I. I saw a staring virgin stand Where holy Dionysus died, And tear the heart out of his side, And lay the heart upon her hand And bear that beating heart away; And then did all the Muses sing Of Magnus Annus at the spring, As though God’s death were but a play. Another Troy must rise and set, Another lineage feed the crow, Another Argo’s painted prow Drive to a flashier bauble yet. The Roman Empire stood appalled: It dropped the reins of peace and war When that fierce virgin and her Star Out of the fabulous darkness called. II. In pity for man’s darkening thought He walked that room and issued thence In Galilean turbulence; The Babylonian starlight brought A fabulous, formless darkness in; Odour of blood when Christ was slain Made all Platonic tolerance vain And vain all Doric discipline. Everything that man esteems Endures a moment or a day. Love’s pleasure drives his love away, The painter’s brush consumes his dreams; The herald’s cry, the soldier’s tread Exhaust his glory and his might: Whatever flames upon the night Man’s own resinous heart has fed. W.B. Yeats, "Two Songs from a Play."
Before we dive into the holiday stuff: YOB tickets are still on sale for this weekend’s concert at WOW Hall in Eugene. Give yourself the gift of metal. Experience the doom experts in action in their hometown. That’s on Friday the 8th, and you can pick up those GA tix right here.
Alrighty, now on with the rest of December. Since Daryl Browne has already done such a fine job of covering the lush world of choral music in Oregon this December–read part one here, and part two here–we’ll start with a whole mess of orchestral music.
Since our heads are already in Eugene, let’s consider the Eugene Symphony Orchestra. On Thursday, December 7 (tonight, if you’re reading this on Thursday, December 7) guest conductor Mélisse Brunet and pianist Spencer Myer join ESO for a Mendelssohn-Mozart sandwich: Fanny’s Overture in C Major, Wolfie’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, and Felix’s Symphony No. 3, “Scottish.” All sensible people agree that this is Mozart’s best piano concerto, and that alone is worth putting on a raincoat and going out for a change. Tickets and info here.
Later in the month ESO hosts one of several New Year’s Eve concerts happening in Oregon. The concert will feature the traditional Strauss waltzes and “favorites from the Great American Songbook with Eugene’s own Halie Loren”–they’ll also get a jump on the impeding centennial of Gershwin’s 1924 masterpiece Rhapsody in Blue with a performance starring pianist Alexandre Dossin. Tickets and more info right here.
Up in Vancouver, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra has two concerts on the schedule for December. The first is this weekend, Saturday and Sunday the 9th and 10th, at Skyview Concert Hall. This Holiday Pops concert, with guest baritone Anton Belov (director of the much loved Aquilon Music Festival), features a wide variety of poppy holiday stuff: Charlie Brown, Frozen, Polar Express, “White Christmas,” and more of the Strauss family. Tickets and info here.
On the 13th, VSO hosts a special chamber music concert centered around piano virtuoso and VSO artist-in-residence Orli Shaham, performing with VSO musicians Brandon Buckmaster, Alan Juza, Margaret McShea, Dan Partridge, Rachel Rencher, Eva Richey, Igor Shakhman, and Jonah Thomas. The group will perform Francis Poulenc’s Sextet for Piano and Winds (one of the quirkiest, trickiest, most enjoyable works in the early 20th-century chamber repertoire); Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor (the terrifying one); and Mozart’s Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 21 in E minor. Now that’s what we call a nicely balanced classical concert! Tickets and more info here.
Also this weekend, on the 10th, Metropolitan Youth Symphony hosts the next in its Community Concert Series. The Boston chamber group A Far Cry (whom you may recall from their recording last year of the multi-composer The Blue Hour) will join various smaller groups from the MYS ranks: the ubiquitous MYSfits string ensemble, the MYSticks percussion ensemble, the MYS flute ensemble, and the MYS symphonic wind ensemble. This one is at four on a Sunday afternoon, at All Saints Parish Catholic Church in Northeast Portland. Get your tickets here.
