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MusicWatch Mid-monthly: Whose broad stripes and bright stars?

Hurtling into Fourth of July weekend and the height of summer with Waterfront Blues Festival, Chamber Music Northwest, Oregon Bach Festival, and The Thesis.

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We recently read that Resonance Ensemble is bringing Bobby McFerrin to Oregon next year. What?!? Excuse me while I jump up and down on the couch for a moment.

Who else in Oregon besides Resonance could collaborate with someone of McFerrin’s stature? Next April, as part of the vocal ensemble’s fifteenth season, REVOLUTION 15, the esteemed singer-composer-conductor-educator-badass will be here leading a “CircleSongs” session. You may remember those from McFerrin’s astounding 1997 album of the same name, and he’s continued doing them ever since. Here’s one from Hungary in 2018:

And here’s this from the season announcement:

A community-building, improvised “CircleSongs” performance by vocal virtuoso Bobby McFerrin, his quartet Motion, Resonance Ensemble musicians, and local high school choir students. McFerrin joins Resonance to play our audiences as his second instrument.

You’ll never be so happy to get played. And the rest of the season is perfection, exactly Resonance’s core vibe. It starts in October with a CD release concert for their album LISTEN, a program of music composed by familiar names like Melissa Dunphy, Dominick DiOrio, Mari Esabel Valverde, Stacey Philipps, Lee Hoiby, and Renée Favand-See.

Three things stand out here: the presence of Oregon composers (Philipps, Favand-See); the commitment to specific contemporary composers, performing and re-performing their work multiple times; and the release of an actual recording that you can take away and listen to whenever you like, without having to leave the house or even go online.

In February, it’s an evening of “Black Art Song” curated by Damien Geter, a name that is surely familiar to every ArtsWatch reader by now. Geter and Resonance have been working together for ages, and the singer-composer-treasurer-artistic advisor has been curating programs like this one for some time now. You can read about his Journeys to Justice program for Portland Opera right here, and watch his Recital of Black Composers with pianist Chuck Dillard right here:

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March’s concerts feature the premiere of a newly commissioned work by local jazz legend Darrel Grant alongside Dunphy’s Amendments and music by Joel Thompson (known for his Seven Last Words of the Unarmed). April is Mr. McFerrin. The final concert in June will feature gods know what else. Stay tuned for more information on all of this. Tickets for the season go on sale in September, but no doubt we’ll be hearing more before then.

“The blues chase the blues away”

But wait, we haven’t really stopped jumping up and down on the couch yet. Buddy Guy is playing this year’s Waterfront Blues Festival down by the west bank of the Willamette River in sunny downtown Portland. He’ll be on the south stage at 9 pm on Monday, July 3, and this is your second-to-last chance to hear him in Oregon–his farewell tour will come back around to Jacksonville for an appearance at BrittFest on August 12.

Mr. Guy isn’t the only name in electric blues–plenty of people prefer Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, and so on. But for nasty, cranked-up, swampy electric guitar blues–well, Buddy’s just the greatest. He looks and sounds great for a dude who’s pushing ninety and has been cranking it up since before your grandparents learned to tie their shoes. He spent damn near a decade in the shadow of bigger Chess Records artists like Waters and Howlin’ Wolf (you all saw Cadillac Records right?) and just kept doing his thing. One of his best albums, Sweet Tea, came out in 2001 and blew everybody’s mind. His most recent album, The Blues Don’t Lie, came out last damn year and it sounds like this:

As always there’s a million other artists at WBF, but there are a few local acts worth noting. On day one, July 1, this Saturday, head to the Blues Stage at 4 pm for the Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group (featuring Sean Holmes and Arietta Ward). At 3 pm on the second day, Sunday, July 2, the South Stage hosts LaRhonda and the Steele Family Band. On Monday–before Mr. Guy at 9 pm–hang out at the Front Porch Stage for Lo Steele at 2:50 and Jujuba at 5:30. On the Fourth Itself you’ve got Tyrone Hendrix and the PDX Soul Collective on the Blues Stage at 2 and Soul Vaccination on the South Stage at 4:50.

And that’s all we have to say about that. Complete lineup and schedule are at the WBF website. You can buy a one-day pass or a four-day pass–and if you have an Oregon Trail Card, you get in free. “Arts for All” indeed!

Venn’s festivals

Odd how many performers, even complete programs, are getting shared around between Chamber Music Northwest and Oregon Bach Festival this next week. This weekend, it’s Bach’s magnificent Mary-centric Magnificat, performed by the OBF Chorus and Orchestra under the leadership of Dutch Bach expert Jos van Veldhoven. That’ll be at University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall in Eugene on Friday, June 30, and then at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium on Saturday, July 1.

Next up: soprano Susanna Phillips, mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron, and an assortment of CMNW regulars. Barron (read Alice Hardesty’s profile here) and CMNW co-director Gloria Chien will perform selections from Schubert’s Schwanengesang on a program that also includes Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major for Violin & Piano, D. 934 and Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45, performed by Chien with violinist Benjamin Beilman, violist Paul Neubauer, and cellist Zlatomir Fung. Barron and company will be at Kaul on June 29 (tonight, if you’re reading this on June 29) and at Beall on July 1.

