the Bend Performance (4/19).
So here’s a sentimental moment, a favorite KT tune of, uh, ancient days. Lifting a glass to the Kingston Trio who shaped the music of a time.
The links below are for the venue box offices; be aware that third-party ticket vendors are selling tickets at 100-500% inflated prices. The Eugene Soreng Theater concert is April 16, 7 pm. The Bend Tower Theatre performance is April 19, 7 pm.
Wanna go one up on the trios? There’s a great vocal quartet coming to Portland on April 15. Newfangled Four appears at Sherwood Center for the Arts on April 15th and you will have two chances to see them that day. The quartet is participating in “PDX Spring Fling”, an event organized by The PDX Oregon Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, with local member groups PDX Voices, conductor Rob Roman, and Vocal Summit conductor Justin Miller.
PDX Voices singer Drew Osterhout is pretty jazzed about this two-concert afternoon with the Newfangled Four. “They’re dynamite,” he wrote in a recent email to OAW. Indeed, they are. Watch them in this video, and see how they ignite laughter and generate enthusiasm–it’s showmanship. But, of course that demands the best vocal quality, musicianship and timing. And that’s something that you’ll hear from Oregon’s local groups in this concert. Listen to a Vocal Summit competition performance here.
Also on the program are three local quartets whose singers all sing in PDX Voices and Vocal Summit: ARGONAUTS, InVoice and Mugshots. In this concert you’ll see Osterhout singing in ARGONAUTS. What you won’t see him doing is conducting Portland’s Sweet Adelines Society ensemble, Pride of Portland.
POP is getting ready for their own appearance at the SAI Region 13 Contest & Convention in Spokane on May 18-21. (OAW will keep watch on that). But Osterhout and POP invite you to drop in on a POP rehearsal any Wednesday evening just to watch them do their thing. No, really. They have a special “Visit a Rehearsal” page set up so you can let them know you are coming. Do you not think this is incredibly cool?
PDX Spring Fling tickets for Sat., April 15 at 3 pm or 7 pm can be purchased here.
A multigenerational metro musical block party
A few of our community youth choirs mentioned in a recent OAW’s recent article are making music this month.
Pacific Youth Choir ensembles will appear two times. First on stage at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall when the Oregon Symphony Orchestra performs their final children’s-series concert, Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev. Generations of children have come to love orchestral music because of this timeless piece. OSO makes it an even better production with the addition of the children’s voices of PYC and dancers of Dance West from Beaverton Arts and Communications Academy.
Two performances of “Peter” are offered on Sun., April 16, at 2 pm and 4 pm. Tickets here.
Then, Pacific Youth Soprano and Alto Honor Choir returns with an all-day event on Friday, April 21. Students will work with two dynamic choral educators, PYC’s own Associate Conductor Amber Schroeder and Portland State University’s Coty Raven Morris. The event takes place at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and culminates with a concert. Students, teachers, great music. Great day. For more information and to register, click here.
Jefferson High School is the site of the 2023 BRAVO Youth Orchestra “Connected” event on April 21. It is a performance by many, for many and you are invited to attend–or should we say, join in–with students (from Jefferson H.S. and Rosa Parks and Sabin elementaries and Portland Boychoir), adults (from West Linn Lutheran Church and Kingdom Sounds), plus special guests Derrick McDuffy and Cascade Zydeco.
Holy moly, it’s a multigenerational metro musical block party. BRAVO’s new Director of Performing Arts and coordinator of the choral program, Joshua Sommerville, is in the momentum building phase of this new choral initiative. For the children, for our community, come help build the music.
For twenty five years the Portland Symphonic Girlchoir has been championing new choral works, primarily for treble chorus. Each Spring PSGC singers and local choirs meet, get to know and learn from a leading composer/educator. Each choir showcases their own talents; the singers gather in a mass choir to examine four or so works of the resident composer; and then they perform. On April 15, they will meet composer Andrea Ramsey, this year’s resident. Listen to one of her works here:
Music in the making is something that Christian Clark, conductor of Central Oregon Mastersingers, is taking to heart in their April 22 and 23 concerts. With the theme “If Music Be the Food of Love” the choir will offer the luscious late-19th century harmonies of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, The Evening Star and two other works; a richly arranged Sufi chant; and a few sweet arrangements of modern pop hits. But the centerpiece is the Brahms, Liebeslieder Waltzer, OP. 52, with its yummy 4-hand piano accompaniment; it is, wrote Clark in an email to OAW “ a delicious selection of choral music from past and present.”