The day after Christmas–December 26 in the west–brings Portland Youth Philharmonic to The Schnitz for its 62nd annual “Concert-At-Christmas.” An assortment of PYP groups will perform: the main orchestra, the PYP Conservatory Orchestra and Wind Ensemble and String Ensemble, plus the PYP Alumni. They’ll perform music by two of the Four Great American Johns (Williams and Sousa, no Adamses); music by another cornerstone of the Oregon School of Composition, cellist Nancy Ives (Grandfather Storyteller, inspired by the work of Native Oregonian and Celilo Falls collaborator Ed Edmo); Chicago composer Jim Stephenson’s ROAR; and plenty more. Tickets and more information here.
As always, Your Oregon Symphony has a ton going on this month.
Next Monday, the 11th, they host (but do not perform with) José Hernández’s Mariachi Sol de México, who will perform a concert of Mexican and Mexican-flavored Christmas music. That will probably mostly sound like this, which seems pretty perfect to the present author:
The OSO itself will do its film score thing with three performances on the 16th and 17th of The Muppet Christmas Carol. You might remember this one from the early ‘90s: the always-terrific Michael Caine as Scrooge playing it absolutely straight (“I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety, I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me”); songs by Paul Williams (famous then for “Rainbow Connection” and Phantom of the Paradise, famous now for his work on that lovely last Daft Punk album); underscore by the underappreciated film score yeoman Miles Goodman (mostly known for his work on such comedies as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob?, and Housesitter).
On the 20th and 21st, Oregon Symphony hosts (and does perform with) hometown heroes Pink Martini, one of probably five music groups that can make a real claim to being Oregon’s Greatest Living Band. The whole massive PM collective will be along for the ride: bandleader and pianist Thomas Lauderdale with his pianist partner Hunter Noack (famous in his own right for the audacious In A Landscape outdoor piano series); the full band, including all those percussionists; founding vocalist China Forbes and recent additions Jimmie Herrod and Edna Vazquez; the von Trapps, who are yes literally descended from the Trapp Family Singers of Sound of Music fame (and recorded a whole album with Pink Martini, 2014’s Dream A Little Dream); OSO under the baton of associate conductor Deanna Tham; and the Pacific Youth Choir directed by Chris Maunu.
Phew! Sounds like a lot, like several concerts all in one, which is exactly what Pink Martini does best–and is probably exactly what you need for the Winter Solstice, right? Tickets and more info right here.
Finally, it wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve in Oregon without Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. This is Christmas music for pagans and humanists, still infamous after 200 years of performances (composed in 1822-24 and premiered in May of 1824–the bicentennial is next year) and innumerable appearances in film and television and at sporting events and political rallies and on “classical greatest hits” albums and playlists. The entire thing is glorious from beginning to end, and the big payoff–that immortal “Ode to Joy”–is all the more satisfying when you’ve spent the preceding three movements getting primed for it. It was written for concert halls, for an orchestra and choir and solo voices–“people with big feelings living brave adventurous lives,” to paraphrase mezzo Hannah Penn.
Penn will be one of those soloists with the OSO when they perform the Ninth on the 30th and 31st, along with soprano Katherine Whyte, tenor John Matthew Myers, and baritone Zachary Lenox. Two choirs join the orchestra (which will be led once more by Tham): Portland State University Chamber Choir and Oregon Repertory Singers, both directed by Oregon musical treasure Ethan Sperry.
If you can only hear one piece of classical music live in a concert hall this season, or ever, this ought to be it. Tickets and more information right here.
Even more tinsel and chestnuts and auld lang syne
Four holiday concerts at The Reser in Beaverton stand out this month, two local groups and two touring shows. The first is tonight, December 7: Grammy-winner Mark O’Connor and his Grammy-winning wife Maggie, now in the tenth year of performing their Appalachian Christmas program on fiddles, guitar, mandolin, mandocello, and vocals. Later in the month, on the 21st, Irish storyteller Tomáseen Foley and his team of musicians and dancers perform A Celtic Christmas–you can read Foley’s terrifically charming history of the show and its background right here.