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Phillips’ program also contains some Schubert: Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D. 965 (“Shepherd on the Rock”). On the OBF program, at Beall on July 5, she’ll perform it alongside songs by Hildegard von Bingen, Clara Schumann, and Alma Mahler (all women, for those keeping score at home). Chien accompanies again, and CMNW’s grandfatherly former director David Shifrin will tote out his clarinet for the Schubert. The CMNW program keeps the Schubert but skips the women composers in favor of Robert Schumann (Clara’s husband), William Bolcom, and Brahms. This one happens twice: at Portland State’s Lincoln Performance Hall on July 2 and at Kaul on July 3.

Finally, there’s the Emerson String Quartet. If you listen to classical music on CD, you’ve listened to the Emersons. The present author has their shocking, sweet-and-sour, crystal clear Bartók cycle in the CD player right now. And although their vast recorded output (with its glimmer of immortality) takes some of the oomph out of their impending retirement, the fact remains that this is your last chance to hear this great American string quartet perform live, in a concert hall, just as the gods intended.

You can start with a free open rehearsal at eleven-in-the-damn-morning, July 5, at Kaul Auditorium. The next evening, July 6, also at Kaul, they’ll perform Bartók’s Second (possibly his poppiest, if such a thing can be said of Mad Béla), Brahms’ yummy Clarinet Quintet in B minor (with Shifrin, naturally), and Sarah Kirkland Snider’s second string quartet, Drink the Wild Ayre–an Emersons commission, and their last, which seems like an extraordinary and well-deserved honor.

Here’s what the composer has to say about it:

Drink the Wild Ayre is my second string quartet. I wrote my first over twenty years ago while poring over recordings by the Emerson String Quartet. At that time, I was new to composition and bought every CD of theirs I could find, obsessively studying counterpoint and voice-leading via their recordings. Their performances became my benchmark for the masterpieces they recorded; their sounds became synonymous, in my mind, with the composer’s intent. For me, theirs was the definitive interpretation of all the great string quartets in history.

So, when the invitation to write this piece came in — the Emerson’s final commission, to be performed during this, their final season — I nearly fell off my chair. I am still awestruck and humbled to have written this piece for some of my earliest heroes.

The title is a playful nod to one of the most famous quotes by their transcendentalist namesake essayist/philosopher/poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, Drink the wild air’s salubrity.” An ayre is a song-like, lyrical piece. The title seemed an apt reference not only to the lilting, asymmetrical rhythms of the music’s melodic narrative but also to the questing spirit, sense of adventure, and full-hearted passion with which the Emerson has thrown itself into everything it has done for the past 47 years. Here’s to the singular magic of these artistic giants and the new adventures that await them.

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After that, you can pop down to Eugene for their concert at Beall on July 7. There, they’ll play Bartók and Snider again, along with the last quartet Beethoven composed–the glorious seven-movement C# minor, Op. 131, which (according to legend) prompted Schubert to ask “after this, what is there left to write?” Obviously Bartók and Snider are two very definite answers to this question, and programming these three together is a bold demonstration of the Emerson’s position “in the middle of a chain stretched between the era of famous 20th century composers and the new young composers” (read more from Alice Hardesty’s interview with Emerson violist Dutton here).

They’ll wrap up the Oregon portion of their farewell tour on July 8, back at Kaul. You’ll have a second chance to hear the Beethoven C# minor, and Chien will join the Emersons for the Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44 by Schumann (Robert, that is).

One more OBF event that needs mentioning, and one that isn’t on the CMNW slate: Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles on Sunday July 2, performed by the OBF Chorus and conducted by Craig Hella Johnson. Oregon Repertory Singers performed it last year, and here’s what Daryl Browne had to say at the time:

Path of Miracles was commissioned by Tenebrae Choir and has been called a masterpiece, and compared to the compositions of Arvo Pärt. The Tenebrae interpretation is legendary and they have made one of the few recordings of the hour-long work (Conspirare also recorded it). Tenebrae continues to fill halls with Path of Miracles tours; perhaps you caught them performing the work on tour at Southern Oregon University in Ashland in 2019. But you won’t find too many Path performances by choirs around the US. Why is that?

ORS Conductor Ethan Sperry has been communicating with Talbot by email and shared his insight on that question: “According to Joby Talbot we are by far the largest choir to perform this work. He was surprised to hear that an amateur choir of our size would tackle the piece.” Gulp. Okay. Sure, there are lusciously intricate and folder-gripping harmonic scaffolds and progressions–and Talbot voiced the numerous soprano soloistic parts near the top of the Pyrenees while burying the basses on the valley floor. And he even wrote some stage direction cues, leaning toward the theatrical.

Structurally, the biggest challenge is that while the work is written for SATB choir, each section is divided into four sections, making this a sixteen voice composition: SSSSAAAATTTTBBBB. So, let’s see, 100 singers, at 25-ish per section divided by 4–are you computing this? Every voice is essential.

So with that sinister super-subdivision in mind, listen to Tenebrae’s 17 voices performing an excerpt of “Santiago”:

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Twistin’ Up

We leave you with the monthly mini-festival of hip-hop that is The Thesis.

The July edition of the long-running showcase (read Bruce Poinsette’s profile here) happens next Thursday, July 6, at its usual venue: Kelly’s Olympian in Downtown Portland. On the bill this month: Swiggle Mandela, Figure 8, Dyrect, Drae Slapz, and more. Have a listen right here:

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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Music editor Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, writer, and alchemist specializing in the intersection of The Weird and The Beautiful. An incorrigible wanderer who spent his teens climbing mountains and his twenties driving 18-wheelers around the country, Matthew can often be found taking his nightly dérive walks all over whichever Oregon city he happens to be in. He and his music can be reached at monogeite.bandcamp.com.

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