One “present” to which he refers is a new composition by former Mastersinger Gabriel Sternberg. In the aforementioned January email Clark said the piece was as yet unwritten. “I am taking a leap of faith…however, I remember him as a very talented young musician and didn’t hesitate to offer our voices.” Well, the piece is written now; its title is His Steadfast Love (from Psalm 136) and it will premiere on the COM’s April 22, 23 concerts.
Describing his new piece to OAW in a recent telephone interview Sternberg said he employs antiphonal elements which were “common ancient practice for the Psalm performance in Jewish and Christian practice,” blended with other approaches and piano accompaniment. Sternberg, who leads the choir at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Corvallis, is graduating with a Master’s Degree in composition from Western Oregon University. He knows that sending his music outside of the university environment is the next step toward his career in composition.
Liszt, Victoria, Ramsey and Bach. They all started somewhere and all had good folk along the way to champion their works. That COM would offer this opportunity to a passionate young composer in their upcoming concert of masterworks–sweet!
Both Mastersinger performances, Sat., April 22, (3 pm) and Sun., April 23, (3 pm) are free but you must reserve your seats here. Donations to support Central Oregon Mastersingers are appreciated.
Sometimes a piece of music comes into a time in our life when we need it most. All of the joy or grief or yearning or thanksgiving –exactly what we need at that moment – is in a single choral work. It could be a requiem mass, an “Ode to Joy” or “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”
For Festival Chorale Oregon it’s time for Alzheimer Stories by Robert Cohen.
The choir recently grieved with one of their own, singer Hale Thornburgh, whose wife and former FCO singer, Romona, died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. The concert is dedicated in memory of her. Artistic Director Solveig Holmquist didn’t plan this performance to coincide with Romona’s celebration of life; it’s hard to plan anything around Alzheimers. But Holmquist knew when she first heard the piece at the 2019 ACDA National Conference in Kansas City that this piece would be meaningful to many.
Cohen composed the 35-ish minute oratorio for choir, mezzo soprano and baritone soloists and a rather unusual chamber orchestra of one violin, one cello (yeah, just one of each), a clarinet, a small brass complement, piano, and five percussionists. The work was commissioned by an anonymous donor for a Pennsylvania choir and the fascinating journey to its creation is told on Cohen’s website here. Holmquist has also programmed several more pieces by modern composers to further the theme of the third movement of Alzheimer Stories “For The Caregivers”: hope and the power of music.
FCO is making this performance even more meaningful by co-presenting, with Salem Cinema, a benefit special screening of Still Alice, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Alzheimer Association’s Oregon and SW Washington Chapter. And on April 15, Cohen will present a free lecture on the making of the music and his collaboration with librettist Hershel Garfein.
Check the FCO site for specifics on that lecture. Tickets for the “Still Alice” screening on April 12, Salem Cinema at 7 pm and the FCO concert on April 16, Elsinore Theatre, 4 pm can be purchased here.
For people living with Alzheimers
One of the world’s leading researchers and proponents of Music Therapy for people living with dementia-related disease is Dr. Melissa Mercadal-Brotons. Brotons lived in Portland while she completed her PhD in Music Education at U of O and while her husband, Salvador Brotons, current Artistic Director of the Vancouver Symphony of Washington, was a music professor at PSU. Now residing in Barcelona, Dr. Brotons encourages families facing the challenges of dementia-related disease to seek accredited Music Therapists. The specific therapies they offer, particularly targeted group singing – of course – are proven positive interventions.
Dance to the music
Dance West, the youth dancers in the abovementioned Peter and the Wolf, will present their Spring performance on April 27. Contact ACMA for more information.
And how about those Jefferson High student dancers! Read more about their top honors at the National High School Dance Festival here. Jefferson Dancers perform at the Newmark Theater, Portland, on April 20-22.