On the 22nd and 23rd, Oregonian gospel singer Saeeda Wright joins Portland Cello Project for their Under the Mistletoe program, which corresponds to their upcoming album of the same name (preorder it on vinyl now!) and enigmatically promises to be a “perfect celebration of the season, and also a refreshing break from it.” We don’t know exactly what that means, but we do know that PCP is notorious for playing the hell out of Pantera and Radiohead. We also know that when they get together with Wright it sounds like this, or this:
Finally, on the 30th it’s Portland Chamber Orchestra at The Reser, doing their New Years In Old Vienna show, conducted this time (in the wake of director Yaakov Bergman’s recent passing) by Portland Opera stalwart Nicholas Fox. Yes, dear reader, Vienna means more Strauss–a metric tonne of Strauss–more Strauss than you can handle! It’s easy to take this stuff for granted if you only know “That One Waltz From The Science Fiction Movie,” but it’s all pretty delicious, and even if you’re not going to get champagne-tipsy and start waltzing around The Reser it’s still a guaranteed good time on frosty Beaverton evening. And if you do want to get champagne-tipsy and start waltzing around The Reser, there’s that option as well:
The evening begins with a waltzing lesson in the lobby provided by Dance With Joy Studios at 6:30 pm. Following is dancing to live music, where you can show off your new skills at 7:00 pm. Then grab a glass of champagne before heading into the concert hall at 7:30 for a fun-filled program of Strauss, Lehar, and Mozart as the PCO, led by guest conductor Nicholas Fox, takes you through a tour of the music from the Hapsburg era.
Tickets and more information about all this (and more) available at The Reser website.
An excellent double bill hits Star Theater in Old Town Portland for New Year’s Eve: Ural Thomas & The Pain with The Builders & The Butchers. You may know of Thomas from his beautiful backstory–one of the old school soul singers, originally from Portland, toured and performed all over, retired in his hometown, eventually started playing shows and making records again (you can read all about that right here). The B&B are of more recent vintage, a group of Alaskan transplants who met up in Stumptown c. 2005 and started busking together. Six albums later (all of which you can get on vinyl) and they’ve crafted a fascinating stage show out of their rootsy four-guitars-plus-two-drummers-on-one-drum-kit lineup.
Across the river at Alberta Rose Theatre, it’s a deeply crazy New Year’s Eve concert: Rage at the Rose, An Opulent Affair, which describes itself as “Live Saloonified SoulFunkJazz Dance Party & Burlesque Extravaganza.” The centerpiece of this shindig is The Saloon Ensemble, well known for their audacious Halloweentime performances of The Nightmare Before Christmas (oops, we mean The Nitemare B4 Xmas), which you can read about here and here and here.
The burlesque side of the equation will be supplied by Izhonny & Pink Lady Diann’s The Cat’s Meow, a duo you probably have never heard of but will surely never forget. The “soulfunkjazz” side is supplied by Kris Deelane & The Hurt, a nine-piece band with horns and backup singers and everything. As for the dancing part: “This will be a partially-seated show, so you can DANCE!”
We leave you with the strangest holiday show we could find: White Album Christmas at Alberta Rose Theatre, running Thursday December 7 (tonight, remember?) through the 16th. It’s not enough that The Nowhere Band, one of maybe ten thousand Beatles cover bands currently in existence (not counting Paul McCartney), is performing the entire classic and bizarre double LP of pop gems and surreal soundscapes generally known as The White Album (nerds will hastily remind you that, well, actually, the album’s correct title is The Beatles).
But what really ties the room together is the Rose City Circus, a group who proudly boasts of winning The Gong Show, which makes them sound like either liars or time-travelers or maybe both. But apparently The Gong Show is still a thing (I mean shit who even knew that television was still a thing?) and there’s YouTube to prove it: